Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Andrew Greeley Interview (Lawrence Grobel)

Lawrence Grobel has been a freelance writer for thirty years, Playboy calls him "the interviewer's interviewer." In 1993 he sat down with Andrew Greeley:

Lawrence: "What's the most courageous thing you've done as a writer?"

Andrew Greeley: "The greatest risk was to turn from nonfiction to fiction. It took me a while because I wondered if I was able to do it. It was a risky business, not because I was going to put some eroticism in my books, I'm unself-conscious there, sexual attraction is part of the human condition, you can't write a story without it - I just felt telling stories was a risk."

Lawrence: "What would you say is a main theme that runs through you books?

Andrew Greeley: "Second chances. That we keep getting second chances."

Lawrence: "Would Chicago always be a subtheme"

Andrew Greeley: "Somebody once said, "Why don't you take your novels out of Chicago, it's not the center of the world." And I say, "Yeah, it is." Faulkner was comfortable in Mississippi; I'm not Faulkner, but I write about Chicago."

Endangered Species, Writer Talk About Their Craft, Their Visions, Their Lives
by Lawrence Grobel
Published by DA CAPO Press (c) 2001
page 166, 167

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Alex Haley Interview (Lawrence Grobel)

Lawrence Grobel has been a freelance writer for thirty years, Playboy calls him "the interviewer's interviewer." In 1985 he sat down with Alex Haley:

Lawrence: "At the time of its publication Roots was hailed as one of the most important books of the century, as well as the most important civil rights event since the 1965 march of Selma. Do you hold it in such esteem?"

Alex Haley: "I never would have said that in the first place. I have a much more basic view of myself. I feel myself as a conduit. Roots got born on the front porch of a pretty big house in Henning, Tennessee, where I came from. It was my grandmother's porch. After my grandfather died, my grandma invited her sisters to spend the next summer with her. I was six that summer, and after supper we would gather on the front porch, thick with honeysuckle vines, and the women would all start rocking in their rocking chairs. Then they'd run their hands down into the pocket of their aprons and come up with a can of sweet carrot snuff. They'd load their lower lips and just start talking about their family. They'd talk about their parents, about their daddy's daddy, this ha rum-scar um individual always fighting chickens, people called him Chicken George. Then they would talk about his mother, Miss Kizzy. All of this went on night after night, and that's where I first began to hear the story and why I think of myself as a conduit."

Endangered Species, Writers Talk About Their Craft, Their Visions, Their Lives
by Lawrence Grobel
Published by DA CAPO Press (c) 2001
page 211

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Joseph Heller Interview (Lawrence Grobel)

Lawrence Grobel has been a freelance writer for thirty years,Playboy calls him "the interviewer's interviewer." He sat down with Joseph Heller early in his career:

Lawrence: "Do you have an audience in mind when you're writing?"

Joseph Heller: "Yes, somebody who has a taste like my own. It's true of Catch-22 and it's true of Something Happened. Each book is the kind of book I'd enjoy reading if somebody else had written it. The books are vastly different from each other. Catch-22 was read and enjoyed by people who were much younger than I was, with less education, less interest in literature than I have. The people who buy my books are interest in serious reading, even though the works themselves are humorous and funny. Not for a reader who's interested in plot or erotic literature. There's a lot of sex in both books, but the erotic element is played down."

Endangered Species, Writers Talk About Their Craft, Their Visions, Their Lives
by Lawrence Grobel
Published by DA CAPO Press (c) 2001
page 222

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Book Signing

Drop by The Bottomless Cup on Route 40 in Havre de Grace on Sunday from 1-3 p.m. Two of the authors from Voices From The Susquehanna will be signing books. Just drop by to say hi and have a cup of coffee. No obligation to buy a book.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Elmore Leonard Interview (Lawrence Grobel)

Lawrence Grobel has been a freelance writer for thirty years, Playboy calls him "the interviewer's interviewer." In 1998 he sat down with Elmore Leonard:

Lawrence: "There are an awful lot of crime and mystery writers in America. How do you account for your popularity?"

Elmore Leonard: "I think it's based on the fact that my books are entertaining. It must be that simple. My readers like the references to what's going on in the world, to television and movies, they feel a rapport with these people. It might be just the dialogue, that the story moves very, very quickly. They like it that you can get on an airplane in the east and finish the book before you're in L.A. Maybe that's it."

Endangered Species, Writers Talk About Their Craft, Their Visions, Their Lives
by Lawrence Grobel
Published by DA CAPO Press (c) 2001
page 244

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Local Author Makes Her Third Sale To Chicken Soup

I first met Joyce Seabolt during an early Saturday morning class. I've since forgotten which writing class it was, I have however, never forgotten Joyce. I can still see her sitting there, listening intently, taking notes. She came to class fully prepared. I've also never forgotten her words. "I want to be a writer." I believed her, we all did. Over these last five plus years I've watched her make sale after sale. She's organized, determined, and giving. She cares about her work, her audience, and other writers. She's a great friend, and a cheerleader for all of us who struggle to get our ideas and thoughts onto paper.

You recently made another sale to the Chicken Soup series?
Yes. Chicken Soup just accepted my third story. Chicken Soup for Catholic Living will be out this month.
My story tells about how I reluctantly agreed to work at the Church Homeless Shelter for the midnight to 7 AM shift. I went in with preconceived notions of who I would find there...drunks, drug addicts and derelicts. What I found was people...people just like my family, my friends, and me. Spending one night in a homeless shelter taught me a valuable lesson. The only thing that makes the homeless different from me is a home!

I've been to one of your book signings. How important is it for a writer to help market their work?
Marketing is crucial to the success of a book. Writers are expected to participate in generating a "buzz" the first three months after the book comes out. A buzz is simply people talking about your book. Writers do this by posting reviews on Amazon, doing book signings, and going out to meet the public. I've met with religious groups, ladies groups, Toastmasters groups, Book Club groups and nursing groups. Since I am a nurse and one books was for the nurses, I went to a different health care facility ever day during Nurse's Week.

