Friday, June 29, 2012

Nora Ephron

This week Nora Ephron, one of the all-time greats, died of leukemia at the much-too-early age of 71. She was prolific and so funny. It's incredible how many people know her work, from SILKWOOD to WHEN HARRY MET SALLY to books like I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK.

Some months ago I was driving to the far away place my hairdresser moved to when she started her own shop (you know how it is—you can't break up with your hairdresser, it's far too traumatic) and for once I was grateful for the long drive because Nora Ephron was being interviewed on NPR and I wanted to listen to the whole interview. She talked about when she got started as a professional writer. With absolute honesty and humbleness she said how truly awful her first screenplays were (and these were successful, in the sense of bought and produced). How she had been incredibly lucky to have people take her by the hand and show her how to improve.

I especially remember two things she said in that interview:

  1. it takes about seven books (or scripts) to get good at writing them
  2. everybody talks about the importance of failure in learning, but if you don't have someone or something to help you figure out the problems and fix them, all you learn from failure is how to fail.
Wise woman.

Yesterday, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association put up cuts from an interview they did with Nora Ephron not long ago. Here it is for your viewing pleasure. (It's about six minutes.)

And PNWA happened to send out another video this past week that I wanted to share with you, too. Bill Kenower, who created the PNWA author interviews, always asks the authors to complete the same sentence at the end of the interview: "If writing has taught me anything, it's taught me . . . what?" Here is a very short compilation video of answers to that question from some published authors.

Nora was a great inspiration. The answers to Bill's question often are, too. I hope you enjoy both.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New Commentary on the DoJ Case Against Apple/Publishers; and, What To Do With a Bad Review

This week in the New Yorker, Ken Auletta writes an update and commentary on what's happening in the Department of Justice's lawsuit against Apple and five of the big six publishers for price collusion using the agency model. This is the most thoughtful commentary I've seen so far on this action, which essentially aims to hand Amazon the right to reclaim it's previous 90% of the e-book market, or more. There isn't a lot of buzz still happening in the writer community about this, but I believe there should be. The results of this lawsuit could affect each and every one of us dramatically, and not long from now, either. While even this article gives minimal coverage to the effects on authors , it does point out that, along with publishers and bookstores, authors may experience "profound repercussions" of this fight between Amazon and book publishers. John Sargent, CEO of MacMillan, is quoted as saying, "Books . . . are in danger of becoming roadkill. . ."

This is a longish article, but well worth the read for anyone trying to strategically place (or keep) themselves in the topsy-turvy world of published authors.

Now for a lighter moment. What do you do when you get a bad review? Commentator Adam Gopnik has the answers. A couple of his points:

You should probably not respond in the way you want to, because you're likely to inflame the situation, and not in a good way, by writing a response late, late at night:

"The late-night letter to the reviewer, or the place the review appeared, is by far the most impassioned literary genre that exists . . ."

Then, how should you respond? Mr. Gopnik passes on excellent advice from a friend:

"(wait) exactly four months - less would be too obvious, more too many - until (the) enemy, Mr or Ms X, writes something else, anything else. (T)hen write a warm letter, or email, of congratulation to him or her. Not anything too ornate or obsequious. Just: "Hey X, Really liked your piece on David Foster Wallace and the ambiguities of irony. Fine job on an important subject, Hope you're well, Y."

Bombard your bad reviewers with advice, admiration and counsel, encumber them with your affection, afflict them with your over-bounding warmth. Guilt and remorse will pour from them as surely as if they were ripe grapes that had been stomped on by a willing peasant.

Let the word go out from this day forth from author to reviewer - write that bad review, and I will… recommend you to my friends, crash cocktail parties given for someone else to make a toast in your honour, until at last you develop a haunted look in your eyes, fearing my embrace.

Write that bad review - and you shall have me for your life long friend. Ask yourself - is it worth it?"
Want more? For the full treatment, go here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Details in Your Writing

The worth of our writing shines through the details we include. The clearest, most visceral impressions of characters, feelings, action and settings are what make the difference between average writing and writing so good that readers want more—lots more.

Compare these two sentences:
  • Tiny beads of moisture slicked Julia's skin, and larger drops fell intermittently from the trees to the sodden carpet of leaves beneath her feet.
  • Julia stood under the still-dripping trees after the rain, getting wet. 

