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

Monday, October 3, 2011

You Don’t Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression

By Linda Sandifer

Most agents and writers have come to prefer email submissions to snail mail. It is decidedly easier for all parties and saves the writer a lot of money in postage. As a matter of fact, the loss of all those query letters, partials, and bulky manuscripts, along with return postage, could very well be what is causing the U. S. Postal Service’s financial demise.

Agents really like email queries because they can easily hit the “delete” button if they aren’t interested. And, you, the writer can easily choose 100 agents and send your query out to all of them simultaneously. Right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

It’s acceptable to send out multiple query letters. After all, if you sent out one at time, you might not live long enough to get through your list unless you’re twenty when you start querying. Granted, email does make it so you only have to wait weeks, rather than months, for a response, but it’s still not a good idea to get overzealous. I personally prefer to choose around five agents at a time and wait to see what sort of response I get. If it’s positive and they want to see more, I can assume my query letter piqued their interest. If I don’t get a response, or get all negative responses, then I realize I might need to rework the query letter. The same philosophy goes for a partial, and so on to the request of a full manuscript.

The bottom line is you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so don’t exhaust all the agents on your list in one fell swoop. You want to leave your options open to rework your query, your partial, or your manuscript if each phase of submission isn’t garnering the interest to take it to the next level.

Born and raised in Idaho, Linda is the award-winning author of thirteen western novels, including her most recent, The Last Rodeo. She was named Idaho Writer of the Year for her first book, Tyler's Woman, and recently received the Laura Award from Women Writing the West for her short story, "The Ranch." You can see all of her books on her website: www.linda-sandifer.com

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Writing and Golf

By Richard Rice

Sometime, not too long ago, I set two goals to guide me through the next years of my life. Number one, I want to publish a novel. Secondly, I want to shoot my age at golf.

Simple goals, their achievement easily verified. Now I’m on record. The world can watch to see how I do. How difficult are these goals, and how am I doing?

Specifics I’ve set for the published novel is that it cannot be a limited, self-published work, but a genuine, New York book, purchased by thousands of anxious readers who will become the beginnings of my fan club. The odds against this happening are quite high. Statistics abound, suggesting that agents receive tens of thousands of author queries each year and only a small fraction actually lead to published novels. I believe it. I have hundreds of rejections, probably enough to paper my garret. Undaunted by such odds, I fearlessly plunge ahead with my writing and queries.

I have recently completed my third novel, Incendiary, and have begun the tortuous journey toward its publication. I’m pleased to say, things are going well. I have already received my first rejection! I won’t bore you with a long description of the story, but just in case you’re interested, here is a short excerpt from Chapter 1:

Mohammad felt a light pressure on his shoulder and a tingling sensation in his throat. Surprised, he raised his hands to his neck and looked down, discovering a crimson stain spreading across his chest. He tried to shout, but no sound came from his mouth. Dark spots appeared before his eyes and a roaring filled his ears. A dizzy feeling came over him, deepening as he sank to his knees, still not understanding what had happened. Strong hands took a grip on an arm and belt and he felt his body being propelled toward the precipice. He saw the river below growing closer and sensed a cool rush of air on his face. He wondered if he could be flying.

The golf goal is also a long shot. Shooting your age at golf is a rare accomplishment, limited to only a few percent of all golfers. Still, I persist, a familiar figure hacking away at the local courses, and occasionally on a road trip to some exotic links in, say, Utah. How close am I to reaching my goal? Consider the numbers. A normal golf course par is 72. Pro golfers usually shoot about this or a little less. My typical score is considerably higher. For example, this last weekend, if I was 89, I would have shot my age. But, I have a long way to go before I’m 89. Can I hold on to my present level for another 18 years? Or improve enough to intercept my age somewhere along the way?

To increase my odds of shooting my age someday, I take lessons, try new equipment, fiddle with my golf swing, practice often and note golf tips in various magazines or on the Golf Channel. Are these things working? So far not enough. But, as in writing the Great American Novel, one must persist, continue to learn, and never give up.

So, I persist. In writing as in golf.

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 three novels. He has also written several short stories, three of which were accepted by the Idaho Magazine. His third short story was named as a winner in the Idaho Magazine 2010 fiction contest. Richard lives with his family on the Snake River in Southeastern Idaho.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Witch's Daughter

“Hey look down there.” Tobias pointed toward the river. “Isn’t that Brea, the witch’s daughter?"

Charles looked down at the young girl on the bank by the water. “Yes, I think that’s Ludenia’s daughter. Why do you call her mother a witch?”

“Cause my old man says so.” Tobias slapped Charles’s head with his hand.“Haven’t you seen the shack they live in?”

“Yes, I have,” said Charles. “It always looked clean to me.”

“You never looked close enough; they‘re trash, my pa said so.”

Tobias moved some branches, careful not to snag his new purple waistcoat with the big gold buttons. “What’s she up to?”

Brea sat at the edge of the river, a tiny table and chairs were on the ground before her. She reached into a large bowl by her side and carefully lifted out a squirming frog. She held it carefully as she dressed the creature in a tiny pair of white pants and a fancy blue coat.

“Sit there and be good,” she told the frog in a child’s voice. “Tea will be in five minutes.”

She pulled another amphibian from the bowl and began to slide a tiny lace dress over its squirming legs. “You must dress quickly; the guests are already starting to arrive.”

The first frog began to squirm off the tiny chair. Brea gently rubbed its head behind its bulging eyes … it stilled as if hypnotized. When she had both the frogs seated on chairs she began to remove tiny pieces of silverware from a bag tied to her waist and carefully place them on the table. Plates, cups, forks …

Tobias laughed. “She’s having dinner with a bunch of frogs.”

“She’s just a kid, all kids play,” Charles said.

“Well, I don’t like it,” Tobias frowned. He picked up a stone from the path and pitched it toward the girl. There was a loud smack and a voice began to wail.

