Wishes for a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday to all
the blogging team
Do you enter contests for your writing?
Over the last couple decades, I’ve entered many contests, both for full-length novels and short stories. I belong to RWA (Romance Writers of America), which includes multiple chapter contests in their monthly magazine, both for unpublished and published authors. I think most genres have something similar, or you can easily find them on-line. RMFW has an annual contest for unpublished authors. Writer’s Digest and other publications and on-line sites have contests for short stories. There are a couple different reasons for entering contests, and your decision may hinge on where you are in your writing career.
If you’re unpublished, contests can:
Contests are great for Published Authors as well because:
No matter if you’re unpublished or multi-published (Nora Roberts STILL enters RWA contests), you can get something out of contests. But as always, it’s YOUR story. Don’t make changes just to please a judge. However, to get the most from judge notes:
Whether or not you want to enter contests, consider volunteering to judge. You’ll get educated on the judging process, and you’re likely to make great contacts, as well as networking with other writers/judges interested in your genre. Judging can help you find your herd/tribe and possibly friendships that will last forever.
So, happy contesting, and Write On!
What? Are you seriously comparing me to a turkey?
Why, yes. Yes I am. But don’t take it personally. I’m comparing all writers to the Thanksgiving bird (or Thursday bird as people outside the US call it).
Valid point. But I wasn’t commenting on your smell as in you stink like a turkey (which honestly isn’t that bad). I was referring to a turkey’s ability to see at least a 1000 feet in front of it. Now, I don’t literally (used correctly in this case so no emails) mean a writer has the power of supersight, but rather a writer has the ability to ‘see’ where their character will go and eventually end up. Some of us choose not to use this power, rather we pants it to the finish line, but the ability is still there.
What else you got?
Male turkeys are call gobblers as they announce themselves to the females using a similar sound.
I didn’t come to the RMFW blog for this crap. I’m leaving…
No wait! I have a point (not a great one, but still a point). Writers often announce themselves, not with a gobble, but with a million questions about everything or telling everyone around about their book, and/or my personal favorite, straining to eavesdropping on the couple out on their first Tinder date. Not that I’m admitting to anything, but I’ve fallen off my chair trying to listen to a conversations a few tables away.
You are such a weirdo.
Thank you, but I can’t take all the credit. The voices in my head help a lot. Now back to the turkey. According to the Smithsonian, “Studies have shown that snood (that hanging red thing on their throats) length is associated with male turkey health.” You are probably asking yourself, what this has to do with me as a writer?
The length of your manuscript is directly related to your health. No, really. I’ve heard from a few writers about physical or mental health and its effects on their ability to write. Menopause is a bitch, apparently. For the men, I’m sure Manopause sucks too.
That was a reach.
Give me a break. Do you know how hard it is to relate writing to turkey droppings?
Speaking of turkey droppings, apparently you can tell the gender of a turkey by what it drops. Males produce spiral-shaped poop and females’ poop is shaped like the letter J. Now I could say something about writers using the letter J, thereby relating the two. But that is a reach, so I’m going to talk about how you cannot tell a writer’s gender by their book. Often people make assumptions based on the narrator as to the gender of the writer. They shouldn’t. We are writers. Good at faking stuff.
Yawn. Are you done yet?
Yes. Except for one final fact, that you as a writer will obviously understand my point:
Benjamin Franklin praised the turkey as being “a much more respectable bird” than the bald eagle.
We ARE turkeys. Each and every one of us. Better than those bald eagles. Now go strut your stuff as turkeys can only fly about 25 feet in the air.
Do you have Turkey Day plans? Does it include eating this respectable bird? Kind of cannibalistic, don’t you think?
When writing historical novels I find myself as immersed in research books as I am with the writing. Research is one of life’s joys to me. It’s like stepping through a sparkling curtain into the past, and suddenly I’m in another time. If it’s during the nineteenth century, it’s a world in sepia, that soft brown tone of antique photographs, a world of fresh air and horses and carriages, of genteel life and graceful courtesies, a time unencumbered by the dizzying pace and choices we must constantly make with our careers, our life styles, our leisure time.
