Blog 6: “My Approach to Writing–Writing as an Addiction,” by Thomas Gondolfi

 

My Approach to Writing – Writing as an Addiction

by Thomas Gondolfi

 

Hello. My name is Thomas Gondolfi, and I’m addicted to writing. I’ve been an addict since 1979.

I’m sorry to say that this post has limited use to any aspiring writers out there. The reason is that for me, writing isn’t a lifestyle. It isn’t a fancy. It isn’t even an avocation. To me, writing has become a compulsion. I will tell my tale of weal and woe as a cautionary one.

My NEED for writing started all the way back in high school because of a competitive nature with a friend, Richard Harris, and a creative writing course by Mrs. VanCampen. I love and curse you both to eternity.

A pair of long short stories as school projects became gateway writings to a >300 page, handwritten novel, Dungeons and Dragons adventures, fan fiction, and even my own newsletter for my gaming group. An accidental sale of a piece of fan fiction intensified my habit. The rest is almost classic. I decided that I needed to write and get a novel published. I worked on two at once, sharing bits at a time with other addicts who needed to share their dependencies. Eventually, I self-published my own works and those of two other authors.

I’ll note that there is a common tenant that successful authors should write every day at a regular time. I never fully understood this statement. I kept asking myself, “Why would an author need to train himself or herself to a regime?” Because of the monkey on my back, I can’t NOT write. Let me explain so that you will understand.

Ever had that desire for chocolate <or insert your favorite sweet> even though you know you probably shouldn’t? The craving won’t go away. How about a mosquito bite that you want to scratch, but knowing it will just make it worse? You try to do something else to put it out of your mind, but it continues to nag at you. Nag. Nag. Nag. You dance around it, trying to immerse yourself into something else. In the end, you usually succumb, quieting that longing at least for a moment for having indulged.

Now imagine, if you might, that the itch you have is within your head. You have an image of an unusual story, a snarky character, or a grandiose setting. Then try to picture that the scene won’t go away. You dream about it night after night after night, embellishing it further. You find yourself daydreaming about it when you should have your attention on driving, cooking, or paying attention to your children. You can’t concentrate on most anything else. In fact, sometimes you can’t even sleep until you start thinking about it. This continues until one day you write it down, and your obsession magically disappears – only to be replaced with a new one. If you imagine that persistent itch, which can’t be scratched any other way, nagging at you constantly, you have an idea of what it feels like to be me.

But the need to empty my head is nearly constant. Even when I’m heavily involved in one project, I’ll be bombarded with some new ideas like a meteor swarm. They each have their own requirements. Think that you want something sweet. So you have a cookie, satisfying one craving, but your taste buds insist that wasn’t quite right. You now need a cinnamon bun.

I have only two defenses to this. I can be flexible about what I’m writing to move onto something new at a moment’s notice or to create a file of ideas for the future. That idea files may only contain a line or two about the concept, but it may be enough to slide that need to the background. This file and the bombardment of ideas from… well, nowhere, is one of the reasons that I don’t believe in writer’s block. You may be having difficulty with one assignment, but you still have that itch to get something out of your consciousness. So slide over to another project.

So unlike other authors, my life is defined not by finding time to write but rather wedging time for other things in-between my writing. That mental itch is an unrelenting taskmaster. If I don’t push those twisted thoughts out of my brain onto paper, they just continue to build up. After high school, I think my longest stretch without writing was ten days. I’m surprised the need to put an image to ink didn’t kill me in the last few days. Occasionally my monkey will give me a day or two off to pursue other interests, but it is rare.

So what does all of this mean for you? Part of me wants to say look at me as the person your mother didn’t want you to meet. Friends don’t let friends write. BUT, I’ve only described the negative portions of being hooked on writing.

The ecstasy you feel finishing one of your projects, or seeing a fan geek out over your creation is beyond food, beyond sex, or much of anything. It transcends the mortal bounds and takes you into the realms of the religious. Money isn’t the driving force. Oh, it allows you to continue feeding your habit. But, the real joy, the real pleasure is when you get fans coming back for more and more. When people get annoyed that you haven’t finished your next creation. Basking in the adoration of a person coming back to you with bags under her eyes, saying, “I couldn’t put it down.” Trying not to orgasm when you secretly overhear a conversation between other people about how great your book was.

I won’t stay that the plusses outweigh the negatives. The days I force myself not to write can be painful, if not agonizing. But the highs, no matter how long it takes for me to achieve them, make the pain seem far and distant. They also make me eager to get back to the word processor for my next fix.

I want to be clear that while I’ve written this in a humorous bent, this is not an allegory. Writing can absorb your soul like a jealous god. You have been warned – and hopefully encouraged as well.

 

Thomas Gondolfi founded TANSTAAFL Press in 2012. He is a book parent of the Toy Wars series, the CorpGov Chronicles, and Wayward School, along with numerous other writing and editing credits, which can be found on www.tanstaaflpress.com. He is a father of three (real children), consummate gamer, and loving husband. Tom also claims to be a Renaissance man and a certified flirt.

Raised as a military brat, he spent twenty years of his life moving to a new place every few years, giving him a unique perspective on life and people.

Tom has worked as an engineer in high tech for over thirty years. Before that, he has also worked as a cook, motel manager, most phases of home construction, volunteer firefighter, and the personal caregiver to a quadriplegic.

Blog 5: “Resources for Writers,” by Connie J. Jasperson

 

Resources for Writers By Connie J. Jasperson

 

I write fantasy and science fiction. If one dares to write sci-fi, the technology must be grounded in cutting-edge science. Indulging in mushy theories is a big no-no for hard-sci-fi fans.

When science fails the “theoretically possible” test, it becomes magic, and magic is a trope of fantasy.

Writers of science fiction must become futurists. They must take what is theoretically possible and think ahead. Our task is to take what science says is conceivable and make it feel true and solid.

We all agree that reading one Wikipedia article does not qualify you as an expert in your chosen subject. To go beyond the surface, we must find websites that go more into depth or speak to the experts.

Once you know what you are writing about, you can mix it up any way you want. Here are a few articles I have found useful:

CommunicationsThis is the Future of Communication Thanks to Technology

TransportationWhat’s the Future of Transportation?