Brea was standing with a half-dressed frog in her hand when Tobias and Charles walked up to her.

“You hurt my hand and my friend.” Brea sobbed. Tears ran down her cheeks.

“That’s what you get for hanging out with the wrong people,” Tobias said.
He began to stomp on the tiny table and chairs, smashing the furniture.

“Stop!” Brea cried.

The frog in the chair began to hop away. Tobias tried to crush it with his boot.

Suddenly Brea rose above her feet. Her eyes turned red and her hair became a brilliant orange, standing on end. “Now!” she screamed. Tobias burst into flames and was instantly consumed. A puff of smoke dissolved in the wind.

Charles ran. When he was at the top of the bank, he looked back. Brea had placed both frogs on the broken chairs.

“Oh good.” She giggled. “Our Guest has arrived.”

Brea pulled a squirming frog from the bowl and began to carefully dress him in a purple waistcoat with big gold buttons.

From “HOBBS INN” a novel in progress. Randall R. Peterson is a freelance writer from Annis, Idaho, and a new member of Blue Sage Writers.

Monday, August 1, 2011

In Some Ways Writing Remains the Same

I moved back to Idaho and what a great feeling to be home. The dry, desert air is certainly different from the damp, foggy, rainy weather of Washington. The sights here are very different also. In Vancouver, there was the river, with its many sail boats, that separated it from Portland. There were the beautiful Oregon beaches, and the verdant growth that was everywhere, even covering the vacant lots in town. (Instead of the weeds or sage brush like here, they’re covered with wild blackberry bushes).

Here, there’s the high desert, beautiful in its own way. Being here, though on a smaller scale, is like living near the Grand Canyon. The desert likes to bore you with a redundance of plainness, and then overwhelm you with sudden magnificence. The picture below was taken just a short ways from my new home.

Yes, some things are very different, but some things remain the same. For instance, wherever I’ve lived I’ve sought out a writer’s group to join. That remained the same, but the groups in both Seattle and Portland were very different. They had a speaker come each month to educate us on the finer points of writing. We had several well-known writers in the groups in Washington and that made it interesting, but the groups were too large to critique individual works. I could go to meetings month after month and remain anonymous. That had its benefits at times, but I missed the social interaction I had with Blue Sage Writers.

And now I’m in Mountain Home. There’s a group here in town that meets twice a month. They critique one week and have what they call a “creative meeting” the next. I’ve been invited to join them next Thursday at 6:30 and I’m looking forward to the small, informal meeting.

In Boise, forty minutes away (less time than it took to drive across the bridge into Portland and through the maze of traffic to the college where the writers group met), they have a group called Partners in Crime. It’s a group of mystery writers and in order to join you have to be a member of the National Organization of Sisters in Crime. (They renamed the group in Boise so they could invite the gentlemen to join). Those of you who used to go to Boise to interact with the RWA group there may remember Donna Crow. She now belongs to Partner’s in Crime. There are other groups in Boise, also, that sound interesting and I plan to check them out. If anyone has suggestions about a group, please let me know.

One day, around twenty-five years ago, I attended, as a guest, an Idaho Writers’ League meeting. I heard an announcement by two young ladies, Karen Finnigan and Sherry Roseberry, about a new writers’ group that was starting in Idaho Falls. It was to be named The Southern Idaho Romance Writers of America. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to write romance, but I was so impressed with the individuals that planned to be a part of SIRWA that I decided to join my first writers’ group. I’ve never regretted that decision and have many great memories of meetings in Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, and Boise, plus national meetings all over the United States. Each member of the organization has had a positive influence on me in one way or another. Since then, the group has changed considerably. Even the name is different, but many of the people I enjoyed in SIRWA are in the Blue Sage Writers.

Because of those friends and the positive experiences I had in SIRWA and Blue Sage Writers, wherever I’ve lived I’ve sought out and joined a writers’ group. That has remained the same. What’s different? None of them were quite like my home town group.

--Maxine McCoy

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. She now lives in Idaho.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Message to Your Inner Nerd: Have Courage!

It was 1993. Twelve years of education had taught me one thing: I didn’t want to be a nerd. Years earlier I learned everyone was a jock, nerd, stoner, dork, or loser (and parents were just lame). Of all groups, nerds were absolutely at the bottom of the pile. Life was pretty rough for them.

With time, I learned to survive this by studying the behaviors of each group. It also helped that every movie and TV show then produced shed light on the exact differences (i.e. Revenge of the Nerds, Back to the Future, and Saved by the Bell).

With the energy you might have when chased by a bear, I ditched the glasses, didn’t mess around with homework, and NEVER answered questions like, “Can anyone tell me what a dangling participle is?”

By the time I entered High School, survival wasn’t enough. I had aspirations! It took work and discipline, but I was able to climb the food chain a little more each year by mimicking the behaviors of those at the top. One of the more powerful strategies I learned was to keep my language very simple and almost meaningless, like repeating popular phrases like “you know” and “oh dude” over and over again.

Graduation arrived. I felt like my skills were finely honed and whatever the future held for me, at least I wouldn’t be doomed to the hard life; that of the nerd.

Who could have guessed society’s pecking order was about to be turned on its head?

It’s 2011. Forget the pocket calculator. Now, most of us depend on a myriad of gadgets we don’t really understand bulging from each of our pockets. Almost every aspect of our entire lives is somehow created and controlled by the nerds. Except now we call them Presidents and CEO’s. Even the lowliest is now called a “techie” and treated with the same respect humanity has always given those that can do really cool mysterious stuff (i.e. magicians of old).

So far as I can tell, there have been no revolts over the power shift.

Anyway, if I could go back in time, I’d embrace my inner nerd and just grit my teeth through the beatings. There is one subject in particular I wish I’d paid a little more attention to when I was going through school. That’s English. In particular, I’d love to be able to write well.

How great would it be to be able to write killer marketing pieces? (Like on how awesome our Workers Compensation program is. Call me!)

