August 31, 2008

Daily Blog 31: Art Come to Life in Miniature

(Photo: 1640 nobleman, Illustrated Encyclopedia of Costume and Fashion, page 47)

Miniature of the Month:

The realism, beauty and mastery of the work of such masters as Michelangelo, Vermeer and Rembrandt van Rijn, is not only unequaled, but continues to inspire artists working in a range of media today.

Most unique, may be a project recently undertaken by Massachusetts artisan and doll maker Lucie Winsky. Winsky, an artisan with the International Guild of Miniature Artisans (IGMA) was commissioned to recreate several notable figures and scenes from famous paintings as 1-inch-scale porcelain figures. (NOTE: 1-inch or 1/12th scale is 1 inch=1 foot, with men measuring 6" tall and women about 5"-51/4" tall.).

The figures Lucie has recreated so far include a generic nobleman, circa 1640, several figures depicted in famous paintings, and the artists themselves.

The famous figures and paintings include:
* The captain and lieutenant from "The Night Watch," Rembrandt van Rijn

* "Self-Portrait with Two Circles" by Rembrandt

* A child in Jan Steen's "The Feast of St. Nicholas"

* The man in "The Merry Drinker" by Frans Hals

* The milkmaid in Johannes Vermeer's "The Milkmaid"

* The model (and artist) from Johannes Vermeer's "The Art of Painting"

* She is now working on the legendary "Girl with the Pearl Earring" by Vermeer

* And the "Portrait of a Jester with Lute," Frans Hals.

The Creation

Like many artisans, Lucie gets nervous starting a project - "I always worry about commissions because the customer never knows what they will get," she jokes, but she surely didn't have to worry. The resulting figures (see below) look like they just stepped from out of the picture frames, don't they?

A stickler for detail, Lucie studies photos of the original painting and costume sources to determine how best to replicate the figures and their clothing. She uses commercial doll molds, but manipulates the porcelain in the firing stage to get the pose or features she needs as with Vermeer's 'Milkmaid.'

"I had a lot of fun doing this one," she says. "She started out as a Janna Joseph mold, but then she was cut up and reassembled and her face was altered to look like the painting. She took three months to make. I enjoyed sculpting those eyes!"

The dolls are then painted, dressed and wigged. She next must decide on the best fabrics to replicate the clothing, often going so far as to paint and print her own fabrics if needed, as she'll need to do with the Jester. Other times, it takes a little more research and imagination to achieve the desired results.

"Rembrandt's paintings are always on the dark side so I had to lighten them up in Adobe to see his clothes better," she says. "I had to guess at the lower half of his costume and referred to what was worn at the time of the painting. I am always haunting my local library. I found out that Rembrandt did more self-portraits than any other artist which is great for us who want to make a doll in his image."

For other figures like Vermeer's, Lucie had to rely on her imagination. "I can't find a painting of Vermeer's face," she says. "I guess he didn't do self-portraits. Mine is going to look like Colin Firth who played him in the movie 'Girl with a Pearl Earring.'"

Lucie's first finished figure was a nobleman circa 1640, the striking costume was based on an image from The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Costume and Fashion (Page 47)

The last figure? Judging from the results, who would wish for such a project to end? But Lucie admits that she, too, is just as eager to see the final project: "I am curious to see them all together." (So are we!)

Paintings Come to Life

The Night Watch (De Nachtwacht) - Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The painting, also known as "The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch," features Capt. Cocq (in black with red sash), his lieutenant, and members of the militia moving out. One of Rembrandt's largest works at 11' 10" x 14' 4", it is also noted for its suggestion of motion.

Self-Portrait with Two Circles, Rembrandt, 1665-1669, Kenwood House, London

Rembrandt painted more than 90 self- portraits from the 1620s to 1669.

The Feast of St. Nicholas, (Het Sint Nicolaasfeest), Jan Steen, c. 1665-1668, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The charming scene features a family celebrating the feast day at home on December 6. Several stories are revealed as you look closer at the oil on canvas, 33.5" x 27".

The Merry Drinker, Frans Hals, 1628-1630, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer, 1658-1661, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Art of Painting, Johannes Vermeer, 1662-1668, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna,

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer, 1665, The Mauritshuis, Hague, The Netherlands

Portrait of a Jester with a Lute, Frans Hals, 1620-1625, Musee du Louvre, Paris
(c) 2008 C. Verstraete

August 30, 2008

Daily Blog 30: Favorite Writing Moment & Quote

One of my favorite sections I like to use in interviews is to include the author's favorite quote from their latest book and ask them to share one their favorite (or least favorite) writing moments.

I've already shared my favorite quote about Petey the Dachshund from my book, Searching For A Starry Night in a my Daily Blog 25, but one of my other favorites has to do with Sam and her friend Lita's scary movie-like moment waiting for Sam's mom to come back to the shed they've been working in:

...Petey flew forward in a spasm of barks. His legs left the ground with each violent growl. Sam wasted no time and jumped off the chair almost into her friend's arms. The two hugged each other and watched, wide-eyed, as the doorknob slowly started to turn. The panic threatened to choke Sam.

"Lita," she whispered, "please tell me I locked the door..."

My Favorite Writing Moment:

I've worked in newspapers a long time and as a reporter, you get to meet a lot of interesting people. Picking just one favorite story is hard. I think one of my favorite stories was writing about the local legendary shoeshine man in my Chicago neighborhood and getting it published in GRIT when it was still a newspaper. What made it special was being able to get an interesting person recognized and letting him have his well-deserved place in the spotlight.

** Your Turn: Share your favorite quote from your latest book or short story. Include your title and web link. Don't forget to share your own favorite writing moment or special memory.

August 29, 2008

Daily Blog 29: Do Gimmicks Work?

(Note: Still revamping the site with the new design so there may be a few glitches yet. :>) )

Becoming a published author means you not only have a book, but you suddenly have to get all this author "stuff" - bookmarks, pens, biz cards, etc. Some is necessary - like the biz cards. Some isn't.

Some authors take this promotional stuff a step further, dressing in costume, or sending out prizes or pens and other things. Do they work?

Well, maybe. Sometimes. It depends.

The big no-no, of course, save the gimmicky stuff for your appearance table. Do not send it to newspapers, where reporters joke about this kind of stuff. The Chicago Tribune's Q section occasionally has a giveaway where people write in for assorted weird "junk" the paper's staff collected over time. Most often, though, this kind of stuff gets thrown out or passed around. Save your money.

The best tools are free: a good press release and author information; a press kit with some fun q & a's about you to fill in interview gaps or for fun background; a sell sheet on the book; book blurb and biz cards.

Bookmarks are great promo tools also (for extra savings: design two bookmarks on an oversized postcard and have them cut in half. Don't forget to flip the design on the other side so it lines up right.) Your book cover makes a nice front on a business card with your information on the back. Sign up for the Vista Print newsletter for various freebie deals for the cost of shipping.)

Above all, make connections. I've found that talking to people, even connecting again with old contacts I've interviewed before for my own newspaper writing can have advantages. You never know how someone can help or what kind of advice they can offer.

And the costumes? For some it can work. That's a personal decision. But I'd forget the whoopie cushion with your name and book cover on it.

** Your Turn: What kinds of promotional book items do you like to use as an author? What kinds of things do you like as a reader? What's the worst items you've seen? Funniest?

August 28, 2008

Daily Blog 28: Making Reading a Habit

Following up on my recent posts on reading and not reading, I decided to explore the topic of building readers. Some kids grow up as reading adults, many don't. Why, you wonder?

Reading, like anything else, can become a habit - a good one. It can be taught by example - adults who read usually have kids who read. But then the opposite happens - nonreading adults have reading kids, shooting that theory in the foot.

Is it genetics? Maybe more creative-oriented people enjoy reading. Those who think in pictures and can "see" the story unfold in their head enjoy reading.

