Tuesdays with Story
WRITER’S MAIL for August 26, 2010
by Clayton Gill
Good Words from Way Back
“A lover without indiscretion is no lover at all.” – Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) in The Hand of Ethelberta (1876), found in The Little Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
No More Excuses: Submit Yours Today
If you haven’t written your Fifth Tuesday mini-masterpiece, do it today! Here’s the set-up: You oversleep. You get to work late, and the boss is in your face about it. You’ve got to say something to get yourself out of trouble. Send your magnificent lie – confined to 400 words or less – to Jerry Peterson today, or at the latest, tomorrow (Friday, August 27).
If you haven’t made your reservation for Fifth Tuesday (7:00 p.m., August 31), do that today, too. E-mail either Jerry or Shel Ellestad and let one of them know you’re coming. Guests are always welcome, but let Jerry or Shel know they’re coming too.
Cathy Riddle is hosting Fifth Tuesday at her home. Jerry has e-mailed us driving directions via Yahoo! Groups. If you have not already volunteered to bring a specific item, then bring something tasty to share at our potluck.
Report from the Field: Gen Con Indy 2010
Gen Con Indy 2010 – “the original, longest running, best attended, gaming convention in the world” — took place August 5-8 in Indianapolis. Patrick Tomlinson participated. He reports that, besides all sorts of gaming, Gen Con has an extensive selection of seminars, readings, critique sessions, and the like for writers.
“The organizers,” Patrick says, “bring in many writers, editors, and publishers to give talks on how to write, the business of writing, and the changing publishing industry. The conference was immeasurably helpful to me. Not only did I get to meet over a half-dozen professional writers and editors, but I learned a huge amount about the craft in a very short time. I made valuable connections in the industry, and I’ve even gotten a position as a slush editor for Apex Magazine.
“I think I’ve probably cut a year or more off of my development as a professional writer by going to this convention. While it certainly focuses on the sci-fi and fantasy genres, the advice given is applicable to all of us. It didn’t come cheap — between the drive, room costs, tickets, food, and so forth — but in the end I think it was the best money I’ve spent all year.”
For more on Gen Con: http://www.gencon.com/2010/indy/default.aspx.
Stackpole on Writing: Notes from His Lectures at Gen Con
Michael A. Stackpole is a Wausau, WI native (albeit raised in Vermont) best known for his Star Wars and Battletech books. He offered these “rules” during lectures at the Gen Con gaming convention in Indianapolis this year.
● Rule 1: Show, don’t tell. Descriptions should hit all the senses: Visuals, sounds, smells, tastes, textures.
● Rule 2: Develop characterization through dialogue and action. Two paragraphs may consist of description — uninteresting stuff in terms of characterization. However, the next paragraph may be characters reacting to what was described. Each scene must accomplish at least two things critical to the story.
● Rule 3: Maintain continuity. Build sets in the reader’s mind in great detail, then reuse them frequently, or describe a new location based on the differences between it and the detailed set. This principle of continuity can work for characters, too.
● Rule 4: Do not use voice tags, “he said, she said.” Create unique voices for each character by means of varying levels of education, sentence structure, word size, and derivation. Verbal ticks, such as “Dude,” “Uh,” “Man,” etc can be useful, but do not overuse them. Dialogue attribution sentences are good in a pinch, as for example, “Bob chewed his fingernails. ‘I don’t know if I should tell you this.’” The exception to the voice tags rule is an effective way to finish a cliffhanger chapter: Break the final dialogue, as in, “Thank God you made it out of the sewers,” he said breathlessly, “because the city is on fire.” However, the “drop” or punch line at the end must be news to the reader.
● Rule 4: Do not use “he said, she said.” Create unique voices for each character by means of varying levels of education, sentence structure, word size, and derivation. There is an exception to the voice tags rule, which provides an effective way to finish a cliffhanger chapter by breaking the final dialogue: “Thank God you made it out of the sewers,” he said breathlessly, “because the city is on fire.” However, the “drop” or punch line at the end must be news to the reader. Verbal ticks, such as “Dude,” “Uh,” “Man,” etc. can be useful, but do not overuse them. Dialogue attribution sentences are good in a pinch, as for example, “Bob chewed his fingernails. ‘I don’t know if I should tell you this.’”