If it’s the fifteenth century, in which my Gypsy series is set, it’s the verdant world of England, lush with vegetation, dotted with romantic castles, peopled with strong characters and strict religious and social orders. At the same time, the lack of technical sophistication in communication and law enforcement allowed more freedoms for those who chose the path of adventure. And who is more adventurous than the Gypsies (now known as Roma)?
I’m researching herbs for chapter 17 of THE RED BRIDGE, book four in my Coin Forest series. I hoard notes from past studies, and I’m enjoying revisiting the fascinating information about the role herbs played in daily life. Like over-the-counter meds today, they provided relief from daily ailments like headaches and upset stomach. The Gypsies were known for their resourcefulness with herbs, but they weren’t the only ones in tune with the secrets and benefits of various plants. One could find sophisticated herbalists and physicians at England’s monasteries.
Rhubarb, for example, was used by the monks as a laxative, in place of the more expensive imported rhubarb root. Sea holly was a favorite medieval flavoring. The root of sea holly was used as an aromatic “chewing gum” recommended against plague infection.
And how about a medieval version of Viagra? This was likely of more interest at Henry VIII’s court than in the monasteries he destroyed. The mandrake root was thought to be a masculine tonic, capable of enhancing potency. The information becomes more and more interesting: it’s said that the mandrake root screams when pulled from the earth; it was advised to have the root dragged out by a black dog.
Ah, but it’s time for me to step back through the curtain of time and return to my chapter seventeen.
Do you have fun research facts to share? If so, please do, and I’m wishing you a pleasant, productive week.
Linda Joffe Hull - From The Big Bang to The Mrs. Frugalicious Mystery Series
Linda Joffe Hull is the author of two standalone novels, The Big Bang (Tyrus Books) and Frog Kisses (Literary Wanderlust). She has also written three books in the Mrs. Frugalicious Mystery series, published by Midnight Ink. That series features bargain hunter and sleuth, Maddie Michaels: Eternally 21 (2013, Midnight Ink), Black Thursday (2014, Midnight Ink), and the newly released Sweetheart Deal (2015, Midnight Ink). Linda currently serves on the national board of Mystery Writers of America. She is a longtime member and former president of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and was the 2013 RMFW Writer of the Year.
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Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com
I'm sure every writer has stories about this. For some, naming characters aren't important, for others, it's vital. I'm in the latter category.
I write fantasy and fantasy romance and have wended my way (so far) through four series, two are finished, two are continuing.
In the "Heart" series (the "Heart" books because they all have "Heart" in the title – and, yes, I'll talk about the joys of that some other time), I have a rigid naming system. Those books are fantasy romance set on a planet colonized by psychic Earth people who formed a Celtic society. Most of them are based on plant names, either common names or scientific. The favorite Familiar animal companion, Zanth, is short for Zanthoxyl, for instance. I will throw in the occasional Gaelic and Welsh names for things other than people (and have real fun with geographical place names), but I stick close to my rules, and some of my readers would be horrified if I diverged from that.
In my other current series, the Ghost Seer series, I am writing about contemporary Denver and ghosts of the Old West. My heroine is Clare – spelled Clare instead of Claire deliberately. She's a rational accountant and does see clearly. But she inherits a fortune and a psychic gift for seeing ghosts and helping them pass on. So she sees clearly in that way, too. As for my hero, Zach, well, I wanted a name sounding close to "Jack" for the set up of the first meeting of the hero and heroine. And I like the name, it was time to have a Zach hero. As for his surname – Slade – it's the same as the gunslinger ghost in my first book, deliberately.
So I spend time, perhaps too much time, thinking about my character names, and there are considerations you, as a writer, should take into account.