How would you describe the moment you found out that your first manuscript was going to be published? How did you celebrate?
I was ecstatic! I called my family and my writer friends. My best writer friend and I did the "Happy Dance" together even though she lives in New York. We knew when we met at a Writer's Conference that we would be published someday. (I did the "Happy Dance" with her when she was published a short time later.)

I know you work full-time. How do you find time to write and market your writing? Can you describe a typical day?
I work evening shift, so I set time from 10 AM to NOON each day to write. During that time I write or do something directly connected to writing. I may schedule book signings or do research for my next project. Since I am planning to get into the "SLICKS" (magazines) I'm doing a lot of e-mail query letters to women's magazines.

Can you tell us what your are currently working on?
Around the holidays I avoid deadlines...too much stress. I'm researching my latest article idea about how to determine if you have winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder. I'm also working on my book signing schedule.

What writing advice do you have for the beginning writer?
Don't get discouraged by rejections, they are part of a writer's life. If you absolutely can't handle rejection, don't submit your writing for publication! Keep writing family, friends, and the fun of writing. You don't have to be published to be a writer. A writer's life is interesting and rewarding even if you never publish a thing. But for me, getting published was soooo worth the rejections!

Finally, have you always wanted to be a writer?
No, I always wanted to be a nurse and I've been one for forty-five years. When planning for something to do in retirement, I read an article that said to look back into your past for things you really enjoyed and rekindle that spark of interest. I remembered that I loved English, especially writing (and editing) my poetry assignments. I decided to go back to college and learn how to do it right. Apparently, I learned to write right.

Joyce has been published in Reader's Digest, Guidepost, and numerous nursing magazines. Her work has also been published in three Chicken Soup for the Soul Books and two Gettin' Old Ain't for Wimps Books. She is looking forward to retirement when she can devote all her time to writing.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Meet Lesa

A Reader’s Viewpoint

I am a librarian and a book reviewer, but, most of all, a reader. Since I wear all of those hats, I have a world of options open to me when I’m looking for something to read. Do you want to know how to capture my attention?

Give me a good character. Introduce me to a character that is lively and interesting, someone who I’ll want to follow for two or three hundred pages. I don’t care if the book is a mystery or romance, historical fiction or women’s fiction. If I don’t like the lead character, I won’t read the book. I’ve been known to stop reading after 100 pages if I realize I don’t care what happens to any of the characters. And, if I’m reviewing the book, it won’t receive a good review without a strong central character.

And, capture my attention in the first thirty pages. Those of us who are avid readers often share a fifty page test. If you don’t hook me in the first fifty pages, I won’t read any further. And, I’m going to let you in on a publishing secret. I screen mystery manuscripts for a well-known independent publisher. I receive a synopsis and the first thirty pages. If those thirty pages do not present me with a quality story with an exciting opening and an interesting character, my instructions are to reject the manuscript. So, you have thirty pages to entice me, and no more than fifty pages for many readers.

This is just one reader’s slant on what to do to catch my attention. I share my opinions regularly on my blog, www.lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com if you’d like to see other comments from a reader.

Good luck with your writing. Just give us good characters, please, and hook us early.

Lesa is more than just a reader. Her website is one of my favorite blogs and I visit it a couple of times a week. She is a contributing Book Reviewer for Library Journal. Her Book Critiques is syndicated through Bloghurst, and her reviewers have been picked up by Reuters, USA Today, and other news distributors. Thanks for stopping by Lesa!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Joyce Carol Oates Interview (Lawrence Grobel)

Lawrence Grobel has been a freelance writer for thirty years, Playboy calls him "the interviewer's interviewer." In 1992 he sat down with Joyce Carol Oates:

Lawrence: "Since you seem to be a compulsive writer, what is it that most excites you about putting words on paper?"

Joyce Carol Oates: "The challenge of making an internal vision external. Getting the inner vision out. I love to write. I feel I have something to say. It's exhilarating once in a while, but most of my experiences are fraught with frustration because I always feel dissatisfied. A whole day can go by and I feel I haven't accomplished anything. My husband was asking me about this. He said, "You get a lot done in a day." I guess I do, but I don't feel that I have. I have a feeling always, which is subterranean of being profoundly dissatisfied with what I'm working at."

Lawrence: "How important are names for your characters?"

Joyce Carol Oates: "Absolutely important. I spend a long time naming names. If I can't get a name right, I can't write, I can't begin. I have a lot of people's names that begin with J, especially men. It's like my alter ego. I always go for the J if I can get away with it."

Endangered Species, Writers Talk About Their Craft, Their Visions, Their Lives
by Lawrence Grobel
Published by DA CAPO Press (c) 2001
pages 324,362

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Neil Simon Interview (Lawrence Grobel)

Lawrence Grobel has been a freelance writer for thirty years, Playboy calls him "the interviewer's interviewer." In 1985 he sat down with Neil Simon:

Lawrence: "How autobiographical a writer are you?"

Neil Simon: "Very, when I'm writing autobiographical plays. In a sense, everything you write is autobiographical because it is going through your brain, so it comes out like litmus paper, it always catches some of who you are. But even when you write the autobiographical plays, they are not specifically autobiographical. When people see plays like Come Blow Your Horn or Brighton Beach and Biloxie Blues, they'll ask, "Did that really happen? Did he say that?" Well, sometimes it's true, sometimes it's not. Sometimes I've given aspects of my life to somebody else, like my girl cousin, who had aspects of what I went through as a child. It's hard to discuss that writing process. It's like you throw it into a bowl, mix it up, and pour it out. But everything of you is in there."