● Rule 5: Do your research. Get it right, be consistent. Find out how things work and why things don’t work or fail.
● Rule 6: Control point-of-view (POV). As in first person narration: “I do this. I did that.” Second person: “You do this. You did that.” Second person narration appears in the “choose-your-own-adventure” book, but otherwise sees little use.” Third person omniscient: “They did this. They thought that.” That’s the godlike narrator, which is no longer popular. Third person subjective: “He saw some of them do this. She thought that.” It’s told from the POV of one specific character for an entire scene or chapter.
● Rule 7: Write before you rewrite. Do not edit as you go. The end of a novel tells you where it will begin.
Stackpole added that sentences should average no longer than 12 words. The average fiction book is written at an eighth grade level. –Patrick Tomlinson
Reading Recap: August 24 Meeting
Twelve Second-and-Fourth members hunkered down at Barnes & Noble West, behind the parapet, above the rank and file. Those who arrived early found themselves in a discussion of books about old English legends, including the origin of the stories about King Arthur. Another topic was a Farmville-type game in which, instead of raising crops, the gamers raise zombies. We do cover all topics! The readings and critiques got underway more or less on schedule at 7:00 p.m.
Dan Hamre was first up, presenting his short story “Tractor Jockey” (part 1). Holly Bonniksen-Jones enjoyed the “storytelling quality.” Terry Hoffman felt there was a nice balance between thinking and action. Anne Allen wanted an explanation of the clutch and two brakes (“sounds like you needed three feet!”). Patrick Tomlinson suggested cutting some of the examples a bit, in order to tighten things up. And Holly said once she had hit the line about how all the character’s effort was for a “stupid thing like love,” she wanted to hear about the girlfriend sooner.
Anne Allen brought in chapter 18 of Homecoming. Patrick felt the information about the ex was presented in a nice, linear way – it did not interfere with the flow of the story, and was not an information dump, as Anne had feared. Elijah Meeker wanted the readers to reach some of their own conclusions. He recommended trimming the explanations just a bit. Kim Simmons pointed out some repetition in Matt’s musings which could be edited out. Carol Hornung liked the interviews and the developments of possible motives, but suggested that it is time for some physical clues to the mystery, too. Jack Freiburger recommended not gloss over Matt’s psychological make-up: If he was in the war and has PTSD, then he will have some very distinct characteristics that could be very useful.
Terry Hoffman read from The Journal (and grinned a lot as we speculated and questioned certain elements. Hmm.). Elijah said it was a great moment when the main character scribbled on the page and it had an effect! Holly commented that the dialog was very good and descriptive, which is vital since the journal itself reveals nothing but dialog. Carol wanted to know more about the power of the book — how far back does it go? Dan said the reader got a step ahead of the character when her writing causes Phil’s cell phone to ring.
Randy Haselow presented his rewrite of the beginning of Hona and the Dragon. It turned out that most members preferred the original. Jack said the original voice and form had been lost in the rewrite. Carol was concerned that the story had become more brutal in this version, less fairy-tale-like. Members advised Randy: Keep the dream and establish and maintain the connection between Hona and the dragon early on. Holly was concerned that the sensory detail was lost in this version, while Elijah thought the dialog worked a bit better than in the original.
Patrick Tomlinson read his short story, “Ride of a Lifetime.” Elijah suggested getting rid of some excess words in order to “punch up” the dialog. Carol liked the balance between the Texas tone and the science fiction story. Jen Wilcher wondered whether Cole would call his father Daddy? Anne wondered would the use of the word “pensive” fit the Texas tone? When Cole thinks, it is on a higher level than he speaks. Keep it consistent, Anne recommended. Dan suggested the title “Rodeo Star” instead of the current title.
