Sunday, October 24, 2010

Another Opening of Another Book

Yes, I am working on two projects concurrently. The following three short paragraphs are the opening for Mad Max 2.

Who would have thought Queen Elizabeth and I would have anything in common? I mean, we both survived totally sucky years. True, her annus horribilis involved the divorces of her two sons and public humiliation of the Royal family, plus a fire in Windsor Castle destroyed priceless artifacts. In my last twelve months, my only daughter suffered a severe brain injury. Then, she was murdered. Then, her husband Whip was arrested and charged with murder. I want not as eloquent as the Queen, I merely survived a shit-eating year.

I still woke up every morning missing the hell out of Merry. My poor murdered daughter. My extended family—one son-in-law and two grandchildren—and I pulled together to move forward without daughter, wife and mother.

Was it any wonder I fled to my apartment in New York City for a few days to heal? And to spend as much time as I could with my closest friends, the Great Dames.

Whaddya think, huh?

Monday, October 18, 2010

First Paragraph

I decided to blow the cyberdust off a manuscript I wrote a few years ago. Like many consultants, I was laid off after 9/11. I gave myself permission to write a book while I was looking for a job. I also gave myself six months to find a job. I did both in the allotted time.

I was afraid the manuscript would be so dreadful that the Delete key would be my friend. I printed the whole thing out and was shocked to see it ran 1200 pages, 335,000 words. Seems like it should be three books -- or whacked by two-thirds to make it marketable. It's the story of a group of women spanning 40 years. Nothing like Ya Ya Sisterhood.

So what do you think of the newly written opening paragraph?

For nearly as long as she could remember, Patricia had thought of herself as a "Patricia." Unfortunately, no one else did. Her friends called her either Trisha or Trish, be everyone in her family called her "Sissy." The second born and eldest girl, Patricia was "sister of," not an individual. She could just have easily been called maid or babysitter or house cleaner.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Writing Analysis Challenge

The challenge several panelists at James River Writers Conference threw down is to take a favorite writer or book and deconstruct the first three chapters. Read the novel as if you are editing it for publication. What do you like about the writing once you begin to look at the elements of the story? What don't you like? What would you change?

Select a contemporary work, not a classic since the rules of writing have changed since Charles Dickens. You might look at the following:

  • Pacing: how fast does the writer get into the story, into each chapter?
  • Setting: does the writer give hints about the setting or an indepth description over every detail?
  • Characterization: does the writer show you enough about the protagonist that you have a vested interest in that person?
  • Circle or underline the number of adverbs and adjectives your writer uses. Are there too many adjectives strung together? Does s/he rely on adverbs to drive the action?

  • I'm taking the challenge. I'll report back on the name of the writer, the novel, and what I found by going through this exercise. Anyone else up to this exercise?

    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    James River Writers Conference, final post

    Okay, the last series of sessions at JRWC this year focused on the future of publishing and on use of social media. Or not, depends on my mood.

    On the future of publishing, the panelists were mixed on how long the traditional commercial publishers would continue to print books for distribution in book stores. While this isn't likely to go away tomorrow, the trend toward e-publishing (thank you very much, Kindle, iPad, Nook) and publish on demand (not to be confused with print on demand, or self publishing). Publish on demand fulfills orders from bookstores without having to house warehouses of hard copy. You order it, they print and ship. Or, you can download and read immediately.

    The importance of social media underscored what I've been hearing for several years. Writing the book is just the first step. Building a platform and getting people to know you exist is more important, particularly when traditional commercial publishers are scaling w-a-a-y back on publicity. Authors are required to be involved in marketing their books and in establishing a reputation in social cyberspace. Panelists focused on blogs (and gimmicks to drive people to blogs), Facebook and Twitter. Yes, most people Tweet.

    Case in point. One author, whose book was being released soon, posted a Tweet that casually mentioned a person who inspired her book. Person sees name in his Tweet search and retweets. To 2.8 million followers. This author jumped from relative obscurity to having 2.8 million people knowing she exists. No, not all will buy the book, but enough might ...

