Tuesday, January 22, 2013

WRITE.  A verb, meaning to communicate.
    "To write letters, words or symbols on a surface with an instrument."

         Have you ever stopped to think what a sad state we humans would be living in were  it not for the written word?   "To assemble: connect part A to part B."   No, no, I was thinking more in line with the Bible, history in general, Josephus (one of my favorites) and all the monks and clerics who toiled by candle light to make certain that information on the life of Jesus, and old Testament prophets, was preserved for future generations.
         I'm a "hobby" genealogist.  Letters and journals written by my ancestors are some of my most prized possessions.   Journaling by both sexes was very popular in the mid-1800's.   Somehow, in this age of technology, we have lost the ability to put words on paper.  Some of my ancestors' stories date back to 1855 telling about their journey from Texas to Utah in a wagon train--disease, hardships.  But it was their unfailing faith in God that kept them going.  Have you ever thought about writing a story for your children and grandchildren?   Tell them how you met their grandmother, and your trials and tribulations from youth to your golden years. 
            Your first response would be..."but I can't write."  That's what I thought until 1989 when I had the crazy notion to write a novel.   Friends said, "You can't write a book, you never went to college."  My response was...who wrote that rule?  It took me ten years to learn the craft of fiction and hone my skills, but since then I've written nine novels.  No, I'm not Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe or John Grisham, but I've written entertaining stories about fictional people and their fictional life events.
         That's what you can do...write about your people, real people and your real life events.  You have no idea the profound effect it will have on your descendants long after you're gone.   Pick up a pencil or sit at your computer and start writing.  Explain what's important in your life.  Describe who has had the most influence in shaping who you are.  Don't think about sentence structure, punctuation or spelling.  Don't think about anyone judging you or laughing.
      Write what's in your heart because that is exactly what will touch the hearts of others who come after you.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Why We Write

           Writing is not a hobby.  If you are afflicted with this strange condition, you would describe it as an "urgency", some  unfathomable drive in the pit of your stomach that must be set free through putting your thoughts on paper.  If you will pardon the comparison, it's much like my Christian beliefs.  You can't see it, you can't touch it, but you know it's there.
            I tried to quit once.  After years of pounding my fists on the doors of New York brick-and-mortar publishing houses, I put everything I'd written in a box and stored it in the attic.  I returned to my second favorite pastime...reading.  This pursuit was not as successful in making me happy as I hoped, but I just kept reading. 
           Then something happened.  I picked up a book by Fern Michaels.  She's been around for a long, long time, but still offers her fans a good read with a touch of mystery and a touch of romance.  Sadly, I cannot recall the title, but the content forever changed my life.
             Without getting into the plot details or ending of the story, I raced upstairs to the attic and brought out all those finished and partially finished stories I had written.  My first intent was to finish all of my books and re-hide them with the quiet prayer that some stranger would find them fifty, hundred years in the future and I could be published after my death.  I would receive all sorts of awards posthumously.
              So, with ten separate novels in various stages of development, I dug in and finished them all.  Self-published on amazon.com, and also published them on Kindle and Nook.
             During this time, I realized that I'm happier when I'm writing.  The actual process of putting words on paper, ending a story with a satisfying conclusion seemed to release endorphins into my bloodstream.  What a revelation.   When I finish a novel, I feel like I can tackle the world.     
             This was not a swift journey, nor was it smooth sailing.  I never went to college, I was never a stellar student in high school, but through trial and error, I learned the craft....punctuation, grammar, vocabulary, character development and plotting.  More importantly, I learned the art of self-editing.  When I finish a story, I print out a rough draft.  Somehow, on this printed page, I'm able to see passed emotions, passed the plot, to see words, sentence structure.  My errors seem to jump out at me. Over the years, the errors have decreased in numbers.
              So, if you have something churning in the pit of your stomach, there is a cure.  Write.  Then write some more.  Write when you think you don't have time.  Write even when you think you don't want to.  Write.
             As the sneaker-maker says, "Just do it".

