10 Great Books on Writing

10 Great Books on Writing

It’s Writescape’s 10th anniversary and we have lots of excitement planned for writers in 2018. This installment of 10 on the 10th is the latest in the series of monthly writing tips, advice and inspiration. Think of it as Gwynn and Ruth sitting on your shoulder and nudging you along. Share with your writing colleagues and encourage them to sign up for more.

The best advice for writers is to read, and read widely. Dip your toes into styles and genres you don’t normally read and take note of how those writers crafted their work.

But you also need to read books about writing. Writing is a solitary act but it doesn’t have to be an isolated journey. Books that explore the craft and practical considerations of writing are great companions along the writer’s path. This is a list of 10 of the books that helped us at various stages of our writing expeditions.Obviously it is not an exhaustive list, just a toe-dipping exploration.

Writing Down the Bones Natalie Goldberg. Gwynn’s first “writing book”, she’s reread it many times, as well as Goldberg’s other books in a similar vein Wild Mind and The True Secret of Writing. Writing Down the Bones helped Gwynn get her head around being a writer and trusting her muse. Nathalie’s Writing Practice method (like freefall) showed Gwynn how to go deep into her subconscious to find the good stuff.

A Passion for Narrative Jack Hodgins. It’s been around since 1991. And, sure, it’s meant for developing writers. But Ruth won’t ever let it go because it is the book that moved her from writer to WRITER. To quote her: It was like having him on my shoulder, nudging me along as I learned more deeply about the craft with every page I turned.

Bird by Bird Anne Lamott helped Gwynn hone her attitude to writing and gain the confidence she needed to really start getting words on paper. Personal anecdotes give advice on everything from writer’s block to finding your voice and the value of writing “shitty first drafts”.

On Writing Stephen King  Ruth loved this one so much she got the basic book, the CD for listening and the large-print version in case her eyes give out. More than a how-to from a master of storytelling and horror of all levels, this book is a fine companion for any writer who loses their way.

 

Plot versus Character Jeff Gerke. Gwynn writes from setting, then characters, and then tries to fit it all into a plot. This book recognizes both the pantster and plotter and leads them each through processes to a well-balanced novel: memorable characters and a good plot.

The Emotional Craft of Fiction Donald Maass. After taking a workshop with agent and bestselling author, Donald Maas, Ruth was compelled to get his latest book. And it’s a doozy with examples and exercises to sharpen your emotional intelligence as a writer, dig deeper in your scenes and keep readers reading.

The Writer’s Journey Christopher Vogler is Gwynn’s go-to book on story structure. Evolved around the Hero’s journey concept, Vogler adds in what works in story that has come out of myths, fairy tales and movies.

An Introduction to Poetry  X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia, ed. — this is one of Ruth’s go-to’s whenever she’s feeling stuck with a poem. It’s a basic college-level textbook but one that’s filled with poems and the thoughts of poets on poetry and life. These are voices of a rich cultural diversity, from ancient times to modernity, all trying to figure out the world and our place in it.

Fruitflesh Gayle Brandeis. While Gwynn also turns repeatedly to An Introduction to Poetry, she also finds this book of stories, meditations and writing exercises a constant inspiration when writing poetry. Brandeis seems to have the power to inspire, challenge and free the sensual.

The Angela Ackerman/Becca Puglisi series (Negative/Positive Trait Thesaurus, etc.) Ruth has the Negative Trait Thesaurus and Gwynn has the Positive Trait Thesaurus (we share) but we’ve spoken with enough writers to know that each book Ackerman and Puglisi puts out has become a practical resource that goes beyond suggesting appropriate body language or emotional responses. Also great for those moments when you’re stuck and need to surprise yourself with your character’s good or bad behaviour.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t make note of our own writing resource book, Inspiration Station. Published in 2010 with Piquant Press it was packed full of prompts and ideas to keep writers’ pens moving. Our first non-fiction publication proved to be a popular handbook as one way to keep the retreat feeling alive long after writers packed up and headed home. It’s been through two printings and is presently sold out, but Inspiration Station has gone back to the revision table and you can look for a new edition and format next year.

Pinterest for Fiction Writers Part 2

Pinterest for Fiction Writers Part 2

Gwynn Scheltema

In Pinterest for Fiction Writers Part 1 we explored how Pinterest can help you as a writer while you are writing. But of course, there is the other side to writing: selling the book! Pinterest can help there too. (Note: If you are not sure what terminology like “boards” and “re-pinning” mean, please read Part 1 first.)

Why consider Pinterest for sales?

According to Omnicore Agency’s January 2018 report:

  • Monthly active Pinterest users numbered 175 million (75 million in the USA.)
  • 93% are women
  • 2 million shopping pins are saved daily
  • Millennials use Pinterest as much as Instagram
  • Pinterest drives more referral traffic to websites than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined.
  • Nearly 85% of Pinterest searches happen on mobile devices

One of the reasons I prefer Pinterest is that what you post is always there, easily found and well-organized. You don’t spend time creating a post that disappears into a long news-feed and may never be seen, like on Facebook and Twitter.

Two kinds of Pinterest accounts

Pinterest offers registration as either a personal user or a business user. Both are free.

A personal account allows you to create boards and pin to them. You can also pin from other people’s boards and send to other people’s boards, social media accounts, and email.

