Monday, December 30, 2013

Looking Forward, Looking Back

No one plays a football game and doesn't keep score. In fact, the statistics they keep are staggering. What about us writers?

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions, but the new year provides a good time to reflect on last year's accomplishments and shortcomings, as well as setting goals for the future. What did you successfully accomplish last year? For me, my wife and I finished our '50 States in 50 Weeks' motorcycle tour, and I completed the book, '50 States in 50 Weeks: Easy Rider Revisited.' It's a look at our culture, forty-five years after the movie, 'Easy Rider,' from a Baby Boomer's perspective, on a motorcycle. My agent has pitched it to publishers, and we've gotten a handful of rejections. Looking ahead, next year's goal is to get it published.


I also wrote fifty short stories, each taking place in one state of our journey. I'm currently rewriting and editing them, and just getting started on cover art. I'll offer five books of ten stories each ('USshorts'). 2014's goal is to get them published as e-books, using them as a portal for the '50 States' book.
What would I perceive as a shortcoming this year? I'm still looking for that breakout novel. Dozens of submissions, too many rejections.


Sometimes it's good to write goals down. "I'd like to finish my novel by February 1st, get it edited by February 28th and pitch it at the Breakout Novelist's Convention in March." It can help to be specific and setting target dates helps too. Print it up and put it next to your computer screen.
How did your year look? Are you happy with it? What could you have done better? What would you like next year to look like?


Get writing. 

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday Book Review: Soldiers Heart by Tamera Lynn Kraft


Soldier’s Heart
Tamera Lynn Kraft

Historical novella, American Civil War
Publication date: 10/19/2013

Soldier's Heart is part of a series: Murray Pura's American Civil War Series - Cry of Freedom , #13




ebook - .99


From the publisher:

After returning home from the Civil War, will his soldier’s heart come between them?
Noah Andrews, a soldier with the Ohio Seventh Regiment can’t wait to get home now that his three year enlistment is coming to an end. He plans to start a new life with his young wife. Molly was only sixteen when she married her hero husband. She prayed every day for him to return home safe and take over the burden of running a farm.

But they can’t keep the war from following Noah home. Can they build a life together when his soldier’s heart comes between them?


My review:

In July 1864 Noah Andrews is on his way home to Ohio after a three-year stint in the army of the North. A young man who’d married his sweetheart before leaving for war, he’d chosen not to reenlist. The last dreadful battle in the mountains of Georgia had been a nightmare he’d vowed to put behind him.

Trying to live down the hero’s welcome, Noah and Molly go to their farm, which she’d kept up during his absence. It was her home, too, a comfortable place where Noah had grown up. But something terrifying came home with Noah after the war. They called it soldier’s heart, and Noah’s shame at being unable to be the hero everyone considered him might be their undoing.

Phrases like, “they all tried to leave the train in one clump, as if…determined never to march in file again…” puts a face on often nameless facts and figures from this horrifying time in our history. In keeping his journal, Noah bled words onto the page…great writing!

Kraft’s careful attention to detail of events during the period, real-time additions of fact, add depth to this beautiful fictional account of a young soldier who makes it home, back to his bride and a new life, but has the fiercest battle yet to face. Recommended for those who love history of the creative non-fiction type.

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas



We at AuthorCulture pray your Christmas is special, and that the love and joy from our Lord, Jesus Christ, will be evident in your lives today and throughout the new year.
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Monday, December 23, 2013

A Christmas-Season Dialogue

by

Donn Taylor



            Two days from now we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. The tradition in our home is to begin that day by reading aloud the story of His birth from the second chapter of The Gospel According to Luke, for that presents the genuine meaning of Christmas.


            Nevertheless, it is sometimes permitted to have fun with the secular mythology that has built up around the Holy Day. So it is in that spirit that I present the verbatim NSA wiretapping of a conversation between Santa Claus (S) and Mrs. Santa (M), which NSA has solemnly filed under the heading of "Christmas Pun-ishment."




S: Well, Honey, it looks like the calendar has this Christmas treed.

M: A bad pun like that makes me pine for a better one.


S: You're needling me again.

M: That's because you talk like a sapling. But Christmas is getting close. Do you have all your gifts planned?

S: (scratching head) I've had some ideas, but I haven't written anything down.

M: I thought you looked kind of listless. (Pause.) But tell me some of your ideas.

S: One corner of my workshop is designated a football corner. Have you seen it?

