Honesty in Writing #amwriting

As writers, we are entertainers. We write books for people who want a diversion from the daily grind. No matter what the subject or genre is, we write escapes, windows into other lives, other places, other realities. When we offer the book to the public, we hope the reader will stay with us to the end, hope they find the same life in the narrative that we thought we were imparting when we wrote it.

This can only happen if we are honest. When I first started out, I wrote poetry, lyrics for a heavy metal band. I was young, sincere, and convinced I had to impart a message with every word. I didn’t know until twenty years later when I came across my old notebook—my poems weren’t honest. I wasn’t honest with myself, and when I looked back at my work, I could see the falseness clearly. My words were contrived, formed too artfully. They shouted, “Look at me! I’m young and full of angst, but I’m talented and artsy!”

When I began writing stories for my children, I still wrote crap, but it was honest crap. I no longer had anyone to impress—children are never impressed by parents who write. They are also quite honest about where a story fails to impress them, and why. I began to write fairy tales that were honest, but not written by an educated author.

With that as my training ground, learning how to make my writing enjoyable became a goal. It was there that I discovered that, besides writing honestly, an author needs to be consistent with punctuation. I had no idea I was uneducated—after all, I had done well in school.  Even so, I had to re-learn the fundamentals of American English grammar because my first real editor pointed out that I hadn’t retained much of what I was taught in elementary school.

As Ursula K. LeGuin said in her wonderful book, Steering the Craft, A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, “If you aren’t interested in punctuation, or are afraid of it, you’re missing out on some of the most beautiful, elegant tools a writer has to work with.”

My rule is to embrace what I fear, so I embraced grammar. I’m not perfect, but I make an effort.

I have always been a reader, enjoying books in every genre and style.  While the books I love are scattered all across the spectrum, they have one thing in common—they are all written by authors with an understanding of the basic rules of punctuation. Sure, they break other rules of grammar with style and abandon, but they do pay attention to punctuation.

This is because punctuation is the traffic signal telling the reader to go, slow, pause, yield, go again, or stop. Punctuation at most of the right places allows the reader to forget they are reading and encourages them to suspend their disbelief.

Writers begin as readers. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King gives us permission to read for six hours a day, should we so desire. Reading is how we come to understand writing and the art of story. (He also admonishes us to learn the fundamentals of punctuation and grammar.)

In my quest to understand the art of story I have come across some pretty awful books. I don’t consider “hard to read because it is written in an old-fashioned style” awful. However, I do consider “hard to read because the author wasted my time” awful.

Contrived prose is not poetic. Hokey and forced situations are not exciting. Perfectly beautiful people bore me. Long passages about clothing and furnishings bore me.

Write me an honest story about “real” people with real problems, one that comes from your deepest soul. Set it in outer space, or the Amazon Jungle—I don’t care. I read all genres and all settings. I will forgive imperfect grammar and punctuation for a great story that rings of truth and touches my heart.

Let me sink into your story. Let me forget the world—let me become so into the book I forget to cook dinner.


Credits and Attributions:

Quote: Ursula K. LeGuin, Steering the Craft, A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, ©1999 Ursula K. LeGuin, First Mariner Books Edition 2015, page 11.

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Naming Characters #amwriting

I have mentioned (several times) one of my mistakes in naming characters. In the Tower of Bones Series, I have a main character named Marya. She is central to the series. Also, in the first book, a side character was important enough to have a name. My mind was in a rut when I thought that one up because I named her Marta.

You can see why this is bad—the two names are nearly identical.

To really confuse things, halfway through the first draft of the second book in the series, Marta suddenly was a protagonist with a major storyline. She actually becomes Marya’s mother-in-law in the third book. Fortunately, I was in the final stage of editing book one, Tower of Bones, for publication, and immediately realized I had to make a major correction: Marta was renamed Halee.

In my family, “Robert” is a name with a great deal of repetition. My father was named Robert, my two brothers are both named Robert (with different middle names), and my mother’s younger brother is named Robert. My younger brother’s son is named Robert, as is his son. We have a Bob, a Little Bob, a Rob, a Bobby, a Robby, and a Quatro.

I took this absurdity to an extreme in Billy Ninefingers. In Waldeyn, every third boy is named William, which is why Billy MacNess embraces the name his mercenaries give him after the injury. In that novel, “Williams” generally go by their last names.

