Wednesday, October 29, 2008

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

If you have a novel idea you're invited to join NaNoWriMo for a breath taking month of writing. Think first draft ... quantity vs. quality ... a chance to write the novel you have been putting off. Forget editing as you go, instead the goal is to create a 175 page (50,000 words) first draft. Its free, the website is great, and there is round the clock support online.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Don't Always Get To Write What I Want, But...

Kate Wicker is a wife, at-home mom and writer. When she's not working on several "almost finished novels and short stories, she dabbles in the personal essay market, Christian parenting and health writing. Some of her credits include Atlanta Parent, Faith & Family, Inside Catholic, Pregnancy magazine, and Woman's Day.

When I graduated with a journalism degree in 2000, I thought literary writing was the only thing worth doing. I wanted my writing to enlighten, to touch people deeply and maybe even to change the world one word at a time. I was also in my early twenties, so of course I knew absolutely everything. Now several years later I know otherwise. Today I'm a successful freelancer, but how I became one was not as idyllic as I had supposed. Everything I write isn't artsy, nor am I up for a Pulitzer Prize, but my words are being published and I'm getting paid to do what I love (yippee!), and all you other dreamy idealists can too, but you may have to readjust the way you look at your writing.

Here are some lessons that have helped a pensive scribe like myself along the way:
Be sneaky if you want to enlighten. In most writing markets, you can choose to edify your readers in which case a lot of them will stop reading, or you can choose to talk to them on their own level, snag their interest and marble in a surprise here and there to intrigue them and make a handful of them think further. It's sort of "stealth edification." I learned this lesson the hard way. I landed my first job as a writer in the marketing department of an academic medical center. I hated writing generic health articles like "how to lower your cholesterol," so I desperately tried to write more substantive and creative pieces...that is until my boss told me I needed to stick to the basic facts and write at a middle school level. At first I was appalled, but then I realized she was right. The audience I was writing for wanted to sink their teeth into quick, healthy bites of information. They weren't looking to leisurely sit down and read Faulkerian sentences or Proust prose.

Learn to let go. I used to hate to cut anything from my writing. I was so attached to my words that slashing them was like severing a limb. However, I learned that it was easier for me to edit my work than for it to either not sell or for an editor to change it so much that it didn't even seem like it was mine any longer. It may hurt a little at first, but take a deep breath and let go of any words and sentences that aren't absolutely necessary, especially if you have a strict word count to meet (750 words means 750 words). If you're fond of a particular image ("the trees reached up to the sky like gnarled hands"), then jot it down in a notebook and save it for another piece. Sometimes a sentence or idea may not work for a particular publication (or audience), but it may be perfect for something else.

Never lose sight of why you're writing. Do you have a good idea? Is there a point of view you want to promote? Do you want to convince someone to think as you do? Do you want to comfort someone, inspire them, reassure them, horrify them, urge them into action or maybe make them laugh? Whatever it is that you (and the editors - you can never lose sight of their needs) want to accomplish, use the language that will get the job done. That's all that matters. Anything else is like contemplating your navel.

Finally, don't take yourself too seriously. Sometimes I get in these ridiculously contemplative moods. I might fill a page with a wordy description of one, stinkin' leaf or I might ponder Communism, vegetarianism, antidisestablishmentarianism or some other 'ism. When I'm writing about it, it all seems to make sense. Yet, sometimes I have to take a step back and say, "Whoa, wait a minute. What is this? Will others really enjoy reading this?" If the answer is no, then it's time to move on. If the answer is yes or even maybe, then I can try to sell it. If it sells, hooray! Bring out the champagne. If it doesn't, que sera, sera. There's always another market, another editor looking for the right query, another day, another leaf and another 'ism.
At the end of the day, if I'm not enjoying what I do and am sweating over every single word or rejection, then it's not worth it. There are too many writers out there who end up sequestered in a little cave with a row of empty gin-and-tonics with an "almost finished" novel and queries that never made it to the outbox. Even if I can't always write exactly what or how I want, I don't intend to join that society anytime soon. Neither should you.

She blogs at

This article was orginally published at Thanks Kate!

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Story of Your Life (Getting Started)

_Although the terms biography, autobiography and memoir are sometimes used interchangeably they are quite different. Best-selling author Gore Vidal, said, "a memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked." It is more about what can be gleaned from a section of one's life than about the outcome of the life as a whole. (source: Wikipedia, memoir, online).