AgricultureHigh-rise Urban Farming

Waste managementThe future of waste: five things to look for by 2025

Resource management – Resources for the Future: website  https://www.rff.org/

The environment of any spacefaring society must be created of technology, or they would not be able to leave the safety of this world. Earth is the only world known to harbor life as we know it.

My current favorite way to bring humans to another world is through the use of generation ships. Entire colonies living for generations on a moon-sized ship, traveling through the cosmos, offers so many opportunities for drama. To find a plethora of ideas to investigate further, check out Futurism: Here is the Future of Interstellar Spacecraft.

I mentioned above that I write fantasy. In my case, writing a short story with a shamanistic element led me to investigate and study the writings of Joseph Campbell, Nancy Yaw Davis, and Frank Hamilton Cushing.

This little dip into traditional shamanism was a catalyst, kindling a world of ideas I could use in my Tower of Bones series, which began life as an RPG-game-based epic fantasy.

Whenever you can, speak to experts. Swords feature strongly in my work, and so I have forged connections with modern swordsmiths. My town has several fantastic blacksmiths who are glad to tell me what was possible in low-tech bladesmithing and what is possible with advanced technology. They’re always happy to talk about the history behind their craft.

And this brings me to the most fundamental aspect of writing—the nuts and bolts of grammar and story construction.

Readers assume writers somehow intuit grammar and are born knowing how to construct a readable novel. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Authors must learn the fundamental physics of grammar and understand how a story arc works. These rules are the traffic signals that keep our work readable and engaging. Once you know the rules, you can bend them with authority, but some rules are absolute.

Ignore them at your peril.

We don’t like asking for directions, and grammar questions are like that. The grammar style manual won’t point out your ignorance—it’s just glad you cared enough to ask.

For me, writing-craft reference books must be in their hardcopy forms, but they do have online editions. I rely on The Chicago Manual of Style. It is written specifically for writers, editors, and publishers of literary and genre fiction.

It is the publishing industry standard. The editors at the major publishing houses own copies and refer to this book when they have questions.

I have worn out several copies of the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms. If I had to choose between purchasing this book and a thesaurus, I would select the book of synonyms and antonyms.

The Chicago Manual of Style and the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms are the anchors of my reference library. Besides those two books, these are a few of the books I keep in hardcopy and refer to regularly:

Oxford American Writers’ Thesaurus 

Story, by Robert McKee

Dialogue, by Robert McKee

The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler (essential)

The Sound on the Page, by Ben Yagoda

Rhetorical Grammar, by Martha Kolin and Loretta Gray

Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig (essential)

The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (essential)

You will gravitate to reference books that may be different than mine, and that is good.

Education comes in many forms, and it’s up to you to take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow as an author.

Coursera is a wonderful organization, who offer you an education for free. While you don’t receive a diploma unless you pay for the course, you will get the education you need. Certificates of completion are available at a lesser cost if that is important to you.

Price is the determining factor for most of us, especially now with the pandemic.

However, for the financially strapped author wanting to increase their knowledge of the craft of writing, an excellent resource is the website Writers’ Digest. They are also for profit, but they offer an incredible amount of information and assistance for free.

I write fantasy and science fiction, but I highly recommend you go to websites that specialize in writing romance novels regardless of what genre you write.

The giants of the Romance publishing industry want you to succeed so they can sell more books. To that end, they get down to the technical aspects of novel construction, and they give away their knowledge for free. This is knowledge that works for writers of all genres.

Go to Harlequin.com and see for yourself.

Harlequin’s website offers many excellent tools for getting your work out the door in a timely fashion—something I need to work on. They also offer tips on marketing your work.

Harlequin also gives tips on how to create a writing space and organize your day so you can get good writing time in and still manage your family. I used to do my writing in my kitchen on an old IBM Selectric that was parked beside the gerbil cage.

Let’s just say gerbils and typewriters aren’t compatible as neighbors.

Here, in no particular order, are my favorite sources of Online Information About Writing your Novel:

www.writersdigest.com

PBS.org/GuiltyPleasures/HowToWriteRomanceNovel

The Creative Penn

Harlequin.com

Creative Writing Now

I hope your writing journey has been as satisfying as mine, and that these sources of information are useful to you on the path to success. Keep writing and never stop learning.

***      ***      ***

Connie J. Jasperson is a published poet and the author of nine fantasy novels. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies. A founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group, she can be found blogging regularly on both the craft of writing and art history at Life in the Realm of Fantasy. You can find her books on her Amazon author page: http://bit.ly/CJJASPauthor

Follow Connie J. Jasperson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cjjasp

 

 

Blog 4 “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Publication Process” by Suzanne Hagelin

 

 

 

Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Publication Process

 

 

This is Suzanne Hagelin’s fourth post in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association. NIWA serves Pacific Northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing, and marketing.

 

 

So much goes into writing and polishing a book that when it’s finished, you think you’re done. But that’s only one chunk, albeit a large one, of an author’s investment in releasing their work.

 

After the edits, rewrites, clean-up, and cover art are completed to your satisfaction, you’re finally ready to publish. Now what? What are the basic elements of the publication process? I’m speaking here to self-publishing authors and small press start-ups. If you’re looking for a publisher who will do the work for you, this post will give you an idea of what that entails.

 

There are tasks that only need to be done once, before you publish your first book, such as buying ISBN numbers and setting up accounts with the printers, publishers, and online distributors you intend to use. There are also items to check off your list each time you publish something. The first time you walk through this, you want to make sure you allow enough time for each step of the process. Once you get the hang of it, it should get easier and perhaps faster.

 

This list should help you plan your publication timeline.

 

ISBNs and Copyright

 

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. Each version of your book requires a different number. When you buy them, you don’t have to have the titles of your books decided and it’s not necessary to follow up and inform the government which titles were assigned to each number.

It’s very easy to get an account with Bowker and buy ISBNs, but don’t waste your money getting only one at a time. If you start with one book in both print and digital forms, then end up rewriting your book, releasing a second edition, and adding an audiobook—that’s five ISBNs right there. Some online publishers like Amazon’s KDP will give you free Amazon numbers but then you are limited to selling only through them. You can still release the book somewhere else with a number, but it’s considered a separate edition.

