Saturday, November 17, 2012

Spell Check is Your Friend...Sort Of (Word Usage 1)

Sorry, yes this is a rant. And no, despite the title, my rant isn't really about spelling. Not exactly.

Maybe I'm super-sensitive to the issue. I was, after all, raised by an English teacher or two. I'm not perfect either. I'm sure if you dredge the waters of my blog you might find a spelling or grammar mistake here and there that I haven't found and corrected yet.

But hey, this is a blog. In a published novel on the other hand...argh!

Most word processing programs come with an automatic spell check. These days, most email programs do too. Guess what? If you don't have spell check on, then you probably had to go to the trouble of figuring out how to turn it off! What's with that? When you see those nasty little red lines under your word, it's probably not spelled right. Take a moment to correct it.

Editors and agents are busy people. If they see a query letter or manuscript that's full of glaring errors, they'll think you're a sloppy writer and may even reject you out of hand. No matter how beautiful your writing might be otherwise.

As Janet Reid says on her excellent blog, the Query Shark, "when it's clear you didn't run spell check on your query, you contribute to global warming because it makes sharks weep hot salty tears." 

Spell Czech Can't Do it All

But spelling isn't the one that really gets me. And here's where spell check fails. What makes me crazy as a reader, is where the writer obviously doesn't have enough command of the English language to know when they're using the wrong word.

As writers, words are our tools. If we don't know how to use them correctly and with power, then we're like a carpenter trying to hammer a screw.

Someday they'll invent a program that checks word usage. Until then:

Those Nasty Homophones

The English language is so (not sew or sow) full of homophones that they trip folks up on a regular basis. Homophones are words that sound the same but mean different things. Below are some of the ones I come across far too often. How they came about would make an interesting history lesson. My guess would be cultural clash. Maybe the Angles had one word and the Saxons another and the Celts a third.


There is a place. They're means, "they are". Their means, "belonging to them".


Your means it's something you own. You're means, "you are".

When you see an apostrophe in the middle of the word (and yes, sometimes at the beginning or end of a word) it often means that two words have been squashed together. So if you come across an apostrophe, the rule of thumb is to ask yourself what two words have been stuck together. (Unless we're talking about a person's (or group/item's) name, in which case you're looking at a possessive. For example "Sheila’s" means, "belonging to Sheila.")

Just for fun, I should mention that contractions often come from the days of yore when folks spoke, it seems, in longer sentences.


And I won't mention two. (Oops, too late!) 

In front of a noun, to is a direction. "I'm going to the store." It's called an "preposition" in that case. (Which is one of those words you learn in third grade and then promptly forget the meaning of. I had to look it up. Basically a preposition is about spatial or temporal relationships. One item might be on, under, or inside another, for instance. On the temporal side, we might say that, "SINCE you're reading this you might have had questions about what the heck a preposition was BEFORE you found my rant.")

In front of a verb, to denotes an "infinitive". That one is so complex I won't even try to define it. I'll let someone else do so. Here's the short version for our needs. If you're using it in front of a verb, such as, "is there anything to eat in the fridge?" you want "to" with just one O.

Too means either "also" or "an excess." Do grammar mistakes drive you batty too? I saw too many in the last book I was reading, which is why I'm writing this rant.


Rain falls from the sky. A queen reigns. You guide a horse with reins.


You walk down the aisle, and get deserted on an isle.


You bare your soul or your body. You bear a burden. And if you run into a bear in the woods, you probably won't be worrying about where it poops.


You brake a car. You break your arm or a vow.


You buy things at the store. You pass by the roses and hopefully stop to gather them (while ye may). You say, "bye" to your friend when you leave. (Incidentally, "bye" is a further reduced contraction of good bye - without an apostrophe, dang it! - for "God be with ye.")


If something has a hole in it, then it's not whole.


If you fall down the stair because you were staring at a book you were reading, you might break your arm. Or at least your concentration.


You steal glances. Or hearts. Hopefully not the silverware. Swords are made of steel. (Though bronze is also an option, but not nearly as strong. Which is why the faeries (Celts) who only had bronze swords don't like cold iron.)


If your hero is admiring your protagonist's narrow waste, then he's not looking at her sexy body. She may have more problems in regard to him than just their tumultuous relationship. And you might have a challenge selling your novel, since coprophilia isn't something the average reader wants to read about.


If you think YOU don't want to confuse these, you really don't want your large dogs to. Boarders are the people who pay for "room and board (food)" at your home. Borders are the boundaries of something. If you want your dogs to patrol the borders of your land and they instead attack your boarders, you might be looking at the end of your income, not to mention a lawsuit.