Even outside of business, I’d like to be able to write fun little things for the family. (Maybe even a book . . . someday.) Still, while I used to fear the consequences of knowing what a dangling participle is, the idea of immortalizing my thoughts (flaws and all!) through the written word makes me just as nervous. Maybe it’s time I have the courage of all those so-called nerds and just push ahead.

So, cheers to all those that never feared being a little different, getting good grades, or letting a genuine piece of themselves live on through the written word. I sure admire you.

--Ben Page

Ben’s life has been one full of adventure. He’s traveled the globe and immersed himself in other languages and cultures. He has started several companies outside of Page Insurance, one of which has received national attention for its success. When he isn’t helping local business owners control insurance costs, he is spending time with his family. There is nothing he enjoys more than good company and good food.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Words and Music

I want to document something that happened to me last winter, one bitter cold morning in January. I was at my computer, willing but uninspired, not sure I could get any words to flow. I had a rough idea of what happened next, but didn’t think I had the energy to dig down and find my characters that day. They were in Norway, but wouldn’t talk to me. I should add I like to work to music, but wasn’t sure if I had the music that would inspire this scene.

The doorbell rang at eleven in the morning.

With dogs barking around my heels I opened the door a crack. A young man stood on my doorstep. A stranger with merchandise in his hands.

Laundry soap? Insurance? He had 10 seconds, tops, before I shut the door, or a dog got him.

Besides, it was bitter cold. I don’t know why he chose my house or street on a morning like this. It was so white and cloudy, he could have walked out of the mists for all I knew.

He held up a CD.

What kind of music? I asked to be polite. Skeptical, I was ready to shut the door.

Classical piano, he said.

I gave him 30 seconds more. Whose?

Mine, he said.

Really? He had my attention. I shoved the dogs back and went out to the porch, reached for a CD. What songs did you record?

Most were pieces I didn’t know or write to, until he mentioned the last ones.

I’d already given Beethoven to one of my characters, but didn’t have a good CD of it.


But before I finalized the deal, I had a question on another level. What are you dreaming of doing? I asked him. Concert stage maybe?

No, he was just trying to make a living, he told me. A photo of his wife and children beamed back from the CD cover.

As a struggling writer, no one on the block understood that better than me.

I wrote him a check with my red pen, brought in my new CD and slipped it into the player.

Lyrical piano music spilled out in 4:4 time. I skipped to the final pieces, the Beethoven, the sonata called “Cantibile.” A familiar, much loved piece, it was exactly what I wanted to hear.

I should add I just happened to be writing the scene in my novel where Kristine hears this music being played in Rolf’s apartment. Meant to be? I don’t know, but it was exactly, precisely, the music I needed at that moment in the scene I was trying to create.

When I sat back at my computer, I wrote a word, then another, and a whole sentence. Suddenly the characters were talking, telling me what they wanted to say. The CD ended, and I hit replay. My characters were talking in 4:4 time, and I was typing, capturing their words. At some point the music ended again, but by then I didn’t even realize it. It had done its job to open up the creative channels in me, and I kept on writing.

I’ve spoken to many writers who say they work to music, that it inspires creativity. In my earlier writing career, I wore out my favorite CDs and tapes getting the right music to turn on the creative juices. Then and now, not just any music works. Not the heavy beats of the radio Top 40. No, for me it takes a certain tempo and sound to open the door to where words will flow like magic. Classical or stage tunes, usually to 4:4 time work. About the tempo of “Music of the Night,” on a Phantom of the Opera tape I wore out long ago.

If I ever tried to explain this to noncreative friends, they look at me like I’ve lost it. But writing friends all seem to understand and share a belief in the power to music in the creative process. They’re the ones who nod. Yeah, music. Works for me too.

I should add that while the auditory stimulation of music works for writing, at the same time I want no visual stimulation at all. I create in front of a blank wall. A wall as white and plain as the blank screen. Though when it comes time to edit or critique, I do an about face. I’m sure you’ve heard me complain how I find it too hard to listen when you want me to critique a reading. Then, I do want the visual, hard copy page. Go figure. Visual helps me be analytical, helps the reasoning side of my brain stay focused. Auditory sensations, though, move me to the other creative side. Sound provides the magic wand to open my imagination. And pulls the research stored in my right brain over there too.

Only of course it’s not magic at all. The science behind music and creativity is documented. Something about music greasing the skids on neurological receptors that connect the left and the right sides of the brain. The Mozart Effect, you may have heard it called. But the effect isn’t limited to the music of Mozart. His was the music used in the study on the effects of music on the brain, that’s all. Other composers can have the same effect. I’m not here to explain that part of it. You can pull it up on GOOGLE to read about the science of music and the brain. Many writers intuitively know. They swear by the power of music to unleash creativity. Like me, they also know precisely what kind of music each needs to tap into their creative place. Country/western music? Rap? Won’t work for me. But a Grieg symphony? Yes.

But while there’s a scientific explanation behind how music connects the right and left sides of brain, another thing should be pointed out: There’s still a lot of mystery in creativity, in what it takes to inspire. A mystery in what makes someone keep writing or not. A mystery to how or why a simple knock at the door can open the door to words.

So in the end this is more about serendipity than science. There might have been a CD in my house that morning that would have inspired me if I’d dug hard enough. But there was a surreal quality to the exchange that morning--a stranger at my door, frigid white mists behind him, out of which he came and into which he vanished just as quickly, handing me the very music I needed to write--as if, here, try this. Keep going, you can do it.

I did keep going. Recently, I completed my first draft of Return to Cloudberry. If my novel could have a soundtrack, Joel Palmer’s CD would be on it.

--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, including Idaho Magazine. She lives in Idaho Falls.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Coloring Your Book

I am a fledgling writer and recent addition to the Blue Sage Writers’ group. Although I am a beginner when it comes to putting words on paper, I have been putting brush to paper for many years as a professional artist. This blog is about the colorless—literally—descriptions that I notice in many books.

