September 25, 2016

What is the Bane of Your Writing Existence?

The things that make them want to pull their hair out and wish for another career. Instead, they’ll say what fun it is to create worlds and people and stories. And, yes, that’s fun. But there are things that might be called the bane of a writer’s existence. Otherwise wouldn’t even more people be writing books?

So, what is the bane of your writing existence?

Here are some things that I’ve found more troublesome:Man Looking At Computer In Desperation

First and foremost the marketing that goes with writing and producing a book. Talk about bane of existence! It’s not only frustrating but it can be very expensive. A publicist could cost as much as $8000 a month! Imagine that for books that sell for $2.99 or less.

Second is hearing your friends say something like, “Did you notice on page 29 you left out ‘and’?” or “I wrote down all the typos I found for you.” Geez. Can anyone possibly think this kind of feedback is helpful? If you are a Beta reader and  asked to pick out errors, yes. But, after the book is out there either in print or as an ebook, please do not tell me about the errors you found.

Third is writing the full scene when the characters want to go off and do something else. This happens more frequently than readers might imagine. We are not finished with a scene, but the characters are done. Writers must pull the characters back and force them to finish that scene before we move to the next. For me, this seems stiff and it’s hard.

Those are three things I find troubling as a writer.

4 Common Mistakes in Punctuation

Part of writing is understanding punctuation. We all know what a period means, but do we understand the meaning of commas, semicolons, ellipses, dashes? As writers, we use punctuation to help us “express” what is on the written page. For that punctuation to work, we must all understand it.Confused Business Man

Most publishers use a traditional convention for punctuation. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style was the bible for most journalists. Academicians use the California Manual of Styles. Fiction publishers use their own conventions, most adhering to the California manual. Why do we need conventions? The main reason is so we’ll all be reading on the same page. In other words, if you see a comma, you read in a certain way. That sentence contained a comma before the word comma and after the adverbial clause beginning with “if.” You probably didn’t notice the comma because of tradition or convention. Without convention, we’d all be reading sentences in different ways. That would not bode well for writers.

Here are some typical punctuation mistakes:

Here’s and example:

I went to the ballgame, but Jane decided not to go. The comma is there because of the noun, Jane, and the verb, decided. Another example: I went to the ballgame but not before you left. No comma because no noun and verb combination.

A semicolon is used in the place of a full sentence not separating series. (There is an exception which we’ll look at later). Here’s an example. I went to the ballgame; Jane decided not to go. The semicolon replaces the conjunction (and or but). You can use a semicolon to separate a series when each part of the series is very long and commas might confuse the reader. Here’s an example: Whenever I have a job to do, I tend to walk the dog for an hour before the job is scheduled to begin; to call my mom before I go for the walk and before I do the job because she’ll call me while I’m out; and to remind my neighbor that I’m going out because he might worry about me.

Semicolons are rarely used in fiction.

Ellipses are those three little dots. My editor is always correcting me. Here’s my take on it. When there is more to say or the sentence runs off. For example, “I couldn’t tell him how much he hurt me because…” The reader understands that there’s more to say. Something is left out. The reader intuits what that something is, but…

There are two uses for dashes. The most common one in fiction writing is for an interruption in speech. Here’s an example: First speaker: “I can’t come to your wedding because–” Second speaker: “You’re mad me for stealing your fiancé.” Notice how the second speaker interrupted the first. The dashes tell us that. We don’t have to say, “Second speaker interrupted her.” The reader knows this by use of punctuation.

The second use for dashes is to set off a series, particularly when that series is long. But it could be to emphasize something. Example:He pulled everything out of his pockets–loose change, a theatre ticket, his cell, my photo– and threw them on the table.

These are just a few of the mistakes in punctuation that many writers make. What mistakes do you make the most? What punctuation issues drive you the nuttiest?

 

 

Calling all Readers!! How Do You Find Your Next Book to Read?

