News + Miscellaneous hints, etc. –

29 Jun

Okay, this week’s blog is really long, and I apologize for that, but there just was no place to sensibly cut it in half, so the whole thing is here. But first – a little word from our sponsor. Well, maybe not quite that.  But – I am really pumped by the following little news item, so I wanted to share it with the world!

In my bio for this blog, I mentioned my three ‘free reads’ or Scintillating Samples as my publisher refers to them. I was really tickled by this opportunity, as I quite like short stories, and there aren’t an abundance of markets for them. Anyway, last weekend my publisher sent out a note to all her authors that we had 42 of the top 100 ‘free’ bestsellers on the Amazon Kindle list.

So, then, Monday morning, I was just totally astonished to discover the existence of this bestseller list for Amazon’s Kindle. It never dawned on me that I would be there, but lo—and behold!! I am. Seriously. http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/digital-text On this list (on the free side) my three short stories were ranked 31, 52, and 61. (at 11 am, that is.) This list includes all genres.  (A couple of hours ago, this is now Tuesday, they’d slipped to 33, 77 and 92. Still not bad.)

On the romance page, I’m way higher yet! Monday I was ranked 5, 11 & 16! Mercy! (Now 8, 18, & 20.) http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/digital-text/158566011/ref=pd_zg_hrsr_kinc_3_3_last Well. That’s enough of that, but I am really pleased. I just hope that the people who downloaded my stories to their Kindle like them enough to consider any of my non-free books! We’ll see.

And now, back to our regularly-scheduled program . . .

In the 17 years since my first book was published (Secret Shores from Berkley, about to be reissued through CreateSpace.com) I’ve been asked to speak at a wide variety of events and places. Writer’s conferences and libraries are probably the most frequent of these, and I always respond positively, when I can. One of the nicer perks of speaking at a conference is that one can usually attend any of the other presentations offered, at times other than your own.

I’ve been going through boxes of old papers, most of which hit the re-cycling bin, but not before being thoroughly examined for pertinent info or content. One such large (9 x 12”) envelope caught my eye the other night, as it had scribbles on both sides. A quick reading through these lines suggested I’d used it for note-taking at just such a conference session. I’m not sure when it was, but probably at Lakeland Community College (east of where I live) and the speaker was most likely (I think) the noted mystery writer Les Roberts, who writes Cleveland-based stories featuring a Slovenian-American detective Milan Jacovich.

Les came to Cleveland via Chicago and Hollywood some years ago, and is a delightful speaker as well as a gripping writer, so I always tried to sit in on his sessions whenever possible. I’m pleased to call Les a friend, and have even been an object lesson during a couple of his talks. (It’s much better to isolate someone you know instead of a stranger who might take offense.

But, here are my notes exactly from this workshop – I’ll fill them in later.

Need for precision fights creativity
Create your own universe
Make it vivid – sight, sound, color, etc.
Find the beginning or the hook.
What if?
Build it backwards
Nothing is written in stone
‘Dump’ technique and KISS.
Skip around. Don’t worry about sequence.
Dialogue first, then narrative.
Only rough draft – less than 5% make it to a final one.
Good writing is re-writing.
End in the middle of a sentence or paragraph (at the end of the writing session)
Flashes of visual scenes – you’ll lose touch with reality – they need to be written immediately they happen.
What I see or hear is not actuality
Multiple files – storage; scenes, dialogue, etc.
Backtracking / puzzle pieces
Newspaper – Antique Week.
Astrological charts
Which comes first – plot or research? Look for historical time-line book.

Okay. Translation time, as far as I can recall– or figure out, at any rate. If I’m wrong, someone will tell me! The comments are mostly my own – not necessarily as exactly from Les. (Or whoever it was.)

Need for precision fights creativity
When in the throes of creativity, write. Ignore everything else—details, etc. It’s more important to get as much on paper (or screen) as you can before you lose it. You can do the research later to make it accurate. Of course, you WILL do the research later, but not when the muse is HOT!!!

Create your own universe

If you can’t figure where or when to set your book, or if you feel restricted by the known world – then make up a new one! No one says it can only be what we already know! Think of Jules Verne – if you don’t recognize that name – you should. Visit your local library immediately!

Make it vivid – sight, sound, color, etc.
This will be an upcoming blog topic, all by itself. But basically, it means to use all five of your senses (and the sixth, if you have one) to make your prose colorful and lively. Think of taste, smell, touch, sound, sight, and how much they can add to your story.

Find the beginning or the hook.
Obviously, this is really important, but if you can’t find it, just start writing, anyway.  Something.  Anything.  Eventually, it’ll make itself known to you, and that’s when you’ll really start writing! Whatever you’ve done in the meantime doesn’t get thrown out, however. It’s all grist for your mill. Keep it, and insert chunks here and there, where appropriate.

