On-the-Spot Research for Writing Historicals November 23, 2014Posted by Ronica Stromberg in Uncategorized.
Tags: calling cards, historical fiction, Victorian era
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When I write historical fiction, I know any success I might have in recreating an era for my readers largely hinges on my getting the details right. I relied heavily on research when writing The Glass Inheritance, my mystery novel involving Depression era glassware, and found it invaluable to visit historically significant sites from the Great Depression and World War II era. I toured a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming, Pearl Harbor, two concentration camps in Germany, and three Holocaust museums, among other sites. Such travel isn’t always financially feasible, but I’ve discovered local sites offer a wealth of information and inspiration also.
Just this summer I toured a Victorian mansion here in the Midwest and was thrilled to see the museum had a bowl of calling cards near the door. Because I had read in Victorian era novels about characters dropping off their calling cards at one another’s houses, I recognized what the cards were. The tour guide allowed me to pick the cards up and look through them even though the cards were authentic, not reproductions.
Some of the cards clearly came from a printer as is, but others appeared to be homemade or had the owner’s name stenciled in after printing. They were all works of art compared with today’s business cards.
Holding these cards gave me insight and inspiration I doubt I would have drawn from just reading about them. I may choose to write a story involving calling cards and have more assurance now of getting the details right.
Tough Stuff in Children’s Books September 7, 2014Posted by Ronica Stromberg in Uncategorized.
Tags: Laura Ingalls Wilder, rejection, writing for children
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The Guardian recently published an article stating that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Pioneer Girl will be released soon. In the book, Wilder wrote about her childhood growing up in the 1800s on the frontier. Pioneer Girl was rejected by publishers, so Wilder rewrote it and sold the resulting stories as the now-famous Little House on the Prairie books. Publishers had deemed parts of Pioneer Girl unfit for children, such as the story of a drunken man who accidentally killed himself when trying to light a cigar and having the liquor on his breath catch fire and the story of a shopkeeper who dragged his wife around by the hair and set their bedroom on fire.
I’m sure Wilder really witnessed these horrific events and felt compelled to include them in Pioneer Girl when trying to accurately relate her life on the frontier. The reality is that children around the world face tough stuff like this. Those who make it to adulthood completely untouched by violence or other ugly behaviors must be few and far between. We can’t completely protect children, but should writers for children include such tough stuff in their stories?
I’m torn on this. For children who are living in tough situations, maybe it helps to read about other children in similar situations. They might be able to identify with characters more and feel more inclined to read about children who are struggling about bigger issues than finding a lost bike or securing a date for prom.
On the other hand, maybe a child in a tough situation would give anything to get away from that, even if it’s just the temporary escape of a light read.
I’ve written about both the tough stuff and the light and found the light stuff (especially humor) easier to sell. I think publishers are more receptive of the tough stuff (often even welcome it) in young adult books but are less receptive of it in books for younger children. A big part of the decision has to be about how the writer handles the topic and why. What is the point in exposing a child to ugliness or violence? I think a writer who chooses to tackle tough stuff in children’s books should offer hope to the reader or some possibility of resolution in the end.
Checking the Spam Box March 9, 2014Posted by Ronica Stromberg in Uncategorized.
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I hadn’t checked the spam box on my e-mail account in years (I deleted spam mail, unseen, by pressing the trash icon), but the other day, I peeked into my spam box. I had two e-mails: one from an agent and one from an editor.
Eleven years ago, I had submitted a two-novel proposal to the agent. Now, she was cleaning her office and came across my submission. She must have looked into the current status of the novels (A Shadow in the Dark and Living It Up to Live It Down) because she congratulated me on their publication. She asked if my address on the return envelope was still current and if I wanted my proposal back. I had moved but I gave her my current address. My submission from years ago came back with handwritten comments in the margins. Overall, these comments were positive. One or two suggested further plot developments. This is helpful information to me, even though it came too late for these novels.
The second piece of mail in my spam box, from a magazine editor, requested me to resubmit a short story to her magazine even though someone on the staff had rejected it more than a year ago. I knew the magazine editor’s name and e-mail address was legitimate, so I resent the short story. A few days later, I received a paying contract.
Both incidents strike me as strange. I can’t believe many agents are contacting writers years later to return submissions or that editors are tracking them down to request manuscripts they’ve already rejected. Because I’m a believer in God and I haven’t been writing or submitting much in the past few years while working full-time, I see both incidents as encouragement from him that he believes in my writing.