_What is the difference between a biography, autobiography, and a memoir?

  • Biography - the historical account of a person's life and is written by someone else. Requires research and fact checking. Most often biographies are told chronologically.

  • Autobiography - the historical account of a person's life and is written by that person. Many autobiographies are told chronologically and they tell the complete story of one's life.

  • Memoir - Reminiscences. Thematic (i.e. my life as a chef ... teacher ...cancer survivor... police officer). A book describing the personal experiences of the author. The memoirist does not usually tell their entire story. Genre.

_Memoirs continue to be very popular with the reading public. Every month eight to ten new titles are published by traditional publishers. At this time the number of titles that are self-published are unavailable.

_In my opinion, the best memoirs are those that share with the reader the lessons that the author has learned by going through the experience. As a reader I want to know how their life has changed because of these events. Does the author have something new, something insightful to share with me? Here are some tips on how to get started writing the story of your life:

  1. Ask yourself, "Which events in my life am I going to write about?" - start by making a list (10-15) significant turning points in your life.

  2. What do you want these events to say about your life? - What have you learned from these events? How have these events changed how you live or view the world now. What do you know that the reader might not know?

  3. Will you connect your story to history? - What was going on in the world during this time. This can be a real way in which to connect with the reader.

  4. How much should you tell? - This is an important decision, don't make it lightly. This is solely your decision. Not sure? Consult with someone you trust. Remember your first responsibility is to yourself.

  5. Who is the book for? - First and foremost the book is for you. If you choose to have others read your work then you will need to define your audience.

A Memoir of Loss and Survival (Book Review-memoir)

Blue Genes, written by Christopher (Kit) Lukas "explores the complex and shattering effects of a family legacy of depression and suicide on the author and his brother, the award-winning journalist J. Anthony Lukas.

_"Kit's mother committed suicide when he was a boy. He and his brother, Tony, were not told how she died. The family's history of depression, bipolar disorder, and suicide stretched back years, but on one spoke of it. The legacy of guilt and grief haunted Kit and Tony throughout their lives.

_"Both brothers achieved remarkable success, Tony, as a gifted journalist, Kit as an accomplished television producer and director. While Kit was able to confront his family's troubled past, Tony was ultimately unable and in 1997, shortly before the publication of his acclaimed book Big Trouble, Tony committed suicide.
_Blue Genes (great title by the way) is "Written with heartrending candor, it captures the devastation of this family legacy of depression, but it is also surprisingly uplifting, as it details the strength and hope that can provide a way of escaping depression's grasp." (taken from the back cover (ARC).

The reason to read - Putting your story on paper just might help you deal with a difficult past. Writing just might help you make sense of your life. If you have a story to tell, give yourself permission to sit down and write it.

_Kit Lukas closes his memoir with these words: "In looking at the years since Tony's suicide, I can see that the whys? collide: why Tony succumbed to despair and died, and why I have not. They collide, and then, like waving lines on an oscilloscope, part again. My mother, my father, my uncle, my aunts, my grandmothers are all dead. But I am alive."

Buffalo Gal (Book Review-memoir)

"Growing up in the snowblower society of Buffalo, New York, Laura Pedersen's first words were most likely 'turn the wheel into a skid.' " Her "vibrant memoir shares the humorous ups and downs of the Pedersens, who, like many families subsisting in the frigid North during the seventies, feared rising prices at the gas pump, argued about the thermostat, and fought over the dog to stay warm at night. While her parents were preoccupied with surviving separation and stagflation, Laura became the neighborhood wild child, skipping school to play poker, bet on horses, and trade stocks. ... Combining laugh-out-loud humor with a genuine slice of social history, Buffalo Ga paints a vivid portrait of an era." (taken from the back cover (ARC))

The reason to read - Told in 34 (stand-alone) chapters, with titles like, "God's Frozen People," and "Sleet Happens": The Blizzard of '77" the author entertains her readers. Story, time and place are important elements in this memoir and Laura Pedersen handles all three superbly. Reading her words should be mandatory for anyone wanting to tell their own story in a similar bright and humorous way.

_"Laura Pedersen exudes an irrepressible, irreverent spirit ... in a book that lives and breathes in its snappy, unaffected dialogue." The Baltimore Sun.