Coloring Your Book

The world is awash with color, so why not use a few creative splashes in your descriptive writing? As children, we excitedly open that new box of 64 brilliant crayons and ask friends, “What’s your favorite color?” As adults we exclaim over rainbows and fluffy white clouds and anthropomorphize color into common phrases such as “true blue” or “green with envy”. Our homes are decorated with just the right shade of harmonizing carpet and furnishings, and our wardrobes filled with clothes that match our eyes. However, many authors omit even a nuance of color when describing a character or scene. The result is a bland passage that could have sung with juicy color, but instead strikes an empty note.

Artists utilize strokes of color to lead a viewer’s eyes through a work of art or to lend importance to specific segments of the painting or to convey mood. Writers can learn these techniques as well, and they will prove themselves indispensable. In the following paragraphs are color usage tricks I teach to painting students, rewritten for use in writing. It would be a helpful self-assigned experiment to write several scenes, each one utilizing a different color tip.

The ten percent solution leads to a strong focal area. Describe your scene with approximately 90% neutral or dull colors and save the remaining ten percent “snap” of more vivid primary colors to reel the reader in. A strong color will draw the eye, and spark the memory, so be sure the snap color leads to your primary focal point. It is what the reader will carry away from the paragraph.

“…I sloshed unhappily through pelting rain and mud into the drizzly, grey nightmare. Over the girl’s body a brown makeshift tent had been erected to preserve evidence. A sea of black umbrellas sheltered those unfortunate detectives methodically working the crime scene. Beyond the perimeter a slim figure stood alone under a vivid red parasol.”

The dull colors lead to eye and begin setting the scene, the hot red draws the viewer more strongly into the story. Who is carrying the only red umbrella?

Color is weakened and cooled by white. When white is added the hue not only becomes lighter – it becomes cool in both appearance and emotional connotation. Hot colors can be red or orange but they can just as easily be simply a primary color undiluted by white. A rich blue is hotter than a pale pink, for instance. A deep cobalt blue appears stronger than a light green. What should your character wear? Use the lighter, diluted colors when you want a character or scene to feel less passionate, crisp, less dramatic or more professional.

“…she walked into the board room wearing a tailored, pale blue linen suit.”

Push color to give flavor to various scenes. Painters will often make one area of the painting richer and less important areas dull, or make an area warm and another cool. A writer can deliberately use color to help the reader visualize a new space when there is an important change of scene. In one chapter, the reader may find the heroine sitting in a dilapidated diner with orange vinyl booths. In another, the hero is diving into a pool of brilliant blue in a natural cove. These two scenes show the use of radically different locations, but also make use of color complements, or exact color opposites, adding a bit of pop without the reader being aware of why they feel the added interest. Pushing color to extremes can add some pop as well, contrasting the personalities of two characters.

“…her full silk skirt danced and swirled with all the colors of a Mexican fiesta, topped by a poppy red tank top and that outrageous head of blond hair. She looked at me over Dave’s shoulder and grinned. I stood there in my plain white dress and wanted to die. God, I hated her.”

High contrast sets a dramatic scene. In a painting, the focal area is strengthened by allowing the highest contrast of light and dark to be adjacent to each other. The stark contrast draws the eye and keeps the viewer focused on that specific area. A setting of black and white can be effective in writing as well.

“…the deepening light, and the cedars meeting over their heads, cast them into midnight blackness…Straining her eyes she saw ahead the bright white bricks of Tara.” (Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell)

Unfortunately, a painter would know that the white brick in that type of light would appear a dull blue, but still, the stark contrast does paint a strong picture in the mind’s eye.

Lighting will change your colors. Light will change colors, washing out some, enhancing others, depending upon the sky and other extraneous circumstances. As in the example above, I see odd comments and errors in books because the writer forgets what type of light he used at the beginning of the scene. For instance, on a dull day a field of wheat will appear dull and dirty ochre but the writer depicts it as a mass of brilliant and burnished yellow. On a sunny day it would appear exactly so, but not in overcast. Don’t confuse your reader. Pay attention to the light.

Things that are different stand out. Advertising agencies have the use of effective color down to a science, and show outrageous images that we remember because the color is effective. That which is different will always stand out — the red umbrella in a sea of black parasols, a blue monkey, the green gecko. A reader is jolted with a splash of color, and the quirky imaginative streak in most of us appreciates the jolt.

Did you catch “the blue monkey”? There are more than sixteen million colors. Let’s use a few.

-Mary Ann Cherry

Mary Ann Cherry is a recent addition to the Blue Sage group. Cherry is an avid reader and beginning writer who is working on her first mystery novel. She is a professional artist and freelance graphic designer. Visit her on the web at www.cherryart.biz or www.cherrygraphicsonline.com.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How Valuable are Writer’s Conferences These Days?

This post is not intended as a rebuttal to the recent Blue Sage post on the subject of attending writer conferences. I had actually written this, intending it to be my May post, several days before that blog appeared. My remarks may be a cause for consternation for some readers of this post, but those who remember Red Skelton’s “mean wittle kid” character will also remember that he “calls ‘em the way he sees ‘em.”

It is often touted that writers’ conferences are a “must do” for authors. I question whether the expense of attending a conference these days is worth it, unless you rationalize it as a nice three or four day vacation. Fuel prices being what they are, if one lives more than a day’s drive away; traveling to and from a conference by auto, or any form of public transportation, whether it be bus, train, or airplane, can be rather expensive. Couple this with the other related expenses connected to these conferences; i.e., registration, room fees, extra activities, etc., and the cost can push up against the $2,000 mark.

I’m aware that meeting with an agent or editor face to face can be nice, but in light of the so-called diminished readership among the world populace as a whole, and the attitude of some agents and editors these days, is it worth spending $2000 for a ten to fifteen-minute interview where (according to the “helpful hints” on one conference website) you have only about ten seconds to capture an agent’s or editor’s interest? If you fail the ten-second test, the other fourteen minutes and fifty seconds of the interview are moot. On the other hand, a well thought-out and concise query letter might nail you an agent for forty-four cents—or if it’s an email query, the cost may be not more than a few minutes of your time.