Other than Billy Ninefingers where it was intentional and integral to the story, my personal rule is to NEVER name two characters in such a way that the first and last letters of their names are the same. To avoid that circumstance, I try to never have two that even begin with the same letter.

But who should go and who should stay? What is the optimal number of characters for a book? Some say only four, others fifteen.

I feel an author should introduce however many characters it takes to tell the story but should also use common sense.

A name implies a character is an important part of the story. Ask yourself if the character is an example of “Chekhov’s Gun.” Does the person return later in the story or does he or she act as part of the setting, showing the scenery of, say, a coffee shop, or a store? Is it someone the reader should remember? Even if this character offers information the protagonist and reader must know, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be named.

Some throw-away characters will give us clues to help our protagonist complete his/her quest or show us something about the protagonist. Their comments could offer us a clue into the protagonist’s personality or past. Other random people are in the scene purely for the ambiance, part of the world-building. A woman smoking in an alley outside the back door to an office needs no name, but she serves as a visible clue about the world the main character is walking in.

Even if they do speak a few lines, if they are just part of the scenery, they don’t need a name.

In an excellent article on screenwriting, Christina Hamlett of the Writer’s Store writes:

In a screenplay, the rhythm you’re attempting to establish–along with the emotional investment you’re asking a reader to make–is disrupted whenever you devote more than two lines of introduction to a character who is simply there to take up space. In order to justify their existence, each player in your script should perform a unique function or deliver a specific line that:

  1. Advances the plot,
  2. Thwarts the hero’s objectives,
  3. Provides crucial background, and/or
  4. Contributes to the mood of the scene.

If you’ve included characters who don’t fulfill one or more of these jobs, they’re probably not critical to the storyline and can be deleted.

While she is speaking of screenplays, this is true of a novel or short story.

We want the reader to stay focused on the protagonist(s) and their story. The desire to make every character a memorable person must be ignored. When we begin revising second draft of our manuscript, we must find and resolve the distractions we inadvertently introduced in our first draft.

My current work in progress has a passage that takes place in an inn and involves a conversation overheard from a table adjacent to my two protagonists and their sidekicks. Despite the fact the merchant and his sons give my protagonists information they needed, they are in that scene for only one purpose. They are to be overheard and don’t appear again. For this reason, only my main characters are named in the full transcript of this scene.

Finding that we have too many named characters is an easy one to fix, once we decide how important that character is to the story. If they don’t appear again, the reader will move on and forget about them. The information they imparted will remain.

I have found that a great use for my extra walk-on characters is the short story. The world is already built, and they have a story, albeit a short one. Use them to your advantage.

I now keep in mind simplicity of spelling and ease of pronunciation when I name my characters. How will that name be pronounced when it is read out loud? You may not want to get too fancy with the spelling, so that the narrator can easily read that name aloud. You may not think this is important, but it is.

My advice is to keep it simple. Don’t confuse your readers by giving unimportant walk-on characters names. Be vigilant when choosing names—don’t give two characters names that are nearly identical.

Do make your spellings of names and places easily pronounceable. You may decide to have your book made into an audio book, and the process will go more smoothly if you’ve considered this in advance. I only have one book that is an Audio book and the experience of making that book taught me to spell names simply.


Credits and Attributions:

Minor Characters Don’t Need Major Introductions, Christina Hamlett, Copyright © 1982 – 2017 The Writers Store ® Incorporated, accessed Mar. 11, 2017.

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#FineArtFriday: A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat circa 1884

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (1884–1886) is a landmark painting. Art historians agree that with this image, Seurat changed the direction of modern art and began the era of Neo-impressionism. It is one of the most recognizable of late 19th-century paintings.

About this painting from Wikipedia: In summer 1884, Seurat began work on A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

The painting shows members of each of the social classes participating in various park activities. The tiny juxtaposed dots of multi-colored paint allow the viewer’s eye to blend colors optically, rather than having the colors physically blended on the canvas. It took Seurat two years to complete this 10-foot-wide (3.0 m) painting, much of which he spent in the park sketching in preparation for the work (there are about 60 studies). It is now in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

What I love about this painting is the preciseness of each component. This painting proudly declares it is not “real”—it is instead an impression of a moment in time, a summer day spent on the River Seine. It is both sharply delineated and dreamlike. That is a neat trick.

