Monday, December 15, 2014

Free Writing Resource: Planning Calendars from Literautas

Here's a gift you can give yourself without feeling guilty -- and it's free!

Just in time for Christmas, the generous folks at Literautas, whose motto is, "If you like writing," are giving away downloadable writing calendars.

For 2015 there are three varieties: wall calendar, desk calendar, or monthly planner

Last year I used my 2014 monthly planner to:
* Record upcoming deadlines
* Document my monthly goals
* Have a visual displays of what I'd accomplished
* Help account for my monthly income and expenses

So, if you like free, here's a link to the Literautas blog, where you can find directions on how to download the calendar of your choice.

Happy writing --  and planning!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Just Released from Mozark Press: That Mysterious Woman

Earlier this month I received an early Christmas present -- my check and contributor copies of That Mysterious Woman.

The book with the striking cover is part of the award-winning Shaker of Margaritas Anthology series from Mozark Press.

That Mysterious Woman includes mystery tales ranging from cozies, soft-boiled mysteries, suspense tales, capers, and whodunnits, with emphasis on character, plot, and good old-fashioned storytelling -- each with a female protagonist. Topics covered in the anthology are tales of: "murder, retribution, paranormal activity, thievery, strange disappearances, deception, and other mysterious situations."

The anthology includes short stories from 27 writers who hail from coast-to-coast across the United States.

Contributing writers are: David K. Aycock, Paula Gail Benson, Steven Clark, Lisa Ricard Claro, Karen Mocker Dabson, E. B. Davis, Caroline Dohack, Eileen Dunbaugh, Linda Fisher, J. D. Frost, Jodie Jackson Jr., Mitch Hale, Cathy C. Hall, Sharon Woods Hopkins, Jennifer Jank, Suzanne Lilly, Mary Ellen Martin, Edith Maxwell, Carolyn Mulford, KM Rockwood, Martha Rosenthal, Georgia Ruth, Harriette Sackler, Rosemary Shomaker, Susan E. Thomas, Donna Volkenannt (that's me), Kari Wainwright, and Frank Watson.

For more information about That Mysterious Woman and to find out about future calls for submission, visit the Mozark Press site.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

More CCMWG Notes: What's So Funny? with Mary-Lane Kamberg -- and a Well Versed Winner

Mary Lane Kamberg at CCMWG
During an afternoon CCMWG breakout session, I sat in on award-winning Kansas writer Mary-Lane Kamberg's humor writing seminar. 

I can attest to Mary-Lane's writing skills -- and her sense of humor. About ten years ago we both served on the board of the Missouri Writers' Guild. Even when board discussions got heated, Mary-Lane could be relied on for solid advice and an upbeat personality. 

During the CCMWG breakout session, she interspersed some of her essays along with her lecture on humor writing. 

Her basic two-step process for writing humor is:

1. Think of something funny.
2. Write it down.

Beyond that, she gave examples of how humor can be expressed through: action, dialogue, and description.

She broke down humor writing into three basic parts:
* Topic – Can found in family life, politics, news stories, horrible experiences, phobias, etc.
* Format – Can use diary, how-to, advice Q&A, quiz, pretend interview, list, narrative form personal essay, etc.
* Individual jokes – Her opener was: “A horse walks into a bar and the bartender asks, ‘Why the long face?’”

The format she uses for the narrative form of personal essays is:
Character has a problem (wants to get or keep something)
Three escalating conflicts
Dark moment
Final tug
Punch line 

She emphasized that personal essays are basically true stories.

Some of her tools/observations in humor writing are:
Repetition - three times is usually enough
Build the joke then pause
Specifics are funnier than generalities
Include an element of a universal truth
Piling on 
Use hostility
It’s okay to be mean. (Note: I don’t necessarily agree with this.)
Words with the letter “K” are funny (Hmm?)
Play with works, such as puns or mixed metaphors
Targets: public figures, politicians, family members, movement, yourself
Butt of jokes gives readers a sense of superiority
Use yourself as a target - she does this a lot in her essays
Comparison, but make it BIG
It’s okay to make fun of famous people, but she warned against libel

Humor pieces tend to be short, between 500-800 words, and they’re getting shorter.

Her wrap-up quotes were:  “No laughter in the writer, no laughter in the reader,” and “Get them laughing then get them with the knife.”