Some will say: “Yes, but what about the workshops these conferences provide, and the camaraderie of meeting with other writers?” There is something to be said for that, I agree. I have to admit I really enjoyed my forty-five minute visit with Don Coldsmith at a conference I attended some years back, but that conference was only an hour’s drive away from home. One can develop camaraderie with other writers on Facebook and Twitter or email.

As for the workshops, what I came away with from most of these was a bunch of “you need tos,” or “you should dos,” but nothing about “how to do it,” except in some cases, buy the book the presenter had written on his topic. And in most cases those books contained many of the same should dos and need to dos presented at the conference, but, still, no how tos. However, there are any number of good correspondence courses on writing that will offer much more information than you’ll get from a one-hour conference workshop for a whole lot less than two thousand bucks, and they include the “how to do its”.

So, fellow writers, don’t beat up on yourselves for not making an effort to attend that “great writers’ conference” in Timbuktu, or whatever other exotic location it’s offered. I can attest that there are still some editors willing to take the time to read a snail mail or an email query. Persistence is the key. Keep the faith, and to play on Hemingway’s words, “go home and write,” I’m gonna put the money to better use and “stay” home and write. Keep in mind, also, there is an old phrase uttered by farmers that is as old as the dirt they till: “Next year will be better.”

--Bill Corbett

Bill lives in Tucson, Arizona. 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, Barnes and Noble, or by asking for it at your favorite bookstore. Check his web site and blog at www.willedwinson.com. Bill also writes free-lance for IDAHO magazine.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Why You Should Not Just Stay Home and Write

Ernest Hemingway is reported to have told writers, “Go home and write.” This line is often repeated at various writers’ conferences. However, for the past two weeks I’ve explored upcoming writing conferences in spite of Hemingway’s advice. Why? Because I need to learn more about writing fiction for adults. Updating my skills in writing the pitch, query letter and synopsis might be helpful, too. I’ve been teaching teens for the past eight years and the book credits to my name are in the children’s category.

One reason I attend a conference is to meet writers and make friendships. Two weeks after I moved to Idaho Falls, I learned of an August conference sponsored by Blue Sage Writers. That is how I joined this monthly critique group. Writers usually understand other writers and the dilemmas they face. Should I submit my latest article to Fly Fishers Anonymous or Catch ‘Em While You Can? How should I introduce the hero in my romance set on Mars? I’ve written this great party scene at the White House, and I love it; that means I need to cut it, right? There’s nothing like discussing story crafting and marketing conundrums over a cup of coffee or a cool soda or something more for those who imbibe. A conference can offer the perfect venue.

Another reason I attend conferences is to learn the latest techniques in market strategy. I find out which editors are willing to read manuscripts and how materials should be delivered. No, blocking an agent’s entrance to the restroom until she takes your manuscript still isn’t in vogue. Yes, I’ve witnessed this scene years ago, developing empathy for agents and editors. I understand many read unsolicited query letters or manuscripts in bed trying to fall asleep. But, do they read them on their Blackberries, I-phones, or Kindles? Are some still reading paper? How do I learn their preferences? Most importantly, how do I keep them from falling asleep reading my manuscript? At a writers’ conference I learn these answers and more.

I gain insight into the writing and editing process. I’m using a plan to write my first romance that I learned in a workshop from Margaret Chittenden aka Rosalind Carson. No author crosses more markets or is more prolific than Jane Yolen and my ten day workshop with her still motivates me to keep writing and rewriting. I’ve laughed and cried and taken home a renewed sense of the dedication it takes to be a writer from listening to Stella Cameron, Debbie Macomber, Rita Dove, Leonard Robinson, William Stafford, Michael Curtis and many others. I’m name-dropping because excellent writers and editors find time to be part of workshops and conferences. Find the person to inspire you among this year’s presenters.

Finally, I’m looking at fall and winter conferences because by then I intend to have my romance novel completed. That means I will need an agent or an editor or both. My former agent, now retired, accepted me as her client on the recommendation of another agent I met at a conference. Sure, I do my marketing homework before a conference. For me that means reading the best-selling novels in the romance line that seems most like mine. I’ve read dedications and acknowledgments, making note of agents and editors mentioned. I’m scrutinizing lists of presenters at conferences before making my final choice. Then I’ll register, keep writing, and looking forward to my opportunities.

When you attend that conference, keep these seven tips in mind.

1. Research the conferences that meet your needs. You may need a conference that is nearby. Or, you may need a conference with workshops to hone your skills, or one that will accept you as a member on a panel, or offers a 10-20 minute appointment with an editor or agent. What is most important to you? If cost is a factor, some “festivals” are free and will offer benefits similar to those of large conferences, especially if you are new to the writing community. Check out conferences in the March/April issue of Poets&Writers magazine, or the April issue of The Writer, or online at the listings below.

2. Register early and arrive early at the conference. Appointments with editors and agents fill up fast. Some workshops offer critiques of sample chapters, if materials are sent weeks before the conference. Meet the deadlines. When you arrive at your conference check to be sure you have the selections you want. If there is a last minute change, make the best possible arrangement for you.

3. Volunteer to help with a conference, especially if it is local. Offer to serve as a host/hostess. Some conferences need drivers for guest editors and agents. Many welcome help preparing before the conference. You will make friends in the writing community, and may have more time with editors and agents, if you are willing to help.

4. Be prepared. Do your research before the conference, learning as much as you can about the visiting writers, editors and agents. Check out their articles, blogs, books, guidelines, submission policies, and websites. Know their preferences and pet peeves.