Seurat used individual dots of only primary colors (Red, green, yellow, blue) but the way he places them, they seem muted and blended into shades of rose and purple, and even pale pink. I’m captivated by a technicality – obsessed by the way the primary colors of each dot are juxtaposed with other primary colors, tricking the eye into believing it sees light and dark, and all shades between.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia: (Seurat) is noted for his innovative use of drawing media and for devising the painting techniques known as chromoluminarism and pointillism. Seurat’s artistic personality was compounded of qualities which are usually supposed to be opposed and incompatible: on the one hand, his extreme and delicate sensibility; on the other, a passion for logical abstraction and an almost mathematical precision of mind.

This technique is one I hadn’t given much thought to until I ran across a postcard with this image on it. Other notable artists who explored this method were Paul Signac and Vincent van Gogh.

For me, studying these images of masterpieces for the Friday posts on art teaches me how to be creative with my words. Artists both push the limits of their color palettes and yet force external constraints on themselves to create images that fool the eye.

Authors must do the same with how we shape our words.

About the Pointillist technique of painting, from Wikipedia: If red, blue, and green light (the additive primaries) are mixed, the result is something close to white light. Painting is inherently subtractive, but Pointillist colors often seem brighter than typical mixed subtractive colors. This may be partly because subtractive mixing of the pigments is avoided, and partly because some of the white canvas may be showing between the applied dots.

The painting technique used for Pointillist color mixing is at the expense of the traditional brushwork used to delineate texture.

The majority of Pointillism is done in oil paint. Anything may be used in its place, but oils are preferred for their thickness and tendency not to run or bleed.


Sources and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Georges Seurat – A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — 1884 – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Georges_Seurat_-_A_Sunday_on_La_Grande_Jatte_–_1884_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=90112845 (accessed January 10, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A_Sunday_Afternoon_on_the_Island_of_La_Grande_Jatte&oldid=875941354 (accessed January 10, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Georges Seurat,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Georges_Seurat&oldid=877532379 (accessed January 10, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Pointillism,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pointillism&oldid=874469961(accessed January 10, 2019).

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The sound of the narrative #amwriting

Reading aloud is a great way to quickly discover the places I want to revise. I have always read portions of my work aloud, a page or two at a time. The places where I stumble are usually always the places that need ironing, so to speak.

In the past, I have only gone to this trouble with sections that I felt had some indefinable thing wrong with them. But lately, I’ve been printing out each chapter in its entirety a day or two after I finish writing it, trying to hear where the prose doesn’t work. I use a yellow highlighter on the places that feel rough.

I’m a slow writer, but I have several looming deadlines for contests and anthologies. This seemed like a good way to speed up development, getting short stories from rough draft to finished in a timely fashion.

As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, I rarely have a piece that is perfectly clean. I am the only eye that sees it before posting. Despite my best efforts, I catch many things the day after something was posted. I always check through my work on the computer screen, and I catch a lot there, but the eye sees what I intended to write.

This bleeds over into my other work. But if I wait a day or two and then read the paper printout with fresher eyes, I find repeated words, dropped words, and all sorts of typos. Even better, reading the printout aloud exposes the rough areas, the places where the words “fight with each other.”

When you are trying to pronounce the words, run-on sentences really stand out, and clunky prose won’t flow well. The narrative reads well for a long stretch, and then it hits a stumbling point.

That yellow highlighter of mine really gets a work out—maybe I’ll have to buy a case of them.

Another thing I have discovered by reading the entire chapter rather than just a page here and there—I can see where I am repeating entire ideas. This is a common problem for me in the first draft.

Having Natural Reader or another reading program do the reading for you helps, and I have made use of that many times. But this experience has shown me that while these wonderful programs are incredibly useful, they don’t do the job quite as well as a human voice does. They often mispronounce words that are heteronyms—words that are spelled the same as another word, but which are pronounced differently and have different meanings.

  • Read (pronounced reed) as in the act of reading
  • Read (pronounced red) as in having already finished reading the book.

Natural Reader rarely guesses those sorts of words correctly. The cadence and rhythm of the narrative is not as clearly heard when the mechanical voice does the reading, even if you are reading along silently. It tends to be rather flat, a monotone.

I’m not talking poetry here, but good prose has movement when it is read out loud. Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes slow, but it should have no rough spots for the reader to stumble over.

What I love about listening to audio books is the way prose sounds when it’s read aloud by an experienced narrator. Some narratives are beautiful when read aloud, and some are not.

If you intend to have your work made into an audio book, you want to make your work easy for the narrator to read without faltering.

