Write Despite

The write-20-minutes-a-day-for-365-days-come-hell-or-high-water challenge

In the beginning

The first 10 pages make or break your novel manuscript. Why? Well, as we’ve all been told (and in truth have probably experienced), no one reads beyond them if they’re not great.

And that goes double for agents and editors, who are wondering how they’re going to sell the thing.

In other words, your opening has to rock. I’m overhauling mine for the umpteenth time right now, and it’s moving along. Something is happening. It’s kicking and wiggling and strutting a bit. But rocking? I dunno.

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I come now seeking advice. What hooks you in a novel’s opening pages? What makes you keep reading? What turns you off? Please share in our “comments” section.

Cathy has already weighed in, of course, and her advice—as usual—was spot on. Cathy has a new publication of her own, just out this week. The opening of her novel-in-progress is featured in Embark: A Literary Journal for Novelists. This nifty journal is dedicated to novel openings, and it’s becoming a go-to for agents seeking new clients. Congrats, Cath! Check out her piece. It’s going to grow into one helluva book.

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Write Well, Friends and Happy New Year

–Karen

Last-Minute Gifts, Anyone?

Well, we’re super late with this post, but for those of you who are still shopping (and yes, count us in), we decided to list 10 books we dearly love and frequently give to friends and family. So, if you’re still looking for ideas, you’re welcome. And happy holidays, everyone!!!!images

From Cathy

These are all books I’ve given, some over and over again, in no particular order.

  1. Fair and Tender Ladies (Lee Smith) – You won’t forget Ivy Rowe and her story, written entirely in letter form. ‘
  2. The Christmas Letters (Lee Smith) -Another Lee Smith book of letters, this one just perfect for the holidays.
  3. The Accidental Tourist (Anne Tyler) – If I had to pick a favorite book (please don’t make me), this one, this one.
  4. On Writing (Stephen King) – Best down-to-earth advice on the craft I’ve read.
  5. State of Wonder (Ann Patchett) – Oh, what a ride. Scientist heads to the Amazon to find a researcher and uncovers a mystery of sorts. But, yeah, SO much more.
  6. Single, Carefree, Mellow (Katherine Heiny) – This little gem of a short story collection about dating and love and friendship is spot-on funny, sad and smart.
  7. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (David Sedaris) – Love so many of David Sedaris’s books, but this is the one I’ve given out the most.
  8. Turtle Moon (Alice Hoffman) – My first experience with Alice Hoffman, and the one I still think about all the time. Love her!
  9. The Humans (Matt Haig) – Read this with my book group and I’ve given it to my son and others to enjoy. Wish they’d make a movie of this curious alien who comes to earth and just can’t figure out the human race.
  10. Where I’m Calling From (Raymond Carver) – My go-to, rarely leave home without it, collection of stories by the master! If you’ve never read “Fat” or “A Small, Good Thing,” you’re truly missing out.

From Karen

So, I took a different route. I decided to focus on children’s books that I loved when I was in elementary school. I’ve given some as gifts, and encouraged other parents to check them out. These books are all for, I’d say, fourth grade and up. As you can see, I was a child obsessed with animals. Now, I’m an adult obsessed with animals.

  1. Hurry Home Candy, by Meindert DeJong – Probably my all-time favorite. A sweet little dog lost in a world of cruel people!!! This is an outstanding children’s story, sophisticated, compassionate, evocative. I bought a new copy and I’m reading it with my son.
  2. Julie of the Wolves, Meindert DeJong – Anything with wolves, I was in.
  3. The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlins – I read this Pulitzer-Prize winning novel too young, but it made a major impression on me, with the beautifully detailed relationship between the boy and his fawn, and the descriptions of the natural world. Plus [SPOLER!] the deer dies at the end, which killed me.
  4. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington – Okay, this is a weird pick. I discoveredit on a bookshelf in my parents’ house and read it alone at night in bed. I don’t know why I was drawn to it. I think I think it was the vivid descriptions and well- drawn characters. The larger themes of this novel sailed well above my head!
  5. Along Came a Dog by Meindert DeJong – Yep, Meindert was my go-to guy. Loved his books.
  6. The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong – Even read a book about people, just because Meindert wrote it. The illustrations by Maurice Sendak helped, too. What a team, they were.
  7. Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry – Who wouldn’t want to tame a wild pony and get her foal as a bonus?
  8. Big Red, by Jim Kjelgaard – A dog in trouble? I’m there.
  9. Snow Dog, Jim Kjelgaard – I’ve always had a soft spot for Huskies. Must be the wolf-thing.
  10. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell – A horse who suffers nobly and needs saving! Like crack to my kiddie brain.

