5 Reasons Why Your Manuscript Gets Rejected

Being a writing contest coordinator and having been a judge myself for several writing contests, I’ve seen why many manuscripts don’t win. They’re the same reasons agents and editors pass as well. These 5 manuscript killers are what usually separate a winning manuscript from those that fail to make the cut.

Rejected

1.) No beginning hook. It also needs to be sustaining. Some authors try to open with a bang on the first page because they know it’ll grab the agent’s attention, but then it fizzles, and they dive into backstory. It seems as though they’re toying with the reader, saying, here’s my fabulous hook, then yanks it away and goes into backstory. Nice try, Sparky. A brief opening hook will wear thin if the subsequent narrative slows down. The reader may resent the maneuver, and thus, put the book down . . . for good. A strong opening with great pacing is what will keep the book in your readers’ hands.

2.) Too much backstory. We’re writers: we have a story to tell and characters to introduce—who have history. Sadly, most aspiring authors drop it all on the reader at once—in long narratives. Get to the action and weave in the backstory through dialog, inner thoughts, and character mannerisms. You have a whole book, so spread the information out and only use what’s important to the story and to the character. The last thing you want is for the reader to start skimming and miss that one crucial tidbit you threw in. Good novelists will space out these details, periodically feeding you just enough breadcrumbs to keep you reading.

3.) Passive voice. This is usually a big killer. Do a word search for “to be” verbs, especially “was” and “were” and replace them with active verbs. Check out my post for The Writing Bug yesterday where I discuss how to eliminate passive voice. Passive writing is one of those things that can out you as an amateur pretty quickly, so be discriminatory when it comes to “to be” verbs.  

4.) Bland characters. I get that it’s a challenge to create fleshed out characters without diving into backstory, but it can easily be done through dialog; character gestures and mannerisms; their inner thoughts; and how they react to their surroundings, as well as others. Don’t tell the reader every detail about their childhood in order to tell us why the character has this one particular habit. You can show that through other more concise ways, rather than going into his/her past right off the bat. Dialog is a fantastic way to accomplish two things: it reveals character traits, quirks, and history, while at the same time, it moves the story along.

5.) Poor Dialog: Dialog should always have a purpose, so leave out conversations that won’t lead anywhere, or don’t have a point. It’s there to move the story along and to create tension. It’s okay to have your characters say hello to each other, or to have a line or two of formalities once in a great while, but keep it to a bare minimum. Dialog must serve a purpose, by moving the story along, and ideally, creating tension and conflict. While we’re at it, mainly use “said,” and “asked” as tags, and remember, “smiled,” “laughed,” “grimaced,” and “smirked,” are not tags. Another big mistake is that punctuation often gets overlooked. Don’t forget that a comma goes before a name. For example: “I don’t know what you see in her, Bob. She’s can’t conjugate her verbs.” Same with: “Hi, Phil, you look dashing in that track suit.”

Bonus: Overusing certain words. I think just is the most overused word. Ever. Even manuscripts that are otherwise well written, have a plethora of justs. Stop it. Most of the time, the word adds nothing to the sentence, so take it out. Also look for really and very.

Bonus Bonus: (sorry, I can’t help it) Poor formatting. Lots of entries show up with poor indentation, two spaces between sentences (the standard is 1) or it’s done inconsistently, improper punctuation, and typos. These should be freebies! So many authors get marked down for these mistakes and unfortunately, can ruin an otherwise strong submission. There’s no excuse for poor mechanics—there’s typically one way to do these things. Learn them, so your story doesn’t get rejected. It’s like losing the game because of a missed free throw.

There you have it. 

Happy writing!

Making the Most of Book Launches & Signings

A recent post by Jody Hedlund about creating a book launch team, got me jazzed up about getting the wheels in motion for my upcoming release of my book. Last night, I joined several other NCW authors for a night of readings at Bas Bleu Theatre. I read an excerpt from my new book, which is not only great practice for reading aloud, but it generated buzz for my book. My publisher also made up this awfully cute bookmarks to help promote it.
NCW Reading, Bobbing for Watermelons by April J. Moore

When Folsom’s 93 released, the launch took place at the prison itself. The museum that sits outside the prison walls, provided the perfect venue. For all of the events, I had many of the book’s mug shots printed into foam board, which guests of my local launch had a great time with. It was a great way to get people involved in your book launch/signing.
Folsom's 93 book launch April J. MooreI also have album with all the mug shot in it so people can flip through them—which is a great icebreaker when you’re at a book signing and people are afraid to come over to the table.
Folsom's 93 mug shotsJust recently, I had these cool business card magnets made up with some of my favorite Folsom guys:
Business card magnets, book promotion, Folsom's 93These are inexpensive ways to get readers interested in your book, and more importantly, remember your book. Making your presentation and signing memorable is going to draw readers in and chances are, impress their socks off. 

Patricia Stoltey went all out for her last signing by providing refreshments and big baskets of giveaways.
Patricia Stoltey signingAnother way to generate an audience, especially before the book launches, is create ads with your book and tweet them. Author Kenneth Harmon used this technique and gained over 10K Twitter followers in a few months time. You can read about how he did it HERE.
Kenneth Harmon
Have a launch/signing at a location mentioned in the book
It doesn’t have to be the exact place, especially if it’s not possible to travel there, but think about similar venues in your own city. Consider what your character does for a living; play up that. Think about the various  places and things in your book that you can incorporate. Not all signings and launches have to take place in a bookstore.
Incorporate props
I got to have the actual gallows trap door for my book launch, which was pretty spectacular, but there may be other (smaller) items that are portable enough to bring with you. One author, who writes about zombies, decorates his table with zombie props and dolls. (I’d think writers of erotica might really garner some attention with props!)
Create ads with book info and include any author blurbs you scored
Like what Ken Harmon did, he added text to pictures he took himself. If he acquired a blurb from another author, he added that. It’s a great way to generate buzz, especially on Twitter.
Bookmarks and postcards
This is another great way to get interest, especially if you do a reading before the book is released. Your audience needs something to remind them of your upcoming book. 
Have items such as magnetic business cards, mousepads, pens, and mugs made up using the book’s cover to other pictures that may be in the book
.
These are great for including in a giveaway basket or placed on the table. Check out places like Snapfish, Overnight Prints, and Vista Print.
Partner with an organization that your book can be associated with
If your book has an underlying message or theme, or brings awareness to a certain issue, contact organizations that might be interested in partnering up. An author friend is pairing up with her local cat rescue since her book is about a shelter cat.

I realize I’m just scratching the surface when it comes to creative book launches and signings, but I hope it launches some ideas for you. Your branding and how you promote your books is an important part in creating an audience. This may be a daunting thing for a lot of writers who’d much rather spend their time writing than promoting their books and actually talking to people, but that’s why some promotional items can be an icebreaker—both for the author and for the potential buyer. Above all, make it a fun experience.
Book Promotion April J. MooreWhat are some of your ideas for making the most of your book launches & signings?

 

 

My Early Work . . .

Clearly, writing drew me in at an early age . . . specifically, first or second grade. 
Oh, geez, what can I say?!I find it difficult to believe I came up with this myself (even though there was a lovely pussy willow tree in the backyard of the house I grew up in), but I also have a hard time envisioning a teacher picking out this poem for the class to write. In either case, it must have triggered a lively discussion in the teachers’ lounge. 

Happy Monday.

Write What You Don’t Know . . . Sort of

internet research photoWe’ve heard it so many times: Write what you know. It’s good advice. But don’t we usually interpret it as, write what you already know? Of course, that’s a good start for any writer—sit down and write something you’re familiar with. But what if you have this great idea for a novel that involves mutant sea life and a brave oceanographer who has the brains and courage to stop the rogue whales from attacking kayakers? (I’m almost certain this nearly happened to me while kayaking off Victoria Island two years ago. True story.) Anyhow, you’ll probably need to brush up on your marine biology, not to mention deep sea diving, in case that’s not your forte either. In this day and age, with information at our fingertips, it’d be hard not to find what you need to write that future bestseller. 

A few years ago at the Jackson Hole Writer’s Conference, I got a chance to hear bestselling author, Margaret Coel, whose novels take place on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. She said that twenty-some years ago, she didn’t know a lick about Arapahoes, but with a desire to know, she hit the books (pre-internet! *GASP*). She is now considered an expert on Arapaho culture. With this, comes a word of caution from author, Anita Diamant, who incidentally, spoke at the same writer’s conference. She said that it’s easy to get caught up in incorporating everything you learned into your manuscript. She writes historical fiction, and when she got a little heavy handed with the details, her editor said, “Your research is showing,” as in, “Psst . . . your slip is showing!” Your job as a writer isn’t to tell your readers everything you learned; it’s to give them a vivid picture and general understanding of the details in your story. At the same time, leaving them with unanswered questions and fuzzy math isn’t good either. You don’t want anything to distract your audience from the story you’re trying to tell.

When writing the book, you don’t have use everything you learned, but you should know it. You may not describe in detail the impact mutant whales may have on mankind, but you should at least have a damn good idea, so that you understand which details you can leave out and which ones are crucial for the reader. 