So, now I will add ‘printing out and reading entire chapters aloud and marking places that need correction with a yellow highlighter’ as a regular tool in my writer’s toolbox. As long as the old printer keeps limping along, doing its job, this should speed things up.

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The Proofreader #amwriting

I see the process of getting a manuscript ready for publication as a four-part process.

  1. Writing the first draft.
  2. Beta Reading and revising the manuscript to your satisfaction.
  3. Sending it to the editor and making suggested revisions.
  4. Having the edited manuscript proofread.

Proofreading is done after the final revisions have been made. Even though an editor has combed your manuscript and you have made thousands of corrections, both large and small, there will be places where the reader’s eye will stop.

It is best if this task is done by someone who has not seen the manuscript before. That way, they will see it through new eyes, and the small things hiding in your otherwise-perfect manuscript will stand out.

Some things your proofreader must understand:

  • The proofreader should not try to hijack the process and derail an author’s launch date by nitpicking his/her genrestyle, and phrasing.
  • The proofreader must understand that the author has been through the process with a professional line editor. At this point, they are satisfied that the story arc is what they envisioned, and the characters are believable with unique personalities. The author worked with an editor to ensure the overall tone, voice, and mood of the piece is what the author envisioned.

You will note that I have used the word envisioned twice in the above list. If a proofreader can’t restrain their unasked-for editorial comments, you should find a different reader.

The edited manuscript is the author’s creation, a product of his/her vision, and by the time we arrive at the proofing stage, it is intentional in the form it is in.

This is why a professional proofreader is a good investment. The proofreader must realize that the author and his/her editor have considered the age level of the intended audience. A proofreader does not go through a manuscript with a red pen and mark it up with editorial comments. They do not critique the author’s voice or content because that is not their job.

A proofreader does highlight places where typos and other proofing errors exist and ruin the narrative.

A proofreader understands that every typo and error is different. These little landmines are insidious and may not leap out at first glance, which is why they aren’t always caught during the editorial process. Any number of small, hard-to-detect things can occur during the process of making even minor revisions.

In case you didn’t see it when I mentioned it above, I will say it again: proofreading is not editingEditing is a process that I have discussed at length elsewhere.

At the outset, the proofreader must understand that no matter how tempting it may be, they have not been invited to edit the manuscript for content. If they cannot refrain from asking for large revisions regarding your style and content, find another proofreader.

The proofreader should look for misspelled words, and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). Spell-checker may or may not catch these words, so a human eye is critical for this.

  • Wrong:  Cissy wint out the door, slamming the screen.
  • Right:  Cissy went out the door, slamming the screen.
  • Wrong: There dog escaped, and he had to chase it
  • Right: Their dog escaped, and he had to chase it.

The proofreader must also look for repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These are the kind of error frequently introduced into a manuscript when a tired author is making revisions. When we are pushing ourselves, even the most meticulous of authors unknowingly introduce errors when cutting and moving entire sections, rearranging portions of the narrative for a more logical flow.

You must rememberthe editor won’t see any errors you introduce when you implement their editorial suggestions. Once an editor has made their recommendations and returned your manuscript to you, they are done and won’t see the book again until it is published. You will have to make those revisions, and that is where many typos and errors occur.

Cut and paste errors are insidious and difficult to spot, and spell-checker won’t always find them. But a proofreader will notice them because the prose will contain unusually garbled sentences, and sometimes, two periods (full stops) at the end of a sentence.

  • Wrong: It is is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.
  • Wrong: Itis accepted practice to thoughts.
  • Wrong: First of all, it is accepted to ot thoughts..
  • Right: It is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.

Dialogue that is missing quotes can be a problem for many authors. When they are in a hurry, they sometimes don’t hit the quote key at the end of a sentence. Also, for US authors, they must be closed (double) quotes rather than single quotes.

  • Wrong: “Doctor Mendel, you’re new to the area,’ said Officer Shultz. “What do you know about the dead man?
  • Right: “Doctor Mendel, you’re new to the area,” said Officer Shultz. “What do you know about the dead man?”

Numbers that are digits are acceptable to use when writing notes and emails. They can also be used if you are writing a blogpost, but ask any bookkeeper – digits are as easy to accidentally mess up as words.

  • Wrong: There will be 3000 guests at the reception.
  • Wrong: There will be 003 guests at the reception.
  • Right: There will be 300 guests at the reception.
  • Right: There will be three hundred guests at the reception. (In literature, we write it out.)

