Friday, July 30, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different...

"...and here in Castle Anthrax, we have but one punishment for setting alight the grail-shaped beacon. You must tie her down on a bed and spank her!"

* BOOK NEWS *

Despite being in Oregon for the better part of the week, I did find some interesting stuff!

Last chance to register for free for The Muse Online Writers Conference! Don't miss the biggest and best writers conference on the web this October!

DL Hammons is hosting a High Drama Blogfest/Giveaway AND he’s still seeking bloggers in Mississippi, Rhode Island, Tennessee & West Virginia! Visit Cruising Altitude for more details.

Shannon Whitney Messenger went to Comic Con! Check out her site for info and photos.

Alex J Cavanaugh is holding a 200 Followers contest.

Nicole’s magic writing device - the Word Box - at One Significant Moment at a Time

And yesterday I visited Patricia Stoltey with my writing life.


* LOL CATS! *

I have a guest blogger on Sunday (and another special guest on Tuesday!) so I'm doing something completely different and bringing you the Sunday Sillies a little early...

funny pictures of cats with captions

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funny pictures of cats with captions

Thursday, July 29, 2010

It’s all in the Details

I’ve returned from Oregon - more on that later. While I was there, an experience inspired me in terms of writing and details.

And, I am visiting Patricia Stoltey today with “My Writing Life - so stop by her blog and say hello!

What struck me was the difference in driving between North Carolina and Oregon. Now, we have our Pokey Puppies here! It’s not uncommon to get behind someone going 45 in a 55 mph zone. On the flip side, there’s those driving 10-15 mph over the speed limit. (And if you’re on I-95 and you’re NOT one of those people, you WILL be run over!) However, in Oregon, the range is much smaller. Most people drive five miles over to five miles under. This causes a steady flow of traffic rather than the obstacle course that is NC.

Did you know that? (Did you know that there is no self-serve gas pumps in Oregon either? Weird, huh?)

As writers, we have to be aware of these subtle differences. A detail like that won’t be listed on a fact sheet or website, either. We would need firsthand experience, either ours or someone else’s. Yet it’s those little details that add depth and reality to our work.

I spent the first nineteen years of my life in Oregon. I’ve visited many times over the years, and eventually I realized that it just wasn’t the same anymore and not really home. This past visit it really hit me that NC and the East Coast is my home now. Yes, we have our humidity and hurricanes. Tomorrow I will be forced to go around a large tractor or a lawn maintenance truck parked in the road. (And I do mean parked IN the road.) Everyone here thinks BBQ is pulled pork rather than a rack of ribs. But there is something to be said for Southern hospitality. The East Coast is packed full of interesting people and places. I like the consevative attitudes here. My friends, family, and business are here. This is home. Southern people no longer scare me! LOL

Thanks to everyone who left well-wishes for my mother this past week. We hope she will be out of the hospital in a couple days. I spent my time there looking at skilled nursing facilities (she will need a couple weeks of rehab) and assisted living homes. She’s not crazy about the idea, but knows it needs to happen soon. So another trip to Oregon to help her sort her house is in the very near future.

I am just happy I get to return home to North Carolina afterwards!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Decided to give the cats a break this week...

loldog, chihuahua, costume, monty python, movies

A Nice Wet Hooter

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And sorry, I am in Oregon right now taking care of my mother, so I can't respond to comments...

Friday, July 23, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different...

"You see, I don't believe that libraries should be drab places where people sit in silence, and that's been the main reason for our policy of employing wild animals as librarians."

I will be offline until the middle of next week as I return to Oregon to see my mother (who’s been in the hospital for several weeks) and take care of things. I will miss everyone, but I’ll be lucky to check my emails. (However, The Sunday Sillies will proceed as planned.)
So, as you read this, Spunky is either on her way to Oregon or she’s already there!

* BOOK NEWS *

How to Hook Your Reader at A Book Inside

Character backgrounds and more! A Writer’s Journey

And saw this in a Yahoo Group post this week:

950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies

Rather sobering, isn’t it?


* CAPTION WINNER *

It was so tough this week! However, I forced myself to choose…

Hart Johnson - "Thumbz! Leak calls for thumbz and I got nun!"



* PHOTO OF THE DAY *

I recently shot a reception and thought you'd enjoy a photo of the cupcakes that acompanied the cake.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Writing Dialogue

Dialogue is a vital element in most any story. The verbal interaction of the characters reveals much about each person – past events, feelings, beliefs, intentions, etc. Since we cannot hear the characters speaking, we rely on printed dialogue for clues regarding intelligence, education level, and physical location. As we can see, authors must convey a tremendous amount of information with the spoken word!

