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Monday, November 27, 2017

On Writer Buddies & Ignoring Them

“Generally, art partly completes what nature cannot bring to a finish, and partly imitates her." -Aristotle, Physics, Pt. 2& 8
“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” -Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying.


Although the critical theorist in me would love to join a spirited debate between two old dead guys, for the sake of brevity let’s just agree that life and art are inextricable. Then as artists we can apply those truths we’ve found in life to the benefit of our work (which will then improve our life, likely resulting in the further improvement of our work, but that’s only if imitation…wait, I said I WASN’T going to join the debate).
Aristotle
In life, we have multidisciplinary evidence that it’s impossible to succeed or thrive without human contact; the same is true of art. You cannot succeed as a writer without allies and friendships. Yet the work of a writer (and I imagine most artists) is rather secluded. I can’t tell you how many times I have laughed at myself when writing a scene thinking “How would a non-socially awkward person respond in this moment... oh well, I have beta readers and normal people for that.”
There is this romantic image in the writer’s mind of a cabin in a forest somewhere which contains little besides a laptop, maybe a caffeine source, and a table near a pot belly stove. The haze of said cabin is a place from which triumphant writers emerge with completed manuscripts after the course of a week. Now, I have been to that cabin; my friend’s mom owns it and sometimes we go there for tea and the pleasant company of ignoring each other for a while. Ah…the cabin. ::sigh:: But that romantic image is not where books get made.
Isolation is the suffocating pit of self-doubt where dreams go to die. Don’t get me wrong, I understand and agree that there is a definite time to buckle your pants and close the door so you can get the work done. Managing distractions and interruptions is a skill that must be a sharp pair of scissors in a writer’s toolkit. Don’t get me started on smartphones and the “attention economy” (seriously though, google that, but not right now, you’re reading something). Some parts of the writing process are isolated and focused.  But others require external input and criticism; writers know this. I personally recommend this cool new thing the kids are doing called single-tasking (It’s pretty fringe, you’ve probably never heard of it). It’s this new wave habit where you turn of the smartphone and TV, ignore all the people that you love, and do one thing at a time. The writers that practice it, finish their books. Food for pigeons.
I’m still new at this (obviously, you should see my under-construction newbie website. Or maybe not, ha!), but there were two things that took my writing game to the next level in 2017. The first was tracking my hours. That habit showed me the limits on my “focus” time. Before tracking, I often vacillated between “I have no time to write” and “I am taking so much time to write away from my family, oh the guilt! But data doesn’t lie, and I have been averaging about 15 hours a week for 11 months because I started tracking. My two cents: Track. Analyze. See where it takes you. The second and even more helpful change I made this year was connecting with fellow writers. I’ll be honest with you; it was intimidating at first. I started out thinking, “Who am I to comment, ask for feedback, or share ideas?” Not to mention, we all have asked that dreaded question, “Am I really a writer?” I’ll let you in on an industry secret; you are. And more to the point at hand, we’ve all asked it of ourselves. That question is not so far in my rearview mirror that I have forgotten its impact. It matters; ask it; answer it.  There will come a moment when you realize how silly it is that you ever had to ask. But whether or not we admit it we’ve all asked ourselves that question. For some of us we were in junior high, but we still asked it.
Honestly, for me, connecting with authors is still intimidating. I’m writing a guest post for Author Culture today for cry-babying out loud, how cool is that? My first book is only half finished, but without the dual pedals of focused work and writer buddies, on my book-cycle (oh man that’s a terrible metaphor), my WIP would still be an intangible dream.
This writing journey, whether it’s to Canterbury, Random House, or Amazon is made better by companyae (Ha! Middle English non-conventional spelling for the win!).
I cannot stress this enough. Do the work. Write. And connect. With. Other. Writers.
Good. Now, actually show them your work. Otherwise you will likely end up arguing with Aristotle or something…
…and we all know how that ended.

p.s. If you are interested in connecting, look me up on Facebook or check out my blog http://candor.amykaras.com/
I’ll keep the sass to a minimum…maybe. 

