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Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
November 6, 2020

The first word . . .

In an October 1935 article in Esquire “Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter”) Ernest Hemingway offers this advice to a young writer:

“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.”

Tuesday evening on Zoom . . .

A fair number of us zoomed in to work through the chapters of six of our colleagues. Here is some of what was said:

Kashmira Sheth (chapters 16-18, Journey to Swaraj). . . One of the comments was explanation of foreign words. Other concern was to show Mayur’s concerns for Veena’s wellbeing. I will work on those things. Thanks so much. 

(more…)

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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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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
October 14, 2020

The first word . . .

“Nevertheless, language is as important an invention

as fire. Language―good language―is practically

a “fire that burns unseen.’ And certain lines of poetry

make us, at the same time ‘content and discontent,’

multiplying an ambiguity that exist in all that exist,

for nothing in this world is clear,

save for imbeciles, the world itself.

― Goncalo M. Tavares, “A Voyage to India”. Translated by Rhett McNeil.

And they gathered once more . . .

Ten, including Paul Wagner whom we haven’t seen for a while, gathered Tuesday evening to critique the works of seven of their colleagues. Here is some of what was said:

Jack Freiburger (short and long synopses, A Walk upon the Water). . .

The one page should include a few lines from the longer version, but stay at one page as few prospective publishers will read more.  The two plus page seems to be the better document, but the issue is getting any one to read it.

Kashmira Sheth (chapter 13, Journey to Swaraj). . .

Kashmira submitted chapter 14th of her story Journey to Swaraj. One of the important points was where to put Veena’s thoughts about Mayur’s intention. The group also pointed out that there needed to be more emotions weaved with dialogues throughout the chapter and maybe replace speech tags with action. 

Jaime Nelson Noven (chapter 3, Outsleep). . .

 Huckle made a good observation about the negative way Rice describes other female characters. I will look at this. Jack suggested a way to develop the opening jokes more. Larry liked the surprise that it was not Fred’s funeral but his retirement. Thanks, all!

Huckle Rahr (chapter 26, Wolf Healer). . .

This week’s chapter was pivotal in that Jane saw her first where she was part of the killing. The general opinion was that there needs to be more mention of T.J. prior to this interaction so that his death has more meaning to the reader. The readers need to know him better. After the death, Jade needs to have more of a moment of soul searching. Once she joins her family Cindy’s reaction was too melodramatic, there should be a build up, and maybe add some ritualistic animal grieving practices. 

Amit Trivedi (chapters 1-2 rewrite, Keeper of the Keys). . .

Explain the significance of praying to Ganesh.

There are many side characters in the first chapter. Rewrite with the focus on the main ones.

Consider something with the word ‘Tree’ as the title of the book.

Mike Austin (short story, “Maiden Voyage”). . .

“Maiden Voyage” received many favorable comments from everyone. Most mentioned was that the narrator’s name and gender be presented soon in the story to avoid confusion. There needs to be a little more clarity in the descriptions at the accident scene in the beginning, Becky interacting with the victim, someone calling the ambulance. There needs to be more menace from the two kids in the park, and it might be too much of a coincidence that these same two people show up five days later in the wilderness, whether I like the idea or not. And if they do, the driving distance needs to be shortened. Also, there is confusion, understandably, between the two menacing kids and the kids who just came out from camping. I’m thinking I’ll just get rid of them and have a pair of park rangers show up instead. Thanks Everyone!

— John Schneller (chapter 27, Broken rewrite). . .

Most found the chapter to be an easy read…. especially those who like to find dragons and wyverns popping out of unexplored caves. Janie pointed out a few clarifications needed. Larry had a few spots he felt were overwritten. Huckle requested rewriting some of the sparring action.  Thanks to all.

Who’s up next . . . 

October 20

Kashmira Sheth (chapter, Journey to Swaraj)

Jack Freiburger (long poem)

Amber Boudreau (chapters, Second Nature)

Larry Sommers (chapters, Dizzy)

John Schneller (chapter, Broken rewrite)

Jerry Peterson (chapters 10, For Want of a Hand)

Our editor . . .

Amit Trivedi runs Writer’s Mail this month. If you have something you’d like him to include in the next issue, please email it to him.

When a period can get you in trouble . . .

NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday last month included a story headlined ARE YOUR TEXTS PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE?

It’s a story about punctuation. Here it is:

Katherine Rooks remembers when she first learned that a punctuation mark could wield a lot of power.

