Thursday, March 31, 2011

Do NOT do this

It doesn't take long to see what the writer does in response to this review.

Do NOT do this.

Count to 10.

Turn off your computer.

Lock yourself out of the house.

Do not do this.

BigAl's Books and Pals: The Greek Seaman / Jacqueline Howett: "Genre: Suspense/Literary Fiction Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words Availability Kindle: YES Nook: YES &..."

Thankful Thursday: Huffington Post

I love Huffington Post.

I know it has a liberal tilt. When I link a story on my Facebook, all my conservative friends go berserk. I don't mean to get them riled up, but I wanted to share a story that had a point or a comment that resonated with me.

Forget the opinion pieces, the website also has loads of Associated Press and Reuters stories. I have the site's app on my iPhone, so I can scroll through multiple stories. With a few clicks, I can email, tweet or Facebook the stories.

I know some folks don't like the site. I know some writers don't like the idea that many of Huffington Post's contributors don't get paid. I know some folks don't like the idea of a news site that aggregates news from so many different sources.

I like Huffington Post, because it is a one-stop shop. The site takes the best of the newspapers  — a special section for everyone — a front page; local news; entertainment; sports; and to hot topics like divorce, unemployment and health. The site puts it all in one place that is easy to navigate, to interact and to share.

I'm grateful Huffington Post does all the heavy lifting, so I can read.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ouch: Back me up Scotty!

While I can't be transported back to the moment, I did it — I assure you I learned a valuable lesson.

I need a back up plan for my email and my digital files.

Last week, I attempted to clean out my email account files and deleted 40 percent of the capacity in the account.
I eliminated almost all of my story ideas, titles, thoughts, etc.
that I had emailed to myself over the last two years. 

In the days of home phones, I used to call my voice mail and leave notes to myself to transcribe later.

With an iPhone, I email notes to myself.

Since my son arrived, I've sent hundreds of emails to myself with notes on story openings, titles and outlines. I lost all this, plus notes about things that my son did during those early days when sleep deprivation zapped all my brain cells.

I didn't cry. I didn't panic. Instead, I got busy. That mobile cloud that I have — well, I put it to use and backed up my current computer files. This task had been on my "to do" list for weeks. I found a second email account to send items to as a back up to my main account and to keep it out of my clumsy reach.

I sought help from  other writers at the Writer Unboxed group on Facebook. Many were kind to share their techniques on saving information such as Word files, notes on cell phones, a notebook, etc. And, how those files are backed up using thumb drives, hard drives, clouds, email accounts, friends and family, etc.

The whole episode made me give a brief moment of silence for the ideas I lost. Some I will be able to create, but others will be lost forever. I guess that just leaves more room for new ideas.

Whether it's a new idea or an old one, I promise I will back it up somewhere — in the new small notebook that will fit in the diaper bag, at the new email address or on my computer or iPhone.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What Amanda said about the deal

Amanda Hocking's Blog: The Blog: "Okay, I've been writing this blog in my head for about a month or so, and I was trying to decide how I would break the news to everyone. But..."

This quote stood out to me:
But it is crazy that we live in a time that I have to justify taking a seven-figure a publishing deal with St. Martin's. Ten years ago, nobody would question this. Now everybody is.

Good for her: Amanda Hocking gets a deal

Amanda Hocking contracted with a traditional publisher last week. She was one of many doing that including Actress Kate Winslet, but Hocking wasn't just anybody.

Hocking wrote nine books and published them as e-books. She sold around a million copies. Now, she has a four-book deal with St. Martin's Press for her upcoming series "Watersong." Reports are that bids rose above $2 million. Congratulations.

Like many other writers, I've followed the news about Hocking, ever since my friend Julie did the Internet version of "Did ya see this?"

I haven't read any of Hocking's work. She writes young adult, paranormal genre.

Her success story is great for writers. She tried to be published through traditional channels. Since that didn't work, she published e-books on her own. She's a fast writer, too. Nine books already?!

What I love about Hocking's story is that she is very grounded and realistic. On her blog, she has written a few pieces about her success. While everyone else is a flutter about her, she just wants to focus on her writing.

