Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Camping Trip

By Keith N Fisher

Last week, I went camping and re-posted a blog talking about another trip. I’m happy to report the writer’s block I experienced then, didn’t happen this time. I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote the final scene for my work in progress.

It’s interesting to sit in a truck on an almost moonless night and write by the light of your laptop. I’m large enough that my computer sits perfectly between my chest and the steering wheel. I took off my glasses and visited with my character.

On another day, I worked on a new project and did some editing. I got so caught up that my brother knocked on the door and scared my pants off, asking if we were going hunting. I discovered my laptop makes a good flashlight in order to see who is interrupting me.

I learned a few things on the trip this year. One, is that its possible to put your underwear on backwards in the dark while trying to not wake anybody up. I also learned that it’s very cold standing behind bushes and under trees, trying to turn your underwear around.

Later, I learned my cousin has become an avid reader. He stumbled across a book by Nora Roberts while waiting for somebody, and now he reads almost everything he can find. He’s going to be a beta reader for me.

I became reacquainted with the concept of gazing into a campfire and contemplating the deeper meaning of life or the next plot turn. I drank hot chocolate and wrote well, better than I used to. I also put in some hunting time.

It was a having a good time away from real life, wish you were here, kind of weekend. Wish you could’ve been there. Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Are You Ready?

by G.Parker

Okay - I was a slacker last week, and I apologize.  I still can't believe I totally spaced off writing my blog, but then, we have discussed the swiss cheese brain factor, haven't we?

Anyway - today I want to remind you to get ready!  Actually, I'm hoping you're ready and chomping at the bit.  Next Tuesday starts Nano!!

Unless you've been living in a non writing world for the past little while, you should know what NaNo is, but just in case, a brief crash course.

NaNoWriMo (which stands for National Novel Writing Month) is a month long writing frenzy where you try to get 50,000 words written between the first and thirtieth.  It's not for the faint of heart, and it's not for everyone who writes.  But, it's dang fun and it's crazy.  My husband hates it - he threatens to send mail bombs every year.  "Why did they have to pick November for Pete's sake?  It's not like they couldn't have picked March or something."

You go to the site, you log in, and create your author page.  Then, you write.  Of course, you can't really write until the first, because everything you write before then doesn't count.  And you want EVERY word to count. I would still recommend that you flesh out your plot idea before hand, that makes it easier to just write, but whatever it takes, you should do this.  Because it makes the creative side in you grow, drives everyone around you crazy and will bring you more stress than you've ever known.  Hm....well, just keep a large supply of chocolate around and you'll be fine.  I always have a pep talk with my family ahead of time to remind them of whats happening and that they had better not expect too much interaction if I'm at the computer.

So, the blogs for the rest of the month of November are going to be about me and my fellow writer's progress.  Be sure and let us know if you've signed up.  We want to know how well you do!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

And the Movie Was?

The other night I sat down with the hubby and watched an old film noir. Love that stuff. This was a Barbara Stanwyck—love her—flick about a woman who wakes up in the middle of the night and sees a murder out her window. The problem is, the murderer does such a great job hiding his crime that the police find no evidence. No one believes her. Rather than let the matter drop, she pursues it, determined to make sure the crime is uncovered and tied to the killer. At the same time, the killer is determined to make her the least credible witness ever. To that end, he orchestrates a sequence of events that even get her committed to a hospital for “observation.” She struggles finding someone to trust, even the detective-turned-boyfriend, Larry.

The plot wasn’t complicated, and it was a pretty straight forward flick. Not Oscar-winning or anything, but that kind of movie isn’t supposed to be. What I particularly enjoyed was the villain was a writer—a published author—which put a fun twist on it for me. Once he declared his Nazi sympathies, of course, you knew he was going to get his in the end. Movies of that era were really clear on establishing justice for the truly evil bad guy. For a second at the end, though, it looked like our heroine was going to die, too.

As you can tell, the movie kind of stuck with me. The killer was an author, but not a bestselling one. In fact, his book didn’t do well at all, something that they made a point of saying. I guess a bad author is more likely to be a killer? :)

In truth, I’m having one of those days where I doubt myself, my direction, my ability. The only way to get past it is to write, but that’s the hardest part. It’s something like knowing scripture study and prayer will help with a problem, but not feeling worthy to do it. Writers are complicated people. We feel deeply; we think deeply. We ponder perhaps more than is healthy. While this can be great when it comes to plot detail and story lines, it tends to bite back in the form of doubt in the real world.