Endangered Species, Writers Talk About Their Craft, Their Visions, Their Lives
by Lawrence Grobel
Published by DA CAPO Press (c) 2001
pg. 395

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mystery Loves Company, Part II


This is Kathy Harig again from Mystery Loves Company. As I said in my earlier Blog 1, writing the book is just the beginning. It is a business. You may think it is early in your writing career to think of publishing, but if you are aware of the pitfalls and means to success, you will have a better chance of seeing your work published. There are four key people in the equation for writing a successful book -- the author, the agent, the editor(s) and the publisher. In recent days we have seen this list shrunk to two, the author and the publisher, due to self-publishing technology. Sometimes the author even does away with the publisher, entirely. But all good books, I believe have these four elements. More and more we see books that are grossly unedited and good ones that are badly distributed, i.e., do not reach a bigger market because they have a tiny publisher, or one who does not have the means nor care to really promote their authors' works. If the author had gotten him/herself an agent, the problem probably wouldn't have been so severe. Agents are hard to come by, but there are several good listings on the web. Also attend mystery or fiction conventions, or writing seminars. Agents frequently attend.

Spell check does not an editor make. I have had several books published and each time the second or third reading, or editor always caught improvements that needed to be made. Fact checking is really up to you. Don't expect help with this at all in fiction. I recently received an advanced readers copy from a major publisher in which there were at least twenty errors in the first fifty pages. A badly edited manuscript will not get you an agent, and certainly won't get you a major publisher. Even with a major publisher, there are pot holes along the way. Respect your work and your audience. Do careful editing yourself, and hire a professional editor/ fact checker and/or reader. Then let the manuscript rest for a while, and read it again, and again.

Choosing a publisher is one of the biggest decisions an author can make. Choosing the wrong one, can lead to heartbreak and a ruined career. Choosing carefully can insure that your work will find its broadest possible audience and the success it deserves. One can hardly count the number of publishers that have sprung up on the web. Remember one thing, if you have to pay a publisher to publish your work, they are not a publisher. Many of them are not reputable, and can ask for more and more money that you eventually will give them, only to end in disaster. Mystery Writers of America has approved a list of publishers that they find reputable. Check with them if you have any doubt. The other reason to go with an approved publisher is the need for wide distribution of your work. Small publishers are not normally linked to broad networks and distributing companies that market and distribute your work.

In choosing a fiction or mystery publisher, look at your favorite mystery books. Who published them? Is your book going to have the same tone or sub-genre as they have. Then they might be a good bet for a author/publisher match.

If you intend to make writing your career, understand the homework you have to do. It is a profession and a business. Place your posterior in the chair according to a schedule that suits you best, and when you are not writing or editing, take care of business.

Best in your writing careers,

Kathy Harig

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mystery Loves Company

My name is Kathy Harig and I have been invited to blog on this site about mystery writing. First to introduce myself. I retired after 28 years in 2001 as a branch librarian/manager of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Roland Park in Baltimore. In 1991 I co-founded Mystery Loves Company Booksellers. We now have two stores, but our Baltimore store will be closing on Dec 31 2008, and we will consolidate to our Eastern Shore store in Oxford MD. You can read about the store at www.mysterylovescompany.com and our blog www.mysterysalon.com

Mysteries to me are a passion and for 18 years I have tried to promote local authors whenever I can. I take the "Buy Local" concept very seriously, indeed. Maryland and the Delmarva region have a long history of wonderfully talented writers, especially mystery writers. I work with three such groups of writers, The Eastern Shore Writers Association www.easternshorewriters.org/home.htm Sisters in Crime -Chesapeake Chapter www.chessiechapter.org/ and Mystery Writers of America - Mid-Atlantic Chapter www.mwa-ma.org/ I mention them only to tell you that there is a huge network of folks writing in the area. I urge you to contact them and attend their meetings, if possible, since they are the best source of information about mysteries and writing.
As far as advice for writers in the field of mysteries, I would advise to read widely in the sub-genre you are interested in writing such as cozy, noir, thriller, espionage or literary. This way you won't duplicate plots that have already been overused. What's your favorite mystery? What elements about it made you choose it? Develop your special "voice," one that is unique to you and engaging to the reader; a voice the reader will care about and relate to. Develop a way to organize your thoughts, usually in a outline or diagram, or by composing a summary of the book with a breakdown by events and chapters. This you will use to show an agent. Know the "conventions" of a mystery novel. If they are not obeyed, it is not a mystery, it is a novel. We have non-fiction books at the store that talk about these conventions. These conventions include being true to the reader and not introducing a villain at the last moment who hasn't participated in the action of the book. Have the detective be an agent of detection and justice. As P. D. James has said, the most difficult thing for a mystery writer is letting the detective explore the inner workings and motives of the criminal mind without giving away the murderer until the end. All this doesn't mean you don't have to be like anyone else when you write. Some of the famous mystery stories break some of the conventions.By being original and fresh you state your case. But since writing is such an individual and sometimes solitary occupation be aware there are others out there who can be of help. In part II of my blog I will mention the elements of getting your work successfully published, since writing it is just the beginning.
--Kathy Harig

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Judging Great Characters

Great character models are all around us ... even on the bench. Phil Williams, an investigative reporter for WTVF-TV in Nashville found that many local judges are simply too busy to come to work. One judge works a second job as a funeral home worker (he was working his second job the day Phil tracked him down). Meanwhile, a courtroom full of folks waited. Another judge (she admits to having issues with being late) came in late and had to leave early (despite a packed courtroom). Her reason, she had to pick her dog from the kennel. According to the report most judges in the area earn around $150,000.00 a year. Instead of sitting on the bench however, they are golfing, pulling up shrubs from around the house, stopping by for a beauty treatment or two. Or picking up the family dog. Are you thinking what I'm thinking....

Reminder - Get answers to your writing questions...