Amy Karas is a mom of two beautiful kiddos, a wife to a great man, and a child of God who occasionally takes herself too seriously. She is grateful to offer her writing as the crayon scribblings of a child at a plastic table next to the desk of her Heavenly father while he does real work. 
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Friday, November 24, 2017

6 Things Writers Can Do This Holiday Season

Halloween is in the distant past (as is summer), Thanksgiving is behind us, and the Christmas season is in full swing. This is traditionally the time when the publishing business slows down, folks go on vacation, the holidays consume us, and not a lot gets done until after the new year.

I'm not sure if that still holds true or not. In this age of instant communication, maybe it's just as easy to accept or reject a manuscript at home, on the train or bus, or even in the car (in the passenger seat, of course) as it is in the office. Needless to say, every publishing house, editor, agent, and writer does it differently. Many writers self-publish these days and can work around their holiday festivities with no worries about publishing houses slowing down during the last month of the year.

Aside from wondering if this holds true, I also want to mention how easy it is to put our writing on the back burner and take it easy for a while. If that works for you, and you don't feel guilt or pressure, I say go for it. If, though, you're like me and would rather know you're on top of things in your little corner of this profession, you'll continue doing what you always do.

You'll people-watch. Malls are great places to watch others as they run from store to store, lugging around their latest purchases and cursing themselves for not leaving their winter coats in the car. You'll see exasperated parents, cranky toddlers, whiny teenagers, bored middle-schoolers, frantic retail employees. You'll see men and women who truly want to be there shopping their hearts out, and you'll see others who gladly would give you a kidney on the spot if you would just get them out of there.

You'll eavesdrop. Everyday conversations are interesting enough, but add in the stress and hustle-bustle of mall-shopping, and you've struck dialogue gold. Shopping is tough from the get-go; add in a heavy coat, bags of purchases whose handles, whether twine or plastic, are threatening to cut off the circulation to your hands at any moment, the food court and its horde of hungry humans, and the lines--let's not forget the long lines--and you've got some juicy dialogue to steal.

You'll take notes. Neither of the above activities will be worth a hill of beans if you don't take notes. Dictate what you hear and see into your phone (and you'll have the added advantage of looking like a spy), so all those gestures, words, and whining you've culled from your day of snooping won't be forgotten.

You'll continue journaling, writing devotionals, free-writing, or whatever you do with your computer when you're not actually writing or editing (and Free Cell doesn't count) your latest work-in-progress, if for no other reason than to keep your work fresh and in the forefront of your mind.

You'll keep up with your blog posts, or at least warn your readers that you'll be back in a couple of weeks. While I don't personally have as much time to read blog posts during the holidays as I do during the rest of the year, I do look forward to a few of them and would wonder where they went if I wasn't told in advance. It's just common courtesy. You might also want to write some blog posts, tweets, etc., ahead of time and schedule them with Edgar or some other site that will do that for you. That allows you the freedom of not having to worry about missing important obligations.

And finally, I sincerely hope you'll remember what this season is really all about and enjoy yourself, your family, the food, fun, and parties, the meaningful church activities, and all the traditions that surround you and your loved ones. No, we can't forget we're writers and losing a month out of the twelve we get each year will no doubt cause you to do some catching up come January. But a little forethought and a few minutes each day devoted to what you do best will go a long way in keeping those January blues at bay.

Maintaining an orderly work life is important, but that pales in comparison to the memories you'll make with your family and loved ones. A little bit of planning will go a long way in giving yourself the freedom to truly enjoy the holidays and all they entail.
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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Helping Fellow Writers

Part 2 of Lisa Hannon's Guest Post on Writing Group Critiques -Reading (and listening) to help another writer.