_Laura Pedersen was the youngest columnist for the New York Times and, prior to that, the youngest person to have a seat on the American Stock Exchange. She the author of eight books, including Beginner's Luck. Honored as one of Ten Outstanding Young American by President Clinton. She has appeared on CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, Primetime Live, The Today Show, and Late Night with David Letterman. She currently lives in New York City and teaches at the Booker T. Washington Learning Center in East Harlem.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hot Picks

Here's a look at what readers are reading during these challenging times...

Books explaining financial issues are becoming more popular during the current economic crisis--along with thrillers and cookbooks, Reuters reported.

Kathryn Popoff, Borders v-p for adult trade books, told Reuters: "People are really thirsting for knowledge and trying to understand what's happening out there and how we could have gotten to this point in the economy."Book buyers are also nabbing thrillers for escapes and cookbooks because more people are eating at home to save money, Reuters said.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bouchercon 2008 in Review

I've known Mary Beth for awhile now and she is definitely one of my favorite people. Over the years I've had the opportunity to read and enjoy her novels. Hopefully, one day soon you'll have a chance to read this talented author's work yourself. Until then, look for another short story (or two) in the upcoming anthology being published by the Harford County Writers Group. For those of you who don't know her, let me introduce her...

Mary Beth Creighton, the Director of Outpatient Rehabilitation for Upper Health Center has written a number of novels. "The Elimination of Annie" won 2nd place in the 2005 Maryland Writers Association contest. Her short stories have appeared in "Voices From the Susquehanna (2005). Although her first love is fiction her article on the benefits of hospital massage therapy was published by "Massage Magazine."

Mary Beth recently attended Bouchercon 2008. She's home now and working on a brand new murder mystery. I can't wait to read it.

Writing Conferences
Have you ever wondered if it is worth it to attend a writing conference? Some are more directed at aspiring writers while others are more directed at fans, but all are an opportunity to meet authors, network, and get inspired!
Recently, I attended Bouchercon 2008 "Charmed to Death" which was held October 9th -12th in Baltimore City. Headlined by Laura Lippman, dozens of mystery writers were present for panel discussions from plotting to character development to how to research the best way to murder your victim. Many authors have stand alone and/or series novels. From amateur sleuths to hard boiled detectives, it was informative to hear how the authors conceived of their main characters, their settings, and of course, their intriguing plots. I found it interesting that many of the authors had former careers and/or ties in military, law, or intelligence organizations.
The conference attendees were made up of both fan and aspiring writers. Questions and answer sessions at the end of each panel were encouraged and informative. This particular conference did not afford the opportunity to meet with an agent or editor like the Maryland Writer’s Association annual conference does. There was however plenty of opportunities for book signings. I met Craig Johnson and bought the first book in his mystery series, The Cold Dish. I’m hooked and highly recommend it. I’m putting his other books on my Christmas List.
Hearing how the authors think was also very satisfying, because it validated to me that I am a writer. I was inspired to write after the conference. In fact, I have been reworking a story since then and have written fifteen pages!

Mary Beth Creighton

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Your Chance to Interview a Professional...

Do you have questions about writing? Need advice oncrafting writing magazine articles that sell? Ever wanted to be published in any of the Chicken Soup books? Wondered about entering a writing contest or two? Need help getting started....

Peggy is a talented, award-winning writer from New York. She writes fiction and nonfiction stories and articles for many popular magazines. Her work has appeared in numerous editions of Chicken Soup. She also interviews others and ghostwrites their stories. Peggy has agreed to answer any questions you might have about writing, marketing, and publishing.

Take advantage of getting feedback from a professional writer.

Please send your questions to .

I'll forward them to Peggy in early November.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Moby-Dick, an official novel

The Associated Press has reported that the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a bill last week "naming Moby-Dick the state's official book." Fellow lawmakers questioned Rep. Christopher Speranzo's proposal to make Herman Melville's (1851) classic "the official book," given the state's rich literary history. Representative Cory Atkins, (Concord) was "appalled" by the choice," indicating that her district has more authors per square mile than any other. "What about Louisa May Alcott? What about (Nathaniel) Hawthorne? How am I going to face my constituents?" she asked.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Simple Plan

Ideas. Where do they come from? Its a familiar question, one that authors are often asked during a book signing or when being interviewed. All writers know that ideas come in all shapes and sizes and are everywhere, in the people we meet, in the things we hear on TV and read in the newspaper, and in our past experiences or those of others.