Professional freelancer Peggy Frezon is willing to share her experiences and answer any questions you might have about writing, marketing, and publishing. Her book credits inclue numerous Chicken Soup editions, Matters for Mothers, Miracles Everyday, A Christmas Wonderland, and others. Her magazine credits include: Guidepost, Positive Thinking, Sweet 16, Pockets, Teaching Tolerance and many more. An award winning writer Peggy can be found here:


Please email your questions to: patriciapunt@comcast.net

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Good Editor Is Hard To Find

Cynthia Crossen writes about authors, books, publishing and editors in her Wall Street Journal column Book Lover. Today's column talks about Australian author Steve Tolz's first novel "A Fraction of the Whole" (short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in September). The novel is long, 576 pages.
According to the cover quotes (paperback edition) the book is "devastatingly funny," even "laugh-out-loud-funny" and Mr. Toltz is compared to Mark Twain, John Irving, Martin Amis...even Charles Dickens. Ms. Crossen asks the question "What more could I want?" Her answer is quoted below:
__"A plot, compelling voices, believable characters and an editor with a machete for starters. There were a lot of funny moments and lines, and Mr. Toltz is obviously an exceptionally imaginative and witty guy, but where were his minders? Someone should have sat him down in an interrogation room and offered a plea bargain: Lose 100 pages or go to jail.
"Editors are the invisible heroes of the publishing industry, and as publishing companies cut corners, they cut editors. On the most basic level, that means more typos, grammatical errors and factual contradictions...
"But without strong editors, writers are like cars with accelerators but no brakes. While reading many of Mr. Toltz's long passages, I pictured him at his computer (or typewriter), entertaining himself with his own wit and wisdom. That's as it should be. Then an editor should tell him, "Steve, you're a great writer (always start with the praise), but let's do some judicious whittling and makes this fabulous book (more praise) even better."

I can't say enough about good editors. As a writer I value their feedback and direction. They are, after all, trying to help me write well and connect with the reader. As a reader I appreciate a good editor because they keep me turning the page. Those who read Ms. Crossen know that she has a "strict no-skimming rule." As a reader I don't have the same patience to wade through a novel I don't like, no matter how long or short. I'm not sure why she sticks with the author, I can't. There are simply too many other good books waiting to be read.
My work as an editor however, puts me in a very different place. I can't stop reading. I endlessly turn the pages looking at the story line, picturing the characters and listening for the author's voice. What does the author want me to know about this world that she has created? Why has the author chosen to present the characters in this manner, what changes, if any will I see in their character by the end of the story? Why has he chosen this plot, these characters and this particular setting? And what is this book, this manuscript, really about?
My job as a freelance editor is enjoyable, because I get to choose whom I will work with. I work with writers I think I can help. This is why my initial reading is free. I love being the first to read an author's work. It is an honor. And when I've finished those first five or seven pages and I'm wishing I had more I'll call the writer and say let's get together.
Talk to me I tell the writer, tell me where we're going, help me to see what you see. Who are these characters? Where have they been? And where are they going? And they do. The serious writer can answer these questions. They know what they want to say, they just need someone to listen to them and help them get it down. I think the nicest thing anyone could say about me would be, "She's a good editor."
To quote Ms. Crossen one final time, "It's hard work for both author and editor, but it's only fair to those of us who still invest in books."

Monday, November 3, 2008

"I quit my job and launched my freelance career..."

Joy Perrino Choquette is a full-time freelance writer whose work has appeared in E/The Environmental Magazine, Listen Magazine, and Liberty Magazine. She has upcoming articles in Vermont Magazine and Grit Magazine. She also writes regularly for a number of regional publications. Joy is particuarly interested in writing about environmental, social and animal welfare issues and hopes to someday publish a book on one of these topics. In the meantime, Joy is working on a fictional young adult novel.

Many people grow up knowing just what it is they want to be when they get older: Be a doctor. Fly commercial airplanes. Work as an executive accountant. Be a stage actress.
I never knew what I wanted to do. When I was very young I wanted to be a wife and mother, or maybe a baker. When I got older I decided I wanted to be either a veterinarian or a photo/journalist for National Geographic magazine. I struggled enough in my freshman college year of biology to realize that a veterinary degree was going to be awfully hard to come by. I had also taken a year to work at a vet’s office after high school and realized that I would have to deal with people a lot more than their pets in a veterinary practice.
So, I ended up getting my degree in psychology. My intent was to continue my education and become a marriage counselor. Instead, I finished my bachelor’s while working full-time in human services. I stayed in that field for seven years. Seven loooooong years. I changed jobs so many times within the field that it was getting to be a joke among family and friends. People would ask me "So, where are you working now?" as soon as they saw me. I think I had something like 10 jobs within those seven years. I hated working in an office. I quickly burned out listening to so many horrible, sad, stories. I felt like I was constantly applying band-aids to gaping, gushing, wounds. There were the elderly people who were so lonely they never wanted me to leave. The mothers who were drug addicts and had lost their children to the foster care system. The men who were out of work and depressed. It was a very hard career and it was not a good fit for me. But each time I changed jobs, I thought "This will be it! This job will be the one. I will work here and tough it out no matter what." Six months later, I would be zipping around the employment websites, looking for a way out.
Finally, after losing my last job, I took a temporary position as a receptionist in a small, family owned company. I knew before accepting the temporary-to-permanent position that it was not going to be permanent for me. But I needed a place to rest, to gather my strength, and to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I was interested in graphic design and researched that for several months. However, there were parts of the work that seemed tedious to me, and other parts that seemed frightening (like finding and retaining all those clients on my own). There was also the investment in graphic design software and a new computer which would not be inexpensive.
I kept researching and kept my eyes and ears open. "Write." That’s what I kept hearing but I pushed it away. To be honest, I had heard that idea before but never pursued it. My oldest sister is "the writer" in our family. And in a family with four girls, you learn early to stay out of other sister’s territory. Still, the idea kept popping up. "Write." Write what? How could I write for a career? I didn’t have any experience or background. I had no idea what I was doing. But still the voice kept chiming in, "Just write." Finally, I said a prayer (okay, it was about 345 anguished prayers) and starting writing. First, I just wrote down my thoughts, like I had for all the years growing up when I kept a journal. Then, sort of by accident, I found a part-time job writing human interest stories for a local paper. Later, I found more writing work through a monthly business journal, then a local art publication and a national magazine.
Six month later, after socking away extra money and writing before and after my work day at the office, I quit my job and launched my freelance career. It’s been 11 months now, and even on the very worst days, I have not regretted my decision. Each time I feel tempted to give up and throw in the towel, ("I’ll never make enough money doing this!") something happens to keep me going. Sometimes it’s a check I forgot was coming, or a kind word from an editor. Other times it’s my writing friends telling me not to give up.
And finally, finally, I can say without a doubt, that I have found the career that I was called to. The work that I am meant to be doing. It’s taken me a lot of years, but it’s been worth the wait.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

If you have a novel idea you're invited to join NaNoWriMo for a breath taking month of writing. Think first draft ... quantity vs. quality ... a chance to write the novel you have been putting off. Forget editing as you go, instead the goal is to create a 175 page (50,000 words) first draft. Its free, the website is great, and there is round the clock support online.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Don't Always Get To Write What I Want, But...