M: It has some strange things in it, but the strangest is that paper with writing on it. What's that?

S: It's a diet for that guy Pay Ton Manning. If he weighs that much, he needs to lose weight.

M: You've got it wrong, Santa. The name Pay Ton refers to his paycheck.

S: Maybe I should give him a wheelbarrow to carry the money.

M: A pickup truck would be more like it. But that corner also had a case of Jack Daniels. Who's that for?

S: The Tennessee Titans. You can't be a Titan without something to get tight on.

M: Very considerate of you. But what about the rope ladder you had made?

S: I'm giving that to the New Orleans coach. His Saints aren't having too good a year. After Christmas, his team can be called the ladder-day saints. (Pause.) But I don't know what to give some people--like that couple in Houston who plan to get married on Christmas day.

M: No problem, Santa. We're giving them two brooms.

S: Two brooms? Why is that?

M: So that after they're married they can sweep together.

S: That one swept me off my feet. I guess you saw the piano I'm giving to that musician in Austin.

M: He doesn't need a piano. He already has a Steinway.

S: Yes, but last year, he lost all his hair. Now he has to play a Baldwyn.

M: That gift is bare of all merit. Have you made any headway on getting ready for your trip, like preparing the reindeer?

S: They're all ready except Rudolph. I can't stand his wisecracks. Every year when I put the harness on him, he says, "Oh, Santa. You sleigh me!'"

M: He'll pay through the nose for that.

S: I've warned him: if he says it this year, I carve him up into cutlets and serve him for Christmas dinner.

M: He'll know he's playing for high steaks.

S: I thought the idea was well done. But speaking of my flight with the reindeer, I'm worried about the air traffic congestion around Houston International Airport. Oh, I forgot. They've changed the name to Bush International.

M: They've changed it again. Now it's called Houston Intergalactic.

S: That's an ambitious name. How do they justify it?

M: That's easy. The city of Houston has a habit of annexing prosperous areas nearby so they can increase their tax base. They like to plan ahead, so they annexed the Andromeda Galaxy.

S: That ought to get them some revenue by A.D. 3000.

M: But there's one last gift I'm curious about. In one corner of your workshop, I saw switches and ashes. Who gets those?

S: They're for a fellow named Taylor down somewhere in the Texas woods. Lately he's changed from serious writing into trying to write comedy. When you make a dumb switch like that, you're bound to make an ash out of yourself.


And a merry Christmas to all!


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Friday, December 20, 2013

Hide in Plain Sight

Hide in Plain Sight by Marta Perry

She couldn't turn her back on her family in their time of need. So when her sister was injured, financial expert Andrea Hampton traded the big city for Amish country to help turn her grandmother's house into an inn.

The mystery weaved in this heart warming tale kept me turning pages. My heart went out to Andrea as her reasons for not wanting to return home are revealed. I cheered her on as she did it anyway and threw herself into helping her grandmother and sister. Life threatening incidents keep throwing her together with the handsome carpenter on the property. They both have reasons to avoid a relationship but “the best laid plans” definitely go awry. 

Marta Perry writes her danger scenes in a compelling, realistic way. Her characters are believable and got into my heart from the beginning. This Love Inspired Suspense story is perfect for a long winter afternoon.Highly recommended.
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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Here's To The New Year Goals

It's almost here; 2014. I don't know what your year has been like. I'm sure some of you are looking for 2013 to be over. For me the past year has been good in writing, selling, as well as my normal life. We tend to review the past and look forward to the coming. For me it doesn't mean resolutions. I gave up trying to do those years ago. I always fail. Instead I've been setting goals to strive for.

December of 2012 I developed writing goals for the year. Being the disorganized person that I am, I have lost the list. It was on my computer so I shouldn't have but... Whether I completed all the goals doesn't really matter. I know I achieved several.

So, now I'm looking to set goals for 2014. I don't get specific about the goals unless there is something I definitely want to get done. I don't set target dates except for wanting a book ready for release by June 1. Rhubarb Fest happens the first Friday and Saturday of June and draws a lot of people. It's a good time to get the new book into many hands.

Here is my goal list:

Goals for 2014 

Releases    

Seeing The Life June
Mark & Kyria June

Begin novels

Janie’s Story   Cottonwood Series
Chloe's Story   Stones Creek Series
Sci-Fi
 

Shorts

Stories one per month
Pharaoh’s Line

Devotions one per month

Marketing


So why am I telling you of my goals. Mainly so you can see that planning out what you'd like to accomplish in a year doesn't have to be specific and detailed. By having these set down I have thought about what I might be able to accomplish and still have my life. They are now in  my head in an organized manner percolating on the back burner. Even if I don't get a short story a month written it's alright. Maybe I'll get two done the next month. 

