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When Fear Strikes the Hearts of Writers

Posted by on Oct 28, 2014 in Blog | 3 comments

When Fear Strikes the Hearts of Writers

By Kathryne Squilla For the past year, I’ve been watching a dear friend of mine write her second YA novel.  She’s by no means an inexperienced writer, having published two non-fiction books and many essays. Her first YA novel is in production. She is one of the most disciplined and productive writers I know.  Earlier this year, she finished her first draft of the new novel, and then promptly completed the second draft. After sharing her work with a few trusted readers, she revised yet again.  At that point, she believed she had a book her agent would love unconditionally. He did love it, but not unconditionally. A major plot line bothered him and one of the two main characters just didn’t thrill him in the way he felt he needed to be thrilled in order to effectively sell the novel. He brought in a trusted editor who agreed and recommended major cuts.  I mean, MAJOR cuts. They wanted my friend to lose almost half of the book – to take out the character in question entirely — and then rewrite with a new focus in mind. Needless to say, my friend had a lot of soul searching to do, and potentially a whole new book to write (or half a book anyway).  She loved her character, and so did many of her readers.  I felt her pain; to cut away all that work in one fell swoop! Ouch! And yet, ultimately she decided to go ahead with the revision. She could see how their view of the novel, combined with her vision and hard work, could result in something truly special. She is still at it, but just this morning she told me that she thinks she has only about 50 pages left before she is done with this draft, hopefully the last draft, though there are no guarantees on that. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend’s journey. In addition to being editors and publicists, we are also writers. I, myself, am working on a novel – when I can, anyway.  And although I have not yet completed my first draft, I am already dreading the second. I know this is silly. After all, as writing instructors love to say: writing is revision. I was recently at an event where the writer, Anne Lamott, read from her latest book of essays. Someone later asked her about her tips for writing fiction. She said the secret is to give yourself permission to write a really “shitty” first draft, and then do the real work in the editing process. As an editor, I know this to be gospel – I’ve seen books transform from dull to radiant in the later drafts. Yet, as a writer, I cringe at the thought of highlighting some large section – perhaps an entire chapter – and hitting that delete button.  (I have another writer friend who pastes all of her major cuts into one master document of deleted sections because she can’t bring herself to erase them completely. She calls the document, The Prose Graveyard.) In making cuts, it helps to think of the bigger picture, the strength of the novel as a whole, as opposed to some little flourish at the sentence level. That sleek metaphor I thought was so clever when I first wrote it isn’t worth keeping for a section that I can now see does nothing to further the novel.  As Faulkner says, “kill your darlings.” Oh, but its tough! It’s so very tough. I take courage in stories like that of my friend. If she can...

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The Three Things We Can Learn from Poets

Posted by on Sep 10, 2014 in Blog | 4 comments

The Three Things We Can Learn from Poets

Today’s guest post comes from my friend Rod Miller, a Spur Award-winning poet and author, who I met this summer at the Western Writers of America conference in Sacramento, CA. In addition to writing poetry, Rod pens novels, short stories, magazine articles, and other non-fiction pieces about cowboys and the American West. Three Things We Can Learn from Poets By Rod Miller Prose and poetry are different. The discipline is different, the approach is different, the craft is different, the emphasis is different. But, despite the many differences, much is the same. Both rely on words, and the meanings of words, whether literal or figurative, expressed or implied. Generally speaking, however, poets pay more attention to words—dissecting them into syllables and sounds, rhythms and rhymes, stresses and shapes. While it would be impossible, not to mention unwise, for writers of prose to agonize over every syllable in every word in every line as poets do, a little extra attention to a few literary techniques can make prose read better, sound better, and communicate more effectively on more levels. Here are three tools poets use (as do the best prose writers, as in the examples that follow) that can shape and sharpen what you write. But remember—like any tool, they can be over-used, misapplied, and cause harm, so proceed with caution. 1. What you say, vs. How You Say It. This is an eternal tug-of-war, but is, for the most part, based on false assumptions. Those on the “What” end of the rope claim plain and simple is preferable. Extremists on the “How” end believe purple prose should take precedence. Both points of view are lacking. Language can be clear and communicative as well as distinctive and delightful. Consider this sentence: In 1776, our founding fathers, desiring freedom and equality for all, created the American nation. Not much to complain about there. The meaning is clear, the structure and syntax acceptable. But, in the better hands of Abe Lincoln, that same sentiment becomes musical and memorable: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 2. Metaphor To a poet, metaphor is mother’s milk. As part of a balanced diet, metaphor can lend vitality to prose as well. Along with pure metaphor, lump in other metaphorical techniques such as simile, synecdoche, and metonymy. Comparisons can be powerful; often more vivid than a plain description. Given my long career writing ad copy, I like this pointed metaphor from George Orwell: Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket. And there’s this descriptive comparison, from William Faulkner: He looks like right after the maul hits the steer and it is no longer alive and don’t yet know that it is dead. 3. Repetition of Sound Another big deal among poets. There’s rhyme, of course, which has limited application to prose. But rhyme should not be excluded out of hand, as this famous opening by Charles Dickens demonstrates: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… And there’s assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds, and consonance, the repetition of consonants. Both are aptly demonstrated in this sentence by Cormac McCarthy—repeated “a” sounds, both long and short; hard “g” sounds; the “k” sound from that letter as well as the hard “c.” And stepping softly with her air of blooded ruin about the glade in a frail agony of grace she trailed her rags through dust and ashes, circling the dead fire, the charred billets and chalk...