Kate Wicker is a wife, at-home mom and writer. When she's not working on several "almost finished novels and short stories, she dabbles in the personal essay market, Christian parenting and health writing. Some of her credits include Atlanta Parent, Faith & Family, Inside Catholic, Pregnancy magazine, and Woman's Day.

When I graduated with a journalism degree in 2000, I thought literary writing was the only thing worth doing. I wanted my writing to enlighten, to touch people deeply and maybe even to change the world one word at a time. I was also in my early twenties, so of course I knew absolutely everything. Now several years later I know otherwise. Today I'm a successful freelancer, but how I became one was not as idyllic as I had supposed. Everything I write isn't artsy, nor am I up for a Pulitzer Prize, but my words are being published and I'm getting paid to do what I love (yippee!), and all you other dreamy idealists can too, but you may have to readjust the way you look at your writing.

Here are some lessons that have helped a pensive scribe like myself along the way:
Be sneaky if you want to enlighten. In most writing markets, you can choose to edify your readers in which case a lot of them will stop reading, or you can choose to talk to them on their own level, snag their interest and marble in a surprise here and there to intrigue them and make a handful of them think further. It's sort of "stealth edification." I learned this lesson the hard way. I landed my first job as a writer in the marketing department of an academic medical center. I hated writing generic health articles like "how to lower your cholesterol," so I desperately tried to write more substantive and creative pieces...that is until my boss told me I needed to stick to the basic facts and write at a middle school level. At first I was appalled, but then I realized she was right. The audience I was writing for wanted to sink their teeth into quick, healthy bites of information. They weren't looking to leisurely sit down and read Faulkerian sentences or Proust prose.

Learn to let go. I used to hate to cut anything from my writing. I was so attached to my words that slashing them was like severing a limb. However, I learned that it was easier for me to edit my work than for it to either not sell or for an editor to change it so much that it didn't even seem like it was mine any longer. It may hurt a little at first, but take a deep breath and let go of any words and sentences that aren't absolutely necessary, especially if you have a strict word count to meet (750 words means 750 words). If you're fond of a particular image ("the trees reached up to the sky like gnarled hands"), then jot it down in a notebook and save it for another piece. Sometimes a sentence or idea may not work for a particular publication (or audience), but it may be perfect for something else.

Never lose sight of why you're writing. Do you have a good idea? Is there a point of view you want to promote? Do you want to convince someone to think as you do? Do you want to comfort someone, inspire them, reassure them, horrify them, urge them into action or maybe make them laugh? Whatever it is that you (and the editors - you can never lose sight of their needs) want to accomplish, use the language that will get the job done. That's all that matters. Anything else is like contemplating your navel.

Finally, don't take yourself too seriously. Sometimes I get in these ridiculously contemplative moods. I might fill a page with a wordy description of one, stinkin' leaf or I might ponder Communism, vegetarianism, antidisestablishmentarianism or some other 'ism. When I'm writing about it, it all seems to make sense. Yet, sometimes I have to take a step back and say, "Whoa, wait a minute. What is this? Will others really enjoy reading this?" If the answer is no, then it's time to move on. If the answer is yes or even maybe, then I can try to sell it. If it sells, hooray! Bring out the champagne. If it doesn't, que sera, sera. There's always another market, another editor looking for the right query, another day, another leaf and another 'ism.
At the end of the day, if I'm not enjoying what I do and am sweating over every single word or rejection, then it's not worth it. There are too many writers out there who end up sequestered in a little cave with a row of empty gin-and-tonics with an "almost finished" novel and queries that never made it to the outbox. Even if I can't always write exactly what or how I want, I don't intend to join that society anytime soon. Neither should you.

She blogs at http://www.katewicker.com/.--

This article was orginally published at WritersWeekly.com. Thanks Kate!

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Story of Your Life (Getting Started)

_Although the terms biography, autobiography and memoir are sometimes used interchangeably they are quite different. Best-selling author Gore Vidal, said, "a memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked." It is more about what can be gleaned from a section of one's life than about the outcome of the life as a whole. (source: Wikipedia, memoir, online).

_What is the difference between a biography, autobiography, and a memoir?

  • Biography - the historical account of a person's life and is written by someone else. Requires research and fact checking. Most often biographies are told chronologically.

  • Autobiography - the historical account of a person's life and is written by that person. Many autobiographies are told chronologically and they tell the complete story of one's life.

  • Memoir - Reminiscences. Thematic (i.e. my life as a chef ... teacher ...cancer survivor... police officer). A book describing the personal experiences of the author. The memoirist does not usually tell their entire story. Genre.

_Memoirs continue to be very popular with the reading public. Every month eight to ten new titles are published by traditional publishers. At this time the number of titles that are self-published are unavailable.

_In my opinion, the best memoirs are those that share with the reader the lessons that the author has learned by going through the experience. As a reader I want to know how their life has changed because of these events. Does the author have something new, something insightful to share with me? Here are some tips on how to get started writing the story of your life:

  1. Ask yourself, "Which events in my life am I going to write about?" - start by making a list (10-15) significant turning points in your life.

  2. What do you want these events to say about your life? - What have you learned from these events? How have these events changed how you live or view the world now. What do you know that the reader might not know?

  3. Will you connect your story to history? - What was going on in the world during this time. This can be a real way in which to connect with the reader.