Since writing dialogue can be a struggle, here’s a few tips to keep our character exchanges fresh:

1- Remember that most people do not speak proper English. (Or any language.) What we were taught in school might transfer well onto paper, but we don’t always employ those rules in our speech. Proper grammar states “Turn on the light,” but most people tend to say, “Turn the light on,” instead. We overuse words. Our participles dangle. We use past and present tense in the same sentence – sometimes twice!

If our character is a college professor or a man of higher learning, he will likely use proper grammar. However, the average person will be more lax with his verbal skill. Realize that it’s all right to let some rules fall by the wayside when writing dialogue. We are trying to relate to our readers, not impress our English teachers. Allow dialogue to flow freely and naturally.

2- Research the time period of the story for proper usage of words. Our languages changes almost as rapidly as technology, and those advances bring a whole slew of new words. Ten years ago, people did not use the word ‘texting,’ and twenty years ago, most did not even possess a cell phone.

It goes beyond breakthroughs in science, though. Slang words have evolved over time, and where and how often they were used has changed. Our spoken language has become more relaxed and many subjects no longer taboo. If our dialogue is to sound authentic, we must research the time period. Watch a movie or read a book that was created during that specific moment in time. Avoid current books and movies based on past decades, as they will not provide an accurate representation. If our story is set in the far past, we may have to conduct some creative research! However, the resulting dialogue will sound far more authentic and immerse our readers into the story.

3- Hand write all dialogue. Occasionally, the computer screen sabotages our creative efforts. As we type our thoughts, Mr. Spellcheck goes to work highlighting our mistakes. This can either distract us as we backspace to fix errors or inhibit us as we type slower to avoid such blunders. Either way, our creative flow is disrupted and realistic dialogue becomes more challenging.

By hand-writing scenes with extensive dialogue, we’ll find our words flow more freely. The pressure to write with perfection is eliminated, opening the door for more natural exchanges.

4- Speak the dialogue out loud and record the conversation. This is perhaps the most effective means by which to capture natural dialogue! Written lines can sound stiff and impersonal, but when we say those words aloud, the natural ebb and flow of conversation becomes apparent. It reveals awkward and unnecessary phrases. And the more we exhibit that character’s personality, the better we will hear how that person speaks in real life.

If this is a challenge to do solo, entice a friend or family member to help. A basic written outline of the dialogue can be used to guide the overall conversation. Allow that person the freedom to change the wording as he sees fit and bounce naturally off one another’s responses. An even more effective trick would be to video tape the entire scene to capture gentle nuances and gestures as well.

Good dialogue is essential if we are to connect with our readers. We must communicate our character’s voices clearly, accurately, and in a believable manner. Otherwise, we may find our readers offering a few choice words instead!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blogging is not all about YOU!

The past two weeks, I've watched the students of the Blog Book Tours class as they attempt to find their blogging voice.

Some have already nailed their topics. Some are still seeking their focus. A couple blog only about themselves and their book.

However, successful blogging is like good conversation - it's not about you, it's about the other person.

There are key elements to a good conversation - eye contact, use of the other person's name, open stance and positive body language, the asking of questions, and the refusal to chatter endlessly about oneself.

These same principles can be applied to our blog by providing quality information and enticing the reader into the conversation. It's not about US - it's about our readers!

Our readers do not visit for an endless stream of commercials. (I rarely watch TV and never listen to the radio because I hate commercials so much!) Our readers do not visit to hear us brag. Our readers don't visit to hear us whine constantly, either. Readers visit a blog for one of two reasons - because it informs or it entertains.

Now that's not to say we don't make friends along the way! But one of those two reasons attracted us in the first place. However, it is the genuine, caring human being behind the blog that entices us to return. That blogger has realized that he or she must provide something of value to their readers. That blogger has realized it's not all about HIM or HER!

For the best example of a blogger who has grasped this concept, I invite you to visit these ladies:

Helen at Straight From Hel

Elizabeth at Mystery Writing is Murder

Both of these ladies blog every single day and provide a ton of information to benefit their readers.
Elizabeth has been on tour for her latest release, and she mentioned her upcoming book at least once a week, but never lost focus of the fact that it's all about her readers.

What's your blog's focus? You, you, you? Or your readers?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Sunday SIllies

Baked in warm, chewy laughter!