As a writer I’m curious. As a reader I wonder if you can give me some ideas. I have found some ways to select books, but I’m sure you can share others. Please visit here and let me know.

Here are some ways I select books:

  • I ask my reading friends what they’re reading. Well, I don’t always ask. They often tell me. Often my reading friends have some great ideas of books to share.
  • Author interviews on public radio give me some direction. I hear the authors talk about their books. That can be intriguing. Two programs I particularly like is the New York Times Book Review podcast and Fresh Air podcast. Both offer in-depth looks at the Vector businessman series - blank setnewest books.
  • Goodreads. Sometimes My Goodreads friends suggest a book to me. They pay attention to the kinds of books I read, and they make a recommendation. I don’t simply go with their recommendation, I study the book and its author first.
  • Amazon suggestions. Amazon likes to try and figure out what I like to read. They send me all sorts of suggestions. Unfortunately, I often purchase books for other readers–like my husband–whose tastes are very different. This messes up Amazon’s logarithm. Nonetheless they sometimes have a good suggestion that fits my reading tastes.
  • My book club. I belong to a very relaxed book club. We don’t require everyone to read the suggested books. But, if a book intrigues me, I do read it, and it’s often something I would never have heard of otherwise.
  • Book reviews. Before I hit the purchase button on Amazon or B&N, I look over the reviews. I study the good and bad ones. The best leads are often in the 3 and 4 star reviews. The 5 star reviews love everything about the book. They are blinded by their adoration. The 1-2 star reviews are blinded by their dislike of the book. But, the 3-4 star reviews can give you a good idea about the book and whether it might suit you.
  • Get a sample of the book before you actually hit the purchase button . If I know nothing about the book or the writer (even if my book club recommends the book), I get a sample. If I hate the book in the first few chapters, I know not to order it.

These are some ways I find books. How about you?

If you’re looking for a good new mystery series, try the Jenna Scali mysteries. Here’s the book trailer for Book One.

Do You Read in Your Comfort Zone?

Do you read mostly for pleasure, escape, learning or a combination of all three? At one of my recent book clubs a colleague said, she makes herself read one book out of her comfort zone during the summer. What does she mean out of her comfort zone?Leaving Comfort Zone words on a barrier or sign to encourage you

That made me wonder what out of my comfort zone meant. Book clubs often suggest books I would not ordinarily select on my own. Are these books out of my comfort zone? What books are in my comfort zone and what books are not?

Take a look at these questions.

  1. Do you read the in same genre most of the time?
  2. Are the books listed on your Amazon suggestion list, relevant to your reading? In other words, have you been so consistent in your selections, that Amazon can figure out what you should read next?
  3. When you go to a book store, do you tend to drift to the same shelves. Those for mystery or fantasy or sci-fi or historical fiction?
  4. Are you an expert in a genre? Do you know most of the writers for that genre? Have you read all the series of books by the same author?
  5. If a friend loans you a book that is not your typical read, do you put it aside for that rainy day that never seems to come?
  6. Do you belong to book clubs that focus on one genre, be it fiction or non-fiction?

Answering yes to four of these six questions suggest you like to read in your comfort zone. We don’t know what that zone is, but that’s where you are.

So, why venture out? Why does my colleague challenge herself each summer?

It’s not just learning something new, it’s reading something she thought she wouldn’t enjoy.

Whether you read in your comfort zone or not, it’s important to keep reading. When we stretch, our minds grow. Think about ways your can grow your interests.

Share your thoughts and your answers to the questions above.

My Review– Longbourn by Jo Baker 4 Stars

It takes you back through the story of the Bennett sisters from behind the scenes. Instead of fretting over whether or not Mr. Darcy and Lizzy will become engaged, you’ll fret over the trials and tribulations of the maid servant, Sarah. When the girls go to a ball, the below-the-stairs staff are all in a flutter, getting just the perfect shoe roses and lace. It’s a different and fully engaging world.