The barriers to reading enjoyment can vary, ranging from lack of skills, and bad school experiences, to simple disinterest. As one previous commenter said, people will pay anything for a movie and balk at the price of a book.

But how do you price literacy?

Movies are fun, but they require nothing more than to sit and enjoy. Reading engages the mind in analyzing the words, making you think on what you are reading. Is that it - people simply don't like to think?

Maybe it's Bill Gates' fault. In a recent newspaper column I read, the columnist mentioned that computer use made people's attention spans shorter. He even noticed it with himself. Funny, though, that most of us can spend hours, all day and night practically, at the computer, but everything is in small bites. Small bites over time - compare that to a book with its many pages.

So read a book in small spurts right? The answer isn't in dumbing down books so they reach the level of most TV shows or vapid movies that pass for entertainment. It's not in relying on Google and the Internet.

It's cheering to see kids reading. Maybe it's Harry Potter, and now it's the vampires in Twilight, but kids are reading. Maybe a few will latch on to Searching For A Starry Night and find a funny Dachshund "helping" a couple kids solve a mystery. Or maybe they'll find someone else's book. That's the key - find a book and read.

Six Tips to Building Readers:

1. Expose kids to reading.
Share stories with them when they're growing up. Read stories they'll look forward to.

2. Use the library.
The Internet has made researching easier, but the library still has a place. Get your child their own library card. Make it a special event, a parent-child trip to pick out new books.

3. Make reading special.
Whether it's at bedtime or an afternoon read, have that special ritual with your child. They'll know after brushing their teeth and saying their prayers that it's a special time, a few moments to unwind with mom or dad and listen to a good story.

4. Make reading familiar.
Don't make books unfamiliar objects. Even if parents (gasp!) aren't readers, they should at least make the effort to show their children that it's a worthwhile activity. Maybe you don't like to read novels, so pick up a book of essays or a nonfiction book about gardening or a favorite hobby. On shopping trips, be sure to stop at a bookstore or the book section. Encourage the child to pick out a new book instead of a new toy. Alternate if needed.

5. Have books in your life.
Make books a part of your life. Even those who don't read fiction can pick up a nonfiction book occasionally. Have a home bookshelf with your favorites. Build a small bookshelf in your child's room to hold their favorites.

6. Share your favorite books.
Even if you didn't grow up to be a big reader, most of us can remember those books we loved as kids. I loved horses and read every book there was, like Misty of Chincoteague, Black Beauty and others.

Share your favorites with your child. They may like them, too. Or encourage them to share their favorites with you. It's a good way to learn more about your child and enjoy hearing more about what interests them.

(c) 2008 C. Verstraete

** Your Turn: What do you do to encourage your kids to read? What are your favorite childhood books? Please share!

August 27, 2008

Daily Blog 27: Reading is better than TV

To contrast with my previous blog 26 on why people say they don't like to read, I thought I'd be fair and talk about those who do. Me, for starters. I was the kind of kid that was told "a fire could start and I'd have my nose in a book." True.

I still love to read, but have developed a bad habit of having several books going at once. But if it's a book I really get hooked on, then I will read it straight through as I'm unable to put it down. Others I enjoy but save for bedtime or carry around in my bag for those moments when I'm waiting and have nothing to do.

Do I believe reading is better than TV? You bet. (Most people might say that). There are several TV shows I do love to watch (Dancing with the Stars, Smallville, Supernatural), but usually finding something to read is easier than finding a favorite TV show (and you can finish it before they take it away like they discontinued that new vampire show Moonlight!)

Books can also be reread, and unlike reruns, they are just as good the second, third, or more times around!

I have several favorite books I do go back and reread now and then. To name a few, they include: Gone with the Wind, Dracula (cool read it online), Salem's Lot, The Stand, The Agony and the Ecstasy (about Michelangelo), Emmeline (an amazing novel with a shocking end)....

** Your Turn: What are your favorite books? Share the books you like to reread more than once.

August 26, 2008

Daily Blog 26: Top 10 Reasons People Don't Like to Read

At a recent event where Echelon author Margot Justes and I tried to sell our books for the first time, we were surprised to find that the majority of people didn't have much of an interest in reading. We took an informal survey and began asking passersby one question – do you like to read? For kicks, I thought I'd share some of their outrageous answers. (And most of these answers did come one right after the other.)

10 Question: Hi, do you like to read?

Answer: The woman laughs and points to her toddler. "I'm not much of a reader." (Blame the kid. Not a good start.)

9 Q: Do you like to read?
A: "Not right now, but thank you."

8 Q: Do you like to read?
A: One woman said she liked sci-fi and she doesn't like a book "if (something) doesn't blow up or someone doesn't die." (Margot mentioned that her book has a dead body in chapter one. I had mystery and horror books; she had romance and suspense. Darn, how did we miss sci-fi?)

7 Q: Do you like to read?
A: "Not really." (Score one point for truthfulness.)

6 Q: Do you like to read?

A: The woman asks, "You wrote this? Is it free?" (No comment.)

5 Q: Do you like to read?
A: "I don't have time to read." (Hmm.)

4 Q: Do you like to read?
A: The woman walks up to the table. "What's going on here today?" (Authors turned concierge - we let her see the brochure and told her what she'd just missed. Oops, forgot the tip jar.)

3-2 Q: Do you like to read?
A: Two for one - Two women, one shakes her head, the other answers, "No, we don't read." (Birds of a feather…)

And the #1 most incredible answer of the day:

1 Q: Do you like to read?
A: "I like to read religious books. I read books by Rev. So and So. (I didn't get the name. Then I asked:)

Q: Do you read fiction?
A: "No, I wouldn't waste my time."

© 2008 C. Verstraete

August 25, 2008

Daily Blog 25: Making Your Stories Live on (Beyond You)

The highest praise someone can give a writer, I think, is to make their work live on and become "quotable" beyond the page. Think Rhett Butler's famous, "Frankly, I don't give a damn," from Gone with the Wind. Or "To be or not to be..." from Shakespeare's Henry VI.

While you don't often write with such lasting legacies in mind, sometimes a phrase pops to mind that you latch onto. While the first graph is often the one in your story or book that should produce the best zing, you also hopefully have a few nuggets scattered throughout the story.

While others may have their own choices, one of my favorite sections from Searching For a Starry Night, is Sam's description of Petey the Dachshund:

Sam sprawled on her cot with a pencil, opened the book, and started a puzzle. Lita fell onto her cot and scribbled in her notebook. Next to them, lying on his blankets on the floor, Petey snored and turned over on his back, sticking his legs up in the air. Sam tried not to giggle as he rolled over to his side, reminding her of a Vienna hot dog without a bun. All he needed was relish, she thought.

The idea of making a story live on is to give readers something to latch onto, be it a mental image, a memorable quote, a funny remark, etc. - just give them something that will stick in their minds. Then the book itself becomes not only quotable, but memorable.

And if all else fails.... well, how about changing history?

Wonder what Juliet or Snow White would say if they had been called by your name instead? Have fun making your own quotes! This generator lets you put your name into classic stories. (And beware of the famous first lines quiz and other time wasters, um, sources.)

** Your Turn: What are some of the memorable parts in your own book or your favorite quotes? Please share them!

August 24, 2008

Daily Blog 24: Promoting, promoting and...

Winding down. To those of you who may be tired of reading about writing, I will be getting back to miniatures soon. I have a great miniatures story coming up that I will run as the Miniature of the Month and for my last daily blog. But I will continue to write about writing as well at least a few times a week.

Today's discussion: promotion. BSP (Blatant self promotion) and other forms is part of becoming a published author. You tweet, share, brag, on and on. Some people hate it. Some like hearing about other writer's successes and news. I know I like to hear about new books. I read excerpts and often find some that I put on my to-be-read list.

But other than authors selling to other authors as goes on a lot, as a newbie myself, I'm wondering what works and what doesn't. So authors, share what you've done for promotion; what materials you've purchased; what results you've had.