Flaunting the Rules

         When you self-publish, one of the perks is that you can flaunt the rules set by nearly all of the big New York publishers.  Also, one of the reasons that the New York houses look down on self-published authors is because the majority of the writers are sloppy and guess what else?  They flaunt the basic rules of grammar.
          So, why should we care?  As English-speaking Americans, we are rigidly taught and are exposed via TV to proper grammar from early childhood.  By the time we reach adulthood our literary preferences dictate the genre of books we buy and read.  When we--as readers--are really getting into an exciting plot, it can be a jarring experience for a misplaced comma to blur the meaning.  Punctuation was "invented" to make the written word easier to comprehend.  I thought it was invented by Shakespeare so the actors would know when to take a breath, but Google says it was an Italian printer.  The earliest versions of the Bible, had no punctuation, no capital letters.
           When I put one of my novels on Amazon and Kindle, I want it to be as PERFECT as possible.  You could call it vanity, but I try to have proper grammar, spelling, punctuation and format, as well as creating a satisfying experience for the reader.
             Writing a novel isn't a time to indulge in self-aggrandizement.  "Hey, see how great I am.  I've written a novel and broken every rule written or unwritten."  No, this is a time to showcase your talents and give the paying public the good read they expect when spending their money.
              Some of the basic, primary rules of fiction are written, some are unwritten.  It's important to give the reader a sense of time and place, use all five--see, hear, feel, smell and taste.   Is it summer or winter, is your drink too sweet or bitter?  Too hot or too cold?  What does fear feel like?
               The rule of thumb is your novel should be 60% dialogue and 40% narrative.  Don't overdo either one.   Don't let one character get on a soapbox and rant for a couple of pages.  The rule applying to big, cumbersome words or complicated character names is...anything that stops the reader from flowing through the sentence or paragraph is bad.
                So, all you beginners (and even some seasoned writers), please take pride in the work you put on the public venue.  It's got your name on it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Writers' Conference Conclusions

Killer-Nashville Conference.

August 23, 2012, Thursday.  
Arrived at Hutton Hotel in Nashville, Tn, about 4:30pm.  Gotta tell you...this place knows how to treat their guests.  Everything is first class.  Conference doesn't open until 6.  After I had a free glass of wine, then went to Ted's (as in Ted Turner) Montana Grill and had a bison burger.  It was delicious.  I heard there's one in Atlanta.
After dinner, we checked in with conference officials, I took 17 books to the book store and we retired to our room and had a good time talking writing.

August 24, 2012, Friday.
Session #1.  Bill Bass of the Body Farm.  Excellent speaker.  Interesting subject matter.   Retired, but still works 60 hrs a week.  Slide show about explosion of barn where fireworks were made illegally in Polk County, TN.  Photos very educational, not bloody, but a tad gory.  Clothes blown off, people and their body parts, were scattered over wide area.  The trees were draped with intestines.

Session #4.   Cozy, humor and crime.  Panel discussion.  Time is 10am CST.   Each author is reading from their own novel.  Dull beyond words!  Walked out.

Session #2   Steven Womack.  Interesting speaker.  Animated, great speaking voice.   The Writers Journey by Vogel.   Understanding the structure of your story/plot.    Suck in your readers'  brain.  You can give it back to them later.  "The man who went up the hill and came down from a mountain."  The protagonist's journey, his/her call to adventure.  Energy, obstacles, whatever to change his/her life.  Physical need, emotional need.  Arch-a-type.  "Call to adventure."  Flaws need to be redeemed.  Whatever is broken, fix it.  Refusal of the call.   Next step is meeting with the mentor...powerful  dynamic in the story w/the hero/heroine.  The push to move forward.  Mentor can be your own conscience.  Speaker had great recall of old movies and books, even remembering the names of the main characters.   He pointed out strong points as well as flaws in the plot structure and bad dialogue.

Session #8.  John Jefferson (half of Jefferson Bass, author) moderator of 3 panelists.   Scene descriptions.  Be more vivid in your descriptions of scenes.  Setting the scene is "monstrously" important.  Setting is like seasoning in cooking.  Too much leaves a bad taste in the mouth of your reader.  A few words in a description could trigger the imagination in the reader.  Good descriptions should trigger a movie in your mind.  Create a visualization.  It can even foreshadow an event.  How long should your descriptions be?  Not so long that you bore your reader, but enough to create the emotion that is to follow.  Murders usually take place on a "dark and stormy night" not when it's sunny...I say...not necessarily.  #2 speaker better than #1.   #3 speaker is difficult to hear.  She has written a novel in the Medici and Michelangelo era, circa 1530.  Not a subject I'm interested in.  She was boring and read way too much from herown  novel.

Session #17.  My panel was on murder and comedy in the Cozy Mystery.  Had a good time.  How can you talk about humor and murder and not have a good time?  I found that getting an audience to laugh is quite exhilarating.  I only read about 6 lines from my novel.  When you say something and everyone picks up their pencil, I feel you've really made a good point.  A quote from Wm. Faulkner:  "The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself."