For instance, I once had a hero named Race, then realized that a previous hero would have a large secondary role, Raz. Race and Raz. No.
Because no matter how interesting it is for you to have, say, identical twins with close names (Rica and Rona), you do NOT want to confuse your reader. The minute you have the reader thinking, wait, is that the medical doctor or the physical therapist? you've pulled your reader from the story. And when you pull the reader away from your story, it's easier for them to close the book.
About Race, as I recall, Race was the second or third name I'd tried for this guy. He's an adventurer and I wanted something that sounded "slick" and easy to the ear, and felt the ace sound did this (the standard advice for a romance hero is a short name with a hard consonant – like Zach). Race became Jace, and I was finally happy with the name, it fit the character.
I'm sure we've all run across the character who insists on a name, and that can be tough if it doesn't match reader expectations (like Wendell for a romance hero). The only advice I can give you on this is to put the story away (if you can) for a while until you detach from the character. That might work.
As for me, I wanted a heroine named Brandy, and was nixed by my editor on that one (this was the Summoning series), and after long thought she became Marian. But I think she'd have been a little more daring if she'd had the name Brandy.
So names do matter. To you, your readers, and, yes, they can hint at attributes of your characters.
May all your writing dreams come true,
Whatever you're writing, wherever you are in the writing process or in your career, I have two pieces of advice for you:
Nobody said this writing life was going to be easy. I don't need to tell you about the obstacles – you already know what they are. Only you know how strong your personal demons are and how much energy it takes to overcome them every time you sit down to write. Only you know how hard it is to summon up enough faith to send out one more query. Only you know how deep and dark your doubts are when you're wide awake in the middle of the night.
Don't let any of this stop you. If you have the passion, if writing is the one thing that makes you feel fully alive and present in this world, then you must keep on.
Write on the days when the words flow as easily as water. Write on the days when it feels like every word has to be dredged up from your toenails. Write on the days when you feel like the painted ship upon a painted sea, when words are sludge and hope is gone and you know for certain that nobody in their right mind will ever read this tripe you're smearing on the page.
Some of you are doing Nanowrimo this month. Maybe you're blazing trails and have left that 50k word count goal in the dust. Maybe what you're writing is sheer brilliance and you are riding a writing high. But if you happen to be three weeks into Nanowrimo and your word count is falling behind, don't give up. Keep writing. If you can't quite make the word count, focus on making a word count. If the end of November comes along and you've only got twenty-thousand words, or ten, that's more than you had at the beginning of the month. Keep going. Don't let some airy-fairy idea of failure make you stop.
If you're above ground, if you're still writing, you haven't failed.
And when you finally finish your draft and you read it and you're sure it totally sucks, see if you can make it better. Then move on and write another book. And then another and another. Focus on making every new book better than the last.
I'm not saying you shouldn't revise the sucky draft. You probably should. Most first drafts are wormwood and despair. They need a lot of work to turn them into masterpieces. By the time I'm done revising and rewriting, I generally have as many words in what I call my "Darlings" file as there are in the finished novel.
But there is a danger in getting fixated and stuck on one novel. I see writers working on the same book forever and ever, like they're Sisyphus pushing that damned boulder up the hill, day after day after day. The energy leaks out of the book, or it becomes a convoluted mess. The writer lives in a state of desperation and despair. This is not good for either book or writer.
Sometimes you have to step away for a bit. Find a new idea. Write another book. And then another one. Every book will teach you something new about your craft and lead you closer to mastery. And then, maybe, one day, you'll go back to that sucky Nanowrimo draft and realize you now have the skills you need to fix it.
Look what I ran across the other day:
Notice the date. Yep. Dead Before Dying was written five years ago, and is just now on its way to publication. Since the time that draft was completed I've written four other books and three novellas. Dead Before Dying had to wait its turn until I'd figured out what it needed. That first draft was a mess. The POV was all wrong. It didn't fit any genre category known to humanity. And Maureen, my feisty lead character, wasn't even in it.