** Your Turn: What have you done to promote your book? What's worked best? What hasn't? What materials do you use? What advice do you have to promote a book? Share your experiences!

August 23, 2008

Daily Blog 23: Weekend Writing?

Most of us slave over a hot computer all week. The computer has helped blur the work week so the standard 40-hour week really no longer applies. We write, blog, email, surf, etc. all hours of the day and night.

Is there time off for good behaviour? Well, there should be, but writing is an occupation that can't be necessarily pigeonholed into specific hours. You write when you can, when you want (or don't want), when you need to. (Or if you can - for fun, I found this page with links to computer-generated writing. I didn't read any. Afraid? ha! Not that I think a computer or the "trained monkeys" can outwrite a writer.)

Weekends, you hopefully try to take some time off - at least a few hours to catch up on other stuff like housecleaning, shopping, and just plain relaxing. But even then, it's hard to stay away from the computer completely, isn't it? Or do you? Me? Well, I need to continue working on the book, but I also need to do some serious weeding in my office. Stuff piled everywhere and no room, so some stuff has to go - somewhere.

** Your Turn: For fun, I thought I'd ask today how much you use the computer and/or write on weekends. Are you able to stay away - completely? How do you not write and do computer stuff after the so-called "work week" ends?

August 22, 2008

Daily Blog 22: Titles - What's in a name?

Names are more than just letters strung together. They have power and meaning. In some cultures, a name is carefully considered before being chosen since it's supposed to have great impact on the person's whole life. In other cultures, certain names are to be feared as in this newspaper story on British fishermen and superstitions about the name Graham.

Most authors use the same care when choosing a name for a book or story. The name, hopefully, will signify something in the story, like a play on words, or come from part of the story as in Margaret Mitchell's famous book, its name taken from the description of the South being a way of life Gone With The Wind. Or a title should invoke curiosity. Some names, of course, are more obscure and the meaning can't be determined at first glance.

I think my favorite names are plays on words and puns. Mysteries use this style a lot: For Better or Hearse; Holmes on the Range; Evan Blessed; see this Listmania for others.

Funny, and not so funny, at least to the author, is coming up with what sounds like an original title, or their publisher picks a title for which they have no say - and it turns out there are several other books that have the same title.

But choosing a title isn't always an easy process.

Initially, I hated the first title I'd thought of for Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery, but I couldn't think of anything else. I can't remember the exact name, but I know it changed a couple times. I think at first it was the Missing Miniature Art Mystery or something similar - too many mmmm's. Then there was something like Sam's Search for the Missing Art. ZZZ. Blah.

The resulting Searching For A Starry Night is a little cryptic, but makes perfect sense. The photo image of the empty painting gives a clue and reading the blurb reveals that the mystery involves the search for an actual miniature replica of Van Gogh's famous painting, Starry Night. The blue stars on the cover background reflect the painting name, too, so it all ties together.

The sad part is when a title is chosen that doesn't really have any meaning or link to the book. Maybe the choice is made via a quick read of the book blurb, or some other reason. Then the author is stuck explaining it, which can be good, and bad, in and of itself.

** Your Turn: Got a favorite book title or know of one that you think makes no sense at all? Or hate your own book title? Please Share!

August 21, 2008

Daily Blog 21: 10 Favorite Research Sites


We all do it. Go look up one thing and get lost surfing. But don't despair, you're not wasting time, you're doing research.

In that vein, I decided to list some of the more interesting and fun places to do research (in no specific order). (Warning: don't look unless you have a couple hours of free time.)

1. Oracle of Bacon
Remember that 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon game? Well researchers at the University of Virginia actually did research on it. (Hey they get paid for that?)

2. Project Gutenberg
Free copies of the classics and other books that you never got around to reading in e-version.

3. Best actors and actresses
All kinds of awards, even Russian movies.

4. Silent Film Stars
I love this site! Who's who in pre-talkie films

5. Vintage Clothing History
Dress those characters right! All kinds of cool vintage clothing

6. How People Lived
Click the illustrations at Kraft Australia to see how people lived, ate and cooked in different

7. Hit Music
Hit songs from the forties to the present and get the Top 10 hits from now to the 1800s. Guess which song was a hit in 1893?

8. History of Toys
The favorite toys we played with and an interesting video. Find your favorite old toy at the National Toy Hall of Fame.

9. Unusual Feats
Maybe your character can eat the Most Ferrero Rocher chocolates in a minute? (Yes it's a category, if not the greatest feat.) Or give them some other odd pastime from the Guinness Book of World Records.

10. More weirdness
Or make your characters truly strange. A favorite for oddities always was Ripley's Believe it or Not.

** Your Turn: Share Your Favorite Time-Wasters, er, Research Sites!

August 20, 2008

Daily Blog 20: Top 10 Reasons Why I Write

Today's post is going to be short, philosophical and focus on one question - why do you write?

Isn't there a joke? Paraphrased it goes: Why do you write? I write because I can't sing or dance. ha!

1. Well, I also write because it's a habit; a habit honed from years of writing nonfiction and then adding fiction.

2. I write because I enjoy it. (Sometimes). At least when I like the story and when it's working.

3. I write because I can't "Not" write. I have to do it. Only other writers can understand that.

4. I write when I'm not playing. I find it hard sometimes to split my creative energies. I have to write or create in miniature. But I can work on small miniature projects if I'm doing a big writing project. It's good to do something that lets you be creative and lets your mind wander at the same time.

5. I write because it's more fun than cleaning house. ha!

6. I write because it's the best way I know how to make money.

7. I write because it's better than doing nothing.

8. I write because the words have to go somewhere.

9. I write because there are still things I want to accomplish and they won't get done unless I pursue them.

10. I write because I can't think of anything else that I enjoy doing more.

** Your Turn: Why do you write? Share your top 5 or 10 reasons.

August 19, 2008

Daily Blog 19: Going for the Gold

Watching all the athletes at the 2008 Olympics doing their best to win gold, you can't help but think how going for the gold can apply to almost every area of your life, including writing.

Unless you write purely for your own enjoyment, the goal of writing is publication and payment. It may be fun to write some things free for promotion or exposure, but writing also is a commodity that should increase in value with practice, effort and over time.

To become a gold medal writer means putting in the work - writing, learning, polishing, rewriting. It means taking the time and putting in the extra effort required.

A few thoughts on becoming a Writing Olympian:

1. Train

Some writers say they can't write daily. But write as often as possible. The best athletes put in hours of training to reach possible gold. Don't shirk your preparation.

2. Be challenged

Any athlete or writer can get stagnant by not challenging themselves. Don't be content, thinking that with this book or this story, you've "made" it. I read somewhere that you "never arrive." Even Stephen King continues to try new things and push the envelope.

3. Be Positive, but Don't Put on Blinders

Be positive, but also be realistic. If something isn't working, don't be afraid to try something different. A certain approach may not work in your area or might not work for you. Everyone is different, so don't get discouraged and find what marketing, writing, promotion, etc. tips work for you.

4. Find a Good Coach

Even the best writers sometimes can't see the forest for the trees. Ask another writer to give your material a pre-read to catch those things you often overlook.

5. Be Proud of Your Efforts

Athletes do get disappointed when an error or something causes the gold medal to slip from their hands. Sportsmanship means congratulating the person who did win gold and being proud to have won the silver or bronze medal for your team and country.

No matter which level your writing is at, be proud of your accomplishments and continue to work, train, and strive to reach gold. Reaching the next level will not only help you improve your skills, but reach the real gold - a whole new audience of readers.

August 18, 2008

Daily Blog 18: Just the (Character) Facts

For fun, today I decided to play off a past post on 50 Memes that Dani wrote about at BlogBookTours .

To make a character real, you need to know their likes/dislikes, habits, quirks, tastes, favorite music, and more of the facts besides just their eye and hair color.

It's those kinds of details that make the character appear real to you as a writer and more importantly, make them real to the reader.

