An Awful, Amazing, and Gratifying Privilege by Cynthia A. Graham

AN AWFUL, AMAZING, AND GRATIFYING PRIVILEGE

by Cynthia A. Graham

 

As writers I’m sure you’ve all been told by someone, “Someday I’m going to write a book.” I was once at a writer’s conference where a woman declared she had decided to write a book to pay for her child’s college tuition. It is nigh on impossible to explain to a non-writer how difficult writing is. They do not understand the extreme frustration of writer’s block, where it feels like you are being crushed beneath the weight of a story that will just not tell itself.

Conversely, they can’t feel the elation of those days when the words gush like a waterfall onto the page and you can exclaim, “the thing has legs!” It is a great understatement to say that writers are misunderstood. We are judged by an income that cannot begin to compensate for the hours, the blood, and the agony of what the reader holds in their hand. Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, “Easy reading is damned hard writing” and only writers can understand how true this is. Writers write, not for the glory, but because they have to write. There is no other way for them to process the world. To non-writers this makes no sense and writers are, indeed, a difficult organism to define.

My definition is very basic. A writer is a storyteller who writes things down.

In ancient times, storytellers were esteemed and revered for the knowledge and wisdom they possessed. Oral tradition was the way history, beliefs, proverbs, legends, and practical knowledge were passed along. Ancient man told stories because stories helped them to understand the world. And story is still necessary to teach human beings their place in the universe. Stories are necessary because lives are not made up of abstract dates and events, but experiences, achievements, and accomplishments. Without the recognition of the human person we become labels, objects, and things. As writers, we have a solemn vocation – the privilege of giving a voice to characters – characters that our readers fall in love with, characters that they care about and identify with, characters that help them gain a different perspective. We are responsible for humanizing these characters, and in turn helping the reader look at the world through a different set of eyes — and we are charged with the task of creating understanding and empathy. In fact our writing can bring hope to the hopeless, solace to the broken-hearted, enlightenment, and enrichment.

We are all unique in our experiences, in our family history, in our cultural traditions, and in the way we look at the world. Our uniqueness is what gives us our own voice. As a writer you must first ask yourself: What do I want to say? What do I want to tell my reader? Never forget that it is your story that you want to tell. Virginia Woolf once said, “Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.” Find your own voice. Don’t try and imitate other writers regardless of how much you admire them. The world does not need another (insert name here). I wrote Beneath Still Waters because I felt like there had been enough soldier stories about heroism and I wanted to give a voice to those who came home and never fully put the demons of war behind them. I wrote Beulah’s House of Prayer because so much of the dust bowl mystique inspired by John Steinbeck was wrong. I wanted to tell the story of the experiences of the vast majority of Oklahomans, those who stayed home.

When Ernest Hemingway came onto the scene he was a revelation because he wrote in concise sentences. In fact, William Faulkner criticized him saying, “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” And yet Hemingway’s style endured and he inspired many. I’m not saying any of us will be the next Ernest Hemingway, but I would encourage you, in Hemingway’s own words to “write the truest sentence you know.” It is your story. Say it I n the manner you want to say it. For me, writing is the equivalent to a bloodletting. It is hard, it is frustrating, it is, at times, agonizing, but we all know that it is something we are compelled to do. It is the most awful, amazing, and gratifying privilege I can imagine.

Author’s Bio

Cynthia A. Graham is the winner of several writing awards, including a Gold IPPY, and two Midwest Book Awards. Her short stories have appeared in both university and national literary publications. She is the author of three works of historical mystery: Beneath Still Waters, Behind Every Door, and the forthcoming Between the Lies (due out in March, 2018). In addition, her novel Beulah’s House of Prayer was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award.

Website: www.cynthiaagraham.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cynthiaagrahamauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cynthiaa_graham

12/14/17

Writing the First Draft:  A Battle to the Finish  by  Louis K. Lowy

 

Writing the First Draft – A Battle to the Finish

 

I frequently have conversations with writers who are struggling to finish their pieces. So much so, it inhibits their desire to want to write. My advice to them is, and always will be, get to the end. No matter how sloppy or disconnected the story seems, finish it. I don’t care how you do it. Just get to the end of the first draft.

Yes, it’s difficult as hell. I compare the process to crossing an unfinished bridge that you have to build farther out each time before you can take another step. But the payoff is huge: once you make it across you get to go back and rewrite. I love the process of revision. With the first draft completed, you have something concrete to work with. Sure, the bridge may need shoring up here and there, or maybe it’s too wide in spots or too narrow in others. Maybe there are potholes, or the balance is off, but you have the foundation, and you know when you step on that bridge what awaits you on the other side. Now, it’s a matter of utilizing that knowledge to your best advantage.