Threw is the past tense of "throw" as in pitching a ball. Or a hammer. Or tossing a book across the room because the author doesn't understand simple English. Through means to pass into and beyond something. "I went through the wormhole," or "I made it through algebra."

We pass through the looking glass, and if Alice had a lick of sense she might have threw (though here the verb tense should be "have thrown") a croquet mallet at the Queen of Hearts' head.

"Through someone for a loop," is not only incorrect English, it's a cliché, and should be avoided at "all costs."


I have no clue why, but I've come across this mistake in all but one of the romance novels I've read in the past few months, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to rant about it.

Past means "before now." Passed means to move by something. So your heroine doesn't cogitate on passed memories, nor can she past one door and choose another. Just to confuse things, she could walk past someone in the ballroom. Time passes, not pasts. If she's thinking of her dead uncle, he's passed, not past. Unless, of course he was married to her aunt and they got a divorce. In which case, try "former uncle" for the sake of clarity. (Ack! It's a mess, I know!) Here's an excellent article on the correct usage of past/passed.

Now you have the right to write however you desire. But if your words don't soar across the page without tripping the agent or editor's eye with incorrect usage, don't get sore when they send you a form rejection. After all, they have other books to read, and don't have time to waste (not waist).

There's more to my rant, but for now I need a break, so I'll put on the brakes and resume later.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Annoyance or Writing Opportunity?

Wisdom has it that when faced with a bad situation, you can either cry about it, or laugh. As a writer, I can go one better and write about it.

Right now I'm virtually homeless. Can't afford gas to run the generator (for heat and computer) up at my land so I'm staying at a friend's house. Unfortunately, my buddy is the Beta roommate. The Alpha roommate (the lease is in his name) sits on the couch, watches sports (screaming at the TV) and orders me and my buddy around. Mostly cleaning. Mostly cleaning we were already doing or about to do. For instance today's exchange:

"I've got to go up to my land and water the yaks. Before I go, I'm going to walk the dogs, put two of them in the car and then tend Bushi's wound," I tell my buddy CK. "Can I borrow the vacuum? I'll run it over the rug after I get the dogs in the truck.

Three minutes later, the Alpha Roommate (AR) comes out as I'm applying meds to Bushi (who got in an unfortunate incident with a yak). "You know we gotta vacuum the house."

"Yes, I was getting the dogs outside so I could do just that," I say.

Pretty much every hour he'll tell us what we're doing inadequately, give us instructions on something to do that we already planned. I could let it bug me. Or I could:

Ask How My Characters Would Handle the Situation

Hailey probably wouldn't get in that situation in the first place. She's got a host of supporters, and if she needed a place to stay, she wouldn't have trouble finding one with someone who didn't drive her batty. However assuming she did, she'd probably make a cup of tea and sit down with the AR and have a heart to heart about the fact that he was driving her bonkers.

Willa, only sixteen, would probably just let him steamroll her the way I'm doing. (What can I say, I just don't want to make waves? I desperately NEED somewhere to stay at the moment.) Being snarkier than I am, though, she might come up with some lovely comments under her breath.

Storm or Jiana, both herbalists, would probably slip something into his whiskey. He'd be in the bathroom too much to bother me.

D'hara, well she's an assassin by trade. Which brings me to my next idea for turning an annoying situation into writing fodder.

Plot His Murder

Well I obviously don't want to kill AR. Not for real. He hasn't done me any real harm, and he's actually a decent guy. Plus I have the benefit of knowing that I can actually get out of here eventually. But thinking on the many methods of his potential death isn't just therapeutic, it might even lead to a story down the road.

Can I see a roommate being driven so buggy that they eventually commit murder? Well it might be called "justifiable homicide".

So let me count the ways...

He chews snuff. Hellebore is about the same color. My character would need to shred the stuff up pretty fine to match the consistency.

He drinks a lot of whiskey. Hellebore tea mixed in with? Is there another plant that'd be less likely for him to taste or less likely to show up on an autopsy? Darn, I used to have a copy of Deadly Doses: A Writer's Guide to Poisons. Drat, it burned in the house fire. I'll need to get a new copy.

AR has a touchy stomach and doesn't eat much or consistently, so poisoning the food is out. Besides, there's a steady stream of buddies coming over to hang out and watch sports and they might get poisoned by mistake. Or worse, he might feed some of it to his dog, and then my character would feel guilty for the rest of her natural life.

He takes regular baths to relieve his gout, so there might be some potential there. My character could just enter the bathroom while he's bathing and drown his butt. However though he's small and wiry, she probably wouldn't be able to overpower him. But maybe gift him with a radio so that he can catch his the scores then knock that sucker into the tub?

