A New Book Review

It has been a while since I’ve found an indie-published book I wanted to read, much less review. I started out doing that last year, and, with a few exceptions, it was so dismal, I gave it up.

I’ve reviewed one of those exceptions, All That Is Necessary, by Jennie Coughlin, here. If you don’t see the link, click on the Book Reviews tab above and select it from the drop down list.

I hope you’ll agree this is one indie book you’ll be hard-pressed to differentiate between it and a traditionally published one.

Oh, and look for an author interview with Ms. Coughlin here next week.

A Sunny Friday Fictioneers

Friday Fictioneers LogoThis week’s inspiration photograph was a welcome contrast to the weather we’ve been having here in central Virginia–it was five degrees Centigrade upon waking this morning, and the forecast is for snow on Friday. That’s enough to make one long for tropical shores.

I grew up in a land-locked county in Virginia, and, in fact, didn’t learn to swim until I was an adult because my mother managed to instill a fear of water in me. Having a significant other who owned a boat was impetus enough to be more safe while out on the water, and luckily my local parks and rec gave adult swim lessons. It was one of those times where you learn something and wish you hadn’t wasted all those years avoiding it.

I loved swimming and loved being in the water. The SO and I eventually bought a house on a tributary of the Patuxent River in Maryland, and we vacationed at a lakehouse owned by him and his brother in eastern Connecticut. Both places got me out of being a pool-only swimmer. Then, there was the ocean.

Today’s 100-word story is “And When We Go Back to the Sea.” In addition to the photo, a quote from President John F. Kennedy also inspired it:

“All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.”

If you don’t see the link on the story title, go to the Friday Fictioneers tab at the top of this post and click on it. Then, you can select the story from the drop-down menu.

Let the Writing Conferences Begin

I was so overwhelmed by the AWP Conference last year (just me and 9,999 other writers), I decided I needed a warm-up to get ready for AWP Boston in March. And at least it’s something close to home.

Hollins University, site of Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop, hosts the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference this coming weekend: a meet and greet and some speechifying on Friday evening, then a jam-packed Saturday of workshops. And, oh, those workshops. They make you want to defy the laws of physics and be in two–in some cases four–places at the same time.

From book promotion to pitches to writing humor and/or cookbooks to marketing and memoirs to self-publishing to craft to blogging, there is something for everyone. It’ll be a long, but invigorating day.

I’m looking forward to attending workshops by writers I’ve not met as well as one by Jim Minick, who is a Tinker Mountain classmate and previous presenter at my local writing group, SWAG Writers. I look forward to all the pointers and advice I know will be forthcoming from all the presenters.

And just so February won’t feel left out, that same SWAG Writers is sponsoring a playwriting workshop on February 23. The location is yet to be determined, so stay tuned for the details. If you find yourself in the Shenandoah Valley that weekend, consider giving it a try. I’ve taken a “writing for movies” workshop before, but I’m eager to stretch my boundaries a little–or a lot.

March will be a two-fer: AWP then the Virginia Festival of the Book. In May I’m attending my first writing retreat, and I’ll write more about that later. June will be a return to Tinker Mountain, so right now I have April open. Suggestions, anyone?

I’ll report on each workshop after it happens, and I hope to see some of my writer friends at each.

 

Friday Fictioneers – Ignore Your First Impressions

Friday Fictioneers LogoWhen I first saw this week’s photo prompt, I wondered, “Oy! [No pun intended.] How will I ever come up with something for this?”

Now, other photos have posed quite the challenge, but this one–again, I say, oy!

Then, I stepped back–much like the protagonist in the story–and noticed, ooh, my favorite word, the juxtaposition of the objects. That hinted at a person, an object, and a place, and they brought to mind a game I’ve played with friends for hours at a time–Clue. (You know–Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the lead pipe.)

So, that meant this had to be a mystery, posed, investigated, and solved in 100 words. Easy, peasy, right? And I managed to work in two, other pop culture references into “My Fair Clue.” Can you spot them?

As a writer, sometimes you have to ignore your first impressions. You know, the ones that whisper to you that you’ll never come up with a story. Sometimes, you just have to look at things from a different angle, and, lo and behold, the story was there all along.

As usual, if you don’t see the link on the title above, scroll up to the top of this post and click on the Friday Fictioneers tab. Then, you can select the story from the drop-down list.

