"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What I’ve Learned on the Freeway of Mediocre Success ...or... How I Survived the Wild Switchbacks Without Tearing Out All My Hair

I am sitting here Christmas Eve day, pencil in hand, writing this blog. No kids, no blaring music, no Christmas reruns. The tranquil silence is broken only by the ticking of a clock. Outside, all is white. An occasional snow flake angles down to earth. Ah, such peaceful solace....

Why the pencil? And why the silence?

Because the blasted electricity is off, that’s why! Plus my computer blacked out on me. So it’s back to my humble beginnings. I had written my first book with pencil and paper, deliriously ignorant of all the mistakes I’d made. Since then the more knowledge I gained, the more I realized that it would be the last time I’d write with pure abandonment.

For my second attempt I started writing on a manual typewriter, the contrivance of choice, to pound out my stirring prose. Oh, I remember the bottles of whiteout I drained trying to fix typos, and the slightly skewed alphabetic characters after re-adjusting the paper and retyping the letters.

Then came the electric typewriter. Wonderful gadget! And much nicer to use. All one had to do to return the carriage was to push a button. No more of that manual stuff. However, I swear I still bought enough whiteout to gain controlling interest in the company. Maybe it would help to know how to type.

Next came a new invention called the personal computer. More and more of my fellow writers bought one and dove right in, composing their books on odd-named brands. I, on the other hand, waited almost three months before gathering the courage to type on my new Kaypro instead of using it as a glorified flower stand. What if I hit the wrong key and lost something important?

But one significant factor hit home. No more cockeyed symbols or having to use whiteout!

Buckling down, I faced the screen and typed. By evening, I had written the first chapter of what was to become my second published book. When I started to shut off the computer, I lost it all. Frantic I called my salesman, and he helped me restore my document. Right off I learned not to pass out in such situations. Most of the time, all is not lost.

Now, we writers are laboring in a whole new field where it’s even easier to write the book of our dreams using built-in spell check, thesaurus, and a dictionary. And let’s not forget the Internet, be it for good or bad. Many of us began our careers on antiquated machines. (Anyone can view these items at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.) We weren’t born with a silver computer chip in our mouths like the younger generation. Even self-promotion has changed and is made easier by Cyberspace. That is, for someone who knows how to build web and blog sites.

Both projects are daunting to those of us who cut their writing teeth on typewriter keys. But to be successful, do it we must. Then there’s e-mail lists and electronic newsletters. Phew! When would a person find time to write?

What comes after you sold your book? Advance buzz.

If you publicized your novel as it is released, you’re too late! I learned an author should start online promotion at least six months before publication. I didn’t have this tool with my books.

The Internet and modern technology have opened new pathways not only for promotions, but for reaching out to readers and networking. When you post to loops or groups, think before you write. Or you might regret it later. The Net is not the venue for trash-talking peers or dishing editors or agents.

Nothing you vent or complain about is sacred, and CAN get out. There are authors who still do this after being warned against it.

I also learned we authors should periodically Google ourselves to see what pops up. Others might attribute comments to us we did not say, or something we did not do. On a whim, I Googled. A name came up along with mine, and I was flabbergasted!

Seems a famous model is on the cover of my first book. Hard to believe, I went to his official fan club site, clicked on book covers,(page 4)scrolled down, and there on the bottom row, third from the left is a picture of my book, TENDER DECEPTIONS, featuring Fabio. What I could have done, promotion wise, with that knowledge if I had known. I could have joked about it when I was on an ABC morning show. Darn!

So, in the end it all boils down to one question...does anyone want to buy a case of whiteout, cheap?

--Sherry Roseberry
Sherry Roseberry won Idaho Writer of the Year with her first novel. Besides her historicals, she's the author of four plays, short stories, and articles. A dedicated thespian, she's given workshops on using acting techniques in writing at local, regional, and national conferences of Romance Writers of America. Her lifelong dream came true when she had the opportunity to appear in the movie, HANDCART. The experience was glorious even though the winter scenes were filmed in (average) 20-degree weather. Writing is in her blood, but her greatest treasures are her five children and nineteen grandchildren.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Dreaded Critique

If you are lucky enough to belong to a writer’s group, you are no doubt familiar with the critique process. The critique offers the author an early impression of their work and ideas for improvement before it finds its way to a persnickety editor. However, submitting your work in person to a group is like baring your soul, taking the risk of being made painfully aware of your creative shortcomings. But the critique need not be a dreadful experience if a few simple rules are observed by the reviewers and the author.