Perhaps Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, was mentioned in Pride and Prejudice, but if she was, I don’t remember. Surely the maid servants were never called by name, and I don’t remember a butler or a footman. Baker clearly did a lot of research to learn how a typical household of Longbourn size would operate. How many staff it would take to keep it going. She never took us out of the time period. Never having had to experience laundry day in fiction or real-life, I was aching with Sarah as she scrubbed out stains. The chilblains and open soars on her hands bled with real intensity. Readers felt the drudgery of it all while the upstairs staff glittered.

The story of Pride and Prejudice happens without us being privy to it. As you read Longbourn, you’ll become less concerned about the goings-on upstairs. The downstairs characters take on a life that keeps you reading and worrying about them. Certain ettiquete keep the two worlds separate even when they have collided in the past. For me, I kept hoping the Lizzy I admired in Pride and Prejudice would

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notice Sarah’s distress. But she was completely lost in her world. The servants remained invisible until they were needed. Baker did a good job of keeping everyone in character and not stepping past those boundaries.

My only complaint with the book was the point-of-view changes. The author bounced from one one point-of-view to another and sometimes gave the impression of omnipresence. This troubled me, but I kept reading because the story and the character were so well written. Perhaps Baker chose this point-of-view to match that of Austen?

If you are a Jane Austen fan, you will love this book. I suggest reading Pride and Prejudice first to fully enjoy both worlds. But, Longbourn can be read separately. Definitely worth all four stars and is a must read!

 

Guest Post: The Problem with Writing Humor

He’s not only funny in his books, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten an email from him that didn’t make me laugh. The man knows humor. If you doubt me, just look at the titles of his books. His most recent release, Murder by Massage, says it all. That funny little read came out yesterday. You’ll find links to it and Stuart’s first book in this series throughout this post. For now, sit back and learn from the master._MG_0556 - Version 2-1

For the writer and the reader. Out of all the genres I’ve written, humor’s probably the hardest. Don’t get me wrong, I have a blast writing my Zach and Zora comic mystery series, and I’m always proud of the outcome. The problem is I tend to write aiming at my funny bone. Not everyone shares it. Many readers found the first book in the series, Bad Day in a Banana Hammock, “hilarious.” But one reviewer suffered through four pages and declared it “total trash,” the equivalent of having a tomato lobbed at me if I was on-stage doing a stand-up routine. Tough crowd, tough crowd. Of course everyone’s entitled to their opinion. The world would be very dull if that wasn’t the case. But clearly the reviewer didn’t understand the book was a comedy. You can’t please everyone. Especially regarding humor. Readers are very protective of their humor, I’ve found, and everyone has a different threshold and variety of likes.

For instance, I’ve never laughed at an Adam Sandler movie. Honestly, a crackly Jerry Lewis voice and vulgar humor doesn’t do it for me. And, psst! I don’t even like the Three Stooges. Blasphemy amongst my male peers who would probably want me to hand in my “Guy Card.” It takes a strange mixture of low-brow and high-brow to amuse me.

Going into the Zach and Zora books, I knew I might be the only one amused–my laughter the only barometer. Mark Twain said, “Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.” While I don’t have such lofty ambitions as to be the Pope of humor, if I can make someone smile while reading my books, goal accomplished!

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The road to the first book, Bad Day in a Banana Hammock, was a sloppy one, pocked with potholes of doubt and riddled with speed-bumps of hesitation. I didn’t trust myself that anyone might find it amusing other than myself. Then something happened…badda-boom! Everything seemed to come together.

True origin time! The book almost didn’t happen. A writer friend of mine were gabbing one day, grousing about the same-ol’, same-ol’ books we’ve read. I said, “What if I come up with the dumbest lead character in history? How about…a really vain, vapid, stupid male stripper? Yeah!” She laughed, said, “I dare you!” I can’t turn down a dare, especially since it was a double-dog dare. Badda-bing!