So for today, I've adapted one of those memes that can be used to better know your characters.

A short eight to 10 question list can help you round out your characters before you write. To keep track of the facts and descriptions for later use, you can use a character worksheet (download in PDF format) or do a detailed character profile log as described by author Marvin D. Wilson.

Examples in this exercise are based on my characters, Sam and Lita, from Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery.

Feel free to use your own characters and share some of their quirks and personalities.

Eight Character Facts

1. Your Character's Favorite Word:
Sam likes to say 'holy cow' a lot.

2. Your Character's Favorite Pastime:
Lita likes to read. Sam is a dabbler and hops from one project to another.

3. Your Character's Oddest Thought:
Sam tries to picture she, her mom and her pal Lita in a pillow fight.

4. Your Character's Favorite Food or Snack:
Sam likes chocolate and Starbursts candy. Lita likes Banana Laffy Taffy candy.

5. Your Character's Worst Memory:
Sam hated when she and Lita were mad at each other in grade school.

6. Your Character's Likes or Dislikes:
Sam hates spiders. Lita doesn't like ghosts or spooky stories.

7. Your Character's Favorite Dessert:
Both girls like ice cream.

8. Your Character's Worst Moment:
Sam doesn't want her mom to know they got scared of some noises outside.

** Your Turn: Copy and tell us about your character. Other categories that can be added include: favorite sport, clothing, hairstyle, music, etc.

August 17, 2008

Daily Blog 17: Gambling and Writing

This post is super late today. Decided to take off.

This was a first-time visit to the casino in Milwaukee, Wisc. Interesting, though the noise and smoke got to me.

Funny as I'm competitive; I love a challenge and love the chance to "win." But poking a button on a slot machine wasn't much fun to me. It became more interesting once the game became more interactive, requiring me to pick something on the screen, but that didn't happen often enough. Overall, it didn't hook me.

Here's the writing analogy: stories obviously have to hook the reader. You have to have a good "prize" - a good story, a chance to see who the villain is, etc. - to have the reader continue.

Writers are gamblers in a way, aren't they? They write a story or book, send it out, taking a gamble - hoping that someone will like it and purchase it. You keep sending it out - putting more change in the slot (money for postage) on the hopes that it will eventually pay off.

We played the 2 cent slots mostly. Big gambler I'm not. I can't see throwing money away. In writing, it's different. You can put in a few pennies worth of effort, but why waste your (and everyone else's time?) You learn, you improve, and then you raise the stakes.

Put in the big stakes worth of effort and expect to get back what you put in. Play to win - (write to get published).

August 16, 2008

Daily Blog 16: Words

At the halfway mark of this blog challenge, I find myself at a loss for words. Funny thing for a writer to say.

Maybe the loss is that I've also spent time this week working on my other book and making good progress. I mentioned in a previous post about not talking a book out so you don't feel like writing it; maybe putting all your energies in one thing also depletes your energy for another.

Well, not really. I'm a multi-task writer, used to changing formats, - nonfiction to fiction - so that's not really the problem. I'm used to working on different things.

But it's Saturday. I need to finish a couple other stories and I'm going to the fair later. It's a good day to play.

I think sometimes the best thing a writer can do is, unless they have a deadline, or even then, take a break. Step away. Rejuvenate. Relax. The words will flow much better next time.

** Your Turn: I seem to be on a theme here - rejuvenating, taking a break. How do you recharge your batteries to get back to writing?

August 15, 2008

Daily Blog 15: Writing Inspiration

Today I decided to do something different.

Inspiration comes from different places, your Muse, a song, something we hear or read, from others and from our hobbies.

Sometimes, it's a good idea to take a break from writing and let your brain work on a different form of creativity. For me, that means working in miniature.

I get inspired coming up with new ideas, challenging myself to tackle a building or other project. Working on something like painting or planning a miniature room lets my mind roam. I'm not writing, but subconsciously I'm still mulling over the book or story I've been working on.

I also get inspired by the work of others. I'm presenting some photos of the miniature gourmet shop made by a fellow miniaturist in Holland. Kitty Balke, and I often share ideas and projects. Talking over the Internet or via Skype, we enjoy sharing photos or our latest work and often inspire each other.

I think what keeps me interested in the hobby is the detail and realism you can achieve. To me, it's the same as writing, except it's creating with objects and images instead of words.

The best thing? Making this kind of food is calorie free! (The food is made of polymer clay.)

** Do you have a hobby or other pastime that you enjoy to take your mind off of writing for a while?

August 14, 2008

Daily Blog 14: Writing & Finishing that Book

As of this writing last night, I dreaded doing this post. Could be because I'm tired and was going out again to gather story ideas at the county fair.

The month is about half over. Yay! I've never been one to have problems coming up with ideas; it's the doing them that gets me. And blogging daily is a challenge. But it's one I'm glad I took. Will I continue it later? I'll likely do more than I did before, but maybe not daily. We'll see.

Just random thoughts on writing today:

I've been stuck on my adult mystery I've been writing. Procrastinating, maybe, Feeling like it's not worth continuing, sometimes. I'm an outliner so have it all pretty much figured out. Things do change as I write and as I see things to fix, but that's okay. I at least have a starting point.

That's been the problem - starting. I'd do a little, then nonfiction stuff would interrupt me. It'd take weeks, months, to get back to it. Problem is I'd get stuck rereading where I was to get back into it.

I usually know when I am close to writing - I get crabby. I think about the book - a lot.

With Searching For A Starry Night, I had to finish; I had a deadline and a publisher interested. I like goals. Working on your own with no deadline is much harder. But what really got me writing this week was being off the Internet.

Having to store-sit a business, I'm somewhere for five hours daily, four days this week without the Internet. No endless email checking. No checking the blog or website repeatedly. Just set up the laptop and write.

Sure, I'd stop a bit, walk around, read the paper a few minutes, but I WANTED to write. I had to make the time productive. I made myself sit and type. 1,100 something words Weds. Hopefully I'll do the same or near that today and Friday.

My goal was to have this book finished this month. I'm only a quarter way through. But maybe, just maybe, I can get far enough and have enough done that I like to accomplish my next two goals soon: get a critique and look for an agent.

And that's all I'll say about it. Like I said in a previous post, I don't want to talk about the story too much for fear I get tired of it. So far, I haven't.

** Your Turn: Have trouble getting back into a book you're writing? What do you do?

August 13, 2008

Daily Blog 13: Fading History

Admittedly, I think my growing up was somewhat different, and I'm glad of it. My parents were a little older, mom achieving motherhood for the first time in her late thirties.

There were disadvantages to having slightly older parents, but one thing I always enjoyed was the family stories. Growing up in the Great Depression, mom and dad had experiences that even then seemed quaint and old-fashioned - reading by kerosene lamp, oilcloth-covered tables, putting a penny in the electric meter to "cheat" the meter. Photos revealed other links, a grandmother wearing high button shoes, mom as a teen in the 1930s looking cute and as fashionable today in jeans and a peasant top.

I seemed to soak up those old stories and developed a big interest in earlier decades. Forties music was a favorite. I still love Glenn Miller. I was fascinated by 78 records. I wondered what it was like growing up in the Roaring Twenties.

Not surprisingly, that love of past history makes it into my writing. For instance, Lita, Sam's best pal in Searching For A Starry Night, comments about her mother's favorite 70's song by Tony Orlando and Dawn, "Knock Three Times."

The group and title drew a big blank when I talked to a group of kids at a recent event. I'm sure some parents are getting asked who that is when their kids read the book.

When a group of middle grade girls recently asked what other books I was working on, I mentioned my adult mystery, which is set in an old vaudeville theater. That also drew blank stares, as did the name of comedian George Burns.

Ancient history? Maybe. But it's sad that with passing time, cultural history is fading away. Maybe I knew more than most, given I had an interest. I enjoyed different music and films from different eras. I knew tidbits of history. I knew and could enjoy watching Charlie Chaplin or silent film star Clara Bow.

