Monday musings: How many #books do you read at one time? #amreading

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By Gae-Lynn Woods

Do you read more than one book at a time? In addition to the time I spend writing, the time I spend reading is some of the most satisfying in my day. And I have a confession: I’ve become a polygamist when it comes to reading. I read multiple books with abandon, and for the most part, keep the characters and plots straight in my head.

I haven’t always been promiscuous when it comes to books. When I was a kid in Englewood, Ohio and had the utter joy of stocking up on books at the library on Saturday, I’d read (eat) them one at a time, back to back, almost without drawing breath. If I finished my stack of library books before Saturday rolled around again, I’d start over with the first book and continue on in linear fashion. But with the advent of e-readers and the portability of audio books, I had no problem giving up monogamous reading. At the moment, there are five books in the rotation, as follows:

  • On the Kindle: THE BLACK WIDOW by Daniel Silva (not the most action-oriented novel he’s written, but interesting and timely)
  • On my Overdrive audio book app: BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR by Elizabeth Gilbert (an excellent listen for anyone who lives or is considering living a creative life of any sort)
  • On my nightstand in paperback: CRIMINAL by Karin Slaughter (I’m barely into this one, but I love Karin Slaughter and expect great things)
    I’m using the Bible In One Year app, and I’ll probably stretch that year into two years, maybe a little more, before I can claim having read the Bible from cover to cover (try as I might, I can’t get into a regular enough routine to guarantee solid progress on this one – thankfully, the app didn’t force me to start over when we rolled into the new year)
  • Also active on the Kindle: A YEAR TO CLEAR: A DAILY GUIDE TO CREATING SPACIOUSNESS IN YOUR HOME AND HEART by Stephanie Bennett Vogt (this also will take more than a year to finish, but I think whatever time I give this book will be worthwhile).

Although I love all forms of reading, they don’t all get equal attention. Given that we live on a farm and spend a good deal of time outside, my Overdrive app gets lots of use. The second most used is probably the paperback on the nightstand because I can work in a few minutes of reading before turning out the light. Last is the Kindle, but one of the things I love most about it is that it’s with me as long as my phone is with me, which is most of the time.

I’m curious to know if others are of the same promiscuous bent and honestly, I’d like to know if there are other ways I can work an additional book into my reading time.

So back to the original question: how many books do you read at one time? Is there one form of reading you prefer over others?

Get to know Gae-Lynn Woods

Gae-Lynn Woods is a Texan who has traveled the world, lived overseas, and come back home. She and her husband, British jazz guitarist Martyn Popey, share a ranch in East Texas with a herd of Black Angus cattle, one very cranky donkey, and The Dude, a rescue kitty with attitude.

When she’s not playing the roadie, tending to cows, fixing fence, or digging post holes, Gae-Lynn is working on the next Cass Elliot novel and the next Companion Novel featuring Maxine Leverman, Cass’ best friend.

Gae-Lynn can be found:

Facebook   |   Twitter   |   Google+   |   Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website   |    Blog

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Monday musings: Indie Writer Life…the Struggle is Real(ly Worth It)

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By Raine Thomas

Pinterest

I was reflecting on my writing journey the other day as I prepared for my BookBub ad promoting the sale of my New Adult romance, Meant for Her. Since I first released Meant for Her, the writing industry has changed in some dramatic ways…ways that changed the lives of many indie authors. My internal reflection was on whether those changes were for the better.

I published my first three books in July of 2011. At that time, the decision about whether to go indie or traditional was a hot button among writers everywhere. Then some pioneering indie authors proved themselves by making bestseller lists and gaining avid followings, earning them publishing deals from major houses. A number of traditionally published authors have since published books independently, many with great success. The hard line between indies and traditionals back in 2011 has definitely blurred.

This has opened the door to many more authors who have dreamed of being published and who are now following in the footsteps of the indie authors before them, uploading their work onto retail sites that are now inundated with available books. On the plus side, readers now have more choices than ever. As a reader myself, I rejoice over this! As an author, however, I spend part of every day wondering how I’m going to get my books seen among the masses. It’s a challenge that many of us are facing.

That’s hardly the only challenge about being an indie author today. Not so long ago, I was making enough income from my books that I gave serious thought to writing full time. Now, I consider it lucky if my royalties cover the cost of what it takes to publish my books. All of my author friends who actually did quit their jobs to write have had to go back to work, so I’m not alone in my struggles.

More difficult to face, though, is the reduction in reader engagement. When I first published the Daughters of Saraqael trilogy, I received regular e-mails and social media messages from readers telling me how much they enjoyed the books or asking when my next book would be released. That interest kept me motivated and encouraged me to write seven books in that series when I only intended to write three. Any writer will tell you that fan feedback is the number one thing that keeps us writing. Once that interest fades, our passion can fade along with it.