Add a copyright statement on one of the first pages of your book with the © copyright symbol, the year of publication, book name, and author name, and a statement of what those rights are. Check books you have on hand to see what they wrote if you aren’t sure what to include. For more information on the government’s copyright laws, check here.

 

Time: Get your ISBN numbers ahead of time. The purchase goes through pretty quickly, but it’s an added stress and there’s no reason to put it off. When it’s time to add one to your book it’s a matter of minutes.

 

Metadata

 

Writing the book description that will go on the back cover has to be done before the cover can be completed, so you will already have the raw material for your metadata. Every book that is published needs to have the following information.

  • Title
  • Author(s), Contributor(s)
  • Author and contributor bios
  • Book description
  • Brief catalog description
  • Genres
  • Tags (for search engines)

 

You should be able to fit this into the publication timeline without scheduling any extra time. Just don’t forget it. It’s a pain to be uploading files and suddenly realize you forgot to write a description.

 

Formatting

 

I always format for the print edition first and the digital version second. A lot of the cleanup I do for the print edition helps with the ebook but managing it in reverse doesn’t have the same benefit.

 

PRINT—When setting up your manuscript to print, whether in bulk or using a print-on-demand (POD) option, you will want to format your book according to their specifications. This includes bleed, which allows for cutting the book after it’s been printed and bound. Allow for this extra amount when setting your page size and margins. You also need to keep in mind that the first page is a right-hand one. Page numbers run accordingly, odd numbers on the right and even numbers on the left.

Use “Styles” for all your formatting and it will be much easier to keep it uniform through the entire book. Don’t add spaces at the beginning of your paragraphs, set it up in the paragraph style with a first-line indent. When you’re finished formatting the document, turn on hidden characters (such as carriage-return) so that you can see what you’ve done with page breaks, sections, etc. Correct mistakes you would otherwise miss, and you’ll have fewer surprises when you get a proof copy.

Make sure your final document meets the printer’s requirements with fonts embedded. Some online services may have tools for cleaning up your file, but the finished product could look different than you intended. I recommend using Adobe Acrobat to distill it into PDF/X-1a:2001.

 

EBOOK—eBook conversion has different requirements than the print version. You don’t need blank pages and there are no page numbers, headers or footers. After you’ve set the margins, there’s little else to do for spacing.

The important part of formatting a book for digital conversion lies in the overall structure. The best way to look at this is to open up the “Outline” view of your book and check each level. Your title should be at level 1 and whatever else you want to be part of your table of contents should be level 1. The eBook conversion will generate the table of contents on this basis. I like to include the copyright in my contents, so I make the first line on that page a level 1 along with the chapter headings.

The cleaner the outline, the more straightforward the conversion will be.

 

Time: Allow a couple of days work for formatting if the process is familiar to you, longer if it’s your first.

 

EBOOK Conversion

 

You should have no trouble with the conversion if your formatting is straightforward. Whether you use a free app, a template, or a service to convert it, it’s important to open the resulting file in a reader to check it. Reader apps are free, and I recommend getting as many as you think would be used by your readers. By right-clicking on your epub file and choosing “Open with” you can select the one you want to use to check your ebook. I have Kindle, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Calibre apps, plus other platforms like Draft 2 Digital provide a reader app when you upload your book through them.

Scroll through the book and be sure to check your table of contents if you have one. If you have extra breaks and invisible characters you didn’t see in your document, this is where they will show up.

 

Time: Allow a couple days to convert your ebook and fix any problems. If you are dealing with a learning curve, that should be scheduled separately.

 

Proof Copies

When you’re fighting a deadline, it’s very tempting to bypass this step, or at least to rely only on the e-proof when checking for mistakes. I’ve done it more than once. That’s when things like this can happen:

 

 

As the publisher, it was up to me to catch this mistake by the cover artist. This picture, taken of books already on sale at an event, was the first time I noticed. The battle to get them there on time blurred my vision. Fortunately, we’ve learned to laugh and take it all in stride. It’s still a great book and most people don’t seem to notice the spine. And we had only ordered what we needed for that event.

 

If your printer doesn’t offer proof copies, you can set your publication date in the near future and order a printed copy, shipped overnight. It’s worth paying extra for the quick delivery. The sooner you find mistakes and get to work on fixing them, the better.

 

Time: It can take a couple days after you’ve placed the order for the printer to get to your book. Then overnight shipping at best means the next day after that. If you have weekends or holidays to contend with, it could stretch out as long as a week before you get your book. Make sure you factor that into your timeline.

 

Wholesale Orders

 

Ordering printed books in bulk is pretty straightforward—you want to have copies to give out and to sell. Don’t make the mistake of ordering too few or too many. One case, whether that holds 20 or 30, is a reasonable number to start with. It also makes a difference if you need to factor in shipping costs, to order in multiples of however many fit in a case. This saves on the overall cost per book.

As you get into the flow of selling physical copies of your books, you want to restock in time. I try not to let my inventory go below 10 copies per book when I’m in between minor events. For major events, I want more on hand, depending on how well each book has sold over the last six months. Until you figure out your needs, plan to order more when you get down to half of your last case.

 

Time: Allow three weeks for a normal order. Major printers like Ingram Spark will usually take a work week to get your order printed and ready to ship. When in a time crush, it’s more cost effective to pay for rush printing than rush shipping. Normal ground usually arrives in a week or two. Local printers can be a joy to work with because depending on their workload, they can meet some difficult deadlines and there are no shipping costs.

 

Reporting

 

This should be a blog on its own, but it’s worth mentioning here. Figuring out how you want to keep records and track everything takes time. Don’t barrel through the publication process without setting up something basic to see you through until you know what you’re doing. Write down every expense, save receipts, keep track of links, accounts, passwords, everything pertaining to the process.

I have no idea how much time to advise that you set aside for this. It should be strewn out along the entire publication timeline.