I didn't know any of that. All I knew was that something was wrong with it. I never abandoned it - I always knew I would come back to finish it. But I had to go build some writing chops on other projects.
My point with all of this is exactly what I said at the beginning. Whatever you're writing now? Finish it. And then write something else.
Don't give up.
Writers write. You are a writer. So go do the thing you're here in this world to do, and don't let anything or anybody stop you.
This past weekend some writing friends and I were discussing why we need business cards and how to use them. The business card, after all, seems like an outdated concept in our world of electronic everything.
As a marketing person from way back, I’m not ready to chalk off this ubiquitous form of personal branding just yet. Business cards have been around since the 17th century, after all, and are a handy form of advertising that meet some pretty hefty requirements. Business cards tell others about who you are as a writer, how to best reach you, and what social media you can be found on. Well duh! But did you know that you can use business cards to build your readership, impress the editors and agents you meet, and build great business relationships?
Lately, I've had the chance to dive into a fun read by Bob Popyk, called Here's My Card. He has some terrific examples of how to use your card that you can add to your own experience. I've used some of his tips, and generated some of my own to put together a solid marketing effort when meeting other people in the publishing industry.
Here are five ways you may not have known about, or forgotten to use, in employing your business card to enhance your writing business:
Writing can be a lonely endeavor.
By nature, it is a solo pursuit. We write alone, whether in a private office, living room, library, or coffee shop. As well, we often “feel” alone in our profession because so many of us are introverts. Despite our families, friends, and critique partners, we nurture self-doubt. We fear our writing isn’t good enough or that others won’t appreciate our work or that we will not be able to follow through if we are successful.
Knowing all this about ourselves, it behooves us all to support one another and there are a few easy things we can do toward that end.
First, share good news. Opportunities abound for this one and it requires little effort except simply doing it. Nearly every one of us now makes use of at least one social media platform. When a fellow writer finals in or wins a contest, does a cover reveal or announces a new release, share the news! Tweet/retweet, post/share, or pin. Use social media to spread the word to your friends and followers so that a wider net learns about it. With increasing reports of some platforms blocking authors’ self-postings about releases, this is a critical way to help spread the word about others’ accomplishments, especially when the writer is modest and doesn’t make announcements on his/her own.
Equally as easy is congratulating them. Like or better yet, comment when significant writing news is posted. Offer kudos within groups and “loops” and “list-serves.” Use hashtags. These small efforts may not seem like much but I guarantee they mean an incredible amount. Each comment I receive on news I’ve shared means the world to me and I take notice of each like. As well, those “likes” drive the algorithms on social media so that that person’s posts appear more often in newsfeeds. Thus, you provide them warm feelings and a marketing boost. If the person is important to you, write a short email or send a snail-mail card and really make their day!
If a fellow writer is releasing a book, attend a signing event. Too often, many of us attend launch events for the first book released by an author. Subsequent books are not celebrated with event attendance. We often figure we don’t want to attend a launch event unless we intend to purchase a book and we can’t afford to purchase everyone’s book. Yet few people understand that there is nothing so deflating as arranging (and sometimes paying for) a celebratory event and having only a small handful of people attend. Authors are robbed of the joy of the new release. It doesn’t matter one whit if the author is debuting or is multi-published, the let-down can be devastating. In a group the size of RMFW, this should never occur.
At one of my release events, I looked out and saw members of my critique group, there to celebrate with me. My heart nearly melted. These were people who had read the book, had no reason to purchase it but there they were…present to support and rejoice, even though it was not a first book and even though I have already experienced success. To me, it didn’t even matter if they bought a book or not. Authors quickly come to understand that it’s impossible to others to buy every book friends release. The point was that they had come. Sure, selling a book is great but having a supporting audience is really what matters.