  4. How much should you tell? - This is an important decision, don't make it lightly. This is solely your decision. Not sure? Consult with someone you trust. Remember your first responsibility is to yourself.

  5. Who is the book for? - First and foremost the book is for you. If you choose to have others read your work then you will need to define your audience.

A Memoir of Loss and Survival (Book Review-memoir)

Blue Genes, written by Christopher (Kit) Lukas "explores the complex and shattering effects of a family legacy of depression and suicide on the author and his brother, the award-winning journalist J. Anthony Lukas.

_"Kit's mother committed suicide when he was a boy. He and his brother, Tony, were not told how she died. The family's history of depression, bipolar disorder, and suicide stretched back years, but on one spoke of it. The legacy of guilt and grief haunted Kit and Tony throughout their lives.

_"Both brothers achieved remarkable success, Tony, as a gifted journalist, Kit as an accomplished television producer and director. While Kit was able to confront his family's troubled past, Tony was ultimately unable and in 1997, shortly before the publication of his acclaimed book Big Trouble, Tony committed suicide.
_Blue Genes (great title by the way) is "Written with heartrending candor, it captures the devastation of this family legacy of depression, but it is also surprisingly uplifting, as it details the strength and hope that can provide a way of escaping depression's grasp." (taken from the back cover (ARC).

The reason to read - Putting your story on paper just might help you deal with a difficult past. Writing just might help you make sense of your life. If you have a story to tell, give yourself permission to sit down and write it.

_Kit Lukas closes his memoir with these words: "In looking at the years since Tony's suicide, I can see that the whys? collide: why Tony succumbed to despair and died, and why I have not. They collide, and then, like waving lines on an oscilloscope, part again. My mother, my father, my uncle, my aunts, my grandmothers are all dead. But I am alive."

Buffalo Gal (Book Review-memoir)

"Growing up in the snowblower society of Buffalo, New York, Laura Pedersen's first words were most likely 'turn the wheel into a skid.' " Her "vibrant memoir shares the humorous ups and downs of the Pedersens, who, like many families subsisting in the frigid North during the seventies, feared rising prices at the gas pump, argued about the thermostat, and fought over the dog to stay warm at night. While her parents were preoccupied with surviving separation and stagflation, Laura became the neighborhood wild child, skipping school to play poker, bet on horses, and trade stocks. ... Combining laugh-out-loud humor with a genuine slice of social history, Buffalo Ga paints a vivid portrait of an era." (taken from the back cover (ARC))

The reason to read - Told in 34 (stand-alone) chapters, with titles like, "God's Frozen People," and "Sleet Happens": The Blizzard of '77" the author entertains her readers. Story, time and place are important elements in this memoir and Laura Pedersen handles all three superbly. Reading her words should be mandatory for anyone wanting to tell their own story in a similar bright and humorous way.

_"Laura Pedersen exudes an irrepressible, irreverent spirit ... in a book that lives and breathes in its snappy, unaffected dialogue." The Baltimore Sun.

_Laura Pedersen was the youngest columnist for the New York Times and, prior to that, the youngest person to have a seat on the American Stock Exchange. She the author of eight books, including Beginner's Luck. Honored as one of Ten Outstanding Young American by President Clinton. She has appeared on CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, Primetime Live, The Today Show, and Late Night with David Letterman. She currently lives in New York City and teaches at the Booker T. Washington Learning Center in East Harlem.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hot Picks

Here's a look at what readers are reading during these challenging times...

Books explaining financial issues are becoming more popular during the current economic crisis--along with thrillers and cookbooks, Reuters reported.

Kathryn Popoff, Borders v-p for adult trade books, told Reuters: "People are really thirsting for knowledge and trying to understand what's happening out there and how we could have gotten to this point in the economy."Book buyers are also nabbing thrillers for escapes and cookbooks because more people are eating at home to save money, Reuters said.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bouchercon 2008 in Review

I've known Mary Beth for awhile now and she is definitely one of my favorite people. Over the years I've had the opportunity to read and enjoy her novels. Hopefully, one day soon you'll have a chance to read this talented author's work yourself. Until then, look for another short story (or two) in the upcoming anthology being published by the Harford County Writers Group. For those of you who don't know her, let me introduce her...

Mary Beth Creighton, the Director of Outpatient Rehabilitation for Upper Health Center has written a number of novels. "The Elimination of Annie" won 2nd place in the 2005 Maryland Writers Association contest. Her short stories have appeared in "Voices From the Susquehanna (2005). Although her first love is fiction her article on the benefits of hospital massage therapy was published by "Massage Magazine."

Mary Beth recently attended Bouchercon 2008. She's home now and working on a brand new murder mystery. I can't wait to read it.

Writing Conferences
Have you ever wondered if it is worth it to attend a writing conference? Some are more directed at aspiring writers while others are more directed at fans, but all are an opportunity to meet authors, network, and get inspired!
Recently, I attended Bouchercon 2008 "Charmed to Death" which was held October 9th -12th in Baltimore City. Headlined by Laura Lippman, dozens of mystery writers were present for panel discussions from plotting to character development to how to research the best way to murder your victim. Many authors have stand alone and/or series novels. From amateur sleuths to hard boiled detectives, it was informative to hear how the authors conceived of their main characters, their settings, and of course, their intriguing plots. I found it interesting that many of the authors had former careers and/or ties in military, law, or intelligence organizations.
The conference attendees were made up of both fan and aspiring writers. Questions and answer sessions at the end of each panel were encouraged and informative. This particular conference did not afford the opportunity to meet with an agent or editor like the Maryland Writer’s Association annual conference does. There was however plenty of opportunities for book signings. I met Craig Johnson and bought the first book in his mystery series, The Cold Dish. I’m hooked and highly recommend it. I’m putting his other books on my Christmas List.
Hearing how the authors think was also very satisfying, because it validated to me that I am a writer. I was inspired to write after the conference. In fact, I have been reworking a story since then and have written fifteen pages!

Mary Beth Creighton

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Your Chance to Interview a Professional...

