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Are Your Books in Libraries? May 3, 2015

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Today I have a time-saving tip for other authors and readers. If you’ve ever wondered whether any libraries are carrying a published book, you can easily find out through WorldCat on the Web. Just go to http://www.worldcat.org and, on the search bar, type in the name of the book. If the book has a common name or one that might easily be confused with others, you might also type “by [insert the author’s name].” WorldCat will show the number of copies in libraries and which libraries hold them. This gives authors a chance to see how well-placed their books are and helps readers easily find which libraries might be carrying a book they’ve wanted to read. Most libraries now have an interlibrary loan system, so even if there’s no nearby library carrying a specific book, readers can usually request them on loan.

I’ve searched for all four of my books using WorldCat and haven’t discovered a whole lot of copies in libraries. I’d love to get more in libraries. If you’ve ever wanted to read my books but prefer checking out library books rather than purchasing them, request a copy through your local library. They should be able to order it or get it through interlibrary loan.

WorldCat can also search for DVDs, CDs, and articles. Happy reading!

Writing for the Inner Child February 7, 2015

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Standard writing advice for would-be writers of children’s books and stories is to “spend time with children.” This falls in line with the “write what you know” advice. I think the idea behind the advice is that children may be different from what they were when the writer was a child or that the writer’s memory may be faulty. I tend to believe, though, that the key emotions and experiences of childhood aren’t all that different from one generation to the next and the writer who can tap into those has a good chance of being successful–even without a lot of contact with children. We all have an “inner child” to rely on.

Who can forget what it feels like to be left out? to learn to ride a bike or swim? to receive that favorite toy you still have tucked away in a closet somewhere? to scrape a knee? to lose a friend? to make a new one? to be chosen first . . . or last? to get out of school for a snow day? to have a favorite teacher? to get a sticker as a reward? to have a grownup give you an “airplane ride” or another child give you an “underdog” on the swings? to lose a tooth? to outgrow a favorite shirt? to have a pet die?

Some of the most successful children’s authors–Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Margaret Wise Brown, and Beatrice Potter among them–never had children. Perhaps they could have achieved greater success if they had spent more time with children, but I doubt it.

All writers draw from their own unique experiences when writing a story, but we’ve all experienced childhood. Those childhood experiences or emotions that rise to the top in our memories may be the strongest subject we could write about.

Quotes About Writing, Part III December 6, 2014

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As a gift to other authors around Christmas, I like to print some of my favorite quotes about writing. This is the third grouping of quotes to make it on my blog. Enjoy!

“The fact is that almost everything that almost everyone has ever done to make money from the arts—including the old ways of making money from the arts—mostly didn’t work. We always look back on artistic incomes with what economists call survivor bias. We look at the people who succeeded and not the people who failed.” — Cory Doctorow

“What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” — Stephen King

“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” — Mary Heaton Vorse

“I think the difficult thing with learning how to write is not learning the style or rules, but figuring out what story you want to tell.” — Ransom Riggs

“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” — Agatha Christie

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

“A good essay must have this permanent quality about it; it must draw its curtain round us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in not out.” — Virginia Woolf

“We’ve all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know that’s not true.” — Professor Robert Wilensky

“Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.” — Flannery O’Connor

“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest people of past centuries.” — Descartes

On-the-Spot Research for Writing Historicals November 23, 2014

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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.

calling cards

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, 2014

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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.

Still Selling June 17, 2014

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In my last post, I noted that I haven’t been writing much since taking on full-time work as a proofreader/copy editor and that I’ve had some strange sales that have led me to believe God is nudging me to get back to writing. Well, I have another strange sale to add to the list.  One of my fiction stories was recently published in a magazine, and I can’t even remember when I submitted it. It must have been four or five years ago. The story was one I had already sold to two magazines so I must have submitted it to this magazine to sell reprint rights. Anyway, a copy of the magazine with my story in it arrived in the mail, along with payment. I didn’t even know the publisher had accepted it.

Many publishers no longer respond to a submission if they aren’t interested, so if I haven’t heard from them in three months, I usually figure my submission was rejected. Some publishers say they’ll hold on to submissions for future consideration, but in my experience, that usually means up to a year wait. I’ve never had anyone hold on to a submission for four or five years.

I’m not complaining, and I can take a clue. I spent last weekend writing a short story, finished it, and sent it off to an e-zine that pays. I typically submit only to traditional magazines, so it will be interesting to see what happens with the e-zine.

I think I’ll write next weekend too. :)

 

Checking the Spam Box March 9, 2014

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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.

Change in Author Visits February 22, 2014

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I’ve been working at an accounting firm as a full-time copy editor/proofreader for about a year and find myself too busy to devote much time to my writing career. Now that tax season has hit, I’m working overtime and some Saturdays. I’ve decided to cut back on school talks and, as indicated on my new “Appearances” page, will consider taking part in Q-and-A panels and informal classroom discussions only. Even these I will need to be choosy about because I have limited vacation days as a new employee.

This situation is not unusual. Most writers need to work another job to support a writing career and they struggle to find time to write. I feel fortunate because my daytime job is one that comes easy to me and keeps my grammatical skills sharp. As always, I write when I can.

 

Tips for Older Writers January 4, 2014

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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.

Writing Quotations, Part II December 5, 2013

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Last year around Christmastime, I shared with my readers some of my favorite quotations about writing. Readers seemed to enjoy this gift, so I’ve gathered here a fresh batch of quotations to inspire and instruct.

“If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.” — Tennessee Williams

“To be a well-favoured man is the gift of fortune; but to write and read comes by nature.” — William Shakespeare

“He who would write heroic poems should make his whole life a heroic poem.” — Thomas Carlyle

“There is creative reading as well as creative writing.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” — Francis Bacon

Of all those arts in which the wise excel,
Nature’s chief masterpiece is writing well.

–Duke of Buckinghamshire Sheffield

“You write with ease to show your breeding, But easy writing’s curst hard reading.” — Richard Brinsley Sheridan

“To fall in love with a first draft to the point where one cannot change it is to greatly enhance the prospects of never publishing.” — Richard North Patterson

 “Murder your darlings.” — Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

“I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” — Blaise Pascal

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.
’T is not enough no harshness gives offence,—
The sound must seem an echo to the sense.

— Alexander Pope

“Writing is rewriting.” — Eudora Welty

“I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.” — Peter De Vries

“I do not like to write–I like to have written.” — Gloria Steinem

“Though an angel should write, still ’t is devils must print.” — Thomas Moore

“The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.” — Robert Benchley

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” — George Bernard Shaw

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” — Stephen King

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