If you have a business account, you can additionally:

  • place links on your website to take people to your page on Pinterest
  • get visitor analytics and what they’re looking at the most
  • use rich pins to let users do special stuff with the content on your website or Pinterest page, and add prices to your images.
The right Pinterest mindset

Pinterest is not a point of sale. It drives people to click through to your website or to Amazon or wherever your point of sale is. It’s great for building an author presence, (see how below) but never lose sight of the fact that your end goal is sales!

But, and it’s a BIG BUT, like all other social media platforms, avoid incessant self-promotion. The immediate goal is for vistors to pin and then to click through.

Pinterest is a quieter, more subtle platform where sales are made indirectly by building trust, loyalty and engagement. On Pinterest you express yourself through images. So if you want to showcase a review of your book you’ll have to make a visual for it.

Also remember that most pins are re-pins, so if you provide original content, pinners will happily spread it for you. Just give them a good visual with a few, repeat few, words that hook them and you’re on your way.

Become a Business Author

I’m a personal pinner and I have over 60 boards covering all my hobbies, dreams, and plans. Some are general: gardening; art; books I recommend. But there are also more personal boards: my daughter’s wedding; things I want to do with the grandkids; travel plans and of course, unpublished book boards.

When selling your book, you don’t want your efforts buried in clutter and you want to be accessible but stay professional.  The best way is to register as a separate author persona with a business account.  Use your name, and simple add “author”: Jane Doe, author. And just like Twitter and Facebook, a decent head shot and succinct profile that sells you and your products is a must. Notice in the author page below that Rachel Thompson has 6,000 followers and 22,100 monthly viewers. Wow!

What boards could I create?

You can still have multiple boards, but keep them associated with the book or you as an author. In a business account, Pinterest allows you to have “featured boards” and “latest pins” that show up when you first go to the Pinterest page.

Remember sales is the goal, so make sure to put links to your sales page/s whenever you can. You can put them in your profile, in the description portion of your images, and add the URL to images you create.

Here are a selection of boards to consider:

Boards about the book
  • The book/s.

Create a separate board for each book you want to sell. Pin pictures of the cover, back page blurb, reviews, and enticements to read excerpts. Link all the images to your sales page and where appropriate put prices on your images. In the image below, notice that Carla Laureano has 8 separate book boards. (She also has her website URL prominently displayed and a URL to a free book in her profile)

  • Behind the book/s

Glimpses into the book in the making: pictures or quotes that inspired your characters, settings etc. (all poached from your initial vision board.) Cover choices that didn’t make the cut. Characters and/or excerpts that didn’t make the book. Story boards, notes.

  • Special offers

Freebies, contests. New book ideas: Invite people to post pictures of what the villain could look like, or what kind of car the protagonist might drive. Give a free book to the winner when the book is done. In the board below, 75 authors collaborate on this board to offer giveaways. The board appears like this on each of their pages.

Boards about the author
  • About the author

You can get personal here or stay all business; it’s up to you. You can cover how you got started writing, your mentors, your writing resume, your future plans, your passions, causes you support, hobbies and views on life.

  • Events

Reading and signing events (use your photos and posters as the visual); conferences, guest posts, speaking engagements, workshops you’re giving; TV, print or radio interviews. Again add links in the description portion of the pin.

  • Fan club

More photos of happy fans holding your book; book club group shots; quotes from fans or fan letters. Tag people using the @ sign in your pin descriptions (tagging in Pinterest works similarly to Facebook.) Plus, other people can pin things to your page (if you allow them to become “contributors” to a particular board), which encourages more sharing and interaction.

  • Behind the scenes

Pictures of you writing, your cork board of favourite inspirational quotes etc,  your waste basket of discarded scenes, the view from your window, your cat lying on your keyboard. Let your public see you as the person behind the book.

Boards that support the content of your book/s
  • Topic boards

If your book features a mental health issue, have a board about that mental health issue; if your books are Georgian romance, boards of all things 18th century would be of interest to your readers.

  • Books you recommend

Can be in your genre only, or anything you recommend. Alternatively, have a board about “reading now” or “my to-be-read list.”

  • Related activities

If you have written a kids book, have companion boards for teachers or parents or libraries.

  • Any other book-related topics

Libraries you love. Book stores you recommend. Books you loved as a child. Quotes from writers ……..

And there’s more

Once you’ve created your Pinterest author account, don’t forget to grow your audience by adding a Pinterest Follow button on your website so people can follow your Pinterest account from your website.

You’ll also need to brush up on some of the technical stuff, all of which could warrant a separate blog post, but there’s plenty of help out there. Here are a few links to get you started.

Of course you can search on Pinterest yourself! Here are three pins I found in a search “selling books”.

Pinterest for Fiction Writers Part 1

Pinterest for Fiction Writers Part 1

Gwynn Scheltema

My favourite procrastination tool is Pinterest, but unlike my next favourite procrastination tool, Solitaire, it actually serves many useful purposes for a writer.

What is Pinterest?

Think of Pinterest as an infinite digital corkboard. On your “corkboard”, you have visual topic collection files called BOARDS for your PINS. Pins are visual web links that take you to the source of the information you are pinning (magazine article, blog, website, youtube video etc.). If you pin someone else’s pin (greatly encouraged) you are RE-PINNING. A person who has a Pinterest account (it’s free) with a collection of boards is called a PINNER.