The Denver-based writer had sent her high school-aged son a text message about logistics—coming home from school.

“I could tell from his response that he was agitated all of a sudden in our thread. And when he came home, he walked in the door and he came over and he said, ‘What did you mean by this?’ ”

Rooks was confused. How could an innocuous text message send confusion?

“And so we looked at the text together and I said, ‘Well, I meant, see you later, or something. I don’t remember exactly what it said.’ And he said, ‘But you ended with a period! I thought you were really angry!’ ”

Rooks wasn’t angry, and she explained to her son that, well, periods are how you end a sentence.

But in text messaging—at least for younger adults—periods do more than just end a sentence: they also can set a tone.

Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist and author of the book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, told NPR’s All Things Considered last year that when it comes to text messaging, the period has lost its original purpose because rather needing a symbol to indicate the end of a sentence, you can simply hit send on your message.

That doesn’t mean the period has lost all purpose in text messaging. Now it can be used to indicate seriousness or a sense of finality.

But caution is needed, said McCulloch, noting that problems can start to arise when you combine a period with a positive sentiment, such as “Sure” or “Sounds good.”

“Now you’ve got positive words and serious punctuation and the clash between them is what creates that sense of passive-aggression,” said McCulloch.

Binghamton University psychology professor Celia Klin says a period can inadvertently set a tone, because while text messaging may function like speech, it lacks many of the expressive features of face-to-face verbal communication, like “facial expressions, tone of voice, our ability to elongate words, to say some things louder, to pause.”

Our language has evolved, and “what we have done with our incredible linguistic genius is found ways to insert that kind of emotional, interpersonal information into texting using what we have,” said Klin. “And what we have is things like periods, emoticons, other kinds of punctuation. So people have repurposed the period to mean something else.”

And that something else is passive-aggression.

A 2015 study conducted by Klin confirmed as much. Researchers asked undergraduates to evaluate a text exchange that included an innocent question and the answer “Yup.” Some saw “Yup” with a period and some saw the word without.

“And we found consistently through many experiments that ‘Yup’ with a period resulted in responses that were more negative. So people thought ‘Yup’ with a period was less friendly, less sincere, and so on.”

“I actually really don’t like getting text messages that end in periods because it always feels so harsh and passive-aggressive,” said Juan Abenante Rincon, 24, a social media manager for Adidas. “Like, are you mad? What’s going on? Like, did I do something wrong?”

Emma Gometz, a biology student at Columbia University, said the phenomenon can feel especially harsh when the message is brief, like a lone word followed by a period.

“If it’s like ‘OK.’, that’s like, ‘I don’t want to talk to you anymore,’ ” said Gometz, 21.

Kalina Newman, 23, a communications coordinator for the AFL-CIO, said, “It’s in the same vein of somebody saying, ‘We need to talk,’ and then not saying what they want to talk about.”

In other words, enough to send a chill down anyone’s spine.

Not everyone shares that view. Isabelle Kravis, 18, a student at American University, says it depends on the context of the conversation.

“If we’re just talking about, like, our favorite movie or something, and someone uses a period at the end of a sentence, I’m not gonna take it, like, aggressively.”

While Kravis is relatively zen when it comes to the period, for others, the thought of texting without it can be enraging. Klin said that her texting study sparked outrage among many.

“They thought it was an insult to their first-grade teacher, and their grandmother, and, you know, America as we know it,” she said.

Klin said the entire debate demonstrates that language is constantly changing—and that’s OK.

“Language evolution’s always happened, it’s going to continue to happen, and isn’t it great that we are so linguistically flexible and creative.”

From Jamie…

Writer House Rules: Questions in Publishing . . .

Look, I’m no acquisitions editor, but have you tried writing your query letter with your marketing hat on?

You may have heard that editors are looking for debut authors who already have a big network or social media following. These are no doubt helpful things, but barring that, if you can use facts to (briefly) illustrate how your book is almost guaranteed to find a big audience, this may make up for the fact that you have only eleven Twitter followers.

·      Can you name two comparable titles that (1) came out in the last few years (not including 2020 because of weird lockdown buying behavior), (2) have the same audience as your book, and (3) have sold really well—though not laughablywell (that is, don’t list Harry Potter)?