Nothing’s easy in writing, but—and this is the part I love best—you get to go back and fine tune the echoes and foreshadows that lead to bigger echoes and foreshadows. You get to round out your characters until they feel like living people, and you get to refine your story’s twists and turns in a way that renders your readers speechless. God, I love the smell of revision in the morning. (Or something like that.)

My point is if you don’t get to the end you can’t get to the revision; you can’t put together a query letter, or send the letter out to agents. You can’t present your manuscript or memoir to publishers; you can’t submit your flash fiction, short story or poem to magazines, journals, and contests.

My final and most compelling reason for finishing up your work—I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t filled with a sense of accomplishment and joy when they finally made it to the end of a first draft. Have you?

Author Bio

Louis K. Lowy’s first published novel, DIE LAUGHING (IFWG Publishing 2011), is a humorously dark science fiction adventure set in the 1950s. His 2015 novel, PEDAL (IFWG Publishing), tells the story of Joanne Brick, a 49-yr-old music teacher who loses her job and struggles to reclaim her life through bicycle racing. TO DREAM, book one of his science fiction epic, ANATOMY OF A HUMACHINE (IFWG Publishing), was released in Jan., 2017. Louis’ short stories have appeared in, among others, New Plains Review, The MacGuffin Magazine, the anthology Everything is Broken, and the Chaffey Review. A former firefighter, he is the recipient of a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship and an alumnus of Florida International University’s creative writing program. His website is www.louisklowy.com,  Look for him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Instagram.

5 TRUTHS/CHALLENGES  YOU MUST CONFRONT TO WRITE FROM YOUR HEART by Ivy Logan

5 TRUTHS/CHALLENGES  YOU MUST CONFRONT TO WRITE FROM YOUR HEART

by Ivy Logan

Writing is easy. Take a paper, jot down that elusive story that has been floating at the back of your mind and hurrah you are done….

How lovely would it be if that were all it took to write. Writing is an exciting voyage with its share of ups and downs and the initial step is the all-important one. For without a beginning how can there be an end?

The journey from thought to publishing is significant. Multiple platforms offer sage advice on the topic. I bow to the brilliance and the degree of sharing out there. It is much needed. This article explores the challenge of writing from your heart.

CHALLENGE I) SELF DOUBT

Self-doubt plagues  most writers. If you don’t suffer from this incongruity, then hats off to you.

o   Will people want to read my story?

o   Will they like my writing?

o   Have I been fooling myself?

o   What if the story I want to tell bores them?

o   Who will buy my book?

No one wants to be a doubting Thomas but it does happen. Writing is probably your dream, but someone wise once said doubts kill more dreams than failure ever will.

CHALLENGE II) DON’T BE A ME TOO

Despite the self-depreciation, the most important thing is to let the story flow from your heart. What does this entail? In simple words the inspiration for your writing should be driven from your own thoughts, desires, likes or even dislikes. I am very must against the school of thought that says hey it is Vampire books which seem to be the order of the day so that’s what I will write about or Contemporary romance is what is really popular, so that’s the way to go.

CHALLENGE III) LET YOUR STORY CHOOSE YOU

I believe there are many stories out there in the universe, our memories and observations, in our own lives and above all in our imagination waiting to be told.

Why spoil all of that just because you want to go by the adage- this is what the customer has been buying so this is what I will give them. How about serving up something new, unique to you?

CHALLENGE IV) CREATIVITY AND BEING DISORGANIZED ARE NOT THE SAME THING

After you know what you will be writing about then go ahead and be as scientific as you can in your planning and meticulous in your working. Writing from your heart and being disorganized do not go hand in hand (as many like to believe and preach.) There are numerous tools like scrivener etc. to help you organize your writing. Use them once you get some help in getting over your I-don’t-understand- technology handicap. You might surprise yourself. Similarly there are various methods to take that idea you have and turn it into a book. I offer a glimpse into a few approaches that work for me. You find yours. There are many. You need to choose the one that is best suited to your style of working rather than what works for someone else.

1)     Stream of Consciousness – It is not necessary that your story is going to be meticulously organized in your head, as it will eventually be in your book. So I suggest just being open to it in the first case. So pick up a pen or a pencil and a blank piece of paper and write as the thoughts flow. There need not be structure, no defined beginning or middle or end but you aim to get down everything, just enough to give you a good start.