5. Write and practice your pitch. Like a hook, it’s the sentence or two that grabs your reader’s attention. One book* describes it as the “ooh factor.” Immediately the listener knows your idea and knows what to expect as far as genre, style and concept. If time allows, introduce the handle that includes theme, audience and a comparison to other best sellers. A pitch should be 30-60 seconds long. Write it! Practice until it’s perfect!

6. Be courteous. You can be assertive and civil. Take the time to silence your cell phone. No one wants to hear “The Charge of the Light Brigade” at maximum volume as an editor describes what he most wants in a book proposal. Listen to responses to your work; don’t waste time defending it or discussing past triumphs. Don’t make any comment you might regret. The publishing world is smaller than you think.

7. Finally, make time to meet your needs. You may want to skip one session and take a walk. Remember, most conferences allow time to “schmooze” with others at the conference. If you are exhausted, you won’t be at your best for early or late gatherings.

Check out the following resources. Surf the Internet for others. Make the most of the opportunities that open up for you at a writers’ conference.

* Your Novel Proposal: from Creation to Contract by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook,
Writer’s Digest Books, 1999.

Poets&Writers magazine at www.pw.org/conferences_and_residencies

Romance Writers of America at www.rwa.org/cs/conferences_and_events

Writer’s Market at www.writersmarket.com/PaidServices/MarketListings/Conferences/search/1955816397

Copyright 2011 Carol Curtis Stilz

--Carol Stilz

Carol Stilz lives with her two feline friends in Idaho Falls. She has co-chaired the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in Tacoma, Washington. Carol is the author of Kirsty’s Kite, published by Albatross Books of Australia, and Grandma Buffalo, May and Me published by Sasquatch Books of Seattle. Both books won awards at writers’ conferences. Her writing has appeared in textbooks for children, as well as Cricket, Montana Magazine, Fur-Fish-Game and The Flyfisher. She contributed to a weekly food column for five years, which appeared in The Olympian, a Gannet newspaper. Carol has served as a writing coach to children and taught workshops for adults at Flathead Valley Community College, St. Martin’s College and The Evergreen State College, while editing for a Fortune 50 author.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ride Your Own Horse

(This blog post also appears on Linda's blogspot, Writing Out West. Photos are from author's personal collection. Not for reuse without permission.)

When I was growing up, we always had a bunch of horses around the farm, and most of them were too wild for us kids to ride. My dad was always afraid we'd get hurt so he wouldn't put us on anything that wasn't broke really well or ridden down for a few days before we climbed up on its back. Many times if he was breaking a colt, he would "snub" the colt to an older horse. By this, I mean he would put a lead rope on the colt's hackamore (he preferred hackamores to bridles). The person on the older horse would help control the colt with the lead rope. The person on the colt had the reins, but the snubbing rope was an added insurance in case the colt started bucking or decided to run away.

One of my dad's favorite horses was named Dan. He was a spirited Appaloosa. Dad wouldn't let just anybody ride that horse because he was afraid if the rider "didn't know what he was doing" he'd "ruin the horse." I'll never forget the day when he decided he was going to let me ride Dan. Needless to say, I was pretty nervous – more about ruining his horse than getting bucked off. Dad decided we were going to ride to the top of Blue Mountain at our ranch, a steep climb through pine trees and over rocks. Even though he'd ridden Dan pretty good ahead of time, we started out with Dad snubbing Dan to the horse he was riding. By the time we got to the top of the mountain, Dan was tired (or at least I hoped) and Dad wrapped the snubbing rope around my saddle horn. I was on my own on the ride back down. It was quite a thrill to ride that horse. I made it back to the ranch in one piece and didn't ruin Old Dan.

I know you're wondering what this has to do with writing. Well, I'll tell you. We all like to have some help now and then with our writing. We like someone to hold that snubbing rope and keep us from getting bucked off; i.e., rejected. We want to hear what others say about our work. We want their advice, their critiques that will kindly and gently point out bad plotting, punctuation mistakes, weak conflicts, poor characterizations and so on and so on. But sooner or later, we have to gather the reins, put our foot in the stirrup, and settle our butts down deep in the saddle. We might be a little afraid to put our heels to that horse, but there comes a time when we have to trust ourselves, our knowledge, our instincts, and all we've learned along the way. Sooner or later we have to let go of that snubbing rope and ride our own horse. What's the worst that can happen? If you get thrown off, just dust off the dirt and swing into that saddle again.

--Linda Sandifer

Linda is the award-winning author of thirteen novels. Several of her books have been translated into Norwegian, Swedish, Romanian, and Russian. She has won such awards as Idaho Writer of the Year, Affaire de Coeur's Reader's Choice Award, and Women Writing the West's Laura Award. She has worked as a secretary, a bank teller, a technical editor, and once even trained to be a beautician. Born and raised on a ranch, she has spent most of her life in Idaho. A mother and grandmother, she and her husband own and operate the ranch her grandfather homesteaded in 1915. You can see more about her books on her website.

The Rocky Road to Publishing (And I’m not talking ice cream! However, if you’re treating....)

Thirty-two years ago my sister, Kathie, and I took a creative writing course from a very gifted author and wonderful teacher, Patti Sherlock. This was where we met Karen Finnigan and the other ladies who eventually made up our first critique group. More about that later.

In the first class, Patti, let us book-selling-wannabes in on the difficulty of getting published. Sobering news. Then she gave us our first assignment. I can’t remember the topic, but that coming week we put our whole hearts and souls into our stories. We handed in the work we sweated over, eager for her comments. Finally, we arrived at the next class, anticipating her remarks.

What did she think? Were we on target? Did we capture her attention? How about talent? Was it there somewhere hidden among our carefully structured prose? We could hardly wait for the results.

Patti passed out our papers along with a typed, crisp, impersonal...rejection letter! Our hearts sank; our disappointment great.

This was our first taste of the real world of publishing. And it tasted sour.