Pins don’t have to be only informational text.. You can pin pictures, infographics, videos, photos and all kinds of ideas and inspiration. You can make your board public or secret. You can be social or not as you choose. (I choose not.)

Best of all, you can search by topic and define whether you are looking for a pin, a board, or a person. For example, I can search for all pins on “plot”, or all boards on “writing tips” or all people for “mystery author”.

If you download a “pin button” to your browser search toolbar, you can pin from anywhere you go on the internet including your own photos if they are in the cloud.

Novel vision boards

When beginning a novel, I create a board with my novel’s working title and pin images of possible characters, buildings, period dress, geographic details like birds or plants or places. Later I can add research links, newspaper cuttings, quotes, cover ideas, relevant books to read or anything else that might inspire or inform me.

I can even create sections within my board. For my mystery novel “Pyes and Ivy” I have sections for my characters, my town “Riverton” and the B&B where the action takes place “Ivy Lodge”.I find having the visual helps me keep things consistent.

Novel development boards

Of course, not every aspect of your novel has to be on one board. (You are allowed up to 500 boards and 200,000 pins). So let’s say you are working on your villain. You can create a board just for him/her. Get writing tips on writing villains. Get quotes from or about villains. Get ideas for names, motivations, and personality traits.

Rinse and repeat with other characters or setting or events…..

The craft

And when you have characters, you need an arc for them and a story arc too. Pinterest gives you access to loads of free printable worksheets for every aspect of planning your novel. Ditto for articles on “how to…” and “tips on …”

 

Looking for another way to describe hair colour? Words to use instead of “amazing”. Pinterest has pins for that. Also pins for commonly misused words, when to use what kind of hyphen, and avoiding clichés—including cliché characters.

 

 

Motivation

I have a board called “Words to write by”. It’s full of inspirational and kick-in-the-pants quotes. A quick visit there when I’m feeling like my writing is crap or I’m getting nowhere usually gets me going again. And let’s not forget the hundreds of writing prompts—visual and text; story starters and what ifs.

If you like to be social, you can follow other pinners, join group boards or comment on pins. There are even hilarious “Pinterest Fail” pins.

 

Making money.

Once you have a book to sell there are great ways to sell it on Pinterest. It’s the up and coming social media market place. But that’s a whole other blog. Stay tuned for Pinterest for Fiction Writers Part 2.

 

 

 

If You Read It, They Will Listen

If You Read It, They Will Listen

Ruth E. Walker

A recent invitation to read my work at Tall Pine Tales in Haliburton set me off on a complicated journey. Tall Pine Tales is a collaborative reading series shared by writer organizations in two of Ontario’s cottage communities: Haliburton and Muskoka. Running successfully for the past 5 summers, there are expectations from the audience for this 6th season: plenty of laughter and smiles, along with thoughtful nudges about life’s twists and turns.

For me, an invite to a public reading is an ego-boost (especially useful when my muse opts to dance just out of reach.) It’s an opportunity to share my work with an audience, to feel my words slip among listeners and tempt their interest.

But when I looked at the writing I had on hand, I panicked a bit. I have a rather dark and serious muse, so this was a real challenge. Then I remembered The Perfect Beauty of Yvon Torville, an in-progress manuscript that I plan to return to in 2019.

Choose the right piece
  • think first; read later
    • there’s a big difference between reading your work to a group of colleague writers and reading aloud to an audience that is mostly readers. You need to consider the purpose of the event, the location and the likely audience:
      • indoors or outdoors
      • a library auditorium or a noisy local pub
      • elementary or high school students or adult audience
      • consider the people and the place, then choose: humour, pathos or high-tension drama?
  • pay attention to the tone of the organizers/event
    • I knew that Tall Pine Tales is a charming mix of memoir, humour, children’s authors and local content, so I chose accordingly: Yvon Torville is a revisionist take on an old Breton fairy tale with irony and magic at its heart
Get comfortable
  • practise
    • the more your practise, the more familiar you are with your own work. During readings, you need audience connection…and that means not keeping your eyes fixed firmly on your words. Look up as you read and move your attention throughout the room: help your listeners feel that you are reading to them and not to the podium.
    • the more familiar your are with your reading, the more easily you can govern your pacing. No matter how many times I’ve read publicly, I’m still a bundle of nerves. I channel that nervous energy into my readings and work hard at not rushing through, slowing down and giving emphasis to parts that need it (a lot of character names or unusual settings or a fast-paced scene.)
    • video or record your practice readings to help you hear your intonation, pauses and occasional stumbles. If you don’t want to record yourself, at the least listen carefully as you practise again and again to ensure a smooth and confident delivery
  • reconaissance/research
    • if you aren’t familiar with the location, do what you can to get familiar. Many out-of-town locations can be viewed online (check out the website for the reading event and a list of past readers)
    • ask the organizers: will there be a podium? Does it have a reading light? Is there a microphone? And here’s a really important question: How long do I have to read? (see “Deliver” for more on this one.)
Deliver
  • listen to the other readers
    • not only is it respectful to give your colleagues your full attention, it helps you to gauge the audience. And that helps to prepare you to deliver your work. Even if the audience is not overly receptive, you’ll know you’ll have to step up your game to get their attention.
  • engage your audience
    • if you have practised then you will read clearly and with some variety in your tone and you will be able to at least glance up in their direction. That’s all part of engagement.
  • stick to the time limit.
    • I have been in the audience when readers have gone over their time limit and it’s disrespectful to the organizers, to your colleague writers who keep to their time limit and most especially, to the listeners. No matter how “rivetting” your piece is, don’t do it.
    • At Tall Pine Tales, I cut my reading off at the requested 7-minute mark and then got to hear more than one person call out “No! What happens next?” I won’t have trouble selling them that book, will I?

