Monday, May 31, 2010
This is it! AuthorCulture's first anniversary!
Our readers have made this experience special for us by participating in our drawings and contests and leaving comments for us.
Twenty-five of you actually shared your thoughts with us in our survey. We learned quite a bit about what you like and don't like about our blog, and we're prepared to make changes accordingly.
Our minds' wheels are always turning for ideas to provide you with fresh information and entertaining posts. So far this year, we've added an extra voice to our mix, Johne Cook (thanks, Johne!) and an extra category to explore: "Lessons from the Pros." Each month, one of us will share with you lessons we learned while reading books by multi-pubbed authors. Those lessons, like our writers tips, can cover anything from how to tweak a certain aspect of your genre to how to improve your characterization, setting descriptions, tension building etc. Who knows, we may read something that'll give us lessons in how not to do something!
We hope you continue with us, but more, we hope you share your victories with us. You can contact us with the duber down there on the right sidebar--it's easier to work than it looks. Let us know when you've finished your novel and are preparing to send it on the road or when you've been accepted for publication, or anything writing/publishing related that you're celebrating. We'd love to celebrate with you!
Okay, it's time for me to quit jabberin' and announce who the winner of the B&N gift certificate is!
Erica, contact us using that duber I just mentioned, and I'll send the certificate right out to you. Congrats and use it wisely!
Everyone, thanks for celebrating with us! We truly appreciate all our readers!
Friday, May 28, 2010
A Shaggy Frog story.
A frog goes into a bank and
approaches the teller. He
can see from her nameplate
that her name is Patricia
"Miss Whack, I'd like to get
a $30,000 loan to take a
Patty looks at the frog in
disbelief and asks his name.
The frog says his name is
Kermit Jagger, his dad is
Mick Jagger, and that it's
okay, he knows the bank
Patty explains that he will
need to secure the loan with
The frog says, "Sure. I have
this," and produces a tiny
porcelain elephant, about an
inch tall, bright pink and
Very confused, Patty explains
that she'll have to consult
with the bank manager and
disappears into a back office.
She finds the manager and
says, "There's a frog called
Kermit Jagger out there who
claims to know you and wants
to borrow $30,000, and he
wants to use this as
She holds up the tiny pink
elephant. "I mean, what in
the world is this?"
The bank manager looks back
at her and says:
"It's a knickknack,
Give the frog a loan,
His old man's a Rolling Stone."
(You're singing it, aren't you?
Yeah, I know you are..)
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
How boring it would be to live in a world where everyone thought and acted and behaved exactly like us, and yet we have this innate amazement that anyone behaves in any way different than we do.
I'm endlessly fascinated by the differences between people. I think I allow for it more than most because I'm so aware of it, and yet even I fall prey to this very behavior even knowing how strange the impulse is.
The same holds true for writers and how they choose to think and process and react and operate. A recent blog post by SF author Nancy Kress talks about a book by Barry Schwartz entitled THE PARADOX OF CHOICE in which he makes an interesting case: (1)Americans rate ourselves as being less happy than we were in the past, and are less happy than many other cultures. (2)Americans have far more choices available to us now than we did in the past. He looks at the number and variety of choices available to us versus our ultimate satisfaction with the choices we actually make. But getting back to my initial statement, people are different, and we don't all react the same way in this examination of choices and subsequent satisfaction.
Scwartz divides people into two broad groups, which he calls "maximizers" and "sufficers." The former are the people who want the best choice possible. They research, they shop around a lot, they continue looking even after they find something that meets their criteria. After all, there might be something better out there somewhere! These people often end up with better "goods" than most people, but less happiness with those choices. They regret, they experience "buyer's remorse," they think about the road not taken.
The "sufficers," on the other hand, just want something "good enough." They shop around less than maximizers. When they find something that meets their broad criteria, they choose it, commit to it, and don't think any more about the other possibilities. Although this group may end up with goods objectively not as snazzy as the first group's, and although they still can become stressed by the process of choosing, on the whole they are happier than maximizers.