The truth is ideas are all around us. All of us are bombarded with ideas each and every day. Successful writers however, have trained themselves to recognize these nuggets and know what to do with them. Published authors are willing to spend the hours it takes to put these ideas, these nuggets to work. They begin by asking "what if"....

The idea: what if three men find $4 million dollars in unmarked bills and decide to keep it. What if these same men agree to a plan that will let them safely keep the money?

A Simple Plan is a film about three men, Hank, (played by Bill Paxton), his simple-minded brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton), and their friend Lou (Brent Briscoe), who find a bag full of money in a downed plane and decide to keep it. The plan is that Hank will hide the money in his house until winter ends, and then the three of them will divvy up the cash and move away. They promise to tell no one.

Plotting the story: What if things go wrong, horribly wrong. What if the sheriff shows up. What if the secret is shared. What if someone else wants the money. What if someone dies?

A writer can learn a lot about motivation and character development by watching this film. A questionable decision is the basis for this film and layer by layer the story is revealed.

What if you sit down and spend some time asking your character what if? It really is a very simple plan to use when writing your next novel.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

How Not To Market Your Book

It seems there is a new trend in marketing books. Several agents have reported that writers are including bids for sympathy along with their synopsis.

"I want to donate part of the proceeds from this book to charity." (translation: See how charitable I am. Can the publishing house donate the money from their proceeds?) If the author truly were intending to donate their advance and royalties wouldn’t they simply do so after the book sells and the money starts rolling in?

Or. "I started writing this novel before my mother (dad, brother, aunt, neighbor) died and she/he loved it. Will you buy it? I will be dedicating my book to him/her." (translation: Obviously my deceased relative knows more about publishing and audiences than either of us. So we owe it to them and their memory. I’m just saying.) Even if this is a true statement, publishing, is business. And as writers we should conduct ourselves as professionals.

And. "For years, I’ve been told I’m could be the next Clancy, Roberts, Rowlings and that I should write a book. I have. Here it is. I will be retiring at the end of next month. The money will come in handy." (translation: the money will come in handy, now.) Authors became mega sellers because they have fresh ideas, a unique style, great story lines, and a following. "Writing like" Clancy, Roberts, Rowlings indicates your are a "poor imitation."

Unfortunately, unless you are a mega seller, you’ll have a bit more writing to do once that novel is finished. First books are sold with a proposal package which includes a synopsis, outline, chapter samples and a cover letter.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Solid Truth

Steve Berry, the author of The Charlemagne Pursuit, the fourth novel to feature Cotton Malone, an ex-Justice Department agent. (during an interview with Allen Appel)

Allen: You’ve said it took seven years and 85 rejections before your first book found a home. What advice do you have to other authors who find themselves in a similar position?

Steve: It’s a tired old cliché, but it’s also a solid truth—never, ever give up. Somebody’s name is going to be on the cover of a book—it might as well be yours .

Publishers Weekly, 10/6/2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

from Forbes

Forbes Magazine

Write big books, earn big bucks. Forbes magazine featured its annual "The World's Best Paid Authors" list of 10 bestselling writers who "pulled in a combined $563 million between June 1, 2007, and June 1, 2008, thanks to hefty advances, impressive sales and silver screen adaptations."

This years Forbes list includes:

  1. J.K. Rowlings ($300 million)
  2. James Patterson ($50 million)
  3. Stephen King ($45 million)
  4. Tom Clancy ($35 million)
  5. Danielle Steel ($30 million)
  6. John Grisham (tied $25 million)
  7. Dean Koontz (tied $25 million)
  8. Ken Follet ($20 million)
  9. Janet Evanovich ($17 million)
  10. Nicholas Sparks ($16 million)

in Media res

Openings are important, they invite the reader into the story and keep them reading. Janet, a successful literary agent explains. "I ask the question: does this work pull me into a fictional dream? If it does, then I’ll keep reading, wanting more, if not I put the book down. If it doesn’t work on the first page, why would it work on the second page and so on?"