First, before submitting your pride and joy to the group, be sure it is well polished and edited. No first drafts please. On occasion the author may seek comments on a synopsis to flush out plot problems, or may ask for brainstorming on ideas for plot improvement.

The critique should overlook trivial problems with grammar and punctuation, but rather view the bigger picture, offering help on plot inconsistencies, poor dialogue, factual problems, shifty point of view, loose ends and the story killers of too much passivity and “telling” not “showing.”

To start the process, the author may provide a short background on the piece being presented along with suggestions on areas where they wish the group to focus. The author should read (or have a colleague read) their text out loud without interruption. A maximum of five pages is suggested. Handouts are ok, as long as reviewers can resist using the text for line by line editing.

After the reading, comments should start with a person next to the author and proceed around the group in order. Each reviewer should offer positive comments, followed by a single, constructive thought, the most important of his/her observations, and one not noted by a previous person. Less critical points and grammar/spelling/punctuation issues can be passed on to the author afterward, perhaps jotted down on the handout.

During the critique, the author should absorb the comments without argument or explanation, but instead listen, take notes and ask questions for clarification. Later, locked in his/her lonely garret, the author should decide what to do with the feedback, remembering that the story is his/her own, and not all comments are going to necessarily improve the work.

--Richard Earl Rice

Richard grew up in Southern California and received his BS and MS degrees in Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. In an exciting three-decade technical career, he was involved in NASA’s space program and in nuclear energy and novel energy production research for the Energy Department. He traveled extensively throughout North America, Europe and Asia, presenting the results of his work and collaborating with other research institutions. Richard began writing as a teenager, covering high school sports for the local newspaper. He continued writing throughout his career, producing a number of technical papers, articles and reports. He recently decided to end his engineering career and write full time. Since then, he has produced two novels and has started his third. He has also written several short stories, two of which were accepted by the Idaho Magazine. Richard lives with his family on the Snake River in Southeastern Idaho.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Novel Beginnings (First Sentences, First Paragraphs)

We, as fiction writers, face a great challenge to please today’s impatient readers. We have less than seven minutes to capture them and keep them reading our novel. In other words, our first three pages must hook the reader’s interest enough to make them spend the several hours or more our book demands of them.

First sentences of any writing are important. Does it convey an interesting personality or action that will lure the reader to read on? Can it be made more intriguing by introducing something unusual, shocking, or surprising to the reader? Does it create a mood, state the theme of the novel, or foreshadow a major event in the story or tell the end? Does it challenge you to reveal as much about the main character--in one sentence? A terrific sentence on page two or three won’t help if the reader never gets there.

The opening paragraph should make the reader curious about an exciting character or a relationship, a dramatic situation, or introduce a setting, or a combination of all. It should also enhance the story.

First words of a novel are the trigger of curiosity--the “narrative hook”, and suggest the kind of book it is. An intriguing opening is the easy way to capture the reader. Another way, more leisurely, is to seduce the reader through omens, giving the reader a feeling something is going to happen.

There are many ways to arouse the reader at the start of a novel: a character wants something important, wants it very much and wants it now; or a likeable character can be threatened. We must get the reader involved in a character who is more interesting than most of the people who surround us in life (Blue Sage Fiction Writers are excluded from this category). How to do that? Best bet is to start with a scene that the reader can see--and start that scene as close to its climax as feasible to involve the reader quickly.

Push yourself. By experimenting lies therein the chance for true brilliance.

--Sandra Lord
Sandra spent the early years of her life in Washington. Graduating with a B.A. degree from Washington State University, she worked for thirty years in the nuclear industry as a technical writer/editor. She is published in nonfiction (newspaper article and co-authored technical reports). A long-time resident of Idaho, she is now retired and writes mainstream fiction. She has completed a military novel.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Hungry Heart

One who works with his hands is a laborer.
One who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
One who works with his hands, his head and his heart, is a master.