Or just rig his TV to explode the moment the Patriots came on screen? That just might work. Okay it'd take more technical knowledge than I have but it must be doable! Back to researching!

Invent a Character Who Contemplates Murder

Maybe as part of another plot, I don't need to actually kill off the roommate. Just have a character who spends her spare time contemplating murdering her roommate. I can start with the above list and build from there.

It's probably been done before but...don't you dare steal this one, I might actually use it!

View It From His Side

Much as it spoils the fun of contemplating murder most foul, I could write a scene, or even a whole story based on what he's potentially dealing with. First I could start with his personality - Monk on steroids. Maybe he grew up in a messy house. Or maybe it's his ex wife's fault. Perhaps he's been in prison, or the navy, and the only time he felt safe was when he was spit-shining his shoes. Now the only thing that make my OCD Control Freak character happy is a clean house.

Roommate's crazy friend moves into his spare bedroom, toting three pit bulls and two cats. Landlady's coming and the house needs to be spotless. But there's Thunder Puppy banging at the door and scraping the wood to kindling. The cat's are howling in the middle of the night to their lady-loves outside. The other dog's leaking blood across the carpet. And my character's useless roommate won't toss the chick out on her ass. (Is it really that bad? No. But this is fiction, right?)

So next time you're in a situation that's driving you up a wall, don't let it get to you. Slam the door on your annoying roommate, tell your hubby to take a chill-pill, give your mom some Valium and pull out your trusty best-friend-and-therapist the computer, and turn your troubles into fodder for your stories.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Other Writers Aren't Your Rivals

 Nothing like an excuse to rant! Today I found An Open Letter AboutAuthor Behavior

In short, one particular author has been going around using pseudonyms to 1) give himself glowing reviews and 2) give his "rivals" bad reviews.

While giving your own writing glorious reviews under a false name is clearly unethical, I was really surprised with the second half of that equation, and that's what I want to address:

Say it with me folks..."other writers aren't your rivals."

Like a snowflake, your book is unique and special, something that you, and only you with your singular past, perspective on life and style could write. (Oh they SAY that a few million monkeys typing for a few million years could eventually churn out the Bible or the works of Shakespeare, but I personally don't buy it.)

That other writer couldn't have written your book and you couldn't have written theirs.

Now granted it's possible that a particular reader might not, on a particular given day be able to afford both your book and your "rival's" book.

Funny thing, though, books are consumable. Even though there are plenty of books that we've read more than once, sooner or later you're going to want to read something new. And even the most prolific writer is probably not going to crank out enough novels where the reader won't eventually run out of published works to read.

Now how would you even imagine that a particular author was a rival? Well they probably write a similar type of book to yours, and maybe have a similar style to yours. Which means the people who read your books might read theirs, and vice versa.

That doesn't make that author your rival - it makes them your POTENTIAL MARKETING PARTNER.

Rather than focus on negativity and a sense of lack, focus on positive possibilities. Their happy customers might be your happy customers as well.

  • Give them an honest and positive (assuming you actually like their work) review. Then consider saying something like "and if you loved their book, you might also like (insert your own title). Is it legit to do this on I don't know, but I can't imagine it's not.

  • Again, assuming you liked their book, write a nice review on your own blog or other website. Let the author know. They'll probably be so happy that they'll link to your site. And what does that do? It sends their readers to you as well as to them.

  • Contact the other author and suggest you do some mutual blogging/reviews of each others work. They might say no, but they might be flattered and say yes.
My hypnosis teacher used to say, "What you focus on is what you create." 

If you believe in a world of lack (not enough sales, not enough customers, not enough good reviews, too many "rivals") you'll create that. In fact consider the author who originally wrote all those negative reviews and how many potential readers he may have lost because of that.

However if you believe in a world where there's plenty for all, you create that instead.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Query Nightmare (Humor)

What happens when you've spent the last couple weeks reading Query Shark and a few dozen other query letter websites? You wake up from weird dreams about the worst queries someone could possibly write. Here's the one I came up with, and the really scary part is that I can imagine it might not be the worst one some of these agents might have to read. (Or have to delete.)

As someone who was originally headed towards the path of editor/agent until life made a wacky turn, I've got a lot of sympathy for the folks who do this for a living. Man O man, the patience it must take! Yes I'm sure it may be worth it, but hot damn, if I had to crawl through the slush pile like these folks do, I might be in a fetal position right now.