Call it a super power. And what was that Uncle Ben said? “With great power comes great responsibility.” Thanks, Spiderman.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Re-Posting From the Archive

By Keith N Fisher

I’m going camping and I won’t be here on Saturday. Also, things are hectic right now, so I decided to re-post an article from 2006. I’m not sure if this will appear on time, but if not I’ll be late. I did a little editing because I’m a better writer now. I hope you like it. I’ll see you when I come down from the mountain.

Writers Block at 9,000 Feet

By Keith Fisher

I couldn’t bring my computer. Well, I guess I could’ve but I’m one of those who didn’t know you should remove the battery from a laptop while on house current so it only lasts about 50 minutes. Because of my daily writing habit I wondered if I would go crazy without my electronic crutch.

In an attempt at appeasement, I brought a wire bound notebook. I figured I could at least, make notes of the ideas I might have. I had a priesthood lesson to plan anyway.

My brother had a different kind of hunting permit than I did, but I didn’t want him to go alone, so I went camping. As it turned out, my dad went too, but he stayed in his trailer with my brother. So, I had a lot of alone time in mine. During the day, I got to shoot the bull with my dad. We solved the problems of the world, and my brother went hunting.

Have you ever tried to concentrate on a plot while chatting with someone? I put down my notebook and talked. I didn’t get my writing done.

After we ate the Dutch oven food I cooked, and we said good night I went into the trailer and opened my notebook. Nothing happened. I tried to make notes for my lesson but I couldn’t keep my mind on it.

I realized if I had a generator, I could’ve brought my computer. At least I could Edit, or watch a DVD. What do you do when you’re camped at 9,000 feet during your writing time and nothing comes to mind? Did I mention I was alone in a camp trailer? No distractions, what a great set up. I was having the weekend that most writers can only dream about, but my mind wasn’t co-operating. What would you do? I gave up.

I finally decided to go to bed, thinking I would at least get some sleep. Well, that was the plan, anyway. I began to obsess over a dry throat and dust in the furnace. I didn't want to wake up with a cold. Perhaps a little hot chocolate, I thought.

When my hot drink was ready, I sat down and thumbed through previous notes made in my notebook. It got me thinking about the characters in a different book than the one I was working on. Suddenly, and without forethought, I was writing again. I still missed my computer screen, but the notebook was working fine.

Three cups of hot chocolate and four hours later, I decided that I’d better go to bed. I was happy when my head hit the pillow. I forgot about the dust in the furnace while I dreamed about plot lines.

I spent the rest of the weekend writing the story I never intended to work on. I learned to be flexible with my writing time. I also learned that even though it sounds crazy, characters are like children. If you pay attention to one, the other will get jealous and try to take center stage. If I listen, perhaps my writing will turn out better.

I’d forgotten the joy of quietly putting ink on paper. It was nice to reacquaint myself. Although, reading what I wrote, is another matter.

As I said, this blog was written in October of 2006. That was three laptop batteries ago. I now have a cigarette lighter cord for my computer, and I take a notebook.

There are several projects percolating in my brain in case of writer’s block. I’m also writing a cookbook, so my camp kitchen is packed and ready. I’ll see you when I get back.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Moving Forward

by Cheri Chesley

Thank you to everyone who gave me input about my problem last week. It really helped. Thanks in part to the encouragement, I've been able to figure out a solid way to rewrite the story. It will take time, but I've already written a scene. That's a good step, right?

All writers experience growth and change in their writing. It's part of why you almost always hear a well known author lament how "terrible" their first novel is, even if it is published. I don't know a single person who can't give me the title or description of one awful published novel they're come across. They're out there: usually they're the ones that make us ask, "If this garbage can get published, why can't I?"

This is where finding joy in the journey comes in. Not everything we write will be awesome, but it will help us learn, if we're open to teaching.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Killing the Independents

By Keith N Fisher

I watched a documentary on Public Television the other day. It was called, Paperback Dreams and it lamented the demise of two San Francisco Bay area book stores. Cody’s Books, in Berkely, California, and Kepler’s across the bay in Menlo Park.

The narrator talked about their beginnings and how they became Mecca for the free thinkers and counter-culture radicals of the sixties. Cody’s even served as a medical first-aid station in nineteen-sixty eight during a Telegraph Avenue anti war protest. The police & National Guard used tear gas and clubs to disperse the crowd. So, a group of former army medics who’d been in Vietnam, offered to help those who were injured.