So I started writing Hammock. One chapter in, though, I cheated. It became obvious Zach wasn’t strong enough to completely lead a book. So I created his super-competent, super-irritable, extremely pregnant sister, Zora (an ex security specialist), to bail Zach out of trouble when he wakes up with no memory or clothes next to a naked dead man. Hilarity ensues. (I hope). Did I mention Zora’s other three kids who have to tag along for the first part of the investigation?

The second book in the series, Murder by Massage, just released yesterday. When I accepted that challenge a while back, I had no idea the bet would turn into a series. And I’m having a ball with these characters and hope it shines through on the pages. (But what do I know?) I’ll be here all weekend, folks!

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Murder by Massage once again finds Zach up to his g-string in trouble when he stumbles onto another murder. Zora to the rescue! There’re ex-radical hippies, the cult of “Furries,” a g-string chase through the streets, a dance-off, smart aleck kids, bewigged pastors, a dancing and singing detective, secrets, more murder and mystery and I hope laughs. Lotsa, lotsa laughs. And despite Zach’s rather unsavory choice of profession (“male entertainment dancer,” NOT “stripper” as he protests), the comic cozy books are not explicit. Rather chaste actually. Except for a g-string here and there.

You’ve been a great audience ladies and gentlemen!

 

So what suggestions do you have for writing humor? Don’t miss this great series from a very funny guy!

Thanks, Stuart for joining us today and sharing your wit with our readers.

How Do You Treat Yourself?

The utmost luxury is to have a few hours alone with my book, my cat, and maybe a cup of tea or coffee. Once I’ve accomplished all my work goals, all my home goals ,and all my other self-imposed goals, I give myself this treat. Unfortunately since I work on my own–don’t have a 9-5 job–that time gets more and more infrequent. When I worked for someone else, I had time during the weekends to luxuriate with my book. No more. Weekends mean more work than ever!

Caught!

Caught!

Nonetheless, I do strive for the time to read. That’s my treat to myself. What about you? Do you treat yourself? Some people find gardening a treat. It’s that time for them to relax and get their hands dirty. For them digging in the yard for a couple of hours is the ultimate treat. Other people say going to a movie or out to dinner is the best treat. Some people go shopping. We all have different ideas of what the treat to ourselves is. My guess is we just don’t take those treats often enough. We respond to the demands of our bosses, our spouses, our kids, our pets and ourselves.

Give yourself a treat. It will re-juveninte your battery. You’ll be more productive at whatever else you do.

Rainy Days and Sundays–Learning the Discipline of Writing

Sleeping At WorkOn beautiful crisp days when the sun is shining, it’s often hard to pull out the computer and plug away at that masterpiece. Our friends are going out biking or hiking up a magnificent mountain. Rainy days are a much better alternative. But, if you only write when it rains, it’s going to take you a long time to finish that book. Discipline is one of the hardest tasks of the writing world. Writers by nature aren’t disciplined. They love to play and live in the moment. If you go to a writer’s conference and look around, you’ll see a lot of relaxed people with long hair, some with tats, and most in casual clothing. They don’t look too disciplined.

So, what’s a writer to do?

It’s like any other job. If writing were fun and games, more people would do it. More books would be written. Yeah, there are lots of unfinished manuscripts, but I’m talking finished books.

Sometimes writing means getting words on paper and then doing the hard work of editing. Yes, the muse comes, but for me it comes while I’m working. I can tune out the beautiful, beckoning world around me and keep going. But, I’ve got to get started and I need goals to do that. What are your goals? How do you hold yourself accountable to those goals?

Many writers have full-time jobs. Obligations that pull them away from writing throughout the week. We know what those obligations are. We must work around them and find time between the obligations.

I block those out. Often on the weekends. Sundays are great writing days. Even for those church-going writers, Sunday afternoons provide a good block of time. Other writers like to write early in the morning before the world awakens. The trick is finding the time, dedicating yourself to that time and then write.

