Thursday, December 15, 2011

Some Pros and Cons of Freelancing

When I say I am a freelancer, people always say "How cool--that must be fun!" and of course, it is--but there are good and not-so-good points to working for yourself...Most all authors are freelancers, even if they have a "day job" because they are not usually getting paid to write (as they write--maybe months or even years later).
Here are just a few of the Pros and Cons of Freelancing:
Pro: You make your own schedule (plenty of time to read).
Con: You can easily feel guilty if you are not working (never enough time to read for FUN).
Pro: You're your own boss (no one to tell you what to do).
Con: You have to motivate yourself--and on some (sunny) days that is really difficult to do.
Pro: You set your own rates and can ask for what you feel your skills are truly worth.
Con: You don't get a weekly paycheck. (Sometimes more than a few weeks go by!)
Pro: You can work from home (in your pajamas, even, though I don't because I feel better when I am "dressed for work")
Con: Your home is your office and your job never really stops.
Feel free to add to this list...I would love to hear from you.
hasta pronto!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"The Submission" and "Flyaway"

So much good reading this last month--no wonder I haven't written much here! I finally got to read Amy Waldman's book The Submission last week and have been recommending it to everyone. She has a masterful way of weaving a variety of character's stories--and they are diverse--into a vivid tapestry. And she really captures certain parts of New York--and the way those New Yorkers talk--with perfect pitch. Well worth reading; even if you don't think you care about a 9/11 memorial or racial politics--turns out, you do.
I've been editing a manuscript that also deals with racial politics--but set in Israel...with a heart-wrenching love story at its center. The book has so much potential; the author is reworking it again now...And every time it gets better and better.
And speaking of new books getting out there--my dear friend Helen Landalf's first YA book Flyaway is coming out next month...but it's not too early to pre-order it as a holiday gift for a special young lady (or young man) on your list. Try Powell's or of course, Amazon. Helen is a rare talent, and this book is both real and uplifting. (Will also appeal to bird lovers. )Check out Helen's site.
I'm back to my classics this week--reading George Eliot's Daniel Deronda which my cousin Kiki recommended to me long ago...I have always been a fan of Eliot, but somehow missed this one. What a cast of characters...
Hasta pronto!

Friday, October 14, 2011

New York, New York

Another virtual trip to New York--in the pages of Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland. (Check out her site here, though quite out-of-date, it is still chock-full of info, excerpts and artwork). The character of Clara is a wonder--smart, caring, and independent...Especially for the 1900s. I loved Vreelands attention to detail, from the intricately described mosaic patterns and glass-blowing techniques to the clothes Clara and the "Tiffany girls" wore. Though I will say that I didn't enjoy this nearly as much as Luncheon of the Boating Party or The Forest Lover, and my friends have echoed that sentiment.
Diane, a voracious reader friend, told me she "tried to read" the book but lost interest and never finished it. I almost gave up in the first fifty pages too, which I think was the fault of editing, rather than writing. (I also spotted more than a few glaring editorial errors, such as using the word "careening" for "careering" three times!) It never fails that if an author has gained some prominence (been on bestseller lists, won awards) she stops being well edited. Editors begin to fear the author, I guess, which is not good for the author at all...but the one who really suffers is the reader.
However, I'm being picky--big surprise--and I still recommend the book. How many books nowadays deal with a woman finding herself in a man's world, without turning into some sort of tough moll or cop or killer. This character, Clara, is an artists, down to her bones, but she is also a "modern" woman of her time--forced to make hard choices in life and love. And what a character LC Tiffany was; you'll definitely never look at a Tiffany lamp (or window) in the same way again.
Last but not least, I so enjoy New York novels--I loved strolling the familiar streets again, especially with the added attraction of the Gilded Age setting. It was a perfect follow up to Edward Rutherford's New York, The Novel which I enjoyed so much recently.
Here onboard the "Watchfire" (currently moored in beautiful Coronado, California) the latest news is the addition of a canine crew member named "Ready." It has been fun re-learning how to be a dog "owner" not just a dog lover. I'll try to find some dog books for an upcoming post.
Hasta pronto!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Writers Conference and a Readers Contest

