Tuesday, June 28, 2011

TUESDAY TIPS AND TIDBITS – ‘Sophisticating’ Your Writing

Another installment of PARANORMAL WIRE Tuesday Tips and Tidbits...

Andrew Arrosmith's REALMS OF BELIAR fantasy
Okay, yes, I admit that ‘sophisticating’ is not an acceptable and recognized word. However, in this case it was used to shorten the blog title and – hey – get you to take a look and say WHAT? The real purpose of this post is to discuss how and why writers think they need to add an air of sophistication to their writing.

Adding foreign phrases. The first and most obvious way a lot of novice authors attempt to add sophistication to their writing is by inserting famous French quotes or adding dialog in French to one or more of their characters. Because ... everyone knows the French are way more sophisticated than rude and uncultured Americans (wink-wink). Verstehen Sie? (Oops, sorry, that was German.)

While adding a line of foreign language here and there to establish character traits is fine, a little can go a long way. This is especially true when the typical reader will not have an immediate understanding of the meaning of those phrases. The best practice is to put the foreign phrase in context so that the meaning, without proper translation, can be inferred from what is going on in the story. However, problems may crop up when the author isn’t fluent in the foreign language being used – but some readers out there are. Nothing is more embarrassing than having a reader point out improper usage or syntax when the author pulled the foreign phrase off some web site like freetranslation.com.

Create a unique style. Edward Estlin (E. E.) Cummings, famous poet who was also a painter and fiction author, wrote many of his poems in all lowercase letters. This became a trademark of his that made his work easily recognizable. And anyone who used that same ‘gimmick’ would immediately be branded as a shameless copycat. This type of stylistic artifice, however, can sometimes work against an author when the artistic style overwhelms the content and substance of the writing. For instance, writing an entire novel in a stream-of-consciousness style with run-on sentences that may go for paragraphs or even pages, can make reading the work a tedious chore for most readers, many of whom won’t put up with that for very long, and simply stop reading. That’s the last thing a writer wants his readers to do. So add an artistic style only if it can be done exceedingly well and seems essential to characterization, for instance if the novel is being told from a first-person point of view (I did this, I saw that), similar to William Faulkner’s style.

Everything plus the kitchen sink. Sometimes an author thinks it’s necessary to put everything conceivable into a novel in order to make it seem deep and worthy of highest regard. Foucault’s Pendulum by Italian writer and philosopher Umberto Eco seems to be just such a book. Mr. Eco may not have deliberately overwhelmed his convoluted story with arcane and obscure details (including lengthy explorations of the Kabbalah, alchemy, and conspiracy theories involving the Templars) because he thought it was the only way his book would gain critical attention. He may have in fact included these details as a result of his own philosophical explorations and studies. However, for the typical reader, keeping track of all that was going on in the book required a score sheet or index to refer to in frequent times of confusion. The total effect of reading it was like stepping into a very organized hoarder’s labyrinth – with no way out. While it was an oftentimes fascinating read with new twists and turns in every manner imaginable, it also required great effort to keep up with and simply read.

Purple Prose. There’s always the attempt to add sophistication to one’s writing when dealing with characters who are supposed to be upper-class or genteel. Historical novels often suffer from an overabundance of fancy, overinflated, ten-dollar words, ‘beautiful’ turns of a phrase, or polite euphemisms. While this can be an appropriate treatment to give a proper feel for the characters in a specific time period, oftentimes it has the opposite effect of adding sophistication, and actually makes the reader giggle or roll her eyes. While careful writing can add a sense of personality to a character through narrative style and artful dialog, it should be done with restraint so the tone is perfect – not overdone like a burnt cake buried under a ton of sticky-sweet icing.

Just get out of the way. Oftentimes the best way to write your story is the straightforward, no-nonsense approach. This is true of thrillers and much horror, and can work well for just about any other genre. The objective is for the author to remain invisible and get out of the way while showing the reader the story. The basic competency of the author’s writing will create a sturdy foundation over which the story can be built floor by floor to soar like a strong and glistening skyscraper. But if the author spends so much time trying to pretty up the writing (the foundation) with artful and sophisticated techniques, those added gewgaws may obscure a clear path to the elevator, so the reader never gets to visit the top floors of the soaring skyscraper story and see the wonderful vista the author had envisioned. Sometimes simplicity and directness and an economy of words can be a style all its own that readers will enjoy and appreciate – because it allows them to read the story instead of noticing the fancy way the author worded things.

So... Whatever writing approach you choose, make sure it’s a good fit for your story – then get out of the way and let the reader read it.