Do you have questions about writing? Need advice oncrafting writing magazine articles that sell? Ever wanted to be published in any of the Chicken Soup books? Wondered about entering a writing contest or two? Need help getting started....

Peggy is a talented, award-winning writer from New York. She writes fiction and nonfiction stories and articles for many popular magazines. Her work has appeared in numerous editions of Chicken Soup. She also interviews others and ghostwrites their stories. Peggy has agreed to answer any questions you might have about writing, marketing, and publishing.

Take advantage of getting feedback from a professional writer.

Please send your questions to patriciapunt@comcast.net .

I'll forward them to Peggy in early November.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Moby-Dick, an official novel

The Associated Press has reported that the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a bill last week "naming Moby-Dick the state's official book." Fellow lawmakers questioned Rep. Christopher Speranzo's proposal to make Herman Melville's (1851) classic "the official book," given the state's rich literary history. Representative Cory Atkins, (Concord) was "appalled" by the choice," indicating that her district has more authors per square mile than any other. "What about Louisa May Alcott? What about (Nathaniel) Hawthorne? How am I going to face my constituents?" she asked.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Simple Plan

Ideas. Where do they come from? Its a familiar question, one that authors are often asked during a book signing or when being interviewed. All writers know that ideas come in all shapes and sizes and are everywhere, in the people we meet, in the things we hear on TV and read in the newspaper, and in our past experiences or those of others.

The truth is ideas are all around us. All of us are bombarded with ideas each and every day. Successful writers however, have trained themselves to recognize these nuggets and know what to do with them. Published authors are willing to spend the hours it takes to put these ideas, these nuggets to work. They begin by asking "what if"....

The idea: what if three men find $4 million dollars in unmarked bills and decide to keep it. What if these same men agree to a plan that will let them safely keep the money?

A Simple Plan is a film about three men, Hank, (played by Bill Paxton), his simple-minded brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton), and their friend Lou (Brent Briscoe), who find a bag full of money in a downed plane and decide to keep it. The plan is that Hank will hide the money in his house until winter ends, and then the three of them will divvy up the cash and move away. They promise to tell no one.

Plotting the story: What if things go wrong, horribly wrong. What if the sheriff shows up. What if the secret is shared. What if someone else wants the money. What if someone dies?

A writer can learn a lot about motivation and character development by watching this film. A questionable decision is the basis for this film and layer by layer the story is revealed.

What if you sit down and spend some time asking your character what if? It really is a very simple plan to use when writing your next novel.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

How Not To Market Your Book

It seems there is a new trend in marketing books. Several agents have reported that writers are including bids for sympathy along with their synopsis.

"I want to donate part of the proceeds from this book to charity." (translation: See how charitable I am. Can the publishing house donate the money from their proceeds?) If the author truly were intending to donate their advance and royalties wouldn’t they simply do so after the book sells and the money starts rolling in?

Or. "I started writing this novel before my mother (dad, brother, aunt, neighbor) died and she/he loved it. Will you buy it? I will be dedicating my book to him/her." (translation: Obviously my deceased relative knows more about publishing and audiences than either of us. So we owe it to them and their memory. I’m just saying.) Even if this is a true statement, publishing, is business. And as writers we should conduct ourselves as professionals.

And. "For years, I’ve been told I’m could be the next Clancy, Roberts, Rowlings and that I should write a book. I have. Here it is. I will be retiring at the end of next month. The money will come in handy." (translation: the money will come in handy, now.) Authors became mega sellers because they have fresh ideas, a unique style, great story lines, and a following. "Writing like" Clancy, Roberts, Rowlings indicates your are a "poor imitation."

Unfortunately, unless you are a mega seller, you’ll have a bit more writing to do once that novel is finished. First books are sold with a proposal package which includes a synopsis, outline, chapter samples and a cover letter.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Solid Truth

Steve Berry, the author of The Charlemagne Pursuit, the fourth novel to feature Cotton Malone, an ex-Justice Department agent. (during an interview with Allen Appel)

Allen: You’ve said it took seven years and 85 rejections before your first book found a home. What advice do you have to other authors who find themselves in a similar position?

Steve: It’s a tired old cliché, but it’s also a solid truth—never, ever give up. Somebody’s name is going to be on the cover of a book—it might as well be yours .

Publishers Weekly, 10/6/2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

from Forbes

Forbes Magazine

Write big books, earn big bucks. Forbes magazine featured its annual "The World's Best Paid Authors" list of 10 bestselling writers who "pulled in a combined $563 million between June 1, 2007, and June 1, 2008, thanks to hefty advances, impressive sales and silver screen adaptations."

This years Forbes list includes:

  1. J.K. Rowlings ($300 million)
  2. James Patterson ($50 million)
  3. Stephen King ($45 million)
  4. Tom Clancy ($35 million)
  5. Danielle Steel ($30 million)
  6. John Grisham (tied $25 million)
  7. Dean Koontz (tied $25 million)
  8. Ken Follet ($20 million)
  9. Janet Evanovich ($17 million)
  10. Nicholas Sparks ($16 million)

in Media res

Openings are important, they invite the reader into the story and keep them reading. Janet, a successful literary agent explains. "I ask the question: does this work pull me into a fictional dream? If it does, then I’ll keep reading, wanting more, if not I put the book down. If it doesn’t work on the first page, why would it work on the second page and so on?"

As writers it is our job is to hook the reader immediately. Yet for many authors the opening can be one of the hardest parts of the book to write. There is a lot of advice out there … "begin with a character" … "don’t open with a dream sequence" … "set the scene" … "don’t mention the weather" … "tell a joke’ … "don’t tell a joke" … "set the tone" … "set the mood" ….

"A good opening," according to writing consultant Scott Edelstein, "should fit naturally with the rest of the piece. It should give your reader a sense (either overt or subliminal) of what is to come in the way of tone, mood, and events. It should not mislead your reader, intentionally or unintentionally."

Today, most genre editors (and many agents) demand that their writers jump into the story with both feet …or in medias res (Latin for "into the middle of things"). Murder mysteries that open with the main character tripping over a dead body open in medias res. Martin Scorsese’s movie Goodfellas starts in the middle of the story (in medias res), while Francis Ford Coppola‘s Godfather does not.