    How do you use social media?

    So, many things to think about. Many things to make part of my writing life. So many things, so little time.

    James River Writers Conference, Post #2

    One of the great things about going to a writers conference is the networking we do in the halls and bathroom lines. We talk about our works, find people who have similar interests, exchange contact information. In short, everything everyone else does, particularly when they share a passion for something.

    For us, it is the passion for the written word. This year, the conference had several 101 sessions: setting, character. Even though I have been writing seriously for more than a decade (all right, two decades), I learn something every time I go to a session.

    Pacing: sometimes the strength of pacing is what you don't write. It's letting readers fill in the blanks and become an active part of the experience. Avoid all versions of "to be" -- unless you are Shakespeare. News flash: it's been done. Use strong verbs. Build strong imagery. Avoid unnecessarily redundant words -- like this sentence.

    Character: write down everything you know about your character, even things you will NEVER use. Get to know the major and minor characters as if they are part of your family. You will be able to add verisimilitude by knowing your characters inside and out.

    Setting: setting is what you use to create atmosphere, which is the feeling you get from the setting. This does NOT mean hundreds of words of description. No room in today's readers' minds for the Henry James type of descriptive pages. Set down the basics, temporal, physical and situational details. Avoid the National Geographic introduction of setting. And, the agents and writers coached, avoid vague adjectives like "beautiful." Doesn't convey squat to the reader.

    How do you build character?

    James River Writers Conference, 1st Post

    This is the first of a couple of blog entries about this annual contest. Over the weekend, I attended my third JRW conference in Richmond, VA. This was the best conference yet. The caliber of writers, editors, agents and panelists exceeded even last year's great show.

    I attended my first workshop put on by JRW. I wanted to learn more about short story writing, so I signed up for a two-hour workshop on structuring a short story. Even through I write novels, I think of each chapter as a short story. It has to have a beginning, middle, and end. It has to have character(s), setting, atmosphere, pacing, dialog, conflict.

    Clifford Garstang taught the course. Turns out we share several things in common: a love of the Far East and Japanese literature, membership in the Virginia Writers Club, and head up writers groups affiliated with VWC. I picked up a copy of his linked short story collection. Excellent material and something that has caused loss of sleep -- reading it is compelling.

    Cliff edits a magazine for flash fiction and short stories. Follow Prime Number Magazine on Facebook. I may have a story worth submitting. Hey, nothing ventured, nothing sprained.

    More on the conference in the next post.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Life's Lessons: Don't Believe Your Press Releases

    When Terry and I went to Alaska, we went for a vacation. What we came away with were several new life lessons. So, in an attempt to share them (and perhaps bore you all to death), here's the first.

    My cousin's boyfriend loaned me Going Rouge: An American Nightmare. This collection of editorials and opinion columns offered new input into the life and times of Sarah Palin. Perhaps what prompted Duane to loan me the book was our drive through Wassila, one of the ugliest examples of urban and suburban sprawl in Alaska. I expected it to be beautiful, with small lakes, float planes and lots of cute homes fronting those lakes. NOT. It's one strip mall after the other. Even the lake where Ms. Palin lives is ordinary, as is her house. Only the large fence between her and a writer she termed snoopy stood out in the middle-class neighborhood. What do you want to be the Palins move into a mansion, just like other nouveau riche do. The town is "wasilly." Couldn't even find a book store there.

    I admit I read sections of Going Rogue, too. I found it full of misrepresentations and myths. People who believe their own press releases bother me. This book bothered me.

    While I was reading Going Rouge in the great room, my bedside reading was The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. What could be more of a contrast to the first book than this one? Pausch lived the last years of his life full of joy, full of honesty about what was happening to him, full of life and love for his wife and children. He could have passed a lie detector test. Yes, he was afraid of dying but not afraid to die. I found his honesty uplifting.

    Stray thought: I bet Ms. Palin could also pass a lie dectector test. She obviously believes the lies she tells and the press releases her "people" submit. Sigh.