And, now for the announcement of the winner of the copy of Well Versed 2009.

Drum roll, please . . . .

The winner is: Marcia

I will get the copy to you soon.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Round Three from CCMWG: Linda Rodriguez on Writing and Publishing Novels with the Big Five

Linda Rodriguez at CCMWG
Attending Linda Rodriguez's session at the CCMWG conference was like taking a master class on how to survive and thrive with the Big Five. (Hey, did I just type a rhyme?)

Linda has an impressive list of credentials as a writer, poet, and university administrator. In 2012, her debut novel, Every Last Secret, was the winner in St. Martin's/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. Her third novel in the Skeet Bannion series, Every Hidden Fear, was published this year.

During her presentation, she explained that with recent changes in the publishing industry, what once was the Big Six publishing houses is now the Big Five. Where editors with a passion for books used to make final decisions, now MBAs and "bean counters" are in charge.

Linda got her first big break in the mainstream fiction market when she won the St. Martin's Press Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition in 2012. As the contest winner, she received a generous advance on publication of her book.

How did she do it?

* She wrote a novel (which she revised and rewrote and fine-tuned).

* She belonged to a critique group and got professional and honest feedback for her novel.

* She hired a professional freelance editor.  She emphasized that no matter how good a writer you are, you should hire a professional editor--and, she emphasized you should make sure the editor you hire is reputable. An editor can help with the last little bit to improve your novel. She also observed that as a result of downsizing and outsourcing by major publishers, there are some highly qualified and experienced freelance editors available for hire.

(Linda's advice on hiring a professional, reputable, and an experienced editor struck a chord with me. Before hiring an editor (or a proofreader, etc.), I believe it's a good idea to ask about their background, training, experience, and references. Just because someone has a blog or a website claiming they are an editor or has the word "editor" printed on their business cards doesn't automatically make them qualified, professional, or reputable. Ask for credentials and references.)

* She entered her novel in a contest.

* She won the contest.


Here are a few other notes I jotted down: 

Develop a platform while writing your first book.

Know that contracts are always weighted to give advantage to the publisher.

Find a good agent to help you get a contract favorable to you. 

Attending conferences, joining professional organizations, and networking can help land an agent--and get you and your book noticed.

In traditional publishing the first four-six weeks after a book is published are a measure of success.

Traditional publishers expect every book to do better than the previous one.

By the fourth book, publishers expect a breakout novel.

Writing a great book isn't enough.

Writing is a business. Writers need to become business oriented.

Make an annual marketing plan.

Learn to prioritize.

Balance time between promotion and writing.

Use social media, but don't hammer your book to people.

Get your followers to like you.

Don't spam everyone to buy your book.

Group blogs are a plus. She belongs to two.

Life happens, be flexible.

To learn more about Linda and her books, visit her blog.

Monday, October 27, 2014

More Notes from CCMWG's Write Direction Conference: Writing Nonfiction with Mary Horner

Here is the second installment of my notes from the CCMWG's Write Direction conference earlier this month. 

Mary Horner  is a multi-published, award-winning writer and college teacher who gave a thoughtful and informative session on “Writing Nonfiction.”

Here are some of the notes I jotted down during Mary's presentation:

Nonfiction is based on someone's truth. It is factual but can also be emotional. Variety is what makes writing nonfiction wonderful.

According to Mary, the secret of selling nonfiction is:

* Give editors what they want
* Read the publication before submitting
* Approach editors with an idea (2 or 3 are better)
* If it's something you're interested in, that's even better
* Your passion will come through if you care about your topic
* Ask the editor for an idea if your suggested ideas fail
* Submit clean, well organized, and researched copy
* Stay focused; it's more than the writing itself, it's the framework

Possible topics: What do you love? What do you hate? What are your pet peeves?

Make connections to your feelings so your passion comes through.

What do you know?
What do you want to know?
Next comes research (to fill the gap between what you know and want to know)

Mary's three-step process:
Make an outline – gather lots of info
Visit the library – ask  research librarians for assistance; they have access to databases not available to writers
Ask experts -- they are usually flattered you ask!

Word of caution: Research can be a time waster so set limits.

Credibility is believability.
Make sure your sources, especially from the Internet, are reliable.
Be sure to cite your research and copy url onto the work-in-progress document for future reference.
Always verify. If in doubt, leave it out.