It occurred to me in my musings last week that I’m rarely contacted by fans these days. The thought was deflating, making me question why I continued to try and breathe life into a fading writing career. Then just this morning I received an e-mail asking when my next book was going to be released, as the fan couldn’t wait to read it.

It was like a sign from the universe, and it inspired me to write this post. Whether or not they’re for the better, there have been notable changes in the publishing industry over the past few years. We indie authors shouldn’t allow those changes to impact the writers we are today. Instead, we need to focus on the future, on honing our craft and figuring out how to adapt to today’s reader culture.

Looking back on the publishing path that brought me to where I am now is helpful in that it laid the foundation for my writing career. Now I need to move forward and work on overcoming the struggles faced by today’s indie authors. I hope all of the other indies out there remember the passion that got them started. We need to remind ourselves that we’re doing something we love…and that makes it all worth it.

About Raine

Raine Thomas is the award-winning author of bestselling Young Adult and New Adult fiction. Known for character-driven stories that inspire the imagination, Raine has signed with multiple award-winning producer Chase Chenowith of Back Fence Productions to bring her popular Daughters of Saraqael trilogy to the big screen. She’s a proud indie author who is living the dream.

When she isn’t writing or glued to e-mail or social networking sites, Raine can usually be found vacationing with her husband and daughter on one of Florida’s beautiful beaches or crossing the border to visit with her Canadian friends and relatives.

Where to find her

BestSelling Reads author page  |  Amazon Author page  |  Website  |  Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Pinterest  |  Tumblr  |  Instagram  |  YouTube  |  Goodreads  |Linkedin  |  Tsu

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Monday musings: Is it 1984 all over again?

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By Caleb Pirtle III

This post originally appeared on Caleb Pirtle III’s and Linda Pirtle’s blog, Here Comes a Mystery, on September 13, 2017.

George Orwell with the cover image of the book 1984

George Orwell with the cover image of the book that made him memorable and famous.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

So the government is spying on you. I read that somewhere.

So the government is stealing your emails. Read that, too.

So the government is keeping tabs on your phone calls. It’s in the news.

Sounds Osrwellian. That’s what the news reporters say.

Big Brother is watching.

Maybe George Orwell was right, they whisper.

1984 tops bestseller lists in January, 2017. LA Times.

Did anyone ever have any doubts? Maybe this is 1984.  Maybe it just came three decades later than anyone expected.

Readers of great literature, teachers of great literature, and critics of great literature have believed for years that George Orwell, back during the 1940s, glimpsed the future, discovered a dystopian world, realized that Totalitarianism was the most foreboding consequence facing humanity, and spread his fears on a piece of paper.

He described his work as “a Utopia written in the form of a novel.” It would be one of the most significant books produced in the twentieth century. It would be translated into sixty-five languages. It would sell millions of copies.

It was the book that killed George Orwell.

Orwell was obsessed with the conspiracy of a totalitarian government rising up from the ashes of World War II to rule England, rule the world, rule his life. Part of the inspiration for 1984, he once said, came from a meeting that Allied leaders had in Tehran in 1944.

There was Stalin.

And Churchill.

And Roosevelt.

He feared they were consciously plotting to divide the world, then fight to determine who would control it all.

George Orwell was a sad little man. But he was a brilliant writer.

He lived in a bleak world. He had endured the bombing of London. He had survived a world war. A troubled ife in the wartime ruins of the city created a constant mood of random terror and a constant fear that the next bomb would be looking for him.

Bomb damage in North London, June 1944; AIR 14/3701 National Archive

His flat had been wrecked. His was a threadbare existence. He had a wife and a child. His wife died under anesthesia during a routine operation while Orwell was on assignment with a magazine. Her death haunted him and grieved him, and he would never quite recover.

Most of all, Orwell was afraid of the future that his imagination envisioned. He heard the demons in his head. His health was bad. The winter of 1946-47, was one of the coldest ever, and he found that post-war Britain to be even darker, more dreadful, and more foreboding than wartime Britain.  He grew even more morose, a man who, his agent said, thrived on self-inflicted adversity.

George Orwell retired to a wild and isolated landscape in Scotland to begin writing a novel that had tempted and taunted him for years. As he once pointed out, “Every serious work I have written since the Spanish Civil War in 1936 was written directly or indirectly against totalitarianism and democratic socialism.

Now his story would be told on a grand scale.

He hated the process.

Orwell wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom he can neither resist or understand. For all one knows, that demon is the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s personality.”

Then he wrote the words that became known as the famous Orwellian coda: “Good prose is like a window pane.”

He sat down and wrote the first line of the novel: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Through the window pain, he could see the bleak landscape of 1984.

His world in Scotland was simple. And primitive. Cold. In the midst of a bitter winter, he had no electricity, and Orwell lived by chain-smoking black shag tobacco in roll-up cigarettes.

He coughed all the time.

He was spitting blood.

He looked cadaverous.