Pat Morrison, Penumbra Publishing

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New Release - VAMPIRE IN THE OUTFIELD

Vampire in the Outfield
by Walter Knight


Can vampire's play baseball? They can if they play only at night - and don't eat the umpire!

Johnny Black just wants to play baseball in the major leagues. He wants to so badly, he's willing to do anything, even make a deal with the Devil. And it seems he's already in Hell when he goes down to Mexico to tryout for the winter league. But as he fouls out on the mound and his dream seems to be lost, his luck changes when he goes to a cantina to drown his sorrows and meets a beautiful mysterious woman...

Available in ebook at popular online retailers

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

If at first your don't succeed...

David Berardelli's paranormal thriller
From Paranormal Wire's TUESDAY TIPS AND TIDBITS column...

Okay, repeat after me ... “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Yes, that’s how the famous old saying goes. Old sayings still ring true generation after generation, because there’s an element of relevance or conviction to them that makes them still applicable today, despite their age and clich├ęd overuse. So ... how is this particular saying relevant for writers?

Writers Who Can’t Finish

For the beginning writer who’s not yet published, this saying could mean many different things. Let’s take a typical novice author who really wants to finish that first great American novel, but just can’t seem to get it done. For writers in this situation, ‘try, try again’ means ‘keep at it.’

Many writers will let the familiar lame excuses of ‘I don’t have time’ stop them cold and keep them from reaching their goal. Don’t let that happen to you! If you don’t have time to write, make time. Rearrange your schedule. Give up sleeping in, work later into the night after your kids have gone to bed, let your family know this is something you really want to do, and steal the time necessary to work on what’s really important to you. The key is what is really important to you. If finishing your novel is one of your top priorities, you will find the time to do it. If you decide you can’t possibly realign your priorities due to other commitments, maybe you really do have too much on your plate right now. A realistic approach might be to wait until some of those other obligations get taken care of. But the reality is, if you put it off too long, you will simply let other things that come along continue to take priority over your dream of finishing your novel, until that dream becomes a distant, faded, forgotten memory. Now, admit it. It’s really an avoidance technique more than a time-management problem that prevents you from finishing that novel.

For the writer who’s ‘stuck’ and can’t seem to move forward with a story, ‘try, try again’ means not banging your head against a blank computer screen night after night, but instead means ‘try something else that works.’ In this case, you have to step outside your own box of Crayons and find a way to bring something new into the picture. That may mean getting advice from a writing partner or a critique group. It may mean reading some ‘how-to’ books on plotting and revision. The thing is, you have to pinpoint why you’re stuck, and then not try the same old thing you already know isn’t working. Instead, try something different until you find a way that does work to help you finish your novel.

These same ‘I’m stuck’ excuses and fix-techniques apply equally to those authors who have completed previous novels but can’t seem to move forward with the next one. Each story presents its own unique set of problems with character motivation and plotline, but the smart writer will find ways to deal with it, even if it means skipping a problematic section of the novel to keep moving forward. That problem section does however need to be addressed at some point before the novel can really be considered finished. The key is to stick with it and do whatever is necessary to finish.

Writers Who Just Give Up

Now suppose you’re one of those writers who’s finished your novel but can’t seem to get it published. After all, getting published was why you wrote the darn thing in the first place, wasn’t it? Yet here you are, faced with two – count ‘em, two – rejections! Now you are a failure. Right? Wrong! You’re a failure only if you give up trying. Remember that good old phrase, ‘try, try again’? But let’s say you’ve queried five publishers. Even ten. Maybe even a hundred! And you still can’t get anyone to take a look at your work. Shouldn’t you be able to admit you’re a failure by then?

Well, the truth is, yes, you can stop trying at any time in this game and admit you’ve failed, and allow yourself permission to not achieve your goal of becoming a published author. But, before you do that, examine why you want to quit. Is it just too much work and bother having to submit your manuscript and then wait around? Have you seemingly wasted years of your life doing this and feel you need to move on and leave that particular dream behind, unfulfilled? Everyone can find some way to justify failure. Blame it on the economy, on stupid publishers who wouldn’t know a book from a boat, and so forth. But maybe, just maybe, it’s your own approach to seeking success that is the failure – not you. Perhaps you can’t fix yourself, but you can fix what you do and how you do it.

‘Try, try again,’ as stated before, does not mean that you have to do the same old thing the same old way to ensure you get the same old unsatisfactory result. Any serious writer will keep all rejection letters as a record of who not to approach again. Take your rejection letters out and look at them. Are they all the same kind of form letter saying something innocuous like, ‘Not for us,’ or ‘Not interested at this time?’ If you’ve got even one letter that says something individual, meant just for you, like, ‘The story concept was interesting, but the writing left much to be desired,’ there’s a clue, putting you way ahead of the game. Maybe your attempts to get published are not a failure, but a wakeup call to go back and revamp your novel. If you haven’t bothered to get honest opinions from a good writing partner or critique group, maybe that should be part of your ‘try, try again’ approach.