Don't forget to provide a caption for the last image.

funny pictures of cats with captions

funny pictures of cats with captions

funny pictures of cats with captions

cute baby animals - Polite Introductions

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Now, provide your funniest caption! Winners featured on Friday.

Friday, July 16, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Daffy English kaniggets!

* BOOK NEWS *

Karen Gowen wants to buy your book! See her website for this fantastic new contest.

Elizabeth Spann Craig is currently touring for her latest book, Delicious and Suspicious, so pop over to Mystery Writing is Murder for her virtual tour stops!

Weigh in on author blurbs with Helen at Straight From Hel

How well are you at giving your characters unique traits? Listen to the Voices

Terry Lynn Johnson posted the cool cover for her upcoming book!

And Alex J Cavanaugh
revealed the book trailer for his new book - and I am so jealous, because it’s fantastic! See for yourself:




* CAPTION WINNER *

And the winners of this week’s LOL Cats caption:

The Yard Bard "Iz NOT make tail look fat!"
Creative Chronicler "tiz perfect hiding place. Theyze never gonna find me in here...Ize invisible.”
Helen Ginger “Collapsible laundry basket to hoomans. Expandable feed bucket to katz."

True LOL Cats Speak!


I will be flying back to Oregon to see my mother late next week, but promise to have posts ready. Especially the Sunday Sillies!


* PHOTO OF THE DAY *
I'm Spunky and this is my squid. Don't worry - he's cool!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Art of Highway Singing: My Love/Hate Affair with Promotion

Today I'd like to post something a little different! Please welcome Lisa A. Koosis!

For the past few months I’ve found myself having to be a quick study in the art of promotion. I'll admit it’s not my favorite thing. There are people who are born networkers. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. Networking to me feels a little bit like standing in the middle of the highway and singing at the top of my lungs. It isn't a comfortable thing at all. For me, promotion was a learned art. But that’s okay, because I’ve realized that it is learnable.

This all came about on account of a contest. Now it’s a great contest, mind you. Back in December I was notified that my novel, Heart of the City, had made it to the finals of the Fresh Blood competition, a contest that seeks to find the next big horror writer. The grand prize was a publishing contract with Dorchester Publishing’s Leisure Horror imprint.

It was an amazing opportunity: to have a 1 in 10 chance of a publishing contract with a prominent genre publisher. But there was a catch. If I made it through to the Top 5, the remainder of the competition would be based on public voting. From there on out, each month the contestant with the least amount of votes would be eliminated. And while there was--American Idol style--a panel of judges to help the undecided make their voting decision, I knew that the determining factor would most likely be how well the contestants could promote themselves.

So yes, I cringed a little. Me, self-promote? How terrifying was that?

Still, I understood and respected the promotional aspect of the contest, because these days it’s vital for an author to be able to self-promote, to help sell her own books. Why wouldn’t a publishing house want to see how well an author could do just that before signing on with them? If you're willing and able to promote yourself prior to publication, then it bodes well for promoting your book after publication.

A few months later, I made it to that coveted Top 5 list, and my crash course in promotion began. So I started with the basics: family, friends, colleagues from various jobs that I’d held, members of my writing groups. I made a list of places where I’ve set out networking feelers over the past few years, and in doing so I was actually pleasantly surprised. Inadvertently, I’d already built up a pretty good network.

Then I tried to think beyond that, outside the box. What about the websites where I share my love of amateur photography? And what about alumni groups? And why couldn’t I ask for a shout-out in the newsletter that I once co-edited?

It was a good lesson for me, a reminder that as a writer (and as a person), not to focus too narrowly, but rather to really look around at all available channels. More, it was a reminder to not compartmentalize the “writer” part of me from the rest of me.

So promote I did. I promoted hard and I promoted often. But I always tried to remember to say please and thank you, I always tried to reciprocate when I could, and I never took a single vote nor a single word of encouragement for granted. Support in a contest is a gift, not an obligation.

What I found is that people were not only responsive to my efforts but often eager to help and excited to play a role in the contest. People who didn’t even know me prior to the contest often went above and beyond to support and encourage me. I met some great people, and much to my surprise, I made it through round after round of eliminations.

Now here I am, one of two novels remaining in competition for that grand prize, the publishing contract. Will I win the contest? I don’t know. What I do know is that win or lose, I plan on taking my lessons on the art of promotion with me and belting out a tune on whatever highway I find myself traveling down next.

