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Archive for April, 2009

Are you interested in reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin, or the Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells? How about the Inaugural Address of President George Washington, Emily Post’s advice on Etiquette written around 1922, or Bulfinch’s Mythology? Whether you’re looking for a classic play or novel, a famous quotation, poetry, or a complete encyclopedia, you can probably find it on Bartleby.com.

I was amazed by the variety of resources this site offers for free. While there are no recent novels to pick from, I found lots of titles I loved as a child, or wanted to read but never bothered buying.

Take a look and tell me what you think I should put on my “to read” list: http://www.bartleby.com/

 Carol

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I’ve posted a review of a new book Thomas Nelson Publishers is releasing tomorrow; it’s called The Noticer. My review is on my Book Reviews page. There is a project going on in connection with this book, and I think it is worth mentioning separately.

Basically, we are all encouraged to let at least 5 people who are important in our lives know that we appreciate them. Pretty simple, and pretty important. In these difficult economic times, with the threat of war in the news almost daily, fears of natural calamities abounding, and the emotional isolation we’ve developed as a result of the decline of the extended family’s role in our society, there is a lot to feel bad about. Let’s all take a little time out of our busy lives to thank those who have made us who we are today, or who brightened our lives in some way.

Here’s a quick shoutout of  “Thanks” to my family, especially my sisters Audrey and Alice, who’ve been there for me through the worst of times and the best of times. Also, my friends Cindy and Pat, who encourage me to be my best; my friend Mary, who motivates me to write regularly; my blogging friends–you know who you are–who read my blog and make me feel I’m not just talking to myself.

Here’s the link to the info on The Noticer Project:  http://www.thenoticerproject.com/

 

Carol

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Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own. — Salvatore Quasimodo

 

 

In honor of April being Poetry Month, I decided to give poetry a try. I studied the pantoum, which is a simple, structured poem style based on ancient Malaysian folk poetry. A pantoum can be rhymed in abab pattern, or left unrhymed. Each stanza is made up of 4 lines, and there can be as many stanzas as you want.

There is a pattern of line repetition that gives this type of poem a lovely, flowing quality when done right. The pattern is that the second and fourth lines of a stanza are used as the first and third lines of the next stanza. The final stanza uses the first and third lines of the very first stanza as its second and fourth lines. That brings everything full circle by the ending line matching the beginning one.

Are you confused yet? Someone please correct me if I have this wrong, but my understanding is that it goes like this (with the change in the last one being the pattern for your final stanza):

1 2 3 4,   2 5 4 6,   5 7 6 8,   7 3 8 1

 

This has been a fun project, but my poems really stink. Here’s one of my best:

 

 The Drought

 

The land lies cracked and barren

Beneath the scorching sun

Not a drop of rain has fallen

Since the summer first begun

 

Beneath the scorching sun

Crops have felt the strain

Since the summer first begun

Now desert instead of plain

 

Crops have felt the strain

Not a drop of rain has fallen

Now desert instead of plain

The land lies cracked and barren

 

 

My challenge to you is to write a pantoum. Post it in the comments here, or put it on your own blog and post a link in my comments section so I can read it. It can be any length, and doesn’t have to rhyme; just don’t make it vulgar, please.

On May 1, I will mention each person, if any, who joined me in writing a pantoum, and will include a brief comment highlighting their blog or website. Yeah, I know it’s a cheap prize, but it’s the best I can do.

Here’s a link to the site that got me interested in pantoums, which has better examples to go by for writing one of your own:

http://www.geocities.com/Wellesley/2401/chapbook/pantoums.htm

There’s one about the desert that’s worth reading even if you don’t plan to write one:

http://www.geocities.com/Wellesley/2401/chapbook/dawning.htm

I hope you’ll join me in celebrating what’s left of National Poetry Month.

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While there are times when I have so many ideas for stories that I think I’ll never live long enough to write them all, there are also times when I struggle to come up with a workable plot or scene. If you have that problem, too, try some of these tips to help you through those trouble spots:

1. Flip through a sales flyer or catalog for interesting pictures; use them as part of the description in a scene you are working on or as a visual image of a character in the story.

A picture of a person modeling clothes often captures my imagination for a secondary character. Sometimes the same person appears in several outfits, so I use them to help me give the character a more realistic description. Pictures of a room or house give me ideas for the places my characters live, and make it easier to give a vivid description of the setting. Keep the pictures in a folder labeled with the name of the story so you’ll have something to jog your memory later.

2. Ask a friend or family member a question about what they would do in a certain situation, or how they would react to a particular event.

Although the person doesn’t know the whole story, their comments give me an idea of how others would view what’s happening in my story. I’m the one writing it, and I’m also the one who’s stuck; getting another perspective may take the scene in a more interesting or believable direction.

3. Sit in a mall, or some other public area, and jot down descriptions of a few people who look like interesting characters. That may lead to a new story idea, or give you a new person to put into a story you are currently working on.