Session #21.  Using the Social Media to sell your books.  Beyond Facebook.  Getting an ad on Facebook.  Linked (spelling).    #1 speaker promotes ads on Facebook.  Aimed at only people who are interested in your content and genre.  His example is "Irish, race horses, middle east conflict". #2 speaker isn't on social media but believes in personal contact...postcards and bookmarks.  #3 speaker is difficult to hear.  #4 speaker was talking but saying nothing.  Just find what works and continue to press forward.   The object is to drive an individual to the "buying point."  My personal opinion is to incite the curiosity of a Facebook "friend".   If someone is curious about my dog, cat, or even the Smoky Mountains, they will be prompted to buy my books.   Although speaker thought it was effective, don't use Twitter if you don't like it.    One author said it  gives the impression that your book is popular.  Personally,  I've never tried it.   Look at:  mysteryscene.com. (this leads you to B&N)  He believes web advertising is much more effective than paper. Lori's Reading Corner is another. (Note: she has 285 blogs if you want to wade through them).  Targeted audience/groups....mystery buffs.

It's been a full day of workshops.  My brain is overloaded with information.  Gonna prop my feet up tonight and work on Smoky Mountain Miracle.   Been going to conferences for ten years and Steve Womack's workshop (Session #2) was the best in recent memory.  He was very passionate about the subject matter.  His passion was contagious.
We got my car out and we drove south on West End Avenue to find a restaurant.  We chose Italian.  After dinner, we went back to the room and talked about writing until we fell asleep.

August 25, 2012, Saturday
Session #27.   Philip Ciofari.    Turning competent into compelling.
Keep reading.  See what makes a novel or a scene work.  Learn by osmosis.  Read and re-read a good passage.  Break a scene down that you think creates  tension.  Tight and focused.  Be organized in keeping scenes in order to build tension.
Side note:  People and their cell phones.  So rude to have a loud ring breaking up your train of thought.  If you're  in a workshop, TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE!!  "I didn't pay good money and drive nearly 200 miles to hear your phone ring."
This man is a also college professor.  Great speaking voice.  He's passionate about his subject manner.  Also humorous.  When writing, don't plan to go back and add tension.  Learn to do it as you write.
He read first page of Postman Always Rings Twice as well as
3 o'clock. (by author of Rear Window).
These stories start with a big blast of tension.
A raving lunatic can be methodical.  Don't repeat a word in same paragraph unless you are making a dramatic point.
"Where are you going, where have you been." (by Oates).  Character struggle needs to be in 1st paragraph.   You have no story w/o struggle.   No struggle, no tension, no story.
You know what to do, you own the information, but articulating this knowledge into your mss is difficult.  Words create the visual  action.
"Liquid muscle of the river glistened in the moonlight."
Play up the moodiness of darkness.  Visual tension.
Character action.  What steps does he takes to get what he wants?   If we don't want something, there is no life.  Struggle is the main plot of your story.   Even a drunk either struggles to get sober or struggles to get the money to buy his next bottle.
"Whose broad face was as blank as a cabbage."
Let's talk about voice.  What is voice?  Writing voice.  Length of sentence, rhythm of sentence, arrangement of words.
The sound & the fury.  Great American novel.  By Faulkner.
4 parts.  3 brothers obsessed by sister in each of 1st 3 parts, then part 4 was omniscient.  Housekeeper was moral character.
To create anger, leave out a words.
Language.  Eliminate unnecessary words to create tension.  Too many words create a softness.  Words w/o pictures.  More verbs.  Tighten sentence by removing prepositional words.   Word choice.  Re-arrange words in a sentence.  Hearing the chopper.....(description).   Invert.  (description)...then heard the chopper.
Try not to have a bad sentence in your mss.

Session #33.  Talk is Cheap.  Five panel members.
Dialogue should move your story forward.  I strongly disagree w/panel member, Nell Dickerson, who says don't use dialect.  My view is that dialect brings your minor and secondary characters alive...his education and where he's from, and even if he's excited, sad or frightened.  Nell is a sour puss.  She is a photographer and writes non-fiction coffee table books, but wants to write fiction.  Two panel members disagreed w/Nell concerning dialect.  Dialogue should sparkle.  Mark Troy (excellent speaker) likes a lot of conversation.   Especially with two people.  Women use more words than men.  Women use more complete sentences and men say what they want w/shorter sentences.  (Note: Pay attention to this in my own novel.)  Joseph Terrell doesn't like adverbs.   Nell reads..."His speech was southern, but obviously North of Mississippi."(written by Shelby Foote, her cousin).
Hemingways' White Elephant is excellent example of symbolism.  Story is abt pregnancy and abortions w/o ever using those 2 words.  Back in the days of Hemingway, you couldn't talk about such things...impotence, homosexual, etc., etc.  today anything goes.  However, people don't buy a book for its profanity.  Sex, but not profanity.  Tony Soprano did it, but he was Mafioso.
"He said, she said" are invisible tag lines, especially when 2 people are speaking, you don't need as many tag lines.
Elmore Leonard.  Master at dialogue using very few words.  "Pronto".  
New Yorkers interrupt each other and like to talk at the same time.  It's called New Yorkese.