As I read all this, the application of it to writing fiction came to mind. I have had "maximizer" students, who agonize over every word choice in their manuscripts, endlessly revise, and are not happy with the finished story, even if they sell it. They compare their careers to others (a classic maximizer trait), and are frustrated or disappointed. These people don't seem to enjoy writing very much. Meanwhile, other students of mine, although willing to work hard and revise as necessary, can sense when a story is "good enough." They can accept with equanimity that they will never be Tolstoy. These people seem to enjoy writing more and, I've noticed, they publish more, too.
Reading the post and working through those thoughts in my head, I have questions. As a writer, are you a maximizer or a sufficer? Is that hard-coded into you, or is it something that can change? And is that change something that can only happen to us, or is it something we can affect ourselves? Having read this and thought about it, will that knowledge change anything? If you know you have maximizer tendencies, will you make an effort to change? If so, why? If not, why not?
These are the things I think about sometimes, although only as long as it is pleasurable to do so. At some point in time, I realize that not knowing everything about everything will have to suffice.
And I'm ok with that. ;)
Monday, May 24, 2010
As this is my first Resource Roundup post, I thought I'd start by posting the resources I use as a writer (as well as some which frankly — and specifically — conflict with that). Let's get to it!
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
After the disastrous PR achieved by Windows Vista, Windows 7 just... works. Choosing the 64-bit version makes use of all the RAM I can throw at it. I run Windows at work and home, and use it for productivity, gaming, and everything in between.
Apple Mac OS X 10.6 (aka Snow Leopard)
If Windows is the market leader, OS X is the up-and-comer. I use a MacBook Pro laptop for mobile writing, for recording and posting sermons at church, and for taking meeting notes at work. The operating system is intuitive, nimble, and flat-out fun to use. It seems to anticipate what I want to do, and regularly surprises me with its power, its polish, and its elegance. It continues to make me question why I primarily use Windows.
Adobe InDesign / Adobe FrameMaker
When it comes to professional document creation, there's desktop publishing, and then there's word processing. Adobe has set the industry standard for Desktop Publishing. Graphic Designers love the power and tools of InDesign for print and digital publishing, while technical communicators use Adobe FrameMaker for producing and manipulating long text-based documents.
Microsoft Word may not be the best word processing software ever (WordPerfect comes to mind for that) but it does have nearly complete market domination as well as boasting a User Interface that everybody seems to know how to use. For quick-hitter docs and more, Word is powerful, easy-to-use for day-to-day writing, and is as ubiquitous as they come. I still prefer the familiar style of Word 2003, although many are learning the new user interface of Word 2007 or Word 2010. You can still get Word 2003 at places like Amazon. You can get the 2007 or 2010 flavors practically anywhere.
The following are my favorite web-based resources:
Mozilla Firefox - it's open source, it's free, it has state-of-the-art security, plug-ins galore, and is powerful enough for you and easy enough for your Mom.
Google Chrome - if you're looking for something with a little more raw speed, I recommend Google's Chrome browser. I use it for everything from watching Hulu or Netflix streaming, as well as playing the new Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online golf game (yes, browser-based!).
Use Evernote to save your ideas, things you see, and things you like. Then find them all on any computer or device you use. For free. It works on any browser, it works on all the major operating systems, and it's both easy and powerful. I use Evernote when browsing the internet to save articles, images, and links for later. I can access my Evernote links from work, home, and my Mac laptop.
Dropbox is a Web 2.0-based file hosting service which uses cloud computing to enable users to store and share files and folders with others across the Internet using seamless file synchronization. It's cross-platform, easy to use, and accounts of less than 2 GB per month are free. This is my favorite resource on the list, and has saved my bacon already. When my primary hard drive crashed this last holiday season, I gave it little thought because I'd already backed up my important documents on Dropbox and the rest of my files on an external hard drive. Dropbox lives in the tray of my computer (both Windows and Mac). It's as easy as opening up the Dropbox folder and dragging and dropping files. I leave my Word documents in Dropbox, open the doc, do my writing, save the doc, and close it. The doc immediately syncs to the cloud and is available anywhere I have Dropbox loaded. At work, I draft meeting notes on my MacBook laptop, save them, return to my desk, and they are immediately available on my Windows work desktop. It is simply the easiest and most secure way to share files between locations.