Authorgraphs

No, the title’s not a typo. Authorgraph was formerly Kindlegraph, a site where authors can promote their books and offer signatures for eBooks.

All three of my books’ pages (click on the Published Works tab above) now have an icon, which you can click to take you to Authorgraph.com. There, you can request I “sign” your eBook of Blood Vengeance, Fences, or Spy Flash. The personalized signature and message comes to your eReader’s e-mail account.

If you can’t make it to a book signing I’m having, this is a virtual one. Give it a try. You might find other authors–including famous ones–participating.

I look forward to “signing” your copy!

Wealth of Language

The recent movie, Lincoln, is based on a wonderful book of non-fiction by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Those of us who count ourselves as historians have historians as our heroes and heroines. Goodwin is one of mine. Not only is she a superb scholar, but her writing is down-to-earth. Her histories read like novels and reach a general audience. (Yes, there was a plagiarism kerfuffle a few years back, but I bought her explanation; and it only made her a more careful scholar.)

Screenwriter Tony Kushner took just a small portion of her book–the part about the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, the one that abolished slavery–and turned it into two and a half hours of engaging film. Sometimes period pieces can be stodgy and pedantic, but Kushner, who won a Pulitzer for Angels in America and co-wrote another incredible historical film, Munich, took a subject for which director Steven Spielberg had already rejected two scripts and wrote one that brought you Lincoln as war president, story-teller, master politician, husband, and father.

Though the major movie award programs give statuettes for writing both original and adapted screenplays, the writing categories rarely receive the notice that Best Actor, Actress, Director, and Movie do. Think about it. You probably remember Titanic won Best Picture (gag), but do you remember who wrote the screenplay? How about any of your favorite major motion pictures? When people stay to read the credits, “writer” is one they tend to skip. A shame, really, because two hours of mindless action and simplistic dialogue can only go so far. I believe, as writers, we have an appreciation for exposition through dialogue we find in truly great movies. An historical piece, like Lincoln, with its richness of sometimes archaic language, is to us like a Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick is to a twenty-something gamer.

Lincoln mesmerized me not only with Spielberg’s attention to historical detail but also with incredibly fluid and pertinent language. As I watched the movie, I absorbed the language and, of course, felt a pang of envy for Kushner’s talent. I knew that Lincoln would win awards right and left during the movie award season to come, but I also knew the writer of that screenplay would get only nominal, if any, recognition.

Then came Daniel Day Lewis’ Golden Globes Best Actor acceptance speech:

“Tony Kushner, every day I live without the immeasurable wealth of your language, which reminds me every day of the impoverishment of my own.”

That one sentence took my breath away. An actor–one whose talent is amazing but without the ego-trip–acknowledged the writer before the director. Unheard of but refreshing.

Next time you go to a movie, listen, really listen, to the dialogue–not just the way the actor says it but how the writer put it together. With ease, you’ll spot the difference between a writer and a hack.

A Musical Friday Fictioneers

Friday Fictioneers LogoDon’t worry; I won’t be regaling you with my lack of musical skill. Actually, I’m a pretty decent soprano, but singing my stories? Nah.

Today’s photo prompt was a poser for a non-instrument player, like me. I thought the instruments in the photo were one thing but decided to check that out with some musician friends, who set me on the correct path. I hope.

For my story I decided they were bass violins. Cellos made the word count easier to finesse, but I’m a stickler for accuracy. Any time I’ve been to live orchestral concerts, I always watch the players of stringed instruments. I play a little guitar (emphasis on “a little”), but I’m always captivated by the passion the players of stringed instruments display. I mean, watch Yo-Yo Ma. If he isn’t making love to that cello…

I hope you enjoy “Love, With Strings Attached,” and if I got the instruments wrong, close your eyes and pretend. As usual, if you can’t see the link on the title of the story, scroll to the top of the page, click on Friday Fictioneers, then select the story from the drop-down list.

Let the Querying Begin

This, the first full week of the new year, I go down a new path on the journey to publication–querying an agent. Yes, I hyperventilate a bit at the thought.

Well more than a decade ago, I thought I had a manuscript in good enough shape to query agents. Armed with my copy of Writer’s Digest’s guide to literary agents, I made a careful selection of about ten who accepted work in my genre (historical thriller), who would look at the work of unpublished authors, and whatever other criteria I thought would make us a good match.

