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Tuesdays with Story
November 20, 2020

The first word . . .

“Perhaps if we recognize the pleasure in form that can be derived from fairy tales, we might be able to move beyond a discussion of who has more of a claim to the ‘realistic’ or the classical in contemporary letters. An increased appreciation of the techniques in fairy tales not only forges a mutual appreciation between writers from so-called mainstream and avant-garde traditions but also, I would argue, connects all of us in the act of living.”

—Kate Bernheimer, writer, editor, and critic

Zooming Tuesday evening . . .

Nine TWS colleagues gathered on their screens to work through the chapters of six of their fellow writers. Here is some of what was said:

Kashmira Sheth (chapters 19-20, Journey to Swaraj) . . . Most of the comments were how to pick up pace and maybe combine the two chapters. There were some discussions about how to use foreign words. Also, there was a suggestion about providing more details about the past massacre.

Mike Austin (short story, “Hunter’s Moon”) . . . My short story, “Hunter’s Moon,” was well-received, with only few comments, such as the changing werewolves should not have enough awareness to register fear on the victim’s face. And it needs to be shown that they head him off before he reaches his vehicle. Thanks everyone for a fun evening!

Jack Freiburger (poems, “Fall Fire” and “Snow Day”) . . . Two accessible poems this week seemed generally acceptable.  Considering the simplicity of them, non-literary, I didn’t expect much comment, but it seems readers liked them, which was the goal. Spent most of my editing time on Jerry and Amit/Kashmira offering, where I feel I actually can contribute something as a reader.

Amit Trivedi (chapters 3-6, Keeper of the Keys) . . . 1. Start chapter 3 with smoke from the train. 2. Remove like ‘living in the past’ replace it with  something like ‘do we need to repay all our debts’ or let the story convey the meaning. 3. Use water in place of river. Has broader meaning. 4. Sharing food in the train—why? Does not move the story.

— John Schneller (chapter 30, Broken rewrite) . . . Several words struck people as being inappropriate for the setting—kid, crazy—better words, better story.  Jamie wanted clarity on the new hawk that flew in and out of the scene. Everyone felt that Witomzil’s discourse on when to fight needed to be shortened or broken up. I agree. And who better to break up a speech than an impatient squirrel hating dragon. The general rule of fantasy . . . never waste a dragon.

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
October 26, 2020

The first word . . .

If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad. As to that regular, uninterrupted love of writing. I do not understand it. I feel it as a torture, which I must get rid of, but never as a pleasure. On the contrary, I think composition a great pain.

— Lord Byron

Tuesday evening . . .

We Zoomed in from out East—Kashmira in Virginia—to west of Dodgeville—John—and points in between to talk about the works of six of our colleagues. Here is some of what was said:

Kashmira Sheth (chapter 14-15, Journey to Swaraj)

Kashmira submitted chapters from her novel. Here were some comments to make the story stronger: show more unrest in the street. show that the horse gora is on is bigger so he looks a foot taller than the Indian officer, make Veena bolder with the police officers and realize later how brave she was, have more conflict between Veena and the police officer who knocks on the door.  Thanks all for your suggestions/comments.

Jack Freiburger (long poem, “The Archeology of Light”)

Archelogy received a warmer reception than I had expected with Jerry picking up the Billy Collin feel, not that I was trying to imitate.

 Amber Boudreau (chapters 35-37, Second Nature)

Amber shared all but the last two chapters of her urban fantasy SECOND NATURE with the group. Mike wondered when Mavis picked up the phone in the final scene. There was some question of whether a character would set a bag against a freshly painted wall, but someone else thought that fit with what they’d read of the character. Jerry had a question about names and Amber had to confess she found inspiration in The Lord of the Rings. But good news. Amber has signed a contract with GenZ publishing for the book and will be submitting her final manuscript to them soon.