Patti taught us many things, but the one gem I’ve passed on is while going for that book contract, try the smaller markets for publishing credits. Magazines need vignettes and fillers to fill a page. Taking that to heart, I wrote a whimsical poem lamenting a problem I have–spelling– and I sent it to Writers Digest Magazine. I can’t remember it all (undoubtedly a good thing), but the last line was, “I would buy, I would sell, if through my life, I could spell.”

As anyone can guess, they didn’t print it. However, Lawrence Block, the editor at the time sent me a personal note that said, “You can always hire someone to check your spelling, but you can’t hire anyone to come up with ideas.”

His advice sticks with me especially when I have to, once again, look up a word to make sure it’s spelled right. Yeah, I still have problems with spelling. You could call it a mental block.

Yes, I can have someone go over my manuscripts. I can’t hire anyone to give me talent.

One Sunday on Mother’s Day I gave a talk in church called, "What Makes a Mother." I later sold it to a parenting magazine. My first Publishing credit! They didn’t pay very much, but a credit’s a credit.

When the course finished, Patti suggested we form a critique group. Several of us met that first night at her house. We were the only class she’d taught to take her up on her offer and stay with it. Eventually, we decided to write a round robin. Our name? Tucker Sage. We named ourselves after a grizzled figurine prospector. We picked a general western, plotted it out, and decided each person would write three chapters then pass it on to the next in line.

One evening we met at JB’s restaurant to discuss our endeavors. Someone had written in a baby. A couple of ladies didn’t want to deal with said baby in a western. What ensued was a lively discussion about what we should do.

“Kill the baby!”

“No! Don’t kill the baby.”

Imagine, there we were, women ranging from young mothers to senior citizens, in a popular restaurant, arguing about whether or not to kill a baby and laughing at the audacity of it. I’ve often wondered what those other patrons must have thought! (For the record, Karen and I voted to keep the baby.)

Later I had written a one-act Christmas play for my church, "A Rented Christmas Family." It was for our annual adult dinner/dance evening we all look forward to each year. The booked talent program had cancelled, and I was asked to help. I wrote the script in a day. We had two weeks to practice. As it turned out, we were a smash hit! I sold the play for a flat rate to Eldridge Play Company earning another credit. One year I was told a corporate office in New York paid “big bucks” to have it shipped overnight so they could put it on for their company.

I read that Eldridge paid three hundred and fifty dollars for three-act plays or 35% royalties for exceptional scripts. Needing the cash, I submitted my first melodrama. To my disappointment, the editors liked my play so much they bought it on a royalty basis. Altogether, I’ve sold four plays, and, after twenty-plus years, I’m still receiving royalty checks for two of them.

So if anyone asks me for any advice on writing, I tell them what Patti told us so long ago: While chasing that elusive book contract, submit to smaller venues for publishing credits. They look great on a query!

--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.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

7 Surprises in Joining the Group (by newbie, Ben)

Being the new guy in this group, I'm still trying to figure out what the heck a dangling participle is. And I'm wondering if I can start a sentence with the word "And." In other words, I'm not about to blog about how to improve your writing. Instead, as we all find ourselves in the age of Top Ten Lists, Bullet Points, and Bottom Lines, let me just mention the seven most surprising things about participating in this group--from one newbie's perspective:

Members are accomplished. Not sure why this surprised me. I guess I just think of spuds, snowmobiling, hunting, and site engineers--but not published writers--when I think of East Idaho.

Members are down to earth. Another mistake on my part: I imagined a bunch of Grammarians looking down their noses at one another trying to one-up each other with their technical knowledge and expansive vocabulary. Instead, I found all the members to be very warm, welcoming, and totally human.

Focus is on art over science. It seems the content--the story and the readers experience-- comes first! All the grammatical rules are important but secondary to the writer's creativity.

Writing process is messy--and that's OK! I'd always imagined great writers sitting down and just cranking something out. Turns out, even GREAT authors just get stuff out on paper first. Then write, re-write, and re-write again. I'm learning to just be ok with it being a little messy to start with. It's like writing is more of a process than an event.

Honesty is everything. It has been a great surprise to see how open and honest all the members are with each other, and with themselves. It's almost like every member sets their egos, fears, and assumptions aside when it's time to critique each other's work. I haven't heard even one "Yeah, but..." Everyone is so open to the opinions of others. It seems everyone is focused on helping each other write--and write well!

Members have diverse interests: Thrillers, Romance, Historical Fiction, Non-Fiction, Westerns, etc. The surprising thing is that by reading/critiquing different genres outside of what might normally interest a writer, his own writing improves.

The hard work gets done! It seems participating in a writers group like this helps break up the hard work into more manageable bites (so to speak). Each member wants to make progress before the next month's meeting. Before joining the group, every time I'd try to write, I'd write a couple of chapters and get stuck. Now, I'm always pushing to the next chapter!

Before I sign out, let me just mention one more surprise; it's FUN! I imagine this is because the people in the group are just plain cool. It seems everyone has a good sense of humor and it shows.

Well, next time I blog on this site, I hope to be able to report back on what the heck a dangling participle is. But more than that, I'm excited about the possibility of actually having created something that gives a reader a great experience. If I can pull something like that off, I'll owe it--in no small part--to the great members of the Blue Sage Writers group. You all ROCK! Happy Writing.

--Ben Page

Ben's life has been one full of adventure. He's traveled the globe and immersed himself in other languages and cultures. He's been a farm laborer, dish washer, ski bum, clerk, missionary, econ and philosophy major, resident staff for troubled teens, and a salesman. He's started several companies, one of which has received national attention for its success. Now, when he's not working on his business, serving other small business owners, or spending time with his family - he's writing articles, blogging, or working on his current project; a book on how to really market to the U.S.'s Spanish Speaking demographic.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Reflections from the Big Island

We all know the successful writer must appeal to the senses, using words as weapons, luring readers into imaginary worlds they cannot easily leave. It happens ever so often that the writer himself is drawn into some strange and exotic landscape that bombards him with sounds, smells, textures, tastes and colors never before experienced. Such a thing just happened to me. Hawaii, the Big Island.