Accept criticism

  • take stock of success and what still needs work
    • if possible, have someone in the audience you can quietly ask about what worked and what didn’t. At Tall Pine Tales I asked my husband, “So, what do I need to do better next time?” “Nothing,” he replied. But I’m not fooled by that. “C’mon, give it to me.” He let me know that the reading was great but “…next time, give a bit more time to the set up before you read. Tell them a bit about the original fairy tale first.” Bingo. He was right. It was a good reading but would have been even better if they knew why I am compelled to revise this old tale.
    • I like to read my work aloud to an audience, and I’m pretty good at it. But even so, it’s a never-ending journey to refine and improve each time. If I’m lucky, the invitations will continue to arrive and give my muse a kick in the pants just when I need it the most.

      Ruth reads from “Living Underground” in 2012

 

 

Out of the box poetry

Out of the box poetry

Gwynn Scheltema

One way I free up my creative mind is to box it in. Sound contradictory? It is, but it works. Forcing my brain into constraints forces it to find new ways out, to connect things that are not normally connected and to reach for ways to use available concepts or images or ideas that aren’t the easy default but something deeper.

Using constraints is not a new concept, and it applies to all creativity, not just writing. Composer Igor Stravinsky described it this way: “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit… the arbitrariness of the constraint only serves to obtain precision of execution.”

Here are some constraints that I use to start poems. Notice, I say “to start”. Some of these tactics may produce a finished poem, but more often they simple set my mind in a new direction. After that I ignore the constraint and let the new idea lead me where it may.

Anaphora

Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, or lines to create a sonic effect. When the initial writing is done, you can remove the phrase and just work with the images and thoughts you’ve generated.

I find it good to pick a focus, like a place, time, person or experience and use phrases like “On Saturdays…” or “My Aunt Emily…” In London…” etc., as well as general introductions like “I remember…” or “I don’t remember”, I believe…”, “I want…” or “If I could…”

Joe Brainard wrote a book length poem about his life in the 1950s called I Remember. Here is an excerpt:

I remember a piece of old wood with termites running around all over it the termite men found under our front porch.

I remember when one year in Tulsa by some freak of nature we were invaded by millions of grasshoppers for about three or four days. I remember, downtown, whole sidewalk areas of solid grasshoppers.

I remember a shoe store with a big brown x-ray machine that showed up the bones in your feet bright green.

Lipogram

A lipogram is writing that excludes one or more letters. Here is a short poem by Daniel J Webster that excludes the most used letter in the English alphabet: “e”.

Most common of all marks from A to Z,
It’s tyrant to orthography, and smug
That not a thing of worth is said without
Our using it. . . .

Univocalism

A poem using only one vowel. Canadian poet Christian Bok is famous for his collection Eunoia, a collection of five univocal prose poems (which run into many pages each), one for each vowel.

Here is an excerpt from “A”

Hassan Abd al-Hassad, an Agha Khan, basks at an ashram – a Taj Mahal that has grand parks and grass lawns, all as vast as parklands at Alhambra and Valhalla. Hassan can, at a handclap, call a vassal at hand and ask that all staff plan a bacchanal – a gala ball that has what pagan charm small galas lack. Hassan claps, and (tah-dah) an Arab lass at a swank spa can draw a man’s bath and wash a man’s back, as Arab lads fawn and hang, athwart an altar, amaranth garlands as fragrant as attar – a balm that calms all angst. A dwarf can flap a palm branch that fans a fat maharajah. A naphtha lamp can cast a calm warmth.

Opposites

Take a poem you find interesting (your own or someone else’s) and write a line opposite in meaning to each line in the poem. For a bigger stretch, keep to the same form and/or rhyme scheme.

Excerpt from PETALS
by Amy Lowell

Life is a stream
On which we strew
Petal by petal the flower of our heart;
The end lost in dream,
They float past our view,
We only watch their glad, early start.

STONES
by Gwynn Scheltema

Death is earth
On which we pile
Stone by stone the cairn of our mind;
The beginning found in birth
We build up all the while,
Only to miss their sad, final end.

Imitation

Imitate a poem, even incorporating phrases from the original poem. If you use this only as an opening up exercise to find your own thoughts, make sure you eliminate the original poet’s words in your poem. If you keep any of them make sure to acknowledge the original poet.

Excerpt from “PATTERNS” by Amy Lowell

I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.

Imitation exercise:

PATTERNS REPEATED
After Amy Lowell

I walk down the garden-paths,
And all the peonies
Are full and showy, like happy children
I walk down the patterned garden-paths
In my husband’s shadow
With painted smile and high bred manner
I too am a rare
Pattern.  As I wander down
The garden-paths.