Larry Sommers (chapters 24-25, Dizzy)

Kashmira pointed out that Izzy’s anxiety for Christine early in Ch. 24 is not followed up later. There was agreement that the narrative of the mountain drive was tense and harrowing, bit a tire spinning in air was over the top and the snow in the mountain pass would obscure Izzy’s view. John said more word play on “resume” was possible, but Izzy would know “pyrite” was not “pie, right?” Several people thought Izzy’s advice on hope from his father needed more fine-tuning. Amber suggested the mountain-driving fiasco could be Izzy’s first hint of his father’s fallibility. Thanks all for perceptive comments.

— John Schneller (chapter 28, Broken rewrite)

I raised the question as to whether the dynamics/question of Kotel’s incomplete scar and his conflicting “Call” could wait until this late in the book. The consensus was affirmative, but this is a dynamic that no one can answer with our TWS reading pattern. Occurrences of itch or pain associated with the scar were present from page 1 on but not remembered by most. Assessment will require a reading without interruption. The beaver interactions were enjoyed, but Jerry reminded me Kotel needs to dress up the ends of his new staff.

— Jerry Peterson (chapters 10-11, For Want of a Hand). . . John and Jack suggested a way to establish in the first sentence of chapter 10 who the point of view character is—Zigman. Kashmira and Huckle said the Nurse Angel/Quinn scene in chapter 11 was useless, that it lacked a purpose that would advance the story. John said Quinn could pump Angel for information on OxyContin and addiction that others in the chapter aren’t telling her. Kashmira and Huckle felt that’s the fix that’s needed.

Who’s up next . . . 

November 3

Kashmira Sheth (chapter, Journey to Swaraj)

Jaime Nelson Noven (chapter, Outsleep)

Huckle Rahr (chapter, Wolf Healer)

Amber Boudreau (chapters, Second Nature)

Amit Trivedi (chapter, Keeper of the Keys)

Larry Sommers (chapter, Dizzy)

From Jack

I have a series of poem about the farm/refection that I may submit that have a similar, if denser feel than last nights.

 I may not make election eve but will send notes to readers in any case.

Our editor . . .

This is Amit Trivedi’s final issue for the month. We now need an editor for next month’s issues of Writer’s Mail. A volunteer needed. How about you?

A brief history of indie publishing . . .

Excerpted from the September issue of The KWL Quill, an e-newsletter published by Kobo:

As modern-day independent publishers, you’re in great company. Many renowned authors––from Stephen King, to Jane Austen, to Virginia Woolf––have gone ahead of you, and by now we’ve firmly established that authors can successfully take control of the publishing process and hold their own in the industry.

So where did it all begin? In the beginning, there was spoken word, and for centuries, we passed stories through generations orally. The advent of publishing began when those stories were transcribed onto papyrus and parchment, creating the very earliest iterations of books.

In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg created the first printing press, and society changed forever, as for the first time the written word was accessible to the masses.

Fast forwarding way ahead to the 1800s (in which Jane Austen published Sense and Sensibility via a vanity press); to the 1900s (when Virginia and Leonard Woolf founded Hogarth Press and published their own work), all the way to the 1961, when Margaret Atwood self-published her first title, a collection of poetry. 

We’re going to speed into the digital era in the year 2000, when everyone and anyone had a LiveJournal, and could share their writing far and wide. By the year 2000, we were starting to see the first stirrings of a publishing revolution after Stephen King struck fear into the hearts of publishers everywhere when he announced that he would be publishing his book The Plant directly to readers on the internet.

By 2010, the first eReader devices had entered the market and online retailers had grown in popularity. Suddenly, authors had direct access to millions of readers all over the world, and began to publish in droves.

Writer House Rules: Questions in Publishing (Jamie)

I’ve gotten a number of questions that are specific to editorial, so I asked my editor friend Barbara Darko if she wouldn’t mind taking a look. Here’s what she says. –Jaime

Q. How much do typeface, point size, page margins, and line spacing matter when submitting a manuscript? What is the desired font/size/etc. for each of those?