All work and no play is no fun. The best way to blow off a little steam is using Steam. Steam is a digital distribution, digital rights management, multiplayer and communications platform developed by Valve Corporation. It is used to distribute a large number of games and related media entirely over the Internet, from small independent efforts to larger, more popular games. I rarely buy PC videogames in a store anymore. I simply buy the game on Steam and download it securely. Steam automatically updates my games when new patches are available. While initially exclusive to Windows, Steam recently unveiled its Mac counterpart.
Furthermore, applicable games purchased on Steam for Windows can also be downloaded for Mac. After losing my hard drive and all its contents last December, instead of having to find all my game discs, I simply redownloaded my games via Steam.
Bonus productivity tip
Last, but most importantly, my most critical resource is hardware, not software. Switching from single monitor to dual monitor at work and home has changed my working life. Instead of Alt-Tabbing through a myriad of windows great and small, I simply stage them across two monitors. This is an elegant and powerful way to manage all the elements of my life in front of a computer. If you don't yet have two monitors, it's worth mentioning that you can increase your productivity by 20 - 30%. That's too big a resource not to mention! ;)
Friday, May 21, 2010
Today's moment of writing whimsy and wisdom is from the fabulous AdviceToWriters blog, whose tagline is WRITERLY WISDOM OF THE AGES / Collected by Jon Winokur
Then it was four o'clock, or nearly; it was time for Eliot to conclude our interview, and take tea with his colleagues. He stood up, slowly enough to give me time to stand upright before he did, granting me the face of knowing when to leave. When this tall, pale, dark-suited figure struggled successfully to its feet, and I had leapt to mine, we lingered a moment in the doorway, while I sputtered ponderous thanks, and he nodded smiling to acknowledge them. Then Eliot appeared to search for the right phrase with which to send me off. He looked at me in the eyes, and set off into a slow, meandering sentence. "Let me see, said T. S. Eliot, "forty years ago I went from Harvard to Oxford. Now you are going from Harvard to Oxford. What advice can I give you?" He paused delicately, shrewdly, while I waited with greed for the words which I would repeat for the rest of my life, the advice from elder to younger, setting me on the road of emulation. When he had ticked off the comedian's exact milliseconds of pause, he said, "Have you any long underwear?"
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
The man’s chest was not moving; he was not breathing. Nick leaned over him, the pistol now dangling in his left hand by his side. He placed his right forefinger on the man’s throat and felt no pulse. This was no surprise; the staring eyes had already announced that the maniac lay dead.
He’s dead, Nick thought. I’ve killed him.
He was suffused with terror. I killed this guy. Another voice in his head began to plead, defensive and frightened as a little boy.
I had to. I had no choice. I had no . . . choice.
I had to stop him.
Maybe he’s just unconscious, Nick thought desperately. He felt the man’s throat again, couldn’t find the pulse. He grabbed one of the man’s rough, dry hands, pressed against the inside of his wrist, felt nothing.
He let go of the hand. It dropped to the ground.
He poked again at the man’s chest with his toes, but he knew the truth.
The man was dead.
The crazy man, this stalker, this man who would’ve dismembered my children the way he butchered my dog, lay dead on the freshly seeded lawn, surrounded by tiny sprouts of grass that poked out sparsely from the moist black earth.
Oh, Jesus God, Nick thought. I’ve just killed a man.
He stood up but felt his knees give way. He sank to the ground, felt tears running down his cheeks. Tears of relief? Of terror? Not, certainly not, of despair or sadness.
Oh, please, Jesus, he thought. What do I do now?
What do I do now?
(Company Man, Joseph Finder, St. Martin's Press, 2005. Reprinted with the author’s permission.)