The first is taken from the prologue of LEAVE THE GRAVE GREEN by Deborah Crombie. The second makes the same factual statement, without the detail. Tiny beads of moisture slicking Julia's skin, the falling drops being larger and intermittent, the sodden carpet of leaves—what a difference these details make in painting the picture and making it visceral. I especially like the work the active verb, “slicked” does in combination with those “tiny beads of moisture.” I have an impression of how Julia might feel standing there, because I'm there with her. I want to read the next sentences to see if I'm right.

Descriptive detail, like that above, can slow the pace of the story, and you can purposely use it not only to enrich the world you're building on the page, but to create a moment of reflection or a chance to breathe between faster-paced scenes. Pace is an important consideration. Detail can help you control it. But don't leave it out, no matter what pace you want. Even in the fastest-paced genre novels, deftly-used, telling details are what make the difference between a good story and a great one.

A type of detail that doesn't slow the pace can be rendered with strong nouns and verbs (like 'slicked' above) that require little or no other description. This is the type to go for when you want to keep that pace moving:
  • Beads of moisture slicked Julia's skin. She spun and slashed at an unseen intruder in the pitch-black room, his heat and breath her guides.  (apologies to Deborah Crombie for stealing Julia and her damp skin)
  • We descend a steep alley, slip beneath an archway, skirt some shuttered restaurants. (Anthony Doerr, FOUR SEASONS IN ROME) This is much gentler than the first example, but still powerful and in motion.
How do you raise the level of your writing to this standard? Sentence by sentence, that's how. As a professor of mine was fond of saying when advising us on our writing: "Take that sentence and re-render it, using detail that comes from the character's emotion."  Believe me, I groaned out loud along with others in the class, but we did it, and it worked. As you see in the examples, the details don't have to be the 'she felt x' variety. In fact, you should steer away from that—it usually takes the reader out of the story and flattens the moment. Details are better if they are organic to the context—if they convey a mood or feeling being experienced by the character, without flatly stating it.

Do you have a favorite example of powerful detail? Do you naturally use deft details in your writing, or  like many writers, devote a full revision to improving detail and pace?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Meditate to Get In the Zone

When you write, do you get into 'the zone'—a mental state where time disappears and you are one with your craft? You look up at the clock after a while, bleary-eyed,  and discover it's been hours since you started writing. Carl Jung called this sort of thing accessing the active imagination. Maslow called it 'Being Cognition.' Whatever you call it, it's fabulous and desirable. It's where we can produce our best creative work.

You can boost your ability to get into the zone through meditation. A daily meditation practice (even if it's really four or five days a week) can do wonders. You essentially train your mind to go deep and stay there for a while. It takes about a half hour a day, and can give you the energy to be productive for many hours at a time.

I think just about any kind of true meditation would work. It's the process of inner focus and letting go that we want to foster so we can develop the abilities we're after. 

But if you're like me you have a hard time making your mind go completely quiet. For those of us with stubborn, restless minds, an active-mind method works well. One that I think is really well-suited to the creative process is called Creative Visualization.  In addition to training your mind to go into the zone, you can utilize it to actively explore specific issues you may be having with your characters, story line, setting, whatever.

You may have heard of Creative Visualization. It was popularized by Shakti Gawain in the '70s and '80s. She wrote a book on it, and it's still available (CREATIVE VISUALIZATION, by Shakti Gawain). I came across the book in a used book store years ago while I was traveling. I was fussing and feeling pressured by my job in New York, and wanted something to read on my flight home to take my mind off my worries. And there it was. A book about using meditation to visualize success to make it happen. I no longer wanted to take my mind off what was bothering me. I wanted to fix it. I read the whole book (it's not long) between wheels up and landing, and started meditating the next day. The method was excellent for helping me effectively communicate my ideas at work. Years later, when I became a writer, it was the most natural thing in the world to translate that experience to a more deeply personal one that I could use to develop my novels.