She wrote on March 22, before her deal with announced:
My goal has never been to be the "darling" or the "poster child" for any movement.
It's best to keep Hocking into perspective as she does.

Not every writer, who self-publishes will sell a million copies.

Not every writer, who self-publishes will land a book deal.

Not every writer, who self-publishes will be known by published authors, agents, publishers and aspiring writers.

But, when rejection letters come piling in and you think:  "I have a story to tell." It gives you hope that there is a way to share that story. Keep writing.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Great thoughts on new publishing options

The Kill Zone: The Eisler Sanction: "James Scott Bell The Liternet was abuzz this week with the news that a New York Times bestselling author, Barry Eisler, turned down half a m..."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thankful Thursday: @elizabethscraig

Mystery Writing is Murder.

Well, I don't know that personally, but I certainly enjoy the musings and information provided by mystery author Elizabeth Spann Craig. Her blog has been a valuable resource for me. It's not only what she writes at her blog, but it's also what she tweets @elizabethscraig.

On any given day, I may forward a dozen of Craig's Tweets to my inbox to read later. She shares a wealth of information from a variety of bloggers, writers, authors and agents. If you only followed one person on Twitter, I would say:  Follow @elizabethscraig.

I couldn't resist clicking through to a few of the links in her Tweets as I wrote this. Her blog offers a page of Twitterific Archives #1 and #2.

Oh and it gets even better.

Have you heard of the Writer's Knowledge Base. The Search Engine for Writers.

Craig says at Writer's Knowledge Base:
Besides writing I also scour the web looking for the best articles on writing. I tweet links to the content I find and add them to the collection here on the WKB so that you can find them at Google-like speed.
 There are links to hot topics like characters, settings, plot, getting published, random and popular.

I used the search box by typing in memoir and received 682 results.

Craig is a one-woman resource for writers. I'm thankful I found her on Twitter. She is extremely talented and helpful.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Just write

Do you ever get bogged down in the minutiae?

I do. I've been working on a memoir for — honestly — several years now. I won't bother you with my excuses, but it struck me as I read literary agent Rachelle Gardner's blog on Monday that I need to get over my issue.

In Gardner's post "Keep your eye on the ball," she gave advice to someone writing a book and fretting about using a real university's name. Gardner had succinct advice:  use the university's real name and "stop worrying about side issues and simply write your book."

Distracted, I looked through the comments. Crystal Jigsaw said someone told her before her novel Discovery at Rosehill was completed to "Just write the damn thing."

Sometimes we just need to let go of things — research, fears, quibbles over a detail — and just write. I know reading blogs are a distraction, but this was a simple, helpful one.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Libya reminds me of the past

The news alerts on my iPhone about the Coalition efforts to bomb Libya reminded me of the original Gulf War.

Decades ago I watched CNN report about the efforts of American troops to take back Kuwait from Iraq.  It was a Coalition effort with the United States taking the lead.

Today, a lot of pundits and politicians complained that we are not taking the lead. We followed the French and others to seek and enforce a no-fly zone in Libya to prevent Moammar Gadhafi from killing innocent citizens.

In the wake of other uprisings around North Africa, Libyans tried to fight back, but met a brutal military resistance. Gadhafi wouldn't leave like other leaders in the face of a popular revolt. He stood his ground and showed his guns.

The pundits and politicians are killing me on this issue, because I think we are in a much different place than we were back in 1991. Our economy remains fragile. We are involved in two wars.

While some complain about Obama's golf outings or his basketball brackets, I believe he considered our ability to help Libyans along with the consequence to the United States and its people.

Wars take a great toll on American soldiers and their families. Wars result in dead soldiers and civilians. Wars cost a lot of money. Wars can be dangerous to our nation. Wars can stretch us all very thin.

I know some folks think we are weak, because Obama did not demand a no-fly zone earlier. I've read criticisms that we are following the French or other nations.