I’m also left wondering how many other legitimate pieces of mail I may have deleted from my spam box, resulting in the loss of a sale or valuable contact. I’ve started skimming over my spam messages.
Tips for Older Writers January 4, 2014Posted by Ronica Stromberg in Uncategorized.
Tags: older writers, punctuation, writing tips
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While editing the work of several older writers lately, I noticed they used punctuation and formatting styles that are no longer current. I developed the below list of tips to help these writers update their manuscripts. I doubt any editor would reject a work solely on an item on this list, but editors are busy and writers who can save them time and effort hold an advantage. Magazines and paying publishers are looking for manuscripts that are fresh, but certain punctuation and formatting styles date writing.
- Dashes should be made with two hyphens with no spaces on either side of the hyphens. Most computer programs will convert the two hyphens into a long dash known as an em dash, which is what publishers want.
- Periods should go inside quotation marks. In the 1970s and before, U.S. students were taught to put the period inside the quotation marks when the whole sentence was a quotation but outside the marks when only the last part of the sentence was a quotation, like so:
“This sentence is a quotation.”
Only the last part of this sentence is “a quotation”.
England still uses that style, but the United States now uses this style:
“This sentence is a quotation.”
Only the last part of this sentence is “a quotation.”
- Periods should be followed by one space, not two. People who learned to type on a manual typewriter were instructed to put two spaces after the closing punctuation in a sentence, but with the advent of computers and proportional spacing, two spaces are no longer needed or desired.
- Computers can divide words at the end of a line when a break is needed, so dividing words by hand isn’t usually needed or desirable.
- Italics are now used instead of underlines. People used to underline words in titles and definitions to signal to typesetters to put the words in italics. Typewriters didn’t offer italics back then, but computers now do. A few publishers still prefer older formatting styles or no formatting, and they will usually state that in their writing guidelines.
- Telephone numbers no longer need parentheses around the area code. Parentheses suggest text is optional, but area codes are no longer optional. Telephone numbers should be written with hyphens only: 012-345-6789.
- Our language has become less formal and capitals are used less. For instance, general job titles like “mayor” don’t need to be capitalized when standing alone, and general references to a state or city don’t require the words “state” or “city” to be capitalized.
Changes in Journalism October 27, 2013Posted by Ronica Stromberg in Uncategorized.
Tags: fundraising, journalism jobs, recruitment, University of Iowa, writing
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The field of journalism has changed dramatically in the past few decades, and jobs in print journalism, copy editing, and proofreading have dwindled. My alma mater, the University of Iowa, keeps me posted about new developments in the UI School of Journalism. I’ve been surprised to see the types of jobs journalism graduates are now anticipating getting with their degrees. Two newer degree tracks are fundraising and recruitment. Companies are hiring journalism graduates to write the letters used in fundraising and recruitment and to make phone calls to potential donors. This points up to me, once again, the importance of being flexible when attempting to make a living writing. Change is a constant in this business.
Visiting Publishers September 8, 2013Posted by Ronica Stromberg in Uncategorized.
Tags: A Shadow in the Dark, book publishing, book tour, Living It Up to Live It Down, Ronica Stromberg, Royal Fireworks Press, The Glass Inheritance
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A writing friend told me that she once scored a book deal after touring a publishing house and being told by her tour guide what the publisher was looking for in children’s books. I doubt this happens much since most book publishers are in New York and not all of them give tours, but any opportunity a writer has to network with publishers can’t hurt.
I was fortunate to be able to visit one of my publishers, Royal Fireworks Press, in New York this summer. The press had purchased and published three of my books after discovering my work in the slush pile. (Submissions that come to a publisher without the aid of an agent or any special contact are said to “go through the slush pile.”) After I’d sold each book, I spoke with the staff over the telephone and through e-mails, but until this summer, I had never met any of the staff in person. Tom Kemnitz, the president of the company, spoke with me in his office for about an hour and gave me a tour of the plant, showing me the book publishing process.
I enjoyed seeing the inner workings of a small press and having the chance to speak about the market for my own books. And Tom did give me some good tips, one of which would be helpful to anyone considering submitting to this publisher: Royal Fireworks Press is no longer publishing much science fiction. The press primarily publishes nonfiction, but in the fiction line, the acquisitions team is mainly seeking historical fiction.