 Riffing off a concept

Wallace Stevens wrote a poem called “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” in which each stanza is a mini-poem, but all of them refer to a blackbird in some way, to unite the whole. This is a great way to start writing a poem. Think of 13 (or 14 or 16 ) ways of looking at anything: sunsets; lovers; baking apple pie; train journeys…..

 

First and Last

Here, take two lines at random from any text. Make it truly random by getting someone else to pick them. One line becomes the first and one the last line of your poem. When you’re done, remove the borrowed lines.

Poet John Hewitt recommends this tactic because “…it gives you something to start from. If you know what your last line has to be, you start to think of ways that you can get there. If you know that you have to write a poem about the constellation Orion, you go out and stare at the stars. You are no longer dealing with a blank page. You know that at least one of those words is going to be “Orion”. That’s a place you can start from.”

And one more thing

It is important to realize a constraint is a tool. It helps bring focus to a poem. You won’t always want restraints, but when you are stuck, a constraint is a good way to get the words flowing again.

Last word

Gilbert Sorrentino, poet, novelist, critic and professor says “Generative Devices are consciously selected, preconceived structures, forms, limitations, constraints, developed by the writer before the act of writing. The writing is then made according to the “laws” set in place by the chosen constraint. Paradoxically, these constraints permit the writer a remarkable freedom. They also serve to destroy the much-cherished myth of “inspiration,” and its idiot brother, “writer’s block.”

 

 

 

Weddings and Writers

Weddings and Writers

Ruth E. Walker

Later this week, I’ll watch my youngest child get married to his beautiful bride. I’ll likely cry a bit — happy tears. And I’ll be relieved that my son is the last one of our children to choose a life partner. That’s it for now, until the grandchildren start the cycle all over again.

Many mothers of the groom will tell you our role has challenges: Will the rehearsal dinner menu be a nice complement to the wedding themes or a mish-mash of wrong choices? Will my dress be appropriate and not clash with the mother of the bride’s chosen colour and style? Will I remember all the names of the large wedding party, their partners and great-aunt whoozits from out West?

For a writer, there are even greater challenges that come with this territory. For example, my husband and I have written speeches together for all the other kids’ weddings. While we rarely write anything together, this one task seems to go quite well. Over four decades of marriage helps with that one. So, no, that’s a challenge but it’s one we manage to pull off. It helps that we love all our kids’ partner choices.

No, this is a different kind of challenge for me. It’s the mother and son song that is making me run around in a conflicted tizzy. I do love to dance. I’m not very good at it and likely show up in a few party videos as the one who doesn’t quite get the beat or the moves but looks happy while she’s messing it up. No. It’s not the dance itself — it’s the song choice that’s so difficult.

Lots to choose from

If you Google “mother and son wedding songs” you’ll get over 8 million hits. And links to hundreds of sites that list the “top” mother and son dances, from country to rock to contemporary to traditional and variations thereof. YouTube is a treasure trove of music videos for this one important dance. One bride website lists 40 Best Mother-Son Dance Songs. So, with so much to choose from, how can this be a problem?

I’m a complete sucker for the sentimental yet charming film, Love, Actually. I tear up at the great airport love-in montage at the end as the Beach Boys sing their hit, “God Only Knows.”

A song about love — all kinds of love. So logical choice, right?

Not the melody; it’s the lyrics

Let’s get real people. I’m a writer. So while I may love the overall sentiment of a song and enjoy a beautiful melody, the words matter. Let’s consider “God Only Knows” — great lines likes God only knows what I’d be without you — so true. Most of the grey hairs on my head can be traced back to life with children, the youngest perhaps accounting for more than all the others put together. But the opening line on that Beach Boys song stopped me cold: I may not always love you.. Nope. Not that song. Because I will always love him.

Surely, with 39 other songs, I will find the perfect song.

“Forever Young” sung by Rod Stewart. Are you going to drop the bomb or not? Bomb? I don’t think so.

“Because You Loved Me” sung by Celine Dion. I’ll be forever thankful baby/You’re the one who held me up/Never let me fall…  Just who are the lyrics meant for — mother or son?

“I Say a Little Prayer” sung by Aretha Franklin. While combing my hair now/And wondering what dress to wear now/I say a little prayer for you… 

As much as I love my son, I don’t stand before the mirror every day and think of him.  Obsessive mama, I’m not.

Who picks these songs, anyway?

Oh the songs I’ve listened to. Some are so sickly sentimental, I need a glass of water to dilute the sugar. Some stretch the boundaries of rhyme and rhythm to excruciating levels. And some make no sense at all. And speaking of “combing my hair and choosing my dress,” exactly what lyrically challenged person thought “Wonderful Tonight” sung by Eric Clapton is an ideal mother-son wedding dance song? How about that last stanza:

It’s time to go home now and I’ve got an aching head
So I give her the car keys and she helps me to bed
And then I tell her, as I turn out the light
I say, “My darling, you were wonderful tonight
Oh my darling, you were wonderful tonight

Good grief. My son’s bride won’t have to worry that Mommy is driving him home after the reception, putting him to bed while he calls me “My darling.” Nope. Not this mama.

So you see my challenge? I can’t tune out the words because they matter. Words mean something. Right now, I’m waffling between two different songs, the sentimental but lyrically true song, The Man You Have Become sung by Molly Pasutti and the sweetly upbeat 93 Million Miles sung by Jason Mraz.