Here's the process:
  • carve out a half hour for meditation each morning. I actually dedicate an hour, the first half of which goes to having a cup of coffee and letting my mind wander to get rid of busy, unimportant thought fragments. You may not need to do that. Fifteen-to-thirty minutes is a good amount of time for the meditation itself. Save a little time to make notes after meditating, too (see below).
  • have a dedicated place that you go to to meditate each day. . . a favorite chair, a cushion on the floor in a favorite room, etc. You can sit cross-legged with the backs of your hands resting on your knees, tips of thumbs and index fingers touching yoga style; or simply sit straight in a chair with hands on knees, feet on ground, and, if needed, pillows behind your back to support your lumbar region. How you sit doesn't really matter that much, as long as you keep your spine as straight as possible while still being comfortable. Once you get used to meditating, you should be able to do it almost anywhere and anytime, but when you're starting, ease the way by creating an association between where and how you sit with relaxing into a meditative state.
  • use Gawain's method for moving your mind into the meditative state. This involves letting your eyes and mind close to the physical world around you and open to an internal world; deep breathing; and focus. (more on this below) Don't worry that you will be 'out of it' in case of emergency. I used to meditate daily, very early in the morning, when my son was tiny and I needed to keep one ear open to hear him if he needed me. I simply told myself that while I would be in a deep meditative state I would be able to react to any physical need in my environment. It works like a charm.
  • once you feel yourself move into the meditative state (and you will. . . it may take some practice, but you will get there. . . to me it feels a little like the pressure inside my head changing like it does when I'm on an airplane that changes altitude), bring all your focus to where you are (a place that you visualize and inhabit), how you feel, and what question you want to ask. In this form of meditation, asking questions is key. I always go in with an idea of what I want to know, and I make it specific to the writing project I'm working on. What happened off-stage that created such-and-such a situation? What happened in my character's backstory that got her from point A in her self-perception to point C? My questions are often about details in the story that I know are important but am not satisfied with. The amazing thing is, even if you think you've got the story figured out and the answers to your question are quite clear in your mind, you're likely to get a take on the answer that you would never have thought of. It's coming from way down under the obvious.
  • make notes on any specifics that came up for you in the meditation. You might be surprised by what the answers to your questions are, and what ends up being useful. Deep meditation is an awfully lot like dreaming—you might feel sure you'll remember what happened, but if you don't write it down it can evaporate in an instant and you never get it back.
I wish I could give you the details in this post of how to learn Creative Visualization, but really the best way is to read the book and follow Gawain's directions. Warning: Shakti Gawain is very directive in her methodology. If you don't like being told exactly what to do, you may feel some resistance. Also, Gawain's method falls into the 'woo woo' category, in that she directs you to connect to and commune with a 'guide.' (Not a problem for me. I can accept a guide as either a spiritual being who visits me or as a cognitive construct from my unconscious. It's possible they're the same thing. :) The mind is a powerful tool.) If you can accept these conditions, you can use this process to open yourself to your deep mind, where hidden knowledge lies. 

Best of luck to you. I hope you enjoy meditation as much as I do. I know that if you like it, you'll find ways to use it that will enrich your writing. As a bonus, you'll feel calmer and more energized at the same time, too.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Viewpoint Question: Are Blogs Necessary for Fiction Writers' Platforms?

Wednesdays are for News and Views here on Write of Passage. Today I'd love to get feedback from readers on an important and controversial topic to all of us writers/authors. Specifically, how important, really, are blogs for fiction writers to establish platforms that translate into readership?

I have serious doubts about this one. It seems strange to me that most agents seem to think that a blog and followers establishes a large base of readers who will buy the blogger's book when it comes out. If it's a non fiction book, or if the fiction writer has a particular area of expertise that is central to all her books and is the theme of her blog, as well (like the law, or medicine, or flying airplanes—hi, Karlene, or even something like knitting or cats), then I can understand the agents' request/demand. Otherwise, not so much.

Furthermore, I've heard, as all of you probably have, that blogging about writing is not what agents want you to do because other writers are not the platform audience you should be building. That begs the question: if, like so many writers, you don't have a particular expertise/theme like those mentioned above, then, from the agent's point of view, why should you blog?

  • What do you think? Is this different for traditionally published authors than for indie authors?
  • What has your blog-to-readership experience been, or what do you think it likely to be?
  • Why do you blog? (Personally, I blog because I love the content nature of blogs. I love writing about what's important to me and connecting to the people who read my blog and getting their ideas about books/writing.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pitch Perfect

It's conference season again, and for those of you going to meet, greet, and impress agents and editors so that they ask you to send them a partial, or better yet, the FULL manuscript, here are some tips on how to pitch that have been in the blogosphere lately:

Agent Rachel Gardner consistently offers excellent advice on all topics related to getting an agent and publisher. Here's a short paraphrase of what she recently said on her blog. 