 

Suggestion: Get an email address specifically for your author/publishing business and have all your accounts, transactions, and related connections go through it. Don’t use it for anything else. It’s the easiest collection method for raw data that you have.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Once a book is ready to move into the publication process, I need to allow a minimum of four weeks (with some frantic work thrown in) before I can count on having books in hand to sell, and six to eight weeks gives me a little breathing room. Overlapping the steps, such as getting a print proof copy on the way before I even look at converting an eBook, makes better use of the time.

 

Planning your publication process may improve your chances of a flawless end result, but absolute perfection in books is a myth. Give it your best, learn from your mistakes, and shoot for 95%.

 

This is actually one of my favorite stages in the process. I love the excitement of the imminent arrival of a new book!

 

The first post in this series is “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Mind”.

You can read the second installment here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Time”, and the third here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Plot”.

The fifth post, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Approach to Sales”, comes out next week on Mollie Hunt’s Blog.

Graphic made with photos by NASA Hubble and Christophe Ferron on Unsplash

 

 

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USA Today bestselling author of hard science fiction, Suzanne Hagelin, lives in the Seattle area where she runs a small press, Varida P&R, and teaches language on the side.

 

Her Books. The Silvarian Trilogy Book 1, “Body Suit” is available for 99c in April only and the audiobook is Downpour’s current Editor’s Pick at $4.95. Book 2 “Nebulus” just released on audio, and Book 3, “The Denser Plane” is in the writing stage. The Severance begins with “Cascade” and will be followed by “Eclipse”.

 

LINKS—Suzannehagelin.com, Suzanne’s Blog, Newsletter, Twitter, FaceBook, Medium

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               USA Today bestselling author of hard science fiction, Suzanne Hagelin, lives in the Seattle  area                                                                       where she runs a small press, Varida P&R, and teaches language on the side.

 

Her Books. The Silvarian Trilogy Book 1, “Body Suit” is available for 99c in April only and the audiobook is Downpour’s current Editor’s Pick at $4.95. Book 2 “Nebulus” just released on audio, and Book 3, “The Denser Plane” is in the writing stage. The Severance begins with “Cascade” and will be followed by “Eclipse”.

 

LINKS—Suzannehagelin.com, Suzanne’s Blog, Newsletter, Twitter, FaceBook, Medium

 

 

 

                       

Blog 3: A Writer’s Love-Hate Relationship With Reviews, by Mollie Hunt, Cat Writer

#3: A WRITER’S LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH REVIEWS, by Mollie Hunt, Cat Writer

 

This is the third in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association.  NIWA serves Pacific Northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing and marketing.

 

 

For a writer, there is nothing more satisfying than having their book receive a great review. Conversely, there is nothing more painful than receiving a bad one. Still, reviews are part of a writers’ life, and the best way to deal with them is… well, we will get to that a bit later in this post.

 

Obtaining reviews:

 

First off, you need to get reviews. Reviews matter. If you collect enough Amazon reviews and star ratings, you attract more attention from the all-powerful Amazon algorithms. I don’t know that number—I certainly have not reached it with any of my books, but people do.

 

Reviews may be acquired in many ways. You may solicit, buy, bribe, or cajole. Any way you can convince readers to spend that extra minute letting others know how they liked your book is on the table.

 

Amazon isn’t the only place readers leave reviews. I stopped by my Goodreads page the other day to find Cats’ Eyes, the first book in my Crazy Cat Lady Cozy Mystery series, had three times the reviews it has on Amazon. Who knew?

 

Professional reviewers are an option. They promise an honest, in-depth summary and review posted to several sites. Some pros are free, such as Readers’ Favorite (They have both a free and a paid option) Others you have to pay for, and they aren’t cheap. If you go this route, make sure the company is one that people read and admire. A review off on some obscure website isn’t going to do you much good. Note: I’ve never paid for a review. For me, I don’t think it makes that much difference.

 

Reviews from friends and family are great, but Amazon may kick them off, especially if the Big A decides the review is from a social media pal.

 

There are many reviewer sites that will give an honest review on their blogsite in exchange for a copy of your book. Google reviewers and your genre and see what comes up. I know of several for my genre, cozy mysteries. If they agree to review your book, make sure to give them plenty of time, and let them know when if you need it by a certain date, such as for a prelaunch. Don’t harass them, but if you don’t hear in a reasonable amount of time, an email check-in doesn’t hurt.

 

 

How to use reviews once you have them:

 

Don’t let your good reviews just sit there doing nothing— work them! There is a place on your book’s Amazon page for reviews. People read these, so it’s a good idea to fill them in. Keep it short— remember, most people (including myself) have the attention span of a gnat. Use only highlights of the review, and always credit the reviewer.

 

I also add a few of these summarized reviews in the front matter of my book, or sometimes on the back cover.

 

Don’t be shy. Put out good reviews in your newsletter or in a blogpost. Always include a direct link to the book for shoppers.

 

 

And now, what about those bad reviews?

 

There are various ways to deal with the eventuality of a bad review. You can read it, take it to heart, and try to learn from it, or you can ignore it. I personally try not to read the nonsense, but sometimes it’s funny. I had one reviewer dislike a book because my character didn’t vacuum enough. With all those cats, she said, Lynley should vacuum a whole lot more. Now really! Do you want to read about someone vacuuming their house? Still, the comment inspired me to add a little more vacuuming content to my subsequent books.

 

You can get bad reviews for several reasons having nothing to do with your book. Some people are just mean and have nothing nice to say. You need to remember that others may think very differently than you.

 

Do you have enemies? An evil ex? A jilted lover? A jealous friend? Sometimes these will go after a writer by leaving bad reviews. On Amazon, there is a link to a “Report Abuse” page beneath the comment where you can take steps to have the review removed, but it’s not always an easy task. You can also add your own comment in reply to a review.

 

 

Takeaway:

 

Reviews are necessary. A few times a year I put out a plea on my Facebook Author Page asking readers to fill out reviews. I remind them it doesn’t need to be complicated: “I liked it,” is enough.

 

Do unto others… Reviews work both ways. Have you reviewed the books you’ve read lately?

 

 

Watch for my next post, #4: RESEARCH RESOURCES—YOUR GATEWAY TO AUTHENTICITY, coming the week of April 19-25 on the Tanstaafl Press, Thomas Gondolfi blogsite.