A. While manuscripts will be formatted in-house and/or sent to a copyeditor regardless, editors love a thoughtful, prepared author who knows the deal comes with a sparkling, consistent, well-set-up manuscript. The cleaner it is to begin with, the easier it is to look at, the better it is to review. Think of it like submitting a college paper, the standards are pretty much the same: Times New Roman, 12-point font, 1-inch margins, double spacing. But don’t use two spaces after a period, just use one. PLEASE don’t use a bunch of spaces for tabs either, there is a whole button on your keyboard for this! First paragraphs in a chapter or section after a line break should be flush left and every paragraph after that should be indented.

Q. What is something that I may not realize is going to get my manuscript thrown in the trash?

A. Not reading the submission guidelines. I got a lot of poetry submissions when I worked at an architecture/design/visual culture publisher. Read the guidelines and follow them.

Q. Is there an appropriate time to use italics for the character’s thoughts when writing in third person limited omniscient?

A. The use of italics for someone’s thoughts is up to the author and/or the publisher’s house style, as well as the kinds of “speech” there are in a particular book and if there needs to be a hierarchy of styles. I’ve worked on projects where we distinguished between certain kinds of thoughts so that some were roman and some were italics depending on the author’s intent with what was being said or thought. But generally they’re in italics, yes, I believe.

In this example from a 1940s Nancy Drew novel, you can see it’s a real mixed bag!

The last word . . .

I keep always two books in my pocket: one to read, one to write in.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

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A note from the Admin: Funny story. This landed in my inbox and got lost in the shuffle, but here is our Writer’s Mail from the second half of September. Thank you all for you patience and understanding. Without further ado:

Tuesdays with Story
September 15, 2020

The first word . . .

The great realities are far beyond words. Love… light…life…

–Witomzil in real life

And they gathered once more . . .

Zoom and a Tuesday evening. Here is some of what was said:

Kashmira submitted two chapters of her novel Journey to Swaraj. The main concerns were using metaphor and smiles that readers are not familiar with. Other concern was making things more clear between the servant and Mrs. Bibra. Otherwise, the chapters were well received.

Thanks!

–Amber Boudreau ( Second Nature) . . . The next two chapters of Amber’s urban fantasy Secod Nature were pretty well received. The group seemed to speed through these chapters without difficulty. However, they did note some slowing down of the tension with exposition when things should have been off and rolling. Amber learned that not only should chapters end with a hook, but they should start with a hook as well. As someone pointed out, just make it all hooks and then people won’t want to put it down.

Larry Sommers . . . Dizzy, Chapters 21-23:  Mom was too laid back about the arrival of Izzy’s chem lab equipment, opportunities for further conflict missed. A dress form would be too lightweight to need three people, even kids, to move. The point of the whole church scene, especially the Jonah story, mystified more than one reader–and somewhat mystifies the author also. Yet another mystery of the faith. Amber reminded me of the excellent coming-of-age books by Gary D. Schmidt–one of which I have read and the other will look up. Thanks all for valuable insights.

— John Schneller (chapter 26, Broken) . . .Training of mind and spirit slowed down the action but found appreciation by most readers. Details of the shooting star was the highlight for those who recognized the flower. It was interesting that Witomzil’s six sentences of teaching at the close of the lesson came across as much too long. 

Who’s up next . . . 

October 6

 List of submissions is incomplete. If you know you are on schedule, please submit.

Mike Austin (short story)

Huckle  chapter Wolf Healer

John Schneller (chapter, Broken rewrite)

Jamie chapter Outsleep chapter

  • Amber held a successful virtual book launch at A Room if One’s Own on September 22nd. Along with writer Tracey S. Phillips, she talked about her fond bond with Moria, The Dragoneer, and all things dragon. A great evening.

Our editor . . .

John Schneller continues this month as our editor for Writer’s Mail. You have something you’d like him to include in the next issue, please email it to him.

Writer House Rules: Questions in Publishing . . .

Q: Should I self-publish?

A: Everybody has their opinion, and mine is certainly biased, but I invite you to ask just one question:

Do I care about distribution? If you want your book in national bookstores like B&N or BAM, and you want a shot at getting it into Walmart/Target/Costco, you need someone who knows the buyer at each franchise in your genre. That is, you’ll probably need a sales rep for each of those accounts. If you want to get your book into indie bookshops nationwide, it’s going to be a beast unless you have a field sales team who can pitch each one. However, if you are content with posting your book to Amazon–because most of your sales are going to come through Amazon anyway–and you’re not so concerned about having your book in stores (unless you’re able to do considerable legwork), consider self publishing. To me, distribution is everything, but you may have different priorities.