So, I had to laugh when I saw this line from a BBC report:
It comes as a coalition of countries including the US, UK and France continue strikes to enforce a UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya.
Please note that the United States is listed before the United Kingdom or France. While we are criticizing our government for not taking the lead on the efforts, other nations are giving us the credit and/or blame. I guess we'll have to wait and see how successful this effort is to see how the history books write about this.

For the original Gulf War, many people lament that Saddam Hussein wasn't removed from power. In this present day situation, the official word is that they are not trying to take out Gadhafi, rather they want to target his armed forces and air defense systems. I wonder, if people will lament this too.

I know there are a million reasons why this Libyan effort is different, but it only takes a few reasons to remind me of the original Gulf War's successes and failures.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thankful Thursday: UGA graduation

Way back in 1993, I graduated from the J-school at UGA. That's code for journalism school at the University of Georgia.

The journalism school had a small graduation ceremony for all the areas — newspapers, broadcast, public relations, magazines, etc. I received the paper weight shown above and embarked on my career. I reported for work the following Monday. I worked a 12-hour day, because it was the final deadline day before the paper had to be at the press plant.

I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life before I ever stepped on campus: Write for newspapers. When I was much younger, I wanted to be a foreign correspondent.  I read A London Diary by Quentin Reynolds about his efforts to report during the constant bombings in World War II. I was hooked. I cherished each page of that book.

Today, the book I read from my public library sits on my shelf. As an adult, I found the book in the used books for sale shelf at the library. I snagged it.

I studied the Italian language and traveled to Florence, Italy one summer for a study abroad program. That's as far as I traveled. Love and life took my career in a different direction. By the time the paper weight reached my hand, I had an engagement ring on my left hand and was headed for a weekly newspaper. One professor, who had worked for the Associated Press, didn't think highly of my career plans. He thought some "local" newspapers were not serious.

While there were few chances of a Pulitzer Prize for my efforts, I knew every day and almost every hour at my community weeklies that my contributions were duly noted by everyday folks, community leaders and a few busy bodies. I was both liked and hated. It all depended on the stories in that week's edition.

I left newspapers twice in my career.  A year before my late husband Jimmy died, I left full-time work and pieced together several part-time jobs, so I could spend more time with him. After his death, I returned to newspapers. I left two months shy of two years on the job, because I was newly engaged to Andy and moving to another state. Newspaper work didn't seem to be in my career path here as I worked at an online magazine before it folded in the post-2008 economy.

The economy and new technology challenges newspapers today. When I graduated, I never dreamed I would be reading newspapers from around the globe on an iPhone! I didn't know what the Internet was in 1993.

Now I get my news from a combination of newspapers, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, Web sites, etc. My journalism degree has served me well through the years. I am very thankful I was able to earn my degree and work at a number of great community newspapers. I anticipate my degree will continue to help me into the future.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Knocking out the excuses

Do you stall writing your story? Have an excuse on why you can't do it?

Lana Rockwell knocked them all off the table on Monday night. She talked about leaving a written legacy at the Spring Writers monthly meeting at the Woodmen Valley Church's Stone Chapel.

Lana encouraged those attending to write down their life experiences. She cited Psalm 102:18 saying God commands it.

Here's the verse in the King James Version.
This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD. 

Now if that doesn't give you a bit of urgency, I don't know what will.

We all have stories to tell whether we are 5 or 95 and Lana told us ways to get those done — one memory at a time. In 2005, she said she began writing one memory a week. By the end of the year, she had 52 memories and compiled them into a book for her children.

Just think, one hour a week is all it takes.

Well Kathy Lee Gifford sings "Everyone has a story," but not everyone is willing to share it. Lana says she hears a lot of stall tactics from people for not writing down their stories.