Dropped and missing words will make the prose seem garbled and hard to follow.

  • Wrong: Officer Shultz sat at my table, me gently.
  • Right: Officer Shultz sat at my table, grilling me gently.

Something you must be aware of if you have paid for someone to proofread for you—each time you tweak the phrasing or create a new passage in your edited manuscript, you run the risk of creating another undetected error. Never make revisions when you are tired or not fully on your toes.

If you are happy with the way your manuscript was edited, I suggest you do not ask a different editor to proofread your manuscript, as they may be unable to resist suggesting larger changes. Each editor sees things differently and editing is their nature and their job.

The problem is that this can go on forever, and you run the risk of ironing the life out of your manuscript and losing the feeling of spontaneity, making it feel contrived. You also risk publishing a manuscript that looks unedited because of the flaws that were introduced in the proofing process.

Before you publish your book, do yourself a favor and have it proofread by an intelligent reader. Find someone who understands what you are asking them to do and who is willing to do only that. If you are a member of a writing group, you have a good resource of readers there.

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#FineArtFriday: A Guardroom by Abraham Teniers

I have often said that to write about medieval and pre-industrial revolution societies, you must go to art to get the facts. This painting, attributed to Abraham Teniers, is a symbolic piece showing the transience of life and the certainty of death.

He shows us a guardroom. Abraham Teniers served as a captain of the local civil militia of Antwerp and was fond of painting guardroom scenes.

This particular scene is intriguing to me, because of the way the jumble of disjointed metal armor completely dominates the painting. In the foreground, in the light, we see flintlock pistols, muskets, breast plates, leg guards, vambraces, a drum, swords and other steel weaponry, and several helmets—all cast into a corner.

Almost unnoticed in the background, peasant soldiers are shown smoking and drinking before a fireplace. They are deliberately kept in the background of the picture, an allegory for the fleetingness of life.

The armor depicted in the two pictures was of a style no longer in use at the time it was painted. Metal armor was falling out of use by the time Abraham Teniers was born. Plate had lost its effectiveness as guns became the weaponry of choice. It is the allegory representing death.

Abraham is not the most famous of the Teniers family, but he was a talented and skilled painter. In this scene, he makes good use of chiaroscuro, strong contrasts between light and dark.

About the artist (from Wikipedia):

Abraham Teniers (1 March 1629 – 26 September 1670) was a Flemish painter and engraver who specialized in genre paintings of villages, inns and monkey scenes. He was a member of artist family Teniers which came to prominence in the 17th century. He was also active as a publisher. He was responsible for the publication of the Theatrum Pictorium (‘Theatre of Paintings’), the project initiated by his brother David to make a set of engravings of the entire art collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm.

Like his brother David before him, Abraham found appreciation at the court in Brussels and the art-loving Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria – then the governor of the Southern Netherlands and a resident of Brussels – appointed him as court painter.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Abraham Teniers – Een wachtlokaal, 1 (Prado).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Abraham_Teniers_-_Een_wachtlokaal,_1_(Prado).jpg&oldid=267098550 (accessed January 3, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Abraham Teniers,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Abraham_Teniers&oldid=871305163 (accessed January 3, 2019).

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What we can learn from midlist books #amwriting

As part of my ongoing quest to improve my writing skills, I have been reading a series of novels written by a midlist author (whom I am not going to name), trying to decipher what it that I like about her work and what I don’t like.

Midlist is a term used by the traditional publishing industry referring to books that aren’t bestsellers, but which sell enough to justify their publication. If these authors can build a consistent sales record, the big publishers will probably want future books from that author.

Most books published today are midlist titles. Bestsellers earn the largest portion of overall royalties, but midlist novels are steady earners over a long period, and many of these authors have devoted fans.

So, I have been binge-reading this series of mystery novels, trying to decide why she sells enough to keep her publisher buying her books, and in the process,  I have figured out why she’s not a bestseller. I have come up with a list of strengths and shortcomings, things I can look for in my own work.

The positives:

  • Her plots tend to be intriguing. She is creative with her murders and doesn’t rely on cliché situations.
  • She knows how to sink a hook. The details of how and why each of the murders are discovered is interesting, and at the beginning, logical, so you keep reading.
  • She has good skills in world building. The ethnicity of the immigrant Armenian neighborhood feels solid, as if you know it well.
  • The main characters reveal themselves slowly. They have an air of mystery around them. You never feel like you know all there is to know about them.