Just before Christmas of 1947, Orwell collapsed with “inflammation of the lungs.” The diagnosis frightened him even more. He was suffering from tuberculosis, and there was no cure for TB. But he couldn’t stop. He couldn’t recuperate. He had a novel to finish.

As he wrote his publisher: “I have got so used to writing in bed that I think I prefer it, though, of course, it’s awkward to type there. I am just struggling with the last stages of this bloody book about the possible state of affairs if the atomic war isn’t conclusive.”

The struggle ended in December of 1948 with the publication of 1984. He thought about calling the novel The Last Man in Europe. His publisher decided on 1984.  He thought it was more commercial, and he was right. He called it “among the most terrifying books I have read.” He was right again.

By January of 1950, George Orwell was dead.

The ordeal had taken its toll.

Orwell would never have to face the world he was afraid to face. He gave his life for a book that gave the world such ominous words as Big Brother, thoughtcrime, newspeak, and doublethink.

And now, as Orwell had predicted and maybe even envisioned, we live in an uncomfortable world filled with conspiracy rumors about Big Brother, thoughtcrimes, newspeak, and doublethink.

It may be new to us, but we all remember who created the world long before, some say, it came to exist.  Within twenty-four hours after the story broke on the alleged NSA’s spying scandal, the sales for George Orwell’s 1984 had surged seven thousand percent.

About the author

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of more than seventy books, including the Ambrose Lincoln series: Secrets of the DeadConspiracy of LiesNight Side of Dark and Place of Skulls.

Pirtle is a graduate of The University of Texas in Austin and became the first student at the university to win the National William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing. Several of his books and his magazine writing have received national and regional awards.

 

Pirtle was a newspaper reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and served ten years as travel editor for Southern Living Magazine. He was editorial director for a Dallas custom publisher for more than twenty-five years.

Get to know Caleb at his:

And follow him on Twitter @CalebPirtle.

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Monday musings: The easy and the hard parts of being a writer

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Image credit: Denise Krebs, Creative Commons.

I have heard people say “I don’t like writing; I like having written.” I like both. I like being able to look over something I have written and feeling satisfied with the outcome. But I also very much like the practice of writing itself.

Maybe I’m like Porthos from The Three Musketeers, who liked to talk to hear his own voice. I like expressing myself. I like to be able to tell stories or get ideas across to other people.

I even like re-writing my work. When I was younger, I found I had no patience in re-reading my old stuff, especially trade journalism. Somehow, I could not tolerate reading what I had just written. But I quickly learned that I had to re-read, so that I could re-write and avoid the worst criticism from editors.

I also learned the importance of outlining. The hard way.

When I began my journalistic career, I would start an article by writing what I imagined was a good opening sentence, and then tried going from there. Eventually, I learned to delete that opening sentence when the story was done. What I was left with was something half-decent.

But after having to delete successive drafts of a long article with a deadline looming over me, I realized I would be further ahead with an outline. And over the years, I became a great proponent of outlines.

I like to tell myself that my writing has improved over the years. One clue that supports that ideas is that it’s now easier to reread my writing. I can re-read stories that I wrote a few years ago without shuddering. I find I actually enjoy re-writing my work, and I know how important it is for every writer to re-read and re-write their work before sharing it with anyone. I’m sure you’ve found some writing that makes you think “Didn’t this writer edit at all? Did they read it once?”

I find great satisfaction when I can turn a difficult or awkward sentence into something clear. Here’s the trick: don’t try to salvage your work by changing a few words here and there, or moving a clause from the end of the sentence to the beginning. Start over. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to say? What result or reaction do I want from the reader?” By going back to the basic question and discarding everything you tried before, you’ll get a much better result.

The hard part

Wikimedia Commons

The hardest part for me as a writer is the dealing with the dread that I won’t find an audience.

As a journalist, writing articles commissioned by editors, you know you have an audience. When I was writing for Canadian Printer magazine at the beginning of my career, I knew that my audience was 30,000 Canadian graphic arts professionals. When I wrote articles for Macworld magazine, I knew the audience was around 300,000.

But now that I’ve turned to fiction, I know that, in addition to creating a story, I have to create an audience. That’s far harder, or at least a different skill set. While I have learned how to write, I have never been good at selling or at gathering a lot of attention for myself.

That fear is what has held me back from publishing fiction for such a long time. I have had the basic ideas for my novels for, in some cases, decades now. I have chapters and chapters of work in various hard drives, binders and drawers. I have not finished them nor submitted them to the wider world simply because I have been afraid of rejection.

Obviously, I have conquered that fear. I now have three stories on Smashwords and Amazon, and I’m working at getting my stuff listed in iBooks.

I am learning what it takes to build an audience. I’ve heard about the importance of the “platform” for the independent author, and I’m doing what I can to build one. I’ve increased the number of Facebook friends I have, joined Google Plus, created Circles, and, of course, joined Twitter. I’ve been blogging much more than I ever did before.