  1. "I can't remember like you do." — Lana says sure you can. Makes lists. Be open to memory triggers like smells, sights and music. 
  2. "My siblings don't remember the same story" — Lana says she told her siblings to read the stories she had written, but don't try to change her memories to match their memories. The reality is that we see and filter things differently.
  3. Should I use a computer or hand write the memories? — Lana says do what you want to do.  If a family member wants you to write your memories in long hand, but you prefer your computer; she says you can even get a font created from your own handwriting. Problem solved.
  4. Titles — Lana titles each memory/story. She said it doesn't have to be continuous and can be a stand alone story. 
  5. Do I have to know family genealogy to create a story? — Lana says no. It can be helpful and it all depends on your focus. 
  6. Copies of documents — Lana says they aren't necessary, but can be useful. You can include birth certificates, report cards, etc. with your story.
  7. What if children or grandchildren aren't interested? Lana says they might not want to read it now, but don't let that deter you from writing it. 
  8. How did you know what to write about first? — Lana says start where ever you want to begin.  She said you may want to begin with current events and work your way back to older memories.
  9. What should the finished product look like? — Lana shared books, spiral bound collections of stories, recipe books and a half page sized booklet. The stories can take many forms. 
  10. What if all my childhood memories are sad? — Lana says you may ask yourself your motivation for sharing your story. It could be that you write about happier times to work through your story such as your wedding, romances, the births of children, etc. You don't have to begin with the sad things, she said. 
Writing about your story can be therapeutic, Lana said. Sitting down and writing about memories can help you turn everything off.

"Storytelling is very refreshing," Lana said.

Lana graciously shared a list of 50 memory triggers with attendees. She also has a Web site at It is filled with wonderful photos and tips to trigger you to write about your own memories. I'm a bit of a chocolate nut, so I checked out "grama's treats." They look delicious.

I so needed to hear Lana's presentation on Monday. Her presentation is a memory in my journey to complete my memoir.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Help, if you can

On Sunday, I spent a lot of time reading through the blogosphere. Many writers focused on ways to help those in Japan.

I chose to donate through the Writers for the Red Cross site. The organization is raising money for the American Red Cross throughout March by auctioning off multiple items — books, critiques, swag bags, etc.

There are a lot of cool items to bid on each week. You help a great cause and you get a something cool in return.

The fund-raising effort didn't change after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. It just made my need to donate more urgent. The organization reports via its Web site that people can continue to donate on the Writers for the Red Cross site.
Your gift to the Red Cross through Writers for the Red Cross will support the American Red Cross and the global Red Cross network in its efforts to provide comfort and support where the need is greatest.
In addition to helping out the Red Cross, donations of $25 or more are eligible to receive a free book from a list available on the Web site. You don't have to accept the book, if you don't want it.

Consider making a donation to the Red Cross or another organization to help those in distress. And, say a prayer for the Japanese people who are still recovering from this tragedy. They need prayers, too.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A chance for new beginnings and endings

It's good to visit with other writers. It gives you an opportunity to talk craft, consider ideas and to write. I did a little of this on Saturday.

The Pikes Peak Writers hosted a workshop: Novel Beginnings and Endings with authors Angel Smits and Karen Fox.

Both Angel and Karen shared how beginnings and endings are linked. They are intertwined. They are crucial to entice the reader, to entertain and to get the reader to return for another story, another book.

Angel shared techniques from the book Hooked by Les Edgerton. She used Edgerton's book to help write her most recent book A Message for Julia.

An opening scene has four elements:  introduces a story-worthy problems, hooks the reader, establishes the rules of the story and forecasts your ending.

Angel said the opening is the only scene where a character doesn't enter with a goal. There's no problem to solve and it's the only time a character can be reactionary. She discussed several components of a story like an opening sentence, backstory, voice, setting and foreshadowing.

Karen said endings are original, dramatic, sums up the story and linger in a reader's mind. She said writers should aim for their ending from page one.

Karen reviewed different types of ending. She warned us not to take the easy way out of our story like don't allow your hero to suddenly (and conveniently) remember he has a gun in the desk drawer.

During the workshop, we looked at the following elements of beginning and endings through the Wizard of Oz story.

For the beginning, we looked at:
  • Opening backstory
  • Setup
  • Inciting Incident
  • Surface Problem
  • Surface Goal
  • Story-Worthy Problem
  • Story-Worthy Goal
For the Ending, we looked at:
  • Climax Crisis
  • Possible Decisions
  • Lessons learned along the way
  • Use of lessons in solving problem
  • Resolution
  • Twist/Surprise
  • Last Line
After we looked at Dorothy's journey, we looked at our own. It's an interesting exercise to look at your characters and consider what backstory people need to know from the very first page or what is the story-worthy problem that the hero is dealing with throughout the story. And, what the heck will the last line be!

