Archive for March, 2010

Super Peeps

I want to thank my friend Stephen and also my friend Elizabeth for honoring me with a Super Peeps Club badge. These two are dedicated writers with blogs I admire and enjoy, so I’m happy to be a part of the Club.

Everyone who visits my blog regularly, and especially those of you who take time to comment, are my special peeps. I appreciate your encouragement and support.

In addition, there are several people I have become friends with over the years through forums or blogs. A few already have received this badge, including Stephen and Elizabeth; some others don’t have blogs but are still “Super” to me.

Jon Strother, John Towler, and Mary Wooley are just 3 of those who I admire as writers and also as friends. They are truly Super Peeps.

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I have a lot of things I must do today, so I’m going to refer you to some excellent posts I’ve read on various topics instead of writing one of my own. Here you go:

Agent Chip MacGregor lists skills a writer needs to develop. http://chipmacgregor.typepad.com/main/2010/03/what-skills-does-a-writer-need-to-develop-.html


Patrick Dent provides lots of tips on writing fiction, including setting, scenes, dialog, and more.


Holly Lisle gives advice on how to revise a novel.


Editor Lynn Price discusses the role of blogging in an author’s “platform.”


Those should keep you busy for a while.  :)


Do you have some interesting/informative sites you can recommend for writers? What about a post you’ve written on a particular topic that writers might find helpful? Post links in the comments so we can all learn more about the craft of writing.

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I decided to paint the benches in my yard yesterday. The metal frames were solid, and the wood didn’t have any major cracks, but they definitely needed a new finish. I prepped the wood, and sanded off the old paint. I noticed that each of my 3 benches had weathered the winter differently, and the one that fared the worst was one I’d done a half-hearted job of spray painting last year, without sanding first. It took a lot of extra work to get that one in shape, but I was able to make it look attractive by painting it the same color of brown I’d used before.

One bench was a few years old, and I’d painted it gray last year. The paint was peeling, but the colors blended nicely for a weathered look. I think a coat of varnish will make it beautiful.

The third bench I bought last year. Even though the directions said I should put a clear coat of polyurethane on it, I hadn’t. A quick sanding removed the bits of color that had lasted through the winter, and I’ll put a couple of layers of stain on it to make it match the trim on the house.


So, you may be wondering how this relates to writing, or maybe you’ve already quit reading. The facts I’ve presented about painting my benches are true, and if you’re into boring you might have enjoyed it. But if you like stories, this nonfiction recounting of facts probably made you yawn.

Here’s the whole truth of what happened:

I was supposed to gather stuff to donate to a local charity, but as I was looking through the laundry room I noticed a can of brown paint. I couldn’t remember why I bought it, but decided it would look good on the old park bench where I sit and read. I hunted up some sand paper and headed outside to fix up my reading spot. On the way there I noticed that the new bench I bought last year was rotting away, so I sanded it down first. Might as well do all the sanding at once, I thought, and proceeded to spend an hour wrecking my hands with sandpaper. At least the benches looked better.

I made up my mind to do things right this year. I gathered up some supplies—paper towels, painting gloves, screw driver, paint, paintbrush, reading glasses, and telephone. Wondering where the wood conditioner was, I put everything down in the yard and sorted through stuff on the back porch. Realizing I was getting behind schedule and would be receiving an important business call in less than an hour, I grabbed my glasses, the paint and a screwdriver to open it, and ran down the hill to my hidey-hole.

It was a little can of paint, and I tried to spread it carefully, hoping I’d be able to stretch it out for a second coat tomorrow. Or maybe I’d repaint that hideous blue lighthouse sitting by the front porch.

As I bent over to get the inside of the seat boards, my hair fell in my eyes and I couldn’t see what I was doing. I brushed it aside with the hand that didn’t hold the paint brush, forgetting that it held the paint. I had to finish the bench by swiping the paint off the leaves on the ground, and then picking the crumbly stuff off with my fingers. (The label says it cleans up with soap and water, but it doesn’t say how many times you have to wash to get it off. More than twice, for sure.)

Before I got done, the phone rang and I ran as fast as I could up the hill to answer it. It quit ringing just as I found it in the grass, but my son yelled out the window that it was for me—the important business call. Having left my reading glasses somewhere, I squinted at the tiny numbers on the phone, looking for the Talk button, and smeared brown paint all over the receiver.

By this time I was pretty sick of painting, so I decided I’ll just slap a coat of varnish on the bench by the garage, and get some of that 2-in-1 stain/polyurethane for the other one. Benches are for sitting on, and anybody who doesn’t like the way they look can stand up.


There you have it: nonfiction and creative nonfiction. The same events, equally true, but with completely different tones.

my reading spot


 Which is easier for you to write, regular nonfiction or creative nonfiction?  Which do you prefer reading? Do you think regular nonfiction works better for certain types of material, or is it ok to use creative nonfiction for all types of nonfiction writing?

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I just ran across a short video where Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, explains her views on creativity. I’m embedding it here, and encourage anyone involved in a creative art–writing, dance, painting, whatever–to watch it. There’s nothing I can think of to add, so I’m off to find me some fairy juice…




Do you ever worry you’ll run out of ideas, or that you’ll never accomplish as much as you have in the past? Does the fear of failure keep you from trying new things, or from sending out your work? How do you entice creativity to visit you?