Thanks to Carol Hornung, who reported on the August 24 meeting.
Who’s Up Next?
August 31: Fifth Tuesday — 7:00 p.m. at Cathy Riddle’s home in Middleton – featuring the most fabulous, fantastic excuses for your late arrival at work.
September 7: Randy Haselow (chapter 3, Hona and the Dragon), Cathy Riddle (chapter 6, Beer Crimes), Jen Wilcher (?), Amber Boudreau (chapter 15, yet-to-be-named novel), Pat Edwards (poems), and Jerry Peterson (chapter 1, The General’s Watch).
September 14: Dan Hamre (short story/last 5 pages, “Tractor Jockey”), Annie Potter (a memoir), Kim Simmons (chapter, The City of Winter), Holly Bonniksen-Jones (chapter. Coming Up For Air), Carol Hornung (section, Sapphire Lodge), and Andrea Kirchman (?). Carol notes, “We have a bit of a backlog on September 14th, so some folks (Jack Freiburger and Elijah Meeker) will be on stand-by. If you are scheduled but cannot get your piece to the group on time — or don’t want to read on the 14th — then let me know so I can shuffle things around! If you wish to read on September 28th or October 12th, send me a note, too.” E-mail Carol at CHornung88@aol.com.
September 21: Chris Maxwell (?), Millie Mader (chapter 20, Life on Hold), John Schneller (chapter 2, Final Stronghold), Judith McNeil (radio play, part 4, “South to Sunday”), Aaron Boehm (film script, part 2, “Hell Cage”), and Patrick Tomlinson (short story, part 2, “Any Port in the Storm”).
September 28: Kim Simmons (chapter, The City of Winter), Anne Allen (chapter, Homecoming), Terry Hoffman (scene, The Journal), Jen Wilcher (new story), Holly Bonniksen-Jones (chapter, Coming up for Air), and time for one more (let Carol know at CHornung88@aol.com).
October 5: Greg Spry (short story, part 4, “Goodbye, Mars”), Clayton Gill (chapter, Fishing Derby), and time for four more (let Jerry know at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Writers Mail: TWS Newsletter Duty Roster
Howdy duty! We need editors for Writers Mail: One issue per week for a month, almost any month. How about October? A bunch of former and continuing editors provide mentoring, tips, and both raw and finished material. Editors ’R’ Us. How about you, too?
August – Clayton
September – Kim
October – Pat E.
November – editor needed
December – Clayton
January – editor needed
What’s Going On at B&N?
The board of directors put Barnes & Noble up for sale earlier this month. A couple days ago, investor Ronald Burkle, himself a millionaire, launched a proxy fight to get control of the board and buy the company. The board responded by saying that Burkle is screwing up their plan to sell the company at a premium price.
B&N lost $62.5 million during the quarter than ended July 31. For comparison, B&N made a profit of $12.3 million during the same quarter a year ago.
Stores open at least a year saw their sales drop nearly 1 percent. Company executives expect stores sales to drop another 1-3 percent this quarter, but they hope to pick it all up during the holiday quarter and end the year with the same volume of sales they had last year.
The e-book division is the only section of the company to grow, increasing sales by 42 percent in the past year. Nonetheless, e-book sales still amount to less than 10 percent of the company’s revenue. –Jerry Peterson
Jerry Peterson tells us he plans to rework one of his early novels specifically for e-book publication. He is looking ahead to a reading market both more diverse and more specialized than may be possible through traditional publishing.
An article in the August 25 edition of the Wall Street Journal by Geoffrey Fowler and Marie Baca highlights findings from one of the largest market surveys of e-reader owners: “A study of 1,200 e-reader owners by Marketing and Research Resources Inc. found that 40% said they now read more than they did with print books.”
In the online article, the posted comments show that the speed and convenience of book purchase and the flexibility of e-reading software are major factors in the appeal of devices like the Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc.