 

Check out this week’s other participating NIWA blogsites:

 

About Mollie Hunt: Native Oregonian Mollie Hunt has always had an affinity for cats, so it was a short step for her to become a cat writer. Mollie Hunt writes the Crazy Cat Lady cozy mystery series featuring Lynley Cannon, a sixty-something cat shelter volunteer who finds more trouble than a cat in catnip, and the Cat Seasons sci-fantasy tetralogy where cats save the world. She also pens a bit of cat poetry.

 

Mollie is a member of the Oregon Writers’ Colony, Sisters in Crime, the Cat Writers’ Association, and NIWA. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and a varying number of cats. Like Lynley, she is a grateful shelter volunteer.

 

You can find Mollie Hunt, Cat Writer on her blogsite: www.lecatts.wordpress.com

Amazon Page: www.amazon.com/author/molliehunt

Facebook Author Page: www.facebook.com/MollieHuntCatWriter/

@MollieHuntCats

 

Mollie Hunt & Tinkerbelle, Registered Pet Partners

Blog 2 From Joyce Reynolds-Ward

 

 

 

Self-Editing, Grammar, and Beta Readers:

Dos and Don’ts

 

This is the second in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association

 

Getting the words down right is the big challenge for every writer, whether you’re independently publishing or traditionally published. At some point every writer has to switch from writer to editor and make certain that the words they’ve written are correct. This search for correctness goes beyond the simple nuances of grammar to the choices of specific words, the flow of sentence phrasing, and more.

 

Two things to keep in mind: first of all, be aware of the difference between detail work and a broader perspective. Every writer can self-edit to some degree in a broad sense. But not every writer is able to perform the meticulous level of edits needed to prepare a work for publication, which leads to the second thing to remember: the more eyes on a final manuscript, the better. In this post I’m focusing on the broader level of editing.

 

First of all, let’s look at grammar in the context of self-editing. I’m not talking about the fiddly bits of word choice and whether you should use lie or lay. Those differences can be easily sussed out using Word’s grammar editor (note: use with caution as Word is not always correct) or a dedicated grammar editor. Rather, I’m talking about sentences that don’t flow for specific grammatical reasons. The big stuff. Clauses and subordinate clauses. The use of minimizing or what I call “weasel words” which soften the impact of your writing.

 

So let’s start with the biggest offender I’ve seen as editor, coach, and teacher, which is leading a sentence off with a subordinate clause. What is a subordinate clause? Basically, it is a group of words that has a verb but is not a complete sentence. One example of a subordinate clause appears in the sentence, “She answered the phone when it rang.” “When it rang” is the subordinate clause, and it’s incomplete as a sentence. Now, think about a whole string of sentences such as “When it rang, she answered the phone.” This is an example of leading your sentence with the subordinate clause. Read both examples aloud, then think about how this sentence flows as opposed to the original. This particular offense can be easily fixed by reading your work aloud, and keep in mind that an occasional case of leading with a subordinate clause is all right. It’s when most sentences on a page lead with a subordinate clause that it becomes tiresome.

 

“Weasel words” tend to modify strong verbs. Did you see what I did in that sentence? Take out the “tend to” and see how the sentence meaning shifts slightly. I am as much of an offender in the “weasel word” category as anyone else. I qualify what should be a strong statement by chucking a few weasel words into the mix. I do it when I’m uncertain about the statement I’m making, either consciously or unconsciously. Weasel words can be used to some effect as a characterization device. But use them carefully and with intent.

 

So. Grammar. Big Don’ts:

  • Don’t lead with subordinate clauses
  • Chop out as many weasel words as possible.

 

Big Do’s:

  • Be mindful in your use of weasel words—use them carefully and with intent.

 

Now that I’ve hit my two big points on self-editing and grammar, let’s take a look at self-editing and beta readers.

 

The ability to self-edit effectively varies between writers. Some writers can do an excellent job; others simply can’t. Often we don’t see the flaws in our language choices in early drafts, or we can spot the errors of language but not the gaping hole in our plot reasoning, or the unintended irregular behavior of our characters. This is where a set of good beta readers becomes effective, as a useful tool for revision.

 

When I speak of “beta readers,” I refer to outside readers who review a draft form of your work that you plan to revise. Some writers prefer to call them first readers or alpha readers, but “beta” is the most common phrasing. Unlike a critique group, betas read and report individually, rather than as part of a group. Reciprocal reading may or may not be involved. The beta does not provide line edits, copy edits, or any sort of detailed work that will be appropriate later on in book production. Rather, the beta reader’s job is to provide feedback about early revisions as to whether the language flows, the plot makes sense, and the characters are believable. A good beta flags those places in the early draft where a reader trips over something.

 

Where do you find beta readers? Just about anywhere. Some writers depend on spouses or close friends. Others organize beta teams from their fans. Betas can be readers or writers. What you are looking for is that other eye that finds the problems that you as the writer are too close to the story to see. But the beta also needs to be someone tolerant of the roughness of early book drafts, because most of us do not turn out pretty early drafts.

 

One thing to be concerned about, though, is a beta that starts rewriting your words. A good beta recommends a revision but leaves the actual work of the revision to the writer. Good betas also don’t get bogged down in line editing or copy editing details. That’s what you pay a good editor to do for you. The beta reader is assessing the story from a reader’s perspective.

 

Most beta edits are done either through friendship or the desire to read an early draft from a favorite author. More substantive detail edits should be paid, either in cold hard cash or bartering of services. Beta editing is not and should not be a substitute for final prepublication edits. It is a tool to aid the author during the revision process.

 

Learning to edit yourself is a crucial task for any writer, no matter where you are in the writing process, and it goes far beyond grammar to the way that your words flow in the final draft. Following these simple suggestions will help improve your writing skill. Good luck!

 

Other posts in this series by Joyce Reynolds-Ward (note: each website owner will post at some point during the week listed).