Dear Agent:

Since email queries are boring, and don't give the true gist of the work, I, Fabulous Unpublished Author am offering you the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear my novel in person.
I'll be reading my novel at Starbucks tomorrow night, and I know you'll want to be there. Every decent agent in New York will be there. I know because no one will want to miss out on this. And only one of you will get to represent me!
My wonderful sexy, stimulating novel titled THE AUTHOR NEEDS A CLUE combines the magic of Harry Potter, the suspense of Elmore Leonard and the joy and heartbreak of My Sister's Keeper. It's a YA fantasy true crime thriller romantic suspense about a dog and a horse (everybody wants to read about horses, right?) and a narcoleptic cop with flashing emerald eyes and raven-black hair, and I know you'll LOVE it!
Everybody who's read it thinks it's going to be on the Best Seller List. My mother said, "Umm...nice honey". My optometrist said, "Wow." And my writing buddies said it was, "Unbelieveable." It was also entered in a contest sponsered by Romance Writers Who Fondle Rabbits. There were 20 entries and mine came in 19th!
So be there at Starbucks tomorrow night at 8pm on 555 Delusion Street, or you'll miss out on the chance to represent me. Don't be late because I'm going to start reading promptly at 8:05. I know you don't want to miss my opening scene where the dog eats the cat's hairball--it's so funny! Also it's important that you bring a pre-prepared contract and a pen (cause I can never find mine) for me to sign it.
My 347,821 (approx) fiction novel is absolutely perfect for your line and needs no editing. The last person who suggested edits isn't very happy right now. I know that YOU are my perfect agent, and that's why I'm extending a special invitation to you to be there. Of course if you say you can't make it, I only live three blocks away from your office, so I'll be happy to stop in tomorrow morning to let you have an exclusive reading before my gig at Starbucks.
But you should really want to come to the reading I called CNN and Fox News and told them to be there, and it should be real fun.
I look forward to hearing from you right away.
Fabulous Unpublished Author
9876 Wacko Blvd.
Room 101
NY, NY 12345

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Don't Want to Be a Twitter "Twit"

So I'm at the point where I think my novel's ready enough to start sending out, and I actually got up the nerve to send to the first agent.

Meanwhile I'm reading as much advice as I can on marketing. Most agents these days want you to have a "platform" already. Meaning you should have a gazillion folks who read your blog, have crazy numbers of friends on Facebook. A roiling mob just waiting to buy your book the moment it's published.

And as part of that you're supposed to tweet.

Now, I used to consider myself a geek. I fixed some major issues on my PC Junior (yeah that's how old I am) just by reading the technical manual. It was only my second day of even owning a computer. It was a weekend and tech support was closed, and my only buddy who knew anything about computers was out of town. So I got myself a glass of chardonnay and dug into the 1000 or so page manual, hours later I had a running computer again.

Since then I've learned HTML, CSS, even some minor PHP programming, and a few other acronyms. I've built and run websites, learned to focus on keywords and stuff in the Header text. Recently I've started a blog or four and even accosted the dreaded Facebook.

But this Twitter thing is beyond the scope of my understanding, and I can't figure out how I'm supposed to use it. I must be getting old.

So here are some of the questions I have:

Do I have to use a phone? Out here in the middle of nowhere I don't have cell access. There seems to be a website, so can I just do it on my computer?

I'm terrified of info overload. Right now I spend time working on my blog (even when it's fun) or posting to Facebook when I should be working on my story. It feels like Twitter will just quintuple the problem.

Really, seriously, I don't want to know that you had Cheerios instead of Wheaties for breakfast. I don't need the excruciating details of your conversation with Mom about your third romantic breakup of the week. (Unless it gives me good dialogue for my next scene.) I certainly don't want to know about your latest wet fart. And if you tell me you're bored I'm liable to take a lesson from MY mom and assign you homework.

It's not that I don't care about you. As a High Priestess and counselor I spend a huge part of my time listening and counseling and caring. But I have a farm to run, 8 critters and a hubby to tend to, students that need my time, and my own writing. Somehow I don't think your latest mental bowel movement matters.

Maybe I've got the whole idea wrong. Maybe Twitter isn't like that? Why does everything suggest it is then?

How can I narrow down my field of input so that I get the tweets that are interesting and important, and weed out the everyday nonsense that I don't care about? Can I edit the input?

Where do I find the feeds that I truly want to be a part of?

So I don't want to be a "twit" and I don't want to be the old-fogey I'm starting to feel like. How do I become a Twitter marketing genius instead?

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Emotion Thesaurus - An Awesome Writing Resource

If you've ever been working on a story, and wanted a more original way to show (rather than tell) your character's emotions, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide toCharacter Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is the book for you! It's full of gestures and physical, mental and internal cues that give the reader an idea of what your character is going through. The book covers 75 emotions, from Amusement to Worry.