A few days ago, I came up with a novel idea that involves a teeny-tiny thing called physics, specifically, quantum physics. Since childhood, I’ve had a fascination with physics, but the right side of my brain won out and I took a much different path. The interest, however, never went away. But interest in a subject, doesn’t equate to knowledge of said subject. Plus, understanding quantum physics isn’t enough; I need a grasp of the fundamentals of physics. Via a Nova special on YouTube, I came across Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos and it’s been off to the races since. 
ResearchI also found the online courses that Greene teaches (for free!) at World Science U. Because it’s something that has always fascinated me, I’m enjoying it (although I don’t exactly comprehend it very well at this point). But even if I decide to not write this particular novel, hopefully, I’ll retain a few things about quantum physics that I toss around at my next dinner party.

How have you used research in your writing?

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Writing Prompt Wednesday

 

You know what to do. (But in case you don’t . . . these prompts are a way to help you get the writing juices flowing. Post a story in the comments section, journal it, post it on your blog, or get a jump on a short story; whatever. They’re here for the taking.)

  • Knowing his name meant little to her.
  • Fallen ash from his cigarette collected in a pile below his hand.
  • I stood at the edge of woods and listened to . . .
  • Paul knew he shouldn’t have looked . . .
  • I should have told my wife the truth that first day when I . . .
  • “I wouldn’t drink that; it has [fill in the blank] in it.”
  • In the beams of the dying headlights, stood . . .
  • The morning sun peaked through the trees. He told me I’d be dead by sunrise.

Happy writing!

An Emotional Laxative: Cathartic Writing

FallingWriting is cathartic; we’ve all heard that, if not experienced its cleansing powers ourselves. I’ve written essays about my late father that will probably never leave my computer, but they had to be written.

I’m once again in need of purgative writing; an emotional laxative, if you will. I think if I “get it out,” I’ll be able to move forward, past a humiliating incident.

About three weeks ago, I fell out of a parked car. That’s right, smacked right down onto the pavement from the height of at least three feet, specifically, from the seat of a Toyota 4-Runner. It was before my son started driving himself to school. He and I would hit the gym before school so that he could practice his indoor climbing skills and I could practice my stair climber skills. (If you knew how uncoordinated I am, you’d understand why I call this a “skill.” Oh, as it turns out, you are about to find out.) Still practicing his driving, my son would then drive us from the gym to school and I’d get out and jump into the driver’s seat. This was our routine. I had on my new workout pants that I thought were pretty snazzy and per my modus operandi, my “gym bag,” an old Eddie Bauer pack with a long strap, sat at my feet. 

This particular morning, we ran a few minutes behind schedule, so the outside of the school was abuzz with kids, parents, and teachers. As he stopped, I swung open the door to jump out. It all happened so quickly; I never stood a chance. Just as another car pulled up behind us in line, I exited the car—knees first. Like an anvil being dropped by Wile E. Coyote, I plummeted to the asphalt, landing on both knees and my left elbow. My chin nearly made contact as well. A baseball bat to the joints, swung by Babe Ruth, would have produced similar results. 

Despite my shock, I stood up quickly, aware of not only the many stunned faces turned toward me, but that the car had begun to roll backward. I yelled to my son to pull the brake, which he promptly did. The girl being dropped off from the car behind us, looked downright confused—Did that lady just fall out of a car?! 

My son came around from the other side, genuine concern on his face. “Are you all right?” I waved him off, wincing. Every movement hurt. I turned to the car and saw the culprit: my gym bag. It hung from the seat lever, threatening to dump its contents: my wallet, phone, and water bottle. I grab the bag and threw it back in the car before walking around to the driver’s side, desperate to not limp. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone, except my son, who gave me a sympathetic look and a wave goodbye. 

Shaking, with two aching knees and a throbbing elbow, I pulled away from the school. My ego also slowly formed a black and blue splotch. It wasn’t until I got home and yanked the delinquent, mischievous bag, that I realized how it had happened. The strap of the bag had gotten wrapped around my foot (or feet—unsure how many appendages were involved) and as I exited the vehicle, I brought the bag with me. It wouldn’t have been so bad to drag the pack with me, but the damn thing, apparently having second thoughts about following me, encircled its strap around the lever underneath the seat, stopping its progression—and mine.

It was like getting clotheslined, but with my feet. Yes, it was that bad.

When I explained to The Husband what had happened, he felt terrible. Later in the day, in an attempt to comfort me with, “You know, in time, you’ll be able to look back—” he chuckled—“and laugh—” I cut him off with a fiery glare. There would be no laughing about this. Ever.

Until now, I had only told one other person about it . . . a friend . . . over text. My knees and elbow still show remnants of bruises, as does my ego, but they’re going away. They also still ache, but that, too, is lessening.

I don’t know if writing about it has been cathartic, but I did manage a chuckle as I wrote about the experience. I guess that means I can laugh about it now—and that’s a good start.

So don’t leave me hanging; has writing about a humiliating experience ever help you move forward? 

Literary Contest Tips & Etiquette

first placeAbout five years ago, I approached Kerrie Flanagan, director of the Northern Colorado Writers, with the idea of incorporating a book contest into the association’s annual conference. Other conferences around the country have similar contests, so why not have our own? As a writing organization, the NCW loves recognizing high quality fiction and nonfiction, and thus, the Top of the Mountain Book Award was born. I’ve been the contest’s coordinator since and am blown away by how much it has grown in these last four years. During that time, I’ve learned a lot. I’d like to share my tips and suggestions on submitting to fiction and/or nonfiction contests.

Follow Contest Guidelines to the Letter. It sounds simple, but you’d be amazed at how often people don’t do this. (I have a better appreciation for what agents and editors gripe about.) Most contest rules, especially with formatting, mirror what agents and editors ask for, so it shouldn’t be difficult to tailor your submission to a contest. Some of the rules may not make sense to you, such as how they want the document saved as, but trust that there’s a method to their madness, and go with it. They have specific requirements for a reason, so if they ask for a 3-page synopsis; it’s a 3-page synopsis—not a 2 or 2-1/2 page synopsis. Agents and editors expect the same guideline considerations. And if you’re not sure about something, email the contest coordinator and ask. It’s much better than submitting and finding out later your overall score suffered because you didn’t ask about something first. 

Don’t Ask for Exceptions or Special Treatment. Rules are rules, man, what can I say? If we let everyone submit an extra page because “that’s where the action starts,” then first of all, maybe you should rewrite your opening, and two, we’d have a bunch of submissions of varying length and it wouldn’t be a level playing field. Most rules are going to be pretty general, so unless they’re asking you to send a vial of your first born’s blood with your submission, there shouldn’t be any rule you can’t adhere to.

Only Send Your Most Polished Work. Again, probably a no-brainer, but also a reminder that if you want to win, or even be a finalist, your work better be the best it can be. Even if you’ve had your entire critique group look it over, I suggest having one other person—who has never read it before—have a gander at it. You’ll be surprised the typos or plot issues a fresh pair of eyes can catch; it can make or break your submission.

Be Open to Criticism. It can be difficult to send your work out to be judged. Some contests will offer written critiques, and some will not. If they do, be open to hearing what they have to say, but at the same time, remember that it’s all subjective; it’s one reader’s opinion. Judges for the Top of the Mountain are instructed to leave constructive feedback and to offer practical advice, but not all contests are like that, so be prepared . . . or don’t send anything out until you’re confident your work is the best it can be.

Do Not Pitch a Fit. You’d think I wouldn’t have to mention this to adults, but sadly, it happens. Last year, we had a very disgruntled author who didn’t make the cut and after several threats, the police had to get involved. Yeah, not fun. Do not pull a Kanye West. Not only would you likely be asked to never submit to another contest of theirs, word may get around that you don’t like to lose, or have your work critiqued, and you don’t want that following you around. A contest is a contest and if your ego can’t take rejection, well, you’re in the wrong business. So be nice. Be gracious. Keep learning the craft. And keep submitting.

Other things to consider:

  • It’s perfectly fine to send a follow up email to confirm your submission was received. If a contest coordinator has a problem with that, then it’s not a  contest I’d want to be associated with. If you’re paying a fee, you should be able to find out if your entry arrived safely.
  • Don’t end your submission with an unfinished sentence. Tie it up for the judge, otherwise, it shows you didn’t take the time to polish your submission, and that you just saved the required number of pages and sent it off.
  • Judges are often donating their time and efforts. Entry fees typically go toward the cash prizes, PayPal fees, and other admin costs. 

That’s about it. Literary contests are a great way to get your work recognized and grab the attention of an agent or editor. So follow the rules, submit your best work, and wait for the prize money to roll in.

Announcement: Upcoming Readings Feb. 24th

Reading by Writers feb 24 2015If you’re in the area, stop by Bas Bleu Theatre in Fort Collins at 7:00 p.m. on February 24th, for an evening of readings. I’ll be joining my fellow Northern Colorado writers who are presenting their poetry, novel excerpts, or essays. I’ll be reading from my upcoming novel, Bobbing for Watermelons that’s due out next month. Tickets are $5 and you’ll also have an opportunity to purchase books, if you feel so inclined. Hope to see you there!