“You can download the Kindle and Nook software to your PC or laptop for free and then order and read e-books,” says Louis Ciola, commenting on the WSJ story. “I find that although I still love the print books, this is an enormous convenience. I can read a Danielle Steel novel is something like five hours because I can set the font any size that I want and the width of the sentences as wide as I want as well….
“I actually like the Kindle software on my laptop better than on a Kindle unit itself. The best advantage of course is that you can get a couple of chapters of any book free, and then if you like the book, you can buy it in less than one minute…. The other advantage is that the electronic books do not take up the space that the paper books do, so if you like to read a lot, it will give you a whole lot more shelf space!”
Going Traditional: The Query Letter
If you plan to publish your book by “traditional” means – that is, in paper with a large publisher – then you’re probably going to need an agent. Finding the right agent for your book and yourself can be a challenge. Kim Simmons is in the midst of that process. This week she is considering whether to sign her first contract.
As Kim knows, the first hurdle is to describe your book to an agent in the most effective way. That’s the job of the query letter.
Brandy Larson recommends a recent blog by Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford, in which Bransford writes, “A query letter is part business letter, part creative writing exercise, part introduction, part death defying leap through a flaming hoop.”
Terry Hoffman offers another take on the query letter, courtesy of thriller author Marcus Sakey (Good People, The Blade Itself, At the City’s Edge, and more), by way of Jane Friedman of Writer’s Digest.
Sakey’s “Step One” for the query letter: “First of all, finish the book. And I don’t just mean type ‘THE END.’ If it isn’t polished to a high gleam, if it hasn’t been read by a dozen friends and rewritten in response to their comments, then you aren’t ready to worry about Step Two.”
From the Wordsmith: Stargazing
From A.Word.A.Day with Anu Garg, an adjective: “Sidereal,” pronounced sy-DEE-ree-uhl, meaning (1) relating to the stars, and (2) measured with reference to the apparent motion of the stars (for example, sidereal time).
Origin: Sideral comes from the Latin sidus (star).
Usage: “The silvery, coarse grain of Maisel’s prints in negative makes it hard to tell whether they present day or night views. In several, a darkness looms different from that of sidereal night.” –Kenneth Baker, “‘Home Movies’ Not Like the Ones Your Dad Made,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 14, 2007
Much more at http://wordsmith.org/awad/about.html.
From Word Spy: For mystery writers in the digital age
Paul McFedries’ Word Spy includes “cybercasing,” a present participle for “using online location-based data and services to determine when a home is unoccupied with a view to robbing it.” The verb form is “to cybercase.”
McFedries’ citation: “Data stored in digital photographs can help criminals locate individuals and plot real-world crimes, a practice two researchers called ‘cybercasing’ in a recently published paper. The site Pleaserobme.com was one of the first to expose the problem by displaying tweets tagged with location information, although it has since stopped the practice.” –Niraj Chokshi, “How Tech-Savvy Thieves Could ‘Cybercase’ Your House,” The Atlantic, July 22, 2010
The Last Word: “Love Means…”Erich Segal, author of the novel and screenplay Love Story also coined the best-seller’s tagline, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Besides writing popular novels and screenplays, Segal also taught as a classicist and literature professor at Harvard University and other U.S. and European universities. He died early this year, but the 1970s angst of his aphorism lives on in aging baby boomers. See the obit blog from National Public Radio’s Martha Woodroof: http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2010/01/remembering_erich_segal_noveli.html
Segal suffered from Parkinson’s disease. His daughter, Francesca delivered a eulogy at his funeral in London: “That he fought to breathe, fought to live, every second of the last 30 years of illness with such mind-blowing obduracy, is a testament to the core of who he was — a blind obsessionality (sic) that saw him pursue his teaching, his writing, his running and my mother, with just the same tenacity. He was the most dogged man any of us will ever know.” Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Segal.
Thanks very much: All Tuesdays members who contributed to this issue of Writers Mail. Please send your news, ideas, and odds and ends for next week.