2)    The Jotting Notebook – carry this little black book around with you everywhere you go and even keep it by your side when you sleep. When an idea , thought comes up, you jot it down in here. You already have the genesis of the story in your head so be forewarned that ideas on the plot’s journey are going to be popping up at random intervals so it is best to be armed and ready.

3)    The Synopsis– Before you get down to writing your entire story, remember that is going to be at least a 30,000 to 60,000-word journey so why not take a few baby steps. Nothing better than a one to two pager synopsis to give you clarity on where you will start and where you want your story to go.

4)    Chapter Outline– Outlining the main plot of each chapter, minus dialogue but with the crux of the chapter being clearly defined will give you ample clarity on what your chapter is about and how it should flow into the next chapter.

CHALLENGE V) THE BOOK IS YOUR BABY.. SHARE THE RESPONSIBILITY

The truth is… Your story is your baby. A baby will always be the most beautiful baby in the world in its parent’s eyes, no matter the flaws. How do parents develop, improve their children? They share the responsibility of preparing their little one for the world with tutors, teachers, coaches, grand parents and many others but that doesn’t stop them from being the best parents they can be. Similarly, I would say the same applies for your book. Once you accept that writing does not have to be a lonely journey it becomes easier to move on to the next step.

1) BETA READERS

Who are they? They are Readers who you trust, who will read your writing and share their feedback with you. They will be frank, say what needs to be said with ruthless clarity and may break your heart. Choose a beta reader as you would a coach or a mentor for your child (because that is what a beta reader is to your book), someone who has the wherewithal to do what needs to be done. Why? Because sometimes as parents just as we are blind to the faults of our kids, as authors you might not be as prompt as you should be in zeroing on the kinks in your plot. It takes some more pairs of eyes to spot the flaws.

2) THE EDITOR AND PROOF READER – THE FINAL CHECK

Before your book is ready to be introduced to the readers you also need an editor. She will pick on your work with a magnifying glass. Probably require you to re think a lot of stuff. Having an editor gives the freedom to write from your heart in the first place. I am not saying to just blindly accept feedback but do keep a really open mind.

I conclude with this thought… Writing is sharing with others. The best kind of sharing is always a heart to heart. Write from your heart so that it goes straight to the heart of your reader.

 

About the Author

Ivy Logan’s debut novel, Broken, will be coming out this December.  The novel is a coming of age, fantasy romance where once girl discovers the hero within, and that sometimes dragons must not be slain but loved. Broken is the first book in the series: The Breach Chronicles. Book II is titled Metamorphosis. Also look for the free prequel Origins– The Legend of Ava, which will be out this month.

Ivy always writes about strong women, who might live in fantasy worlds but always find their strength in self- belief, family and friends. She weaves the dreams from her imagination into her writing.

She hopes to find kindred souls who look for magic and beauty in life, mixed with a slice of reality. For those are her readers.

Website https://ivylogan.wordpress.com

Blog https://fantasybooksivylogan.wordpress.com

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ivyloganauthor

Twitter https://twitter.com/Ivyloganauthor

 

How I Learned to Love Revision by Amy Henry

How I Learned to Love Revision by Amy Henry

 

I’ve been writing virtually all my life. And for just about as long, I loathed doing revisions.

When elementary teachers told us to revise our work, they meant correct the spelling and punctuation errors, and copy the whole thing over in your neatest hand. While proofing a manuscript is necessary work, it’s groaningly boring. And it’s not revising. It took teaching writing to little kids for me to learn to love revision. 

When my first-graders tackled writing short stories for classroom publication, I was determined to give them what I never got: practical strategies for revising that wouldn’t feel like drudgework. Taking my cue from high tech, I told the kids we were going to do Cut-and-Paste. Not on computers, which we didn’t have in our 2002 classroom, but on the same skip-line paper they’d used for their rough drafts.

We got down on the floor and scissored those stories into their components—lines and words. We dumped redundant and confusing parts in the recycle bin, pasted in what the child wished to keep, and added new material with red markers. By deleting, rearranging, and adding, we solved problems of clarity, flow, and arc. It was like a challenging puzzle that when you finally got it right, resulted in a much stronger story. The kids loved it—and so did I.  

Last year, I sent off a historical thriller to a handful of agents. One of them responded with two pages of detailed feedback. She had a problem with my villain, Paul. He was too much a cipher, his motivations and end-goal too murky for too long. In revisiting the book, I saw the agent had nailed it. Wanting to draw the reader on, I had overdone the job of making him mysterious. To the point of opacity. 