·      Can you think of three keyword phrases that are related to your book that get tons of search engine traffic, Amazon searches, or social media hashtags? (For example, how many people are googling “werewolf books” in any given month? And is it a trend or is that search behavior here to stay?)

·      If you know a potential blurber for your book, is that person a Facebook ad target? How many people follow them on social media? How many people follow them on Goodreads? In recent years, blurbs have become more important than ever. Network, network, network!

The last word . . .

“The thing is that if the connection between men were perfect it would never have been necessary to invent language.”― Goncalo M. Tavares, “A Voyage to India”. Translated by Rhett McNeil.

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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
July 10, 2020

The first word . . .

Billy Wilder’s 10 Screenwriting Tips:

  • The audience is fickle.
  • Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
  • Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  • Know where you’re going.
  • The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  • If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
  • A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  • In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
  • The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  • The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then—that’s it. Don’t hang around.

Tuesday evening on Zoom . . .

Storms prevented John Schneller from using his computer to reach us on Zoom, so he joined us by way of his cellphone. Seven others, though, joined us in the regular way. Here is some of what was said in the critiques: (more…)

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Tuesdays with Story
June 21, 2020

The first word . . .

“You may well ask me why…I took time to write [books]. I can only reply that I do to know. There was no why about it. I had to: that was all.
― George Bernard Shaw

Zooming in from New York . . .

TWS alumnae Jaime Nelson Noven joined the group Tuesday evening from NYC where she works as a promotion pro for a new imprint at MacMillan. She will now be a regular with us for a long as we meet on Zoom.  We had a full house for critiques. Here is some of what was said:

— Kashmira Sheth and Amit Trivedi

            Story of Ba and Virabha would be better if conveyed in section alternating with present events. Transition after Ba and Virabha’s marriage to losing their son is abrupt.  This chapter has added depth to Virabha’s and Ba’s character and fits well in the overall story. Thanks all! (more…)

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Tuesdays with Story
June 7, 2020

The first word . . .

“I feel devoutly thankful to have been born fond of writing.”

― Winston Churchill

Zoom-zoom . . .

Zoom isn’t without its problems. Delayed voice transmissions and audio breakups forced John to leave Tuesday evening’s meeting early. Here are summaries of the critiques those who were on the schedule received:

— John Schneller (chapter 20, Broken rewrite)

While I have tried to embrace the RUE (Resist the Urge to Explain) concept, my minimalist approach left most readers guessing Broken’s distrust, the thief and murderer qualities of the shepherds, the subversive technique to convince the ewe to accept a lamb not her own, and why did he reach into the pouch and bring out nothing (visible). Looks like I has some esplainin to do! (me no edit John’s righting) Thanks for the input.  John (more…)

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(Apologies for the delay in posting. Times being what they are, I appreciate your patience.)

Tuesdays with Story
May 8, 2020

The first word . . .

I write for myself and strangers. The strangers, dear Readers, are an afterthought.

Gertrude Stein

They met on Zoom . . .

Huckle joined eight of our regulars Tuesday evening gathered in front of their computers to critique the stories and chapters of five of our writers. Here are summaries of the critiques they received:

— Bob Kralapp (chapter 15, Capacity) . . .  There were a few mentions of the chapter’s eerie otherworldly feeling and of Melissa’s POV. This was, mainly, the point of the chapter. That, and giving her character a bit more visibility in the proceedings. The light at the end was meant as an antidote to the alienating (to her) carnival scene. Amber pointed out that the tense in this paragraph is inconsistent and needs attention. (more…)

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(Apologies for the late posting of this newsletter. Times being what they are, I think you for your patience.)

Tuesdays with Story
April 24, 2020

The first word . . .

In the age of pandemic:

“If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door- or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.”

― Rabindranath Tagore

They met on Zoom . . .

Eight of our colleagues—Larry, Jerry, John, Mike, Amit, Kashmira, Jack, and Paul—gathered Tuesday evening in front of their computers, bottles of beer and glasses of wine in hand . . . hey, now that’s the way to meet . . . to critique the stories and chapters of four of our writers. Here is some of what was said:

John Schneller (chapter 18, Broken rewrite) . . .  The significant elements in this chapter made it a good read for most. The healing in a two-step human/supernatural process held interest. The wolves proved brutal enough to be a formidable antagonist. Larry discussed a stronger revision on Silent Eyes’ philosophical dialogue and Jerry provided significant comings and goings of commas and paragraph breaks.  Thanks for all the comments! (more…)

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