Of course, my son may have some ideas on the song choice. In fact, he’s written a few lovely songs himself. But remember those grey hairs? It will likely be just before the reception before he manages to tell me what those ideas might be. Ah well. I will always love him no matter what song we dance to.

Which brings me to a song I hope we will dance to: “Love is All You Need” by The Beatles. Because, if I had one thing to tell him, it’s this: Love is all you need. Love for yourself. Love for your family. Love for the world and its inhabitants. Remember love my son, especially at times when it is the furthest thing from your mind. It will bring you back to what really matters.

 

10 Ways to End a Story

10 Ways to End a Story

It’s Writescape’s 10th anniversary and we have lots of excitement planned for writers in 2018. This installment of 10 on the 10th is the latest in the series of monthly writing tips, advice and inspiration. Think of it as Gwynn and Ruth sitting on your shoulder and nudging you along. Share with your writing colleagues and encourage them to sign up for more.

Last month, we looked at 10 Ways to Start a Story. Let’s flip that around and consider 10 ways to bring it all to a close. For many writers, the ending is as much a challenge as getting those first few words when they begin. And for some writers, it’s even a greater challenge.

But make no mistake. Just as how you start a story is vital, how you finish is equally important. Getting to “The End” can’t disappoint or frustrate your reader — whether you wrap it all in a nice neat bow or leave the reader in contemplation, your ending should work with the whole story. Consider these 10 approaches to see how each one affects the end of any story. We’ve given examples and have done our best to avoid spoilers.

1. Back to the Beginning (Circle or Frame) Mary Shelley’s gothic horror novel, Frankenstein, begins as Dr. Frankenstein is rescued in the Arctic Sea by an obsessed ship captain. The driven doctor recognizes the captain’s obsession, so he shares his story of creating the Frankenstein Monster to warn him how he came to be there, chasing his monsterous creation to the North Pole. An equally creepy modern title to check out for this approach is Fight Club.

2. Implied Ending (Walk into the sunset) Many western genre stories end with the protagonist and companion “riding off into the sunset” and presumably to live and face another day, side by side. This kind of can be a fine example of show, don’t tell. An implied ending can be ambiguous. For example, Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers offers readers the sound of water in a bathtub to set a kind of closing mood that could be “sorrow or gladness”. Our narrator chooses to think he and his brother are likely safe; the reader is not so certain.

3. Sequel (We’re baaaaack) Oh, there are so many sequels out there — trilogies, series, cross-pollination (think the Marvel Universe), prequels and so on. The good news is that writers who have long, complicated stories (The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games) can separate them into connected standalone novels. Remember, however, standalone is key. The end of each of The Lord of the Rings trilogy had to satisfy its readers, while at the same time enticing them to read the next book.

4. Open-ended (Choose your own ending) with Frank R. Stockton’s 1882 story The Lady, or the Tiger, readers must decide at the end what choice the princess makes; will she choose to let her lover be devoured by a tiger or let him live in arms of another woman. It’s a question that has troubled readers for over a century. And not a bad way to get your story to keep your readers thinking. And thinking.

5. Twist (Surprise!) A variation on open-ended conclusions, this approach builds on expectation. Author O. Henry was a master at this form and The Gift of the Magi is one of his most memorable tales when a wife’s and husband’s love and sacrifice at Christmas — surprise! — both negates and honours each of their gifts.

6. Happy Ever After (smiles all ’round) Of course, romance stories are supposed to end in this same way: girl gets guy or girls get guys (as many of Shakespeare’s romance plays end)… romance is all about love.  And there are many forms of love — girl gets girl or guy gets guy — but not all of them sexual. And happy ever after doesn’t need to even centre around a romance. Indeed, once Gretel pushed the witch into the oven, she and Hansel reunite with their remorseful father and live, we are certain, happily ever after.

7. Mirror (architecture echo) It was the worst of times and the best of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities starts off with a 119-word long opening sentence, a description of duality echoing the conflicted chaos of the French Revolution. But he doesn’t end it the same way. He echoes the basic architecture of the opening comparison but with a short and tight finality that makes clear that this is “the end” of the story and of one of the characters. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

8. Lesson (Pay attention and learn) Aesop’s Fables are all written with a moral lesson endings — that fox never gets the grapes and is sure they’re just sour anyways. Many fairy tales also have a moral or a lesson, sometimes it’s just implied like Goldilocks:  Goldie, don’t go in strange houses or Red Riding Hood: Red, don’t talk to strangers and for Pete’s sake, Hansel and Gretel, don’t nibble on strange houses.

9. Reveal (Elementary, my dear Watson) A classic ending for mystery or thriller novels, the protagonist (dogged detective or amateur sleuth or unjustly accused victim) pulls together all the clues, red herrings included, and dissects them one by one. The final clue, the moment of ah-ha, is delivered with a flourish and the reader remarks either, Gosh, I didn’t see that one…or…I knew it! The point you need to remember is to be clever and careful; today’s readers don’t expect Sherlock Holmes’ genius and acute observation skills.

10. Epilogue (Fortune teller reveals all) At the end of Offred’s narration in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, it isn’t 100% clear on whether protagonist Offred is being arrested or, as she believes, in the hands of an undercover resistance member on her way to freedom. However, there is an epilogue that helps us decide on that question — and gives us more information about the time in which Offred lived.