The negatives:

  • Her books tend to follow a formula that is recognizably hers, which is why she can put out four novels a year. In that regard, they are like romance novels. Once you’ve read the first three in the series, you know the basic story line.
  • They’re not memorable in any way. The one thing that keeps you reading is curiosity to discover who out of the many possibilities actually did it.
  • Toward the middle and the second half, the story arc becomes jerky, at times almost flatlining. The eye wants to skip pages.
  • Then suddenly, it’s so chaotic it’s impossible to follow what just happened, and no matter how many times you go back and re-read it, you can’t understand what is going on.
  • References to habits, such as obsessive chain smoking, start out doing the intended job, conveying a personality. But these references soon become repetitive, over-used, inadvertent crutches.
  • Her political and technological references place these books firmly in a certain period – a double-edged sword. The political references are the biggest Achilles heel. She began writing the series in in the early nineties. Publishing schedules being as slow as they are, these references immediately made the books feel slightly out of date, rather than set in an era.
  • By book three, the Main Character hasn’t grown or evolved. They’re still locked firmly in their own time-warp.
  • Her publisher misses a lot of proofing errors. This is every indie’s nightmare, so it’s annoying to find so many flaws in a book by a reputable publisher.

In retrospect, I like this author’s work, but certain of her writing habits annoy me as a reader. So, why have I subjected myself to reading so many of her books if I’m so ambivalent about them?

Education.

We all know what we love when we see it. But unless we out-and-out hate something, being able to identify what we don’t love is sometimes difficult.

And this concept is especially true about our own work. Those of us whose vocation is writing fiction must work to ensure our voice and writing style is current and fresh. It is a quest that can take a lifetime and involves more than just reading “How to Write This or That Aspect of a Novel” manuals. Books on craft are important, but they only offer up a part of the picture.

You must read widely, and outside your favorite genre. This is why I study how books in all genres, both good and bad, are constructed.

When you come across authors whose work shocks, rocks, and shakes you, study them. What did you love? What did they do right and how can you incorporate those techniques into your work?

When you don’t like a novel, ask yourself why it failed to move you. What did the author do wrong and how could you write it better?

Read widely, dissect what you read, and then apply what you’ve learned to your own work.

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Update and Resolutions for 2019 #amwriting

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the year of 2018 is enjoying its last hurrah. People are getting ready for parties and counting both their successes and failures. It has been an eventful year for both my family and my writing life, so I am looking forward to what 2019 will bring.

My quest to complete the three-book literary fantasy series, Billy’s Revenge, will finally come to an end. Julian Lackland is on the home stretch and will go to the editor on February 1st. Depending on how quickly that goes, he will be published in June. Julian began life as my first NaNoWriMo Novel in 2010 and was picked up by a small press. Unfortunately, that didn’t go well.

It has taken me eight years to undo the damage they did and get this manuscript into proper shape. Julian Lackland is why I have been on this quest to educate myself about the craft of writing. I wanted to give Julian the kind of book he deserves, and judging by my beta readers’ comments, the effort has been worth it.

I am also closing in on finishing the first draft of a new duology set in Neveyah, the Tower of Bones world. One of the things I learned when I was trying to finish Valley of Sorrows, is that readers who begin a series want the next book in a timely fashion. They might wait a year, but after that, they will forget about it. It takes me four years to get a book from concept to publication, which can be a problem.

What I am doing differently with Alf’s story is this: I’m writing the first draft of the entire story arc before I begin revisions on the first book. So, this means I am writing a 250,000 word manuscript. Only when the entire first draft is finished will I begin the editing process. The manuscript will be broken in half and published as a duology, hopefully six months apart, assuming that editing goes smoothly when we get to that stage.

I am also finishing the stand-alone book that was begun as a serial in 2015, Bleakbourne on Heath. I have approximately 20,000 words left to write before it goes to the editor. Leryn’s story was so much fun to write. I had never done a serial, and unfortunately, I soon discovered I couldn’t keep up the daunting schedule I had set for getting my installments published. It was like “live television.” Whenever I sat down to write a chapter, I had no idea what was going to happen next.

One day I realized I had reached a creative plateau and had no idea how to finish the damned thing. Some people consider that writer’s block, but not me. When I can’t think of a way to advance a particular story, it’s time to rein it in and put it aside for a while to work on something else. So, I wrote a wedding scene, and ended the serial on a happy note, winding up most of the threads, but with the main quest still unfinished.

