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Tag: writing

You Don’t Know Everything: Manuscript Strength in Numbers

If you’re a writer, and you’re not a part of a writer’s workshop group, I want you to go ahead and kick yourself in the gut. And if you’re capable of this feat, maybe you should consider a new line of work. Those of you who are regular followers of my mostly mundane author news know that I am the de facto leader of a writer’s group (via Meetup) here in town (on Twitter at @WeirdATXWriters), and I have to say, their feedback is priceless. Typically, I bring my first drafts of short stories, chapters, and poems to my workshop meetups, and my first drafts are usually pretty clean. But if it weren’t for my writer’s group, I wouldn’t have known the following about my next novel (which now has a title, btw… PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN IN INK: A TATTOO STORYBOOK).

  • One of my stories takes place on Thanksgiving, and there’s a reference to football playing on the television. If not for my writer’s group, I wouldn’t have known that the teams that play on Turkey Day are Detroit and Dallas, every year. And I LOVE football. (Yes, it was a Texan who corrected me.)
  • The correct height and weight of a 4-year-old boy. Also, the age at which boys are fully potty-trained. Sure, I can guess, but my guesses proved inaccurate.
  • That not everyone remembers 1984 (the book, not the year – I was two) with the same level of recall as me, and the term “proles” is lost on most.

Bottom line? I’m a pretty smart cookie, but I don’t know everything. No one’s life experiences can make them an expert on everything, and it’s only by having a few fresh sets of eyes on a manuscript that you can resolve little misgivings in the prose that hurt your credibility with the reader.

If you’re not part of a group, there is no excuse for that. There’s Meetup, where you can probably find about 5 writers groups in your area. If there isn’t one, you can start one, and it’ll cost you about $100 a year. I joined one when I moved to Austin, and ended up running the same group when the organizer moved out of town, and we typically have about 5 or 6 people in a workshop meetup. That’s 5 different people with different life experiences (parent, engineer, sports fan, etc.) reading my manuscripts and pointing out these little issues that never would have crossed my mind. Is that worth the $100 a year I’m spending on meetup dues (that I could be getting from sponsors or my group members if I were that concerned about the cash)? You bet your sweet ass it is.

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Help me pick a title for my next masterpiece!

Greetings, loyal fanbase of fans! Today I sent the drafts of the short stories that are going in my newest collection to the people they were about. If you’re unfamiliar, I’m working on a collection of short stories about women and their tattoos. The stories are chained, meaning you meet characters in a previous story and learn more about them in the next.

I’ve been struggling to come up with a title, but I have a few ideas I’ve been throwing arond, so I want to crowdsource this one… tell me in the comments: which one do you like best?

  1. Vodka Chicken Soup for the Tattooed Soul
  2. Written in Ink
  3. The Girls with the Draggin’ Tattoos

Or, choose your own!


New flash fiction piece up

When I started my Wednesday Wrants, I said that part of the reason I wanted to do them was to have some avenue for my ranting frustrations, but also a record of something I could write about later. My newest flash fiction piece, Johnson County Mr. Coffee, is just that.

I ranted a few weeks ago about our fancypants coffeemaker a few weeks ago in this post, and it inspired the following story.

Go check it out, and tell me what you think 🙂

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2011 in Writer Review

I just got done reading my 2010 review, and now I’m ready to do the same for 2011. It’s been quite a year, and was way different from 2010.

  • I had two manuscripts published in 2011. It was less than 2010, but I’ll still call it a win because I spent more energy on getting The Redheaded Stepchild published and writing my next novel. I also spent more time writing new manuscripts in general than I did in 2010.
  • 2011 came and went, and the two poems that were accepted for publication in February 2010 are still waiting to go to print. And people wonder why print is dead…
  • I forwent the book deal and decided to publish The Redheaded Stepchild myself. I’m still experimenting to figure out what works as far as sales and marketing go, but I’m not in this for the money. I’m in it because I love it and I want to try new things.
  • I tripled my Twitter followers.
  • I once again pimped my writing at South by Southwest. I also submitted a panel proposal for SXSW 2012 which is still under review. Fingers crossed!
  • I used my Kindle to check out works by other Kindle authors. I’m hoping that it’ll be great for you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours kind of sales.
  • I joined a writer’s group, and I’m now leading that group. I look forward to Weird Austin Writers meetings every single time.
  • I began volunteering at my local library. I’m hoping this will help me reach out to readers once I get more established.