Many famous people, writers and musicians cut their proverbial teeth in those stores. Joan Baez talked about the time she spent in Kepler’s and what she learned. Even the Grateful Dead, hung out there. Roy Kepler, the founder, used to complain that they always played the same song, and stole the ashtrays. Over the years, there have been many writers who read their work at Cody’s and Keplers and left a signed photograph for the wall. Those places were filled with literary tradition.

The show explored the different ways those two stores have struggled to survive. The economy will always be a problem for book sales, but the real threat started when reading fell victim to visual media. Book sales dropped, but the trade paperback, with the cheaper price, saved the business and gave those two stores their start. Then, came the threat from big box stores, like Walmart, Costco, and Target. They are still cutting into the market, but online, discount booksellers have devastated the industry. The latest attacks on independent bookstores have come from e-books and print on demand and it’s killing bookstores.

As writers, we selfishly plot and scheme. We look to our bottom line to find the best way to get our work published. We embrace the brave new world in our attempt to market our careers and sell books. After all, that is the point, right? Technology is the wave of the future, isn’t it? I wonder how many of us consider what the brave new world is doing to the independent bookstore.

We search for places to launch our books and moan the loss of independents, but forget to patronize those stores during the rest of the year. We buy each other’s books online and as e-books. Who can afford to do otherwise?

During the closing of one of the stores in the documentary, one of the customers claimed she used to come into the store three times a week. In a private response, the owner of the store wondered, if that were true, where were the sales? It’s the bottom line that closed the store.

With the routine closing of independents and now, national chains, like Borders, we are losing a way of life. The exchange of ideas and independent thought of the sixties are gone. Meeting at Borders for a cappuccino and a quiet place to write is going away, too. Did you ever walk into a small bookstore and breathe in the aroma of freshly printed books? You won’t get that at Amazon. Well, the warehouse workers might, but thumbing the pages and fingering the spine is impossible with e-books.

With the loss of independent booksellers, our world is changing.

I’ve lamented the coming of E-books and print on demand before. I certainly don’t want to harp on something that is inevitable. I just wish we could hold-on to the better parts of our society.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friends in High Places

Well, perhaps that's not the right title, but it's what came to mind.  I had dinner with a couple of women last night that all have the same birth month as me.  October.  It's a great month to have a birthday in - I know I'm prejudice that way, but I happen to love October.  Anyway - one of the women is a young mother who is trying to write and get back to writing in a consistent way.  She hasn't written for 10 years, and feels like she's way behind in the curve.

She remembered talking to me and how I'm a writer and thought I might be interested to know she had just joined a writers group and thought I might like to join with her.  I thanked her for thinking about me, but told her I'd been a member of a critique group for several years, and yes, it's a wonderful thing.  Isn't it funny how I wrote about critique groups last week?  I think it's interesting how these things seem to come circling around.

I also think it's admirable that she's realized she needs outside input to get her writing going.  That is pretty smart, something it took several years for me to pick up on.  So, I think she's way ahead of the curve, and her writing can only improve with effort.  She said that her first meeting made her feel very behind, as everyone else's writing was wonderful and her's was awful.  I doubt there was that big of a difference, but I also remember how one of the newer members of my group went home and bawled because she'd had such a hard time listening to our suggestions.

Having someone critique your baby is hard.  Not only is it a part of you out for the world to see, but you want so desperately for someone to like it, to validate that you're a writer.  When they say sure, but you need to fix this and that, it's like saying "yeah, we can save you but it will cost your leg and part of your arm.  Can you work with that?"

I salute those who have realized that they need help and want advise.  It takes guts to realize you can't do it on your own, no matter how good you.  How many of you have gone out there and found that group after last week??  Roll call!!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Best Laid Plans

by Cheri Chesley

A few years ago, I wrote a story for my niece as a birthday present. I've always been happy with it, in memory, and loved the concept of the story. How fun would it be, I thought, with Halloween approaching, to release this story as an ebook since it's a fun little ghost story/mystery. So I emailed the girl who'd been working on the cover for me, and set a release date for tomorrow--October 14, 2011.

Then I realized I need to authenticate the story, set in Scotland, by doing some research into the area and culture. Not all facts will make it into the story, I reasoned, but I needed to have a clear picture in my mind in order to project a clear image on paper.

At last, I sat down to edit the story and get it ready to publish.

And realized it's terrible.

Don't get me wrong, the plot is solid. It's actually a really cool mystery set over 500 years. But the writing, what I remembered as being so good at the time, is really awful.

First of all, there's almost no showing. It's all tell, all the time. Secondly it's incredibly trite. The way the characters talk to one another is forced and unnatural. I'm embarrassed to think there was a time when I thought it was good.

