Tuesday, December 16, 2008
But you don't have to wait until next fall to learn something from Margie. A practicing psychologist, Margie teaches more than empowering characters--she also empowers writers. Whether you struggle with writer's block or simply feel that you could be more effective at accomplishing your writing goals, Margie provides tools to help in her on-line course, Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors, offered through Writer University. In this one-month workshop, Margie provides advice and strategies for overcoming paralysis, silencing your inner critic, managing your moods, making time to write, and more.
I took this course last year. I was already pretty good at time-management, but I struggled with a vocal inner critic that had kept me from realizing my full potential. Thanks to "Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors," I now recognize several varieties of "faulty thinking" (pessimism and perfectionism are my biggest problems) and have created strategies to counter them. I also picked up some great techniques for managing my mood--and when I'm in a good mood, I write better. This class, like "Empowering Characters' Emotions," is a bargain at twice the price.
Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors costs $30 and runs from January 2 through 30. What better way to kick off the New Year than to dedicate yourself to realizing your full potential as a writer?
Friday, December 12, 2008
Dianne Ochiltree gave a very informative presentation last night. We learned not only about the effort that goes into writing a children's book, but also about the promotion side of the business and some of the details about the different types of children's books. Dianne read her latest upcoming book and shared the story of her writing journey. We had 15 people in attendance, and I want to thank those who were able to make it. Next time I'll have to take pictures from up close!
Here's Dianne and I after the meeting.
May your holiday celebrations be filled with joy.
See you next month!
Monday, December 8, 2008
CATS ADD UP!, a math early reader paperback in the 'Scholastic Reader' series, for ages 5-8, at $4 per copy.
PILLOW PUP, a hardcover picture book from McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster, for ages 2-6, at $15 per copy.
TEN MONKEY JAMBOREE, a hardcover picture book from McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster, for ages 4-8, at $17 per copy.
LULL-A-BYE, LITTLE ONE, a hardcover picture book from G.P. Putnam's Sons, for ages 0-4, at $17 per copy.
Hope to see as many there as can make it.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Getting an agent is an effort almost as Herculean as writing a book in the first place. Constructing a query letter or developing a pitch requires an entirely different skill set than creative writing, whether it's a novel or non-fiction. It's no wonder that many beginning writers throw up their hands in despair. One book that can help is Katherine Sands's Making the Perfect Pitch. Although the subtitle is "How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye," it's not a how-to book, but a collection of essays by agents on what they look for in query letters.
This book is not for the easily discouraged. These agents are very blunt about the huge quantity of queries they receive, and what the means for the prospective writer trying to become a first-time author. It's easy to come away from the book feeling that if you don't have an MFA or an existing mass audience, you might as well not even bother. But there's plenty of encouragement as well.
Since it's not a how-to, you'll have to mine the chapters for the advice you need, but it's well worth spending the time to read each agent's advice. You'll find that some of the advice seems contradictory. One agent says that it's important to work the setting into a query letter for fiction; another says it's irrelevant. There's no single, magic formula. But if you study these chapters, you'll quickly discover the common elements that agents look for in queries... and in those who query. Agents aren't just looking for good writing--they're looking for good writing by people who understand that publishing is a business and who are willing to present themselves in a professional manner.
The bottom line: if you want to be published, you almost certainly need an agent. Making the Perfect Pitch can help you get an agent's attention.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I met Kathy at Necronomicon 2008 in October, in St. Petersburg. I hope to have her speak to the group this coming year. She publishes both through a small local press, Aisling, and an e-book publisher out of Canada.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
I enjoyed the last workshop I attended, although it meant I was once again rewriting the opening to my story. I think I'll stick with this new one, at least for now. I had a great time, met some wonderful people, and have a commitment from the founder of FWA to present to our St. Pete group next year. I hope we can make this coming year our best year ever. But before we get there, we have one final meeting this year, featuring Children's author Dianne Ochiltree from Sarasota. I hope to see many of you in attendance.
It's late, but the day went well and I met more exciting and interesting people, including one whose column on the internet I had read several months ago. Everyone has been helpful and friendly and after the long awards ceremony, ready to go home! One more morning and we'll be on our way.
See you soon,
Friday, November 14, 2008
Feedback from others was also good, and attendance is the highest ever, so I sense a lot of joy from the organizers. A big thank you to them, as this was a monumental task.
My agent interview went well, too. I found if I could trim my novel, she'd be interested. Seeing as how it's not quite complete yet, that means I have less to write! But I recommend, if you have the chance, of talking to these types of people, if for no other reason than to get comfortable around them, realize they are just like you, and hopefully with additional face time they may get to know you. As I read on one site, one of the keys to success is Contacts! So don't be afraid to make them.