  • Don't pitch the emotional theme of your story so much as the actual journey, which is the plot. The plot will illustrate the emotional progression of the characters. 
  • Include these things: 1) who the protagonist is, 2) the choice or goal of the protagonist, 3) what the consequences are of the choice, or what the obstacles are to the goal, and 4) what actions the protagonist takes to make the choice or try to reach the goal.

Go here to see Rachel's blog post for more detail.

Then I came across this enlightening information from Lynn Price of Behler Publications: a small press in California. Five important pitch/query problems they see at their publishing operation are:

  • Title Disparity: does your title make sense? The agent/editor listening to you will develop expectations based on your first pitch sentence, which includes the title.
  • Focusing on the wrong things. This one is a lot like Rachel Gardner's point about the problem of pitching the emotional theme instead of the actual story. Price illustrates it differently, using the idea of the importance of focusing on the guts of the story rather than its foundation.
  • Theme Misfire. It's important that the sentences following the first one in your pitch/query actually support and illustrate the first sentence. (This is assuming the first sentence is the hook or theme, which it should be). Many people state the theme/hook, but then veer away from it in the rest of the pitch.
  • Knowing who your readers are. This is more often a problem in non-fiction than fiction, but either way, your pitch, while not directly stating who the audience is, should make it clear to the agent/editor who the audience is.
  • Not having a message. She is not saying you should state the message of your book, but that the agent or editor should be able to extrapolate a message from your pitch. To do that, you have to show (not tell) why the story is poignant.

Go here for the full post with discussion.

Are you pitching to agents or editors any time soon? Querying? What have you found works best for you?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Yoga—>Writing in Ten Minutes

Yoga as Muse. It's a great phrase. Not mine. It comes from Jeff Davis, yogi and writing workshop leader extraordinaire. Jeff created an amazing process by which writers can go through a ten-minute yoga routine, each position and breath designed to open up your Concentration or Imagination and release those energies to your writing practice . . . immediately. That's right. You get up in the morning, have your cup of coffee (if you're addicted like me), go to your yoga mat, and ten minutes later, you go directly to the page and start writing.

Here's what the ten minutes look like:

I took a writing workshop with Jeff at the Taos Writing Conference five years ago. He is a terrific teacher, a poet and book writer. At the conference those of us in his workshop got all this good yoga stuff, and actually did the ten-minute practice in class every day as well as writing and workshopping. (Jeff also offered an hour of more general yoga outdoors on the conference grounds each morning before the workshops started, open to everyone there. It was fantastic, geared toward all ages and skill levels.)

I came home and used this ten minute routine regularly, and I can promise you, it works. For those of you who want to give it a shot right away, a step-b-step that gives you specifics is appended at the end of this post.

You start, in the first pose, by stating why you write and what your writing intentions for the day are—it's incredible how powerful just stating that each day is—and that focus is drawn through all the poses. When you finish, you carry the focus and the energy you just generated to your writing desk and GO.

If you are not familiar with the poses in the illustration above, the best way to get the skinny is to get Jeff's excellent book, THE JOURNEY FROM THE CENTER TO THE PAGE, where he provides photos and details along with his whole yoga-as-muse story. Or you can, of course, look up yoga pose descriptions elsewhere.

I believe Jeff still teaches almost every summer at the Taos Writers Conference. It's usually in July, so if you're interested in a writing workshop there, contact them right away, or put Taos on your list for next summer.
Happy Asanas! (Please skip down to the Comments section from here if you're not interested in more detail on the poses at this time.)

For the intrepid among you, here's the step-by-step:
Yoga Sequence for Writer’s Concentration: From Jeff Davis’ Taos Writing Workshop

General: develop timing that works for you. I found that 12 seconds was the perfect amount of time for me to hold each position. Each movement should lead smoothly into the next, so that you don’t stop between them. Your timing may be a bit different, but it’s a good idea to make the holds equal amounts of time for each asana.

1. Adamantine Pose/Vajrasana: kneel on mat, tops of feet against the mat, then sit on heels, hands on knees, and answer the question: 'what am I writing for?' and state the answer to: I intend to:' The intention is what you intend to do that day, whether develop a particular scene, find empathy for your antagonist, create an arc for the entire book, etc.

2. Open-Hearted Adamantine Pose: move your hands back by your feet and breathe. Inhale, lift your hips. Exhale, lower your hips. Combine this with the next step in one smooth series of movements.