Here are a few of the cues listed under "curiosity":

  • Repeating a statement as a question
  • Leaning in, sliding a chair closer
  • A small, delighted smile
  • A shift from mediocre conversation to pointed questions

Not only that, but their blog, theBookshelf Muse has a (FREE) Thesaurus for Weather and Earthly Pnenomena, Colors, Textures and Shapes, Character Traits and Settings and even Symbolsim. These should probably be books in their own right! Scroll down their page on the right side the Thesaurus links.

You'll find entries like:

  • Drought
  • Prejudice
  • Elevator
  • Pride
  • Gritty

Here's a partial sample of the entries for "Hurricane/Typhoon

Touch:  the house shivering and trembling as winds buffet it, rain pelting and pouring through holes in the roof or broken windows, steadily warming air as the power and a/c go off

(There are entries for other senses such as sight and smell.)

and then a section on:

Mood: There's nothing quite like being enclosed in a boarded-up house that's being pummeled by 100mph winds. This situation quickly becomes claustrophobic, especially in the heat of summer when the power goes out. Hurricanes create an atmosphere of fear and worry as people sit in the dark and wonder how bad it's going to get. The mood becomes very tense and oppressive very quickly.

The authors also cover symbolism, possible cliches, and other notes to consider in using that weather phenomena (or character trait, setting, etc) in your writing.

Be sure to check the Emotion Thesaurus, you might:

  • Do a victory dance
  • Give a slow smile
  • Hug yourself
  • Look over your manuscript and make it better!

Nice Girls Don't Date Dead Men

"Hostility toward human males marrying into were clans is to be expected and taken seriously. Potential sons-in-law may want to carry wolfsbane or silver items in their pockets. Weres find both substances to be extremely irritating. -- Mating Rituals and Love Customs of the Were." (from Nice Girls Don't Date Dead Men)

Some sequels don't live up to the first book. This certainly isn't one of those! Nice Girls Don't Date DeadMen is a rollicking and funny adventure. Jane Jameson, vampire and former librarian is the Maid of Honor at her buddy Zeb's wedding to werewolf Jolene.

Between her off-and-on romance with her sexy vampire sire, Gabriel, Jane has to help with preparations for the Titanic themed wedding - including the ugliest bridesmaid dress on the planet - and keep Jolene's pack from "accidentally" killing Zeb before the wedding. Werewolves like to play rough and Zeb is in danger from bottle rockets, falling chainsaws and other shenanigans. Meanwhile Zeb's Mama Ginger is insistent that Jane is the girl for Zeb.

At the same time Jane is dealing with her own family troubles. Since she came out of the closet, her sister Jenny's decided that since she's a vampire, she doesn't deserve to own the family Bible and is suing her for that - and maybe even her home, River Oaks. Mama wants her to help with the funeral reception of Almost-Grandpa Number Five.

About the only thing going right in Jane's life is her job at the occult bookstore and her friendship with the elderly owner, Mr. Whittaker. And the fact that the guy she had a crush on all through High School has suddenly taken notice of her. Which doesn't help relations with Gabriel.

Now Zeb's acting strange and insulting his beloved Jolene, and Grandma Ruthie's dating a guy who just doesn't feel right.

Hilarious and moving at a relentless pace, I devoured this book. Jane is just as sarcastic and witty as in the first book.

Nice Girls Don't Date Dead Men is the sequel to Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs, another triumph by Molly Harper. Next up, the third book, Nice Girls Don't Live Forever.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs

Jane Jameson's having a bad day. She gets fired from her job as a librarian. She doesn't even get a severance check, just a $25 gift certificate to a local pub. There, she meets the gorgeous and mysterious Gabriel. Her evening starts looking up, but as she drives home (alone) her car breaks down.

Who should come by just then? Gabriel? Nope. It's a drunk redneck hunter who mistakes her for a deer and shoots her.

Lucky for her, Gabriel does come by shortly after, draining her blood and replacing it with his own to save her "life".

Facing her new vampire un-life, she must now navigate the challenges of the newly undead, such as where to find Faux Type O and 500 SPF sunblock, and get a job so she doesn't loose her historical family home, River Oaks.

Meanwhile she must repair her friendship with her best friend Zeb (who she almost tried to snack on) and she's in the closet (or is that "in the coffin"?) with her family. And what a family!

Big, sister Jenny is out to take River Oaks away from her (it was willed to Jane by her beloved Aunt Jettie) and to steal any family heirlooms that aren't nailed down. Nosy and overbearing Mama is trying to force-feed her with pot pies, and wants her to 1) get married already and 2) come to more family gatherings, not realizing that Jane is now allergic to solid food and the presence of her grasping sister. Grandma Ruthie, the town's Black Widow is siding with Jenny and creating general havoc; while her Aunt Jettie, is now haunting her house in ghost form and spooning on Jane's couch with Grandma Ruthie's deceased Husband Number Four.