It made me sad reading that the last US survivor of the Titanic had died. The last World War I veteran died at age 108. World War II soldiers are dying every day.

History passes, but as these generations die off, so goes that living link to the past, to what we were. That part of history becomes relegated to dusty old history books and unrecognizable faces in old cabinet photos left to the second hand or antique store.

Those people of past generations, their actions and their part in our ancestry, made us, and our country, what it is.

Sad to think that they are being forgotten; that present generations aren't learning more of their cultural history beyond what Miley is doing or which Jonas Brothers is cuter.

Sad that maybe the government's insistence on testing and pushing teachers to teach to the test is making cultural history nothing more than a footnote.

Or maybe in the rush of 21st century life - with demanding jobs, family activities, sports, etc. - there isn't time any more to talk, to remember grandma's favorite sayings and stories, to pull out the family photo album and talk about the "good old days". Don't families take time anymore to acquaint kids with the games mom and dad grew up with, or share those funny family stories about times before TV and modern conveniences?

Maybe there's not enough time, but there should be.

Why not take one night a month and reminisce, dust off the photos, write down those old stories? Maybe work on a family history project. It'll give the kids a solid foundation, a cementing of who they are and help them realize that the past really isn't so boring. And it'll make those rapidly fading parts of history less likely to vanish forever.

August 12, 2008

Daily Blog 12: Budding Writers

My first visit to a group of Girl Scouts in E. Troy, Wisc. has made me a believer in Scouting.

Yes, I was a Brownie and did my stint in Girl Scouts growing up in Chicago. I don't remember much beyond a fuzzy recollection of a talent show and my singing Herman's Hermits' "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter." (I don't know why, though I do still like the song a little.)

I was impressed to find 16 middle grade girls, excited to meet a writer and talk books. When I asked who wrote stories, nearly all raised their hand. When I asked who read, again, the response was overwhelming.

After some questions and comments, we talked out a potential mystery story. It was interesting to get their take on ideas, despite their love for talking animals. :>)

Funny thing is when they asked about other books I was working on after Searching For A Starry Night, I mentioned my adult mystery set in an old vaudeville theater. Blank stares. They had no idea what vaudeville was, or even who George Burns was. Even if it's super-ancient to them, I found that surprising that no one recognized him, either, and a bit sad. (I'll be continuing this thought in tomorrow's post.)

We met for nearly two hours, which was probably a bit long as by the end they were getting a bit bored and antsy, so I'd probably do something different next time, though I'm not sure what. Any suggestions?

Despite the moaning you hear in the industry and online about people or kids not reading, that's not what I witnessed. These girls loved to read. They read more than one book a week (several even!) and read in different genres. They loved to write, too. Who knows if the next Eudora Welty or Debbie Macomber may come out of this group?

So, don't despair. Readers are out there.

August 11, 2008

Daily Blog 11: The Name Game Meme

Meme : A thought, an idea, and a real easy post.

I'm copying Dani's meme at BlogBookTours for some fun word play. Who says writing always has to be, well, about writing?

But even if you're not doing any "formal" writing, words should be fun. Doing crosswords, playing Scrabble(TM) or spending time on other online word games are good ways to keep your word skills sharp and loosen up the brain cells. See? It has a purpose. It really isn't procrastinating or wasting time.

Here's a fun meme to try out some new monikers for your characters. Copy and try it out yourself.

1. Your real name:

2. Your Gangsta name: (first 3 letters of real name plus izzle)
Chrizzle (Hmm?)

3. Your Detective name: (fave color and fave animal)
Yellow Wolf (ooh mysterious!)

4. Your Soap Opera name: (your middle name and street you live on)
Anne Kimball (Sounds like a librarian? I used an old street; my current street is a number.)

5. Your Star Wars name: (the first 3 letters of your last name, first 2 letters of your first name)
Verch (Makes me think of Lurch?)

6. Your Superhero name: (your 2ND favorite color, and favorite drink)
Pink Tea (Pink tights of course. Well, forget the tights)

7. Your Iraqi name: (2ND letter of your first name, 3rd letter of your last name, 1st letter of your middle name, 2ND letter of your moms maiden name, 3rd letter of your dads middle name, 1st letter of a siblings first name, and last letter of your mom's middle name)
(What?) Oh - Hraaesa

8. Your Witness Protection name: (parents' middle names)
Maria Steve

9. Your Goth name: (black, and the name of one of your pets)

** Your Turn: Share a few of your new names for fun.

** You're it! I TAG:
Camille Minichino (Margaret Grace) and Karen Kennedy

August 10, 2008

Daily Blog 10: Does It Compute? Endless Writing

The computer has revolutionized our world and our work habits, blurring the traditional workday.

The good is that for writers, it allows you to work anytime, anywhere. Internet usage is up all over the world, including a staggering 600% in Latin America. The bad? You work all the time.

Day or night, it seems, you log on, and you (and thousands of others) are surfing the 'net, checking and rechecking emails. We are endlessly writing.

Five Good (and Bad) Ways the Computer Influences Your Writing

1. Promotion

The Good: You have to promote your book. Online chats, news groups, blogs, book groups, social sites, these are all good ways to promote.

The Bad: I've discovered, too, with publication of Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery that I'm doing more online. It takes the whole morning, it seems, to blog, check emails, write messages, tweet, etc.

2. Networking

The Good: Being online allows you to "meet" other writers, share ideas, etc.

The Bad: You can spend too much time gabbing instead of writing.

3. Research

The Good: You can find information on practically everything online, or someone in one of the newsgroups or a social networking site may know the answer.

The Bad: You can easily drift off into other areas since there's a wealth of information to read.

4. Well-being

The Good: The computer can be a lifeline for the writer who often is working alone all day. Interacting with others keeps you from becoming the Howard Hughes of fiction (or nonfiction).

The Bad: On the other hand, it's too easy to sit there all day and never move. Health-wise, you need to not only have ergonomic equipment, but also be sure to get up at least every hour to let the blood circulate in your legs. Go to the gym to exercise. Take a walk. Play with the dog. That scene may be going well or you want to do the next, but it's not worth your health. Always be sure to take a break or schedule them in.,

5. The Work Week

The Good: Writing can be energizing, fulfilling, and fun when it's going well. The computer can make your job easier. You may, and do, work seven days a week.

The Bad: Don't work seven days a week. That novel won't be created in seven days, so have a day of rest. Enrich your soul in church, revive your spirit outdoors.

August 09, 2008

Daily Blog 9: Five Tips to Blue Ribbon Writing

It's county fair time here in the Midwest, which means farm animals, baked goods, giant vegetables, and blue ribbons.

For months, the local 4H kids have been caring for their cows, chickens and other animals, raising them in the hope that their animal will be the grand champion, netting them enough money at auction to make a dent in their college tuition.

For writers who want to write blue ribbon fiction, the process is much the same.

1. Nurture your work, then let it go.

There's an emotional bond that develops when you write a story or book. You grow attached to your characters and hate to see the project end. But like 4H'ers, the bond is temporary. The danger is in hanging on to something and constantly going over it, thinking you can make it better. Maybe you can, but constant reworking can be a pitfall in and of itself. A good writer always needs to move forward, ending one project and moving on to the next. Perfect your work, make it the best you can, and let it go on to publication. Then get to work on the next story.

2. Choose strong bloodlines

Developing prize-winning fiction means making choices, this word or that, this plot or that. Prize-winning animals are chosen based on their heritage and bloodlines. Prize-winning fiction means putting in your best effort. In contrast to the need to constantly rework something, sometimes you can lose inertia. You get tired, or bored of a project, and want to get it done and over with. It's then that you are more prone to miss things, make mistakes, or your writing is weakened. In that case, take a break. Let a story sit and look at it with fresh eyes. Fix it and submit.