3. Adamantine Pose Variation: When you lift your hips (above), curl your toes so that the bottom sides of your toes are on the mat and your feet are off the mat, except for your toes. When you exhale and lower your hips, you are sitting on your heels. (this was painful for my toes at first, so I worked up to the 12-second hold)

4. Standing Forward Bend/Uttanasana to Standing Mountain Pose/Tadasana: curl up from the kneeling position to standing.

5. Shining Skull Cleanse/Kapalabhati Kriya: Fold your hands over each other on your abdomen. This pose is for ‘vigorous breathing.’ What that means is, take a deep breath, keep your lips closed, and quickly, repeatedly, breath out short vigorous breaths through your nose without inhaling again. You’ll sound like you’re huffing, because you are. :) The worksheet says 20-60 breaths. Do not try to do 60 when you start. Start with 20. After a couple of days, go to 40, but take another deep breath at 20. Eventually you will get to where you can do 60.

6. Standing Mountain Pose in Balance: Hands over heart, lift your right knee as shown and hold for twelve seconds, then with lifted leg, move directly into next pose

7. Wide-Legged Forward Bend/Prasarita Paddotanasana: Be sure to turn both feet slightly in and bend so that your hands are on the mat as shown. Hold.

8. Warrior II/Viribadrasana II: inhale as you lift your upper body and arms out of the previous pose into this one, then turn your right foot toward the back of your mat and bend at the knee. Hold.

9. Intense Side Angle: lower your left elbow to your right (bent) knee as you raise your right hand to form a straight line with your back leg (see picture). Hold.

10. Transition Warrior II on Other Side: stand up from previous position, feet still wide-apart, and turn feet to the other direction, then lower into Warrior II position facing other side. Hold.

11.Intense Side Angle on Other Side: lower your right elbow to your left (bent) knee as you raise your left hand to form a straight line with your back leg. Hold.

12.Downward Facing Dog: move feet to both face forward, shoulder-width apart, as you lower both hands to the mat in front of you, bending at the waist at as close to a forty-five degree angle as is comfortable. Hold (I admit I like to hold this position for 18 seconds to get a little extra stretch and core strength)

13.Adamantine Pose with Alternate Nostril Breathing. Go back to the #1 pose. Press your right thumb against your right nostril to close it, and breathe in through your left nostril, then close your left nostril with the forefinger of the same hand, release the right nostril and breathe out through the right nostril. Leave your forefinger on your left nostril and breathe in through your right nostril. Close the right nostril with the thumb once again and breathe out through your left nostril. Repeat all of this two more times, for a total of three repetitions.

14. That’s it. Get up and go directly to the page, whether it’s a pad of paper or your computer, and start writing. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

News and Views, June 13, 2010

~Here's an update from The Wall Street Journal on the Microsoft/Barnes and Noble deal, in which Microsoft is investing over $600 million in Barnes & Noble, and specifically, Nook. A couple of key points from the article: "As part of the investment, Microsoft is taking a 17% stake in a new subsidiary that will include the e-book division and Barnes & Noble's college bookstores unit, which operates 641 stores."  And ". . .an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said Microsoft could choose to embed the Nook experience into Windows, emulating the way Apple weds its iTunes online store to its hardware and software—while Barnes & Noble gets help distributing the Nook. They each have what the other needs to be successful—if they can do it right."

~If you are an indie writer, or thinking of publishing as an independent, here's some data from The Bookseller that you might want to factor into your planning: under 10% of self-published authors earn a living from their writing. The article gives good info that breaks this down to a more usable form and makes it clear it IS possible to earn your living this way. (Also, the article doesn't address this, but I think I've heard similar numbers for traditionally published authors.) (this link came from a Sisters In Crime feed.)

~The always inspiring Jane Friedman has blogged about so many of the professional demands we are involved in as writers/authors. Here's a post she wrote identifying four ways you can dig into your book marketing to make a difference.

~ And finally, I get to end on an up note. A very encouraging one. One of the things that emerged from Book Expo America (BEA) last week was this: independent bookstores are getting stronger! This is something many of us have hoped for since bookstores started shrinking in number and size in the publishing revolution. Even farther back, the independents were going out of business right and left with the increasingly crushing competition of the big box and big chain brick and mortar stores, which have, themselves, now begun to shrink dramatically. Full circle? Nope. But at BEA 2012 the independent bookseller segment reported an increase from 1,512 to 1,567 stores, and the number of locations increased from 1,823 to 1,900. Plus, "despite challenges posed by e-books, independent booksellers were more confident of their place in the industry ecosystem." There's lots more of interest in the full article—worth a read.