I know I'm not the only person this has happened to, and I'm sure you all have stories to share. While I'm trying to figure out if this one is worth salvaging, I'd like to hear from you. I definitely could use a little boost. :)

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Looking Literary

By Keith N Fisher

I attended the Book Academy this week. It’s a one-day conference put on by the UVU Continuing Education Department. There were four breakout sessions, a panel of book reviewers, book signings, and Dan Wells was the keynote speaker. Breakfast was great and lunch was delicious. I’ve attended for three years now, and I’m still impressed.

Anyway, I sat in the ballroom getting ready to eat and someone joined me. We talked about writing and whether I was published yet or not. The man told me I look like an author. When I asked why, the subject of my beard and long hair came up.

Hmm. I didn’t know I was unkempt in order to look literary. I thought it was because I work at night and haven’t been able to connect with my barber. I had been self-conscious since I would be talking with Kirk Shaw from Covenant. I didn’t want to make a poor impression since I’m waiting to hear from them about one of my manuscripts. Now, whenever I look at myself in the mirror, I see Hemmingway or Vonnegut. I might have something here. Do you think I could be a famous author just by looking like Walt Whitman?

No, I write LDS fiction so, don’t think it’ll work. Maybe, it’s national market time? Maybe, it’s easier to just get my haircut and beard trimmed.

I learned some things at the conference and met some new friends. It’s surprising that more people don’t attend. Many of those I see at Storymakers would also love this one. Mark it on your calendar for next year. Jessica Day George will be the keynote speaker.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Diversity Can be Good

by G.Parker

My thoughts today are on critique groups.  I hope you're not's not like I ONLY talk about critique groups...I have to admit I do talk about them a lot though.  The reason they came to mind this week is we got a couple of newbies to our group this past month.  It always makes us nervous when new people come on board because you never know how it's going to work out.  Our group is pretty comfortable with each other and what we're writing now, and it takes time to get the newbies acquainted with our little quirks and habits.

One of our newbies wasn't sure she wanted to join.  She liked the group and all, but she's not a fiction writer, and most of us are.  She decided to go ahead and give it a try.  It will be interesting to read her stuff and try and critique for her.  The other one is going to fit right in, I think, though she's thinking she's already to submit and it will be interesting to see how the group likes her work.

But it was the comments of one of the newbies that made me think about diversity.  She stated that she's worried how we'll view her work because we all write fiction and it's different.  I don't see that as a negative.  I think the more diverse a group is, the better the viewpoints.  We know we aren't all going to agree with everything everyone writes.  We are fortunate to have two males in our group, and the rest of us are glad they're there -- they let us know if we're being unrealistic with regards to things male.  They let us know if things are too mushy, sappy or -- heaven forbid -- romantic.  Grin.

A well rounded critique group is going to give the most honest feedback on a book than anything else.  Sure, you are likely writing for a target audience, but wouldn't it be nice if someone who's looking for something new to read picked up your book and liked it?  Isn't that what we're kind of looking for anyway?

So in your search for the perfect critique group, remember to look at the diversity of the group.  Do they all write romance?  Suspense?  Mystery?  Non-fiction?  Are they all women?  Are they open minded about reading something different?

Diversity has become sort of a swear word by political parties and government watchdogs.  Saying we want diversity is like saying there can't be a majority of anything.  In writing groups or critique groups, that is not the same meaning.  Diversity helps with open mindedness and growth in skill.  I believe most writers are open to diverse thoughts and opinions.  It's one of the bylaws of our critique group -- while everyone gives their opinion on your work, it doesn't mean you have to follow it -- they are only suggestions after all and it's your story.

If you haven't found a critique group yet, you really need to get on it.  It will only help you get better.  Faster.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Are You a Visionary?

by Cheri Chesley

With the passing of Steve Jobs yesterday, many people will be looking inward today. It's human nature to reflect on your own life when confronted with the limits of mortality. He was described, among other things, as a visionary. He made great strides forward in his industry, introducing products and technology that most of us hadn't even considered.

Not every likes a visionary. They most often come across people who don't understand their methods, or thought processes, and dismiss them as insignificant. Worse, they can be persecuted for that they believe, or what they are trying to accomplish.

Mr. Jobs was lucky enough (and by lucky I mean hard-working and determined enough) to find success in his field. My field, as a writer, is considerably different. Am I a visionary writer?