So far, it has not translated into many sales of my stories. I have seen some sales come immediately after a good review gets posted, though.

Learning how to build an audience would turn the worst part of being a writer to the best thing, for me. I hold onto hope it’s a skill I will learn.

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Is it 1984 all over again?

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By Caleb Pirtle III

This post originally appeared on Caleb Pirtle III’s and Linda Pirtle’s blog, Here Comes a Mystery, on September 13, 2017.

George Orwell with the cover image of the book 1984

George Orwell with the cover image of the book that made him memorable and famous.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

So the government is spying on you. I read that somewhere.

So the government is stealing your emails. Read that, too.

So the government is keeping tabs on your phone calls. It’s in the news.

Sounds Osrwellian. That’s what the news reporters say.

Big Brother is watching.

Maybe George Orwell was right, they whisper.

1984 tops bestseller lists in January, 2017. LA Times.

Did anyone ever have any doubts? Maybe this is 1984.  Maybe it just came three decades later than anyone expected.

Readers of great literature, teachers of great literature, and critics of great literature have believed for years that George Orwell, back during the 1940s, glimpsed the future, discovered a dystopian world, realized that Totalitarianism was the most foreboding consequence facing humanity, and spread his fears on a piece of paper.

He described his work as “a Utopia written in the form of a novel.” It would be one of the most significant books produced in the twentieth century. It would be translated into sixty-five languages. It would sell millions of copies.

It was the book that killed George Orwell.

Orwell was obsessed with the conspiracy of a totalitarian government rising up from the ashes of World War II to rule England, rule the world, rule his life. Part of the inspiration for 1984, he once said, came from a meeting that Allied leaders had in Tehran in 1944.

There was Stalin.

And Churchill.

And Roosevelt.

He feared they were consciously plotting to divide the world, then fight to determine who would control it all.

George Orwell was a sad little man. But he was a brilliant writer.

He lived in a bleak world. He had endured the bombing of London. He had survived a world war. A troubled ife in the wartime ruins of the city created a constant mood of random terror and a constant fear that the next bomb would be looking for him.

Bomb damage in North London, June 1944; AIR 14/3701 National Archive

His flat had been wrecked. His was a threadbare existence. He had a wife and a child. His wife died under anesthesia during a routine operation while Orwell was on assignment with a magazine. Her death haunted him and grieved him, and he would never quite recover.

Most of all, Orwell was afraid of the future that his imagination envisioned. He heard the demons in his head. His health was bad. The winter of 1946-47, was one of the coldest ever, and he found that post-war Britain to be even darker, more dreadful, and more foreboding than wartime Britain.  He grew even more morose, a man who, his agent said, thrived on self-inflicted adversity.

George Orwell retired to a wild and isolated landscape in Scotland to begin writing a novel that had tempted and taunted him for years. As he once pointed out, “Every serious work I have written since the Spanish Civil War in 1936 was written directly or indirectly against totalitarianism and democratic socialism.

Now his story would be told on a grand scale.

He hated the process.

Orwell wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom he can neither resist or understand. For all one knows, that demon is the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s personality.”

Then he wrote the words that became known as the famous Orwellian coda: “Good prose is like a window pane.”

He sat down and wrote the first line of the novel: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Through the window pain, he could see the bleak landscape of 1984.

His world in Scotland was simple. And primitive. Cold. In the midst of a bitter winter, he had no electricity, and Orwell lived by chain-smoking black shag tobacco in roll-up cigarettes.

He coughed all the time.

He was spitting blood.

He looked cadaverous.

Just before Christmas of 1947, Orwell collapsed with “inflammation of the lungs.” The diagnosis frightened him even more. He was suffering from tuberculosis, and there was no cure for TB. But he couldn’t stop. He couldn’t recuperate. He had a novel to finish.

As he wrote his publisher: “I have got so used to writing in bed that I think I prefer it, though, of course, it’s awkward to type there. I am just struggling with the last stages of this bloody book about the possible state of affairs if the atomic war isn’t conclusive.”

The struggle ended in December of 1948 with the publication of 1984. He thought about calling the novel The Last Man in Europe. His publisher decided on 1984.  He thought it was more commercial, and he was right. He called it “among the most terrifying books I have read.” He was right again.

By January of 1950, George Orwell was dead.

The ordeal had taken its toll.

Orwell would never have to face the world he was afraid to face. He gave his life for a book that gave the world such ominous words as Big Brother, thoughtcrime, newspeak, and doublethink.

And now, as Orwell had predicted and maybe even envisioned, we live in an uncomfortable world filled with conspiracy rumors about Big Brother, thoughtcrimes, newspeak, and doublethink.

It may be new to us, but we all remember who created the world long before, some say, it came to exist.  Within twenty-four hours after the story broke on the alleged NSA’s spying scandal, the sales for George Orwell’s 1984 had surged seven thousand percent.