Are you actively marketing your writing, or planning to? What do you find most affects your efforts, good or bad?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Writing The First Draft

This post is about the basic, primary process of writing a whole novel—and kind of long, sorry! At least it's not as long as a novel :). In later posts I'll get into nitty gritty detail of things like scene development, exposition vs. action, character development, setting, dialogue, etc. etc. etc.

Many things go into good writing in a novel, but basically, whether you are writing your tenth novel or your first, there's one thing that is most important when it comes to how you approach your writing process. That is, your primary aim must be to complete the first draft. Not the first few chapters, and then revise them over and over, or take them to a workshop to try to help you figure out what to do next. FINISH THE DRAFT. THE WHOLE THING.

If you have written several novels already, this process will be different than if you haven't, simply because there's a learning curve that comes with experience. But whether your approach is sophisticated or you are a newbie, the full first draft is the essential first step on your way to actually finishing the book (which is different than finishing the draft).

I'm going to add two things here to help make what might seem like a daunting task not only doable, but fun.

First, give yourself permission to let your imagination fly without worrying about what somebody might say, or about what somebody said at a conference about poor use of metaphor, or how they'll gag if they see one more awful cliché in the opening pages of a book. You need to let yourself love every day that you're writing. You need to feel excited when scenes come to you so that you can see them like they're etched on your brain and you can't  write them down fast enough. You need to believe absolutely in the significance of your characters and their plight. And you don't need anybody looking over your shoulder telling you how to improve your work at this stage. That comes later. Embrace what Ann LaMott says in her book on writing (BIRD BY BIRD): you've got to give yourself the gift of 'writing a shitty first draft.' But don't worry, even if your first draft is crummy, the truth of your story is in there and you'll be able to make it shine when you start polishing.

Second, unless you absolutely hate to know anything about the story you're writing until it appears on the page under your hand, do a little story arc planning before you start writing (or, for those of you who are natural-born outliners, a more detailed story plan). I'm in between the seat-of-the-pantsers and the outliners, and like a lot of writers, I'm very visual. Seeing my story arc drawn on a piece of paper helps— what can I say? Here's my simple approach:

I need to know the beginning (the inciting incident*), the climax, and (usually) the ending before I start writing. Every story, long or short, has an arc and that arc has some specific key points on it. I like to draw myself a picture of the arc and fill in those six (for a novel) key points, so I can visualize how the rising action of the story along the arc line leads to the climax and the ending. In addition to knowing what the Inciting Incident, the Climax, and the Ending are before I start writing, I might have an idea what the Major Plot Points (1**and 2****) are, and what the Character Turning Point*** is going to be, but I don't have to. I just need to see where they're happening on the arc so I can build toward each one as I write. Those points typically reveal themselves to me as I write. Here's what a basic novel arc looks like:

See those little red arrows? Those represent rising action—how the story builds through suspense all the way through the book (more difficult to do in the middle—more on that, and on techniques for writing suspenseful scenes or moments in later posts). Suspense is not just for mystery and suspense novels, it's key to almost all novels, and can take any form that keeps the reader interested in seeing what's going to happen next. See how the arrows end when the climax is reached? After the climax comes the denouement, or the wrap-up, which used to be quite long years ago, but nowadays tends to be short—anywhere from a paragraph or two to a few pages until you say, 'The End.'

Put your story's major specifics on a piece of paper like this. Write out, on the arc page, a sentence or two of what's happening in your story at those points (the ones you've got an idea about). For those that you are uncertain of, just write in the title of the key point: e.g. 'Plot Point 1.' Viola! You've given yourself goal points to write to, with the push of those red arrows to keep you focused on making the action suspenseful.

*Inciting Incident: the thing/event that turns the protagonist's world upside down and sets the story in irrevocable motion. This needs to happen within the first twenty pages of the book (with some exceptions in literary and experimental literature)
** Major Plot Point 1: a major plot development (can be a twist, or not), that is something really good that moves the story forward and occurs in the second quarter of the book, often closer to the midpoint than to the one-quarter point
*** Major Character Turning Point: comes around the midpoint of the book. The protagonist's defenses against the problematic action of the story are bridged somehow, and s/he suddenly sees the situation in a different light and changes his/her attitude and behavior to reflect the new understanding
****Major Plot Point 2: a major plot development (can be a twist or not), that is something really good that moves the story forward and occurs late in the third or in the fourth quarter of the book, before the climax, and leads to the protagonist choosing a course of action that seals his/her destiny: there's no turning back.
(Climax and Ending self-explanatory)

Of course there are many approaches to writing the first draft. This is just one to play with if you're looking for one. What is your favorite way to write your First Draft?