The main objective for spending the money and going to a conference is:
#1.  create interest in my characters, Jack and Jill.
#2.  sell books
#3.  get your creative juices flowing
#4.  improve my writing skills
#5.  remind myself to check for those invisible errors.

The big question is "did I get my money's worth?"  Yes, I did.  Most of the workshops were entertaining and informative.  I also figured out that just because you are a writer, doesn't mean that you can be an effective speaker.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Blog Number Twenty-one

          I have come to realize that I would make a very poor school teacher.  When I run out of patience, I tend to get a wee bit testy.  I have trouble with the idea that a student can read instructions and then ignore them completely.
         Today's blog is titled: HOW TO PUBLISH WITH KINDLE (Nook has the same rules).  If you read the "submission guidelines" for either Kindle or Nook, you will become so confused that you'll be tempted to run out and spend several hundred dollars on software that supposedly makes the process simple.  Don't waste your money.
         A very kind lady from British Columbia I met through my Facebook Fiction Writers Group simplified the entire process.
         If you do all of your writing in the proper format to begin with, then the process of uploading will be hassle-free.  I am a Mac-user and have been since 1989.  I do all of my writing on an Apple program called "Pages."  I have purchased "Microsoft Office for Mac" that I only use for the publishing process.  First is your title page--Title of your book and author.  Second page is "copyright by (your name) Month 2012.  Next line: Kindle edition.  You can add your personalized notation.  For my Smoky Mtn Murder Series, mine says  "Although Gatlinburg is a real city nestled in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Old Towne and all the characters therein are fictional."  On the last page of your novel insert a page break and add "About the Author."  I give my website, Facebook and a gmail account that I've set up for this purpose.  Once I've finished my novel, I cut and paste the entire manuscript from Pages to Word.  Make certain that all your formatting has come through.
        If you write on MS Word, here's what you should do: go into draft view, turn on view invisibles, set the margins (one inch all around), set automatic indent at five spaces, remove headers, footers and page numbers.  Use Times New Roman (no fancy fonts), size at 10 (you can make title a little bigger), single space.  At the end of each chapter, insert page break, go down two lines and type in "Chapter Heading".  If you hit the "enter" key MORE than three times, it will result in a blank page in Kindle.  Do not use underline.  You can use BOLD, italics and you are allowed to use the "center" function.  Do not hit the space bar multiple times, or the tab key.  Unless you are writing non-fiction, do not use a table of contents.  Once on Kindle, the page numbers will be all wrong.
           Once all that is accomplished, go back into "layout" view and "Save as" html or web page.
If you do not have a Kindle (and it's free on my iPad), let me explain that the reader has the option to make the print large for the visually impaired, thus a 200 page novel will be 400 pages.  The reader can also set the font size to their liking, also increasing or decreasing the number of pages.  That's why you remove the headers, footers and page numbers.
          Okay!  Now you are ready for the uploading procedure.  I create a file folder which I've titled "Ready for Kindle".  You will need the following:  Your html manuscript, your cover art in .jpeg (Use a thumbnail version.  They will reject large files), your bio, your back-cover blurb, your photo (Kindle helps you create an author page for free).
            One of the most important features is to select seven key words to help the readers find your book through a search engine.  Readers know what they want to read:  mystery, love story, ghost, paranormal, historical, Civil War, etc., etc.  Help them find you with a wise choice of words.  Don't try to be clever. 
            If you want to get paid, you'll have to give them your Social Security Number.  You can also give them your bank routing number and every month they transfer earnings directly into your designated bank account.  (that's my favorite feature).
Once you have gathered all the necessary data in your special folder, go to Kindle's website.  https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help
            You need to have a prior account with Amazon.  (who doesn't have that?).  Go to the left, under "Publish your book" and follow their instructions regarding "Add Title."  They will assign you an ISBN number.
            They also request that you download the Kindle Previewer.  Don't argue.  Just do it.  You have the opportunity to glance through the finished product to make certain that all your formatting is correct.  Select "enable" and they will protect your digital rights.  One of my early books (back in the 1990's) is being sold in India and I don't get a penny in royalty.
           Please send me an email if you don't understand any portion of this guideline and I will do my best to clarify.   srhinock8@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Blog Number Twenty

Haven't posted a blog in over a month.  I've endured Thanksgiving, back surgery, a bad chest cold, and Christmas.  I'm starting the New Year 2012 feeling hale, hearty and mentally refreshed.