For both the person giving and the person receiving the critique, there are a number of things that can become apparent in the necessarily short pieces that are read aloud in a read-and-critique group. No one is going to address every possible item of the following lists in a few minutes of verbal critique, but keeping them in mind allows the person giving the critique touchpoints, and allows the writer the ability to strive for the positive points and correct those that should be changed before putting their work in front of others.
For those trading manuscripts online for critique, the lists can be valuable reminders, both to the writer and the reader, as well:
What to look and listen for when writing, or when listening or reading to critique another writer.
             The villain who isn’t just a stereotype.
             The hero who isn’t a stereotype either. A hero without weakness is boring! Some weakness makes them human, and the reader needs to identify with him or her in ways that make them keep reading.
             Dialogue that works.
             Plots (and subplots) that are clear and compelling.
             In non-fiction, there should still be a story arc – you’re trying to get from Point A to Point B, whether it’s a biography or a history.
Changes to look for:
             Plot – Is the plot clear, is it believable? Is the piece read out or handed out to the workshop driving that plot?
             Subplots – Are they necessary to the story? Do they drive the story, or are they distracting? Are they convincing and well-drawn?
             Setting – Does the reader know where they are? Is the setting used as another character within the story, driving the action, or is it a thruway?
             Characters – Are characters motivated, are they individual? Are you able to tell them apart by how they drive their dialogue? Or do you simply not care whether a character lives or dies?
             Characters – Does each character have a defined arc? Every major character, and any character that drives a subplot, should go through some form of change between the beginning of the story and the end, or a reader will feel incomplete.
             Names – The names of the characters are part of the overall setting—are they appropriate? Do they help define the characters?
             Consistency – Do the characters adhere to the facts we learn about them during the story?  Take a look at continuity, in the sense that a character who exhibits a trait in one part of the story still has that trait in another, unless it’s part of their own arc. A stoic may break down before the end of their arc, but a character with an amputated leg should not grow it back, unless it’s science fiction or magic.
             Length – if the piece is a short story, every word should drive the story arc. If it’s a novel, or part of a novel, there is more time and ability for character development, backstory, etc.
             Language – are some phrases confusing? Are the words chosen well?
             Lack of conflict—a story without conflict isn’t a story, it’s a monologue.
             Too much conflict – the reader needs some moments of calm in order to breathe.
             Description – Places where more description is called for (or less).
             Dialogue amount – Places in the story where more dialogue is necessary (or less).
             Dialogue attributions – Be sensitive to passages where more attributions are needed so readers don’t get lost in figuring out which character’s speaking, or fewer “he said/she saids.”
             Action tagging – Places in dialogue where an action tag would be appropriate.
             Pacing – Areas of the story where the pace is dragging, and you just want the characters to get on with it.  Alternatively, be aware of sections where pacing is racing so fast, the reader doesn’t have time to breathe, and can quickly get lost and frustrated.
             Information dumps – When a character or the narrator simply tells what’s happening or gives backstory without weaving it into the narrative of the story. This is where the person giving the critique will often say, “You need more showing and less telling in this section.” This is also often where an observer will say, “This part was a little boring.”
             Show don’t tell – Telling and not showing is also an issue when you see the word “felt.” Naming emotions can distance the reader. “She felt sad,” doesn’t give the readers what they need. But showing them will: “Covering her face with her hands didn’t stop the tears. Nothing did.”
             Dialogue reality – Unbelievable dialogue, whether it’s stilted or simply unlikely from the way the character has been drawn, is another character issue. It’s often when the person leveling the critique will say “I don’t believe the character would say something like …”
             Point of view issues – Swapping points of view mid-sentence or mid-paragraph can leave a reader confused or annoyed. No reader should ever have to wonder whose head they’re in or whose eyes they’re looking out of while they’re reading.
             Tenses – Tense confusion, from past to present and back should be noted.
Writer’s workshops can be even more valuable with a guideline to follow. Hopefully, this will help your workshop be even more valuable to its members.