3. Keep your recipe secret.

That sweet grandma with the cherub face and the prize-winning apple pie knows what it takes to win. While she may offer a few tips on how to bake a better pie, her own recipe will probably remain a secret. Writers can take a tip from her by guarding their stories. Don’t be afraid to share writing tips or networking, which are one of the pleasures of being around other writers, but don't blab your story around. The more you talk about a story, it seems, the less you want to write it. Save your energy for writing the story instead of diluting your enthusiasm for it.

4. Keep it fresh.

Mucking out the stalls and seeing that the animals have fresh pens, clean water and fresh food are a necessary part of the fair. Your writing can also get old and stale. Pitch out the old. Read something new or in an entirely different genre. Try your hand at a new type of story. Write something in a different genre or length. Write on a topic you're unfamiliar with and need to research. You'll enjoy the challenge and may come up with a new story to submit to a new market.

5. Go for the prize.

The sad part of the fair is seeing the little kid crying because he didn’t get a ribbon. Even adults feel disappointed if they don't win. Competition is in our blood, but everyone can't win. Even in writing, there are winners – those who get published, and (I don't want to say losers) those who get rejected. Rejections can hurt, but they're not the end.

Stories get rejected, sometimes for reasons other than the story or writing. Don't let rejections stop you. If nothing needs to be changed in the story, send it somewhere else. Keep sending it until you find a market. But if you get several comments about the same thing that keeps it from being accepted, then that may be advice you should take to heart. But if that advice means changing the story substantially, then you have to decide whether to change it and get published or keep trying to find a market for it as it stands. In the end, getting that blue ribbon - seeing the story in print – is worth all the effort.

** Your turn: Got a good rejection story? Or how did rejection help you get your 'blue ribbon'? Do tell!

August 07, 2008

Daily Blog 8: Good Luck and Good Writing

Many believe today is a day of good luck because of the day, date and year being the same, and being all eights.

In China, starting the Olympics on 8-8-08 at 8:8:08 was no coincidence. Instead it was considered exceedingly lucky since to the Chinese, numbers take their meaning from words of similar sound, with the number eight (pronounced like "baa" similar to the word "fa") meaning wealth and to prosper.

Some consider such beliefs superstitious, while others arrange things in their life in the hope that their efforts will be blessed with good luck and good fortune.

Even in this country, today's date is being met with enthusiasm. Couples, in San Francisco, for instance, are planning to get married today so their wedded life can be blessed with "good luck." A Las Vegas hotel will even have a Lion Dance to dispel evil spirits and bring in good luck and prosperity.

People will be playing the lottery today and wishing for good luck.

What does this mean to writers? That depends - are you superstitious or believe in making choices that will pave the way to your own good fortune?

Lady Luck

Lady Luck is fickle. Ask the gambler who always thinks the next big win is in the next turn of a card or the flip of a machine handle. But "luck" can become a religion, a faith of sorts, with the "believer" thinking that they'll only be lucky if they do such and such, or buy this, or do that. Life becomes a kind of prison in pursuit of "luck."

We all want to have good fortune and wish the same for others. But no lucky rabbit's foot, no lucky penny, no lucky ritual, will replace one thing - work and preparation. Some writers seem to be "lucky," hitting it big with their first novel, while others may toil for years and never become known beyond a certain area.

No writer has achieved any level of success by luck alone. (In several instances, a few who seemed to be "lucky" and amazingly talented turned out to be frauds, relying on plagiarism and cheating to become successes.)

Being a writer is work. Even the best of writers can have days when the words simply don't flow; when the best output is a few lines or graphs. But no great, mediocre or mid-level writer gets to the page that says The End without work - researching, reading, writing, re-writing and editing.

Luck is good. Working to change your "luck," or let's say improve your lot or improve your skills, is much more meaningful.

When someone seeks to achieve some measure of success, we wish them good luck. What we really mean to say is that we wish them well and admire the work they are putting in to get the hoped-for results.

** Your Turn: Superstitious? Have any rituals you have to do to write? Or feel free to share your view of luck and success.

August 05, 2008

Daily Blog 7: The 7 Deadly (Writing) Sins

The 7 Deadly Sins of Writing

Sin is a word that may be out of fashion in much of society, but looking at the darker places inside ourselves can be beneficial if we are willing to do something about them. Lest you think this is a sermon, the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins can be applied to your writing, as well.

1. Sloth
Clean up sloppy writing. Eliminate unneeded modifiers and words. Cut the number of adverbs, words ending in ly, which are usually unnecessary. For instance, tighten the description to show a character's anger instead of writing it as he said, angrily.

2. Gluttony
Use the right word. Write tight. Don't fill up space with two words if one will do. Don't use $10 words because you can. Write at a level that anyone can enjoy without running to the dictionary. If they can't understand it, they won't read it.

3. Greed
Don't cut corners in your work. Wanting more is good, but it shouldn't be all consuming.

4. Envy
Sometimes the little green-eyed monster can awaken when you see the success of other writers and authors. Wish them well and work hard. Maybe your turn is next.

5. Lust
The eyes are the windows to the soul. What you take in can affect who you are and what you write. A good question might be, is this something I'd show my mother, pastor or want God to read?

6. Pride
You should be proud of accomplishments, but there's some truth in the Biblical adage that "pride comes before the fall." Many of those CEO's now spending time behind bars still feel the world owes them a living and just don't get it. A little pride is good; a lot is dangerous and can turn you into the person no one wants to be around.

7 Anger/Wrath
Leave the anger to your characters. Let them simmer and stew on the page. Save your health.

** Your Turn: Have a few sins that you feel writers should never commit? Share them or feel free to confess your own if you dare.

Daily Blog 6: What a Character!

Characters are what make a story enjoyable or readable, no matter what the genre. Whatever the type of book, if people don't like or care about the characters, they won't read any further.

While some may argue that mysteries are plot driven - that is, the goal of the book is to solve the mystery or crime, that solution centers on the skills - or lack of them - of the main character, whether amateur sleuth, detective or gumshoe. The character's goal is to solve the mystery, close the case, or find the missing person or object. And hopefully they will do it in a way that will make the reader want to come along for the journey.

Make them Memorable

Whether it's the selfishness of Scarlett O'Hara or the budding wizardry of Harry Potter, the character should have something about them that is memorable. Maybe it's their penchant for penny candy, or their habit for stepping over dead bodies like Jessica Fletcher.

Maybe it's the way book-loving Lita, Sam's best friend in Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery, likes to read and work on stories, or her taste for banana Laffy Taffy candy. Or maybe it's the goofy things that Petey the Dachshund does, like try to dig another hole, or Sam's knowledge of costume jewelry because of her mom's collection.

Whatever the character's "quirk" or identifier, be it a favorite candy, unique clothing, or other habits, those are the things that make a character seem real.

"Characters should never be based on other characters you've read about; that's when they become clichés," says Betty Webb, author of DESERT CUT. "Give every single character unique pain, and unique dreams."

She does that by giving her characters a unique past. Her P.I. Lena Jones, who was abandoned as a child and found bleeding from a gunshot wound, awakens from a coma with no memory of her past, or who shot her. She continues to search for her birth parents and try to uncover her abusive background while hunting for killers and missing children.

"The best thing a writer can and should do in characterization is to give characters a consistent personality so that their behavior becomes predictable," adds Austin Camacho, author of DAMAGED GOODS. "But to make characters memorable they must have common characteristics to make them familiar and recognizable, AND unusual traits to make them memorable."

Prompt a second look

Camacho opted to make his character, private detective Hannibal Jones a "serious coffee drinker," an identifiable trait to many. Jones becomes more memorable, not because of his habit, but because of his appearance - he's a Black man with less common hazel eyes and a style all his own. "He wears a particular 'uniform' when he is working (black Oakley sunglasses and gloves) which certainly make him stand out and hopefully makes the reader curious," he says. "I leak the reason for his attire in small bits as time passes."