I didn’t need to rewrite the entire book. I just needed to identify which pieces of Paul’s story illuminated him for the reader, which pieces obscured, and what was still missing, then supply it. To do this, I separated his chapters out from the rest, dumped the artful but confusing dialogue, created an arc for him where we learn more of what he wants in each of his chapters, and added a steady reveal of past events that prompt his ultimate villainy. I found the work both challenging and intriguing, like a good brain teaser.  

Probably the biggest leap in any novel is the revision between drafts #1 and #2. It’s often said that in our first draft, we are telling ourselves the story. In getting to know our characters and exploring the many possible scenes they could share, we’re bound to write all kinds of nonsense including scenes that may be quite strong, but don’t belong in this story. One way to decide is to write a single summarizing sentence for each scene, then lay them out in order. Is there an unbroken trajectory from the first chapter to the last, or do people take detours that have readers scratching their head or itching with impatience to get back to the actual story?  Again, think puzzle pieces. Remove the scenes that don’t fit the arc or are redundant, taking care to note any pertinent details that will need to be reworked into the scenes you decide are germane. 

The historical thriller I mentioned was initially too long. I knew I needed to cut it by a good 20 percent—a harrowing thought at first—so I invented a game: Look-for-3-where-1-will-do. Three words where one will do. Three sentences. Three scenes. I wound up exceeding my goal, cutting the novel by 98 pages with no visible hemorrhaging. Word to the wise: Make an edit copy of your MS before you start revising, so you’ll feel free to play with the pieces, knowing you can always reclaim the original material.    

I’ve mentioned a few of the common targets for revision. There are many others. My focus here is to encourage you to tackle revision as you would go about solving any brainteaser. Define the problem, brainstorm for solutions, play with the pieces. Above all, have fun.

  

Author Bio

Amy Henry is a writer of fiction long and short, as well as the author of numerous magazine, newspaper, and online articles from which she has earned something resembling a living. She lives in Massachusetts with her übersupportive husband and two wayward cats. When not writing fiction, she blogs about “the human condition” on her website. You can read her latest post at: https://amyhenrybooks.com/blog/

LINKS to good reads on the specifics of revision:

https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/eight- steps-revising- novel/

https://www.livewritethrive.com/2016/09/21/are-you-making-these-3-common-revision-mistakes/

 

How I write an Historical Novel by Annie Whitehead

How I write an Historical Novel
By Annie Whitehead

The starting point is always the main character. He or she must intrigue me; their story, as told in the chronicles or annals, must contain a spark of interest which might fire a reader’s imagination.

With my novel To Be A Queen, it was initially the husband of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who caught my interest. Specifically, a brief line in some university lecture notes stating that “no one knew where he came from.” Who was he? How did he ride from nowhere onto the pages of history and lead a kingdom if he were not a king?

With Alvar the Kingmaker (Ælfhere of Mercia) it was a footnote, which described a woman “possibly his widow” being deprived of estates after his death. Who was she? Could I find out more about their relationship?
Penda of Mercia cropped up in those same student lectures, always fighting, always on the move, and always portrayed as the aggressor. What, I wondered, had got him so steamed-up in the first place? As it turned out, quite a lot of injustice…

Once I have my main characters, I need to decide where to begin and end my fictional account. Do I start with their birth, or should the reader meet them as fully-formed youths, or even adults? And shall I walk with them to their graves, or leave them at a moment of triumph?

Then come months, maybe longer, of painstaking research – seeking out all the primary sources to see what contemporaries had to say, then tracking down general histories, as well as detailed papers and articles. If it’s been written about my characters, then I want to read it. The only exception is fiction: I won’t read another novel featuring any of my characters, at least, not until I’ve written the book. My characters, even with their fictional veneer, are as real people to me. My version of their life, while I’m writing it, is the only true version. I must believe that, or the story will fail.

Once the research is over – and it might have sent me down different paths than the ones I expected– I somehow need to turn all my notes of facts into a work of fiction.
First, I make a timeline. I only use real characters (other than the odd servant here or there) so I need to plot them onto a chart which shows when they were born, when they died, what they did in the intervening years, and where they did it.

Then I ask myself:

Do I include all the events, just because they happened?
Use all the characters, just because they were there?
Does it help my narrative to flow if I include everything?
The answer is probably not.

Next, I consider point of view. Whose head will I get inside? Usually, the story itself guides me. If my protagonist is at the scene of a battle, and his wife is at home, the battle will be told from his point of view. Elsewhere, I might tell half of a scene from one point of view, the other from another, but there will be no ‘head-hopping’. A blank space will clearly denote the change from one character’s thoughts to another’s.

