“Label Jars, Not People”

Out of the need to raise awareness about the dignity of all people came the slogan a few years back “Label Jars, Not People.” Referring to people as “the mentally ill” or “the blind” or “the homeless” marginalizes individuals and limits how they are perceived.

While I fully agree with this enlightened view, I’m appropriating the slogan for my own purpose which is to point out that labels are bad for writers, too. Why? Because they are a shorthand that robs the reader of the experience. If I write that my character suffers from “imposter syndrome,” you get the idea instantly, maybe you even personalize it, but you don’t feel it in your gut. What if I write:

“Without taking time to remove her stage make-up, Catherine sneaked out the theater’s service delivery door, but a fan accosted her: ‘You were marvelous tonight.’ Her throat tightened, and her breaths came in gasps. Hadn’t he noticed when she slipped out of character or when she slurred the word brewery?  She squeaked out a barely audible “Thank you.”

Another example: Writing about a character diagnosed with bi-polar disorder? Show the reader the behavior long before revealing the diagnosis. That gives the reader a full experience, after which comes the opportunity to think, “Aha, I knew it.”

Labels come to us easily. If I call a character “cute,” I know what I have in mind (not that I can picture it, because I don’t see pictures in my head–the subject of a previous post.) Better to provide a word picture or to give the reader an idea of what other characters notice about this person.

Btw, I want to thank Stephanie Hoogstad for her recent post “Imposter Syndrome–or I’m Not a Real Writer” in her blog The Writer’s Scrap Bin.  A good post that got me thinking about labels.

Your thoughts on labels? Leave a comment.

Quotable

Author Ian McLean posted this on Twitter:

 

Links for Writers v1.1

This is so much fun. This post was inspired by Cory Richardson, an aspiring writer related to my husband, Tim. She lives in a very small town and is eager to learn about writing resources on the internet.

With so much available, a Google search can be daunting. So I’m listing some links as a starting point. The cool thing about having a few resources is using them as a springboard to even more good stuff.

First of all, take a look at my posts in the “Writing Craft” category, especially Links for Writers v1.0 in which I refer to posts on character development and pacing, and Writing the Perfect Scene.

Get the juices flowing with writing prompts, for example the 365 Creative Writing Prompts from ThinkWritten.  

Since Cory wants to write science fiction, I Googled “science fiction writing prompts” which turned up several, including “58 Science Fiction Writing Prompts” from the blog of Mandy Wallace.

For plot development, I like Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. 

Readers, can you help? Getting feedback on your writing is so important. My writing education has come mainly from the critique group Novel in Progress Austin. But I know now everyone has the luxury of a live group, and there are online groups and places online where you can find a reading buddy to exchange material with. I just don’t know where they are.

It’s almost time for NaNoWriMo.  Join the nearly half a million people who will take the challenge to write a 50,000-word novel between November 1st to the 30th. I’ve never done it, but I know people who have, and it’s a great immersion experience. One reason I like the concept is that in order to write about 1,00 words per day, you have to allow yourself to write crap. And really, that’s what a first draft is and should be. It’s the time to let the creative juices flow and turn off the editing Nazi. And there’s help and camaraderie as you and others bounce off ideas in the interactive NaNoWriMo Forums, such as the Character Cafe and Worldbuilding.

There you have it for starters, Rory. Have fun.

Quotable

I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple. Tell the damned story.

–Tom Clancy

 

 

 

 

Janet Fitch’s Rules for Writers


As I’ve said before, White Oleander, by Janet Fitch, is a book I look to again and again to study writing style.  I’m happy to see that Fitch has a new novel coming out November 7th, entitled The Revolution of Marina M. It’s called “a sweeping saga of the Russian Revolution as seen through the eyes of one young woman.” (Just wish she hadn’t chosen the chopped-off head look so in vogue for covers today.)

A while back, Fitch, who teaches writing, shared her advice for writers with a blog of the Los Angeles Times.

Janet Fitch’s 10 Rules for Writers is worth taking a look at. Not wanting to reprint it in full without permission, I’ve taken just a sampling:

 Write the sentence, not just the story 

Long ago I got a rejection from the editor of the Santa Monica Review, Jim Krusoe. It said: “Good enough story, but what’s unique about your sentences?” That was the best advice I ever got. Learn to look at your sentences, play with them, make sure there’s music, lots of edges and corners to the sounds. Read your work aloud. Read poetry aloud and try to heighten in every way your sensitivity to the sound and rhythm and shape of sentences. The music of words. I like Dylan Thomas best for this–the Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait. I also like Sexton, Eliot, and Brodsky for the poets and Durrell and Les Plesko for prose. A terrific exercise is to take a paragraph of someone’s writing who has a really strong style, and using their structure, substitute your own words for theirs, and see how they achieved their effects.

My Take-away: I find reading Fitch’s rules heartening. I like to picture her laboring over craft just like I do.