For example, a mall security guard or restaurant worker, a family sitting together, or a woman alone at a corner table may spark your imagination. I’ve written complete short stories while sitting at a table in the food court waiting for my daughter to get done shopping. Other character profiles are sitting in a folder, waiting for me to write a story for them.

4. Create an idea folder. Use it to save brief descriptions of things you see or hear that might be useful later.

Whenever I think of a topic that captures my interest, or read a thought that makes me want to know more, I write it down. I keep them in an idea folder, labeled so I can easily find them. I have folders with thoughts on blogging, religion, weird science facts, and interesting things in the news. Some are just snippets of conversations I’ve overheard that would make great dialog for a story.

5. Browse the internet. Read some random articles about odd people or strange events for fresh ideas based on true life.

In addition to reading articles online, there are sites that will come up with random ideas for writers. One entertaining site that generates story ideas is the Random Logline Generator. I haven’t used any of the ideas yet, but love reading them. Here are two examples of possible storylines that site came up with:

A hungry scuba diver, a peculiar plaintiff, and a doctor kidnap a road runner.

The adopted son of a tight-rope walker tries to get into the Guinness Book of World Records in the back of a taxicab.

 

How do you come up with ideas for your stories?

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Print on demand (POD) technology allows books to be printed and bound in just a few minutes using a computer. This lets publishers print small runs, or one book, as the need arises. The quality of this type of printing has improved over the years, but varies with the quality of the printer. According to one source I read, professional digital imaging equipment can cost anywhere from several thousand dollars to more than three million dollars.

Many publishers use this technology to print advance reading copies (ARC) to send out for reviews before a book is released. It’s also used to supply books that are on a publisher’s backlist, and where a large run isn’t warranted. It saves publishers money since they don’t have to stock the books in a warehouse, but it generally costs more to produce each book.

Traditional offset printing is a more complicated process, involving pre-production of printing plates, printing a large number of books, and then binding the printed pages. The initial costs involved in offset printing are higher than digital printing but, since it is used for large runs, each book may actually cost less than one produced with POD technology.

Print on demand is becoming popular with traditional and small, trade presses as well as self-publishers and vanity presses, but the term has sometimes been used interchangeably with vanity publishing. Actually it just refers to the technology used to do the printing. I’ll go over the different types of publishing in a future post.

Has anyone noticed a difference between books printed with digital, POD technology and those done with the offset press?

Edit April 27, 2009: Here’s a link to an excellent article on POD, which includes more details than I’ve provided. One important point this author made is that having a POD book available for bookstores to order does not mean the store will stock them. They can not be returned if they don’t sell, so stores will only order copies when they have an actual order for them.

http://www.spacejock.com.au/PrintOnDemand.html

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Everyone I talked to yesterday was buzzing about Susan Boyle, the Scottish woman with the incredible voice, and I finally checked it out for myself. This woman’s story is as amazing as her singing, and she deserves all the recognition she’s been getting. She is absolute proof that we should never give up on our dreams.

Here’s a link to the full version of her audition on Got Talent, where she wow’s the judges–including Simon Cowell–and gets a standing ovation from the crowd:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnmbJzH93NU&feature=related

Here’s a link to an audio of her singing Cry Me a River, which is also beautiful:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jI2DxkrgpgQ

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I’ve been participating in the Build a Better Blog in 31 Days project, and trying to apply what I’ve read to a writing-related blog. Some things are more relevant for people trying to sell products or services, but others apply to any type of blog.

You may have noticed that I’ve used lists and revamped my blog’s pitch; I’ve also visited other blogs and left comments, which is a form of networking. Blatant promotion isn’t my style (READ MY BLOG!!!), but there are simple ways of making the site more appealing to the type of readers I’m hoping will visit regularly.

A few tips were subtle enough I wanted to give them a little oomph. First, did you notice how people have key words with links embedded in them inserted within their articles or blog posts? This is a good way to promote other posts on your blog. For instance, in the I Got a Ping post I embedded a link to Library Thing, hoping visitors would click on it and read that, too. I chose that one for a link because it had received the most hits—apparently the favorite. Emphasize the best of the bunch; hopefully that will entice people to come back to read more.

I also embedded a link to Creative Nonfiction in a newer post called More on Creative Writing. They discuss related topics, and pointing that out may be useful to readers wanting to know more about creative writing.

This post follows up on an earlier one, 5 Reasons I Shouldn’t Blog, which should give momentum to the concept of building a better blog, a theme of both posts. It also shows that there is some unity in my topics; this blog isn’t a series of random, unrelated subjects.

There are other suggestions, some of which I was already doing—like visiting forums that discuss writing, and reading other blogs related to writing. I’m sure there will be more ways of promoting our blogs mentioned later this month, and I’ll consider doing another post about this after the 31 days are over.

No matter how much promotion we do, though, no one will bother returning if the content doesn’t appeal to them. Focus on providing good content, and post regularly so there is something to draw readers back.