Goals for 2012

  • Sell 1,000 copies of The Redheaded Stepchild. I’ll have to figure out what works marketing-wise to make that happen, but it’d be nice to know that my book is in 1,000 new hands!
  • Publish my next novel. I’ve got a lot of rewriting and editing to do, but I’m really excited about the project and I think it’ll be my best work yet. Now if I can just think of a title…
  • Build relationships with readers and other authors. This means I need to keep up with my other author blogs all year round. (Compound goal.)
  • Publish The Other Dentenia Zickafoose. I’ve been shopping this guy around for almost 2 years now. It’s time.
  • Become a contributor on other author blogs. Guest posting, book reviews, whatever I can do. I need to put myself out there.
  • Write 15 new manuscripts. I’ll have the new novel, but I also want to write 10 poems and 5 short stories to add to my repertiore. Can’t be myopic with my manuscripts.

On the whole, I’ll call 2011 a win. I think 2012 is gonna rock.

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The Art of Reviewing as Learned from Charles Dickens

This past week, I received my first reviews for The Redheaded Stepchild since I finished publishing it. (You can read the reviews here.) As part of my advertising strategy to be as non-invasive and un-icky as possible, I am using reviews heavily. What does that mean? Everything I read, I review. On Goodreads, or on the site of purchase (Amazon or Goodreads for me, usually). I try to keep my reviews as positive as possible, and when giving criticism, being as matter-of-fact as possible, offering something that could actually be helpful to the author.

I also make it a point to go through the other reviews posted and Like, Mark Helpful, or whatever the site has available. I find it gratifying for two reasons:

  1. Some of these reviews are just plain hilarious. I just finished Oliver Twist and one of the Goodreads reviews was “Please, sir, may I have less?” Yeah, it’s pretty gorram wordy book. Thank you, pay-by-the word olde English publishers.
  2. It makes me feel like I am in good company. If the great Charles Dickens, a household name known by everyone who’s ever read a book, ever, can get a bjillion negative reviews, I can get my first bad one and not feel like a total failure.

Luckily, my reviews thus far have been very positive, but they were both from friends, so they kinda have to be nice to me. When strangers who aren’t so keen on my writing style start buying it by the bushel (positive thinking, people… positive thinking), I’m sure I’ll get a scathing review or two. And that’s okay. I don’t expect everyone on the planet to dig my writing style, just as there are plenty of people out there who didn’t, and still don’t, like Charles Dickens’ writing style, the wordy bastard. Not to compare myself to Charles Dickens, but hey…

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Why you should write about Thanksgiving

I’ve been working on my second novel for a couple months now – a short story collection about women and their tattoos. The first chapter I wrote was about a tattoo done on Thanksgiving. I think it’s one of my stronger chapters, and it was also one of the easiest to write. Last night while I was trying (and failing) to fall back asleep, it occurred to me that the reason for that is because Thanksgiving is such a rich topic to write about. If you’re a writer looking for something to get the creative juices flowing, I suggest writing something about Thanksgiving. Why?

  • Great material for sensory images. You’ve got the visual, the gustatory, the olfactory, even the auditory and the tactile. I can’t even begin to think about Thanksgiving without smelling deep fried turkey.
  • Built-in conflict. Sometimes as writers we struggle to create conflict out of nothing. When it comes to Thanksgiving, there isn’t a single one I’ve had where there wasn’t some kind of drama floating about.
  • Opportunity for dialogue. People will talk about just about anything at Thanksgiving, to just about anybody.

So if you’ve never written about a Thanksgiving event, I challenge you to crank out a little flash fiction piece to get the juices flowing. Mmm… that makes me think of turkey.

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Financial Times feature

It’s only tangentially related to my personal writing, but it’s still pretty damned cool. I was interviewed by Emma Jacobs of the Financial Times about my freelance writing job (you know, the one I’m doing when I’m not working my full-time real job or working on my next novel). The article’s pretty sweet, so it’s definitely worth passing on.