Zeb is in freakout mode and joins the Family and Friends of the Undead (FFOTU) where he meets the gorgeous Jolene, a werewolf. Now on top of everything else, Jane has to contend with the change in her relationship with her BFF from childhood as a new lady begins to take priority in his life.

Then there's her sexy sire Gabriel, and their tempestuous romance, which is threatened by a new friendship with another vampire, the flirtatious and completely inappropriate Dick Cheney--who just happens to be Gabriel's childhood rival.

As if all this wasn't enough for Jane to contend with, now someone's framing her for a series of fires and murders, and the local vampire Council wants it explained before they decide to subject her to a Trial that includes dangerous, nasty things like sunlight and silver.

I tore through this book in a day or two's time. Jane is snarky and hysterically funny. Her adventures make a brilliant read. My hubby got tired of me interrupting his research by howling with laughter and insisting on reading him quotes from the book.

Molly Harper is an absolutely brilliant writer. The plot lines are tangled and ludicrous but believable at the same time. I've read quite a few vampire novels that were "meh". This isn't one of them!

Of course I immediately went out and got the sequel to Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs, Nice Girls Don't DateDead Men.

How to Write Fast (While Writing Well)

One of the challenges of writing is that we talk ourselves into believing that writing is "painful and frustrating and slow. Those are lies," author David Fryxell says. "You can write. Writing is joyful and liberating and fast."

Fryxell was one of those annoying kids who always turned his homework in on time. (His teacher made him an example for the class--and must have REALLY made him popular with the other students.) Later he became an editor and writer for several newspapers and magazines. As of the time this book was published, he'd authored at least a thousand magazine and newspaper articles, including Playboy and Travel & Leisure and other biggies, and had won over 80 regional and national awards for his editing and writing. So yeah, I guess he'd have to write fast, wouldn't he?

In a witty and self-deprecating tone, Fryxell teaches you how to evaluate your story and slant it for fast writing, how to make the best of library time, prepare for interviews, and more. How to Write Fast shows how understanding and streamlining the process behind these can get you writing at a pace that will help you push writer's block aside and enjoy meeting deadlines (whether your own or your editor's).

But his book isn't only about research and outlining. He spends some excellent chapters on archetectonics (the structure of your article or novel), and on creating leads that will entice your readers as well as make your writing job easier. His techniques aren't just for non-fiction writers, either. The same principles apply in novels and short stories.

The book is full of case studies of his own articles and information on how some of the most prolific writers have made their writing process efficient. He shows how he managed to write an entire profile on Malcolm Forbes with only a 30 minute interview; and turn an almost non-interview with Garrison Keillor into an article. Fryxell even shows how an article on Maggot Farming (ugh!) can become a structural marvel and an enjoyable read.

I'm the semi-controlled clutter type. I was pulled into the idea of outlining kicking and screaming. "Nooo! Please don't tell me that's your secret!" Less than two hundred pages later, I'm a believer! With my first novel, I agonized the plot for years, waiting for my characters to tell me what they wanted to do. Yesterday, while reading this book, I outlined the sequel in just one day.

You can do things the slow, hard way; maybe even suffer from writer's block (what he insists is merely bad preparation). Or you can use Fryxell's methods to make writing fast, fun and easy.

And more output means more checks in the mail, right?

Ouch! After I wrote this article, I found out that How to Write Fast (While Writing Well) seems to be out of print. There are a few copies left on Amazon, though, so get it while you can. Also Fryxell has another book out, Write Faster, Write Better, so you'll probably want to check that out as well!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Storybook 4 A Sad Story in Software Support

It's a sad day when you find a piece of software that looks like it will make organizing your writing easier and more efficient...and learn that the support behind that software is not only unhelpful, but downright rude.

Storybook 4 seemed like a dream come true. It would help me organize my characters, my scenes, and the other bits of information in my story (objects, relationships between characters, the dates on which something happened and more) so that I could focus on the work of writing and plotting rather than trying to juggle the enormous pile of details. "Now, did that clerk in...(what chapter was that?) have green eyes or brown?" Besides that, it would make moving my scenes around as easy as drag and drop.

And once I bought the full program--a potential bargain at $35--I could import my notes or my writing straight to OpenOffice or Word.

So naturally, I was excited.

I played around with the program for a few hours, read the documentation twice, and realized I had a problem. The documentation was based on an older version and I could see that even for an older version (based on what I'd read were the changes in the new one) there were huge gaps in what they explained and what they needed to explain.