Glimpse of the Past

I was recently talking with a friend about my former career as a newspaper reporter. This was before computers so stories were typed. We made small revisions following a copywriting guide, so, for example, if you crossed out a phrase and later decided to keep, it you wrote “stet” and circled it.

For big revisions, we had scissors and rubber cement. Need to move a paragraph? Cut it off and paste it where it belongs. Hence, “cut-and-paste.”

Quotable

The truth is libraries are raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy, and community. 

–Paula Poundstone 

 

 

Get That Word off the Tip of Your Tongue

You know the feeling. A word poised on the tip of your tongue, and no matter how hard you try, it just stays there. Well, don’t give up. There are a couple of sources that might help.

OneLook Reverse Dictionary and Thesaurus

I decided to test drive OneLook Reverse Dictionary and Thesaurus. I plugged in a search term: “horse breed with spots” and hit “Enter.” Here are the first four answers in a list of 100: “appaloosa, dalmatian, pointer, Holstein.: The word I had in mind was “pinto” which came in at #52. So I guess this search is most helpful when you know exactly what you’re looking for. That could be problematic if you’re a foreign spy,. Saying “dalmatian” when you should say “dapple” could get you outed.

Being a thesaurus, the site is also good for finding synonyms. An added bonus is that you can find crossword puzzle answers when all you know are a couple of letters (which hardly seems sporting).

Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary

The idea behind Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary (4th edition), by Marc McCutcheon is to pin down the right word by looking at a category and sometimes its subcategory. As the author says in the book’s introduction, “Consult Descriptionary whenever you are tempted to use words such as whatchamacallit, thingamajig, or doohickey . . .”

For example,  say you want to find WWII slang for food, you’d go to World War II Slang in the Military category. There you’d find terms like shimmy pudding for Jell-O, kennel rations for hash or meat loaf, and tin titty for canned milk. (The mess hall–or ptomaine alley–isn’t necessarily known for polite conversation.)

My advice is find the terms you want, then take time to browse because you’re almost certain to turn up other gems.

The 711-page fourth edition has some new categories, including Brain, Rocks and Gems, and Torture and Punishment.

Is It Ever Finished?

I published Compromise With Sin on June 1st, but it won’t leave me alone. During the night I woke up with the queasy feeling that I’d said pony when I should have said ponies. It could easily have happened, as I originally had one pony pulling a cart, then decided two would be better. Of course, I had to check it out, and fortunately the ponies are plural.

Quotable

Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.

–P.J. O’Rourke

 

How To Read a Novel MOOC

I told you a few weeks ago that I’d signed up for a free MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called “How To Read a Novel,” offered by the University of Edinburgh and FutureLearn. Well, I’m woefully behind and probably won’t get caught up. But I can tell you after the first couple of weeks that it’s very well done.

The course blends video lecture, illustrated excerpts from novels, reading assignments, and participant comments. I particularly enjoy the comments. Week 2 was an in-depth look at characterization, and one participant noted that she’s mistaken “having read a lot of books with being well-read.” She plans to re-read a number of books.

Compromise With Sin News

On Saturday I’ll participate in an indie authors event at the San Marcos (TX) Public Library. Called “Going Rogue: Self-Publishing 101,” the event is an opportunity for the public to learn “the various aspects of writing, branding, marketing, and generating sales from an interesting panel discussion.” In addition, I and other authors will display and sell books and talk with visitors.

And next Monday, I’ll visit the book club at Brookdale Gaines Ranch in Austin.

Quotable

To unspool a story is to inhabit a different space altogether. You have to let the world in your head grow until it becomes more important than the world you inhabit.

–Christina Baker Kline

Links for Readers, v1.1 August 2017

More links for the well-connected reader:

Book Goodies

Book Goodies is a web site with the tag line: “Find Great Books, Bargains, and Freebies.” And it lives up to its name. You’ll find book reviews, interviews with authors, podcasts, KDP Countdown deals, free books, and more. (I recently did an interview on Book Goodies.)

You can also sign up for the “Deals and Steals” newsletter, delivered to your inbox daily.

Midwest Book Review

While the New York Times and other big hitters primarily review books from the mega-publishers, Midwest Book Review focuses on small press publishers, self-published authors, and academic presses.

Established in 1976, Midwest Book Review is committed to “literacy, library usage, and small press publishing,” accepts no advertising, and relies on  volunteer reviewers. Interested? Here’s more info. 

Both readers and writers will find a wealth of information on the site, but be prepared to wander about, especially when it comes to pinning down actual book reviews. Enjoy the stroll.

Free Kindle for PC, Mac,  iPad, and Android 

Did you know that you don’t need to own a Kindle device in order to buy and read Kindle books? There’s a free app you can download from Amazon so you can read books on your computer, iPad or even your phone.

I have an early Kindle, the kind that you have to wind up, so I’m really enjoying reading books on my new little Lenovo computer. With its eleven-inch screen, it’s almost as handy as the Kindle. And because I own the device, my Kindle library shows up on my computer.

Go here to download the app.

Quotable

Reading is a conversation. All books talk. But a good book listens as well.