No matter how you end your story, remember that it is always a story that the reader wants. A great story will pull your reader along to the end. So a clever and creative ending will make little difference if what comes before it lacks energy, doesn’t have compelling characters or loses its way to reach that ending

And for now, that’s got to be The End.

What’s a snollygoster?

What’s a snollygoster?

Gwynn Scheltema

I love words. I’m addicted to them. I love words that I can roll around in my mouth and feel them roll off my tongue: lugubrious; predilection; vociferous.  Words that tie my tongue in knots: mnemonic; synesthesia. Words that have strange meanings: enchiridion—a book to be carried in the hand. Words that express things hard to describe: petrichor—the pleasant smell that accompanies the first rains after a spell of dry weather. Words that carry sound and music: tinkle; boom; crash. Words that are fun: higgledy; pollywog and snollygoster.

So what is a snollygoster? It’s a political thing, and I found out about it on a TED talk. Yup, I admit I’m addicted to TED talks as much as I am to words.

Who or what is TED?

TED was launched in 1984 as an invitation-only conference to bring together the innovative power of three fields: Technology, Entertainment and Design. It’s grown from a single conference to an annual open event that now includes scientists, philosophers, musicians, business and religious leaders, philanthropists and many others.

The TED website describes itself as: “a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks… from science to business to global issues…in more than 100 languages… we’re building a clearinghouse of free knowledge from the world’s most inspired thinkers.”

TED also believes “passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.” And I believe the same about words.

So treat yourself to some summer downtime enjoy these TED talks about words (and finally find out what a snollygoster is).

What’s a snollygoster?

Etymologist Mark Forsyth shares entertaining word-origin stories from British and American history.

Go ahead, make up new words!

Lexicographer Erin McKean encourages the creation of new words to better express what we mean and make more ways to understand one another. She shares 6 ways to make new words in English including compounding and verbing.

Beautiful new words to describe obscure emotions

John Koenig loves words that express unarticulated feelings like lachesism —the hunger for disaster, or sonder—the realization that everyone else’s lives are as complex and unknowable as our own.

What makes a word real?

Who decides if new words like hangry, defriend, and adorkable make it into the dictionary? Language historian Anne Curzan takes a look at the people behind dictionaries and the choices they make.

Lets put the “awe” back in awesome.

Which of the following is awesome: your lunch or the Great Pyramid at Giza? Comedian Jill Shargaa calls for us to save the word awesome for things that truly inspire awe.

The joy of lexicography

Lexicographer Erin McKean looks at the ways today’s print dictionary is poised for transformation.

What we learned from 5 million books

Google Labs’ Ngram Viewer is a database of 5 million books from across centuries. Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel show us it works.

Just the beginning

Don’t limit yourself to the talks listed here. TED topics such as author talks, writing, creativity, storytelling and more are waiting to inform, entertain and inspire you. Enjoy!

 

 

When the Agent Says No

When the Agent Says No

Ruth E. Walker

Last December, I put “The End” onto my science fiction/fantasy Young Adult novel I’d been working on for three years. And then I sent it off to an agent* who’d already enthusiastically read a few of the first pages at a writers conference 18 months earlier.

I’ve met a few agents for one-on-ones at conferences and received encouraging words. But this agent, with a large, well-known Canadian literary agency, she and I connected from the start. My latest draft of my novel has been with her since December but I’ll admit by April, I was ready for rejection. To get it over with, I sent an email asking what the status was. And, to my surprise, she wrote back to say that her colleague at the agency was nearly done reading it and then she’d look it over and get back to me soon.

In the Half-life of The Wait

This could now go only one of two ways: an offer of representation or a rejection, and then I’d move on. At least, that’s what I thought. She’d been super enthusiastic both in our initial meet and greet, and subsequently in email correspondence. I was certain we could work well together.

So I dwelt in the half-life of writers who are waiting to hear back on their submission. You know what that means:

  • I burnt a few offerings to the gods of good fortune
  • I played word games on my tablet to avoid checking my emails several times a day
  • I checked my emails several times a day
  • I forced myself not to imagine having an agent
  • I imagined announcing that at last, I had an agent

Yup. I vacillated between positive thoughts and steeling myself for “no”.

The Reply

Last week, I got the email. It was a no.

But wait. Not just any no. This is the kind of no that tortures all writers. It’s a no with an offer of hope. And frankly, even better than the hope, the email was rich in the kind of feedback from the agency reader that some writers would kill for. The agent’s colleague liked a lot about the novel:

This YA fantasy ms has some great strengths, most notably an empowered and compelling female character at the center of this hero’s quest narrative. Garnet’s backstory is complex and her character development is largely convincing.

I was especially invested in feminist leanings and diversity moral that informs this narrative, though therein lies some concern as well…

Oh-oh. I read on and learned that there were areas that kicked this reader out — parts of the story that moved too close to unsurprising. And I failed to make clear some of the central themes from start to finish, dropped a thread or two and, most grievous error of all: failed to make clear the complicated world I had built. In short, I’d left too many dangly bits.

Don’t you just hate dangly bits?