You can read it HERE, and possibly have to pass their registration wall by registering for a free account. Or you can Google “The Love Letter Ghostwriter” to read the thing without registering.

P.S. That’s not what I really look like. It’s a God-awful picture of me.

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Answering the question “So what’s your book about?”

If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent years writing your book.  The characters are so real in your imagination that they might as well be walking right beside you, in the flesh.  You’ve added sections, removed sections, rewritten sections so many times you could recite them from memory.  Your book encompasses love, hate, and that which makes us infallible humans…

… and then someone wants to you to simplify all that into a sentence. THE sentence. “What’s your book about?”

You want to scoff at them, tell them you can’t possibly diminish your life’s work to a level they could possibly understand.  But you’re not a pompous asshole, and you want them to actually read it. So what do you do?

You find an answer to life’s great question. You’ll have to answer it the rest of your life after you’re published, so you might as well have a well thought-out, rehearsed (but natural) answer for it. Not sure where to start?  Here are some ideas:

  • Setting. No, you don’t want a Don LaFontaine-esque “In a world where…” statement, but where your story takes place is a pretty big part of the story. If your story’s on a fictional planet incapable of sustaining life, that’s probably something the questioner wants to know about. If it’s just about a small town where escape seems impossible (like mine is), that’s just as crucial to the story.
  • Main character. Bottom line, if they don’t care about the main character, they’re not going to care about your story.
  • The central conflict. If you make your character’s world sound all hunky-dory, then the reader’s not going to see much point in reading a story about everyday life on planet Cilicol or the fun of growing up.

Avoid cliches. Don’t call it a coming of age story (guilty of this myself), a post-apocalyptic survival story, or a sardonic satire. Be unique.  If your elevator answer includes these three elements and steers clear of cliches, then it’ll probably be enough to catch their attention. Here’s one I’ve been kicking around…

It’s a collection of vignettes about a girl who grows up in a small town where everyone wants to get out, but few people actually do. Just as she gets used to life with her younger brother and sister in her father’s custody, her new stepmother comes along and she has to try and figure out how to keep her in her life, even with life around her isn’t so pleasant.

Keep it short. About 30 seconds. After awhile, you’ll get so good at it you’ll forget that it took you years and years to write your epic tome.

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New poem: Occupy Rural Route Two

The whole Occupy Wall Street mess has been all over the news lately. I won’t tell you my opinion, except that I agree with some of their demands (though I think calling them demands is a really bad idea) but I think they’re blaming the wrong people and doing something that will likely prove ineffectual.

I also find it interesting because I grew up in a town whose idea of a traffic jam was 20 cars behind a tractor and corporate greed was the local furniture store not offering to sponsor the baseball team.  A guy I went to high school with is now an economist in DC, and we were talking on twitter about what the demands of “Occupy Buffalo, Missouri” would be if there were one. I had so much fun with it that I decided to write a little poem to demonstrate how far removed rural America is from corporate America, no matter how much politicians want to say we’re all the same.

It’s called Occupy Rural Route Two. Enjoy.

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New fiction project underway – call for help!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my next tattoo. Coincidentally, today is the 4th anniversary of my divorce, and I always said that when my marriage was over, I would get a new tattoo to cover up the one that I got just a few days after our wedding. I wanted to get this tattoo four years ago, but I was left with a house that couldn’t sell and he couldn’t pay for. Things are just now starting to look up in the market, and I’m anxiously waiting for the last tie to be severed.

That, of course, is the Reader’s Digest version, but it’s a story that is anything but uncommon. A physical change that represents a significant event or belief that someone has. Sure, there are plenty of people out there who get tattoos for no reason whatsoever (I’m looking at you, University of Texas hipster), but I think that for the most part, people get tattoos to commemorate something special.

That’s where you come in. I want to know the story behind your tattoo, whether it’s your first or your 20th, so you can be part of this collection of stories. If you’re game, e-mail me the Reader’s Digest version of your tattoo story (or more, depending on how many creative liberties you’ll allow me to take).

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