About the author

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of more than seventy books, including the Ambrose Lincoln series: Secrets of the DeadConspiracy of LiesNight Side of Dark and Place of Skulls.

Pirtle is a graduate of The University of Texas in Austin and became the first student at the university to win the National William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing. Several of his books and his magazine writing have received national and regional awards.

 

Pirtle was a newspaper reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and served ten years as travel editor for Southern Living Magazine. He was editorial director for a Dallas custom publisher for more than twenty-five years.

Get to know Caleb at his:

And follow him on Twitter @CalebPirtle.

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Writing a book is like running a (half) marathon

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This post originally appeared on Author DelSheree Gladden’s blog.

Last month, my husband and I just ran our second half marathon.

How is writing a book like running a half marathon?

The first few miles of a half marathon are awesome. Your adrenaline is pumping, you’re excited to get the race going, and 13 miles doesn’t sound that bad now that you’ve actually got your sneakers on the course. You’ll definitely beat your personal best, by at least half an hour.

When you first start writing a new idea, it’s exciting and you think feel like you’ll be able to write straight to the end because it’s that amazing! You can sit for hours on end scribbling down witty dialogue and captivating scenes. 300 pages? That’s nothing, right?

The fun and adrenaline starts to taper off somewhere around mile 6 or page 50.

When it comes to running, your adrenaline is pushing you to churn out a faster pace than you’ve ever run before. You’re pretty sure you can try out for the Olympics in a few years. Everything feels amazing. Until it doesn’t.

World and character building has been a rush, and setting up all those clever little hints has convinced you that there won’t be a single reader in the world who will guess the ending. It’s the best opening of a book you’ve ever written or read. Until your creativity takes a nose dive.

That’s when you hit a wall…creatively or physically.

The physical wall you hit halfway through your half marathon is aggravating and painful. Your knees start to ache. Your hip feels like it has no cartilage left. Every step is torture and you’re regretting ever signing up for this stupid race. There’s no way you can finish. Every time a car passes by you hope they’ll stop and give you a ride to the finish line. But no one stops, so you Just Keep Running.

One moment you’re writing like a crazy person…then all the words dry up. Each one feels like you have to drag it to the surface by force. You’re pretty sure you now have carpal tunnel from the frantic writing. Where has it left you? You’ve set up fabulous characters and a storyline no reader will be able to put down, but keeping up the same momentum seems impossible when you move from doling out exciting tidbits to carrying on a consistently engaging story where you don’t lapse into pointless dialogue or never ending description of a walk through the park sounds impossible. But you Just Have To Keep Writing even though you’re now  positive the whole book sucks and you never should have started writing it.

Then something changes again.

When you see mile marker 11 come into view and you realize you’re almost done, the tears aren’t easy to hold back. Pain, joy, madness…it’s hard to tell. You’re too dehydrated to cry, though, so you hobble onward with renewed energy. As much pain as you’re in, you’re almost there! You can make it.

With writing, the middle section that felt like torture to write and wanted to throw across the room while crying about how terrible it was…everything suddenly comes together. That chapter where your characters endlessly walked through the park went from being a Tolkienesque history of the trees to a pivotal conversation that helped them solve the mystery for fix their relationship. You know how the story ends now!

Crossing the finish line, writing the end, both feel incredible…but neither one is really the end because you know you’re going to be sore for a week or have a long list of rewrites to work on, BUT it’s a huge milestone to hit and it was totally worth it regardless of the messy shape your body or manuscript is in.

After our race, we got a breakfast burrito and a beer, which I’ll be honest, sounded like a horrible idea at ten in the morning after running 13 miles (the race was hosted by a brewery), but both were actually much appreciated because I was starving and in pain and food and alcohol proved to be exactly what I needed.

Finishing a manuscript is also something to be proud of regardless of the fact that it might have choppy scenes and stilted dialogue and a handful of hints you forgot to ever bring back into the plot. You started a book. You finished it. How many people have wanted to write a book and gave up after a few chapters? A lot.

After running a half marathon, I take a good couple weeks (or maybe a month) off from running. It’s time for yoga, core work, maybe a little biking. My body needs to recover, and honestly so does my motivation.

As soon as you type out THE END, take a good long break from your manuscript, too. Don’t even look at it. Think about it, if you want, consider those problem areas and forgotten clues, but leave the book alone for as long as you can stand it. It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting to write sometimes. Give yourself a break so you can come back for the editing round with fresh eyes and some excitement.

Whether you’re running or writing, don’t give up when it gets painful or hard. You’ll learn a lot from your mistakes and be better for it in the end. It took me ten years to publish my first book and a year and a half or running 5 days a week to survive a half marathon. The journey to do something awesome sometimes sucks, a lot, but it’s worth it in the end.

Cheers!