I mostly scribbled notes and ideas on my worksheets. I flipped back and forth at my notes. I listened to the questions other people asked. I paid attention to how I clumsily described my story to my table mate and considered her thoughts and suggestions about the beginning I offered.

The information was very helpful and pointed out the mountain of work I still have to do. Happy writing.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thankful Thursday: For my Congressman and Senators

I know it sounds weird to be thankful for your Congressman and Senators, but they can be helpful.

Through the years, I have had to use the services of my Congressional leaders on several occasions. My years as a journalist cemented my dislike for asking for favors. As a journalist, you couldn't do it. But, as a citizen I needed to use an odd system that I had heard about as a journalist. Contact your Congressional delegation for help.

As a citizen, a wife and a caregiver, my goal was to utilize their services to help me meet my end goal. I'll explain.

In 2001, my late husband Jimmy had a catastrophic stroke. He was left mute and completely paralyzed. He was a prisoner in his own body. When I contacted my Congressman's office I didn't even have all of those details. I just knew he had a horrific stroke. He couldn't communicate with me and I needed a copy of his DD214.

When I spoke to a VA representative, he said it would take months to get a copy from St. Louis. I didn't have months. I didn't know if my husband would live or die. I didn't have time in the middle of this medical crisis to look for a form that I desperately needed, in case we needed to utilize VA benefits for his care.

A veteran would say, "You should ALWAYS know where your DD214 is." I get that, but I also get that my husband was in denial that anything could possibly go wrong during the procedure to stabilize his aneurysm. No advance directives were signed prior to the procedure. He certainly didn't provide me a copy of his DD214 just in case. We both expected he would be home within 24 hours of the procedure as the doctors suggested.

The Congressman's office was able to help. With a phone call and a faxed signed request seeking their help, Jimmy's copy was pushed to the top of the St. Louis list. Instead of months, I received it in weeks.

I wasn't successful in getting a resolution to my last request for Congressional help. In September 2010, we were buying a VA-owned home. Thirty minutes before closing, we were told there was a problem and we couldn't buy the house that day. They weren't sure when or if, it could be purchased. The closing agent, the Realtors and the bank all told me that there was no one to contact.

I turned to my old ways. I contacted my Congressman's office. It took about three tries to explain the situation, because there was some confusion on whether one of the large banks owned the property or the VA. The Congressman's office tried to help. My basic question was:  We need to know whether the VA will sell us the house or not. I called the Congressman's office, because the VA is a government agency. No one could get an answer for us, so we purchased another home in town.

While it may not seem like a good use of taxpayer money, the system is set up to provide these services. It's amazing how a Congressional inquiry can help you cut through the bureaucracy a little faster.

I like to think of it as a last resort  to speed things up. I have always been pleased with my Congressional office's efforts — no matter what state I live in. I am thankful for these government workers, who become helpful case workers.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Unique idea to give yourself distance

Novelist Darin Strauss shared a unique tip to writing a memoir. Change the I and me to he or she.

I found that tidbit on a GalleyCat report on Monday. 

Strauss is a novelist, who recently completed his memoir Half a Life about a fatal accident that changed his life.

His point about changing the pronouns is:
"That distance can help you tell the story. I know it sounds silly, but that little trick of distance can add a lot of perspective.”
Makes sense to me. Maybe I (she) will try this technique for a piece and see how it works.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Teachers inspire us to do many things

I got into a heated debate with Facebook friends after posting a clip from The Daily Show on my wall. I thought some of Jon Stewart's points were very interesting.

It's a sign of weakness, but all the pundits on this whole Wisconsin stand-off-teacher's union-budget collapse issue are making me crazy. I don't get where these folks were educated. Who taught them?