Beyond the short drive down I-5 to Tacoma, over the huge toll bridge that crosses the narrows, Highway 16 winds its way through the evergreen trees of the peninsula. There the quaint little towns of Gig Harbor, Silverdale and Port Orchard beg me to come for a visit. They offer sandy beaches bordering Puget Sound, sail boats bobbing near the docks, blue waters glistening in the sun. And here I sit at my computer deleting yet another dreadful sentence.

Writing isn’t easy; you must develop discipline. It’s a labor of love, but a labor just the same. It’s creative in nature, yet no matter how imaginative the author, no matter how talented, you have to sit down at the computer and do the work. You must sit alone for hours writing, crossing out, and rewriting your sentences, your paragraphs, your chapters, until at last your book is complete. You invent heroes and heroines and put them in perilous circumstances. You create romantic encounters that cause your heart to flutter as you plot your story, but the book doesn’t get written until you do the laborer’s work.

Nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and prepositional phrases are tools of the writer. This is the craftsman portion of writing, but that’s not all. There are synonyms and antonyms. There’s the pattern of the scenes; goal, conflict, disaster, and the sequel scene that has reaction, dilemma and decision. There are the opening hook, turning points, midpoint and climax. You have to know how to handle dialogue, narrative, setting, and characterization. You must keep an active voice, avoid passive sentences and always stay within the boundaries the publisher dictates. You need to put all of it together in a way that keeps the readers turning the pages. And just when you think you’ve accomplished all that, you discover you have to write a cover letter, a query and. . . the dreaded synopsis. You persevere. You read, take classes, and study the works of fellow writers because you know you must stay alert to every aspect of the craft.

And of course you study the masters. One who writes with his heart won’t settle for anything but the best turn of the phrase. You describe just how the light slanted into the room, how the scent of roses made the air heavy with perfume, and how the hero’s heart grieved at the loss of his heroine in such a way that no one has described it before. You are ever in search of the perfect word. You strive to become a master. You work with your hands, your head, and your heart.

For example, I may tell you, “I love to travel. When I do, I learn about the people who live in the areas I visit. I won’t stop traveling until I am unable to make the trip.” Instead, Tennyson, the laborer, the craftsman, the master, said it like this:

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink life to the lees. . .
I am become a name; For always roaming with a hungry heart. . .
And this grey spirit yearning in desire to follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bounds of human thought. . .
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

To become a writer, you must have a love for the written word. The hours are long, the rewards are sometimes few. You reach down into the Cracker Jacks box of your soul and hope to come up with the prize. You pour out your precious words onto the paper with the chance that they might be rejected, but you write because you must. You write because something inside you yearns to be said.

--Maxine Metcalf
Maxine is the author of a psychology book, "Reality For Parents of Teens." She has written numerous articles on drug and alcohol rehabilitation, how the brain works, and setting and accomplishing goals. She has authored lesson manuals for teaching classes on cognitive self-change. Maxine attended college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Idaho State University. She counseled for a women's program, Discovery House and for Road to Recovery, a men's and Women's drug rehabilitation program. She taught prison rider return classes for Probation and Parole in the state of Idaho, taught in the women's prison, and worked with Child Protection Services in Idaho as well. Maxine currently runs a business, Lakeland gifts, @ www.lakelandgifts.com and writes fiction novels.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Meeting Idaho Magazine's Publisher

The Blue Sage Writers had a great meeting yesterday, talking, reading, critiquing and sharing industry tidbits for four hours (as well as a lot of stuff that wasn't industry related). Then six of us met at Plum Loco's–a good place for a bunch of loco writers–and, without coming up for air, carried on another two hours' worth of conversation over some fine Mexican cuisine. From there, four die-hards went to listen to Kitty Fleischman, the publisher of Idaho Magazine, talk about her crazy and interesting life.

Originally a Jr. High school teacher, Kitty turned to journalism and has stayed with it for over thirty years. She came to Idaho from Alaska and started Idaho Magazine to preserve the history of the area and its people. When asked to give advice to aspiring writers, her answer was simple: "Write, write, write, write, write."

Those of us in attendance have all sold stories to Idaho Magazine so it was a treat to meet her. In the picture from left to right are Richard Rice, Bill Corbett, Kitty Fleischman, Linda Sandifer, and Karen Finnigan.