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Good Book Is a Beautiful Thing

Imagine not having any books to read. What would we do without books to brighten our days, ease us into dreamland at night, carry us away to places we'd never go without them, not to mention raise our pulses, engage our senses, and enrich our hearts and minds? I know I'm singing to the choir masters here, because nobody loves books more than writers. Nobody has more fun with stories or more passion for well-used words.

So to celebrate all who are or want to be writers—that is, ahem, US—I get to do a fantastic book giveaway today. My critique sisters, Heather McCorkle and Karlene Petitt, have each written wonderful books. I know, because I got to read them at early stages (and at later stages, too). I am so excited to say that one lucky reader of this blog will win a copy of each of their books:

FLIGHT FOR CONTROL is an aviation thriller and a great read! (R-rated, as Karlene likes to tell people so they don't buy it for their young teens.) It will get your heart pounding not only with HOT love scenes, but from fear for what might happen to innocent people who get in the way of a man on a mission to achieve ultimate power. You'll pull, every step of the way, for the woman who has to stop him, and you'll love the friendships that make all the difference to the outcome.
Karlene, as you may know, has been an international airline pilot for many years, and she knows what she's talking about in the world of commercial aviation. You'll love the book, but you might not want to read it while you're a passenger on an airplane!

And then there's TO RIDE A PUCA. This is a wonderful YA historical fantasy/romance set in the last days of the druids in Ireland as the country is invaded by Vikings. The protagonist is a brave young druid warrior—a girl of sixteen. She discovers her deepest self, her heart's desire, and love, all in the ravages of war. You will zip through this book as the love story develops, and by the end you'll yearn along with Neala (protagonist) for the survival of the druids and the land they love. It's a fun, engaging way to learn about ancient Ireland's history and druid stories, too. 
Heather says that of all the books she's written, this is the one she absolutely had to write. It comes straight from her heart, and I think you'll see that as the pages fly by.

To win an e-book copy of FLIGHT FOR CONTROL and of TO RIDE A PUCA , just leave a comment on this blog. I'll draw the winner's name a week from now. (Both books are, of course, available on B& and Amazon and other book sites, and you can check out more detail about them by going to Karlene's blog, Flight To Success, and Heather's blog, Author Heather McCorkle.) Thanks, and good luck!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Are You Looking for a Workshop?

What can a writing workshop do for you? If it's a good one, it can boost you into the next level of writing and focus you like never before on what you want to do with your story, how you can improve it, and how you can make it publishable. What do you have to have prepared before you can attend a novel-writing workshop? It varies, but I think the best ones are those that require you to bring a draft of at least several chapters.

There are a lot of terrific writing workshops, seminars, and conferences available, and I will be talking about some of them in this space from time to time. A few weeks ago I got an email from William Bernhardt about the writing workshops and programs he's running or involved in this year, that I want to share with you. The first of the programs, for Level 1 writers, is almost upon us. (My apologies for not posting this sooner, but I was a bit distracted organizing and designing this blog.)

Bill Bernhardt is an outstanding writing teacher, in addition to being a best-selling thriller author, a musician, and an attorney. I met my critique partners, Karlene and Heather, in one of Bill's workshops at the Hawaii Writers Retreat and Conference in August of 2009. There were eight men and women in the group, and we all had a great time in the workshop and learned a ton (and were exhausted from working so hard after a week, but happy). Bill knows what it takes to put together a novel that will sell, is really smart, generous, kind, and even funny. He let on, during the workshop, that he'd been an English major in college, and I do believe that underpinning is reflected in his broad-based understanding of various genres and what makes stories compelling.