You’ve heard of giving a fast pace to your high action scenes by using shorter sentences and words. This isn’t a high action passage. The action occurred in the pages before, in Nick’s heart-thumping account of discovering an intruder. Of trying to make the intruder stop his advance, to make him leave Nick’s home where his children slept. Of the bullet that hit it’s mark, and the subsequent rise of the downed enemy. And of the last shot that put the enemy down permanently.
But this scene is raw emotion, adrenalin giving way to stunned panic, and it’s illustrated the same way–short, choppy sentences, short words, lots of white space on the page. The entire structure of this excerpt shows the main character’s inner turmoil.
Notice the first paragraph. Each of the sentences are longer. Finder even uses the supposedly taboo semicolon to avoid a choppy sentence structure. This paragraph comes immediately after Nick realizes the bad guy isn’t going to get up again, and it illustrates that instant of lucidity before the stronger emotions set in.
From the moment Nick realizes he killed a man, the pace changes. Finder uses a couple of “telling” sentences to mark the shift from lucidity to panic. In the paragraph beginning, “Maybe he’s just unconscious,” Finder installs two complex sentences and omits the conjunction. “He felt the man’s throat again, couldn’t find the pulse. He grabbed one of the man’s rough, dry hands, pressed against the inside of his wrist, felt nothing.”
There are no italics, no quotes around Nick’s internal thoughts, nothing to distract the reader from the progression of emotion Nick is experiencing. Just the progression itself is illustrated: from stunned to defensive to disbelieving to self-justification to pleading with God. This is another wonderful lesson from this passage. Not only can you pace the writing to show emotion, you can pace the emotions themselves from bad to worse. Draw them out, intensify them. The pace of the scene, combined with the progression of emotion, produces the page-turning tension that is the goal of every writer.
A critical eye on the excerpt can find violations of conventional writing wisdom in the text. As I typed it from the book to this page, I found seven such violations that I didn’t see when I first read the scene. Unlike other books I’ve read, Company Man kept me so engrossed that I wasn’t distracted by little things the “powers that be” consider rule-breaking. I have no doubt Joseph Finder knows the rules, but more than that, he knows the craft. And because he does, Company Man was a New York Times best seller.
Monday, May 17, 2010
AC: Tell us a bit about ChristianWriters.com. What is the site designed to do?
KRT: ChristianWriters.com is designed to provide writers with the resources and encouragement they need for a successful writing career.
AC: What’s the story behind ChristianWriters’ origins? When did you start it?
KRT: I became a Christian in the late 90s, and had a great desire to find other people who shared both my faith and interest in writing. Many of the secular writing sites were hostile to any expression or discussion of faith, and to my knowledge no sites for Christian writers existed. I felt led to create a spot on the web for writers of faith and launched the first version of ChristianWriters.com in late 1999.
AC: What’s your background as a writer? As a web designer?
KRT: I have fourteen years professional experience as a webmaster and web designer and am currently a contractor employed as the Sr. Webmaster for a government agency. I’ve also done many years of freelance work and enjoy running sites such as CW for a hobby.
Although I occasionally construct web content or articles for clients, most of my writing is for pleasure. I really enjoy the process of creating characters and throwing them into a situation to see how they react. I’m sure this sounds nutty to anyone who doesn’t write fiction, but many times the characters seem to take on a life of their own. There’s a great excitement when you hit that spot where the characters “take over” and begin to tell you their story. Many times, I’m as surprised by the outcome as the people reading the story later!
KRT: Future plans are to continue expanding CW and adding useful features. Currently, we’re working behind the scenes to improve the showcase feature and turn it into a full-fledged article and story sub-site of CW. This should bring in a greater audience for our writers and help to market their work and expand their fan base.
We’re working to expand CW’s utilization of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Also in the works is a section for writer markets and/or guidelines for publications. This has been discussed for a while, but is taking quite a bit of time to implement.
As always, if anyone has a suggestion for a new feature or improvement I’d love to hear about it! Please feel free to post in the Suggestion Box section of the support forum at CW.
AC: What other web projects do you have under way or plans to get started?