Beware of scammers: Do not settle for one of these clowns who pretends to be a publisher but all they do is handle production and then post it to Amazon. You could do that and not have to give anyone a cut.

Promotion: You may have heard that you should only self-publish if you’re willing to put the time and energy into promoting the book all yourself. Yes, you should promote it like crazy–why waste time writing, editing, getting it copyedited, designed, and produced if it’s just going to sit there?–but you need to do that if you are published by a traditional publisher, too. Some perfectly reputable houses don’t have much budget for promotion. Some may not even assign you a publicist. Be prepared to wear your marketing hat for a few months no matter what route you go with.

Self-publish = Self-sabotage: When self-publishing started taking off, publishing gurus warned writers that if they self-published a book, traditional publishers would not be interested in publishing their books in the future. This is mostly not true. If your self-published book flops, they’ll ask you to publish your next book under a different name so that you don’t have a bad sales track. If your self-published book succeeds, it could actually help you get a publishing contract. I have an author now whose first three books were self-published and they did really well, so we’re publishing his fourth.

The last word . . .

Passive voice from Bob Hostetler at Steve Laube Agency newsletter

Another client asked me to define passive writing and establish some boundaries. Sure, okay. Here’s the short version: “passive” is; “active” does. See how easy that was? “It was a dark and stormy night” is passive writing. “Thunder rolled and lightning split the sky” is active. It’s all in the verb choices. As far as boundaries, you don’t need to use only active verbs; the words is, was, and so on are in our language for a reason. But in my writing classes and coaching, I’ve found that most writers, once they identify their passive verbs in a first draft, can enliven their writing by replacing 50-75% with action verbs.

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Tuesdays with Story
August 21, 2020

The first word . . .

How to begin a new piece? “Look for a sentence that interests you, a sentence whose possibilities you like because of the potential you see in its wake. I don’t mean a ‘fantastic first sentence’ or one that sounds ‘introductory.’ I don’t mean a sentence that sounds first because it sounds like other first sentences you’ve read. I don’t mean the kind of first sentence teachers sometimes talk about—the one that grabs the reader. The reader doesn’t need grabbing. She needs to feel your interest in the sentence you’ve chosen to make. Nothing more.”

―Verlyn Klinkenborg, Several Short Sentences About Writing

Tuesday evening, oh, so non-political for TWS . . .

Eight gathered on Zoom to critique the work of six of their colleagues, and no one asked are we going to adjourn on time so I can watch the second hour of the Democratic National Convention. Larry lent a casual tone to the evening by every now and then sipping from his glass of wine. Here is some of what was said in the critiques:

Kashmira Sheth (children’s picture book, Dot and Dash!) . . . Kashmira shared her picture book manuscript with the group. Most like the concept. John suggested changing one part of the ending. Jerry asked about the Pentagon doing five things to prepare Dot for the race. Larry asked what Dash means by “If I lose, I am doomed.” Huckle pointed out that a dash with two dots was also a division sign. Thank you all for your comments. (more…)

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Tuesdays with Story
July 24, 2020

The first word . . .

“You wrote down that you were a writer by profession. It sounded to me like the loveliest euphemism I had ever heard. When was writing ever your profession? It’s never been anything but your religion. Never. I’m a little over-excited now. Since it is your religion, do you know what you will be asked when you die? But let me tell you first what you won’t be asked. You won’t be asked if you were working on a wonderful moving piece of writing when you died. You won’t be asked if it was long or short, sad or funny, published or unpublished. You won’t be asked if you were in good or bad form while you were working on it. You won’t even be asked if it was the one piece of writing you would have been working on if you had known your time would be up when it was finished–I think only poor Soren K. will get asked that. I’m so sure you’ll get asked only two questions.’ Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out? If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to both questions. If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined. Oh, dare to do it, Buddy ! Trust your heart. You’re a deserving craftsman. It would never betray you.”