One of Mary's favorite humorous quotes from the Internet is:
"85% of the quotes on the Internet are made up." (Abe Lincoln)

The framework for your nonfiction should be logical and easy to follow.

The thesis statement basically asks the question: What do I believe to be true?

Don't be afraid to make changes if what you discover during research conflicts with what you think you know.

Ask yourself:
What is true?
Why do I believe it?
What do I believe about it?

Mary shared this quote, “If there is no discovery for the writer, there is also no discovery for the reader.”

Narrow focus makes the difference.

Mary uses symbols in the margins of her paragraphs to help organize her works in progress.

Editors appreciate it when writers add a little something extra (a sidebar, thoughtful quotes, photographs, or illustrations).

If you would like to learn more about Mary’s thoughts on writing nonfiction, I recommend reading her book, “Strengthen your Nonfiction Writing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Notes from CCMWG Keynote Address by Terry Allen on Film Noir

During the keynote presentation, Terry Allen showed film clips to demonstrate the points he made and to complement his lecture on film noir.

Here are a few things I learned:

Film Noir is French for black film.

Hollywood’s classical film noir period was in the 1940s-1950s, notably when G.I.s returned home from World War II.

Before that period, in the 1920s and 1930s, German film makers created German Expressionism films, which combined elements of film noir with horror.

The neo-noir period is the 1970s, with films such as “Chinatown” and “Blade Runner”

This year’s “True Detective”was also mentioned as an example of the genre.

Film Noir movies have a range of plots from the P.I to the fall guy.

Hard-boiled pulp novels like The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, with first person narrative, were mentioned as books that were made into film noir movies.

The real star of film noir is Fate.

The message is: There’s something dark out there.

The question is: Why me?

And there’s no good answer at all.

FN relies on the importance of dialogue and style. Everything has a purpose.

Key elements are: mood, tone, style, and moral ambiguity.

Text and subtext contribute to the total package, as does the music and background.

Another element is the Femme Fatale – the fatal woman or black widow who lures the good guy out of the sunshine into the shadows and causes him to do something he might not otherwise do.

One example given was how Barbara Stanwyck manipulated Fred McMurray to murder her husband in “Double Indemnity.”

This element of femme fatale in movies (and novels and short stories) brought back something my dad used to say when he read or heard about a decent guy who acted out of character and did something stupid or wrong. Dad would shake his head and say, “Cherchez la femme,” which he told me meant, “Find the woman.”

As a writer, my take-away from the film noir session is the need for consistency in dialogue, tone, mood, and style.

This session also brought to mind what Edgar Allen Poe wrote about the importance of the “unity of effect” in short stories. Everything in a story, from the title to the character name, the mood, the tone, and the individual words should combine to create a consistent effect of the piece.

Are you a fan of film noir? Do you have any favorite movies or novels to recommend?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Giveaway and Call for Submissions for Well Versed 2015

Well Versed 2009
Last Saturday I attended the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild annual Write Direction Conference in Columbia, MO. It was an inspiring and informative event--and extremely well run and affordable!

Over the next few posts I'm going to share some notes I took during the conference, but today I have a call for submissions and a giveaway!

One important announcement during the event was a reminder about the CCMWG's call for submissions for their annual award-winning Well Versed anthology.

The anthology accepts submissions of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and new this year--flash fiction. Members of CCMWG may enter for free. Nonmembers may enter for a modest fee.

You can find complete guidelines for the 2015 anthology at the link. Deadline is November 15, 2014.

Entries are judged independently by guest judges (for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) who select winners in each category and make recommendations for other submissions to be included in the anthology. The judges select the top choices to receive monetary prizes. All entries selected for inclusion in the anthology receive one contributor's copy, plus a payment of $1 for each piece included.

During the conference, attendees were encouraged to take free copies of past anthologies. Of course, I took advantage of that generous offer.

To carry on the CCMWG spirit of generosity, I'm giving away a copy of Well Versed that I picked up at the conference. The 2009 issue of Well Versed (pictured above) includes a foreword from Walter Bargen, Missouri's first poet laureate, who served as poetry judge for that issue.

For a chance to win a copy of the 2009 anthology shown above, leave a comment with your name here by October 31. I will select one winner and announce the name the beginning of next month.