 

About the author

USA Today Bestselling Young Adult and Romance Author DelSheree Gladden loves books—reading them and writing them.

The Southwest is a big influence in her writing because of its culture, beauty, and mythology. Local folk lore is strongly rooted in her writing, particularly ideas of prophecy, destiny, and talents born from natural abilities.

DelSheree lives in New Mexico with her husband and two children. When she is not writing, DelSheree is usually reading, painting, sewing, or working as a Dental Hygienist.

Visit:

And follow her on Twitter @Delsheree.

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Monday musings: Travel, beauty and writing

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The Gothic-era Tyn Church in Prague’s Old Square, fronted by newer buildings that now make up its entrance.

People often say travel broadens you. It opens your mind and your heart to new ideas, exposes you to different cultures and people, and tends to make you more accepting of differences.

For me, travel is also inspiring—literally. When I travel, I often get new ideas for stories and novels. These can be sparked by people I see and meet, buildings, streets, forests, coastlines—just about anything.

I recently returned from a visit to Prague and the Czech Republic. If you have been, you’ll know how beautiful that capital city is. If you haven’t been, you should put it on your list of places to visit.

The Astronomical Clock in Prague’s Old Square, built in 1410.

Prague itself is an arrangement of architecture that, for at least 700 years, has intended to embrace the current styles, yet fit in with the established buildings. As one of the travel guides points out, you can stand in the Old Square and see architecture of the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Art Deco periods. And you don’t have to walk far to find later examples — the Cubist house of the Black Madonna is just steps from the square.

At least in the centre of the city, it’s hard to find a building that’s strictly functional—almost all are beautiful in some way.

Inspiration

The Municipal Hall is too prosaic a name for this Art Nouveau building on the National Square, home of two concert halls, including Smetana Hall.

Walking through a city that’s new to me gets my imagination going. It’s easy to think of the beginnings of stories, more like dramatic situations. But in Prague, I came up with more of a feeling or a theme than a plotline. The juxtaposition of buildings from every era of the past 700 years points to a Prague characteristic: its continual embracing of the modern while honouring, and making full use of tradition.

It brought to mind a kind of story of two people in a relationship, who are both trying to solve the same problem: one from a 21st-century approach, based in science and technology; and the other taking an older, more traditional perspective informed by psychology and religion.

This building is the home of the Hotel Paris in central Prague.

Prague has always been known as a music-loving city. Mozart loved Prague, and Prague loved him back. Today, you can find street performers at almost any time, any place—and theyre really good. These guys called themselves the De Facto String Quartet, and played a version of Stairway to Heaven that sounded terrific.

I don’t know what the problem will be, yet, nor what the plot points are. But I have the characters worked out. And it will definitely be set in Prague.

As if the architecture, art and music arent inspiring enough, Prague has immortalized its favourite native-born author, Franz Kafka, with this metallic scupture of his head. The sections rotate independently, according to some program that occasionally lines them up to reveal the writer’s likeness.

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In praise of the cliché

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Source: Commons Wikimedia

Writers are always teaching me, whether they know it or not. I’ve been editing and beta-reading manuscripts for a number of people this summer, and their words make me re-evaluate some ideas I held firmly for some time. And I keep coming to the same dilemma: at what point does trimming text and adhering to the current stylistic conventions begin to trample legitimate expressions of writing style?

Every writer has heard of Elmore’ Leonard’s “Ten Rules for Good Writing.” You can Google them easily enough.

Elmore Leonard

And it seems to me that the “rules” thrown around by those who claim to be publishing professionals and insiders are often contradictory. For instance, real professional authors don’t use adverbs much, if at all. I once heard an author in a radio interview claim proudly (there’s another adverb, damnit!) that he only had three or four adverbs in his whole book.

Then there’s the dilemma over dialog. “Never use a word other than ‘said’ to describe dialog,” advised Mr. Leonard. Also, never modify “said” with an adverb.

Meanwhile, I read some time ago that a large number of grade-school teachers across the US encouraged their pupils never to use “said” in their compositions. They could use “exclaimed,” “asked,” “replied,” “retorted” or anything else that made sense, but not “said.”

In providing a beta-read for a good friend’s new manuscript, I couldn’t bring myself to follow either rule. Now, there were times that I thought “said” was the right word, and I suggested that to my best-selling friend. But sometimes, as a writer, you want to describe how someone spoke. So you need either a stronger verb—which breaks Mr. Leonard’s Rule #3, or you need to describe with an adverb, which breaks rule number 4, or longer description, which breaks rule number 9 (“Don’t go into great detail describing places and things”).

Probably Leonard’s most famous rule is “Never use the words ‘suddenly’ or ‘all hell broke loose.’” Usually, it’s good advice. If something happens suddenly, then you can usually find a stronger verb to describe it.

He came in suddenly. He burst into the room. And you never need to write “it burst suddenly.” A burst is a sudden thing.