Since these were the days before electronic submissions and Submitable, I dutifully made ten copies of the first thirty pages of the manuscript, and I wrote a query letter (based on samples I’d seen in Writer’s Digest and other writing magazines) individual to each prospective agent. I prepared ten self-addressed, stamped envelopes with the correct postage and ten envelopes for each query package, again with the correct postage. The clerks at the Kingstowne, VA, Post Office got to know me well.

The now-ex and I spent a Saturday morning stuffing said envelopes, and we were rather giddy as we trekked to the Post Office and dropped them in the mail box. The now-ex was always very supportive of my writing–seeing as how a lot of my non-fiction had bolstered his career a few times–but he was also good at bringing me down to earth when I needed it. “Don’t expect an answer from anyone on Monday, or Wednesday, or Friday,” he said. “You said yourself, these things take time.”

Good advice, which, of course, I ignored when I eagerly checked my mail box upon returning home from work each day. I think it took about two weeks for the first reply to come in–of course, blah, blah, be happy to represent you, blah, blah, blah, for a fee.

I was a novice in the getting fiction published market at that point but not so ignorant to know that agents who expect fees up front are not being ethical. I went back to the literary agent “bible,” and this particular company did not indicate that it wanted an up-front fee. I tossed the response and considered it a rejection.

Of the ten queries I sent out, I got responses from six, all rejections. Of them, only two used the SASE to return the manuscript sample. Those two arrived within a day of each other, each with a hand-scribbled “No Thanks” at the top of the page. Both had a note: one said, “Like your writing, hate the concept,” and the other said, “Love the concept, dislike your writing.” Helpful. Not.

That exercise was so ego-bending–but necessary–that it put me off querying until now. However, I look back on it and realize it happened just the way it should have. That manuscript was in no way ready for anyone’s consideration and, in fact, has gone through so many revisions and reorganizations it’s unrecognizable as the draft I thought was a gem.

Time passes, I’ve educated myself better about the querying process, and now it’s time to try again. I have, however, been to enough agent panels at writing conferences to know it’s all subjective. It all depends on the agent’s mood on a particular day, whether he or she has had a fight with a spouse or child, whether he or she has had a spate of great queries or horrible ones, and many other conditions the writer has no way of knowing.

In other words, it’s a crap shoot. An agent described it that way at a “First Pages” workshop I attended last year, and it was a relief that an agent was so honest about the process.

So, why bother? Well, because I want to give traditional publishing a good chance before I go completely over to what some would characterize as the dark side of publishing. I have published on my own three collections of short stories, mainly because I know querying a collection of short stories, and in particular genre short stories, is almost a guaranteed rejection. My novels, however, are a different matter. I want to give them a try at traditional publishing.

This year, then, will be the year of the Query Letter. I’m not going to do a ten-agent blast mailing this time, mainly because most queries are now electronic, but I am going to do a lot of careful research and select two or three at a time to query. And this time, I do have a manuscript, which has gone through two revisions and my critique group, in really good shape. It’s not the one from all those years ago, which morphed into a trilogy (I know; yikes), but it’s one I’m proud of and willing to toss into the consideration pool.

You won’t ever win the pot unless you roll the dice.

Happy New Year, Friday Fictioneers!

Happy New Writing Year!

The holidays are great, but they’re over at last. No rushing about shopping or cooking or cleaning up a mound of discarded wrapping paper. The relatives have all gone home, and no more guilt-trips about spending time with your lap top, doing that, you know, hobby thing you do, writing.

I managed to keep to my writing schedule between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but not much else, and I, for one, am glad to be getting back to the writing/revising/reading schedule I’ve become comfortable with. If I don’t, the guilt-trips will come from me.

Friday Fictioneers LogoThis first Friday Fictioneers of 2013 has an apt inspiration photo, and it took me to my usual genre–the thriller. Yes, it’s a bit B-movie, a bit noir, but I hope when you read it you get that I tried to juxtapose beauty and something normal with something dark and abnormal.

That’s what usually attracts me to read fiction, the contrasts between dark and light, good and evil, the usual and the unusual. I’ve often wondered why that is. You’d think with the disruptive life I had, I’d want no surprises in my fiction. I do probably read more literary fiction than anything else, but I often need my dose of something that wrenches me from normalcy, because, well, otherwise life–and reading–would be boring.

Today’s story is “Indulgences,” and, as usual, if you don’t see the link on the title, scroll to the top of this post and click on the Friday Fictioneers tab. Then, you can select “Indulgences” from the drop-down list.