 

 

Shameless Self-Promotion

Hi All,

Cathy and I have had a busy fall, writing and…drumroll…publishing. Every author knows that digital self-promotion is just part of the process today, like it or not. We don’t especially like it, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

In that spirit, we share our latest triumphs. We love the triumphs, don’t get me wrong. We just feel a tad squirrelly, tooting our own horns. So this time, I’m tooting Cathy’s, and she’s tooting mine.

Please join us in celebrating. It’s always a gift to find your way into print!


 

Cathy’s had a few publishing ups and downs lately. Her first novel, A Hundred Weddings, went out of print when her publisher folded. But she’s had two stories published in the last couple of months, and has another coming out in the spring. Check out “The Hunt” in Appalachian Heritage magazine, and “Dreaming about the Bouviers” in Pithead Chapel’s online journal. Look for “Gently Used” to appear in Wordrunner eChapbook’s April 2020 anthology.

Cathy’s strategy these days: “I use mostly  use Submittable to send in stories (don’t we all?) and currently my list includes: six stories that are “Active,” exactly two that are “Accepted,” and a whopping 50 “Declined.” I also keep a submission folder in my inbox full of emails from publications that don’t use Submittable. Nearly all are rejections, of course. Some people would find this discouraging. I don’t. I always see it like playing the lottery. There’s that initial moment of disappointment when I first find out, and then the shrug, and the self-reminder that it’s all a big crap shoot anyway, and then the self-nudge of ‘Hey, you need to get that piece out again.’ And on it goes. Bottom line: ABS: Always Be Submitting!” 

ABS

–Karen


 

 

 

 

Karen has been up to her eyeballs in her novel rewrite, but she is psyched to have just placed an essay with the Collegeville Institute’s awesome online magazine, Bearings Online.

Karen explains: “I’ve been a follower of the Collegeville Institute for a few years. I love the way they examine spiritual and literary issues, encouraging exploration that unites the two.

Last year, I was brainstorming ideas that I could pitch as essays for their Bearings Online magazine. The work is so eclectic and thoughtful. I love scrolling through. I had an idea about the spiritual implications of feeding wild bird that just seemed to fit.

Everyone who knows me knows I love wild birds. They seem to wing their way into all my work. But when I pushed the concept of feeding them a little deeper, asking why we do it today on such scale, I realized that scattering seed is not a small act, but a large and symbolic one that resonates deeply for the feeder, as well as for the fed.

I queried the Institute with a few essay ideas, and their lovely digital team member author Stina Kielsmeier-Cook liked this one. (It was also my favorite!) But it had to wait, while I finished a novel draft rewrite. After I delivered the rewrite to Cathy a few weeks back, I turned to the birds. The essay flowed naturally from there, with one section leading to the next, and the Bible quotes serving as lovely introductions.

I am thrilled to be published on the Collegeville Institute’s platforms. They do a terrific job sharing their authors’ works, and encouraging participation. And I am in very good (and talented) company. Every time I go to the site, I learn something new and come away just a little bit better for it. You can’t ask more than that.”

–Cathy

Flash of Inspiration

—From Cathy

Keep it short. Cut to the chase. Spit it out. Just the facts, ma’am.

I’ve long been a long-winded writer, and have adhered to exactly none of these suggestions. Until I tried writing flash fiction.

FlashIt started with a workshop run by Kathy Fish (known widely, especially on Twitter, as The Great Kathy Fish), which was a game changer. Her workshops offer one inspiring prompt to write from, every day, for 10 days, and they introduce you to a whole group of writers who give support and encouragement. Pieces can be no more than 1,000 words. Sometimes less. You may have to choose from a list of words to include, or an object or image.