Last year was a good year for short stories, some of which found good homes in forthcoming anthologies. Also, two of my poems were selected for publication in the I Hear Olympia Singing poetry anthology and were chosen as the opening verses. I survived my first live poetry reading and met some amazing people in the process. Yay for that!

Despite cutting back on my professional editing schedule, I was privileged to edit several wonderful books for my clients—what a joy that aspect of my life is. I can’t completely drop out of that part of this business, as I love working with my clients, helping them to realize the vision they originally had for their book.

My resolutions for 2019 are to publish at least one novel, have a second one either published by the end of the year or ready to go in 2020, finish the first draft of my duology, and continue to write short stories and poetry, and continue to edit for my private clients.

I will keep writing new words every day, and I will remain involved in the local writing community. That connection with other writers feeds my creativity, offers me a sounding board, and keeps me working with good people who will read for me and show me what needs to be rewritten.

Thank you for being a part of my writing life. May the new year bring you good fortune, good food, and good friends. May the new year bring us all inspiration and determination—the two most important gifts a writer could have.


Credits and Attributions

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Dirck Hals – Musicians – WGA11043.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Dirck_Hals_-_Musicians_-_WGA11043.jpg&oldid=253948561 (accessed December 31, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Tavern with a pair of dancers by David Teniers II

About the Artist, from Wikipedia:

David Teniers II was known as a hard worker who was extremely prolific. About two thousand paintings are thought to have been painted by the artist. He was extremely versatile and tried his hand at all the genres then practiced in Flanders including history, genre, landscape, portrait and still life.

Teniers is particularly known for developing the peasant genre, the tavern scene and scenes with alchemists and physicians. He also painted many religious scenes among which stand out his many compositions treating the subjects of the Temptation of St Anthony and hermit saints in grottoes or deserts.

A major influence on David Teniers the Younger’s early work was the work of the Flemish painter Adriaen Brouwer.

The personal style of Teniers was visible from the outset. An important distinction was that, unlike Brouwer who placed these genre scenes mainly indoors, Teniers gradually moved his scenes into the open air and started to give the landscape a major place in his work from the 1640s. This was a common development in Flemish painting at the time. The smoky and monochrome tonality of the interiors from the 1630s was replaced by a luminous, silvery atmosphere, in which the peasants sit at their ease, conversing or playing cards. These paintings show a radical move towards a more positive attitude towards country life and the peasantry than was reflected in his earlier satirical pieces influenced by Brouwer.

In the 18th century, Parisian collectors eagerly competed to lay their hands on Teniers’ works. They knew the artist chiefly for his idealized scenes of rural life, paintings of village feasts, interiors with peasants and guardroom scenes. Teniers’ work was very much admired by French painters of that time.


Credits and Attributions

“Tavern with a pair of dancers” by David Teniers II. Oil on canvas. Munich, Germany. Bavarian State Picture Gallery via Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:David Teniers II Taverna s paroi Tanz (1645).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:David_Teniers_II_Taverna_s_paroi_Tanz_(1645).jpg&oldid=222921557 (accessed December 28, 2018).

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Christmas at the Drunken Sasquatch, revisited #amwriting

Merry Christmas from my home to yours. Today is Boxing day—and I have no post ready for today. In the words of Bob Cratchit, we were making rather merry yesterday. So, I thought I would reprise a short story that was written and first posted in 2016, Christmas at the Drunken Sasquatch. It features one of my favorite characters, Dan Dragonsworthy, a man who has taken on a life of his own and is getting another story this year. So now, live from the Other Side of Seattle, I bring you everyone’s favorite were-dragon and Christmas at the Drunken Sasquatch. As I said last year, no vampires were harmed in the making of this tale.


Vampires have a sick sense of humor, especially Alfredo, although he pretends to be cultured. Just over a year ago he got me banned from here, by switching my orange juice for an orange soda… that dirty trick was more than embarrassing. Covering the cost of the damages to the scorched floor, replacing the furniture, and buying Sylvia Wannamaker a new coat ate into my hoard quite heavily.

Worst of all, I was banned from participating in November’s pool tournament.

However, I’m a were-dragon. We like our revenge served up cold and well calculated.

The anniversary of my disgrace has passed, which would have been the obvious day for me to seek retribution. Most people have forgotten the whole incident.