But sometimes, “suddenly” is the right word. Here’s an example from my first book, The Bones of the Earth:

[Photius’] staff was glowing white, and [Javor] suddenly understood it had been the source of the white flashes.

I suppose I could have written it differently, but this phrase most efficiently conveys the meaning to the reader—that the character understood a cause-and-effect relationship in an instant, after a period when he did not. I could have written “the glowing stick made him realize in an instant….” But that would have taken more words.

Rules of writing, shmules of writing

Image: Flickr Creative Commons

In my own writing, I try to avoid clichés (like the plague, right). For a new client, I explained that removing or replacing clichés was part of my standard level of service, and she stopped me immediately (damn, another adverb). Clichés are part of her style. They’re part of the way she speaks and she wants her little expressions in her written work, too.

That made me think about clichés, and alter my opinion. Really, they’re a form of jargon. Words can have more than one meaning, and any phrase, sentence or longer writing works on several levels. It conveys the literal message, as well as memories and associations. That’s how advertising works—by associating a word, a message or an image, or a combination of them, with positive feelings. “Buy this stuff and you’ll be happy.”

We can think of clichés as our modern social jargon. Jargon does more than convey a specific meaning within a narrow group: it identifies the speaker or writer as someone in the know, part of the club. Current slang and clichés serve the same purpose. They tell the audience that the user is up to date, part of the in crowd. Using last year’s slang is also dangerous—it tells the audience you’re out of date.

In fact, using a cliché well may be the most efficient way to achieve your communications goal: to get a particular reaction from your audience.

And the way people use quotation marks in writing, or air quotes when the say a well-used phrase, is akin to a bibliographic entry. Quotation marks essentially mean that the words they contain are not the writer’s original work, but someone else’s. The writer or speaker who uses them is giving credit, or at least, admitting they’re using another person’s expression.

Maybe there is room in the professional, credible publishing world for description, for using clichés and words other than “said.” If we all follow the same style conventions, isn’t all writing going to seem the same? Isn’t diversity what we want?

Have I blown my credibility out of the water by daring to support that pariah of the writing world, the cliché? By arguing against Elmore Leonard?

“That’s just the way I roll,” I thought suddenly.

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Thursday teaser: Wired Dark

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Book 4 in the Paradise Crime series launches today!

By Toby Neal

 

Tech security specialist Sophie Ang walked through the velvet-dark night, patrolling a beachfront property in Wailea on Maui. She found comfort in the familiar weight of her Glock on one hip as her hand rested on it, but she kept her arms loose, ready for action, as she scanned the area. Rocker Shank Miller’s estate was as protected as Sophie and her Security Solutions partner, Jake Dunn, could make it—but something had set off one of the property’s perimeter motion detectors, and it was Sophie’s turn to check out the disturbance.

The hammered pewter gleam of moonlight reflected off a great swath of beach and rendered Miller’s manicured lawn in shades of gray, casting ornamental plantings into black shadow. Natural stone pavers, set into the grass, made an easy route around the clustered ferns, flowering trees, and birds of paradise that ringed the grounds.

Jake had wanted to cut all the plantings way back to improve visibility and monitoring, but Miller had refused. “I didn’t spend ten million on this getaway spot so I could hide out inside a cement bunker with no view,” the rock star had said. “I come here to relax. Growing green stuff helps me relax, and so does my view. Do the best you can with those challenges, but I won’t lose either.”

Her partner never did anything by half measures, and he took Shank Miller’s safety more seriously than the man did himself. Jake had supervised the installation of a Plexiglas wall to preserve that view, a bulletproof, impenetrable and almost invisible barrier on Sophie’s left.

Sophie headed toward the corner closest to the beach where the alarm had sounded. Motion detectors, buried and almost invisible in the plantings, created frequent disturbances for their team, and Sophie was still getting used to being part of that team.

Jake took up a lot of personal space. Sometimes he made it hard for her to breathe, and it was that need for space that had driven Sophie to ask for a guest room inside the main house so that they weren’t both occupying the small cottage that had become the team’s security headquarters. The computer monitoring station had been moved from the main house out there too, and Jake stayed out there with their two backup operatives, Jesse Kanaka and Ronnie Fellowes.

Sophie reached the corner of the grounds where the alarm had gone off. Jake had wanted to put in lights that responded to the motion detectors, but Shank had put his boot-clad foot down again. “I can’t have this place lit up like a stadium every time a gecko runs across the freakin’ fence.”

That meant that the corner Sophie approached, hidden on the beach side by a clump of native bushes, was inky-dark. Sophie pulled out a powerful flashlight and shone it over the area. Illumination played over the smooth grass and shadowy foliage.

Nothing. Probably just a gecko, one of those ubiquitous Hawaiian lizards that hunted insects at night.

Sophie was moving on when the beam caught a flash of color. She turned and lit up the item.