Why is it that a family of four making $250,000 is considered near poverty by some pundits advocating for a tax break, but a teacher who may make $55,000 is just overpaid? Why is that a Wall Street contract is valid despite a government bailout — because it's a contract — and a teacher's contract shouldn't be valid?

I am particularly incensed by the complaints that teacher's work part time. Here are some thoughts from a writer-teacher on the MFA Confidential blog with Jessie Morris. I appreciated her comments. People are riled up about this topic. The people commenting on this post are spirited. Some are tired of the whining and others are defending teachers. It's interesting to see how people break down a teacher's work day.

I worked briefly (as in one school year) as a substitute teacher. I wasn't very good at it. I felt out numbered and unprepared — despite that three-hour training the school system provided. I found a part-time job that paid less and I was happy.

This morning, I also ran across a post in The Denver Post. Ed Quillen asks:  Who are the overpaid parasites? He shares how public employees have helped him, his family and friends over the years. The story of the state trooper, who helped a friend deliver a baby, is very touching.

My favorite line in Quillen's opinion piece is this:
Like any other good American, I have fantasies of winning the lottery or producing a best-seller, so that I could be rich enough to become a Republican and start demonizing the public sector.
You can read the full text here.

I just don't get why everyone is hating government workers — especially teachers — so much now. I'm not suggesting teachers be sainted. They have a difficult job. They have an awesome responsibility to educate our children despite all the outside influences on a child's time.

Teachers played a big role in my life as a kid. My parents were there every step of the way, but so were my teachers. They stayed after school was over to help with class projects; personal projects like for 4-H competitions; and for special academic and extra-curricular activities. I remember many were also students on nights, weekends and throughout the summer to earn more advanced degrees. I also recall some had part-time jobs to help supplement their family's income. They were no different than the rest of us as they tried to make a living for their families.

Why can't we show teachers a little respect during this conversation about budget cuts and wage negotiations? Many teachers give additional hours each day to prepare for their classroom instruction time and many use their own money to support their classrooms.

I understand teachers are not untouchable in this budget crisis. No one is, but where are our priorities. Teachers are often the ones who inspire our youth to do great things. I doubt all this rhetoric about teachers will inspire many youth to become teachers in the near future and that makes me sad.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Word from the Bird: A Timely Quote

A Word from the Bird: A Timely Quote: "Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you. —Aldous Huxley"

Rights of Writers: Can You Tell Your Own True Story Even If It Imping...

Rights of Writers: Can You Tell Your Own True Story Even If It Imping...: "Autobiographers and memoirists sometimes face thorny legal issues when they write about aspects of their own lives that are inseparably inte..."

This post has great information for non-fiction writers. Great tips to keep in mind.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thankful Thursday: The First Amendment

I don't really want to talk about this.

I don't like what this Kansas church does. They use funerals of solders to share their message. There is yelling, singing and lots of signs with messages I won't repeat. Their behavior was so hurtful to one grieving father that he sued them. The church took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court said 8-1 the church had a right to promote their views on war.

I hate to see reports that this church and its members appear at a funeral. I don't even want to say the church's name.

I believe in the First Amendment.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
 I understand it protects their right to do what they do. I may not like the church or its actions, but I am thankful for the First Amendment and to those who saw the need for it in our nation.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Beginnings are easy

Well, sort of.

Everyone struggles to create an opening to hook their reader. It's a fun practice to visit a book store or the library and crack open the book to the first page. Read the first sentence. You ask yourself — Is this for me? Do I want to read on?

The author makes the first sentence look so easy, but there are often many edits, revisions, drafts and tears over those first few words.

I read a post at the other day which highlighted 100 best openings from books. The list was compiled by the American Book Review. It's a nonprofit journal published at the Unit for Contemporary Literature at Illinois State University. The list spans centuries and decades.

I loved this one:
6. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)
A few of the openings stretched for sentences.

Some are very simple:
1. Call me Ishmael. - Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
The beauty of these openings it that the author continued on past those first words. He or she crafted a sentence that led to a paragraph, a page, a chapter and into a book.

To me, creating a beginning (not a perfect one mind you) is easy. It's pushing through to the additional pages that often gets me stuck.

I'm working on getting unstuck.