But not me.

I know I look like any other old has-been reporter—I’m still hanging in there, digging up the political dirt in Seattle with the best of them, and I know I tend to go on and on about the glory days. While that observation isn’t real flattering, it’s true. I drink more orange juice than is good for either of my livers, and I hang out here at the Drunken Sasquatch because I have nowhere else to go.

I don’t discuss it for obvious reasons, but during my years in the Middle East, Dan Dragonsworthy was far more than just a flying battle wagon. I spent a lot of time on covert missions, and one thing I learned was how to be patient, and how to spot the chinks in your opponent’s armor.

I’ve been watching Alfredo since New Year’s Eve when Bloody Bill finally lifted my punishment and allowed me back. I don’t intend to harm the old blood-sucker, but I’m going to give him a taste of his own medicine. I’m a reporter—I know for a fact there are substances vampires shouldn’t ingest, and Alfredo may have forgotten that.

A vampire tripping on chocolate is bad for everyone. I’d never do that, especially to Alfredo. Fortunately, they don’t like the flavor of it. However, they do have a passion for maraschino cherries, which can cause problems for the weaker willed vampire since those fruity morsels of goodness are frequently found wrapped in dark chocolate. With one exception, the smart ones don’t succumb to temptation inside the Drunken Sasquatch, because Bloody Bill won’t tolerate that sort of behavior.

Most importantly for my purposes, vampires can’t tolerate coffee. On tiny amounts, they tend to pee themselves copiously, which the rest of us find hilarious. Vampires get quite huffy when their vampiric dignity is besmirched.

As if MY dignity meant nothing to me.

When you want to impress Alfredo, you buy him a jar of the special maraschino cherries from Italy, made with the best cherry liqueur. He can smell maraschino liqueur from anywhere in the room and, being a vampire, he lacks a conscience.

No maraschino is safe from Alfredo.

The annual Christmas party and the gift exchange drives him mad. Every witch, wizard, or elf has a recipe for that most wonderful of traditional holiday treats, maraschino chocolate cordials. These kind friends are always generous with their gifts to those of us who lack their magical culinary skills.

It’s more than his old vampire heart can stand, and despite having received his own jars of cherries sans-chocolate, he takes incredible risks.

I’ll give Alfredo credit—he’s good. I’ve watched him sneak up behind Grandma and suck the cherries out of a box of cordials without getting his fangs dirty. She suspected it was him, but could never prove it. Fangs do leave holes, but it could have been any vampire.

It takes a brave (or desperate) vampire to mess with Grandma. I’d tell you to ask the Big Bad Wolf, but you can’t.

She’s wearing him.

So, anyway, last week, Grandma and I had a chat. I got on the internet and ordered the finest ingredients. They were delivered the day before yesterday, and she immediately got busy in the kitchen.

This year, one unattended box of cordials under the tree at the Drunken Sasquatch will have cherries in liqueur with unique centers. This particular batch will be vampire safe—no chance of accidental hallucinations here. Grandma created white-chocolate shells filled with Cherry brandy, with a maraschino cherry floating in the middle.

However, each cherry will be filled with a special coffee liqueur .

It will be a joy to watch Alfredo try to deny his culpability in this year’s draining of the maraschinos as the evidence spreads around his feet.

I hope vampire pee isn’t too acidic, although I’ve heard the stench is an excellent Zombie repellent, and no matter how you scrub, it’s impossible to get rid of the odor. Sylvia Wannamaker swears by it in a diluted form as a slug repellent in the garden, as using it there will turn your hydrangeas the brightest blue. They don’t make good cut flowers though, as they smell too bad to keep in the house.

I’m sure a pool of vampire urine won’t be as dangerous for the innocent bystanders as when he caused me to inadvertently belch fire in close quarters.

Come the day after this year’s Christmas party at the Drunken Sasquatch (even though his cash outlay won’t come near matching the damages I had to pay when he slipped me the Mickey) at least Alfredo will be out the cost of a new pair of boots. And if he can’t find a good dry cleaner, he’ll be out the cost of replacing that gaudy, lace-trimmed, purple velvet suit he thinks is so stylish.

Grandma and I are both looking forward to this year’s party. Christmas could just become my favorite holiday.


Credits and Attributions:

Christmas at the Drunken Sasquatch, © 2016-2018 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved. Originally published 02 December 2016, on  Life in the Realm of Fantasy.

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