 As authors we are creative thinkers, at least those of us who write fiction. We can get lost in our stories and suddenly the year is over and there's nothing new released. Setting up a simple outline of my goals at the beginning of the year helps me be able to look back and see that I've accomplished something.


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Friday, December 13, 2013

The Promise of an Angel, by Ruth Reid

The Promise of an Angel (Heaven On Earth, #1)
I have to admit, I'm tired of Amish fiction. Quit reading it years ago. But I recently had the opportunity to read this one while taking care of Mom and was blessed with a pleasant surprise. This one was different.
When Judith's brother Samuel falls from the barn roof, she rushes to his side, only to find someone already there. That someone turns out to be Tobias, an angel, a messenger from God with a message for her. Problem is, when she shares that message with others, she becomes a sniff away from getting shunned. Only Andrew stands by her side, and his father is the Bishop. Feeling the heat of his father and spiritual leader's ardent disapproval, how long can Andrew continue to support Judith without being shunned himself?
Granted, on the surface, this doesn't sound like a "different" Amish novel. The risk of being shunned is common in many of the plot lines. And since I'm not a connoisseur of Amish fiction anymore, this one may be different only to me. But the draw came in the reason for the risk. Usually the young heroine gets herself in a mess somehow during rumspringe, or something during rumspringe comes back to haunt her. In this novel, the fact that Judith saw an angel--a scriptural being the Amish believe in--puts her at risk for the ultimate punishment in her community. Could Judith be shunned for something that doesn't  violate the Amish faith?
Ruth Reid's characterization is stunning. You got each character's number from page one through their expertly illustrated behavior. The realistic personalities and obvious conflicts they presented hooked me immediately.
The tension remained at a high level throughout the book as Reid tossed more doubts, obstacles, and fears at our hero and heroine. Behind all the new problems they face, the question from Chapter One remains, "Will the angel's promise be fulfilled in the way we hope?"
This was a great read for anyone, particularly fans of Amish fiction--but for writers, Reid's characterization and tension building/maintaining are worth studying.
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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Build Your Ambiance With Sensory

Using the senses to ramp up your prose works well. Sometimes the simplest showing can replace much telling.

'Jack walked into Mama's house, and the smell of freshly baked cinnamon raisin bread took him back to his youth.' In one sentence, we've learned that Mama bakes, has baked, and probably always will bake cinnamon raisin bread. We get into Jack's head too. He smells and remembers his youth. He loves his mother. He's experiencing good feelings as he enters the house. It makes no difference if Mama's apron is green or red flowers with ruffles, we will fill in the blanks ourselves. Unless the writer needed to tell us her hair color and other details, we create our own Mama.
'Obsession by Calvin Klein announced Charlotte's entrance.' We know she bathes in the stuff. Based on that, we can fill in a lot of blanks. She's older and struggling to remain younger. Let's change her perfume to 'Britney Spears Women's Fantasy.' Suddenly our character is twenty years younger.

'Travis bit into the Whopper, chewing carefully. How did the man know it was his favorite candy?' Travis isn't a risk taker. He's unsure about the man. And you're playing dark music in your head when you read this, right?
Speaking of music, it helps to both create a scene and can validate a time.
'Kathy walked into the joint while the Beatles sang "She loves you."' Careful here. It could be the sixties, but unless you created something else, it could be just about any time. If you gave her straight hair that hung into her eyes, had her chewing Juicy Fruit gum and wearing a surfer shirt, you've established the time.
With your artistic license, you can change it up too. Have your mechanic listen to Tchaikovsky, the attorney wear a rough burlap shirt to cut loose on weekends.


'Peter stopped the car and peered at the endless desert,the waves of heat distorting the vision.' You see the stark landscape, feel the heat and solitude.
Just like a bit of cinnamon and raisins can spice up Mama's homemade bread, a few sensory phrases or sentences can spice up (pun intended) your prose.
I need to get some butter on that bread right away.





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Monday, December 9, 2013

Creating a Discussion Guide for your book

By Lisa Lickel


Love em, Hate em, want them in the back of the book or not—discussion questions do add a new dimension to your work.