Lying beneath a cluster of bird of paradise were a plastic bride and groom, the toys rubber-banded together, wrapped in each other’s arms.

Sophie scanned for movement along the bushes of the public beach for any sign of who might have thrown the dolls into the compound, but the area was deserted.

Nothing to see but the gleam of the moon on the ocean, nothing to hear but the sound of the surf and the rustle of a gentle night wind in the palm trees overhead.

Sophie reached into her pocket and removed a small plastic bag. She used it to pick up the figures, shining the light over a Barbie and Ken doll. The Barbie was dressed in a wedding gown, her long blonde hair braided, a veil over her face. The groom’s molded plastic hair had been colored over with Sharpie, and squiggles of black ink trailed down inside the doll’s tuxedo, representing Shank Miller’s long dark locks—and the male doll’s right hand, Miller’s guitar hand, had been sawed off.

About Wired Dark

Paradise Crime, Book 4

Paradise can’t contain a thirst for revenge.

Tech security specialist Sophie Ang returns to Maui, working alongside dynamic partner Jake Dunn to solve a series of bizarre and escalating threats against a rocker with a beach mansion. But soon, catching a crazed stalker becomes the least of Sophie’s problems: a deadly enemy is hell-bent to take her down along with anyone she cares about. Sophie’s very identity is tested as she grapples with issues of conscience and survival in a struggle that takes her to the edge of heartbreak, and beyond.

About the author

Toby Neal grew up on the island of Kaua`i in Hawaii. After a few “stretches of exile” to pursue education, the islands have been home for the last fifteen years.

Toby is a mental health therapist, a career that has informed the depth and complexity of the characters in her books.

Outside of work and writing, Toby volunteers in a nonprofit for children and enjoys life in Hawaii through beach walking, body boarding, scuba diving, photography, and hiking.

 Visit her on:

And follow her on Twitter @TobywNeal.

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Monday Musings: How many typos are acceptable?

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Wikimedia Commons

How important is the quality of editing to a reader?

My first job following university was as a “production editor,” basically a copy editor, for textbook publisher Prentice-Hall. On my first day, my new boss, Richard Hemingway—I’m not kidding—was showing me the ropes, explaining the steps I was expected to follow in quality control of books.

At some point during my orientation, I said something like “So I guess our goal is to produce the perfect book.”

Hemingway laughed. “I don’t think there has ever been such a thing as a perfect book.”

The value of errors

These many years later, I have to agree with him. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that did not have at least a couple of errors. Usually these are minor typos, the misplacement of an apostrophe or omission of a comma. And yes, even in professionally edited books from commercial publishers.

Ironically, many people collect first editions of old books, which they can identify by the errors that the publishers correct in subsequent editions.

I think there are more errors today in commercially published books than there were 30 years ago. I can’t say for sure, but I have this feeling.

One of the criticisms of independently of self-published books is that they do not meet professional standards for editorial quality. That is, there are too many mistakes—not just typos, but grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors. Continuity and logic mistakes. Low quality covers, and so on.

I have read a number of independently or self-published books that indeed were rife with errors that a professional editor should have caught.

But I have also read many excellent books from independent authors who published their own books. Great stories, believable characters, original writing, beautiful covers.

And I have read some books from major commercial publishers that also have a number of simple mistakes. And books that are just plain terrible, filled with bad writing, illogical plots, one-dimensional characters and clichés.

The commercial publishers have no monopoly on quality.

What is the problem with typos?

As a writer and an editor, the first rule I follow in publishing is this: you cannot effectively proofread your own writing.

It’s so easy to make mistakes. Your fingers hit the wrong key, or Auto-correct gives you “ethylene” when you wanted to type “Ethel.”

And no matter how many people read a manuscript before it’s published, somehow there are mistakes that slip through to the published edition, and then a reader will point it out.

Look through any commercially published book you like: how many have zero typos? But did they detract from your enjoyment of the story?

That’s the point: it’s the story that readers want: believable, relatable characters, an engaging plot, evocative description that brings you into the story.

Errors can give the reader the wrong idea—for example, when the author decides to change a character’s name midway through writing the book, but misses the change at a key point in the story. Or when Auto-correct gives you “turnip” instead of “tourniquet.”

Wikimedia Commons

At some point, a large number of minor errors becomes frustrating. It shows that the author did not care enough about the reader’s experience to follow the process necessary to produce a good book: have it edited by a professional editor, proofread by a professional proofreader. Submit it to beta readers and reviewers, and make the effort to correct the errors.

And have a professional cover.

It costs money and it takes time, but as all our parents and grandparents told us, there are no short cuts when it comes to doing something well.

Where is the dividing line?

But where is that point? Nothing is perfect, not even books.

How many errors can you tolerate before a book frustrates you? How many typos can you tolerate? What is the writing mistake that will turn you off a book?

What’s the worst mistake you ever found in a book?

Leave a comment.

 

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