I've come across a technical software problem facing many authors trying to get their manuscripts published with Kindle, Nook and Smashwords.  Whereas www.createspace.com will accept your manuscript in "save as" PDF format, the e-readers will not.  Createspace simply prints your document as you present it--even your mistakes.  The e-readers requirements are entirely different.

As a Mac-person, I'm not technically proficient in Microsoft Word.  I write in Mac's "Pages" and don't transfer to MS Word until I have finished a novel.  However, if you will pull down the view menu, "Show invisibles" will allow to see the formatting mistakes you have made.  "Hard tabs"  (that is physically hitting the tab key for each paragraph indent) at the beginning of each paragraph are not acceptable.  Unfortunately, you must remove each one individually.  If Microsoft has a "one-step" remedy, please let me know.  You must set the indent for the entire document and let it happen automatically.  You have to be in "draft" format to make changes to your entire document.  Formatting done to the entire document is reversible.

Also, you must insert a hard "page break" at the end of each chapter.  That is, pulling down the “Insert” menu and choosing “Page Break.”  Simply hitting the "enter" key multiple times to start a new chapter on a new page, will not be acceptable.  They will not accept any overly fancy fonts, but will accept bold and italics.

Another must is to remove page numbers for Kindle and Nook.  Because e-readers change from landscape to portrait and the print can be small or enlarged for the visually impaired, a 200-page novel can be squeezed to 100 pages or enlarged to 400 pages.  My Kindle (which I downloaded for free to my iPad)  has a bar at the bottom to let you know where you are.  Every time you open a Kindle book, it automatically goes back where you left off.

So, here we are.  Page one is your title and author name.  I recommend researching Amazon to make certain your title is as unique as possible.  You don't want to be number zillion on a common title.  Using "alignment" for centering is acceptable.  Page two is for your dedications, etc.  Both Nook and Kindle will give you their own new ISBN numbers.  Do not use any other numbers given by other publishers.  "Kindle Edition published in 2012".  On the last page of your novel, insert page break and add your bio, website address, Facebook address, and a list of your previous novels, if any.
I can't caution you enough about proof reading.  Any thing put out in cyberspace will be there FOREVER.  Once you have your error-free manuscript, open your document and pull down the file menu to "save as html."

This is what you will need organized before going to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) website:
Manuscript in html.
Front page cover art in .jpeg
    my son the photographer can do websites and cover art for a fee
Your complete bio with photo (for prospective buyers on Kindle website)
Back cover blurb
Choosing 5 key words to direct Amazon/Kindle surfers to your book
        This is extremely important
Website address
         Suggestions:  weebly.com, wordpress, godaddy andGoogle
         will help you do this on your own.  Or call on a relative to do
         the job.

Just received this information from Paula Petty:
Microsoft word (at least my version) has a tool (usually at the top of the screen) that by default has "normal spacing" highlighted. However, you can highlight your  text and click "no spacing" and it takes away all line spacing, tabs, etc. I wonder if this would help--before you  save as html.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Blog Number Nineteen

There's an eight hundred pound gorilla in the room.  Every body knows he's there, but nobody wants to talk about him...except me.  I'll talk.
I've written a lot of love scenes.  But I ask you to stop and think.  How many nice, pretty words are out there in our American vocabulary to describe an act as old as time?  Darn few.  And I figure I've used all of them more than once.  Remember, I said nice, pretty words.  Finally, I grew jaded, tired of my fruitless search for those illusive words.
Then it dawned on me...Cozy Mysteries.  They kill people and they do it without sex.  Oh wow!  I could be the next Agatha Christie.  After all these years, I've found my new niche.
So, I headed to Amazon (virtually speaking) and purchased a stack of cozy mysteries by many different authors.  Several notable things kept popping up: a continuing character (female amateur sleuth), plus a super intelligent dog or cat helping the amateur human to solve mysteries.
Hey, I'm a big animal lover.  I can do this.  I used to raise and show Dandie Dinmont Terriers--a rare breed from Scotland.  I was an instructor at the local Obedience Club (B.A. that's before arthritis).  As I grew older, I decided on a smaller breed and switched to Norwich Terriers.   After he died and I got even older (bone years are the same as dog years), we decided to switch to cats--they don't need to be walked or taken to obedience classes.
My monumental decision was made.  I would start writing Cozy Mysteries.
I was giddy with excitement as I turned on my computer and stared at the blank screen.  Hmm, I was going to have to think about this one for awhile.