About Lisa 
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Friday, November 17, 2017

Book Review of Memoir Miracle in My Living Room

Miracle in My Living Room: The story of a little Mann
Evelyn Mann
 Miracle In My Living Room: The Story of a Little Mann by [Mann, Evelyn]
Memoir
Her Purpose Press
c.2016
ISBN 9780998394404

Print: $12.95 Buy on Amazon
E-book: $2.99

From the publisher: In this inspirational story of hope, a first-time mom is faced with unthinkable circumstances. This was not the pregnancy any woman would have planned. This mom was forced to face the option of abortion while medical professionals said her son would never survive a day outside the womb. There were many harsh words used to describe her precious unborn child, including the devastating declaration “not compatible with life.”

Miracle in My Living Room chronicles a nearly 11-year journey for this mom who, when faced with absolutely no hope, found that there was ONLY hope.

My review: It’s hard not to sit back and feel guiltily grateful for only being violently sick during pregnancy after reading books like Mann’s memoir of her pregnancy and motherhood experience. Already in her late thirties when Evelyn and Ralph married, they wanted a family right away. Getting the welcome news of being pregnant was short-lived when a few months in, the first ultrasound showed issues, followed by a diagnosis of an extremely rare genetic condition. Evelyn was even discouraged from searching for more information about it, which she eventually ignored. The Manns chose to carry through with their pregnancy, searching for the right medical team and occasional heavenly intervention to help them. Samuel was always a real person in utero, through surgical birth and early months of love spent in hospitals and medical facilities. Evelyn and Ralph sacrificed their careers to watch over him, running interference through medical personnel when needed. They make it clear that while doctors, nurses, and aides for the most part did what they were taught to do, some were better at their specialties than others. While church and family gave unwavering support, questions still arose from their supporters and professionals about whether they were doing the right thing for their child. The Manns rightfully questioned themselves. Was Samuel in pain or too much distress? The special medical devices that kept him alive and in the most comfort were expensive and not always readily available. Constant supervision was critical for his care. Could they learn to care for him themselves at their own home?

Evelyn found other families touched by this condition and created a network of hope. Despite a “lethal” outlook, Samuel has lived over a decade, and their story offers inspiration.

My only complaint is about the treatment of editing. Numerous errors, even in the back cover copy, deflect a little from the book. Mostly typos which should have been caught before publication, perhaps a future edition would also correct naïve errors which work against the sincerity of the script.


About the author: Evelyn Mann is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Tampa Florida raising her special needs son, aka the “Miracle Mann.” Receiving inquiries from around the world, she offers other families hope and encouragement showing that a negative diagnosis is not beyond God’s reach.
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Nanowrimo Tips

Many writers are smack in the middle of National Novel Writer's Month - 50,000 words in 30 days. It seems a daunting task, but it's my 9th year to participate, and I love it. No, it's not a "submittable" project on the last day, but you have something to work with, which is better than nothing.

I usually start with an outline, but no matter how much I prepare, I get stuck. I'm tackling a historical fiction this time, a first for me, and so I did extensive research before November 1. Even with all that preparation I stumble over something that needs to be historically accurate, and I don't have the answer. I'm trying to remember to just focus on the story, and not get bogged down with questions. I jot down a note within my document so I know what I need to follow up on. I will lean heavily on my critique group later. They saved me from submitting something awhile back that had me stuffing my main character in the back seat of an El Camino. Yeah, I don't know anything about cars. The point is, the book was written. The bugs can get worked out later.

So...I tell myself:

1. Just keep writing.
2. Hook up with other Nano nuts for inspiration.
3. Take breaks. (I will put the work aside and watch a favorite program, jotting down words and phrases that catch my ear, and then go back to my project and try to incorporate them.)
4. Keep writing.
5. Remember that it's a draft, and you can write anything you want. Anything. Have fun.