Writers Who Believe the Hype

You wanted all the fortune and fame that comes with being a bestselling author. You thought the life of a writer would be glamorous and sophisticated – no real work involved, just lounging around in your PJs and thinking up stories. And maybe an occasional invitation to appear on the David Letterman Show to tout your latest work, hobnobbing with other guest stars. Wow, what a gig!

Yes, great work – if you can get it. But believe it or not, the life of successful writers is not filled with glamour and parties and days on end spent staring out the window at the fantastic view offered by a beach house retreat. Writing is work – oftentimes really difficult work. And it can be lonely work – most of the time without anyone around to pat you on the back and say, ‘Good job, well done.’ Sometimes the attendant responsibilities of a successful writing career involve a lot of compulsory travel, appearances, interviews, and other promotional activities. Then there’s the pressure. Writers who’ve made it to the bestseller list still have to come up with that next blockbuster novel, and their fans will be watching to make sure they don’t turn out some carbon copy of the last one. Each story has to be unique, with characters different from the last, and new problems to solve. Even successful writers have to stay on top of their game, or somebody new will come along and eat their lunch.

The truth is, most ‘regular’ writers are not full-time writers. They hold down ‘day’ jobs to earn a living. They have families to take care of, mortgages to pay, and social obligations that don’t include champagne at the occasional black-tie dinner party. For most writers, their writing career is not glamorous and doesn’t even come close to paying the bills.

For those writers who’ve managed to get published and are looking at dismal sales numbers – or even no sales at all – the hype, the fantasy of being a published author can be a bitter pill to swallow. Many authors who find themselves looking at sporadic and laughable royalty payments simply want to throw in the towel. And that’s the absolute worst time to quit, give up, throw in the towel, and go home. Why? Because they’ve come this far, they’ve achieved their publishing dreams, so why give it all up? Yes, maybe all that working and waiting and hoping just doesn’t seem worth it. And yes, things didn’t turn out at all like they'd hoped. But real writers can’t quit. They love writing too much, even though it seems to have slapped them in the face.

The truth is, not every book is going to be a blockbuster. Why? Because not every story is the same. A bestseller will appeal to a wide audience and speak to each reader individually. A bestseller will gain the attention of the reading world, not always because it deserves to, but because the author worked hard, was lucky, met the right people at the right place at the right time, and didn’t give up. At any time along the way, the author – not the book, but the author – could have made a misstep ... could have written a shallow or uninteresting book, could have been lazy and decided not to go that extra mile to make people take notice of his book, or could have torpedoed any chance of success by being recalcitrant and impatient, thereby alienating the very people who might have helped make him a star in the literary world.

There’s no easy answer for the age-old questions many writers ask – “Why can’t I be successful? Why can’t my book be a bestseller? Why won’t readers buy my book?” But I can tell you for certain that the writer who quits tireless promotion efforts and gives up searching for new efforts that work doesn’t deserve to ask these questions. So, if your writing career is not what you’d like it to be, take a good hard look at what you’re doing or not doing, and ... ‘try, try again.’

Patricia Morrison, Penumbra Publishing

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Writers Are Special


Writers Are Very Special

By Robert J. Wetherall

As a writer of sorts, I’m fully aware of the trials, tribulations and sheer crap that we writers have to go through. But a brief discussion yesterday with my pal, celebrated author and welder Eddie Salinski, set me straight on this by giving me a view of the world through his unique looking-glass. Eddie says he has no time for writers who walk through life with a hangdog look of the maltreated and unappreciated, just because they’ve received several hundred rejections by publishers and dodged insults from herds of highfalutin literary agents who wouldn’t know a book from a submarine.

Writers, don’t let all this affect you, Eddie says. Rise above it, because if you’re a writer, you are very special. You are one of a kind, courageously carrying on a struggle against horrendous odds. Battle-toughened, unique, a rare meteorite in a desert dune. Your friends cleave to you and hunger for your attention. Your many enemies envy you. The IRS doesn’t dare audit you. You enjoy special discounts at Sammy’s Second-Hand Stuff. Your family even lets you ride in the car with them.

Better still, Eddie says, if you’re a writer, acquaintances will think it’s cute when you’re self-centered, rude, and obnoxious. They’ll assume that, as a person of higher status, you play by different rules than those accorded more humble non-writing beings.