What started out as a simple visit to my daughter’s new home opened doors in my mind I thought nonexistent. I can’t get the Island out of my thoughts.

Hawaii is the spawn of five volcanoes that rose from the sea floor millions of years ago and merged into a land with incredible diversity of climates and ecosystems. The volcanoes are still grumbling. During our travels around the island, we sniffed acrid sulfur dioxide pouring from giant, steaming calderas. At five one morning, on a rugged moonscape only a few days old, our shoes heated up as we walked atop thin, hot shells of fissured rock, separated from glowing, molten lava by mere inches. Constant popping from the shifting surface raised the specter of plunging feet first into the eerie orange light visible in the cracks, turning one into an instant French fry. It has happened we were told.

Hawaii is surrounded by an ocean of many colors. While snorkeling in the turquoise shallows, I was swarmed by a million small fish in breathtaking displays of color. Giant sea turtles swam by and sunned on the beaches. Further offshore, the shallows give way in stages of color gradation to the deep blue where we saw pods of whales breaching and energetic Spinning Dolphins performing amazing acrobatics.

Emily and Johnny live in a rain forest near Hilo. In our tiny guest cabin we slept like dead rocks every night, lulled to sleep by the voices of a thousand Coqui Frogs and awakened by the mournful calls of Rock Doves welcoming the sunrise. Somewhere in between we became vaguely aware of the soothing drum of tropical rain on the tin roof.

Once in a while we were awakened by the grunting of wild pigs foraging for fruit and macadamia nuts in the jungle outside.

The nights were incredibly dark. The night sky display of stars was like nothing I’d seen before, the milky way laid out like a giant swatch of cream across the heavens. One night we sat on a remote beach, the pounding surf lit only by starlight. I could picture ancient Polynesian navigators using these same stars to find this paradise.

Emily promised we would not believe their tropical fruits. Have you ever heard of rambutan, lilikoi, longon? Neither had I. Their appearance ranged from smooth, yellow shells, to red, sea urchin-looking spiky surfaces. All tasted exotic, forbidden, unforgettable.

There is so much more I could tell, but suffice to say, for a writer, The Big Island is an inspiration. I came away awestruck, yet rejuvenated. I could imagine myself roughing it in the tiny blue cabin, cranking out one novel after another, living off nature’s bounty. But alas, reality struck. It was time to leave, to return to the Idaho winter, where my snow shovel awaited. In mere hours, the jet age transitioned us from a comforting 75 degrees to fifteen below. It was a truly gruesome transition, but someday, I will return to that far away paradise. In the meantime, my creative juices are flowing like Kilauea’s lava. It was a great trip.

--Richard 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, January 29, 2011

Rewriting My Book -- FAST

“Look Gwama, I can wite on the puter.” I took my laptop from my great grandson, held my breath and looked at the screen. It was blue and, try as I may, I could bring up nothing but garbled lines. He’d pressed the media express key, which quick loads media programs, then, while it was loading, he’d clicked “shut down” on the main menu. Just as I’d feared, he’d fried my hard drive.

I had told myself for months that I should buy a USB drive and download my book for a backup, but I’d put it off. I only had one, maybe two, chapters left to write and now all my hard work was destroyed. The thoughts of starting over after all that work was more than I even wanted to consider. It took many long talks with myself before I could be convinced that I needed to rewrite my book. I had my research done, I told myself. The story was solid in my mind. I knew my characters. I just needed to get the words written.

Duke Ellington, jazz musician, said, “I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.” Basically, that’s what I did. I took the energy it would take to pout and got started on my book. Working on it felt much better than the alternative.

Normally, I’m a slow writer. I agonize over each word, each sentence, each paragraph. In starting over, I remembered reading an article years ago about layering. I couldn’t find the article so I decided to write the book with my own form of layering. After my computer was fixed, I sat down and started typing. I told the story without going back to read it, edit or worry about the grammar. I just typed as fast as I could.

After I had the skeleton written I went back and read the story. Obviously, it wasn’t very good at that point, but it was on paper. Having it down was such a good feeling that it gave me the incentive to continue. I went through it again and looked at the action, improving what I had and adding what was needed. From there, I wrote the setting and atmosphere. That took a lot of description, so I went on to put in all of the description. Then, I added the emotions. When I had all of that down, I attacked the grammar and punctuation. And last, after I’d set the manuscript aside awhile to distance myself, I read it from start to finish to make sure every word, sentance, paragraph and scene counted enough to be in my story.

What did I learn from this? A lot.

First of all, I learned to back up my book on a USB drive so that if anything does happen to my computer I still have my book. These flash drives aren’t that expensive and are well worth the peace of mind and avoiding the needless hard work if something goes wrong.

Secondly, I learned that I’m more of a seat of the pants writer than I had thought. I really enjoyed sitting down at my computer each morning and typing as fast as my mind and fingers could move together. Yet, I’m OCD enough that I liked my research beside me, at least the information I needed that I could foresee ahead of time. Also, I liked knowing my characters and their background. It helped me with their reactions to what happened to them and their reactions to the other characters.

I learned that going back and adding emotions and description after the story is written allowed me to be more creative. I tended to slow down and consider all the emotions my protagonists might be feeling. I paused to feel the atmosphere of the setting, and while doing this, I managed to remember to blend those two aspects with the action so they wouldn’t slow the pace of the story.

I found that the second writing of my book went much faster than the first and, once I actually got started, I enjoyed the second approach more. Best of all, the new strategy got me through a difficult task.

Maybe layering could help you get your book written faster, or maybe this just isn't for you at all. As James Scott Bell wrote in the article, Ten Disciplines For Fiction Writers: “Find your own ritual that gets your juices flowing, and don’t waste it. Turn it into words on the page.”

--Maxine McCoy

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 lives in Vancouver, Washington, and writes fiction novels.