I have a driving need to do things my way. That doesn't mean it's "my way or the highway" because I do listen to other people's opinions and ideas, but I adapt what works for me to fit my mold and ideals. I've stretched my comfort zone so much it's barely recognizable, and I still find myself doing things I wouldn't have dreamed of speaking up about a few years ago. The thing is, I've found my path--what I truly love--and there is no going back.

But what about all those rules about writing and publishing? you ask. One person I heard once said that you need to know the rules so that you understand what you are doing when you break them. And working within certain rules doesn't make you less of a visionary. Mr. Jobs had to work within some rules to achieve his successes. He couldn't, for instance, violate the rules of logic or physics to create.

I submit that using the rules is not the same as being bound to them. Especially with writing and publishing, since the rules are subject to change at a moment's notice.

I'll be frank. I don't really consider myself a visionary writer. I have goals, and dreams, and ideals, but I don't know if that makes me a visionary. Do I have the drive to pursue my dream no matter what? Yes. Is it my true path? Yes. Is it what I love. YES.

Are you a visionary?

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Do It Yourself, Or . . .

By Keith N Fisher

When I started writing, I noticed a few ads in trade magazines for what we called vanity presses. There was even one company named Vanity Press. They offered writers an opportunity to see their book in print. There was a minimum order. So, it cost a small fortune. It was, however, a way of getting your work out, even after rejection by a publishing house.

Also, there was subsidized publishing which gave an author the prestige of having a publisher at a price. You could see your book printed if you paid a percentage of the cost. Book sales with a vanity press were entirely dependent upon the author. Subsidized publishers offered some service, but the author shouldered most of the sales burden.

Many fiction authors who went those routes never quite recovered from the stigma. Some rose from it and became superstars in their own right. The difference was in the quality of writing. Most of the poorly written books still inhabit shelves in the libraries of family members and relatives. A lot, are taking up space in the writer’s garage. Some get passed around at yard sales, year after year.

Now we live in a print on demand world. E-books have invaded the market and new books are coming from everywhere. Many, first-time authors are doing it themselves. It’s cheaper and easier then ever before. Sales still depend on the author, but the stigma of vanity seems to have disappeared.

Does do it yourself sound like a win/win situation? Personally, I like the idea of having a publisher. If for nothing else, it says my work is good enough, and there are down sides to self-publishing.

In the LDS market specifically, getting a contract from a publishing house hasn’t changed much. I need to submit a clean manuscript. If there are too many problems, it won’t be accepted. The days of mediocrity, however, are gone. Writers have raised the bar. The old stereotypes have fallen. Readers are taking notice.

The beauties of being accepted by a publisher are myriad. Most important is the editor assigned to your project. In the interest of delivering the best possible product, the editor finds errors for you to fix. There is no editor in self-publishing.

Many writers slave over rewrites until they’re sure the manuscript is perfect, but they don’t have the resource of good friends in the business. Friends who could read through and catch errors before its published.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to do blog reviews. I get to read some of those self-published books, along with those from publishing houses. Many of the self-published ones could’ve benefited from the services of an editor.

I think that many writers finish a story and hurry to publish. They’re probably sick of reading through the manuscript so, they rush to get it out there. Some times they forget about that spot they were going to fix but never did. The book goes to press. The flaws are still there. The writer gets a bad reputation, and the market suffers.

In the past, because of a mediocre product, many readers wouldn’t read LDS market books. Now, because of impatience, some of the self-published books on the market are returning us to those days.

I don’t mean to imply that all self-published books are badly written. In fact, most of them are fine. Even those who could use an editor are good. They just need a little more polish. A line and content editor would help immensely.

The lesson is clear. Slow down and make sure its perfect before you publish. Look at logistics. Don’t have your character see something that doesn’t exist in the place you have written them into. Use a good friend or hire an editor. At the very least, it gives you someone to blame for that typo on page forty three. You know the one that makes you look like a four-year old author?

I have a friend who can open a book to the middle and tell if it was self-published without looking at the cover, or reading a word. The word wrap and layout are important. Don’t get sucked into thinking it doesn’t matter, because the point is quality, right?

Keep in mind you have to sell your book. There are marketers you can hire, but it still takes work and you won’t have a publisher to help you. If, after all, you sell a few books, wouldn’t piece of mind be preferable to always remembering the mistakes you made? Don’t give your customers a reason to pass you over when its a choice between your second book or . . .

As for me, I want a publisher. I think I have a lot to offer. I think we can work well together. Did I mention I cook in Dutch ovens? Just think of the great company Christmas parties in the publishing house. Hint. Hint.

Anyway, good luck with your writing—see you next week.