As writers it is our job is to hook the reader immediately. Yet for many authors the opening can be one of the hardest parts of the book to write. There is a lot of advice out there … "begin with a character" … "don’t open with a dream sequence" … "set the scene" … "don’t mention the weather" … "tell a joke’ … "don’t tell a joke" … "set the tone" … "set the mood" ….

"A good opening," according to writing consultant Scott Edelstein, "should fit naturally with the rest of the piece. It should give your reader a sense (either overt or subliminal) of what is to come in the way of tone, mood, and events. It should not mislead your reader, intentionally or unintentionally."

Today, most genre editors (and many agents) demand that their writers jump into the story with both feet …or in medias res (Latin for "into the middle of things"). Murder mysteries that open with the main character tripping over a dead body open in medias res. Martin Scorsese’s movie Goodfellas starts in the middle of the story (in medias res), while Francis Ford Coppola‘s Godfather does not.

The advice I most often give in my novel writing class is "begin as close to the end as possible." Consider a movie about a kidnapping. Randsom, the 1996 movie starring Mel Gibson as Tom Mullen and Rene Russo as his wife Kate opens with the Mullen’s attending a science fair in Central Park with their young son Sean. Within minutes the family becomes separated and Sean is kidnapped. A parents’ worst nightmare becomes reality. The viewer is hooked.

Later, during the police investigation the audience learns the background story. Bit by bit past events emerge to disclose possible motives and potential suspects. The plot line is designed to keep the story moving forward, the tension building toward the climax and finally the end.

The good news is that the opening doesn’t have to written first. Finish the first draft then during rewrites ask yourself does this opening grab the reader? Does it generate excitement? Does it make sense? Will the opening make the sale?

Write Your Life Story

A number of years ago, I was asked by the then Director of Community Services at HCC Kay Ramage, to create a "memoir class" for their Spring Senior’s Week (senior citizens that is). And so the first Write Your Life Story class was assembled. Those early morning classes were full of eager storytellers. Bittersweet tales about first romances and current loves were shared. Growing up in a steel town was described. We heard descriptions of going to war and coming home. Stories about sisters and brothers, children, grandchildren and beloved parents were remembered. Descriptions of living in distant a distant city or a foreign country. Or growing up on a farm. Accounts of happiness and hardships. Prosperity and poverty. Wonderful memories and not so wonderful times. As stories were exchanged I could see heads nodding in agreement. Stories may differ but feelings are universal. I’ve never forgotten the students or their stories.

Everyone has a story. The next memoir class begins Friday, October 24th (10/24-12/12) at 9:00 a.m. - noon. Fallston Hall, Room 103. Write Your Life Story Course number 45606. Hope to see you there!

The Longest Trip Home, A Memoir

The fans of Marley & Me will be glad to know that John Grogan’s new memoir THE LONGEST TRIP HOME will be released at the end of this month.

This is an engaging, often hilarious, and always tender memoir of growing up in a strict Catholic household where one’s faith in the Magisterium was a given; after all who could possibly question the Chruch? A comfortable life for the four children, a mother "physically incapable of receiving Holy Communion without bursting into tears, a "can-do" father and a home, three doors from Our Lady of Refuge, in Harbor Hills Michigan where a single bushy marijuana plant thrived in the backyard vegetable garden. Author John Grogan begins his story with an unexpected phone call from his eighty-six year old father. His father’s news is coupled with a request, a request that his son isn’t sure he can grant. Underneath however, this is a book about coming to terms with conflicting choices, and what to do when a family begins to drift apart. This is a story that will resonate with its many readers. In the end, however, THE LONGEST TRIP HOME is a journey towards reconciliation. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry, but mostly it will make you want to reach out to those "you love the most…." Like any successful memoir this beautifully told book will be an inspiration for those who have their own story to tell. Most readers will see something of themselves in the pages of John Grogan’s newest offering. I know I did.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dialogue, To Give or Get Information

The idea behind "Dialogue" is my desire to stay in touch with former students, clients, and other writers. Being part of a writing community has always been important to me. I've encouraged class members to join or create a writers group for support. Some have stayed in touch, some haven't. Perhaps this blog will become part of the journey for all of us. "Dialogue," a place to offer support, suggestions, share news, and ask questions. A place to talk about new books, and old ones. "Dialogue," a place to give and get information. Think fiction "dialogue is vital to the story, it delivers information and reveals character." "Dialogue" gives life to the work.