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Posts from the ‘writing’ Category

3 Critical Things You Won’t Learn in an MFA Program

The pros and cons of an MFA in creative writing are widely debated: on one hand, such programs offer students the opportunity to work with accomplished authors, whose expertise (and endorsements) could make all the difference in publishing their first book. On the other hand, such programs often come with a hefty price tag, with fully funded options few and far between. But regardless of whether you go for an MFA, some things are critical to establishing a career as an author that you probably don’t know, unless you’ve learned them the hard way (or you’ve worked in publishing).

Source: 3 Critical Things You Won’t Learn in an MFA Program | Jane Friedman\

The important take-aways from this post have little to do with whether or not you’re considering an MFA program or even know any reasons why anyone would sign up for one.

This post is interesting because it shows you that agents and publishers don’t read your manuscript the same way a beta reader, professor, or colleague in a critique group reads it.

Obviously, the agent and publisher want to see if your story will sell and to do that they focus closely on the voice you demonstrate in the opening lines and whether or not the characters and plot develop reasonably throughout the work.

Their view, while narrow and expedient, is often similar to what reviewers and knowing readers bring to a book. Worth looking at, I think.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

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This is the best blog since sliced bread

I have no idea what that means. But 99 out of 100 spammers can’t be wrong. They tell me, I’ve got what it takes to be their most visited blog in the galaxy. Oh, swell. They tell me they’re going to bookmark this place and come back often. Well, you won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t.

As I see it, I’m here to shoot the breeze about all kinds of stuff and keep readers up to date on my books. My goal has never been to help promote cheap loans, cheap Viagra, or cheap hookers. Fortunately, the Word Press anti-spam software throws most of your comments in the trash before I even see them. But, you gotta keep on trying, right?

Not that I think you actually visited this blog personally. You have bots for that, yes? Because, if you personally visited this site, you might (a) actually like what’s here, and/or (b) note that I’m not selling loans, Viagra, and hookers. We could have a dialogue about that and lots of other things if you came here and asked to talk.

If you did that, I would be here for you. We could try primal scream therapy, behavioural modification, transactional analysis, and Jungian analysis to root our the daemons that tell you to drop spam into innocent blogs just to make a buck. We could play the I’m Okay, You’re Not Okay game and see if that helps. I’m not a fan of Freud, but we can discuss when a cigar is just a cigar and whether or not you’re in love with your mother. No judgements here. All complexes welcome.

If you like, we can play the games people play and infuse the discussion with some of Eric Berne’s snarky comments. If you’ve read Erik Erikson, we can start with trust vs. mistrust, and perhaps when we get through all of his proposed life stages, you’ll no longer feel the need to SPAM my blog or if there’s some strange transference going on, I’ll learn to love your SPAM.

As an author, who really wanted to be a Jungian analyst, I’m forever trying to discover what makes people tick. As Jung could have said, “The Shadow knows.” Of course, it does, but the shadow and I aren’t always on speaking terms. Or, maybe that’s all BS and I should say I might buy your Viagra if you buy my books. What say you?

Malcolm

 

 

Backstory can detract from the primary plot

 

Katherine Neville (The Eight, The Fire) is generally credited with pioneering the quest/adventure novel in which the current-day and primary plot is greatly influenced by past events. Dan Brown made the style famous in The Da Vinci Code and related novels.

The Da Vinci Code had a compelling plot that kept readers engaged in spite of the fact that great swaths of text were instructional in nature, that is, one character tells another character about the history and symbolism as a device to inform the reader what the current-day plot means.

I’ve just completed reading three quest/adventure novels that, while they kept me reading, spent too much time in the backstory. I won’t mention the author because my intent here is not to trash her books. We have current-say plots which are exciting, but the meaning behind them comes from memories of part events or past lives that might have occurred many centuries ago. In general, I liked the books. However, she spent too much time with the backstory.

Imagine this. A character is trying to puzzle out a mystery and it’s kind of a page-turner. Then, the next chapter is titled Accra, Ghana, 1578. Suddenly the current-day plot is put on hold and the reader finds himself/herself reading about people s/he’s never heard of from many centuries ago. In some cases, they’re living heroic lives; in other cases, they’re everyday people doing about their daily tasks.

Then the novel switches back to the current day for a chapter before the author delays the mainstream plot with a chapter called, let’s say, Constantine, Algeria, 1830, and now we’re suddenly following a French soldier at the beginning of France’s occupation of the country.

While these past events usually factor into the reader’s understanding of the mainstream plot before the novel ends, the past-history events are a distraction. For one thing, they stop the present-day story and introduce new characters. For another thing, they drag on for multiple pages when all the reader wants to do is get back to the primary story. In each case, the novelist would better serve his/her story by cutting the number of words in each of these ancient history chapters.