Bobbing for Watermelons by April J. Moore

 

Artists Behaving Badly

Just yesterday, I was talking about toddlers and temper tantrums, so I’ll continue with that thread and talk about Kanye West. On Sunday, during the Grammy award show, he nearly repeated his infamous onstage rant of 2009, when he hopped on stage after Beck won for album of the year. He didn’t follow through with his tirade, but later pouted and cried, telling US Weekly Magazine:

The Grammys, if they want real artists to come back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more. Flawless, Beyoncé video, and Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé. And at this point, we tired of it because what happens is, when you keep on diminishing art, and not respecting the craft, and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration.” 

Wow. Talk about arrogance on an epic level. Chrissy Teigen, wife of musician John Legend, defended West, laughing about it on The Today Show, saying she thought it was a joke. Legend called the incident “funny.” Even jokes can be low-class and tasteless and shouldn’t be defended with giggles and eye rolls at those who find it distasteful. This isn’t about free speech either. It’s about being a sore loser, whether it’s he himself who lost, or someone he was rooting for, in this case, Beyonce. 

I’ve always liked Beck’s music, and his response makes me respect the guy even more (although I thought it was almost too nice). Aside from West’s immature and disrespectful behavior, the sad conclusion, I see, is that he’s in it for the accolades. He wants his music and the music of his friends to be recognized. Apparently, that’s how he measures his self worth, which is unfortunate, because an award shouldn’t validate you. The guy’s a talented musician, no doubt about it, but is that license to take away another musician’s incredible moment? 

This sense of entitlement translates to all professions, including writing. Late last year, author Ayelet Waldman threw a fit for not making the NYT’s “100 Notable Books of 2014.” Is that what’s she’s in it for? Is that why anyone does what they do? To be recognized in front of millions? Sure, that would be nice, but if that’s what you’re in it for, excuse me for not supporting your quest for stardom. Isn’t selling millions of copies or even having thousands of 4 or 5-star reviews enough? 

Perhaps when you reach a certain level in your career, you feel you’ve earned that award, or that coveted spot on some list, but to me, the second you step away from your humility and grace, is the second you start losing the respect you’ve spent so much time garnering. I doubt I’ll ever be that in position anyway, but at least I write because I love to, not because I want to fill a space on my shelf with an award.

That’s my rant for the day. I’m going to go download Beck’s album now.

Got Your (Writing) Hands Full?

When my son was around two or three-years-old, we figured it was a good age to teach him simple card games like Old Maid and Go Fish. At that time, the only cards we could find were these jumbo playing cards . . . made specifically for children 3 and up. The package even said, “Jumbo Cards for Little Hands.” 
Jumbo Cards for Little Hands

It was no wonder someone later came up with a card holder. Have you ever seen a toddler try to hold these giant cards in their hands? It may be comical (to parents) for a few minutes, but eventually, the cards end up spread out on the floor, or jammed back in the box. I also didn’t understand the jumbo Crayons and markers thing, either. Jumbo blocks and puzzle pieces, yes. I’m sure there’s a bunch of science behind overwhelming three-year-olds with these ill-proportioned toys, but now that my son’s sixteen, I don’t care. 

There are days I feel like my hands are so full of tasks, that I want to stomp my feet and throw a temper tantrum—even at the grocery store. These days, I’ve got a lot on my plate, so I have to be organized and stick to a plan. Here’s a few tips if you’re feeling like your hands are full of “jumbo cards.”

Get Organized. It sounds simple, and essentially, it is. I have a big white board in my office that lists everything I need to do. Buy several markers and color code projects  by importance. If possible, have it on a wall facing you, staring you down, so you have no excuse to ignore it. This is a great place to list top priority items and their deadlines. Identify the tasks that might have flexibility, or ones you might be able to get an extended deadline for. Also, keep a filing system that separates documents and other papers that pertain to the tasks.

Estimate time needed. If you have a general idea of how much time each project will take, plan your day or week accordingly. I suggest overestimating a skosh to allow for unexpected interruptions. This is a good opportunity to really see how much time you spend on social media and checking email, etc. Is it all necessary? Chances are, you could streamline those activities and carve out extra time for these tasks. To avoid burnout on one project, you might want to switch between tasks. I find that I can approach certain projects with a clearer mind if I step away from it for a while, even if it’s just an hour or two. 

Say Uncle! if you need to. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially if what you’re working on is a group effort; it’s better than producing rushed, poorly-executed work. Plus, talking through the project with someone, might put it in a new perspective that’s easier to work with. And don’t be afraid to say no in the first place. It’s hard for me to turn down writing and/or creative opportunities, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. Otherwise, I’d irritate myself and make my family crazy with my meltdowns. 

What are your tips for keeping your sanity when your hands are full?

Wearing Stories on My Sleeve

Inked LadyPen and ink; needle and ink. They both tell stories. I love art and writing, so it’s no wonder I love tattoos. JC Lynne wrote a great post at The Writing Bug last week about the author persona, and if writers need one in order to sell books. Lynne, who’s also an inked lady, was encouraged by her husband to take on the “badass tattooed writer” persona. She argued that her persona should be that she “wrote a good book.” I agree.

I can’t say that I’m a badass because of tattoos; I just like them. Each one I have has special meaning and tells a story, and frankly, doesn’t have anything to do with persona—at least, I don’t think so. Does an author’s tattoos tell readers the type and even quality of what they write? In addition to lots of other topics, I’ve written about executions, prisons, and women’s fiction, but hell, whatever gets a reader’s attention, I’m all right with that. (Although I’d rather it be from my writing.)

After I got my sleeve, a family member told me that she didn’t like it when women got tattoos of—and I quote—“skulls and dead things,” on their arms. I’m pretty sure the only place she’s seen such tattoos on women was maybe once on an episode of “Law & Order.” She was relieved I didn’t, as if that meant I’d start skinning rabbits in my backyard and displaying their skulls on sticks.   

Anyway, that’s really beside the point . . . I think. Whatever I have inked on my skin, whether it’s an owl or dead things, I don’t want to be judged by my cover. Who does? But I like telling stories on paper and on my skin, where I can truly wear my heart (and stories) on my sleeve. 

“I’ve just sucked one year of your life away.”

You know that scene from The Princess Bride, when Wesley is in the Pit of Despair? And then Prince Humperdink sucks a year of his life away?
Pit of DespairThat’s exactly what switching host providers for this site did to me. And that’s the second time I’ve done this process; I switched another site over last year, and lost a year of my life then, so I am officially . . . two years older. You’d think, after the first time, I would have learned, but I must have repressed it, or somehow forgot the pain. It must be like childbirth; you forget the pain and then go and do it all over again.

Anyway, what’s done is done. Right now, my “baby” is a little ugly and needs some tlc. I should be able to manage the rest without too many labor pains. Thanks for sticking with me.

Writing Prompt Wednesday {Dialog Edition}

Writing Prompt WednesdayIt’s that time again. It not uncommon for a story or novel to open with dialog, and it can  be very effective for dropping the reader into the middle of the action. Even if you chose to not open with one of these dialog pieces, one might at least inspire a conversation between two characters. Have at it!

  • “You think that’ll stop me?”
  • “I know I’m late, but here I am.”
  • “Well, aren’t you a pretty little thing.”
  • “Seriously, I’m not above begging.”
  • “My doctor told me I couldn’t do that.”
  • “Please tell me you read the instructions.”
  • “I wish you’d shut up.”
  • “I’ll tell you what really happened.”

Happy writing!

Which Came First: The Character or the Plot?

Oh, the age-old question . . . or something like that.

When you started your fiction work-in-progress, did you begin with your character? Or your plot? Maybe both? My forthcoming novel, Bobbing for Watermelons, began with a quirky housewife and I left the rest up to her. “Do your thing, you crazy lady. Make a story.” From there, I wrote the book chapter by chapter, with no road map or compass. I was having fun putting her in sticky situations, but where was it going? If I wasn’t careful, her antics would wear thin with the reader. I quickly learned that characters need direction—a place to “do their thing.” Fortunately, I got it together and gave my character a path to follow in a fun world I created just for her. 

Conversely, if you’ve come up with a unique plot with twists, turns, and an ending that kicks ass, do you have enough left in you to create a memorable character who’s thrown into your well-thought out story? For another novel I started working on last year, I came up with the plot first and my characters last, who frankly, are as boring as watching golf. (Yes, I said that, and yes, I meant it.)

Based on my own experiences, I’m theorizing that the first born tends to be stronger. It used to be we heard the terms, “character-driven,” and “plot-driven,” when it came to books. Perhaps we still do, but it seems to me, readers want both, and why should’t they? Some believe plot is more important in an action-packed thriller (who cares if the guy in the midst of the action hasn’t an emotional marble in his head, he sure looks good in a suit). He’s only there to carry out the action, right? 