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I’ve spent a couple of hours writing a philosophical post about crossing the line between what’s acceptable and what is not. The reason I did this was to sort out my own feelings. However, I’m wandering off on tangents and wasting a gorgeous Sunday afternoon thinking instead of accomplishing something useful. So, to keep things short, I’ll just summarize my thoughts.

My conclusion is that I won’t write about things I find reprehensible. If I’d be embarrassed for my children to read it, I won’t write it.


How do you determine what’s acceptable to include in your writing? What are some topics you avoid? Do you read stories with content you don’t personally feel comfortable writing about?

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I don’t think of myself as an author as I haven’t published a book, but I do think of myself as a writer. According to the dictionary, however, I am both.

writer [ˈraɪtə] n

1. (Communication Arts / Journalism & Publishing) a person who writes books, articles, etc., esp as an occupation

2. (Communication Arts / Printing, Lithography & Bookbinding) the person who has written something specified

3. (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) a person who is able to write or write well

au·thor (ô th r) n.

1. a. The writer of a book, article, or other text.

    b. One who practices writing as a profession.

2. One who writes or constructs an electronic document or system, such as a website.

definitions from: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/

Most people I know think of an author as someone who has written books and had them published. It seems somewhat pretentious for me to tell them I’m an author when all I’ve had published are a few articles and short stories. Yet, I do write articles and have a blog, so I meet the literal definition of an author.


What do you think is the proper term for someone who writes but hasn’t published a book? How do you describe yourself when people ask—as a writer, or author? Is there a difference in the two?

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In a novel with a typical story arc (an inverted checkmark), there’ll be rising action, a major climax, and a denoument.  Sometimes, though, there are still questions that need to be answered about what happens after the story ends.

In the same way a prologue shows what happens before the main story begins, an epilogue is a separate section showing events that happen later. It may jump ahead months or even years, and will give extra insight into the characters’ lives.

Not every story needs an epilogue, but it can be useful to give the story closure. This is fairly common in romance novels, where readers may need additional information about the main characters to satisfy their expectation that they will live happily ever after. For example, it might show the protagonist married and with children. In suspense novels, it can show the outcome of previous events.

Have you used an epilogue? Do you think they add to the story, or do you prefer to have the events that occur after the main story ends left to your imagination?

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We celebrated our 28th anniversary today. The kids are all home for the weekend so all 5 of us went to a charming little restaurant on the edge of the Kankakee River for dinner. I had jumbo shrimp, with sweet potato fries and a garden salad. We shared a huge munchies platter, overflowing with fried mushrooms, clams, cheese balls, and onion rings. We usually go there on our birthdays because the birthday person gets a free meal. Today we had to pay full price, which was $129. Ouch.

I can mentally hear some of you wishing me a happy anniversary and, though I thank you, I must admit it isn’t really my anniversary today. The kids will be back in school on March 20, which is when we will truly be married 28 years, so we pretended it was our anniversary and enjoyed a wonderful day together.


Our deliberate choice to ignore reality and celebrate as if this were our actual anniversary could be called “suspension of disbelief.” The same principle applies to fiction. Good writing will draw readers in, making them temporarily engross themselves in the story. People will ignore reality in order to be entertained, and will accept fantastical events as long as they are consistent within the world the writer creates.

Suspension of disbelief ends when something happens to make readers say, “Wait a minute. That couldn’t happen.” Our goal should be to make our stories and characters so believable that reality doesn’t intrude.

What types of things affect your ability to set aside your disbelief when reading a story? How do you make characters, setting, or plot believable?

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A rhetorical question is one that isn’t necessarily intended to be answered. It may be used to make a point by implying the answer is obvious, or it might be followed by the speaker’s own opinion. Sometimes it is simply a way of getting others to think about the topic. It is generally used to get attention, and acts as a substitute for a statement.

Examples: Is the Pope Catholic? Do pigs fly? Will my protagonist save the universe with her super powers and uber-intelligence? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel back in time and see how the American pioneers lived?

When you’re sending out a query, you may want to avoid including rhetorical questions as some agents hate them. Though many people think it makes the query more interesting, unanswerable questions take up valuable space that could be better used pitching the actual story.

Here are a couple of interesting blog posts by agents who don’t want to see rhetorical questions in their queries:

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2006/10/should-i-use-rhetorical-questions-in-my.html   Agent Nathan Bransford

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/07/rhetorical-questions.html   Agent Jessica Faust


How do you respond to rhetorical questions? Have you used them in queries; if so, were they effective?

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A good title is essential for any story or article. It can catch a reader’s interest, and serve as a marketing tool. Though it may get changed before publication, it’s important to choose the best title you can think of before submitting your work to an agent or editor. Here are a few suggestions to help when a good title doesn’t quickly come to mind:

  • It should be easy to remember, but not too common or clichéd.
  • Try using a metaphor or a phrase that hints at what happens.
  • Use the name of a character or a place important to the story.
  • Pick a word or phrase you might build upon and turn into a brand for future books. (Example: Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books—One for the Money, Two for the Dough, etc.)
  • Consider a memorable line from the story.
  • For nonfiction, make it something the reader will learn from reading the book or article. (How to Knit Socks; 10 Steps to a Happier Life, etc.)

Here are a couple of sites that go into more detail on choosing titles:




What’s the best title you’ve seen, and what do you like about it? How do you choose titles for your work?

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