March 29-April 4th—Organizing Your Plot http://www.joycereynoldsward.com

April 5-11—Self-editing, grammar, and beta readers https://authorwilliamcook.com/blog/

April 12-18—Genre and cross-genre https://tanstaaflpress.com/news

April 19-25—My Approach to the writing process https://varidapr.com

April 26-May 2—Reading to Impact your writing http://www.conniejjasperson.com

May 3-9—Advice for new writers https://lecatts.wordpress.com

 

 

Joyce Reynolds-Ward is a speculative fiction writer from Enterprise, Oregon. Her short stories include appearances in Well…It’s Your Cow, Children of a Different Sky, Allegory, River, and Fantasy Scroll Magazine. Her agripunk thriller trilogy, The Ruby Project: Origins, The Ruby Project: Ascendant, The Ruby Project: Realization, are due for release in November, 2020. Her books include Shadow Harvest, Choices of Honor, Judgment of Honor, and Klone’s Stronghold. Joyce has edited two anthologies, Pulling Up Stakes (2018), and Whimsical Beasts (2019). Besides writing, Joyce enjoys reading, quilting, horses, and hiking, and is a member of Soroptimist International of Wallowa County.

The New Blog Tour

 

 

Reading to Impact Your Writing (And Can Watching Movies Be a Business Expense?)

 

This is the first in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. I will be hosting five other indie writers here, introducing you to their thoughts about their craft, the books they’ve written, and their websites.

 

Most writers I know read voraciously, pausing only when they are in the final throes of getting their next work published—editing and re-editing, hiring beta readers, formatting and re-formatting to please our Kindle Direct Publishing masters, trying to figure out what the error message “Your fonts are not properly embedded” means. The list seems to go on forever. But until that point, writers READ.

Sometimes we read in our own genre, “to check out the competition.” I remember that once I had created the fictional Oregon coast town of Driftwood for my mystery novels, a friend said I should read Scott William Carter’s The Gray and Guilty Sea. I did, and I came away thinking, “Wow! He nailed it. I hope I can write like that when I grow up.”

At a book signing not so long ago, I shared a table with Chris Patchell, who also writes mystery and suspense novels. I bought her book, In the Dark, and was blown away by the breathless quality of her prose. I decided I wanted that in my stories as well.

We often read other genres, especially with an eye toward pacing, character development, and style of writing. We make decisions about what to emulate and what to avoid, what works and what doesn’t, how best to show, rather than tell, making conversation sound natural, and managing point of view.

Sometimes the books we read have an unconscious effect on our writing. Remember Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and her sentences that went on for a half-page and more? I was busy with a volume of short stories at the time, and when I went into editing the second draft, I was aghast at how long the sentences were in my story, “The Porthole.” That had not been intentional and I was thankful to have caught it before I published it.

Reading can have another, long-lasting effect on our writing, one not so much stylistic or structural, as “constitutional.” The reading I did in my late teens and throughout my twenties changed the way I think. Back then, I had immersed myself in existentialism, devouring books by Camus and Sartre, and their precursors, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche. Those philosophical works have shaped me, for better or worse, and influence the way my characters think and move. Acts of will, decision-making, spiritual and ethical motivations are a part of my characters and make them more real (I hope!).

While we’re at it, what about movies and how they impact our writing? I love movies, all kinds of movies, from dainty, art-house oeuvres to slam-bang shoot ’em ups. It’s a vice I swear I inherited from my mother. And the effect? I want my stories to be visual. I want my readers to say, “Reading your book was like watching a movie, except I could feel it and smell it and taste it, too.” The challenge becomes involving all the senses in the story, so the descriptive parts are not just atmospheric, but transporting. I find myself thinking in terms of scenes, rather than chapters, listening to my characters as they strut their stuff, wondering what they’re going to do next. Yes, often I don’t know what my characters will say or do next, and before you decide to call a shrink because I’ve gone over the edge and need a psychiatric evaluation, stay tuned for a future blog when I will talk more about my approach to the writing process.

“I am not crazy!” he insisted to no avail, as the EMTs strapped him onto the gurney and wheeled him out to the waiting ambulance…

 

Watch for the next post in this series by me:

“Advice for New Writers” — at https://conniejjasperson.com/

 

Next week I’ll be hosting Joyce Reynolds-Ward, who will be sharing her thoughts on “Self-Editing, Grammar, and Beta Readers.” Stay tuned!

 

A Teaser for the New Novel

I’m still hoping to publish Dungeness and Dragons by the end of April. Here’s the first chapter:

 

1. The Wreck of the Johnny B. Goode

 

MONDAY, JANUARY 7, 2019. The first storm of January had begun in earnest. Although the sun had not appeared all week, today the roiling black clouds seemed to suck even the faint remaining light from the late afternoon sky, creating a premature twilight. In the darkness, the twelve-foot swells were liquid mountains, rushing headlong toward them, indifferent to the boat bobbing on the surface, unforgiving of any mistakes the three-man crew might make. Even with the howl of the wind and the slashing of the rain, the men could hear the whistler buoy astern, moaning like the soul of a drowned fisherman.

“Are we having fun yet?” Derek Lea shouted to his crew mate Rick Perrins over the roar of the wind. The rain smacked his bright yellow foul-weather gear with a ferocity that seemed bent on shoving him overboard. Waves thundered over the bow, drenching him with walls of water. His mouth filled with the briny taste of the sea. Even through his layered clothing, the cold was leeching the warmth from his body.

“This is nuts!” his partner yelled back. They could barely hear each other, but each knew what the other was thinking. Long familiarity with the hazards of the Pacific made them almost telepathic. Perrins shivered in the onslaught and spat onto the deck. “What are we doing out here?”

“Earning a living, numb nuts!” He drew his hood tighter over his head.

“There’s gotta be an easier way!”

“Of course there is! But everything else is boring!” With the deft hands of years of practice, Lea gaffed the line from a crab pot resting on the sea bottom in fifty feet of water. He looped it over the block, a circular winch at the end of a stainless steel arm, bent at the elbow over the side of the boat, its hydraulic muscle ready to haul the heavy pot out of the water. The pots or traps were round disks about three feet in diameter and a foot high. Metal grates were wrapped around steel frames, making cylindrical cages. One-way doors on opposite sides of the traps allowed crabs to crawl in toward the bait, but not back out.