Well, I’m no expert, but I’m getting the feeling that readers want it all: character and plot, packaged together and wrapped with pretty paper. Quality writing notwithstanding. (That’s another blog post.) So,what’s the point of all this? I’m not entirely sure, but I’d like to know which came first for you: the character or the plot and is it stronger than the other? 

 

Friday News: Flash Fiction Anthology Update

baby shoes

I’m thrilled to announce that Baby Shoes: Celebrating Flash Fiction has made its e-book funding goal! Woot-woot! There are ten days left and we hope to  make it to $2200 so that we can do a print run as well. Thank you to everyone who has contributed thus far. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out this amazing project that will be featuring 100 authors and 100 flash fiction stories. You’ll find some familiar names among the author list such as Linda Needham, Joe Lansdale, Danika Dinsmore, and Walter J. Williams. Yours truly will have a piece in the book called “An Affair to Forget.” I’m also honored to be among some of my favorite local authors, Katherine ValdezShelley Widhalm, and he who shall not be named . . . because he’s using a pen name. ;-) Thanks again for the support.

TulipTree Publishing

TulipTree Publishing

TulipTree Publishing is a great new publisher looking for quality content for TulipTree Review, their literary journal; TulipTree Online, a separate online review; and TulipTree Books, printed works of authors, including anthologies. Editor, Jennifer Top, is looking for submissions and now’s a great time to submit. Plus, each quarter, $1000 will be awarded to first place winners in short fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. 

From TulipTree:

TulipTree Review is seeking entries for its first round of contests for its inaugural issue! A first place prize of $1,000 will be awarded in each category of short fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Second and third place winners will receive $200 and $100, respectively. Winners and all those selected for publication will receive a free subscription to the new literary journal. The theme for the first issue is BEGIN. Deadline: March 9.

Check out TulipTree Publishing to learn more and be sure to Like them on Facebook

Good luck and happy writing!

My Space

My Space -- April J. MooreA fellow writer recently asked me what I need to write. I need to channel Stephen King or Ivan Doig and write as often and as well as they do. But alas, that ain’t gonna happen. For now, I’ll take my little rituals and little space in our guest room and click-clack away. Notice the space heater . . . this is Colorado and The Husband and I are on opposite ends of the thermometer. I keep my room at a roasty-toasty temp and no one can tell me to turn it down. (It also keeps anyone from bugging me while up I’m here writing.) I found a table at a flea market, painted it, and wedged it in the corner. On the oppose wall, is a closet full of supplies and books.

Books -- April J. Moore
On my crookedly hung bulletin board (I have no idea how I managed that), I have notes, a picture my niece drew, a newspaper photograph I’d like to paint someday, and various little things. (Yes, that’s me on the Big Wheels.)
My Space -- April J. MooreThese are a few things that I don’t necessarily need to have in order to write, but they make me smile: a ceramic bird I received after my father passed, my prayer flags from the Shambhala Center, and the creepy, faceless figurine called the “Angel of Hope.”
MySpace -- April J. MooreI don’t know that I really need anything other than a pencil (mechanical, please) and paper, in order to write, but this space works for me. It’s peaceful and allows me to do what I love. The rest is up to me.

Do you have any writing rituals? What do you need to be a productive writer?

Folsom’s Hits New York City

Books on the Subway -- Folsom's 93I love New York City, but if I can’t be there, at least my book can be riding the subway system, courtesy of Rosy from Books on the Subway. Rosy, an avid reader, heard of Books on the Underground, based in London, and thought, why not do the same in NYC? Isn’t it novel? She calls it a “public library on the go.” The books are labeled with a BOTS sticker, so readers can pick up the book, read it, and then return it to the train for someone else to enjoy. I sent Rosy a couple copies of Folsom’s 93 and she just dropped them off at 28th street station. How cool is that?! I hope my 93 guys enjoy their rides. Look for Books on the Subway on Twitter and Facebook, and check her site to see how you could get your own book to ride the rails, too. 

#OneOfThoseParents

Driving

My son got his driver’s license yesterday. He asked me not to post a picture on Facebook with the caption, “Yikes! We have a new driver on the roads, look out!” In fact, he wanted absolutely no FB documentation whatsoever. He didn’t, however, say anything about not posting here. He doesn’t read my diatribes—he gets enough of them verbally. 

So what does all this mean? That I’m one of those parents who has to share everything about my kid and his milestones? 

Well, yeah.

Hey, I’ve earned it. Being a parent is hard and sometimes it’s important to document that we haven’t strangled these beautiful life-sucking miracles yet—we’re doing something right. What did those moms of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s do? They had to pick up the phone. “I have a whole list of people to call. Besides, you’ll see your friends at school tomorrow.” They carried brag books and did scrapbooks. Do parent still do those? (I got as far as his first haircut.) 

I’m sure the proud parent pandemic dates back to prehistoric times when cave women depicted their stick-figure offspring making their first mammoth kill, or riding on the back of a velociraptor. Ha! Just kidding . . . (like they were able to tame those dinosaurs enough to ride one). Geesh.

I digress.

Bottom line: I’m proud. I’m in awe. I’m scared shitless. This is also the start of my perpetually anxious existence for the next two to three to four years. Should you begin to see irrational, manic, and depressive writings that borderline horrific—particularly late at night—you’ll know why.

So bear with me and go easy on parents like me; we spent a lot of time molding and shaping these helpless little forms into responsible, intelligent young adults—and teaching them to drive stick. Surviving that, is my personal milestone. 

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Writing Prompt WednesdayYou know the drill. (Dean, I’m expecting big things from you, my friend.)

  • There’s never the right moment to tell . . .
  • The marinara sauce dripped down the wall . . .
  • As usual, I said something . . .
  • The remote trail led to . . .
  • Something didn’t feel right when I entered . . .
  • His keys hung from . . .
  • The shrubbery concealed . . .
  • The ER nurse gave me . . .

Happy writing!

So, You Say You Want to Write?

Quite often, I’m approached by people who are either just getting into writing, or have a finished manuscript, but don’t know what steps to take next. I’ve talked to retirees who are finally getting around to that story in their head, and the stay-at-home mom whose kids are now in school full-time, so at last, she has quiet time to write. So how do I get started? How do go about publishing my book? Ah . . . as many of you know, those are very loaded questions that require more than a quick chat over coffee. But they need to start somewhere, so I have five pieces of advice that will hopefully point them in the write direction.
The End (Now What)

1.) Connect with a local writing organization. Some people think that you can either write or you can’t, and for those who think they can, they don’t necessarily see the value in attending writing workshops and classes. Well sure, we all like to think we can handle this writing thing on our own, but quite frankly, even seasoned authors are constantly improving on their craft. There’s always room to grow and improve as a writer—especially with help from other writers. Writing doesn’t have to be a solo venture. The support and camaraderie between writers is a beautiful thing—we learn from one another, not only about the craft, but the business of writing as well. Plus, when your short stories, articles or book comes out, you’ll already have an audience ready and willing to read, Tweet, and review. Networking is just as important in writing as it is in any other occupation.

2.) Join a critique group. Vital. I can’t reiterate enough how important this is. This is also another great reason to join a local writing organization—they will likely be able to hook you up with a group that would fit your needs. Don’t subject your friends and family to your “shitty first drafts,” as Anne Lamott calls them; that’s what your critique group is for. Plus, a critique group will be more honest with you and have the writing chops to help. Another great reason to join one is that they keep you on track and accountable when it’s your turn to submit, otherwise, it’s easy to veer off the writing path. And besides, it’s fun to get your name in the acknowledgements page of their books (because your feedback was so valuable!)

3.) Perfect your query letter (for fiction). There’s a special place in hell for query letters. Many writers say that the query letter is harder to write than the damn book. Your amazing story is relegated to 1-2 paragraphs that has a killer hook in the opening. But it can’t be cliche. And it shouldn’t open with a question. Or can it? But you have to include the word count and some want it in the opening paragraph and some want it in the end. Oh, and don’t forget the brief bio and what other writing credits you have. And most important: never, ever, forget to . . . um, hmmm. . . . can’t remember. See what I mean? They suck. Luckily, there are a number of sources out there to help—though they all vary to some degree. I recommend Give ‘Em What They Want: The Right Way to Pitch Your Novel to Editors and Agents. Also check out Query Shark to get very blunt, to-the-point advice on writing a query. For some new writers, finding out that agents are practically the gatekeepers to traditional publishing, is like a punch to the gut. “You mean, you don’t send the manuscript and cover letter to Simon & Schuster?” Nope. That’s why I also recommend Agent Query when it comes time to start the glorious process.

4.) Perfect your pitch or book proposal (for nonfiction). These are usually just as heinous as the query letter. For most book-length nonfiction, a proposal is often sent with . . . brace yourself . . . a query letter too. I know, I’m sorry. (And that’s if you’re lucky!) Sometimes agents will take a proposal right off the bat (check their online guidelines). Oftentimes, you have to query the book proposal! Plus, the book doesn’t need to be finished, like it does with fiction. Many agents and editors want to be able to move things around and tweak a nonfiction manuscript, but you still need an outline and sample chapters to present in your proposal, which is often 30 pages or more. Fortunately, there’s help. Check out How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen. For pitching magazine articles, Kerrie Flanagan, freelance writer and director of the Northern Colorado Writers says that in your query, open with a catchy hook; give the editor a brief description of the proposed article (and how it ties to their guidelines); tell them what their readers will get out of reading it; and finally, tell them why you’re the perfect person to write it.