In drafts, I’ll use the characters’ real names. But at some point, I will decide whether to keep those names, or replace them with a modernised version, or a nickname. I write stories set in the pre-Conquest period, where personal names often came peppered with diphthongs, which look strange to the modern eye. And, although I might know the difference between three characters who all bore the same name, I can’t expect the reader to know who these people were.

Which leads me to ask, before the free-flow of creative writing takes over: how much do I let my research show? It must be a fine balance. Too little, and the book will not sit comfortably in its historical setting. If the characters are walking and talking and eating, but we don’t know what they see, hear, or what food is on their plates, then they might as well be sashaying down Hollywood Boulevard in 2017. Too much, and the book ceases to be a novel and becomes a textbook, detailing farming, cooking and weaving processes in the tenth century. I have a note stuck to my computer which reads: “Tell the STORY.” That usually helps me to decide how much historical knowledge to
show off!

I used to fret about dialogue, at one point attempting to use only words derived from Old English, but it’s difficult to write realistic dialogue if you can’t use the words ‘because’ or ‘try’. Over the course of three novels, I’ve learned to ‘hear’ my characters talking, and the initial drive comes from them. The characterisation as it develops means that they speak with their own voices. Given that I can see them firmly in their setting, it tends to happen organically that they come to speak in a way that sounds ‘real’. Strive too hard for veracity, and the dialogue will become stilted – accurate yes, but maybe not, ironically, credible.

Finally, perhaps the crucial point is this: keep the characters firmly in their place. Give them the sensibilities of their time, and make sure they act within those constraints. The hero/ine may occasionally push against convention, but they mustn’t think or behave in a manner that’s incongruous to the age in which they lived. Respect both words of the term, Historical Fiction.

 

AUTHOR’S BIO

Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. Her first two novels are set in tenth-century Mercia, chronicling the lives of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who ruled a country in all but name, and Earl Alvar, who served King Edgar and his son Æthelred the Unready who were both embroiled in murderous scandals. Her third novel, also set in Mercia, tells the story of seventh-century King Penda and his feud with the Northumbrian kings. She was a contributor to the anthology 1066 Turned Upside Down, a collection of alternative short stories.

She has twice been a prize winner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing Competition, and in October 2017 she won the inaugural HWA Dorothy Dunnett Short Story Competition and To Be A Queen was voted finalist in its category in the IAN (Independent Author Network) Book of the Year 2017.She’s also won non-fiction awards, and is currently working on a history of Mercia for Amberley
Publishing, to be released in 2018.
Amazon Author Page: http://viewauthor.at/Annie-Whitehead
Website: http://anniewhiteheadauthor.co.uk/
Blog: http://anniewhitehead2.blogspot.co.uk/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/anniewhiteheadauthor/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ALWhitehead63

Guest blog from Cynthia Hamilton: Making the Transition from Reader to Writer

Making the Transition from Reader to Writer

 

Those of us who spend a good deal of our time in make-believe worlds slide fluidly in and out of these alternate realities as easily as a fish swims through water. As readers, or job is to bring our willingness to imagine the scene the author is describing, to be open and engaged in the story, and to grant him or her license to create the characters and situations they feel compelled to share with us.

The job of writers is to entertain and enlighten, to share their perspective on any given moral or cosmic challenge, to expand our horizons and our understanding of ourselves and our fellow human beings. No pressure here. Just make it believable, likeable, challenging and satisfying. Blowing our minds is a bonus.

When a story is of otherworldly greatness, it can have the following effects on readers: make them wish with all their hearts they were capable of such an artistic feat, maybe even inspiring them to take that leap, or make them believe they are fundamentally incapable of accomplishing something so bold.

For decades, I fell into the latter camp. I remember marveling over works by writers like Wallace Stegner, Kurt Vonnegut, Isak Dinesen and Annie Proulx, thinking never in a hundred lifetimes would I be able to put words down on paper that were actually worthy of being read by others. Never.

Then something happened that turned my life upside-down. From that altered perspective, I forgot I was incapable of writing. Forgetting my self-imposed limitation was all I needed to do. Without that conviction tying my hands, I set about writing my first novel, incorporating aspects of my own life to keep it real and familiar. What I had when I finished it a year later was proof that I could in fact string sentences together, complete with a beginning, middle, twist, and end. It made my heart sing and my mind explode with possibilities. That same day, I started book two.