All for now,
I did find out that going through Tampa at 6pm on a weeknight is not the best way to spend your time. From Pinellas it took me an hour to get near the I-4 interchange! I finally made it here after 3 hours on the road, though once I hit I-4 it was smooth sailing. There was a well-placed rest stop on the way.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Last month, when I recommended Techniques of the Selling Writer, I mentioned that the book is quite dense. Swain provides so much information on so many components of modern fiction that it can be difficult to tease out the individual strands of advice and apply them. I especially wanted a deeper look at the "scene and sequel" technique he presents. I found it in Jack Bickham's Scene & Structure.
Bickham, a student of Swain's, begins with an analysis of the structure of modern fiction. He dispels the myth that "structure" requires a formula or particular format. Instead, structure is a method of organizing a story "in a way that's both logical and dramatic." The rest of the book is devoted to demonstrating that definition.
Many writers struggle with how to begin and end their stories, so Bickham tackles that problem first. A story should start, "at the time of change that threatens your major character's self-concept." That threat generates the protagonist's story goal: the one thing she must accomplish in order to end the threat: "Sarah must find her lost child," for example. The story goal turns into a yes-or-no story question in the reader's mind: "Will Sarah find her lost child?" The story ends when that question is answered.
So what goes in the middle?
To answer that question, Bickham zooms in to focus on "Structure in Microcosm: Cause and Effect." In order to make sense to the reader, a story must present its events in a logical sequence: cause precedes effect. That's easy to see on the macroscopic scale. In a mystery, the crime must occur before the detective has anything to investigate. But it's also true on an almost line-by-line level in a story. Characters experience an event (stimulus), consider what to do (internalization) and act (response). Granted, the pattern doesn't always hold: if someone points a gun at your character, internalization vanishes in favor of an immediate reaction. But in general, this pattern of stimulus-internalization-response is necessary to hold the reader's attention and interest.
Bickham turns next to the macroscopic versions of cause and effect: scenes and sequels. The scene is an action unit in which the point of view character strives to attain a specific, short-term goal that leads to the story goal. Conflict leades to failure: Sometimes the goal is blocked entirely (No!), sometimes the goal is blocked until another goal is achieved (No, but...), and sometimes the goal is blocked and another setback is inflicted (No, and furthermore...). The reader keeps turning pages, wondering how the character will deal with this disaster and what he'll do next.
The character wonders, too, and that's where sequel comes in. Sequels tie scenes together by providing a period of introspection (internalization) during which the character can review the situation, analyze options, and decide what to do next. Sequels can be as long or short as necessary: in a thriller, sequels are often so short as to be nearly non-existent; in other forms of fiction, they can last for pages. But the sequel allows the character to determine a new short-term goal, which becomes the starting point of the next scene.
Bickham offers further advice on using scenes and sequels to control the pace of a novel, varying the internal structure of these components, dealing with common scene errors, and using scene and sequel to plot a novel. If, like me, you prefer to work from an outline, this advice will be particularly valuable. If you don't like outlines, you'll still find Bickham's advice useful, because you'll need to keep the story structure in mind as you write or revise.
Like Swain, Bickham is primarily concerned with popular or commercial rather than literary fiction. However, if the latter is what you want to write, this book is still worth reading. Structure is like the frame of a house: whether you're building a Colonial mansion or a shotgun shack, you'll still need walls and a roof. Whether you're writing a deeply literary character study or a pulse-pounding thriller, you'll still need scenes and sequels. Let Jack Bickham show you how to build them.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
I've volunteered to write twice a month reviewing books, software, and other writing resources. I have accumulated a lot of such tools, and I want to share the ones I've found most useful. For my first post, I'll start with a book John mentioned at this month's meeting: Techniques of the Selling Writer.
I've enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember. In third grade, I started writing plays and short stories. At thirteen, I realized that I wanted to be a novelist. Yet it wasn't until earlier this year that I finally finished my first novel.
What took so long?
One factor was that I didn't know what I was doing. I knew the basic building blocks--plot, setting, character, and so on. I had a vague idea of how they all went together, too, but I couldn't quite figure out how to make them cohere. Writing a novel felt like trying to build a house without having any blueprints. I almost gave up several times. Then I discovered Techniques of the Selling Writer..
I was astonished. Though the book is four decades old (originally written in 1965, it was republished in 1982), the techniques Swain describes are still crucial to creating best-selling popular fiction. As I read, I had frequent "aha" moments as I understood why my favorite writers made the choices they made and just what it is that makes a novel so compelling that I stay up far past my bed time to finish it.