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On Handling Rejection

Posted by on Aug 5, 2014 in Blog | 6 comments

On Handling Rejection

The world of writing comes with a constellation of certainties. Creating. Editing. Research. Solitude. More editing. And if you’re submitting your work for publication, add the Big R to the list: Rejection. As Isaac Asimov wrote, “Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.” Yep, all the greats have suffered rejection. I’d love to give the subject a Pollyanna-polish, but really, there’s no way around it. Rejection sucks. Since it’s an inevitable pothole in the writing journey, the question is not how to avoid rejection, but how to handle it. Here’s one slightly comforting perspective. Writing may be a lonely endeavor, but when you’re swimming in the pool of rejection, you’re never alone. A lot of bodies inhabit that salty, tear-filled water and the good thing is they are alive. So while you’re dog-paddling around, do some commiserating. Then swim to the side, haul yourself out, shake like a dog, and get back at it. About two years ago, I attended a writer’s workshop where a very successful author related the sad tale of one of his manuscripts. He had worked on the novel for over a year, finally had it polished to his satisfaction, and sent it off to his agent, who promptly rejected it. He then sent it to the editor who published his previous book and she, too, rejected it. But get this. The author’s previous novel had been optioned, found its way into a screenplay, and then into an Academy-Award-winning movie. Needless to say, after this particular manuscript was soundly rejected, he and a bottle of scotch spent some serious time on the couch. I just saw this author at a writer’s conference, where he presented. He’s still writing. He’s still getting published. He’s still at it. So the thing about rejection is somehow you have to handle it, get it out of your system and get back at it. Punch pillows. Line up pints of Ben & Jerry’s and plow through them. Run like you’re Forrest Gump. Whatever works for you, just do it. Because in the end, we writers have to scrape ourselves off the pavement, stash that chocolate-caramel smeared spoon in the dishwasher, and strap ourselves to the chair. If we don’t, we’ll get all gummed up with words and stories, and we won’t be able to finish any manuscript. And that, my friends, is far worse than rejection. Write on! Lynn  ...

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What’s Your Writing Process? Blog Tour

Posted by on Apr 21, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

What’s Your Writing Process? Blog Tour

I’d like to thank my friend and fellow writer, Liza Wiemer for tagging me to be part of this blog tour. Liza’s had some excitement recently. Her agent, Stuart Krichevsky of Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency, sold her debut YA novel to Patricia Riley at Spencer Hill Contemporary. The novel, HELLO?, is about five Wisconsin small town teens, whose lives intertwine when a grieving girl calls her dead grandmother’s old phone number. In an innovative use of free verse poetry, screenplay format, narration, and drawings, five narrators tell a story of hope, friendship, and redemption, Congrads, Liza!! Find Liza on: Twitter Author Site WhoRuBlog – book reviews, author interviews, and giveaways Goodreads Pinterest Instagram Liza has had two adult non-fiction novels published, Extraordinary Guidance: How to Connect with Your Spiritual Guides by Random House and Waiting for Peace: How Israelis Live with Terrorism, by Gefen Publishering. A graduate of UW-Madison, Liza is a Badger fan and a die-hard Packer fan! To learn more about Liza, check out Liza’s “About” page. So. On to my writing process, which by the way usually includes a cup of coffee, cappuccino, or pot of tea. (I think the writing muses appreciate a little caffeine.) WHAT AM I WORKING ON? Currently, I’m working on a novel about a woman who works in the world of art and via a series of paintings stumbles on some rather alarming activities she traces to a well-respected local businessman. I also have some personal essays underway and am hoping National Poetry Month inspires a few poems, though it has been quite awhile since I wrote poetry. Then, there’s all the work-related writing – book proposals, query letters, press releases – writing that actually pays bills. HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE? I’m not sure my fiction differs or that it’s necessary that it differs from other literary fiction. What I’m looking to create is a good read that compels someone to keep turning the pages. WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO? I’ve always wanted to write a novel and I’m finally doing it, albeit it at a snail’s pace because I do it in my “spare time.” Drives me nuts. (The bane of writers.)  The other writing is connected to business and clients. For a few years, I wrote poetry. At the time, I was reading a lot of poetry and was open to writing it and the inspiration came. One of these days, I’d like to try my hand at short stories. HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK? I’m a morning person and my creativity tends to be the freshest about the time the sun rises and the coffee is hot. Getting the first draft of anything out is rather painstaking. That’s my least favorite part. Once it’s out, the fun begins. The project becomes a big puzzle, and I’ve always loved puzzles. Trying new words in paragraphs, moving paragraphs around, making sure there aren’t spaces between the pieces – this is where joy and a sense of accomplishment really begin to bubble and gurgle. Writing endorphins. Even better than caffeine. Okay. Enough about me. Here are some other writers you should meet. KATE TRACI Kate Traci is a California raised beach girl at heart who now finds herself residing under the hot desert sun. Thankfully her sister has a pool. Her first published adventure Simon Says can be read in the book “The Dog with the Old Soul”, a collection of true stories about people and the animals in their lives. After coaxing clever words, her German Shepherd to fetch, and herself to the gym, Kate can be...