5.) Set up a blog. For some, this is more daunting than the query letter. When an agent sees promise in your query or book proposal, they want to find out more about you. And what better way than Google? A lot of agents and editors believe that you need a web presence, no matter how stellar your book is. It won’t sell itself. You don’t have to be a Super Blogger like some of those in my previous post, but you have to let people know that you and your book exist. You’ll also need a page where you post links to any online clips so that magazine editors can get a feel for your writing style. Blog a couple of times a week—the key is quality, not quantity. Start building your audience, especially if you’re an expert in a certain field and are shopping your nonfiction how-to, for example. It’s a necessary evil. But wait, there’s more. Follow other writers’ blogs and comment! The more you put yourself out there with quality content, the bigger the audience you’ll build—agents and editors will love you for it. 

So there you have it: my 5-step, Get Published Quick Scheme. Well, more like writing scheme, and sometimes, that’s all you need to get going.

What’s your best advice for a new writer? (Besides turn the other way and run?)

Writing Blogs to Follow

I know, all of you probably only follow me and hang on my every word, but I’ll let you in on a secret: I get my wisdom from other writers and industry professionals. Here’s my top 8 writing blogs I like to follow:

  • Make a Living Writing Carol Tice is a freelance writer based in Seattle and her posts are full of amazing advice. 
  • Jody Hedlund Hedlund is an award-winning author who offers tons of advice from creating strong characters to how to navigate the publishing industry.
  • Terrible Minds Chuck Wendig . . . I’ll let him tell you what his blog is about: “novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. This is his blog. He talks a lot about writing. And food. And the madness of toddlers. He uses lots of naughty language. NSFW. Probably NSFL. Be advised.”
  • Helping Writers Become Authors K.M. Weiland is a bestselling author who talks about (among many topics) common writing mistakes, how to structure a book, and writing inspiration.
  • Writer Unboxed Focusing on the business and craft of writing fiction.
  • Write it Sideways: “Write It Sideways’ has been helping you see the world of writing from a fresh perspective. Our experienced team can help you learn new skills, define your goals, increase your productivity, and prepare for publication.” Need I say more?
  • Live Write Thrive Get your grammar on here with novelist, copyeditor, and writing coach C.S. Lakin.
  • Quick and Dirty Tips from Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty is a true grammar maven. She makes remembering grammar rules easy.

What are some of your favorite writing blogs?

Being a (Productive) Stay-At-Home Writer

I originally posted this back in July 2012 for my critique group’s site, but I wanted to share it here because I sometimes find myself falling off the writing wagon and need a reminder. Hopefully, I’m not the only one . . .

I think many writers relish in the idea of a secluded place to work; a long retreat, free from interruptions and time to master our craft. However, this concept never seems to end well for Stephen King’s writer characters. Before you head to a vacant mountain hotel, or a remote cabin in upstate New York, consider these work-from-home tips that won’t involve axes, poltergeists, or dead bodies.
The Stanley

First, Take Care of Distractions

I’m easily distracted, whether it’s something shiny or a pile of laundry. Sometimes, no matter how determined I am to get several pages written, even small things can veer me off the creative path. Working from home poses a plethora of distractions that can keep you from settling into work mode. Combat them by dealing with those things before you flip on the laptop. Wake up early and take care of that load of laundry, pile of bills, or a sink full of dishes. Schedule your chores and writing time. Perhaps designating one day to household tasks can enable you to work the rest of the week. Another distraction is the internet. Aren’t you curious about your blog stats, Twitter updates, or the latest viral Facebook video? If you don’t need internet access to write, then turn it off. What about noises? One word: Earplugs.

Get Organized

Treat yourself to a shopping spree at an office supply store. They say if you buy great workout gear, you’re more likely to get your butt to the gym. Same goes for writing. If you want that fancy pencil holder, get it.  Do what you need to do to create a productive work environment. For my first book, organization was critical for me since I had 93 dead guys to keep track of. I bought a few file boxes with hanging folders and together, my label maker and I went to town. Each inmate had his own folder containing absolutely everything pertaining to him: transcripts, newspaper articles, and even critiques from my writers group when I submitted his story to them. If your work is disorganized, you may not feel motivated and driven. Get the right tools to help you.

Go To Your Room

If I had known how much I could have accomplished as a kid when my parents sent me to my room, I’d have a seven-book series by now. Today, I treasure alone time in my room where instead of plotting revenge on my sister, I actually get quality time to write. Claim your own space, whether it’s a room, a corner, or a table. Your area should also consist of only what you need to write. Don’t work at a desk where you pay bills, or do other hobbies. You need to focus on writing. My area is the guest bedroom. I found a small desk at a flea market, painted it and parked it by the window. The closet, situated behind the desk, houses my weapons of writing: reference books, research, and all those extra office supplies I stocked up on. (You can never have too many Post-Its.) Make the space inviting—but only to you. You need to be left alone, so politely inform your spouse, your kids, and your dog (who’s holding the leash in his mouth) to not bother you while you are in this special space of yours. 
redrum

Break it Down

I tend to freak myself out thinking about the amount of work I have ahead of me. Nothing like a bit of fear to kill your motivation. I must remind myself to take baby steps. I tackle one task at a time, sometimes two. If your project feels like deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls, then break it down. Work on one scroll at time—or half a scroll. Don’t put more pressure on yourself than you need to. Shoot for a certain number of pages a day to get done. Maybe it’s one chapter at time, or one article a day, or the introduction of your book proposal. You will feel more accomplished and productive if you take on only what you can handle that day. When I applied this method, I had those scrolls deciphered in no time.

Reward Yourself

What does your little heart desire? (Think small for this, okay?) Maybe it’s a new book, a nice bottle of wine, or going to the theater to see a movie. Now, choose the task or project you need to do and set a deadline. When you meet that deadline, reward yourself. I know this may sound simplistic, but it works. Yes, you could give yourself the reward anyway, but show some willpower, because trust me, that reward is way less satisfying if you truly didn’t earn it. Write your deadline and reward on a board or post it on the refrigerator to keep you motivated. Get the family involved to help support you on your journey because it’s even more rewarding when others can share it with you.

With a bit of creativity, it’s possible to be a productive writer without fleeing to deserted beach house, or a lonely cabin in the mountains.
Secret Window

Cover Reveal: Bobbing for Watermelons

Bobbing for Watermelons by April J. Moore

As promised, here it is! Ain’t she a beaut? I am thrilled to bring you the cover of my forthcoming novel, Bobbing for Watermelons. If you’re like a lot of people, you might be wondering what the hell “bobbing for watermelons,” even means. First, I have my husband to thank for the title—it fits the story perfectly. I then added a short bit in the book explaining it: 

“Sometimes, finding happiness is a lot like bobbing for watermelons. We take on more than we can handle and can’t get a grip. Kinda like going for that watermelon and ignoring the smaller fruit in the tub.”

I will post tantalizing snippets here and there to hopefully wow and amaze you into buying a copy from Hot Chocolate Press come March. 

A Weekend of Writing

A weekend of writing events, that is.

Folsom's 93: The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men

Yesterday, my publisher emailed me and asked if I could do a live, one-hour radio interview this Saturday to discuss Folsom’s 93. I thought, ‘Gee, I don’t know. An hour to talk about my book? Writers hate that stuff, right?’ I did have to cancel my luncheon with Beyonce, but she’s always calling to come over, so I’m sure we’ll reschedule. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to chat with George Yates, host of “Justice For All,” a radio show broadcasting out of Chesapeake, VA on WHKT. We go live at 2 p.m. EST/12 p.m. MST, but if you can’t tune in, don’t fret; it’ll be available online—I’ll update with a link. UPDATE: CLICK HERE to listen in.

Hot Chocolate Press Festival

Then it’s off to more book bliss with the Hot Chocolate Festival happenin’ Saturday evening from 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. I will be joining other Hot Chocolate Press authors for readings and book talk. I’ll be revealing the cover for my women’s fiction, Bobbing for Watermelons, and I have to say, I love how it came out! (And I hear that Boardwalk Gallery will be decked out like a winter wonderland for the event . . . who’d want to miss that?!) Click the link for more information.

The Eclectic Reader Bookstore

The Eclectic Reader bookstore is having their first-ever Open Mic Night January 10th from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The night will feature “Fragmentary Writing.” From their website:
“‘Fragmentary writing,’ what’s that?” you ask. Well, that’s what most of us do first (before we publish our Opus Majus). It’s bits and pieces of stuff, snippets, shards of thought, letters, diary and journal entries, short prose pieces, poetry, aphorisms, short essays, punchy letters to the editor and character sketches Oh, and songs…so music is welcome, too.
We’ll put out a money jar for a prize…winner takes all. Audience to be the judge.
Join us for some fun.
On the night of this frenzy of exposition, all books in the store will be 20% off.
Questions? Call 970-223-4019

Have a great weekend and happy writing!