Maryann Miller, author of One Small Victory, agreed that uniqueness is a must when developing a character. When describing her character, Chief Gonzales, she chose to play against stereotype - and gave him a few notable differences.

"That is one of the things I hate to see in characterizations - playing to type," she says. " Gonzales is tall, thin, hates Mexican food and is a Buddhist. He also works the NY Times crossword puzzle in ink, which is a constant source of irritation to the detectives under him. I also worked on his dialogue to make it more like proper English, which contrasts to the rural Texas slang of some of the detectives."

** Your Turn: What did you do to make your characters unique? Or what is the most memorable thing about a character that stuck with you in a book you read? Please share the book name and author.

Daily Blog 5: 10 Steps to Improving Your Writing

An article I recently read in a magazine about improving your life started me thinking about ways to improve your writing.

1. Start Small

Big projects can sometimes be overwhelming. Break them into bite-size pieces. I'm guilty of stressing over not writing the 20 pages a week I'd planned. Setting goals smaller, say 3 pages a day, will get almost the same results, with less stress. And if you don't get the exact amount done, don't beat yourself up. Even one paragraph or page is one more than you had before, and 500 or so words closer to your final word count.

2. Believe in Yourself

A bad review can hurt, but the pain is temporary. But that inner critic that tries to hold you back and tear down your efforts (you're a lousy writer, you'll never get anywhere, why are you wasting your time?...) can be worse. Believe in you. Think on what you've accomplished and move forward. One rejection is just that. It's not the end. Don't let rejection stalk you. Send that story or project to another publication and move on to the next one. Having at least a few stories circulating (some say 10 or 12 if you can) will prevent you from obsessing over one.

3. Learn From Others

Success comes from listening to others who have already been there. Check out the experiences of other writers in your genre. Study the works of writers you admire to see how they did it. No matter how many years you've been writing, there is always something new to learn.

4. Review Yourself

A little self-evaluation can be good to gauge where you are in your writing goals and progress. Be honest; don't be afraid to point out your shortcomings, but also decide on how to improve them. Maybe you've only been published in lower paying markets and are afraid to move to the next level. Pick a market you haven't written for; study the content, and work on a story to submit. Becoming a better writer doesn't mean treading water; test the waters in new markets.

5. Make Goals

Goals keep you from stagnating, but make them reasonable. Start with one goal, like planning to get published in a new magazine in your genre, or working on a story in a different genre or field. When that goal is accomplished, make a new goal. Keep moving forward and don't stress over how long achieving that goal may take. It isn't a race. Work at the pace you feel comfortable with.

6. Seize the Day!

Swallow your fears. Some opportunities only come once. Don't be afraid to take a chance. You never know where it will lead.

7. Don't Fear Mistakes

You'll make mistakes; you'll write less than stellar stories. We all have. It's one mistake. Even if you make the same mistake, it's not the end of the world. Learn from them. Every mistake only makes you stronger.

8. Don't Be a Victim

Self-pity leads to depression, which leads to inactivity, self-doubt and can be a vicious spiral that robs you of your energy and happiness. No matter your circumstances, there is no reason to sit still and be unproductive. Don't make excuses, do something. There are tons of free resources available. Use the Internet and computers at the library. See if there is a niche in your community where you can volunteer or provide a service. See #5.

9. Be Happy

We all can't be Rockefellers or live like them. Always thinking the grass is greener on the other side will never make you satisfied. Look closer and you'll find crabgrass and weeds there, too. Enjoy your faith, friends, family, pets, and hobbies. Shut off the computer and make time to exercise and have some fun. You'll feel better and be more productive.

10. Think Positive

It takes less energy to think positive and will add more to your life and your writing.

** Your turn: Have any favorite tips or lifestyle changes you've made that also helped to improve your writing? Please share!

August 04, 2008

Daily Blog 4: Write and Wrong Writing Advice

The Best - and Worst - Writing Advice

Not all writing advice is good, or should be heeded, but some can be invaluable.

Some of the best advice I received (like not broadcasting a character's actions ahead) helped to fix those pesky bad writing habits that you often don't see, and keep repeating, until someone points them out.

Other advice that was invaluable came when it was time to edit Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery. Writing is one thing, I found; editing is entirely different, especially once you go over it several times. After awhile, even correctly spelled words look wrong. Thank goodness for editors and publishers who aren't afraid to use that red pen (or red track changes) and have the patience of saints.

Here's what a few other authors had to say about the best - and worst - writing advice they ever received:

Cracking the Writing Whip

Cynthia Polansky, author of FAR ABOVE RUBIES, says her worst writing advice was to "get up at dawn to get your daily writing quota out of the way. Even if you don't write more content on the book or story you're working on, write something. Just get into the habit of writing first thing in the morning."

She got up every morning at 6 a.m. and wrote, but not on the book she was working on. "I wrote letters to friends. I wrote long, newsy letters on beautiful specialty paper using various handwriting-like fonts. I was a great correspondent, but a poor author. By the time I finished a letter and was ready to start writing for real, it was time to get ready for work."

She finally went back to her tried-and-true method of writing: when she felt like it. " It may have taken me four years to complete the novel, but at least I was writing productively!"

On the Other Hand…

In contrast, Betty Webb, author of DESERT CUT says she's an every-day writer, "whether I feel like it or not," based on advice she received from thriller writer David Morrell, who said, "write every single day... writing is a skill that can decline with disuse."

The worst advice she received? "Write only if you have something unique to say! Believe me, I ignored that advice and followed David Morrell's instead. Uniqueness (also known as "inspiration") begins to happen ONLY after you've written for a couple of hours."

Join a Group,or Two

Terrie Farley Moran says her best writing advice came from Jeremiah Healy, author of the John Francis Cuddy P.I. series and the Mairead O'Clare legal thrillers.

Terrie says she'd spent several years "pounding away on my computer and barely coming out for the light of day" when she accidentally heard about the 2006 Sleuthfest Writers Conference being held near where she was living.

Being a fan of Healy's, she impulsively signed up. Beyond all the great information he gave, she says one thing he said stood out: "If you do nothing else for yourself and your writing, join Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.' Until that day I didn't know those groups existed. I joined both and never looked back."

Within a year, her short story "Strike Zone" was accepted for publication in the SinC NY/Tri state chapter anthology, Murder New York Style .

She received excellent support through the MWA-NY mentor program, including a critique of her novel. Her latest short story, "When A Bright Star Fades" is published in the final online issue of Hardluck Stories.

Terrie now believes in passing on that same advice to other writers - find a group related to the genre you like to write. Follow it online if you can't attend meetings. "Two years ago I didn't know the first thing about the writing industry or the writing community," she says. "Today, I have a cadre of friends, supporters and advisers, thanks to Jeremiah Healy pointing me in the right direction.

So You Think You Can Write...

For a different perspective, authors Mary Reed and Eric Mayer of SEVEN FOR A SECRET share a funny moment in their writing lives.

"The comment that lives on in legend for us is from a fellow who addressed Eric as Mr. Big Shorts and told him his writing sucked," Mary says. "Unfortunately, no helpful advice on how to correct the problem was included in the communication so we never got the chance to see if it would work."

Let that be a lesson to critics.

** Any good or bad writing advice you'd like to share?

August 03, 2008

Daily Blog 3: Writing, Inspiration & Sense, Five Tips to Making Characters Real

Day 3: Inspiration and Making "Sense"

Writing, I've heard, is 3 parts inspiration and 1 part perspiration. Or is it the other way around? One thing it isn't or shouldn't be - automatic.

Sure, there are supposedly writing/computer programs that will "write" for you. But a program or computer can only do so much. It can't "feel" as we do (please, no computer geeks telling me otherwise- computers are still not human); they can't sense as we do; they don't process memories as we do.

Good writing touches the senses. To care about a story or book, the reader has to care about the character and that means making them real by giving them quirks and using the senses.