KRT: My husband and I are currently working on a site called Inkspire.me, which will be a sister site to CW. Inkspire.me will offer many of the same features and services as CW, but is geared toward the secular marketplace and will also offer features for artists.
We believe the upcoming Inkspire.me site will be a great asset to many CW members who write for both the Christian and secular markets. If anyone is interested in the upcoming site, please feel free to sign up. The site is under construction, but feel free to poke around and check out the features!
AC: What do you feel has been the high point of the site’s existence? Low point?
KRT: I think every site has its ebb and flow, but overall the development of CW has remained pretty consistent.
AC: What kind of people do you hope will benefit from the site?
KRT: The ChristianWriters.com site is geared toward discussion of writing and of the Christian faith, but anyone is welcome to join in. As the showcase develops, it’ll be great to see more readers flock to the site to support our writers and their work. With the introduction of the writer markets, I also look forward to seeing more publishers and content providers frequenting the site.
AC: Any words of advice for those who would like to join up?
KRT: My advice is to just jump in and have fun! Be sure to introduce yourself in the Open Forum by starting a Meets & Greets thread so we can give you a proper welcome. If you have any questions, post them in our support forum and we’ll be happy to help.
We look forward to seeing you there!
Friday, May 14, 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
We came up with some pretty good ideas, and judging from how quickly we've grown, our readers seem to think so too. If I had my way, I'd give a $25 gift certificate to each our 281 readers (as of this date). But since I'm not related to Donald Trump or anyone else in the Fortune 500, we'll have to settle for a drawing. Keep an eye out for May 31 to see if you're the lucky winner of a B&N gift certificate!
We've been running a survey, too, looking for ways we can improve our site. Out of all our readers, we have only thirteen responses. These thirteen folks really love our writing tips (92.3% consider them to be their absolute favorite). Most of them (63.7%) aren't too crazy about the writing contests, so we won't be having them anymore. Also, about 63.6% of them put guest posts on the bottom of their lists, so we won't have quite as many of them.
Of course, if you don't agree with how this tiny group responded, you can fill out the survey yourself! It only takes a few seconds and is open until May 28th.
You, our readers, are valuable to us. I wish there were a better way to show our appreciation, but just know that Johne, Lynnette, Katie and I feel truly blessed that you take time to read our posts and leave comments.
Monday, May 10, 2010
At most, your readers will engage in a bit of morbid rubber-necking as they drive past the scene.
How do you get them to stay, to jump out of their cars and become involved? By giving them a reason to care about the victims. There are as many ways to do that as there writers with active imaginations.
Recently I read a contest entry where the author used a touch of humor to bring us closer to the characters. Her main characters, a husband and wife, are suspended in the dark, on the eve of discovering whether their baby will be born with defects. The novel’s opening tone is somber, but the husband quickly tosses out a lame joke, a stab at levity. Of course, it falls flat where the wife is concerned, but his feeble attempt to cheer her and distract her from her heartache endears him to the reader. All it took was a couple of lines in the second paragraph on the first page.
In the opening pages of the non-fiction piece, Chosen by a Horse, author Susan Richards tells the reader what the dramatic issue is and why she is the wrong person to handle it. Several abused and neglected horses have been rescued from a nearby farm, and although she is emotionally incapable of handling illness and injury, she is there to help save one. Her immediate admission of her weakness, and how that weakness conflicts with the problem at hand, makes her sympathetic and snags the reader into the story.
The most elaborate scheme for gaining character sympathy I’ve ever seen is in the mystery Red Leaves, by Thomas Cook. The entire first chapter is written in a curious form of second person–not where “you” is literal, but rhetorical, similar to a parent’s lament, “You try and you try to teach ’em right from wrong, and look what happens!”
The main character, Eric, delivers a basic backstory information dump, making “you” intimately involved in all aspects of his life:
When you remember those times, they return to you in a series of photographs. You see Meredith on the day you married her. You are standing outside the courthouse on a bright spring day. She is wearing a white dress and she stands beside you with her hand in your arm. You gaze at each other rather than the camera. Your eyes sparkle and the air around you is dancing.