--Linda Sandifer
Linda is the award-winning author of thirteen novels and numerous short stories. She received the Idaho Writer of the Year award for her first novel, and wrote the "Spotlight on Rigby" for Idaho Magazine. You can learn more about her books at her website and her blog.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Why Blue Sage?

Sagebrush Def.: Scrubby aromatic North American plant of daisy family.

For more years than I care to count, I commuted out to the Idaho desert as a technical editor. In the daylight evenings on the bus ride, while I was daydreaming about my creative story ideas, I watched a lot of sagebrush roll by on either side of the company bus, some too tall and deep for comfort, some not so big and forbidding, a friendly, homely sight. I smelled a lot of it after rainstorms, welcomed the sight of it after the spring thaw, went for lunchtime walks in it (mindful to watch for rattlesnakes). I never, however, sprinkled any desert sage on my lunch. That variety I buy at the store in the spice section.

When we first came together as a new group, it seemed like an obvious choice to name us after the plant that's so abundant here. It's also tenacious, like you have to be in writing, and an everyday part of our lives, which writing is to all of us. I'm not sure I'd ever call the sage around here blue, but that's creativity for you. There's plenty of blue sky around here, so think of "Blue Sage" as an optimistic bunch.

In all these ways, sage became a kind of mantra we bring to the library table where each month we meet to read, listen and critique. We also bring a lot of accumulated experience under our Blue Sage Writers banner, a lot of years of accumulated submissions, many successful. We're always wanting to share and deepen what we know about novels, short stories, essays, newspaper columns, memoirs and the like. But we've got newer writers in our group too, beginners to the dream of writing and being published. We're supportive of all writers and types of writing.

So if you've found this Blue Sage Writers blog, we assume you're interested in the thrill of the written word too. Please watch our blog for future posts with writing tips and how-to articles on the business of writing. We'd love to have you comment, share your observations or join us. Like the desert in which I've worked, it's good to have a buddy or two when you venture out in the deep stuff.

--Karen Finnigan
Karen is the recipient of the Idaho Writers League Writer of the Year Award. She is the author of seven novels and several novellas (published by Berkley and Harper under the pen name Karen Lockwood), as well as numerous articles and poems in various publications. Watch for her essay on winter in December's issue of Idaho Magazine. She lives in Idaho Falls.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Our Annual August Picnic - "Smelling the Roses"

Sometimes we need to take time to stop and smell the roses. I had the opportunity to do just that a couple weeks ago. I belong to a small writer’s group made up of writers from Pocatello and Idaho Falls. We usually have a couple of outings a year, a summer picnic and a Christmas party.

This year’s summer picnic was hosted by one of our members at his "Home by the Snake." It’s a beautiful setting reminiscent of what one sees in the most upscale garden magazines. Beds of flowers representing an array of different varieties were tastefully located around the grounds. There were multiple trees to provide shade, a beautiful manicured lawn running down to the bank of the mighty Snake River where a small flat bottom skiff was moored patiently waiting to transport its owner on yet another fishing excursion. A vegetable garden in raised beds flourished in the back yard next to the greenhouse and two compost piles.

Our host’s wife prepared a delicious lunch that not only titillated our palates, but was very pleasing to the eye as well. We partook of our lunch outside on the back patio while our eyes drank in a fabulous view of the Snake River lapping at the grounds just a few yards in the distance. A gentle breeze provided respite from the summer heat, and a Basset Hound puppy of 13 weeks named Lizzie entertained us with her antics.

All in all the day was a glorious respite away from today’s harrowing world. Yes, it was a good day; a day of meeting with friends, enjoying good food, a little wine, and a great deal of camaraderie. Truly a day of smelling the roses.

"Smelling the Roses" by Bill Corbett appeared in its entirety in the Idaho State Journal. Bill lives in Pocatello. He is a two time Associated Press award winning columnist, and writes fiction under the name Will Edwinson. His national award winning book, "Buddy…His Trials and treasures," is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, or by asking for it at your favorite bookstore. Check his web site and blog at www.willedwinson.com. Corbett also writes free-lance for IDAHO magazine.