He engaged the block. The line tightened and came thrumming in. When the three white marker buoys shaped like artillery shells reached the winch, he flipped them away from the gear and back out into the water. As the pot broke the surface, he hit the lever on the gunwale, and the arm of the block extended upward and swung toward the boat, lifting the pot within easy grasp of the two men.

“Heave ho!” Perrins opened the door on top of the trap and the fishermen spilled its contents into a trough between them. They were greeted by a mass of flailing legs and claws as the Dungeness crabs struggled to right themselves and take shelter. The men tossed the large ones into the hole that dropped into the live tank under the deck. Perrins put a gauge across the shells of the smaller ones to make sure they were of legal size, tossing those too small and any females over the side. In moments, he was attaching a new bait bucket filled with frozen squid and sardines inside the pot. Lea disengaged the line from the block, and the men heaved the trap back into the water. The entire operation took less than two minutes.

“There were some big ones in that bunch!” Lea reached for the boat hook again.

“Current’s getting stronger,” his partner complained. “It won’t be long before it pulls our buoys under and we won’t be able to find them until the tide changes.”

“We’ll fall off that bridge when we come to it. Let’s just get the next one.”

The men had been working the Johnny B. Goode for five years. It was a good ship, 48 feet long with an 18-foot beam, used to rough seas. The large wheel house at the forward end held all the living space, including bunks for the crew and a modest galley. Before launch, 250 crab pots had been carefully stacked in the stern of the craft, the lines for each in serpentine coils on top. The Johnny B. Goode was all business.

The men’s fathers and their grandfathers before them had been crab fishermen, and it was all they knew. “It’s in our DNA,” Lea was fond of saying. Neither had ever given a thought to doing anything else, despite the dangers of their chosen profession. Each was a family man, Lea with two sons, ages 12 and 14, and Perrins with three daughters, 5, 10, and 13. On the upper deck of the wheelhouse sat their skipper, Carl Hamisu, piloting the craft and minding the electronics. He spoke little, but he knew the ocean. Widowed five years before, catching crabs was his way of managing his grief.

Lea stretched over the side of the boat to gaff the line just as the ship rose high on a large swell. His feet slipped on the wet deck. He grabbed for the gunwale and caught himself.

“Don’t talk about falling off just yet, big guy!” Perrins laughed.

“Not funny, wise ass.” He drew the line in, looped it on the block, and engaged the machine. The line grew taut but stopped.

“Shit! It’s sanded!” Strong currents sometimes buried the pots in the sand, making them impossible to retrieve. Played by the gale-force winds, the tight line began to whine like the string of a violin.

“Look out!” Both men averted their faces as the nylon line snapped with a sound like a gunshot. The broken line whistled by them, barely missing Perrins’s face. He had not been so lucky last year, and he still bore a scar on his right cheek as mute testimony to the bite of the line. He gathered the loose cord and threw it on the deck until he could coil it later.

“That’s the fourth one this trip. It’s starting to cost us.”

“What?” shouted Lea. “My teeth are chattering so loud I can’t hear you!”

“You crazy sonofabitch! I’m telling the skipper we need to haul ass back to port. It’ll be pitch dark soon and I hate going over the bar at night.”

“We’ve done it a hundred times. What are you scared of?”

“Not scared. Just trying to be smart. This storm has only just begun. It’s gonna get a whole lot worse before it’s over.”

“Hurry back, buddy. Duty calls.”

Perrins made his way forward to the wheelhouse, slowing down through the worst of the swells to maintain his balance. He climbed the stairs and entered the enclosure, pulling the door closed behind him, relishing the sudden warmth now that he was out of the wind.

Carl Hamisu sat in his chair, his signature captain’s cap perched far back on his head, his eyes riveted to the array of instruments before him. His features were a mixture of Asian and Native American.

“Skipper, we need to beat feet outta here. It won’t be long before we can’t see our buoys anymore, and the storm is only growing stronger.”

Hamisu looked up, nodding his head. “Agreed. New weather report says this howler may reach 65 mile per hour gusts in the next couple of hours. I say we head home and come back out tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Carl. I’ll let Derek know. We’ll stow our gear and batten down the hatches.”

He stepped outside. The frigid cold struck him like an icy slap as he made his way back to his friend. The boat pitched as another wave surged into its bow, and he grabbed the gunwale. The spray soaked him.

“Skipper says we’re going home,” he yelled. “Shut it down.”

“Fine by me. I could use a cigarette and a drink.”

When the deck was secure, the two men went forward into the galley. Once out of the roar of the wind, they could hear each other again. They sat on opposite sides of the small wooden table.

“Your lips are the color of the blueberries my little Dakota picked last summer from our garden.”

“It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. Let’s goose this heater.”

As the temperature rose, they shed their hooded coats but left on the rubberized pants and boots. Lea grabbed two cigarettes from the pack in the overhead cabinet, lit them both, and handed one to his partner.

“Let’s think warm Hawaiian thoughts.”

Perrins exhaled a large plume of fragrant tobacco smoke as the boat heaved hard to port. “He’s gotta turn this baby fast. Glad he’s so good at it.”

“You and me both.” Lea pulled at the long black beard on his face, wringing water from it. “What I wouldn’t give for three fingers of Irish whiskey right about now.”

“Skipper runs a tight ship. No alcohol while we’re working.”

“I know. Just saying.” He relished the kick of the nicotine after hours without it. “Sure am looking forward to my warm bed tonight. Holly will make me all toasty.”

Perrins smiled and nodded his head. Heidi would do the same for him. Friends often asked them if it was strange being married to sisters, but each had always denied it. Instead, it seemed to make their own friendship stronger. “A hot shower first. Wash this ocean off of me.”

“Amen, brother.”

Suddenly, Perrins leaped from his bench. “What was that?”

“What?”

“That…nothing.”

And then Lea heard it, too. The absence of the constant drone of the diesel engine, the sound to which each had grown so accustomed that it only drew attention to itself when it stopped.

“The goddamn engine quit! Christ almighty!”

They ran from the galley to the upper deck. They found Hamisu frantically scrambling over the electronics, searching for the cause of the failure, trying to get the diesel restarted. “Get on the horn to the Coast Guard! Now!”