Read a book? Consider writing an honest review and posting it on Goodreads or Amazon. Not only will it mean much to the author but it will drive algorithms so that the book appears sooner in search engines. Reviews and search engine results drive sales for the author. As authors, we understand this, yet we still fail to write them. Some avoid writing reviews because they feel they might hurt the author’s feelings if the review is less than glowing. Others note that Amazon sometimes removes reviews written by fellow authors—not true if the book was purchased through Amazon, by the way—then forget the Goodreads platform. The most common reason we don’t do this for one another, however, is because it takes a bit more time to do. Perhaps all of these excuses need re-evaluation.
Admittedly, I fail to do all of these but I’m making efforts to do some of them on a consistent basis.
And you know what? It feels good!
I'm on a borrowed computer at the moment because yesterday I tried to update my system software and it failed. Now the darn thing won't even boot. Computers are such a pain. So it means a trip to the repair shop later this morning.
This post is a continuation of my last post about the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop called How Writers Write Fiction. I'm currently taking this free workshop online and it's incredible. Last month, the program had just started and I believe we hadn't even turned in our first assignment yet. It's an 8 week program and we just completed Lesson 6. I'm really going to miss this class when it's over.
So what makes this course so special compared to the hundreds of other writing courses available online? Aside from the price being right (can't beat free), this workshop teaches from a perspective I rarely see in fiction writing classes. It's focused on creative writing. Isn't all fiction writing creative? It is, of course, but most of us, at least those of us in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, are writing commercial genre fiction. There's a slight difference.
The session we just finished is on description. Most people don't think description is a big deal, that it's basically exposition used for setting a scene, less is better than more, and that's partially true. Too much and you can bore your reader, not enough and your narrative becomes thin and underwhelming. So when it comes to description it's important to have balance.
I learned about a new sense in this class, a sixth one to include in my "sensorium." We all know to use sight, sound, taste, touch and smell, but the sixth one is called proprioception. This last sense is the sense of our bodies as we move through space. I'd always taken this sense for granted, but after this last week's session, I'll never forget it. Did you know that we go through life filtering out our sense impressions because they can be too overwhelming for us to get through a typical day? But when we write, we want to hone in on all these senses to help our readers live through our characters and experience the story from a wholly new and different place. Realizing this has made a significant impact on my approach to writing description.
Description needs to create a vividly experienced world for the reader, reveal a characters' psychology and development, and influence the progression of plot. This week's class on writing immersive fiction fired up hundreds of discussions among my classmates and was explored in a video with lectures by 3 award winning literary authors. It was a very enriching experience for me as a writer.
So for this week's assignment, we had to write a thousand-word scene using description that had all the elements a scene needs to propel a plot forward, like tension and conflict. It would seem impossible, but it really isn't. To share an example, here's three paragraphs from the assignment I turned in a couple of days ago:
The door looked like a jaw that creaked open on rusty hinges and it groaned with a widening yawn. I stepped onto the ladder--the attic's tongue--and entered its dark throat that filled my nostrils with a dank scent of mildew. The wooden joists and bare frame of the walls were its teeth. They appeared rotted with decay, but when I tugged the chain attached to a bulb on the ceiling, light chased back the shadows so that I could see the wood wasn't rotten, just discolored with age.
I blinked through a rain of fluttering dust motes that swirled around cardboard boxes of all shapes and colors and sizes. Some boxes were labeled, some were not, some had rips and smashed corners, others appeared almost new. Wide strips of shiny tape sealed them from the elements and I suddenly felt eager to rip them all open, like a child stumbling upon unexpected presents on Christmas morning.
I slid a dusty box out from the center and spun it around so I could read what was etched onto its side with a thick black marker. In capital letters was my dead brother's name: NATHAN.
You can still sign up for this class that has about 2 weeks left. It's free, and though you can't participate in the earlier lessons, you can still read the discussions and view the teaching videos. You can find information about it here.
Do you struggle at writing description? Do you usually skim over passages of description while reading? What makes description interesting and what makes it boring?