Set clear goals. Don’t simply say, I’m gonna write today. Make clear goals either by word count or by time at your computer or by pages.

Be accountable to those goals. By that I mean, find a writing partner. Someone who will hold you to your goals. When I was thirteen, my sister and I went on a diet together. We both lost weight. How? No fad diets. We simply held each other accountable. We guarded the cookie cabinet. You need someone like that to help you keep your goals.

It takes discipline to write a book.

What tips have worked for you to help you be a more disciplined writer?

What Hooks You?

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Is it the characters? The plot? Unanswered questions? What kinds of things hook you and keep you reading? For me the characters are what keep me turning the pages. Some of the books I read have little plot, not much action, but I get attached to the character. Even in mysteries, I love knowing more about the primary detective or his/her side-kick. Martha Grimes created such an amazing detective with Richard Jury and his side-kick, Melrose Plant. Even though the plots were pretty formulaic, I read every book because I loved characters and how they interacted with one another.

Take this short quiz and see if you can nail that illusive thing that keeps you nailed to your book:

  1. Do you read ahead to see what is going to happen next. Even if it means skimming pages?
  2. Do you worry about the characters and what events will cause them trouble?
  3. Are you more interested in the main character’s life than the mystery at hand?
  4. Do you skim through the action in order to discover if the character will survive?
  5. Do you tire of reading about the main character’s problems and more interested in how the action will play out?

If you answered yes to questions 1 and 5, you tend to be a plot driven reader who gets hooked by the action and the mystery at hand. If you answered yes to numbers 2, 3, and 4, you are more character driven and tend to read even if the action is stale. If you have a mixture of answers, you read for both character and action. You could be hooked by either one, depending on the story.

So, how did you do? What hooks you?

Writers Helping Writers

bigstockphoto_African_And_Caucasian_Fingers__4307946Before I published my first novel, I contacted two previously published authors. One told me he never read another writer’s work. The other refused to help me in any way. I found these responses both disheartening and sad. Why is it writers refuse to help newbies? How are newbies ever going to break through without a helping hand?

I understand some reasoning behind the refusal. The seasoned writer doesn’t want to be inundated with manuscripts to read. And, of course there’s the worry or fear that someone might be accused of stealing someone else’s idea. That was actually expressed by one of the writers. But, it’s my contention that writers can help other writers and serve as mentors.

  • Do not ask a writer to speak on your behalf to their publisher or agent. If the writer wants to do that, they will volunteer doing so.
  • Do not ask a seasoned writer to read your entire manuscript. You could ask them to read a chapter and give you some feedback or to read your synopsis
  • Ask general questions regarding the publishing business. How did you find your agent? Is an agent necessary? What does your agent do for you?
  • Ask general submission questions. What do I send to the publisher? What format is commonly used? Do I send a query or do I send more?
  • Do ask about contests and conferences and ways to get your work noticed on the worldwide web. What contests should I enter? Is it worth it to pay a fee to enter a contest? How many people do I need to have a platform? How do I create a platform?
  • What about writer groups and Beta readers. Which ones do I join? How do I find Beta readers? What is your process of early reading and editing?
  • Ask them to tell you about their journey. How did they break into the business?
  • Ask how you can support the seasoned writer. If you have a platform, you can shout out the writer’s new book. Or, you could offer to read and review the helpful writer’s work.

Of course, I did all this when I approached the two writers mentioned earlier. Nonetheless, they turned their backs on me. This will happen. Recognize that some writers are not inclined to help others. Move on. Find another more helpful person.

I read a number of posts where writers share their experiences. The best ones I’ve found (besides mine!) is The Kill Zone–I read this one regularly and tweet it often. Several writers contribute. The other is Live Write Thrive. This one is more technical. But, again, writers share their experiences.

Maybe as time passes, more writers will help other writers. When they do, everyone benefits, particularly the readers.

What suggestions do you have to help writers be more forthcoming with newbies?