Perrins picked up the radio. “May Day! May Day! Johnny B. Goode. Engine died.” He looked toward the Skipper. “Where are we at?”

“Just outside the Driftwood Bar.”

“We’re just off the Driftwood Bar,” he called into the radio. “Need help fast.”

Johnny B. Goode, this is Coast Guard Cutter Thomas Jefferson. We are just off your stern. Get you pronto. Hang tight.”

Perrins put the radio down. “Hang tight, he says? Hang tight? If we turn broadside in this shit, we can kiss our sorry asses goodbye!”

 

Aboard the Thomas Jefferson, Captain John Hartford was barking orders. He ran his hand over the charts spread before him. His face screwed into a frown. “Regents, get outside with the lights and see what we’ve got. Brady, keep your eyes on the radar. If their engine is down, they have only minutes.”

“Skipper, what are those damn fools doing out on a night like this? Jesus!”

“I know Carl Hamisu. He’s a good man. He must have his reasons. But he’s too careful to let his engine die on him. That’s what I don’t understand. He’s been around this ocean a lot more years than I have.”

On the deck, Regents tried to peer through the wind-swept curtain of rain, made dazzling by the bright glare of the search lights. He could just make out the fishing boat ahead, a dark shape bobbing helplessly in the onslaught. He held tight to the rail as the cutter crashed through the waves toward the crippled vessel. The wind and the waves and the rain shrieked in protest.

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Regents shouted. In the glow of the lights, he caught the shadow of a massive wave bearing down on the Johnny B. Goode. The mountain of moving water pounced over the bow of the hapless boat, flipping it broadside like a toy. With an animal roar, it rolled the boat over and swallowed it.

Regents clambered back inside as quick as a cat. “She’s capsized, Sir! Took one amidships and went over!”

“Sweet Mother!” The Captain wiped the sweat from his brow and took the measure of his men. “OK, every man we can spare, get out there now. Get all our lights on her. Find those men! Carlson, you hold us steady.”

The men scrambled out into the storm. Hartford did a quick mental calculation of how long a man could survive in 49-degree water before lethal hypothermia snatched his life. And that didn’t take into account waves that could gobble a man whole. He cursed under his breath. How long before they could no longer call this a “rescue” operation?

Sometimes he hated his job.

 

The next day, the sun briefly peeked through the cloud cover at the horizon before disappearing again, but the sky remained an eggshell white, nothing like the inky black of the day before. As ferocious as the storm had been, it was gone by morning, leaving only its unquiet sea behind. Ten-foot swells rolled toward the shore in a lazy, regular rhythm. The wind had died to a mere breeze, barely able to keep the scrounging seagulls aloft. Their cries were a welcome greeting after the howling crescendo of yesterday. The beaches were swept clean, with the exception of a few great logs half-buried in the sand.

Alongside the bay, a bearded cameraman and a young female reporter in a hooded red overcoat were setting up shop. A 4:00 A.M. tip to the newsroom in Portland had sent them scrambling to the little seaside town for the story.

“Hurry, Barry. It’s almost time. How do I look?”

“Laurel, you look little red riding hood, only cuter. Now let me concentrate on this equipment.”

The woman touched her earpiece. “Here they come. Are we ready?” She saw the red light on the camera and looked into the lens. “Good morning, Julie. I’m standing here by the bay in Driftwood, in front of two rows of upright pylons, all that’s left of the Driftwood boardwalk after it was destroyed by the famous fire of 1967. Now look behind me. Just look what yesterday’s storm did.”

The camera panned around behind the reporter. A small group of early morning beachcombers were staring upwards.

Impaled like a giant insect on one of the stanchions of the burned-out boardwalk was the Johnny B. Goode. A pillar had pierced its hull and protruded above the main deck, just aft of the wheelhouse.

“The Coast Guard reports that this commercial crabbing boat, the Johnny B. Goode, capsized last night in heavy seas and was hurled up here into the bay by the storm surge. The rescue boat Thomas Jefferson was unable to reach them in time. The body of the fishing boat captain, Carl Hamisu, was found on the beach this morning by a woman walking her dog. The crewmen, Derek Lea and Rick Perrins, have not been found, but are presumed dead.”

The camera returned to the reporter’s face.

“The tight-knit community of Driftwood is mourning the tragic loss of favorite sons, heads of families who had made their livelihoods here over several generations. They were well-known and well-liked, and two of the men leave behind grieving widows and young children. If you’ll come with me now, we’ll speak with some of the people who are beginning to gather here.”

She turned and walked toward the group near the water’s edge, her cameraman following dutifully behind. As she approached, two men separated themselves from the group and began to walk away. Both were wearing knit caps pulled over their ears against the cold. She found it difficult to determine their ages, since the faces of both looked leathery, etched by long exposure to wind and weather. One had a long black beard beginning to show streaks of gray. The other was clean-shaven. She thought they might be brothers.

“Excuse me,” she called, as she extended the microphone before her. “Please wait. Did you know these men?”

Both looked uncomfortable, unwilling to speak. After a moment of silence, the bearded one said, “Yes, we knew them. Good men. Tragic. Tragic what’s happened. They shouldn’t have gone out in that storm.” He swung his head in both directions, reminding her of an animal in a live trap, looking for an escape. As other people from the small crowd drew near, the two men slipped away.

“We knew them,” a woman hollered, raising her hand to be seen above the others. “Good men. Good families. Terrible loss.”

The newswoman returned to the camera. “I’ve been told that Darby Gallaway, owner of the local Reef Coffee Shop, will be starting a GoFundMe page to benefit the stricken families. Memorial services are being planned for later in the week.

“Now back to you, Julie.”

As he turned off the camera and lowered it, Barry said, “Nice job, hon. Shall we interview some of the others for the evening spot tonight?”

Laurel pulled some gloves from her pocket and put them on. “Good idea. That woman in the crowd seemed pretty eager to talk. Then we’ll walk around the town and take a look. Driftwood’s been out of the news since that club fire last year. What was it? Chaos? Anyway, let’s see if there’s been any changes.” As she turned back to the onlookers, she whispered, “Let’s milk this story for all it’s worth.”