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Writing Prompt WednesdayIt’s that time again where I attempt to wow you with these sure-to-inspire writing prompts. I’m also going to try real hard to stump Dean this time around . . . (check out Dean’s wicked prompt skills in previous WPWs).

  • “You’re a terrible liar,” Adam said.
  • The slash marks . . .
  • The sisters made a pact . . .
  • She didn’t recognize the car.
  • His laugh scared her.
  • They only had seconds before the . . .
  • Like a bad omen . . .
  • I had sworn I left the box . . .

Happy writing!

Anthology, Conference, and Contest . . .Oh My

So I have just a few reminders for you. . .

baby shoes

First, the Kickstarter for Baby Shoes: A Flash Fiction Anthology will be relaunching this Friday. In the meantime, check out the Facebook Page for it. My piece, “An Affair to Forget,” about a man who sees his imaginary girlfriend deep in conversation with his wife, will be nestled among 99 other authors who are participating, like Linda Needham, Joe Lansdale, Danika Dinsmore, and Walter J. Williams. This will be a great project to support, so I’ll keep you posted on the progress. 

10th Annual NCW Conference March 27-28 2015The Northern Colorado Writers Conference is open for registration. This is the 10th annual conference and as part of the Conference Creative Team, I can tell you, it’s going to be one hell of a party conference. 

NCW Top of the Mountain Book Award

And that’s a good segue into the 4th annual Top of the Mountain Book Award that we  give out at the conference. You don’t have to be an NCW member (or even a Colorado resident) to enter, and the contest is open to both published and unpublished authors. You also don’t have to attend the conference to enter. Submit the first 20 pages of your fiction or creative nonfiction manuscript, plus a 3-page synopsis by February 1st, and you could win $1000. It’s so easy it’s ridiculous.  

That’s it for now.

Happy writing!

Sunday Inspiration

Something to get you writing today (and hopefully, everyday) . . .

“Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.”

~ Alan Watts

What is one of your favorite writing quotes?

Interview with Literary Fort Collins

Literary Fort CollinsRecently, I’ve had the honor of being interviewed by Emily Wenzl of Literary Fort Collins. Wenzl discusses (as you might guess) everything literary about this fabulous Northern Colorado city. I talk about . . . ah, me pretty much. Okay, a bit about how friggin’ hard writing can be, and I also dote on my critique group a little too. Anyway, check out Wenzl’s great blog if you get the chance.

Happy New Year!

My New Writing Gig

Northern Colorado Writers

The Writing Bug

If you’re not completely sick of me, then I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to know that I’ll be a regular contributor to the Northern Colorado Writers blog, The Writing Bug starting January 14th. I’ll be sharing Wednesdays with the talented JC Lynn. I’m excited for this new endeavor and I hope you guys can find the time to stop by and visit me, JC, and the other amazing authors at The Writing Bug. (In case you’re wondering, I’ve already been told that I have to keep my trucker mouth in check while I’m over there.)

And if you’re really not sick of me yet, you can see me with my fellow Conference Creative Team members in a trailer for the 2015 NCW Conference on March 27-28. Have you signed up yet? It’ll be a smashing good time! (Click above, not on the video pic).
NCW Conference Trailer

Hot Chocolate Press Festival

I suppose it’s time to announce that my second book—this time, a novel, will be published in March 2015 by Hot Chocolate Press. Remember when I talked about what fun it is to revise an old manuscript? Well, it wasn’t all for naught. Bobbing for Watermelons, my women’s fiction is finally going to be  real book. If you’re in the area, stop by the Hot Chocolate Festival at Boardwalk Gallery in Windsor, CO January 10, from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. for readings, art, and hot chocolate.
Hot Chocolate Press FestivalAnd if all goes well, I’ll be revealing the book’s cover as early as next week. In the meantime, check out (and Like) Hot Chocolate Press on Facebook. I hope you all had a great holiday and getting lots written. After two months of no snow, we received several inches last night, so I’m spending the day cozy-ing up and writing, well . . . editing actually. 
Colorado Winter

My view today.

Writing Prompt Wednesday {Holiday Edition}

Writing Prompt WednesdayWho doesn’t love a good Christmas story?

Oh, there’s always one in the group . . . Well, that’s okay because these prompts can not only be the start of a Christmas classic, but also the spark for that sinister tale that happens to take place under the mistletoe. Hell, one of these could jump start that Christmas screenplay you’ve had in mind. By this time next year, we could all be watching “Miracle in Malibu,” starring Mario Lopez and Tori Spelling on ABC Family. It could happen . . . (and don’t forget about who got you on the road to Christmas Special Stardom).

  • The string of lights hung down . . .
  • I had just wrapped the last present when . . . 
  • Anna dreaded opening the gift from . . .
  • If the fruitcake could talk . . .
  • The Christmas lights reflected off of the  . . .
  • “Now you know why I [fill in the blank] the holidays,” Dave told me.
  • His Christmas sweater said it all. 
  • A box of candy canes was all that remained. 

Have a wonderful holiday and happy writing!

Baby Steps

Okay, we’ll get there; just not as quickly as we thought. Baby Shoes, the flash fiction anthology that I’m taking part in, didn’t quite get off the ground as expected, but we’re not giving up. This Kickstarter project will launch again in January, so be on the lookout for updates. (I’ll be making sure you won’t miss a thing. ;-) ) There are a number of talented authors—many of whom you probably know—who are taking part in this anthology, so you won’t want to miss out. Stay tuned.

kickstarter

 

The Power of Photoshop

Usually when you hear “Photoshop,” you think of unrealistic waistlines and impossibly perfect skin tone. It’s always nice to see Photoshop being used for good, not evil. A few months back, I came across these remastered and colored Civil War pictures that I felt gave them a whole new meaning. Funny how color can do that, right? I don’t know if they used Photoshop, but you get where I’m going here. My son has been playing around with the program and wanted to see what he could do with one my Folsom’s 93 mug shots.

Folsoms 22I think it turned out pretty amazing. I’ve always found this shot to be particularly haunting. His name was William M. Gray, Folsom’s 22nd execution. Given all the research into Gray’s case, I’m not entirely convinced he committed the crime for which he hanged. I’ll leave you with his final words in 1906:


” . . . there could be no God, else an innocent man would not be hanged.”

Sneaked vs. Snuck

You may have noticed I get a little uptight about certain usages of grammar, which is strange, because I’m not at all a grammar expert. However, there are a few things I feel confident about ranting about. One of them is the word “snuck.” (For the record, in admin mode, WordPress underlines it in red, indicating it’s misspelled.) So ha. 

For me, this goes way back . . . to the classic movie, White Christmas. That’s right. This is where it all began. You see, there’s a scene (30 minutes into the movie) where the Haines sisters have to explain to the famous Wallace and Davis why the sheriff is in the office with a warrant to arrest them both! *GASP!* 

Sisters--White ChristmasJudy: “Oh, the landlord is claiming we burned a hole in the rug and he’s trying to hold us up for two-hundred dollars.”

Phil: “Oh, no. Not that old rug routine.”

Betty: “On top of that, we sneaked our bags out of our room.”

(Another thing I’m confident about: The dialog is spot on. It’s sad cool that I know every like to this movie, right?) That’s what happens when you grow up watching this movie nearly every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas for about 20 years. I remember asking my dad, who really was a Grammar God, why Ms. Clooney said “sneaked” and not “snuck.” (Again it got underlined in red, just so you know.) He explained it was the proper usage. Good enough for me.

If you need anymore convincing, Brian Klems at Writer’s Digest agrees with me. So please, stop using “snuck” (I LOVE that red squiggly line!) and follow Betty’s lead. Smart lady.

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Writing Prompt WednesdayWelcome to Wednesday, as well as another edition of “Writing Prompt Wednesday” where I hope to get you over the weekly hump and into the land of writing. Try these on for size:

  • “Next!” the woman behind the glass yelled
  • The house made her feel . . .
  • “You’ll want to step back . . .”
  • Meg saw it before I did.
  • The empty bottle . . .
  • Robert felt the effects immediately.
  • He picked her for a reason.
  • She’d seen him [fill in the blank activity] a thousand times. This time . . .

Happy writing!

 

Colorado Gives Day

ColoradoGivesDayToday is Colorado Gives Day, a 24-hour event that encourages us to celebrate and increase philanthropy throughout Colorado. There are thousands of non-profit organizations who dedicate their lives to improving the world around them; and they could use some help. From the arts to fighting hunger and homelessness to animal-related causes, there’s bound to be something you could feel good about lending a helping hand. I encourage you to check out opportunities in your area that you can donate either your time or dollars to. Even a small act of kindness can make a huge impact.