Here's the blurb on Heart Of The City:

The Phoenix particle, created to burn out and replace damaged DNA, should have been the medical breakthrough of the century. Instead, it was the beginning of the end, its fires decimating person after person and city after city with a ferocity its creator could never have imagined. But cities don’t die so easily. The Phoenix particle was engineered to remember, and in the ashes, the particles remain, carrying within them the genetic blueprint from the billions fallen prey to the burning. And the Phoenix still has a mission, to pass on that information.


Eva Moline—immune to its devastation—is the perfect conduit for the Phoenix. She’s prepared to help put the world back together in any way she can, even when she feels the Phoenix at work inside of her, somehow sentient, somehow knowing. As the children of the Phoenix grow to term in Eva’s womb, so does the essence of each city become a part of her. And as Eva joins the creator of the Phoenix in a cross-country journey from city to ruined city, she must decide whether she’s recreating a world or giving birth to monsters.
EXCERPT

Voting is about as simple as it gets. All you have to do is send a blank email to freshblood@chizinepub.com with “Fresh Blood Vote - Heart of the City” in the subject line. It’s as easy as that. They’ll accept one vote per unique email address and voting closes on July 14th at midnight EST.

Bio:
Originally from Long Island, Lisa A. Koosis currently lives in New York’s historic Hudson Valley. She was recently named the grand prizewinner in Family Circle's 2009 fiction contest. Over the past few years her short stories have appeared in an assortment of publications including Abyss & Apex, Meadowhawk Press’s "Touched by Wonder" anthology, Susurrus Press’s “Neverlands and Otherwheres” anthology, and Murky Depths. In 2006 she was awarded second place in Poughkeepsie Journal's Talespinners short fiction contest, which was judged by a celebrity panel including bestselling author, Da Chen, and Michael Korda, former Editor in Chief of Simon & Schuster. Mr. Korda called her work, "sharply written and nicely conceived." Lisa is a dedicated and prolific writer of speculative fiction, and a former fiction manager at Barnes & Noble.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Finding Your Muse

I wrote this article earlier this year for The Literary Lynnch Pen

Finding Your Muse

Our muse is an intricate and complex creature. She can fill our heads with the most glorious images. She inspires our fingers to frantically record the scenes unfolding in our minds. Unfortunately, she can also turn elusive, hiding when we need her the most.

How do we find our muse again? We can stare at our computer screens and just hope she will return. We can force the issue and spend hours pounding out meaningless words. But, if she’s not responding, then we must turn to our creativity to bring her out of seclusion.

Here are six tips for enticing a shy muse:

Music - It stirs the soul. Select music that will invigorate the emotions. Revel in the joy and excitement. Feel moved by the sorrow and anger. Focus on the images the sound inspires. Submersion is important, so either headphones or a loud volume is suggested for a complete experience.

Visuals - A picture is worth a thousand words. We tend to be visual creatures. Photo books and the Internet are great resources. Look for inspiring scenes that connect to the story. Perhaps waves crashing on the beach, a busy downtown street, or a camel in the desert. Get lost in a beautiful piece of artwork. These images can take us to new places and reveal the heart of our story.

Reading - Books are a great source of knowledge. A scene in our favorite author’s book might ignite our imagination. A dialogue exchange can send our character’s conversation in a divergent direction. Descriptions can help us envision our own settings. Perhaps it’s the author’s writing style and voice. Even a writing tips article or book can provide fresh ideas.

Alternative location - A change of scenery does wonders for the spirit. We can take a long walk or drive and just let our minds wander. A vacation, even a simple day trip, takes us away from surroundings that might feel stifling. Our soul will feel refreshed upon our return. If we have the opportunity, viewing our story’s location brings clarity and a sense of realism. We must always remember a notepad and pen as well!

Movies - A means of escape. For two hours, we get it all - music, visuals, a storyline, and a new location. Stuck on a love scene? Try a romance. Character development? Drama. Action scene? Thriller or action-adventure. Out of this world location? Science fiction or fantasy. Attacking multiple senses at once, movies can jump-start our emotional involvement and commitment.

Exercise - It does a body (and mind) good! Physical activity requires effort and focus. Our mind empties and grows clear. An idea hidden by all the internal and external ‘noise’ suddenly comes to the surface. If we are tired or feeling lethargic, exercise will invigorate us. At the very least, we can pound out our frustrations on something besides our keyboard!

Next time your muse plays hard to get, try one of these tricks to capture her again. Muse hunting season is now open!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Spunky's Back!

Did you miss me? Don't answer if that's a no.

Outside of a couple scheduled posts, I was sans blog all week. In addition, I pulled back from other online activities as well.