It’s interesting, as it was in Neville’s and Brown’s novels to see the influence of the past, but it becomes a tedious distraction when past events occupy a large portion of the novel. Even if we learn, let’s say, that our protagonist name Dan actually was that French soldier in a past life, it doesn’t justify (in my view) spending ten pages in Algeria while the primary plot sits in limbo.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Special Investigative Reporter,” recently released by Thomas-Jacob Publishing.

Your story is waiting to be told

All you have to do is write it.

As I search for writing-related articles to post on my Facebook author’s page, I see a fair number about writing memoirs. More and more of these of late have suggested that so-called “everyday people” should be writing memoirs–not just the rich and famous, not just those who have lived through wondrous or horrifying experiences, and not just those whose lives have intertwined with widely known people.

If I may be so bold as to suggest: your story is the life you are living. You’ve had good luck and bad luck, made good decisions and bad decisions and learned a lot of things in the process. What changed you the most: the so-called “good” or the so-called “bad.” In fiction, “bad” is often more compelling than “good” whether it’s bad people doing bad things or good people fighting bad people.

Whatever we discover in this chaotic mix of “bad” and “good” is worth saving, if not for the world at large, but for our families and friends. It need not be a hardcover or a paperback or an e-book available on Amazon. Perhaps it’s a folder of printed out pages or a series of files on a flash drive. (I prefer the printout because twenty or thirty years from now, there might not be any hardware or software around than can read a flash drive.)

I have two granddaughters who are much too young to hear the story of my life. When they’re older, it might be interesting. Or, it might not. Maybe my story will found like ancient history to them and whether it does or doesn’t they might have fun reading it. One of my aunts lived to be over 100 years old. She told me stories about traveling across the country in a covered wagon from Iowa to Washington state. Her stories made history come alive and made my family’s past more vital.

I found my family stories to be interesting, and it never occurred to me that my parents and grandparents were sharing them with me out of a sense of vanity. Yet, many of us feel like we’re being vain when we try to write our stories whether we sound more like heroes or villains. Even when I was young and tried to keep a journal, I realized I couldn’t write it straight and that I was always writing it with a bias that made me look less screwed up than I was. So, I know it’s hard to get past that need to justify ourselves and just tell the story has it happened, warts and all.

Most of us don’t have Wikipedia entries our kids can Google in the future. If we live in a Walton’s-like environment in one big house, we can share a lot of stories over time. When families are scattered, this is harder to do. We used to write snail mail letters to each other, but that’s not part of today’s reality–and even when we did write them, we usually didn’t save them to read again twenty years later. My parents wrote an annual Christmas letter, a process that has become much maligned. Yet my copies of it remind me what I was doing at different ages. One joke about Christmas letters was that they told the good stuff and not the bad stuff. Which is not to say that when and if you write the story of your life, you have to disclose every embarrassing moment. Our memoirs need not be a “Mommie Dearest” kind of thing.

My younger brother has scanned in multiple family letters and documents and figured out our genealogy from my father’s earlier research and from sites like Ancestry.com. Personally, I find it tedious to read letters my mother wrote to her parents in the 1940s. If we write memoirs, perhaps we should summarize this kind of information rather than trying to include a minute-by-minute account of each day’s minutiae. Maybe less is more in some cases. Perhaps sketches of our teenage years are more likely to be read than doctoral dissertations with footnotes. <g>

Here’s a page on a memoir-oriented site that lists books that might be of help if you decide to take the plunge.

Malcolm

 

 

 

Masterful Wordsmithing with Metaphor and Imagery 

Metaphors, similes, and creative imagery can be useful, creative tools for relaying emotion. In case you don’t remember, a metaphor, according to Reedsy, is “a literary device that imaginatively draws a comparison between two, unlike things. It does this by stating that Thing A is Thing B.” A simile compares things, usually with as or like.

Filmmakers carefully construct image systems similar to how writers use motifs in fiction: with color, placement, sound, or emblematic imagery. They are used to subtly manipulate the emotional state of the viewer.

This is clip art and not a photo of Jane, Lakin, or me.

Take the time to add these skills to your writer’s toolbox because they will help you become an emotional master.

Source: Masterful Wordsmithing with Metaphor and Imagery | Jane Friedman

I have a strong bias against the term “wordsmithing” because it’s often used to imply that a writer is like a mechanic who simply tunes up a story or an article that needs help–like there’s no art in the process. Nonetheless, this post from Jane Friedman’s site has some good ideas for those of us who are constantly trying to improve our stories, essays, and articles.

This post includes a fair number of examples that show just how “creative imagery” is used. C. S. Lakin does a good job with this post, one that veterans and emerging writers alike can read for fresh inspiration.

I find that these how-to posts remind me of techniques I learned a long time ago but haven’t actively thought about for years. They’re kind of a jump start.