Who's doing this with me? If you need an extra Nano Buddy, my handle is jodybooks. What's yours? Got any Nano tips?
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Friday, November 10, 2017

Domain-tenance

It started out innocently enough. All I wanted to do was switch hosts for my website because my computer, in all its glorious idiocy, suddenly wouldn't let me log out of my account with my Gmail address (where I do everything but my two blogs) and then sign in to my Yahoo account where my two blogs live. I spent an entire day doing everything to this computer other than tossing it off the balcony. Nothing worked.

I had no choice. I'd have to switch to a host that wouldn't require me to sign out and then sign in to another host to post on it, and then try to re-create my blogs on the second host. But in order to do that, I had to have a few questions answered. I asked a question and received a ticket at the new site. After several back and forth emails and a phone call, I finally figured out I'd have to have the old host point my domain to the new host's name servers. Of course, all this felt like pudding had been injected into my brain, but with the very friendly agent, I was able to initiate a website with them. All I had to do was contact the old host to tell them where they should point my domain in order to make my website live and able to be created.

Simple, huh? It might have been except the old host site is apparently manned by only a computer or maybe some talented monkeys. No humans, no place for a talk with an agent, nothing but a continual series of answers ("does this answer your question?") that almost, but not completely answer my questions. I asked for a ticket, but have yet to receive an email acknowledging that I'm even in the queue, so I'm in limbo until someone from the old site contacts me. I don't even know if I outright own the domain. Perhaps it's part of the old host and I'll have to pay for it forever, which is fine, but I have to know. In the meantime, I'm not able to start creating my new website until those darned domain thingies are pointed at the name servers.

My point (aside from a personal rant)? Please, please be careful when you choose a host for your website. There are attractive and free ones out there, and if your computer isn't as stubborn (dumb?) as mine, perhaps you'll never have a problem. But my advice is to talk to a human, if possible, then write down what they tell you about your domain (unless you bought it independently), because sure as shootin' you won't remember when you need to.

This might not be the best writing advice you've ever received, but it pays to ask other website owners how they like their hosts, the good and bad about them, and what they would do differently, if anything. I was naive and relied on only my limited knowledge of domains and websites, then went for the cheap fix to my problem. Yes, I got a website, and I liked it. But needs change, and technology advances daily (by the time this post goes live everything I've written above will no doubt be obsolete). As a result, I forgot important things that, had I written them down, wouldn't have left me in a holding pattern at the mercy of a computer or pack of talented monkeys. If ever I needed to talk to a human being, this is the time.

Even after I get all this needed information and get that domain pointed in the right direction, I still have to create the new website. I can feel the pudding now.
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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Single Quotations – American English Literary style


Image result for image of quotation marks 
When do writers use single quotation marks?
 Lisa Lickel
  • In NON-Fiction AP style – that is, if you’re writing a newspaper article and the editor puts a title of a book or other such piece of work in the headline
  • In languages other than AMERICAN English – like, Queen’s or British-style
  • In quotes within quotes


Pay Attention, Authors!

If you’re writing an American English piece of literature no matter the style or genre or length, you only use a single quote mark when one of your characters is quoting something while speaking. Seriously. That’s it.

Please, I beg you, Horatio—nevermore use a single quotation mark by its little itty bitty self. There may be an exception, but just…really, don’t do it. Okay? 

If you’re using “air” quotes – double; if you’re using internal and feel like you have to use a mark – double; if you’re going for emphasis, gently, once in a very great while – italics.

Example:

Maude uncurled her long legs from the chair and pushed upward. “Honestly, Rupert, if I’d wanted to hear another method of movement, I would have called Helen. She’s always telling us to ‘get a wiggle on,’ or some such nonsense.”

Rupert guffawed. “Ha! Just the other day she told me to move my ‘blooming arse.’ Said she’d heard it in a movie.”


“Ye-es,” Maude drawled. “My Fair Lady. Elisa tries to show how refined she’s become until she attends a race and is about to lose a bet. She ‘shocks’ some of the ladies with her course language, though the ‘gentlemen’ get quite a kick.”
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