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A Book, A Tour, and a Blog: The Horse Lover is Here

Posted by on Apr 10, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

A Book, A Tour, and a Blog: The Horse Lover is Here

It’s been a busy and fun time of late. On March 1, the University of Nebraska Press released The Horse Lover: A Cowboy’s Quest to Save the Wild Mustangs. This is a memoir that Alan Day and I co-authored about his experience starting the first government-sponsored wild horse sanctuary. Alan was born a cowboy and started riding horses even before he could walk. I was born a suburban girl and started riding bicycles as soon as my legs could pedal. I never owned a horse and come to think of it, I never asked Alan if he owned a bicycle.  But despite our disparate backgrounds, we were able to write a book. And like all authors, we’re eager to share it with you. Thus, this week we launched a virtual book tour. A big thank you to Linda Leon of Book Marketing Professionals and Eunice Nisbett of Savvy Bestsellers for arranging this tour. These ladies rock. If you’re an author and want to take your book on a journey through the ethers, give them a shout. If you’ve been following the tour, you know about Alan’s story. If not, read a bit about it here. (And yes, Kevin Costner really did visit the ranch to see about filming Dances with Wolves on it.) Yesterday, Alan shared a story about Chico, his first horse (ironically a wild mustang). And the day before, he talked to a German audience about training the 1500 wild mustangs he cared for on his South Dakota ranch. We decided to change thing up for today’s appearance. Rather than sharing a story, we’re offering you a chance to win two books: an autographed hardcover of The Horse Lover and a copy of Lazy B, a memoir that Alan and his big sister Sandra Day O’Connor co-authored about growing up on their family’s southwestern cattle ranch. (It was a mere 200,000-acres and straddled Arizona and New Mexico.) To enter, follow the directions below. The drawing will take place at the end of the tour on May 2nd.  In the meantime, we invite you to follow the rest of the tour. You can check back here daily to see where Alan will be appearing or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Happy riding, pedaling, writing – or whatever it is you do best! Lynn a Rafflecopter giveaway    ...

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Applying for Literary & Writing Awards

Posted by on Sep 9, 2013 in Blog | 1 comment

Applying for Literary & Writing Awards

Can’t you just see it? An award emblem on the cover of your book. While coveted awards like the National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, Hugo Award, Edgar, Caldecott, and Newbury are a challenge to come by, other awards may be attainable. You just have to know where to find them and take the time to apply. Check out what’s happening in your state. Many states sponsor awards for authors. Here in Arizona, for example, at least three organizations hold writing contests for fiction, non-fiction and poetry, all of which offer monetary awards and all of which are open to authors regardless of location. The Arizona Authors Association hosts the annual Arizona Literary Contest. This year the submission deadline was July 31. The Society of Southwestern Authors hosts a contest for short fiction, essay/memoir, and poetry. The submission deadline is usually the end of August. The Tucson Festival of Books started a Literary Awards in 2012 for poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. This year, you have until October 31 to submit your work. For an extensive listing of awards, visit the Wikipedia page American Literary Awards. It’s one of the most comprehensive listings that I’ve been able to find. If you’ve found others, let me know! Happy writing,...

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