The advice I most often give in my novel writing class is "begin as close to the end as possible." Consider a movie about a kidnapping. Randsom, the 1996 movie starring Mel Gibson as Tom Mullen and Rene Russo as his wife Kate opens with the Mullen’s attending a science fair in Central Park with their young son Sean. Within minutes the family becomes separated and Sean is kidnapped. A parents’ worst nightmare becomes reality. The viewer is hooked.

Later, during the police investigation the audience learns the background story. Bit by bit past events emerge to disclose possible motives and potential suspects. The plot line is designed to keep the story moving forward, the tension building toward the climax and finally the end.

The good news is that the opening doesn’t have to written first. Finish the first draft then during rewrites ask yourself does this opening grab the reader? Does it generate excitement? Does it make sense? Will the opening make the sale?

Write Your Life Story

A number of years ago, I was asked by the then Director of Community Services at HCC Kay Ramage, to create a "memoir class" for their Spring Senior’s Week (senior citizens that is). And so the first Write Your Life Story class was assembled. Those early morning classes were full of eager storytellers. Bittersweet tales about first romances and current loves were shared. Growing up in a steel town was described. We heard descriptions of going to war and coming home. Stories about sisters and brothers, children, grandchildren and beloved parents were remembered. Descriptions of living in distant a distant city or a foreign country. Or growing up on a farm. Accounts of happiness and hardships. Prosperity and poverty. Wonderful memories and not so wonderful times. As stories were exchanged I could see heads nodding in agreement. Stories may differ but feelings are universal. I’ve never forgotten the students or their stories.

Everyone has a story. The next memoir class begins Friday, October 24th (10/24-12/12) at 9:00 a.m. - noon. Fallston Hall, Room 103. Write Your Life Story Course number 45606. Hope to see you there!

The Longest Trip Home, A Memoir

The fans of Marley & Me will be glad to know that John Grogan’s new memoir THE LONGEST TRIP HOME will be released at the end of this month.

This is an engaging, often hilarious, and always tender memoir of growing up in a strict Catholic household where one’s faith in the Magisterium was a given; after all who could possibly question the Chruch? A comfortable life for the four children, a mother "physically incapable of receiving Holy Communion without bursting into tears, a "can-do" father and a home, three doors from Our Lady of Refuge, in Harbor Hills Michigan where a single bushy marijuana plant thrived in the backyard vegetable garden. Author John Grogan begins his story with an unexpected phone call from his eighty-six year old father. His father’s news is coupled with a request, a request that his son isn’t sure he can grant. Underneath however, this is a book about coming to terms with conflicting choices, and what to do when a family begins to drift apart. This is a story that will resonate with its many readers. In the end, however, THE LONGEST TRIP HOME is a journey towards reconciliation. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry, but mostly it will make you want to reach out to those "you love the most…." Like any successful memoir this beautifully told book will be an inspiration for those who have their own story to tell. Most readers will see something of themselves in the pages of John Grogan’s newest offering. I know I did.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dialogue, To Give or Get Information

The idea behind "Dialogue" is my desire to stay in touch with former students, clients, and other writers. Being part of a writing community has always been important to me. I've encouraged class members to join or create a writers group for support. Some have stayed in touch, some haven't. Perhaps this blog will become part of the journey for all of us. "Dialogue," a place to offer support, suggestions, share news, and ask questions. A place to talk about new books, and old ones. "Dialogue," a place to give and get information. Think fiction "dialogue is vital to the story, it delivers information and reveals character." "Dialogue" gives life to the work.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Do Titles Really Matter?

Do titles really matter? Yes! Publishers know that a great title can increase book sales. And magazine editors are always on the lookout for an attention grabbing title that can be displayed on the cover to attract readers. Writers need good titles (editors notice those manuscripts first) and readers love them (writers need readers!). Today most of my writing is assigned and once the editor and I have worked out the necessary details (topic, slant, word count, deadline) it's time for me to get started. For me getting started means finding the right working title. I can't begin writing until I have it. Call me quirky, or eccentric but I simply can't begin until I have a title that speaks to me, and one I hope will connect with my readers. And shorter is better these days ... so size does matter.

Finding titles:
  1. Cliche's are a great source (Heart of Gold)
  2. The Bible (think Exodus)
  3. Shakespeare's Work (All Our Yesterday's - my pick for a romance novel)
  4. Timely (Living Green)
  5. Theme (Forgiving Tip ... my children's story title, forgiveness, and a dog named Tip)

I love a good title!

Editors, A Writers Best Buddy

I've been lucky in my life ... with editors that is. As an inexperienced writer I needed help, professional help. Editors have cleaned up my clumsily written prose, checked my tendency to misplace adjectives, and caught my slipping povs (point of view). The editor's job is to prevent poorly written sentences from ever offending a reader, polish paragraphs, pick up spelling errors, and prevent grammatical embarrassments.

I love editors, their job is to catch my mistakes, offer suggestions, and make me look better. Remember an editor knows their readership. A good editor is a writer's best friend.

(Disclaimer: If you find any of the above mentioned mistakes, please remember I'm working without my best writing buddy.)


My first writing job was putting together a weekly Happenings Column in the late 1970s for The Community Times, a mid-size county newspaper. Happenings, for the uninformed are neighborhood events such as, car washes, PTA meetings, bake sales, first birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, and out-of-town guest. The pay was meager, definitely sub-minimum wage, but the benefits for an inexperienced beginner were tremendous. I quickly learned how to gather the necessary news to fill my column, I also learned to write tight, and meet a deadline (I stuffed my typed copy into the mailbox of a fellow reporter every Sunday evening - we never met) and act like a professional. I worked every day and once a week I was rewarded with seeing my words, my picture, and my work in print. Until that Thursday afternoon when I eagerly snatched the folded paper from my front yard and read: "Last Edition." The paper folded, I was out of work (no one told me), but it was too late, I was hooked.