I’ve had publishers tell me they don’t want them in the book, and know of some publishers that require questions. I’ve put them in one of my books, and have designed them for several of my books as well as for other books in my book club when I’ve been the discussion leader. 

Why questions? Questions are good for personal reader reflection, but especially for a group discussion guide. I think that questions in the back of the book make your work look serious. Readers can skip them if they want. A discussion guide may mean inclusion in book clubs. Why do I want book clubs to read my book? First of all, these questions give me a place to do some explaining that I can’t inside the text; it also gives me an opportunity to point out my subtle genius points that may have been, sadly, overlooked. Think of it like watching the TV show Lost with JJ’s subtexts. Secondly, sales, library sales and borrows, word of mouth, my friends. Possible author face time. Feedback. Book clubs are always looking for fodder, and while it’s annoyingly true they tend to choose NYT bestsellers, there’s no reason to think yours can’t make a list or two.

The larger publishers like Random House often have author pages with all kinds of goodies-author interviews and background for the books, and discussion questions. Read some of them for some pointers. 
 
ReadingGroupGuides website is one of the top ones to go to for great discussion questions, but they’ve gone from a $100 to $200 fee to have your material placed there. However, if you can get in on other readers’ group blogs, and especially GoodReads, an Internet search will bring up your name and book. I’ve placed questions on GoodReads for my books. Don’t forget to put them on your own site, Amazon and BN author pages and forums. 

How to devise your questions for either fiction or non?

Foremost, never make them yes or no questions, or lead to obvious answers. If the questions are in the book, you can refer to page number, such as, “On page 142 Cala Lily has a breakthrough. What is it and how did it affect her feelings toward Reed?” However, it’s best not to be that specific due to readers having different versions.  

How many questions should you write? Depends—some group discussions are quite detailed, others short and sweet. Try not to lump too many unlike questions into “one,” such as, 3. “Did you like the main characters? Were they believable? Was their romance too good to be true? How would you have acted?”  

Reading Group Guides offers a general set of non-specific questions that can be your launch point.
 
Start with general subjects, do you like or dislike the book, the subject, the characters and so forth.
 
Do you, the author, want to point out something about the setting and how it affected the plot? The characters’ names? Why you wrote the genre or how the style worked?  

For non-fiction, consider the author and his or her relations to the subject. What kind of book is it and what drew you to the book? How well was it researched and what did you learn? What was the author’s attitude and yours to the topic? What did you learn and/or did your opinion change? How is it different from others on this topic? 

I’m working on a discussion guide for my novel that’s coming out in January. It will be the book of the month in one of my book clubs, so I need to be ready. I like to make between ten and twelve discussion points. Here are mine. What do you think?
 
  • The theme of The Last Detail is relationships. What relationships are described? 
  • Who were the main characters and the secondary characters? How did they interact? 
  • Merit and Amalia had choices to make which affected not only themselves but others around them. How did these choices change during the stages of their relationship? 
  • Both the local and the overseas settings were fictional, but near real places. How did they play into the theme of the story? How did the story of Starved Rock affect the characters? 
  • What kind of symbolism did the author use in the story? What cultural and social customs affected the relationships and the events? 
  • Why do you think Merit’s brother-n-law, Tom, choose to keep the family secret the way he did? What would have been different if he hadn’t? 
  • How were Merit and Amalia influenced by their upbringing? What secrets did they have? 
  • Pete says in Chapter eleven, “So, you think if you don’t have love, God can’t take it away.” What did he mean? What was Merit afraid of? Have you ever felt that way? 
  • What was Amalia’s reaction to the Christmas news about Bunty? Did she have a right to feel the way she did? 
  • Throughout the story there was a series of miscommunications that threaten Amalia and Merit’s relationship. What were some of them and how, or were they, resolved? 
  • What did the characters learn through their courtship and marriage? How do you handle both trials and triumphs in your relationships?
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Friday, December 6, 2013

It Sure is Fun to Win an Award

I was in Miami, FL from Nov. 20th through the 24th. The Readers' Favorite Book Contest Awards Ceremony was being held there. My first novel, Healing Love, won a silver medal in the genre of Christian Historical Fiction.

Healing Love has won two other awards but this is the first one which truly honored me as an author. The first award earned $100 which I loved getting, but they wanted $45 for the image of their winner's logo. I didn't think taking 45% of my winnings back so I could advertise for them was too much of an honor. The second was an announcement and a discount on the services they offer. Again, not really looking to promote my book or honor my work in a real way.