–Mark Haddon

Writer Skillfully Employs Meteor Shower

In the overnight hours of August 12th and 13th, I hope to catch the Perseid meteor shower. I’ve watched for the meteors several times but caught them just once. On that memorable occasion, friends and I had driven into the foothills of Denver to get away from light pollution. After staring up at the night sky for some time, we decided to lie down on the side of the road. Kids, don’t try this, OK?

It’s easy for writers to employ cosmic events in trite ways, but I’m reminded of a passage from Janet Fitch’s White Oleander. Astrid is standing with Ray and others watching for the Quatrandid meteor shower:

Excerpt: I could hear the mud sucking at his boots as he shifted his weight. I was glad it was dark, that he couldn’t see the flush of pleasure on my face as he drew closer, looking up at the sky as if he cared about the Quatrandids, as if that’s why he’d come out. . . . He was standing right next to me. If I shifted just an inch to my left, I could brush him with my sleeve. I felt the radiant heat of him across the narrow gap between us in the darkness. We had never stood so close.

My Take-away: The first line puts us right in the moment, hardly a romantic one, but it lets us know how acutely aware Astrid is of Ray’s presence. The rest of the paragraph reveals the growing mutual attractio without Fitch ever saying so directly.

Let me add that if I had only one book to emulate in terms of writing style, I’d choose White Oleander.

 

Compromise With Sin Available for Pre-order

The Kindle edition of Compromise With Sin will be published on August 19th. It’s available now for pre-order at $3.99.

Quotable

I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms. Hug it. Love it, and above all, become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.

–Roald Dahl

Compromise With Sin Earns Kirkus Star

I discovered today that Compromise With Sin , my debut novel, had earned a Star from Kirkus Reviews. I had to do a bit of sleuthing to see what that meant.

Now you may not be familiar with Kirkus Reviews, revered in the publishing industry since the 1930s. Booksellers and libraries and, to a lesser extent, readers rely on Kirkus for top-quality, independent reviews of traditionally published and indie published books.

The Kirkus Star is awarded to about ten percent of the books Kirkus reviews. The Star means I’m a nominee for the 2017 Kirkus Prize in Fiction. The winner will receive $50,000.

I’m still in shock.

Getting Inside a Character’s Skin

How is it that sometimes words on a page can make us feel as though we are experiencing what the character experiences? We feel the danger, loss, grief, whatever as though it’s happening to us.

Writers often achieve this by minimizing “psychic distance.” We have John Gardner to thank for spelling it out in The Art of Fiction. There are degrees of psychic distance that range from viewing a character as an observer to inhabiting the character’s skin. Gardner illustrates how a narrator’s description of a character can be more or less objective or intimate:

1. It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
2. Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
3. Henry hated snowstorms.
4. God, how he hated these damn snowstorms.
5. Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul.

There’s more on the subject of psychic distance on the blog of Emma Darwin, “The Itch of Writing.” (Thanks to Sharon Scarborough for that.)

As for my own writing, I only achieve intimate psychic distance on revision. First of all, in early drafts I’m just getting the story on paper. I don’t outline, so I’m busy figuring it out as I go. Second, getting inside a character often requires diving into emotional depths that don’t necessarily want to be explored.

Quotable

A writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent,or because everything she does is golden. A writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.

–Junot Diaz

Compromise With Sin and Self-Promotion

In the run-up to all-out promotion for my novel, Compromise With Sin, I decided this week’s blog post is all about me.  Would-be indie writers might learn something from my experience. Readers can glimpse a snapshot of the indie publishing world.

The print edition of Compromise With Sin has been for sale on Amazon since June 1st with the express purpose of generating reader reviews before promotion of the Kindle edition. To date I have eleven five-star reviews from people I’ve given books to–in these reviews there’s a disclaimer about having received an advance review copy (ARC) in exchange for an honest review–and from a few people who have purchased the books. The latter will be identified by Amazon as “Verified Purchase” and carry more weight than other reviews.

Reader reviews, I’m told, are extremely important. The more that are posted before promotion of the Kindle edition, the better.

The Kindle edition of Compromise With Sin will be published on August 19th and is now available for pre-order. Pre-orders are desirable because they boost an author’s Amazon ranking on the publication date. Frankly, the authors who benefit most from pre-orders are those who have published a slew of books and have a tribe of people who can’t wait for their next book. We’ll see how well it works, after a few well-placed ads, for me with my debut novel.

I’ve been laying the groundwork for promotion with a Facebook Author Page, and announcements on Facebook and Twitter.  Oh, and if you’ll “like” my author page, I’d appreciate it. Not sure why that’s important, but I guess it is. I’ll also do a bunch of interviews. My first one is on BookGoodies.  

The fun of indie publishing is having control over the story and design. The hard part is financing the project and spending a lot of time on promoting and marketing the book, valuable time that could be spent on writing the next novel.

Quotable

Anybody can write a book. But writing it well and making it sell–that’s the hard part.

–Jay Taylor, The Rise of Majick