Although Eric describes some of the happiest times of his life, the overall tone of the first chapter brings to mind a man jamming his fingers through his hair and wondering when it all went bad, what went wrong–a man whose dazed mind is plagued with more questions than answers. By the end of the chapter, the reader is not only intimately involved, but longs to know the answers as much as Eric does.
You can pick just about any disaster film and see that the opening scenes are snippets of the soon-to-be victims' personal lives. Quick scenes intended to wrap the viewer with concern for the characters before the flood drowns the village or the asteroid destroys the country or the monster ants carry revelers away. The principle is the same: before your reader can care what tragedy your character faces, he must care about your character.
Put a stop to the drive-bys. Make your reader want to get out of the car and render aid to characters he's come to care for. Make him want to see the end results of their tragedies.
Put an end to rubber-necking!
Friday, May 7, 2010
I love writing! (And I kinda like Legos too. :))
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
This marvelously insightful book takes a look far beyond even the dissertations of successful techniques offered in most helpful books on the craft. It dives below the various parts of the story (character, plot, dialogue, etc.) to look at the foundation itself. What makes a good story? What particular arrangement of story components guarantees success, no matter your genre? The answers are surprising, accessible, and entirely brilliant.
Truby, one of the most sought-after story consultants in the film industry, strips dozens of excellent books and movies down to the bare bones to show his readers how to build a powerful story from the ground up. His discussions include selecting a promising premise, fleshing out the “seven key steps of structure,” designing characters who can fulfill strong and memorable thematic arcs, using setting and symbols to back up your story’s message, and, most particularly, how to construct your plot to maintain the perfect rhythm.
Truby tackles a weighty, complicated subject and condenses it to a step-by-step creative process that all writers can follow. This is a book that belongs, not on your bookshelf, but on your desk, within easy reach, so you can refer to its wealth of information over and over again. Five out of five stars.
Monday, May 3, 2010
This is going to sound strange, but stick with me. Passive marketing can respect the people you come in contact with without forever directing the conversation to your new book (while directing people to your new book).
There's nothing worse than being spammed by an author with a new book, but there's nothing worse than having a new project and not being able to get the word out. There has to be a happy medium. Happily, I think there is. Let's say you've published a new book and have already gone through your initial wave of marketing. You've put yourself out there, now provide three simple ways for the curious to turn around and easily, painlessly learn more about you.
- Create a presence on the Web. There are many ways to do this, but having your own website to promote your writing is the best way. There are lots of places that have free webpages, but Bravenet has everything you could ever want (webjournals, tell-a-friend service, guestbook, and mailing lists to name a few) and this includes free hosting.
- Be a regular on message boards, answer newbie’s questions, and don’t forget to add your signature with your website address. The important thing to remember here is to pop in on a regular basis, otherwise it looks like the only reason you’re there is advertise, and participants won’t take you seriously.
- Speaking of signature lines, create one and add it to all of your emails. This is one of my favorite freebies. People do read signature lines and I have actually ordered books because I found them via the signature line.
Having a website, even a simple, clean blog, gives people to go to find out more about you and your works.
I'm a regular on a select couple forums message board. I post links to writing or culture-related articles to help my peers and give myself a place to go back and search when I go looking for something I've posted in the past, a one-stop history of such articles. It's a way to help others and serve as a resource for myself later down the road.
There's one thing to keep in mind when creating signature lines in your e-mails or forum's signature block—keep it clean and simple. I'm not a fan of signature lines with pictures, animation, or that are loaded with bloat. However, two or three simple lines can do wonders if you simply list your website, your social media names (Facebook or Twitter), and a link to your latest book. Then, as you go about your daily life online and interact with people, you provide the curious a passive resource for discovering more about you and your work without beating them over the head with incessant announcements or outright spam.
Creating a place on the web, becoming active in message boards and forums, and giving people a place to go learn more about you and your latest works is an active way to excel at passive marketing, providing people with simple, effective ways to track you down and learn about your latest works.