I went into this class utterly baffled by how to write such short pieces, but dove in and  felt my way through. And I’ve gotten a few decent stories from it. And hey, here’s one of them that was just pubbed on Pithead Chapel this month!PC

Have you tried flash? If not, and you’re as puzzled by it as I was, or even if you’re a seasoned pro, here’s one of the best articles I’ve found for how it works:

The Review Review – Flash Fiction: What’s It All About?

Once you’ve chopped and sharpened and shined up those stories, here are some great journals, several of which sponsor flash contests, to submit them to.

Give it a try! And remember, brevity is the sole of wit. And, uh, never use two words when one will do. And…okay, I’ll cut it short. Write well, everyone!

Journals:

Brevity

Every Day Fiction

Flash Fiction Magazine

Flash Fiction Online

Hobart

Jellfyfish Review

Pank

Pithead Chapel

Smokelong Quarterly

Wigleaf

 

A little advice from Nobel laureates

So, there’s a lot of writing advice available today. Just ask Google. We’ve mentioned various books and blogs on Write Despite, from time to time. But you know what they say about advice…

There is good stuff out there, plenty of it. Not all of it will speak to you, of course, and you’ve got to be careful who you listen to. But I came across this in my online travels and figured that candid tips from winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature can only shed light on the intricacies of the difficult process we all undertake when we write fiction. Whether you’re a newbie or the winner of many a hallowed award. Thanks to fine folks at nownovel.com

Enjoy. Take your inspiration where you find it.

Peace,

Karen

The Best Little Conference You Never Heard Of

–From Cathy

Clark House

Clark House

Okay, truth in advertising: My publisher sponsors the Possibilities Publishing Conference, held each year at the lovely historic Clark House in Falls Church, Virginia. So yeah, I’m not unbiased. I attended the kickoff conference last year and was super impressed with the sessions, the media room, the photographer and video offerings, and so much more.

This year I honestly went expecting it not to live up to the previous one. I mean, seriously, I felt like there was no way this little event—focused less on writing itself and more on getting your writing seen and read—could pack such power again.

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Maggy Sterner

I was SO wrong. Starting with the first session, Maggy Sterner, part branding maven, part life coach, part therapist, all business-savvy bulldog, handed participants a shovel (you know, metaphorically) and taught them to dig deep to find out what they and their writing are truly about. They dug, and unearthed what they didn’t even know they had, or needed, to build a distinct brand. There were tears, people. I mean it was that powerful and that effective.

Lindsay

Lindsay Barry

Do you know the difference between an Instagram post, story, or highlight? Do you know how to best use Pinterest to promote your book—how to get the most from Facebook and Twitter, and how LinkedIn fits into it all? Children’s book author Lindsay Barry knows, and she has nearly 25,000 Instagram followers to prove it. Now Poss Pub’s biggest-selling author, Lindsay led attendees on an edge-of-their seats journey into all things social media. And man does she know how to sell. Her session ran long. Because questions. So many. And discussions, and aha moments, and all of it in breathless huffs because people were so fired up about this topic they couldn’t get enough. It could have gone on for days.

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Katie Riess

“The Truth Behind the Media” offered another deep dive into an author’s work and how it can be promoted through television, magazines, newspapers, and radio. Media booker Katie Riess took participants into the minds of journalists who can either choose to spotlight a writer’s work or not give it a second glance. What an author is thinking vs. what a media person is thinking are worlds apart, and she was able to map out the differences to help attendees pinpoint best practices for pitching their stories.

Laura

Laura Di Franco

And more besides, including author Laura Di Franco, who led an inspiring workshop on building your author platform through blogging, and writer and publisher Keith Shovlin, who helped attendees learn to share their work with the world through podcasting.

Keith

Keith Shovlin

The “Author Marketing Mastermind” session gave authors the chance to brainstorm marketing ideas with several of the above experts in a lively, yet intimate group setting. Participants received one-on-one attention and support to meet their goals, and were even provided with a second video meeting a month later to check in on their progress and receive additional feedback.

Between sessions, authors were encouraged to take selfies of themselves and their books in the Instagram Inspiration Room, which offered a lightbox and an abundance of props and decorations. And new this year was a podcast offering, where authors were interviewed about themselves and their work and walked away with professional podcasts for their own use.

Oh, and here are a couple of new resources I learned about while I was there. And you’re very welcome:

HARO, a.k.a., Help a Reporter Out, is a massive database that connects journalists with media sources and helps them pitch their stories.