Back to the Beginning

Fortunately, if a writer has some sense of what those dangly bits are, they can be fixed: cut or tied or connected anew. I have options. I sent back an email to the agent that said as much, thanking her and her colleague for the feedback. It’s gold, I wrote — and it is, because it is concrete feedback on strengths and areas to develop.

So, this summer I’ll be focusing on revisions. Deepening characters, enriching the sense of place and pulling apart the cultural norms of my imagined world with two suns and a feral young female who will change everything. And I’ll be doing it with the agent’s words in the background:

If you find that our concerns below hit home, and you decide to revise [your novel], I’d be happy to consider the work again. Either way, I hope to hear from you again in the future, and will be cheering you on from the sidelines in the meantime.

Yup. Just what a writer needs to dive back into a novel that is nearly there. Wish me luck!

*NOTE: I shared this post with Rachel Letofsky of Cooke McDermid Literary Management and she shared it with her colleagues and especially with Kailey Havelock, Agency Assistant who was the reader of my manuscript. They’re happy to be identified as the agent and agency that this blog post is about. And I’m happy to do just that.

DID YOU KNOW?

There are plenty of opportunities to network, workshop & find the agent of your dreams. For sci-fi/fantasy writers, here’s just a taste:

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Writers gather July 13 to 15, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada for Ad Astra, a not-for-profit, volunteer-run, weekend-long, science fiction, fantasy and horror event with a focus on authors and other creative professionals.

Fantasy and Horror Writers will travel November 1 to 4, 2018 to Baltimore, Maryland, USA for World Fantasy Convention an annual gathering and reunion of professionals, collectors, and others interested in the field of light and dark fantasy art and literature.

Science Fiction, Fantasy, Gaming, Horror Writers & Good Old Geeks have got together for over 12 years in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada for Sci-Fi on The Rock, a downhome celebration of film, literature, graphic arts and cosplay. We missed this April’s event but that gives you plenty of time to plan for 2019.

Writing Pride

Writing Pride

Gwynn Scheltema

June is Pride Month, so Writescape celebrates this week with local LGBTQ YA author Kevin T Craig.  We ask him about his experience as an author and around publishing as a gay author. But first, let’s meet him:

Kevin T. Craig

wp-image-109302426

Kevin is the author of six novels (four young adult and two coming-of-age). The latest are Pride Must Be A Place, Half Dead & Fully Broken and Burn Baby, Burn Baby.

website: https://ktcraig.com/

twitter:@KevinTCraig

1. When David Leviathan wrote Boy Meets Boy in 2003, many school libraries refused to carry it. Have things changed?

Kevin: Things have definitely changed. Librarians across North America are actively seeking to populate their libraries with LGBTQ sections. On Twitter in the YA community, there are often book-drives for LGBTQ library sections. Librarians feel that need to have the books in stock for those who are seeking them. Nothing is more powerful to a high school student than recognizing themselves in the fiction they read. This is true for all marginalized people, not just the LGBTQ community.

2. Of his book The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, author Shaun David Hutchinson says, “Drew was just gay. None of his many problems revolved around his sexuality. And I wasn’t exactly sure how readers would respond.” Comments?

Kevin: I’m familiar with Shaun and his book. It’s true that he was one of the forerunners with this trend. But I promise you, this is something that agents and publishers are now actively seeking. For a couple of years now, agents have been asking for YA stories where the sexuality of the LGBTQ characters is NOT the story focus. They want books where the LGBTQ characters’ sexuality is simply a part of who they are…not what the story focuses on.

3. What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQ lit that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

Kevin: For better- People are now able to see themselves represented. I looked for a long time for the book that would have saved me. It simply wasn’t there. Today’s LGBTQ teens have a wide variety of young adult books to choose from in which “their” stories are being told. The mainstreaming of LGBTQ literature is most assuredly saving lives.

For worse- It’s still a little difficult to write an LGBTQ story and not have the expectation that it will include one or all of the following: Romance, Sex, Erotica. But, our stories do not need to have a tunnel-vision focus on sexuality and love life. I came face to face with this frustration recently during a #PitMad event on Twitter. I wrote a literary novel with LGBTQ characters. I had a few likes, but they were all from publishers who only publish gay romance with degrees of sex. I even tagged the novel as literary. They are not yet looking for gay novels that don’t include these things.

4. What are your challenges and triumphs as a gay author?

Kevin: Just to be adding my voice, and to be finding a level of success. I know how barren the field of gay literature used to be. I know how badly the representation was needed. The young adult community went mad this past spring when Love, Simon was released in theatres. A gay teen who just happens to be gay having a sweet romance on the big screen? Not in my day. If I can add my voice to that kind of inclusion, I’m happy to do so.

5. Anything else you’d like to say to the reading/writing world?

Kevin: Just that there is a place for everyone. If you are looking for a book and you can’t find it…it may be time to write it. Chances are, there’s someone else out there looking for it. Literature is an ideal place in which to find ourselves and tackle our differences. To read is to gain understanding.

Your turn

To mark Pride Month, why not add a Canadian LGBTQ novel to your reading list. Read a book by Kevin Craig or choose one from 49th Shelf’s  list of LGBTQ authors and/or LGBTQ issues.  Their list “includes fiction, poetry, memoir, nonfiction, and books for young readers—not to mention books by award-winning authors and some of the most buzzed-about titles of the season.”