Do any of you have other suggestions for improving blog readership?

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If you’ve read a few of my posts, you may have noticed that my writing style can be a bit quirky. It hasn’t always been this way; at one point in my life, I wrote very seriously.

When I first decided to write for publication, I researched a topic dear to my heart, stained glass. While not an authority on the subject, I knew a whole lot by the time I wrote up a 2,000-word article on it. Mind you, no one asked me to write it; I just knew that it would appeal to masses of people—how could it not?

I showed the article to my daughter before sending it out. About half way through the first page, she was already laughing uncontrollably. Now, if I’d intended it as a humor piece, I would have considered that a compliment. But I knew perfectly well that there was nothing funny about stained glass–at least not in that article.

She read the whole thing before giving me one of those hugs. You know, the kind that makes you feel like you’ve done something really bad but your daughter loves you anyway.

“OMG, Mom. This is the most boring thing I’ve ever read.”

She may not be a literary critic, and at age 16 her taste was somewhat pedestrian, but my daughter knows how to tell a story, and she can recognize boring in a heartbeat. So I began studying how to write more creatively. Though some people may think I went to the opposite extreme, my efforts paid off.

I never sent out that article on stained glass, but I’ve sold several nonfiction pieces written in an informal, personal style. This type of writing is called creative nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, or new journalism. I made a post about Creative Nonfiction on March 12, 2009.

Whether you write nonfiction, short stories, or novels, there are ways to hone your technique to make it more interesting to readers. Sometimes, though, getting a creative idea is just as hard as writing creatively. That’s where I’m struggling the most with my fiction; what do I write about? Sometimes my ideas seem brilliant, but end up going nowhere. Other times I plod along with a so-so plot and characters that sound shallow and dull. I have yet to devise a plot that flows, full of characters that jump off the page. I’m still working on it.

I found a few links with creative writing tips I think are helpful for short stories and getting ideas. If you’re interested, take a look after you finish reading my blog:

http://www.storyinsight.com/techniques/creative/writing.html

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/creative-writing-101/

http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/creative/shortstory/

 

How do you come up with interesting story ideas? Any tips on how to develop an exciting plot or character?

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I had a post on Creative Writing ready to post today, but decided to postpone it in honor of the Easter weekend. Instead, here’s a link to today’s post by one of my favorite agents, Rachelle Gardner:

http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/2009/04/by-his-wounds-we-are-healed.html

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I Got a Ping

I got a ping. I would have mentioned it earlier, but I had no idea what it meant. A few days ago, I checked my Dashboard and there it was—snagged by the Spam filter. Most of my Spam has key words that alert me that the sender isn’t sincerely complimenting my blog. This one had a guy’s name, and an excerpt from the post I’d completed mere minutes earlier.

“What in the world?” says I. “Someone stole my idea. And they wrote it in my own words!” I quickly approved the message so I could read the rest—after all, I could tell it was a great post.

Approving it meant that WordPress put the message in the comments section for Library Thing. When I clicked on the embedded link, it took me to a site where the same message was repeated, telling the world my write up about Library Thing was interesting and entertaining. Clicking on it gave me a popup window containing my own post. How weird is that? However, I write suspense/mystery stories, so I deduced that Googling the poster’s name would tell me whether I should believe he really thought my post was interesting or was just leading me on.

He’s real. A young man out West who writes for a newspaper, name withheld to protect his reputation, actually liked what I wrote. Or, he might have posted it in order to improve his Google ranking. I don’t understand how that works, and wouldn’t have thought of it on my own, but my research suggests it is possible a Spam program picked up my post based on key words and stuck it on a news site automatically. That’s what some pings do.

I choose to trust this man’s taste and honesty, so I’m believing that he complimented me instead of spammed me. We are now linked in mysterious ways that only a techie can understand. It’s not quite as special as a first date, and we aren’t BFFs (If that doesn’t mean Best Friends Forever, someone please tell me.)But he’s my first ping, and I ping him back.

Seriously, some pings and pingbacks are legitimate notifications that a post has been mentioned somewhere else, and a link back to the original is included there so other people can read the whole thing. Both sites must have software enabling this process. If you’re interested, there’s more technical stuff about pings and their cousins, trackbacks, at:

http://codex.wordpress.org/Introduction_to_Blogging

http://www.blogcatalog.com/discuss/entry/a-little-confused-pingbacks-and-links-how-to-handle

 

Edited to add: I learn something new all the time! By embedding the link to the post about Library Thing, this posting is now pinging me, too. It feels sort of like I’m talking to myself…

Does anyone know if deleting the “pings” from my comments section will also remove the links that are embedded in the posts? Or can I delete the comments and keep the pings?

Edit April 17, 2009: Kaspars, a physics student and web designer, gave me an excellent explanation about pings and trackbacks in the comments section of this post. Take a look. Also, his blog has lots of interesting information, some about technical things, like widgets, and other more general topics. I’ve added him to my helpful links page, but you can also reach him by clicking here.

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