Autocrit is an editing tool that helps you fine-tune your manuscript by analyzing your words and pointing out flaws, like poor dialogue, use of adverbs, repetitive words and phrases, and clichés. At only $10 for one month’s use, I can’t wait to try this one out.

At the day’s end, I heard so many people commenting on how much they’d gotten from this event, and every one of them said something to the effect of :

“You have GOT to tell more people about this.”

So—you’ve been told. Mark it down for next year (likely in early May), and tell your fellow writers. You won’t be disappointed!

Staying in the Scene

Hey Friends,

Something I’m keeping in mind as I work on a rewrite that’s taking my novel to a new place. Very exciting!

 

“Let your scenes play out. Don’t cheat your readers by trying to wrap up every scene too quickly. Events in real life don’t often end neatly; chances are neither will events in your story. Instead, let the falling action of each scene sow the seeds of the following scene’s rising action. Propel your audience through to the next plot point—make them want to keep reading.”

 

–Karen

Takeaways from a Writer’s Conference

—From Cathy

I attended the one-day Conversations & Connections writer’s conference again this year, hosted by Barrelhouse Magazine, and wrote up all the best advice and lessons learned—just for you guys. Enjoy!

C&C

First Panel: “What you Show: How to Choose What and When”

Speaker: Fiction Writer Stephanie King

Characterization is what you show in a character, plus context, plus situation. Ask yourself, what is your character’s biggest fear? What is he/she struggling to do? What will she/he learn in the process? What your characters do now shows what they’ve done in the past.meme

Consider “The Gift of the Magi”—O. Henry doesn’t go into the characters’ past. But there are select scenes that show who they are instead. Or “Hills Like White Elephants,” which is almost all dialogue. Jig wants the man she’s with (we’re never given his name) to love her again. Her insecurities, her neediness is evident through their conversations. She relies on him for nearly everything. We don’t even know what she looks like, but her character is clearly seen in the way she watches him look at the hills. Use subtle clues like this to show who your characters really are.

Create a logline for your story–that one-line “hook” that makes readers take notice. Tape it in front of you and refer back to it as you create.

lecter2Think of some of the most memorable movie characters that really had an impact. Hannibal Lecter was only on screen 15 minutes. Alien only four minutes!

Checklist for revealing your characters:

  • Character sketch
  • The slice of life you choose to show
  • How they express themselves
  • Context—how all this fits into their life

Second Panel: Invite, Beg, Snare, Broadcast, Brag: How to Open Short Stories

Speaker: Author Tommy Dean

Ask yourself what will entice the reader. Character, setting, and conflict create a concrete understanding for the reader and keep the story from settling into a vignette (a story without resolution or a sense of meaning—it can have character and conflict, but nothing is at stake for the writer or reader).

snoopyA good opening starts off with a sense of what’s at stake: The character has something to gain or to lose.

Introduce mystery, tension right from the start.

Become subservient to your story. Immerse yourself in this world and give us all the sensory details of it.

I found this session, and the prompts we were given, to be extremely helpful and interesting. And I feel like I’ve moved a step forward with the piece I’m working on.

Prompt #1: Write a general, bland sentence.

Now make it better with specific details:

Then add something off-kilter, unexpected:

Prompt #2: Push into your sense of irony.

Create dread, tension, or hope with targeted word choices. Why are these characters in this place at this point in their lives?

Prompt #3: Think about what your character didn’t do.

Continue with concrete nouns/verbs and something off-kilter. Build through this until the character does something meaningful that moves the story forward.

Prompt #4: Set up the front and back story.

Or set up duel conflicts—two characters sharing an unexpected event. Think of a word or words that might pass between them. Maybe something heavy from the past, or something about a particular item. Words should connect them in surprising ways—make them come together and then bounce away.

Prompt #5: Subvert the setting.

Think of a place you love. Write about it from the point of view of someone who hates that place. Consider the paradigm of character, setting, and conflict.

Publishing: Editor’s Panel

Moderator: Marisa Siegal, Editor in Chief of Rumpus; Panelists: Venus Thrash, co-editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly; Jessica Fischoff, managing editor/owner of PANK Magazine; Chris Gonzalez, Fiction Editor of Barrelhouse; Monica Prince, Managing Editor, Santa Fe Writers Project

Siegal: How do you sustain writing while editing (or any other job)?