Malcolm

 

 

Will write for food

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” – Dorothy Parker

  • I tried writing for money and it didn’t work out.”
  • My parents’ greatest sorrow–other than the fact I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth–was that my grades in English classes were always lower than my grades in my other classes. They knew I was running from destiny before I did.
  • On my first visit to the radiation department to talk about upcoming cancer treatments, the doctor asked what I did for a living. When I told him I was an author, he asked how many of my books had been published. When I said, “All of them,” he said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, but we do have a financial assistance program for the indigent.”
  • I once set up a card table downtown with a poster that said, “Will write for food.” A cop brought me a tomato and mayo sandwich and said, “Okay, ace, write something.” I took out a scrap of paper and wrote, “Mama don’t allow no tomato sandwiches ’round here.” “Buddy,” he said, “you’re no James Patterson.” “Story of my life,” I said.
  • When people look at me funny during a conversation, my wife explains that I’m a writer. That usually shuts them up.
  • On the plus side, when people know I’m a writer of fiction, they think I’m just making stuff up whenever I insult them with one wisecrack or another. This has given me a lot of latitude for saying just about anything to anyone.
  • Most English teachers can sense fear; mine always sensed flippancy. They discovered sooner or later that I thought high school and college English departments were doing their best to train people to hate reading and writing.
  • I was once thrown out of a college English class for challenging the professor’s negative views about journalism. He said journalism was hack writing. I said many of the world’s greatest authors began as journalists. He stipulated that but said they were in the minority, and that most journalists couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag. When I said, “you probably can’t either,” he told me to get out. My father, who was dean of that university’s school of journalism, went over and had a talk with him, ensuring that I was back in the class the next day. Afterwards, I kept out of trouble (mostly) and ended up getting a B in the course.
  • Writing is like drugs. I’ve spent large amounts of time looking for a 12-step program to help me quit. So far, no luck on that.
  • People keep saying that the pen is mightier than the sword. I usually ask if anyone is still using swords these days. When they look at me funny, my wife says, “he’s a writer.”
  • If you decide to write for food, pick something you like. There’s no point in working all day for a tomato sandwich. much less humous. Go for a steak or a plate of oysters or wine that costs $500 per bottle. Otherwise, you’re not only selling yourself short, but you’re eating stuff that doesn’t taste good.

Malcolm

Do you care if your favorite author writes at noon or midnight?

A writers’ magazine, that shall remain nameless here, asks authors of new titles ten questions. Clearly, the intent of these articles is to promote the book because I can’t imagine that readers care how and when authors write.

Okay, maybe I’m biased against these kinds of articles because “they” haven’t called me and asked whether I write best in fire or rain, use a pencil or a pen, or sit in Waffle Houses or woods as I craft each new book.

I’ll stipulate that there may be circumstances where a writer’s methods and techniques might be interesting:

  • Wrote the book in jail.
  • Wrote the book while clinically dead on the operating table.
  • Wrote the book while surrounded by rabid kangaroos in Australia.

Otherwise, I’m not sure readers care whether an author writes in the bedroom or the back porch or the south forty. I know I don’t care. And if “they” called me and asked for an interview in which “they” proposed a series in inane questions, I’d probably agree to it and make stuff up. People who ask inane questions deserve to be lied to.

Perhaps I would say, I always write at High Noon because “High Noon” is one of my favorite movies. Or, perhaps I would say, I always write on Hallowe’en because I channel haints and the veil between worlds at that time of the year. Personally, I think that thin veil between worlds stuff is a lot of nonsense, but people seem to believe it. That means readers would probably believe haints help me write my books.

I just got done reading one of these “ten questions for Joe Smith” kind of articles and the whole shebang was so boring, I immediately opened a bottle of Shiraz and tried to forget.

These articles all seem to be written by lazy writers who ask the same stock questions to every writer they interview, so it’s no wonder they (the authors and/or the articles) all sound like they come off an assembly line.  When a real journalist is assigned to write a feature article about an emerging author (or anyone else), the first thing they need to do is learn everything they can before the interview begins. That makes each article unique, makes the subject a real person rather than just another widget, makes the source more important than the interviewer’s stock questions.

Some blogs actually have a list of stock questions for writers to answer. Purportedly, the result is supposed to sound like an interview. It doesn’t. The result is usually boring and probably costs the emerging author a lot of book sales.

Question: What were you doing when you first thought about writing this book?
Answer: I was eating a pizza.

Wow, that information’s really going to resonate with prospective readers! As an author, I’d feel so discounted if I were asked such a question, I’d probably say, “I was watching alligators have sex.”

When I read an interview with an author, I want to see questions and answers that matter.