Each year Bill offers five-day writing programs in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he lives. Check out this brochure, which details his upcoming workshops and highlights a writing weekend in September. The first program, for Level 1 writers, is, as I mentioned, coming up soon, but if you're interested it's certainly worth checking into to see if there's still space. There's a bit more time for Level 2 and Level 3, and the Rose State two-day program he talks about (which sounds fantastic), isn't until September.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Industry News and Views from May

Here are some of the interesting things from May's reporting that are happening in our industry:
  • New life is being breathed into Barnes & Noble with a huge investment by Microsoft in what amounts to an as-yet undefined partnership.  Microsoft invested $300 million in Barnes & Noble to support Nook and establish a stake in the tablet game utilizing its Windows system, with an additional $300+ million promised.  
  • A significant e-book publisher is fighting Amazon's predominance by going DRM-free (this link picked up from a Sisters In Crime report)
  • For all you indie authors attempting to navigate the rocky shoals of Amazon's rulebook for success, Amazon has changed the rules (again). Those books you give away are now credited at only 10% of the value of sold books in the Amazon rating algorithm (also from the Sisters In Crime report).
  • Apple, Penguin and MacMillan are fighting back against the Department of Justice lawsuit filed against them recently, in which the DoJ accuses them of price collusion using the agency model.
  • The Savvy Book Marketer shares some great ideas from a PR specialist on how to throw a book launch party for an e-book
  • Okay, this last one is impressive and scary. (I'm scared, anyway.) Big Brother is not only finally here, he's got a new code name: BIG DATA. You'll have to read the Publishers Weekly article to get the full picture about how massive data collection and crunching is fueling highly specific (and therefore better) product marketing for publishers and other retailers. Here are a couple of key sentences from the article: "In an era when more people than ever are shopping online and consumers are making use of digital apps, e-books, and digital reading devices, all of which capture and transmit a wide variety of usage data back to publishers and retailers . . . . . (p)ublishers can get feedback on how long a reader stays on a certain page or why readers have stopped reading on a certain page." Wow. And yikes. (PW's author does not seem to share my concern. hmmm.) It's a long article, but worth a read. A couple of the major points: in spite of the possibilities mentioned above, publishers are not as natural a fit for Big Data as industries that already collect massive amounts of information about their users (like health care), and there are hurdles to overcome before Big Data can be effectively implemented. However, the article's author predicts that no industry will avoid Big Data if it wants to survive. One of the major hurdles for the publishing industry is that Big Data marketing is based on demand as shown by user data, not on "supply or a publisher's intuition." It's a very different business model—one that drives, in my opinion, toward the lowest common denominator. That can have the effect of leveling the playing field so that anyone who produces a product worthy of broad consumer approval can play (a good thing); but it can also gouge the playing field so that anything outside the quantitative desirable level of return is obliterated (a seriously bad thing). Swept away in such a process will be not only books that don't reach a high enough quality standard, but those that are totally worthy from a quality point of view but are more challenging or more experimental or simply appeal to smaller audiences. Will Big Data incorporate delicate balances of consumer behaviors that accurately reflect quality choices? Are publishers' and editors' opinions about books valuable to consumers, and if so, can Big Data reflect them fairly? It doesn't appear that these questions are currently on the table. Nonetheless, it doesn't look like this tsunami-in-the-making will go away. Something to think about.
What are your feelings about any of these news items? Have you heard anything about any of them? Let us know.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Welcome to Write of Passage

Becoming a published author takes a lot of energy, focus, and knowledge in addition to creativity and desire for the journey. We need information resources to keep us on top of our game. It’s my hope to provide some of those here, and to get lots of input from readers so that we can all learn and get to that critical bend in the road that will lead to success. Here’s what’s on the agenda in the topic categories on Write of Passage:
  • Creative Energy: sources, tapping into, and applying. Topics will include traveling, brainstorming, meditation, musicality, Tarot, etc.
  • Writer’s Craft:  word choices, world building, story vs. lyricism, choice of person and tense for story, writing routine choices, filmic structure uses for novels, outlining vs. streaming, inhabiting your characters, incorporating tension, making moments real, and so on
  • Practical Tools: books on writing; workshops; conferences; marketing how-to's including querying, blurb development, the face-to-face pitch with agents, etc.; editorial services;  speaking and volunteer opportunities; and more
  • People to Know: snippets about and/or interviews with writers, agents, editors, and others who shape our industry
  • Current Events: what’s happening in the publishing industry that affects our choices as writers/authors
If these topics appeal to you, please come back often, and comment! In fact, if you leave a comment on this post about a topic of particular interest, I’ll try to post on that topic soon.

Meanwhile, next week I'll be featuring my wonderful friends, Heather McCorkle and Karlene Petitt, who have both offered to do a book giveaway to help me launch Write of Passage. How exciting! Come back then and enter to win a copy of one of their terrific novels (I've read them, and they are great!).