Readers' Favorite is entirely different. The company offers both free and two week express reviews which do have a cost. They offer other services as well at very competitive prices.

Debra Gaynor started Readers' Favorites in 2005 along with her partner James Ventrillo. Their goal is to 'a comprehensive and easy-to-use hub for authors and readers' says Debra.

I met many authors from all over the world who won medals or were finalists and honorable mention authors. We talked books, writing, joys and frustrations. In short we had a great time getting to know each other.

The Miami International Book Fair was going on and Readers' Favorite had a booth with displaying each winning book. 

On of the things which sets Readers' Favorite apart from other reviewing and author companies is that much of what the company earns in revenue is donated to various charities. It's also possible for you to donate your books. St Jude Children's Hospital is one of the places donated books can go to.

I know I sound like an advertisement for Readers' Favorite but I'm not. I simply have come to respect Debra and James for what they are doing to promote especially indie authors. 

I urge you to check them out at readersfavorite.com They are taking entries for the 2014 contest. Who knows, maybe you will see how fun it is to win an award.






Oh, I forgot. You remember the TV show ER? Well Eric LaSalle is an author who won also. He was there. Here's my 3 seconds of rubbing elbows with a Hollywood actor, director, producer and director.


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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Basics in Poetry

by

Donn Taylor


            While we're talking about writing, we should give some attention to writing poetry. However, much of what is said here is not restricted to poetry, but can be applied to prose.
Ideally, poetry is more compact, more intense than prose. As the late Lawrence Perrine put it, poetry speaks in "higher voltage." William Baer says further that poetry emphasizes the line, the sound of words, and compression of meaning. All of these things are true, but accomplishing them is achieved by close attention to even the smallest elements. Oscar Wilde famously said he'd worked all day on a poem, adding a comma in the morning and taking it out in the afternoon. A manuscript by Dylan Thomas includes his marginal note, "forty-two prepositions." So to achieve that "higher voltage," we have to begin with words, the building blocks of poetry. For most of us, this means taking a new look at things we already know.


We know from other writing instruction that verbs are more powerful than nouns, nouns more powerful than adjectives, adjectives than adverbs. Other parts of speech are weaker. Though they are often necessary, using many of them makes weak writing. We also know that state-of-being verbs are weaker than verbs of action, and that action verbs also vary in strength. To make the strongest sentence, we should express the main idea in the strongest action verb.

My ambition is to be a poet. (Clear but weak: Main idea in nouns.)

I aspire to be a poet. (Stronger: Main idea in an action verb.)

I yearn to be a poet. (Stronger yet: Main idea in a strong action verb.)

As action verbs vary greatly in vividness or dramatic quality, so do nouns, adjectives, and adverbs. In general, monosyllables are stronger than polysyllables, and words derived from Old English (yearn) are stronger than Latin-derived words (aspire). The poet's task is to use these degrees of strength appropriately, as Shakespeare does in Hamlet's dying request to his friend Horatio:

If ever thou didst hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity a while
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story.

The soft, Latinate words of the second line give way to the hard-hitting monosyllables of the third, most of which are derived from Old or Middle English.
The placement of words is also important. The final word of a poetic line holds the most emphatic position, while the first word holds the next most emphatic. In the previous quotation, the strongest word--pain--occurs at the end of a line. From this we can form the basic rule: put the most emphatic word at the end of the poetic line.
For variety, however, we can deliberately weaken that position to rush the reader through to a strong word at the beginning of the next line (the next most emphatic position):

Waking before the sunrise, she and I
Walk the woodland trails beginning when darkness
Flows, flood-tide, and sends its somber currents
Billowing over the scarred and sullied earth....
                                                --Donn Taylor, ©2005

The soft endings of darkness and currents weaken the line ending and pass the reader through to the strong words flows and billowing. Flows receives further emphasis by being set off with a comma.
Words that are already strong can be given greater emphasis by preceding them with weak words, as Tennyson does in the final line of  "Ulysses":

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


Words or phrases can also be emphasized by putting them in a separate line, as in this satire of mine (©1978):

...like an experienced bureaucrat shouting "Eureka!"
as after awkward arduous hours he invents
an octagonal wheel.

SUMMARY: 1. When possible, put the main idea in a strong verb.
2. Find strong words and put them in emphatic positions in the poetic line.
3. Emphasize important words or phrases by putting them in separate lines.
4. Use as few weak words as possible. Use the necessary weak words to make the strong words stronger by contrast.
 
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