Being a well-trained reader, I put my own efforts through the same critical sieve I used when reading books by writers who’d managed to make it through the rigors of publishing and onto bookstores shelves. Thankfully, beating my head until the right word or phrase materialized didn’t dissuade me from going back for more. Obsessing had become a way of life. Even on the worst days of deleting most of what I’d written, it has never occurred to me to give it up. I may never achieve great status as a writer, but for me writing is its own reward, just as reading is. I’ve learned that it’s perfectly acceptable to write for the sake of it; finding like-minded readers is an extra dividend.

We are fortunate to be living in the digital age, for burgeoning writers no longer have to jump through publishing house hoops in order to make their works available for others to read. Thanks to eBooks, self-publishing has completely altered the reading/writing universe.

Unburdened from the publishing caprices and rigors of the past, anyone can become a published author. Talent, more than luck, is now the determining factor to success; if you can write it, you may find there is an audience out there yearning for your work. It’s given a huge segment of would-be writers the realization of a dream: finding a readership to share your unique perspective with.

And if deep-down you want to try writing but don’t feel you can until you learn the basics, the world is now brimming with authors willing to pass on their methods and their hard-won knowledge. Writing has become a community arena the same way reading has. In the end, it’s a reciprocal arrangement. Read, share, write, review. Like love, the more you give, the more you receive. So, don’t let doubt or fear hold you back. Get out there and spread the word(s)!

 

🌺💐Cynthia Hamiltons’s titles:

Golden State, High Price to Pay, Finding Ruth, Alligators in the Trees, Once Upon a Lyme, Spouse Trap

 

Valerie Penny: Guest Blog “On Writing”

Valerie Penny: Guest Blog

I am delighted to be with my friend Nina Romano on her blog today. We share a love of reading and writing: this is a powerful link. I believe that to be a good writer you must first develop a love of reading and stories and telling stories. I remember when my younger sister and I were little girls our Mum used to make time to sit and read us stories on a Sunday afternoon. These were not like bed-time stories, on a Sunday we would get to sit in the ‘good’ living room and she would read us books including Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard, Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome and Emma by Jane Austin. Our mother instilled in us a love of literature and a great respect for books and authors.

We loved listening to the stories but after we were in bed, my sister often could not get to sleep right away, so I would make up my own stories to tell her until she fell asleep. The first book I ever wrote was one of these stories, an adventure entitled The Douglas Family. I was about nine years-old. I always planned to write a sequel, maybe one day I will.

It is often said that when we are teenagers we rebel and when we grow older we become ourselves again. It was certainly true of me! I have always read voraciously but my writing, for many years was confined to studies, work and journals. However, when I was older, I discovered blogging when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My way of coping during my treatment was to revert to the type-written word.

I read all I could about the disease and began to blog my journey at: www.survivingbreastcancernow.com. However, I have also always enjoyed good food and loved to travel. It is said in my family that I’d go to the opening of a paper bag! So I decided to start another blog to encompass these interests. Whenever I go anywhere, or go out to eat, I share the experience here at:  wwwhotelandrestaurantreviews.com, and although to date it has not resulted in free meals, I live in hope!

It was also during the time that I was recovering from cancer that I began my book review site. For almost a year I was too ill, first from the disease and then from the cure, to do very much. However, I could read: and I did, even more than I ever had. It seemed sensible to extend my blogging to include reviews of the books I was reading, so my third blog, www.bookreviewstoday.info was born. I began to get asked by writers to review their books and I am always happy to do that. I do not make a charge, but I receive many excellent novels and biographies in return for my honest reviews.

I always enjoy reading books by writers that are new to me, as well as those with whose work I am familiar. I just like to read. I have always found that reading can take you to all kinds of places to meet different people. Perhaps it is my love of travel, this time through the medium of the written word. This was a great way for me to escape, especially from myself, when I was ill.

I particularly enjoy sharing my views on books I have read, I read a great many book reviews, too. When I am reading a book review, I’m looking for an honest opinion about the book. I also like to learn a bit about the author, their background and how they came to write the novel. It is also important that any review, like any other piece of writing holds my interest but please, please don’t spoil my enjoyment of the story by telling me what happens! That really upsets me.

My own debut crime novel, ‘Hunter’s Chase’ is to be published by Crooked Cats Books in February next year, so I will have to get used to being on the other side of reviews. My goodness, hat is a daunting thought. In ‘Hunter’s Chase’ my story is set in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. Setting is very important to me in my writing, even when I wrote ‘The Douglas Family’ for my sister all those years ago, I could visualize the house the family lived in, each room and the garden in which they had so many of their adventures.