What if?
Indeed. What if—? I think every story in the world has been started because someone said, (either silently or out loud) ‘what if—?’ and away we went!

Build it backwards
Can’t get started? Okay, then start at the other end and go backwards. At some point, you’ll find your beginning, and there you are.

Nothing is written in stone
Only too true. Thanks to computers, changing, altering, moving text from here to there – it’s very, very moveable! Fifty years ago, if you made a mistake at the bottom of the page while typing, chances are you’d have to discard that entire page and start all over again at the top of a fresh sheet of paper. Carbon paper made maybe two clear copies, but not more than that. And copy machines weren’t yet invented, either. When they did come along, finally, they were frightfully expensive to use, let alone purchase! The technical aspects of writing today are so much easier and less-expensive as to be incomprehensible to us old-timers! (Believe it!) Remember, Shakespeare wrote 36 plays and hundreds of sonnets – with a feather!

‘Dump’ technique and KISS.
KISS stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid. But you knew that, didn’t you? So. Who says, technique is mandatory? Had Agatha Christie followed that dictum with her first big hit Who Killed Roger Ackroyd, chances are excellent she’d never have had another hit. She did everything ‘wrong’ in that book—and not only was it a smash hit, it opened the door to her next 80-some books! KISS sort of means ‘Don’t get so carried away by the complexities of things that you go right on past the easy way. Not that easy is always best, but you can’t know that if you don’t try it first.

Skip around. Don’t worry about sequence.
Some people start on page one and write straight through to the end of the story. Some start in the middle and go in either direction; sometimes one way, sometimes another. If it all hangs together when it’s done, who cares how it got that way?

Dialogue first, then narrative.

Well, yeah, mostly. But sometimes you need to find the frame for the dialogue, so this one is a toss-up. Of course, if at first you can’t write dialogue, then polish the heck out of the narrative. Or vice versa.

Only rough draft – less than 5% make it to a final one.
True. (check a prior blog entry for more explanation.)  Don’t waste too much time trying to make it perfect before it’s done. Getting it done is the most important part of all.

Good writing is re-writing.
Amen, brother and sister! If you can’t or won’t re-write, you’ll not ever be much of a writer.

End in the middle of a sentence or paragraph
(at the end of the writing session)
If you have trouble getting started sometimes, especially after an unexpected layoff from your writing, this is a good way to prepare yourself to jump back in. It might be helpful to at least make a note in pencil as to where you’re going at the point where you stopped.

Flashes of visual scenes – you’ll lose touch with reality – they need to be written immediately they happen.
Have you ever awakened with a scene, or a plot, in your head? You’re smiling as you tumble out of bed, without quite realizing why. And then you recall, and you know it was the best thing you’d come up with yet. But. First you gotta shower, then get coffee, get dressed and rush off to work before you get the chance to write anything down. Wrong. Do without the shower and the coffee. (Do get dressed however, before you head out the door!) Be late for work, if you must. But in the meantime, take a few minutes to at least jot down the basics of your idea, or by time you get home later that day, it might be gone forever! Alas.

What I see or hear is not actuality
I’m not sure about this one. I’ll think about it. Or ask Les.

Multiple files – storage; scenes, dialogue, etc.
Make separate files for these items. (See blog #6 – Getting Started)

Backtracking / puzzle pieces

Writing a story –especially a mystery, is a good deal like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. You have to scatter clues as well as red herrings all over the place, plus have several possible suspects. Chances are you can’t easily keep track of all these things unless you do a fair amount of backtracking.

Newspaper – Antique Week.
Newspapers (at the library or on microfiche) are an excellent source of background information. If your story is set in the past (even by only 20 years or so) you can pick up some nifty bits of information from newspapers like Antique Week, or magazines such as Saturday Evening Post, or something similar. Look at the ads! They’ll tell you everything you ever wanted to know. Well, almost.

Astrological charts
Ahhh. Yes. Here is where you make your characters believable, interesting people. Astrological charts provide basic traits common to a given astrological sign. For instance, if you want to know who I am, read up on Aries. Un Real. I swear the people who create these things have been hanging out in my head! It’s downright scary, is what it is. And no matter how hard I try, I cannot change myself to be something else, either.

Which comes first – plot or research? Look for historical time-line book.
I think the book is called What Happened When? I’ll find the proper title and report back next week. How’s that?

Happy reading, everyone – and happy writing, too!

If you have questions or comments, please write to me at bookmechanic@gmail.com And please do feel free to pass this along to anyone you think might be interested. Thanks!

P. S. If you’re in Cleveland this weekend, please stop by Loganberry Books on Larchmere on Saturday, July 3 between noon and 4 pm. Say hello to 45 (or so) local authors. I’ll be there!

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One Response to “News + Miscellaneous hints, etc. –”

  1. LK June 30, 2010 at 3:09 am #

    Kelly,
    That’s so cool about Kindle. Thanks for letting us know.
    Laura

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