Then I noticed a button on their site: "Community on Facebook". Yipee! I could find other users and together we'd figure out how this program worked and how to use it best.

Or so I thought.

Going into their FB forum the first thing I noticed is that there were only a couple of posts. The next thing I noticed is that the forum was not searchable. So both now and in the future, I wouldn't be able to look up a particular issue and find a quick answer without hoping that the posts would be relevant to their subject. (How often have you been in a forum and found a post labeled simply, "Help" without a clue as to what the poster wanted help with or whether it would be relevant to the question you yourself had.?)

So I posted a query saying that I was very excited about the project, asked if there would be new documentation anytime soon and if they planned a better forum. Also, would they be updating their one and only example file, which had been written in German?

I should have seen it coming when the rep posted back a very terse and irritated note saying that they "couldn't work miracles" and that this WAS the forum.

Please note that suggesting a better, more searchable forum wasn't my idea alone. Another person asked if there was a Wiki. Silly me, I actually applauded the idea and asked if us users could help. Now what company doesn't want a dedicated and knowledgeable and UNPAID staff of users helping their customers? It cuts down on user frustration, gives the company time off from putting their own resources to answering those questions and builds the kind of community that can be invaluable to a company. "Not only do we have a great product, but we've got all these folks who like it enough to dedicate their time and energy to helping each other use it."

Well I guess these folks don't think that way.

Having received their rep's snobbish and obviously irritated reply, I wrote saying that I was so happy to find out that their project was actively being worked on.

So many times you find a program on the web and later realize that the last time it was updated or that anybody from the company who made it even READ their own website was back in 2004 or so. And it's not like anybody gives you a warning about that, unless you happen to notice file dates and such. Companies usually don't tell you when their latest updates are happening. And like most, this one didn't. (Okay they noted the date of the new release on the FB page, but remember, I didn't originally find them on FB and was going by their main website.

So this wasn't another internet dustbunny. More good news!

A day or two later, I went to their FB site and found that they actually had new documentation! Already! Wow that was fast and thrilling.

Well except the fact that the documentation itself was about as helpful as the original one. In other words, not. There were huge, even gargantuan, omissions that left me scratching my head and wondering how on earth I could use this program.

Chatty Cathy that I am, and figuring that this was, after all, the purpose of a forum, I pointed out one or two challenges I was having. I made (what was probably a vast mistake) of also updating one of those problems (once only) with new information I'd found in my experimentation, and the report that I still couldn't figure it out. Could someone please make a suggestion of what I was doing wrong?

I also joined in on a discussion of some other features I'd love to see implemented (especially a custom calendar) . Why? Because I loved the project and was excited about how it could be used. In the words of Steve Martin, "excuuuusssse ME!"

Now I want to be clear that I never once was disrespectful of either the program or the company. I never once represented myself in any manner as a representative of their company (and in fact cleared it up when someone made that mistake). I was positive to the max. I even pointed out to one person that "if you get the paid version" (the regular version is free) of this program, you'll get all these nifty extras. And yes, according to this it'll do exactly what you're wanting."

So imagine how I feel when I go to their forum this morning and see the message, "You Have Been Banned From This Forum."

So I guess they don't like excited customers who like their program and want to help. I guess they don't want their users to be part of their support staff. Oh well. As much as I thought this program would do what I wanted, I'll keep looking. If I have to pay more (and I HAD planned to purchase their Pro version) that's fine. In the end, support trumps product. What good is a great product that you can't use because the folks behind it have a bad attitude?

Great software is nifty. Great customer support seems to be a loftier goal, and it saddens me when the two aren't combined.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Killing The Non-Smoking Guns

This week I'm revising my novel and feel almost ready to send it out in search of a publisher.

So imagine how silly I feel when I find I've written an entire long paragraph about a woodstove.

Now this post could almost have been entitled "Kill Your Babies" because that's what I had, a lyrical and long description of a woodstove, based on, yes, an antique parlor stove that I once owned and loved. I adored the woodstove. I adored the description.

The problem here is that no matter how beautiful the woodstove was, and no matter how driving my description might have been...

The woodstove had absolutely no point in the plot whatsoever. That's right. It didn't perform any function. Nobody got burned on it, nobody touched it, nobody gained any realizations from fondling its lovely cast iron exterior. Well okay, it DID dry my protagonist's clothes.

It didn't even belong to a major character. The very minor characters who owned it were there for only one chapter, just serving as a safe place and a way to get my protagonist back to civilization.