“But what if I’m a really stinky writer?” I asked Eddie softly.

“Doesn’t mean a damn thing,” Eddie reassured. “Nobody knows the difference!”

He patiently explained that even lousy writing is better than not writing at all. He reminded me that even a dumb shallow statement looks much smarter on paper than it sounds when spoken, especially when enhanced by a cunning modern font.

Eddie’s confidence radiated from his wiry little body as he flicked a cigarette into the dry brush behind his trailer. “Trust me,” he said, offering me a soiled hanky to dry my eyes.

There’s no denying that Eddie’s pronouncements about the literary world must be taken seriously, given the explosive success of his own works. That’s why Eddie Salinski has become my oracle of sorts. He knows whereof he speaks. So who are we to be filled with doubt?

Let’s man up, as they say. Straighten those shoulders. Have the cojones (if available) to face your future with jutting, uplifted chin. Stare fate in the chops. March proudly to an upbeat drummer. Instead of wasting time writing your name in the snow this afternoon, go mail off another pathetic query. Mark it “Eddie sent me” and hope for the best.

After all, you are special. Now act like it.

Robert J. Wetherall

Last Flight Home
The Making of Bernie Trumble
Forever Andrew

Available at amazon.com, penumbrapublishing.com, wetherallbooks.com

Friday, June 17, 2011

DUST-OFF CHALLENGE #2

We have completed our review of query number 2 for our 'Dust-Off Challenge' series and thank author Mohan D. for allowing us to share his work with our readers and to critique his submission.

Please visit our blog page entitled "Dust-Off Challenge" to see the latest entry.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dust-Off Challenge #1

We've completed our 'Dust-Off Challenge' review of our first 'contestant' game enough to allow us to publicly critique his query packet for a novel. Paul T.'s thriller, A Shrouded Mystery, is featured on our 'Dust-Off Challenge' Page.

Thank you, Paul, for allowing us to share your work and our comments on how you might improve it for publishing success.

Our next contestant's entry will be posted soon, so stay tuned!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mating Season for Writers

Mating Season For Writers Begins

by Robert J. Wetherall

“Geez,” says my good friend, Eddie Salinski, I almost forgot. The mating season for writers starts next week.”

“What in Sam Hell are you talking about?” I asked as we floated ensconced in Eddie’s little wood-planked rowboat, about thirty feet off-shore on a small lake near his house trailer. The mosquitoes, gnats, and horse flies were biting. The bass were not.

“It's a concept I developed several years ago. Writers begin mating in June each year. Their genre doesn’t matter. Whether they’re creators of fiction, non-fiction, or whatever, they all lay eggs. These eggs hatch in around 21 days, providing of course that a caring agent has been sitting on them.”

“How do you come up with this nonsense?” I asked gently, knowing that to question this writing icon more aggressively might cause him to fall silent.

“It’s all up here,” he said, tapping his forehead, his eyes alight with pride and smugacity.

Now, if I were having this same conversation with any one other than Eddie, I would have jumped out of the boat and swam lickety-split to shore. But I knew that Eddie did not become one of America’s most treasured writers (and welders) by having average thoughts. So I remained calm and awaited further revelation.

The morning was quiet. A huge dragonfly about the size of a Cadillac El Dorado lazily landed on my bobber, confident that it had found the driest surface in the universe. Eddie’s raspy voice broke the silence. “You see, it’s like this,” he declared with certainty. “Writers need intercourse of all kinds with other writers. And while they’re about it, they exchange ideas. They polish their nuances. Critique one another. And inspire. It’s all part of the grand scheme of things. They get out of themselves. They talk to people. And their work becomes a blend of the best. Kinda noble, don’t ya think?”

“But about this egg thing,” I interjected.

“Don’t worry ‘bout breakfast.”

“No, you mentioned writers laying eggs and hatching them, and agents, and all that.”

Eddie pulled in his line and began wrestling with the anchor rope. “Just trying to get your attention,” he said, grabbing the oars and pivoting the boat toward shore.

A feisty horse fly bit through my thick wool socks, drawing blood on my ankle.

“Let’s go get us some breakfast,” Eddie said, grinning at me happily. “I could go for some eggs about now. Maybe some bacon, too.”

I just nodded in agreement and decided to drop the whole thing.

“We’ve had enough intercourse for one morning,” he said.

Robert J. Wetherall
LAST FLIGHT HOME
THE MAKING OF BERNIE TRUMBLE
FOREVER ANDREW
Available at Amazon.com, PenumbraPublishing.com, WetherallBooks.com