“Keep a journal and pen in every bag and desk and drawer. Write on cocktail napkins. Don’t ignore ideas when they show up.”

Prince: I’m required to write to keep my college professor job. I learned to write in the mornings, which changed everything. Never ignore an opportunity to write. Keep a journal and pen in every bag and desk and drawer. Write on cocktail napkins. Don’t ignore ideas when they show up. Write every day. It doesn’t have to be good. Write a grocery list! And drink lots of tea.

Fischoff: I’m still trying to find that balance. I’ve realized I can’t obsess over every piece. When it’s done, it’s done, and I move on.

Gonzales: I can often revise writing when it’s a low day at work. My job is sort of paying me to do this. If I had to go home and write, that would be too hard. I joined a writing group to keep me accountable. It’s been helpful. I’ve forgiven myself for not writing every day, so when I do, I’m less stressed. It happens when it happens.

Venus: I struggled with this and went into a writer’s slump. I teach, so my writing slows down during the semesters, gears up again in the summer when I’m off.

Siegal: Should writers follow market trends?

Gonzalez: Be aware of them, but write what you want and let it be what it will be. Is there a home for everything? No. But there is for most things.

Fischoff: Someone dying, opening grandma’s closet and finding something surprising—there’s far too much of that. Read a journal’s most recent issues to see what’s been done already. Surprise us.

Siegal: Do you have a way to separate editing and writing?

Fischoff: I tell myself, for the next hour, I will WRITE, not EDIT. I tell the editor in me to shut up.

Prince: Accept incoherence. Go on a rant. Write in the margins. You will need to revise, undoubtedly, but keep going.

Bonus Sessiongif

I also attended the “Speed Dating with Editors” event, where you can share and discuss a short piece of your work with an editor for 10 minutes. I met with two literary magazine editors, both of whom had some wonderful insights into the writing I showed them. They speed-read a four-page piece and disagreed on several things I should correct. But the one thing they both advised me to do was slow down and insert myself more fully into the scene—let us see, hear, smell what the character is experiencing. And you know, that’s the really fun part of writing, isn’t it? Why is it always so easily overlooked?

Oh, and the best line overheard of the day?

“You have to listen to writing advice, but you don’t have to take it.”

(Which means, of course, you can ignore all of the above.)

The care and feeding of secondary characters

Where would Gatsby without Daisy? Or Scarlett without Melanie? How could Harry have managed without Ron and Hermione? What if Hamlet had taken Polonius’ good advice?

Secondary characters.  There’s no story without them, but I think too many of us don’t give them the limelight they deserve.

I’m thinking a lot about my supporting cast these days as I work on my novel rewrite. Lucky for me, Amy Sue Nathan devoted a post to the topic during her Thirty Days of Writing Advice series in April.

Amy’s got the month-long series archived, so check it out.

I’m calling out Amy’s terrific advice on how to treat secondary characters, and why it matters. That’s how much I like it.

From Amy:

TWO TIPS FOR SECONDARY CHARACTERS

Your secondary characters need love too, and they need to be as carefully created as your main character — just don’t tell her.

My two biggest tips for creating engaging secondary characters are:

Each secondary character must have her own arc.

To me, this means, a little story of their own going on — a subplot if you will, a storyline. Each must have her own beginning, middle, end. That character doesn’t know she’s in someone else’s story!! But…

Each secondary character must to serve the main character’s story. 

EVERYTHING in your novel helps to drive the main story forward, even a secondary character’s personal storyline. Ask yourself HOW it does this to make sure, but more importantly ask yourself WHY.

This is something hard to do but easy to check. Go back through your manuscript or outline and focus on your main secondary characters (not the townspeople, as I call them). Note what she’s doing in a scene — why is she there? How is her own story being furthered? How is it impacting the protagonist and the main storyline?

 

 

 

 

 

 

–Karen

30 days of writing advice

We love author Amy Sue Nathan at womensfictionwriters.com

Amy is funny and real and full of good advice.

This month, you can take daily advantage of Amy’s insights, as she embarks on:

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Cathy and I will both be checking in daily with Amy. Join us? At the end, we can share what we found most helpful.

Cheers,

–Karen

 

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