Swain leads off with the basic building blocks of fiction and discusses how to avoid traps that beginning (and some experienced) novelists often fall prey to. His chapter on conflict is one of the best primers on the subject I've ever read. The best value in this book, however, is Swain's advice on the strategy of constructing the plot of popular fiction. For Swain, a plot comprises a series of scenes and sequels. A "scene" means action--the character strives to achieve a goal that will move him closer to realizing the story goal. Scenes are followed by a "sequel," by which he means a period of reflection on the previous scene, in which the character plans a new short term goal and gets ready for a new scene. By utilizing this rhythmic structure of scene-sequel-scene-sequel, authors of popular fiction keep their readers turning the pages.
The final chapters contain information on marketing and sales; these chapters are very out of date, and you're better off skipping them entirely and looking for more recent information.
This is a very dense book, not to be read in one sitting. But if you can absorb the techniques Swain presents and apply them to your fiction, you'll have a far better chance of getting published.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I've received news that a Don Maass workshop will be held in Tampa, Nov. 6-9, 2008. It's called High Tension Workshop, and is designed to increase the tension in your novel and help you develop it into a selling vehicle. Feedback from others has been positive, to the effect that I've signed up for the 3 and 1/2 day workshop.
I was going to post a flyer here, but that seems too large for the blog, so I'm going to put their link here and you can register directly on-line. In the discount message enter "FWA and $50 discount" to receive a break on the price.
Go to: www.free-expressions.com to register and get more information.
Yours truly, sincerely, and passionately,
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Can you believe it? I'm actually blogging from the Necronomicon, the SF&F (Science Fiction and Fantasy, butalso includes Horror and Anime) convention going on at the Hilton St. Pete this weekend. I've met a lot of interesting authors, including the honored guests Frederik Pohl, Julie Czerneda and Rick Wilber. Rick is a journalism professor at USF Tampa, and indicated he would be willing to talk to us and also put us in touch with many others in the area.
I'm excited about 2009 and the possible schedule we can develop with all of the talent in this area.
The costumes are great, and I think my favorite is one of the latest Joker. Not just from the makeup and stuff, but because the guy acts the part. I've missed most of the writing workshops, having gone to a Q&A with Pohl (he's 88, so I was reading him in grade school and high school back in the Middle Ages), and an interesting workshop by Czerneda concerning scientific literacy.
A bonus was she went over elements of an SF story.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Last night's meeting was attended by twenty people, including our three newest members. (I'm excited about this, but don't want to overuse the exclamation point!) Kaye Coppersmith set everyone to writing immediately about a character, and most were able to read their results to the everyone. What a talented and giving group!
I'd like to remind you, gently, that you'll get out of this what you put into it. I spoke with a bestselling author who has sold millions of copies of her books, and with several whose first published book is like mine, still a dream of the heart. The desire and excitement to write was the same in all of them, all of us. This is a group that encourages and challenges, and I ask that you accept the challenge, drink up the encouragement and share your talents with the group. It can only help you get better, not only in writing, but in life itself.
Keep writing and living,
Monday, October 6, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
JOIN US OCTOBER 9TH FOR A CHARACTER WORKSHOP
MODERATED BY: KAYE COPPERSMITH.
KAYE HAS BEEN WRITING ALL HER LIFE,
HAS HAD SHORT STORIES PUBLISHED IN MAGAZINES, AND IS NOW
A MANUSCRIPT EDITOR.
A member of the FWA Tampa Writers Group since 2002 and responsible for forming Tampa's Critique Group, she has also contributed to the St. Petersburg Critique Group and is a frequent attendee at St. Petersburg FWA meetings.
What do all writers bring to a workshop? Pen and notebook, or paper and pencil. Make sure you bring yours on Thursday, 10/09, for this exciting workshop.
Time: 5:30pm Networking, 6:00pm Meeting - until 7:45pm
Location: St. Petersburg Public Library
37th St. and 9th Ave N, St. Petersburg
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Good evening! The weekends pass too fast for me. Our next meeting is on October 9th, and will be led by Young Adult author Eugene Orlando in conjunction with manuscript editor Kaye Coppersmith. This promises to be an action-filled night from what I've heard. It is a hands-on experience that will get everyone involved. This is a good night to come out and work on your craft.
I hope to see you all there.
We'll be working on speakers for next year, so if you are visiting the site, don't forget to vote in our poll of what you'd like to see and do. Remember, this is YOUR group!
Saturday, September 6, 2008
I invite you to consider what you would like to see in upcoming meetings next year. We will begin planning the schedule very soon.