I did consider creating an imaginary town for my protagonist, DI Hunter Wilson. However, I know the city of Edinburgh well as I lived there for many years and it has everything a writer could need. It is a diverse city with all different kinds of buildings and people. It is small enough that characters can move around it quickly and large enough for it to be credible that anything I want to happen there, could happen.

Edinburgh is a gorgeous European city with a castle, a palace and a cathedral, wealthy homes, horrible slums, fine restaurants, fast food outlets and idiosyncratic pubs. It is home to an Olympic size pool, the National Rugby Team and two famous football teams. It also hosts the Edinburgh International Festivals every August.  Edinburgh plays such an important role in my novel that it almost becomes a character in the story.  What more could my characters want than to have this metropolitan city as the setting of my novel, Hunter’s Chase?

 

 

 

 

How to Write a Western Romance

How to Write a Western Romance

 

Westerns, a fully-formed genre, offer riveting ways to integrate old ideas, and basically a good Western portrays how the deep-rooted traditions still have value and should not be completely forgotten. If you have a compelling plot and characters with strong emotions and motivations, you’re on the right track. Settings and descriptions play an integral part in devising the Western story.

In order to sound like an authority, it’s important to remain loyal to what has already been accepted as Western literature. To paraphrase the author Frederick W. Boling, as a writer you should be reading everything in whatever genre you’re writing—good and bad alike.

This means for background study purposes, don’t read just the classics in order to craft your story or novel. I believe that Boling is right. I read this genre—whether good or bad—if I really can’t handle a poorly written book, I usually try to get it in the audio version and listen to it as I tool around town in my car.

I also watched and continue to view Western movies—old and new—classics and pardon the expression—crappola!  Every decade of Western films! You never know when you’ll see something and become inspired—some little incident, an action, the language used, the type of gun or knife, how scenes were built and envisioned, something that you can transmute to make your own and use in your writing.

Research is a must.  Read the history and the geography concerning the regions and the places you’re going to write about.  Become familiar with the setting.  It always helps to visit the places you’re writing about because it lends an air of validity to the writing. Be sure of the terminology, dress, language, customs, structures, incidents of the times.  You can use conventional characters–the formulaic gunslinger, the hackneyed saloon girls, the clichéd sheriff. In fact, readers want them, but add your own take to manipulate these to make them your own and unique.

Write scenes that encompass action and dialogue and rely on the five senses.  Dialogue: reveals character and advances the plot. Beware of too much phonetic spelling and dialects—it can be off-putting to the reader as it is difficult to follow for long passages. I remember reading Roots by Alex Haley and suffering to get through it, just for that reason—jargon.

There are so many visuals a writer can utilize and these offer riveting ways to integrate long-standing notions.  Also these can paint us a vivid picture of how things used to be before the encroaching of modern times in towns and the urbanization of sprawling cities, metropolitan living, etc. What I love about Westerns is finding out how much of the past informs our modern lives and also the future.  Western drama embraces masculinity and symbolism. The real achievement, I think, when portraying the old West is to make the scenes as realistic as possible, as if you were actually living in this lawless era.

I consider myself lucky because I fell in love with Cayo Bradley, my cowboy a three-dimensional character in The Girl Who Loves Cayo Bradley. Yes, I was so taken by him that I even wrote an entire book of Western poems, Westward: Guided by Starfalls and Moonbows, including a poem dedicated to him, entitled: “Cayo Bradley.” I allowed him to invade my psyche, which was beneficial to knowing him inside and out.  I submersed myself in the period in which he lived, and in my mind, still lives.  Make the characters in your novel have noble goals, important ambitions and objectives that they will risk seeking, despite the fact that they are flawed individuals.

Western fiction portrays life in the epoch of the American Wild West, a period gone by and typically comprises the mid to late 1800’s. My novel is set in 1874 with some scenes or descriptions of earlier occurrences, such as the Battle of Cineguilla. For this novel, I purchased several books on the Jicarilla Apache Nation including their dictionary.

I love driving out west.  Currently, I’m based in Utah, and it’s a great jumping off place to see Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and New Mexico, which I’ve travelled to many times.  I visited the Santa Fe library, the Indian Arts and Cultural Museum, the Wheelwright Museum, where I was fortunate enough to meet a lovely docent, who was most accessible and gave me many handouts about the Indian tribe that I was writing about.  I love to talk to people, and in New Mexico that’s just what I did—especially in Santa Fe.