Did I accomplish a lot on my current work in progress? I did some research, but let's just say several new developments unfolded. Rather than feel discouraged, I'm grateful I had time to focus on those situations. (And if I am suddenly absent again, it's because my mother went in for emergency surgery on July 4th and has been in ICU for a week. She's in Oregon while I am still here in NC, so I may have to make a hasty return to Salem...)

Balancing it all as an author, speaker, photographer, the member of several organizations and ministries, a business (one I've operated for nine years now and requires 20-30 hours of physical labor a week to maintain), and wife - well, it requires effort!

So what did I learn in my absence? I realized I have spread myself thin and to the point I'm not effective anywhere. If I've not booked the speaking gigs I needed or moved enough books, it's because I've not been able to focus. So rather than scatershot, I'm going to focus on just a couple of those items.

I've also realized I can't do it all with blogging, either. I follow close to 300 blogs and about that many follow me. I cannot possibly visit them all each day. So I will set a daily limit. I'll also start with those commenting on my blog. That's something I've neglected, as I tend to just shoot through my dashboard. I'm also taking two days off a week - Wednesdays and Saturdays. Yes, I'll miss some great stuff that way, and all those who only comment on those who comment first (and I'm surprised how many bloggers function in this manner!) will skip me that day and probably the next. (And those of you who find time to comment on several hundred blogs a day, AND Twitter, AND have any time remaining to write, please pass on your secret!)

Thanks to those who commented here and on Facebook (or sent me an email) about my last Wednesday's post. I'm floored so many were moved by that piece and feel silly I failed to mention I was the one who wrote it.

I am back, ready to do the Spunky dance and post some stuff that will inform and inspire!!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Sunday Sillies

And a great way to start off a new week!

Don't forget to provide a caption for the last photo.

And we begin with some Monty Python humor!

humorous pictures

Humorous Pictures

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cat

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Now it's your turn!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Believing in Ourselves

This article originally appeared earlier this year in The Literary Lynnch Pen Newsletter.

Believing in Ourselves

Writers face a lonely road. There are moments during our quest when goals lose clarity. Obstacles loom on every side, critics condemn our attempts, and those following our lead doubt our decisions. We begin to question ourselves and wonder if we’ll ever reach our destination. How do we maintain belief when the odds are against us?

When we first set a goal, our eyes are focused on the target. All attention and energy converges on reaching that point. As we move toward our destination, obstacles and distractions emerge. As our attention shifts from our dreams to these potential roadblocks, we lose sight of our target. Subsequently we begin to doubt our capabilities and convictions. If we are to succeed, we must restore faith in ourselves.

When our belief wanes, we must keep these things in mind:

• We can control only one thing – our attitude! Our attitude determines our actions and reactions, whether positive or negative. Regardless of our circumstances, defeat cannot triumph when confronted with a positive outlook. Master a positive attitude and the battle is half won!

• We possess the ability to handle obstacles, but we must learn to focus. Challenges are easier to tackle if we stay focused on our target. The goal provides motivation and a reason to overcome the obstacle. In other words, we are more determined if we focus just on our dreams!

• Ignore critics. While constructive criticism and feedback make us better writers, negative critics chip away at our self-esteem. Do not take those words to heart. When critics attack, simply smile and continue toward the objective. When we reach our goal, we’ll discover that most of these people have mysteriously vanished.

• We cannot compare ourselves to others. Our worth cannot be measured by someone else’s standards. When we focus on another’s accomplishment, we lose sight of our own achievements and value. Every writer is significant in his or her own manner.

• We need to take risks. Feeding our belief system requires that we step out of our comfort zone. We must be willing to move beyond our little corner of the world, both physically and mentally. Our confidence grows every time we stretch, further boosting our self-image.

• Failure is only temporary if we keep moving forward. We cannot lose if we refuse to give up and accept defeat! A writer’s life is full of temporary setbacks, but if we stay the course, those minor road bumps will fade from memory.

• Our goal must be a burning desire! If we lack passion and excitement, our commitment level will grow weak. We’ll give up at the first sign of trouble. An intense desire will ultimately see us through to victory.

• Sometimes we simply need to recharge our batteries. Writing is a joy! We can’t let it become a burden or drag. Rather than beating our heads against the wall and growing frustrated, we need to take a break or attempt something we know will result in success.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Sunday Sillies

And a little something special for the Fourth of July!!



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And Spunky is offline this week - look for a post Wednesday and next Sunday's Sillies. I'll see you on the other side...