So why was I waxing gloriously on about it? Oh damn, it hurt my heart, but I clipped the long paragraph the heck out and threw it away. Maybe I can use it someday in another book where it WILL be pertinent.

At the same time, I had noticed (see my previous post, Too Much Tea - Vary Your Scenes) that a lot of my scenes were involving cooking and mealtimes. Okay, I'm a pretty dedicated cook and foodie, so maybe that's normal, but I was determined to have some of my characters do something OTHER than cook or eat food in the revision.

Late at night, having shut off my computer, I came up with an IDEA. Rather than having a particular scene happen at the breakfast table, I'd put my characters in the living room. Firebuck (a secondary character) would be cleaning his rifle in case the evil faeries showed up. To contrast that, Cath (another secondary character) would be potting some flowers that had already shown up on the porch in a previous description. Falling asleep, I loved the juxtaposition of war and peace and the fact that it would get me away from the "food scenes".

So what was wrong? Well in an earlier-written (but occurring later in the story) scene, Firebuck does tote his rifle around for a bit. Firebuck doesn't use a gun in the end of the novel. I realized that if I added the gun-cleaning scene, readers would THINK it was a clue and be disappointed in the end when they found out it wasn't. Especially since I would now have TWO scenes with the gun in it. Guns don't work terribly well on evil faeries. Just an FYI.

Ouch. So there go my guns and woodstoves. Is my novel better for it? Definitely.

Unless you intend for them to be Red Herrings, get rid of your extraneous plot items. If you show an item and wax glorious about it, the reader will expect you to include it in the resolution of your story. If the item is a weapon, such as a gun, garotte or knife, all the more reason why your reader will expect it to show up at the end and be useful. If not, you risk the possibility of reader confusion and disgust.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ladies Who Critique

I just joined an online site to help you find a critique partner.

Living out here in the woods has been challenging especially since I haven't yet found a community of writers here to share with.

The site is free and seems friendly, so I'm looking forward to meeting some folks.

Will keep you all updated!

Too Much Tea - Vary Your Scenes

I was reading this book review on Kat Loves Books where the protagonist spent most of her time drinking tea. It seems like every other action she took was drinking tea. (Once or twice she had wine instead.)

It made me go back and look at my manuscript and wonder if my characters are cooking and eating too much. In Chapter One my protagonist is cooking dinner, and there are a LOT of other scenes where the characters make or eat food. Now I happen to adore cooking, and I'm a Cancer (we tend to have a thing about food) so that might have something to do with it.

I also have places where my characters feed chickens,  a car chase, several walks in the woods (one of which lasts for three days),  another chase scene, a few scenes at the high school and making a Show-and-Tell project (it's a YA) several rituals cast (they're witches), doing the laundry, a manicure and other things. However my characters do spend a lot of time hanging out in the kitchen, making food and trying to figure out what to do next.

In my defense, my characters are in hiding, and there's not a lot for them to do EXCEPT hide and try to figure out what to do. Going outdoors invariably gets them into trouble. I've attempted to give them non-food activities, and I hope I've balanced it well.


Look over your story and make a note of the major activity your characters are involved in. Don't focus on what's happening between the characters or with the plot, just list the background activity they're doing while the scene is happening.

For instance your list might read:

Reading the newspaper and drinking tea
Riding on the bus
Going to a restaurant
Taking a bath
Playing poker
Going to a bar
Breaking into a house
Eating breakfast

If there's no major plot/character action, then for the purpose of this exercise it doesn't count. If you summarize that your character drives home from work, takes a shower, goes out to dinner and then goes to a bar, but the only action that happens is when your character is at the bar, then the drive, the shower and the dinner don't count on your list.

Look for places where you're repeating the same background action and see if you can find a way to vary it.

What if your character leads a rather mundane and repetitive life? Let's say our character, Edna is a middle aged housewife and keeping her house clean is her main goal in life. No doubt you'll have many scenes where she is cleaning or dusting or doing the laundry.

But why not also have her:

Go shopping.
Deal with the door-to-door salesman.
Take a walk down the street and notice the general condition and cleanliness of her neighbor's houses.
Go to church (assuming she's religious).
Get a flat tire.
Weed the garden (that might be part of house cleaning, but it does get her outside).
Attend a bake sale.

For other ideas on changing up the background action, check out Go Somewhere Strange

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Back Finally

It's hard to believe it's been almost a year since I've posted. Isn't that a mess?

The good news is that between burgeoning gardens, broken computers, escaped yaks and rescued pit bulls (yes really) I've finally got my ms to the point where I feel ready to send it to a publisher or agent.

I've been working hard, and sometimes the lesson is that you need to cut down your areas of focus and just WRITE!