My friend and mentor, John Dufresne, told me when I first met him in 1991 that the Universe conspires to bring you all you need to write a novel.  I believe this idea of finding everything you need to complete a book is true.  So far I’ve been blessed since the Universe has never let me down.

 

 

 

 

 

How To Query An Agent

Nina-Romano-PhotoSo many writers I know are trying to  get an agent.

I don’t know what your book is about or the title, however, I sure do know a lot about trying to get an agent. I had one in 2003, but we parted ways.  However, the point is that I wrote over 100 query letters and could teach a course on how to query!

I used to get notices on my queries about how great they were! Not a lot of acceptances, though. Agents are so skeptical and unless they think you’re book has great possibilities for sales or will be the next blockbuster best-seller, they’re usually going to pass. Most of the rejections I received were not because they didn’t like my writing–some said it was solid, lyrical, enchanting,  engaging, or whatever,  and they liked my story, but they weren’t sure how to market the novel…go figure! I sure learned how to do that on my own.

But here’s what I did  for the query letters … I used the Writer’s Guide to Lliterary Agent and Publishers (always the current year). I checked off every possible agent I thought would be interested in: historical, womens fiction, romance, etc…whatever genre you think you could possibly draw attention to.  I cross-referenced everyone I wrote to by checking their online status and agencies.

Next, I addressed each letter to each agent, personally. I researched their client lists and published books and tried to make a connection to my novel. I have a decent publishing track record, which I always included either as “Author’s Bio”,  in the letter, or online query, or email. I had a synopsis of the book: single-spaced one page–that’s all agents want to see. If the agent wanted the material in the body of the email, that’s where I put it–if they wanted it attached, that’s what I did.  READ what each and every agent you’re querying wants and is looking for as to material of the novel and how to submit it!

Whenever I could, I sent to agents who would consider reading the first 3 chapters or 50 pages.  Make sure you have a great first line to capture your reader–a first paragraph and first page that is going to make the reader, in this case, agent, go on reading.

My letters were one page only–they don’t want a long sob story about how you got all A+ in every MFA course you took! You need a great grabber hook for a first sentence of the query letter, a bit about the book–a sentence or two–the elevator pitch.

Today, if you fail to get an agent, I recommend going with small, independent publishers like I did–publishers who take unagented material for submissions. I think self-publishing should be your last resort–my humble opinion.  Any question–don’t hesitate to write me a DM on Twitter @ninsthewriter or o Direct Message on Facebook.  Nina Romano, author.   Wishing you all much good luck and every possible success.

~~Nina Romano

Recap of the Hometown Authors Event at LHP Library

Recap of the Hometown Authors Event

three authors hometwon event

Picture courtesy of Nina Romano @ninsthewriter on twitter

On Saturday, May 7th, the Lighthouse Point Friends of the Library hosted a Local Author’s forum.  Nina Romano, author of The Secret Language of Women (the first book in her Wayfarer’s Trilogy), T. Mara Jaraek, Author of A Supersleuth is Born, and myself were selected among other worthy candidates as the featured honorees.  This event was showcased with brief bio and our photos in the May edition of The Lighthouse Point Magazine, along with announcements in 2 local papers, The Observer and The Pelican. The program began at 11:00 at Fletcher Hall, the city’s community auditorium located next to the Library.  We were all seated on stage and with microphones so we could be heard. There was a wonderful turnout of all ages in attendance.

hometown authors stage pic

Picture courtesy of Nina Romano @ninsthewriter on twitter

Our featured host and dedicated and recently retired library Director, Doreen Gauthier stared the program by giving a brief biography about each author. Then the invited moderator, Moderator John Spera, Library’s Book Group Coordinator and circulation volunteer. asked each of us 10 intriguing questions, ranging from the first questions, “Writing is often said to be biographical, so where did each of us find your ideas”; to “What author or authors have influenced your style, genre, or even your idea (as each of our books had a different target audience)?

Their last question, which held significant concern to the organizers was, “What do you think is the importance and role of the library in today’s society? The moderated question and answer session lasted nearly an hour before the audience were invited to join in and share their comments or ask questions. The program concluded by drawing 3 raffle tickets, to which each winner was presented with one featured books. Last, Doreen presented each author with a lovely bouquet of flowers, which was unexpected, but made each of us feel very special.  Afterwards, everyone returned to the atrium, where we displayed our books, chatted with attendees and answered any additional questions.  By the time we left, Nina, Tina, and I so enjoyed learning about each other’s books, that we purchased each other’s books! I look forward to reading their fictional works.  All in all, it was a most enjoyable and rewarding experience.

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