Malcolm

 

 

Five Golden Options for Improving Writing Income

If you dabble in anything writing, you know it shares a similarity to any ordinary business – seasons. Businesses experience boom or recession; writers experience feast or famine. To escape this cycle, writers capitalize in two ways: finding retainer clients and collecting a plethora of clients. But do you know there are other options that can help beat the challenges of seasons?

Here are six alternative revenue sources to engage in as a writer.

Source: Improve Your Writing Income with These Five Golden Options | | FundsforWriters

Derick Omondi’s guest post presents some workable ideas. If you’ve been writing a while, and especially if you keep up with publicity techniques, you may have seen these ideas before. If they’re new for you, all of them may not apply, but some will.

A helpful and knowledgeable post from the Funds for Writers blog.

–Malcolm

 

 

Rain, Wimbledon, and other sorrows.

When I was a kid, I hated rainy Friday nights because they usually ended up lasting throughout the weekend and then ending just in time for school Monday morning.

Sure, the yard needs to be mowed, but the rain is more than welcome. The smaller trees have had a bad summer. And, there’s something about rain that shields us from the world’s slings and arrows. That is, it’s cozy staying in the house when the rain has taken over the fields on all sides. The horse and bull across the road are seemingly oblivious to the rain and the cattle I can see out past the back yard don’t seem to notice it either.

While rain usually improves my mood, I’m still not ready to talk about the Williams/Halep Wimbledon final. Serena’s game was lackluster, especially her serve, and Halep had enough speed to return a lot of shots that many other opponents could never have gotten to. But, I’ll admit that Halep played a fine game.

Coming Soon

My publisher and I are still getting rid of the formatting errors that occurred when the PDF manuscript for Special Investigative Reporter was converted into a DOCX file. This is delaying the release date. Meanwhile, I’m happy to see that Conjure Woman’s Cat and Lena are getting a lot of positive reviews on Audible.  Oddly enough, there are more reviews of Audible than Amazon.

I do plan to return to the Florida Panhandle world of my Florida Folk Magic Series once Special Investigative Reporter is released. I needed a change of pace. And I needed something completely different.  There’s definitely more to say about North Florida and the KKK in the 1950s. My Pollyanna character has a very different approach to the Klan than the main characters in the folk magic series. So, I look forward to exploring that.

My wife is still fighting off those twenty-three bee stings that happened when she mowed through a hidden nest in high grass. The ER helped a lot. But now, there’s a lot of itching to contend with. And, it’s odd that “new stings” keep appearing on her arms and hands that didn’t initially show up.  We keep thinking that some of the bees did a half-assed job of stinging her at the time and now are just showing up.

My radiation treatment for cancer begins on August 1, just in time for my birthday. It will be a daily thing, excluding weekends. and will last about forty days. That seems really tedious and is supposed to make me tired. I’ll be glad to get all that out of the way and emerge cancer free. If all goes as planned, this will be my second time as a cancer survivor.  At my age, I guess one has to expect all kinds of problems like this.

I hope you’re having a great weekend, rain or shine.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your 100 Fan Club 

“Simply your writing. Write the stories that you think your top 100 will love. Don’t have 100? If you keep making an appearance in person, on social media, in writing guest posts on blogs, that 100 will materialize. If you keep writing and quit banking on one book. If you keep reminding the few you have in a newsletter who you are (avoiding saying BUY MY BOOK), that 100 will happen.”

Source: Your 100 Fan Club | | FundsforWriters

All sorts of people ask writers about their target audiences. I suppose if you write in a genre, that helps define your prospective audience. Or, if you write folk tales set in a defined region of the country, then you might hope the people who live there are part of your target audience. But if you look at demographics, checking to see how many readers like your genre and how many people live where your stories are set, the numbers are quite large.

When we invite people over to dinner, whether a barbecue or a sit-down affair in the dining room, we often struggle trying to make sure we have a compatible group. You might like the Smiths and the Johnsons, but they don’t like each other. So, you decide you won’t try to please them both and avoid inviting them over on the same night.

I see Hope Clark’s top 100 readers as a solution to the struggles we go through trying to please everyone who might read our genre or live in the states where we set our stories. Since those 100 people interact with us in the social media, read and talk about our books, and sometimes post a review to Amazon or GoodReads, when we please them, we are doing the best we can do.

By that I mean, if a group of people waits for your stories, that’s the audience you know and trust. If they think you’re doing a good job, then chances are you’re at the top of your game whether you outsell James Patterson or Jo Rowling. It’s hard to figure out what a million readers might want. But a hundred? Now we have a goal that’s less stressful and more manageable.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Lena,” a magical realism novel set in Florida that’s published by Thomas-Jacob Publishing in paperback, e-book, audiobook, and hardback editions. The well-reviewed audiobook is narrated by Holly Palance, Jack Palance’s daughter.