Sometimes when you write it's easy to forget to include all five senses - (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing).

Author Karen Duvall is doing an excellent series on the senses at her blog. Made me think.

Funny thing, I remember someone mentioning their pet peeves with words – wafting was one. But I like that word and I've used it; more than once, in fact. I'll have to see if I used it in Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery. I think it's a good one for the sense of smell. Sorry, if it's one you hate.

Five Tips to Making your Characters Real

Most of these tips are old hat - (oops, cliche! Ok, old sombrero :>) ) to experienced writers, but sometimes a reminder doesn't hurt.

1. Remember less is more. Effective use of the senses means adding texture to your writing. A little description goes a long way in making writing more real to the reader and making the character come to life. Example: Describe what the characters sees and feels (the slick yellow tablecloth instead of just the tablecloth) or what they taste: The apple reminded her of honey.)

2. Think light drizzle, not typhoon. Don't drop your descriptions all in one place. Drizzle them in so the story isn't overwhelmed.

3. Try something new. I know, I know, don't use clichés. It's mom's fault, I love those old sayings. You can use them – but make them your own or your character's. Maybe the character has a memory problem and likes to mix her metaphors, which can have some humorous results. And if at first you don't succeed, forget it. (Sometimes that's better than try, try again, right?)

4. Write what you know? Most writers have heard that one over and over. Better yet – write what you don’t know. Forget those old term paper nightmares. Research can be fun. Really.

5. If at first you don't succeed…. Start over. Sometimes, a book, a story, etc. simply won't/doesn't work. Some writers give it the 50-page rule; if it doesn't work, they start over. I'm stubborn. I hate to think I wasted all those words! But yes, sometimes you have to scrap the pages, redo them or rearrange them.

** Your turn: Have a favorite writing reminder or word of your own?How about a word you feel is overused or that you hate? I'd love to hear yours!

August 02, 2008

The Daily Blog: Improve Your Writing 2: Promotion

Day 2: So far, this is fun. (Talk to me on day 10-something. ha!)
If you're interested in participating in upcoming topics, see my question list at the end of today's (long) post.


Listening to my publisher, Karen Syed, at Echelon Press, is like listening to the trainer at the gym. They both repeat things over and over. And guess what? Sometimes it gets in through the cobwebs and sticks.

One thing Karen harps on repeatedly is Promotion and Using the Internet.

There are tons of tools available for writers and authors - social networking sites, book groups, author groups, email groups, the dizzying amount can have you pulling your hair out. With publication of Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery, I soon learned that dirty little secret most writers don't truly comprehend - you can expect to spend more (and more, and more…) time online promoting, posting, answering emails... argghhh!


Unfortunately, you soon find tons of new sites or people send you links for others. You can't be on them all. Some sites I simply put my basic information on and don't follow actively. It's too daunting to do them all. A lot of this stuff may be old hat, but I hope I've come up with a few things that are new to you.

Pick the Best

Tools like Bookmark are timesavers that allow you to easily take your latest blog post and repost it on other sites. Most blogs have RSS feeds also and let you add subscription links so your readers can link to you. On Delicious, you can post your bookmarks and grab from others.

Social networking is like a big herd - be online long enough and you'll be able to hear the crowd of footsteps leading to the next hot site. The current big thing (of the moment) is Twitter, my site is - broadcasting your news or what have you in only 140 characters. Simple, though I know I could care less that someone is brushing their teeth or just ate a whole pizza. Posts hopefully should be meaningful, useful or creative. I've found that too many marketers clog it up with constant boring ads.

A new one I discovered and heard mentioned is Plurk, which I may try next. The interface is appealing. It looks fun.

I also use Facebook and Myspace, though I tend to be more active on Myspace, maybe since it was my first site, so I'm kind of loyal. And it just seems easier to use sometimes.

A fun site I came across is Link Tiles. Fun little tile pix (see my cover for Searching For A Starry Night with the Dachshund under Prose or click tags like book or mystery.) Neat idea.


Another more business-oriented site is LinkedIn. Writers can use a number of sites, such as Author's Den and Book Place.

Writing and Hobbies

If you like to share your writing or hobbies with like-minded souls, then there are online communities and email lists galore.

Pick a hobby or interest and Yahoo Groups probably has a group for it. For writers, groups like BlogBookTours, which initiated this month's Daily Blog Challenge, provide inspiration, information and sometimes a good kick—in-the-butt. (** Check the BlogBookTours blog for links to all participating blogs.)

Readers can share books, review them, talk to other readers and put "bookshelves" on their websites or blogs through sites like or

Tired, yet? Ha! That's just the start. I’m sure I've missed a few and more sites pop up every week, it seems.


The result is the more sites you are on, the more your name, book title, etc. is picked up and spread around. It's cheap promotion - and it costs nothing. Yes, all this posting, tweeting, linking and what-not can be a major time-suck. But it also beats the lonely-author-in-the-attic (home office) routine. Just pick what you like and ignore the rest. So get posting, but make it interesting and creative!

Use Common Sense

In the fever of posting or trying new things, remember to not let your common sense get lost in the shuffle. Don't put anything online you don't want someone to see or know. Don’t post personal information like your address, phone, or birth date on any sites. Most sites don't need that information and there's no reason to give it to them. And never ever post a social security number anywhere. Glitches happen; things can show up online without you knowing it, or sites can be hacked. A business can post an address if it's necessary, although a p.o. box may be a good idea if the extra cost isn't a problem.

** If you have a favorite site or heard about something new, feel free to share it. I'd love to hear if anyone has had any special experiences as a result of posting online or being active in any of these groups? Please share them!

Upcoming Topics - Please contribute!

If you'd like to participate in the blog in coming days, please email me your answer to the following questions, plus your name, book title and website link (and send a small book cover jpeg if possible). (Send to: or go to the website contact page)

* What's the best writing advice you ever received? How did you use it (or not?)

* What's the worst writing advice you ever received? What did you do instead?

* Opening sentences - what's your favorite and why? How'd you change it to get it to what it is now? (include name of work and publisher, and link if online)

* Meet What's His/her Name:
How do you make your characters come alive? (give me a character, tell me about them and their "quirk.") What's the best thing a writer can and should do in characterization? What did you do?

* Writing Rules -
Which rule did you break - why and how? Give an example. (include name of work, publisher and link)

* Unsticking Writer's Block -
How? What do you do it? Does it exist?

* The Best Writing Preparation
How to avoid procrastination? What do you do when it's time to write?

August 01, 2008

The Daily Blog: Improve your Writing - Tips and Writing Advice

I and several other authors in the

group are participating this month in a writing challenge to post daily to our blogs. You can find the full blog list for the August Challenge at the BlogBookTours blog.

I'm one who can't turn away from a challenge, so I accepted.

Some things I plan to share this month include, tips on improving your writing, how to grow as a writer, thoughts on My Life as a Writer, and more.

I plan to share some insights, writing tips and tidbits from other authors, as well, who will talk about character development, writing a good first sentence, and other "writerly" things, so be sure to check back. (I hear your sighs of relief that it's not just me blabbing away. ha!)

Glamorous, it ain't. Useful? Hopefully.

Hammering It Out

What's the hammer got to do with writing, you wonder?

Well, if you thought being a writer was like Hollywood - parties, glamour, etc., guess again. For a few who've worked their way to that level, maybe it is. Parties aside, for most of us everyday writers, it's a job. Like a construction worker, a story is produced by hammering out the sentences, pounding out the phrases, connecting the words, until you get a finished product.

Bad analogy or not, be prepared to work, even when you don't feel like it and even if it's hard - and sometimes it is, no matter how long you've been writing. But it's worth doing.

That's Tip #1: Find out what you like to write and keep at it.

As a journalist, I'm used to writing every day. It's a habit. Don't wait for a muse. Just put butt to chair, fingers to keys, and start typing. Something will happen, words will appear. It can be magical. Enjoy it.