Some Friday Reminders

Ahhh . . . it’s Friday. I think I just heard a collective sigh of relief. Well, before your brains go into weekend mode, I wanted to post a couple of reminders about two things (you can thank me later).
kickstarterThere’s only 4 days left to take part in this awesome Kickstarter for a flash fiction anthology, Baby Shoes. 100 authors, 100 stories. With the amazing lineup of authors involved, it’s going to be an incredible anthology . . . if we could just reach our goal! Check it out.

NCW Top of the Mountain Book Award

My other reminder is about the Top of the Mountain Book Award sponsored by the Northern Colorado Writers. You don’t need to be a member of the NCW and the contest is open to both fiction and creative/narrative nonfiction. Check out all the rules HERE. It’s easy! You could win $1000 and recognition at the NCW Writers Conference March 27-18, 2015. 

My last reminder . . . is to breathe. It’s Friday. 

Have a great weekend.

The Gift of Reading

If you’re in the Fort Collins area, I want to let you know about Lattes & Literature, a book fair featuring local author books as well as some delicious caffeinated concoctions. It all goes down Dec. 11 at Ft. Collins Coffeehouse . . .
Lattes and LiteratureFor those history geeks in the family, you’ll be able to pick up my book, Folsom’s 93, but if you’re not in the area and don’t feel like a road trip, it’s also available from these fine local booksellers: Old Firehouse Books, The Eclectic Reader or from the big guys: Amazon and B&N.

Folsom's 93 by April Moore

Among these local scribes who’ll also have her book available is Kerrie Flanagan with Claire’s Christmas Catastrophe, a children’s book for 7-10-year-olds. For the writer in the family, she’ll have Write Away: A Year of Musings and Motivations for Writers available as well.
Flanagan.jpgThere are also some author signings coming up that you don’t want to miss out on.

Dean K. Miller will be at Lo Co Artisan Coffeehouse in Loveland, CO on December 12, from 6 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. signing copies of Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse.

Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse by Dean K. Miller

Patricia Stoltey will be at The Eclectic Reader December 13th from 1:00-3:00 signing copies of her 3rd book, a stand alone suspense-thriller, Dead Wrong

Dead WrongSome other great titles you’ll want to get your hands on is Sheala Henke’s YA, IDEA-33: A Regeneration
idea 33And Nancy L. Reed’s Words Left Behind: Tales From a Life Gladly Lived
Words Left Behind
One of my favorite children’s books that just came out is Count the Clouds, by M.C. Myers that has incredible illustrations and comes with a CD and digital download for a sing-along good time. 
count the cloudsAll right, that’s about it for now. (And just so you know, I wouldn’t promote any ol’ writers; these are very talented, high caliber authors whose company I’m humbled to be in.)

American English vs. British English

vs

There are many differences between the U.S. and our pals across the pond, one of which, being the use of language and grammar. Many British readers of The Guardian, a U.K.-based publication, have complained about the paper’s use of “ugly Americanisms,” mostly slang terms such as “mojo,” “dweeb,” and “double-dip.” (Thanks, Seinfeld.) One reader even said, “I am not anti-American, but I do not see why our language should be corrupted by sloppy writing.” Another called the American use of “authorities” as a “dreadfully ugly American import from the land without style.” Ouch. Sloppy writing? Without style? Those are fightin’ words! Once bickering over taxes and tea, we’re now going to duke it out (another so-called American grammatical atrocity) over commas and quotations. 

I’ll just focus on spelling and punctuation. Most of these we know. Admittedly, I’m guilty of consorting with the enemy on their spelling of “dialogue,” rather than the American English version of “dialog.” It’s just looks prettier, doesn’t it? Okay, okay, I’ve learnt my lesson. Or is it learned? Damn. Here’s a small sampling:
AE BE Spelling

The other big difference is, of course, the placement of quotation marks. Both sides argue that their version is correct, however, Ben Yagoda of Slate, calls the British way of placing commas and periods after the quotation marks, logical, surmising that the American version is more for aesthetics. He says,  “If you put a period or comma inside quotation marks, you are wrongly suggesting that the period or comma is part of the quoted material, and thus you have “changed” it.” Logical or not, it’s up for debate. Likely, whichever method you grew up with, is the most comfortable, or “right” way of doing it. 

What about your audience? Do you tailor your writing based on your readership? U.K. readers feel that The Guardian, their homegrown publication, should stick to British English. What about American journalists and authors? If you live and write in the U.S., can you get away with writing “grey” instead of “gray?” What about “there”, “their”, and “they’re”? Oh, I can’t stand looking at that! (You know where I stand on that issue.) 

One thing I will say, is I’m cheering for the British for omitting the apostrophe for dates (e.g., 1990s), which makes the most sense. It’s plural, not possessive. 

Because of the World Wide Web, these once distinct differences, are now melding together and clearly causing havoc. I think it pisses the Brits off more, whereas Americans seem lackadaisical about the whole thing, often interchanging them willy-nilly. My thought is that if you live and write in the U.S., stick with the American English rules, and vice versa. If anything, just pick one and use it consistently, and ideally, have a reason for your choice. I suspect that one day, there will be a meeting of the minds (whose minds is yet to be determined) and a definitive language style will result—a treaty will ensue. As for the style it’ll be written in . . . well, that’s another story.

What do you think? Keep both language styles separate? Or go to war?

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Writing Prompt Wednesday

I love writing prompts—they’re a heck of a lot of fun to come up with. In my efforts to blog more regularly (aren’t you folks lucky ;-) ) I’ve decided to designate every other Wednesday as “Writing Prompt Wednesday.” I hope you’ll find them useful and that they jump start your creativity; they certainly have for me. Since my first writing prompt post, I’ve written a couple of flash fiction pieces that I’ve then submitted: one to an anthology and one to a contest. Instead of keeping these prompts tucked away somewhere on my computer, I thought I’d share them with all of you. 

  • The peeling wallpaper revealed . . .
  • Kevin said a prayer and took a step . . .
  • She wore it just to . . .
  • All this time she thought she was being clever.
  • Anyone could see it didn’t fit.
  • She loosened the screws on the . . . 
  • I saw it coming, but no one . . .
  • The fire burned . . .

Happy writing!

Baby’s Growing Up

Me and Connor

My friend Jim over at Speaking of Adventure, had a great post today about encouraging your kids to (safely) be adventurous. It’s as if he wrote it just for me. My son is turning 16 next week and has spent the last year and a half doing a lot indoor and outdoor climbing. He asked for a crash pad for his birthday. Why couldn’t he have asked for an industrial-strength bubble? I’ve been wanting to get one of those for him for years. But a crash pad? Is he trying to kill me?! For those of you unfamiliar with this injurious-sounding item, it’s a large, thick cushion climbers place at the base of a large rock so if they fall while bouldering, they hopefully land on this life-saving pillow and not the ground. (He doesn’t know this, but he’s getting a matching helmet, too.) He’s a smart kid; I don’t so much worry about him being stupid. After all, if you can’t trust your kid to make wise decisions, then you don’t trust your parenting. It’s still hard to let some slack out of the leash—it’s those out-of-our-hands elements that we can’t control that get me panicky. 

We’ve all heard it: “Watch out, they grow up fast.” I know. But don’t roll your eyes because it’s true. My little dude, who was born 6 weeks early at 4 lbs, 7 oz, just surpassed me in height (I’m nearly 5’10”) and outweighs me too. (That, I’m okay with.) How did this happen? Do you parents know that book, Love You Forever?

Love You ForeverYep, that’s the one. To this day, I can’t read (or even think about) this book without getting choked up. A parent recently told me that this book creeps her out. Excuse me? After I judged her for being an emotionless, rotten parent . . . well, not really, but maybe a little, I realized that I probably traumatized my son more by constantly reading him “the book that makes mommy cry.” Anyhow, if you know and love this book, you understand where I’m coming from. 

Now, I haven’t even gotten to the driver’s license part yet. In Colorado, you have to have a permit for a full year; he got his in January, so we have some time. Little does he know, he’s getting a AAA membership. Woo-hoo! (Yes, it’s more for me than it is for him.) 

I guess the bottom line is that I can’t be that crash pad forever. Jim nailed it when he said, “Parents do not want to see their children get hurt, but we know that young people must struggle some and maybe get bruised so as to become resilient for the adventures, and misadventures, that life will surely bring them.” So if I can’t pace the bottom of the boulder with arms stretched out, ready to catch him, then I’ll at least be there cheering him on (with plenty of band aides and hugs, just in case).

Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse is Now Available

Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse by Dean K. MillerDean K. Miller’s poetry book, featuring some illustrations by yours truly, is now available in paperback from Amazon. Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse is a wonderful collection of poems that range from poignant and heartfelt, to clever and witty. You can read one of the poems, A Letter Home, HERE. Be sure to also see Dean’s other work. And Then I Smiled: Reflections on a Life Not Yet Complete and The Odyssey of the Monk. Dean is a brilliant poet and author who has the amazing ability to paint beautiful, vivid scenes with words—I highly recommend this book. 