― J.D. Salinger, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters & Seymour: An Introduction

Tuesday evening on WebEx . . .

Our experiment with WebEx was, shall we say, challenging. The audio problems were such that several members dropped out. More on that later. But for the moment, here’s whose work was up for critiques and some of what was said: (more…)

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Tuesdays with Story
February 21, 2020

The first word . . .

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
― Jack London

“I hate writing, I love having written.”
― Dorothy Parker

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Learning music is hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it because it’s so much fun.”

My old friend John, a jazz pianist who was teaching me basic guitar chords. Much later, when I could finally do a few chord progressions without effort, I realized that he was right. It’s good to know that other writers, and musicians, talk about their craft being work, something that they have to practice or they lose the muscle memory of that skill. And unlike piano playing, writing can be practiced almost anywhere.

 

Last Tuesday evening with Tuesdays with Story…

 Nine dedicated folk gathered together at Barnes & Noble to discuss their work. (more…)

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Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
May 10, 2019

 

Way back in the bookstore

A dozen writers circled up on B&N’s bargain book Tuesday evening to critique the works of seven of their colleagues. Here are some of the comments that were shared:

 

Bob Kralapp (chapter 7, Capacity) . . .

Lisa McDougal (chapters 10-11, The Tebow Family Secret) . . .

Amber Boudreau (chapters 4-5, Mavis): Amber read from Chapters 4 and 5 of her untitled urban fantasy. It was unclear to Lisa if the main character was following a recipe for cookies in Chapter 4. Lots of suggestions to cut Chapter 4 in its entirety or to really cut it down. Otherwise, not much to tell. (more…)

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Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
April 24, 2019

Way back in the bookstore

Ten writers trooped into B&N Westside last week to hear Tracey Gemmell, Larry Sommers, and Paul Wagner share about what they learned at Writers Institute held a couple weeks ago in Madison. Our writers also critiqued the works of six of their colleagues. Here is some of what was said:

 

Tracey Gemmell (query letter and synopsis, Life Like Lavender) . . . Most agreed the synopsis for Life Like Lavender was too long. Larry also suggesting cutting much from the query letter and replacing it with more wit. Many thanks for your suggestions.

 

Kashmira Sheth and Amit Trivedi (chapters 12-13, untitled novel) . . .  Amit and Kashmira submitted chapters of their book. Readers wanted to see more interaction between Uma and her father to show she was aware of what was going on in the country. Also, some part of Kedar’s chapter sounded more like stage direction and readers wanted more description of what Virabha looked like. Thank you all for your comments. We will work on the chapters. (more…)

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Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
August 24, 2018

Neither storm nor flood could keep us away

Just washed the roads clean on the west side of Madison for those of us who had to drive them to get to Barnes & Noble, Tuesday evening. Ten writers came in to critique the work of six of our colleagues. Here’s some of what was said:

Lisa McDougal (chapters 2-3, The Tebow Family Secret):  It was suggested that I start Chapter 3 with Ahna’s speech. Tracey suggested removing the word “just” in a sentence to avoid coming off offensive. Jerry suggested not using “childhood friend” to describe Ahna’s childhood friend. Cindi suggested cutting a particular sentence short to make it more effective for a character.

Bob Kralapp (poem, rewrite, “Postcard from London”):

Meg Matenaer (chapters 1-2, Write in Time):

Cindi Dyke (excerpt, The Mansion Secrets): The two main characters were introduced through two brief excerpts, and a portion of Chapter 6 presented. Amber questioned if the story should be coming from Wart instead of Michael since Wart is the more colorful character of the two. Jerry suggested that more diversity in the main characters would increase marketability. There are two other essential characters appearing in the beginning of the book that have not been presented to the group yet: A female classmate and a 40-ish man with savant syndrome. Meg liked the authenticity of the dialogue and actions of Michael and Wart, saying they sounded like her 9 yr old son. All comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated. Thank you! (more…)

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