 

Baby Shoes: A Flash Fiction Anthology

kickstarterHey, wanna support a Kickstarter anthology? Author Jason Brick, has rounded up some amazing writers (he felt sorry for me, so he included me) to take part in the flash fiction anthology, Baby Shoes. Staying true to the flash fiction concept, this anthology will be put together, well, in a flash, so we need your help. This book will feature 100 authors, 100 stories, 1000 words each. Don’t hold me to it, but there may even be a spot or two open . . . If you need a prompt, check out my last post—that’s actually where I got my inspiration for my flash fiction piece. 

So friends, it would be ever-so appreciated if you could pass this along and help support this worthy writerly venture—there’s some cool perks in store for you!

Writing Prompts: You Gotta Start Somewhere

Blank Document

Look familiar? That’s right, it’s a blank document. For many of us writers, that’s the stuff of nightmares—you know, the one where you’ve been paper cut to death by a swarm of rejection letters? That’s the one. Well, it’s an all-too common problem many us could live without. Oftentimes, instead of having this wordless screen stare back at me with a “Uhm, hello? I’m blank. You going to write something on me, or what?” I’ll close the laptop. Ha! Take that! Although that’s typically unproductive . . . unless I pick up  a pen and a pad of paper. At times, I find I’m more productive when I go Old School and write on paper; it’s less intimidating than a blank Word Doc. But then what? 

Get writing. Dennis Palumbo, author and former screenwriter, who spoke at the Jackson Hole Writer’s Conference a few years back said, “Writing begets writing.” Turns out, he’s right. However, when you need a hand to get going, story starters or writing prompts can help wake the muse. Here’s a few to try out:

  • Emma knocked on the door and immediately regretted it.
  • Ben hated what he had to say next.
  • Had he been conscious, he probably would have said . . .
  • “It won’t hurt a bit,” she told him.
  • Most of the time I keep my promises, but . . .
  • I thought I had more time, but the doorbell rang . . .
  • She held out the box. “No, you open it.”
  • She/He/It slipped in through the front door unnoticed.
  • They didn’t believe me at first. 
  • Daniel thought she was crazy when she first told him . . .
  • I tried to give back [fill in the blank] but he told me to keep it/them.
  • Eric wanted to take the words back the second he said them.
  • It went completely against his nature, but he had no choice but to . . .
  • He walked in and saw her sitting with . . .

The following two prompts come from The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood:

  • I could have avoided all that trouble if I had only remembered to . . .
  • Seven days ago [fill in the blank]. Now, no one will talk to me.

Okay, now it’s time to take my own advice and write.

Do you have some writing prompts? Please, do share in the comments below.

Write it Down!

Dad's notebook

Today is my father’s birthday; he would have been be 64. I inherited my love of writing from him, so it’s no wonder I’ve adopted his method of keeping a small notebook with me at all times. I know he didn’t invent this practice, but it’s surprising to me how many of my fellow writers aren’t in this habit. My father would not only have these small spiral notebooks in his shirt pockets, fishing vest and among his camping stuff, but his lunchbox from work usually contained slips of paper with story ideas, quick dialog exchanges, and random words jotted down on them. When I compiled all of his writings in a book after he passed away in 2007, I included many of these “snippets”—they were too good to leave out. These are just a few of my notebooks over the years:
Writer notebooksThere are so many times when I’m sitting in my car, standing in line somewhere, or at a restaurant, when I hear something I could use in a story, or essay. In fact, the notebook on top are my notes about an incident that had happened moments earlier and became a published essay. Nothing’s worse than a writer without paper and pen, especially when inspiration hits, because we all know that a muse can be an elusive S.O.B. Another reason to buy cute little notepads, is to jot down words and phrases that catch your attention while reading. I have been wanting to do this for ages and I finally designated a notebook for it, aptly named . . .
Word.It gave me an opportunity to get down with some ’90s slang, but I also got to use my coveted label maker. Anyway, I can’t tell you how many times I’ll be reading Ivan Doig, and think, “Ooh, great word!” “Nice phrasing.” (And the occasional, “Geez, I suck.”) Doig is a true wordsmith who creates these incredible characters and settings; his work always makes me pause and admire his way with words. My father was an Ivan Doig fan as well, so I’m grateful to him for introducing me to this amazing author. I wish I had started this practice years ago because so many words are a dime a dozen; you want the uncommon ones that will make readers  say, “Damn, great word!” Buy these little notebooks in bulk for all those big ideas (and words!); you never know what short story, essay or novel will get its start on those pages.
Oh, and happy birthday, Dad! Write on.

Retreat, Revise, Repeat

Writers RetreatThis was my view for the last four days. I just returned from 3 nights in Estes Park for the annual Northern Colorado Writers retreat. As opposed to previous years, this retreat for me did not include drunken nights of playing Bananagrams. I must be maturing. Instead, I tallied 27 hours of writing time. Well, editing and revising time. I decided to wipe off the 10 years of dust and grime of an old manuscript and get it up to snuff. I started Bobbing for Watermelons (women’s fiction) back in 2004. Miraculously, (and I say miraculous because holy crap, did it need help) it became a finalist in 2008 for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold Contest. I thought I was golden . . . (see what I did there? I love puns) . . . I figured agents would be clamoring to represent me, but alas, after a round or two of unsuccessful querying, I stumbled into the research for Folsom’s 93. Bobbing got shelved. This retreat turned out to be the perfect time to revitalize the manuscript. I’m certainly not the same person I was ten years ago, let alone the same writer (thank goodness). Here’s what I learned from revising the first 34,000 words (over a third) of the manuscript:

1.) With age, comes new perspectives and insight (ideally), which you can apply to your writing. For instance, my main character is a 41-year-old mother of teenagers. At the time I started the book, I was 27 with a 6-year-old. I feel like now I can relate to my character in ways I couldn’t before, plus, I can add /delete/revise scenes, dialogue exchanges, and subplots based on these new perspectives and insights.

2.) Rookie mistakes are just part of the writing game . . . and man, did I make them. I sent this to agents?! What was I thinking? But hell, aren’t you glad you can catch these mistakes and correct them easily? I can’t tell you how many times my character “nodded her head,” and “shrugged her shoulders.” My critique group calls these “outrages.” So, for you rookies out there, lose “her head” and drop “her shoulders.”

3.) I was able to spot issues much easier than before. Stepping away from a writing project, whether it be 10 days, or 10 years, can give you the time you need in order to see major issues, such as bland characters, wonky pacing or stilted dialog. I zeroed in on major mistakes that my eyes glazed over before because I was just too close to the project.

4.) My humor was pretty bad. (Not that it’s much better now) but it was really lame 10 years ago. I promise, my jokes are new and improved in this revised version.

All in all, the retreat couldn’t have gone better. In addition to getting in some quality writing time, we got up close and personal with some Estes Park residents:
ElkGot to experience the first snow of the season:
First snow, Estes 2014And I also learned that  Sarah Reichert is not only a very talented author, but a skillful mashed potato volcano builder as well.
Mashed Potato VolcanoI challenge you to unearth an old manuscript, breathe new life into it—perform CPR if necessary—and see what happens. You might surprise yourself.

Booze & Caffeine: The Creative Combo

According several studies, including this one from researchers at the University of Chicago, booze creates big ideas and caffeine makes them happen. Crap. That means as a writer, I could be screwed. You see, I gave up caffeine back in February (hello, sleep!) and 37 days ago, I had my last glass of wine (goodbye, social life)! When I had to finish up Folsom’s 93 and get it to the publisher, I took a break from booze and enjoyed a month with less brain fog (imagine that). Once the book was out of my hands, however, I practically leaped off the wagon with a box of wine under each arm.

Now, my creativity red light is flashing and it’s time for a refill. Is it really from the lack of my favorite Malbec? Do I take a cue from the famous drunk writer Ernest Hemingway who said, “When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day, what else can change your ideas and make them run in a different plane like whisky?” I don’t know. I’m not entirely convinced that alcohol made me more creative (as evidenced by previous blog posts) so I’m not going to race to the liquor store (where everyone knows my name), but I will try—what some writers may call—the less fun approach: paper and pencil. A little help from my friends doesn’t hurt either. Write Away: A Year of Musing and Motivations for Writers by Kerrie Flanagan and Jenny Sundstedt is a great book filled with ideas and advice for writers who need to refill their creativity tank. Kerrie’s excellent writing advice and Jenny’s wit is the perfect combination for getting sober writers like me to “stay drunk on writing,” as Ray Bradbury advises.
Write AwayEven though I can practically hear Edgar Allen Poe and Truman Capote guffawing at my teetotaler ways, I’m going to stick with being the designated driver for a while. Besides, someone has to recount (and retell) the events from the night before, which always has the potential to become the script for Hangover 3.

A Sneak Peek

I’m thrilled to be working again with author Dean K. Miller.  This time, it’s for his forthcoming poetry book, Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse.
Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse by Dean K. MillerIt’s not available until November, but in the meantime, I’ll leave you with this sneak peek of one of the several illustrations I did for the inside . . .
Past Due

You can also read one of Dean’s poems, “A Letter Home,” featured on Readwave.