Yes, it's here--the Southern California Writers Conference begins tomorrow, up in Newport Beach. So, I'm finishing up my advance reads and polishing up my class notes. Packing can wait...And I've been reading SUCH fun stuff! Not only the advance reads--though a couple were VERY good--but also a book of essays and other nonfiction musings by a good friend who is also a fine writer (Can't say who, for now, as the manuscript is still being submitted to agents and editors, and so is still technically "under wraps.")
Nothing cheers me more than great non-fiction writing, which is why one of my workshops this weekend is "How to Write and Sell Gripping Nonfiction." (See my last post for info on the other SCWC class I'm co-teaching.) I think that too many new writers think that nonfiction is somehow the domain of doddering academics and dust-covered biographers. And it just ain't so! Some of the best books I've ever read have been nonfiction: "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek"; "Under the Tuscan Sun"; The Log From the Sea of Cortez"; and "John Adams," to name a few exceptional works in different categories.
Speaking of my reading list, "Wolf Solent" is moving slowly and has been set aside for now--I may or may not return to it when I'm less swamped with "to do" reading lists. However, I am very much enjoying reading a new-to-me classic "The Way we Live Now" by Anthony Trollope, on Kindle.
And now, on to a contest...Readers Digest is sponsoring a "Life Story" contest where the entries must be under 150 words. (Winner gets $25,000) I think one must be on Facebook to enter, read, and vote for the best story; here is the link to my contest page. For those who have not yet succumbed to the relentless pressure and joined Facebook, here is my entry, which I called "Always/Siempre":
Married just six months, we took off for Mexico on a 26 foot sailboat. My grandfather once said “If you want to get to know someone, take a long trip in a small boat.” Suffice to say, we got to know each other. In the Sea of Cortez, the unspoiled beauty and the warmth of the people were the perfect backdrop to our honeymoon. Perhaps more importantly, we were in love and full of romance, so we found love and romance wherever we went. One day in an Immigration office (not known for either sentiment) I met a not-so-newlywed officer who talked about his beloved wife of ten years. He taught me the words “luna de miel” (honeymoon) and “siempre” (always) so he could admonish us to remain “siempre luna de miel.” We’ve
never forgotten his advice; it’s been twenty-two years, and we’re still on our honeymoon.

That's it--now you try writing a story in 150 words--it's great writing practice. And if you love the results, submit it--you might win $25k!
hasta pronto!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

End of Summer--New Beginnings

Ah...Summer has flown by, and this weekend marks the un-official "end of summer" though school has been back in session for weeks, for most teachers and students. The end of summer brings me back to San Diego, which is always a pleasant place to be--and where summer lingers far longer than in most other cities.
I'm looking forward--as always--to the Southern California Writers Conference at the end of the month. The Los Angeles Conference is held up in Newport Beach, Sept 23-25th; for those who haven't heard me on the subject yet, check out previous posts, and see their great site (full of book, agent, and author news, videos, and info) here. Of course, you can also find them on Facebook, "meet" some of their staff there, and follow their fearless leader's always-entertaining blog.
I'll be doing a couple of "pitch" talks at SCWC with my good friend, writer and editor Marla Miller, of "Marketing the Muse." Check out her site here.
My reading last month was mostly non-fiction--a history of the "Mexican War" and quite a few essays and articles written about the current immigration situation.
Crossing with the Virgin: Stories from the Migrant Trail
A great friend who lives in Tucson gave me Crossing With the Virgin: Stories from the Migrant Trail which was hard to put down. The true stories are full of interest to me, since it sheds light on the subject our film, "El Camino" deals with. No reading on this sad subject can be anything but depressing, but it is heartening to read how many people are working to help the thousands of unfortunate souls forced to cross borders illegally.
I just found a used copy of Wolf Solent by John Cowper Pwys, a book I've wanted to read for years; the author is often compared to Austen and Hardy, both favorites of mine. (No one who's read this blog can be in doubt of my favorite of those two being Austen, but Hardy has his gifts--description and character--that offset his bleak outlook). I'll start the book today, and will comment on it soon.
Hasta pronto!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Brave Nude World; Two Book Reviews

Just finished 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America by Actor-writer-comedian Albert Brooks. The book takes place in the not-too-distant future, and while it is funny, and probably quite prescient, it is just not a novel--it's more a collection of characters wandering through a series of plots, in search of a heart, or even a unifying theme.
It most definitely suffered by comparison to Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel by Gary Shteyngart--which I read a couple of weeks ago.
Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel
Super Sad True Love Story (SSTLS) deals with the same premise, and I found it to be a much better book, overall; it grew on me slowly, though, and at page 50, I almost gave up on it as a "gimmick" book...Glad I didn't, as the eventual emotional payoff was worth it.
Both books came out recently, and both are enjoying some success, but personally, I don't think Albert Brooks book would have been published if he wasn't, well, Albert Brooks.
Both humorist-authors see the U.S. as heading toward becoming an economic "also ran" (duh) and see the population's widening age-and-money gap as a source of contention in the near future, with young and old furiously haggling for bigger pieces of the country's dwindling funds (double duh).
Some of the things that SSTLS foresees in our future are funnier and seems just as likely--constant shopping on our ever-present "apparati" (like an iPhone, plus some) as well as "Onionskin" brand see-though jeans, made to showcase young women's shaved genitalia. I can't say I am looking forward to that potential clothing fad--though many current styles ("booty shorts" for one) seems nearly as odd.
Anyway, it's a brave new--or nude--world a comin,' according to our current novelists. Be prepared.
Meanwhile, I'm back to re-reading Jane Austen; this time it is Emma. And some non-fiction... More on that later.
Hasta pronto!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Things She Wants Us to Know...

Last Sunday's NYT Book Review section had a fascinating short article on Stieg Larsson and Eva Gabrielsson. She is the author of a new book about her life with Larsson, which also, apparently details the whole messy wrestling match between Gabrielsson and his family over the late author's artistic legacy and multi-million-dollar estate that has occurred since his untimely death.
Interesting story, but the article's author also makes some trenchant observations about Larsson's writing. I am so tired of reading that his three books are somehow "just" thrillers or that his women characters are weak or exploited...Most reviewers miss the boat, I think, as I find Larsson's writing both insightful and gripping--and I truly love the fiery, zero-bullshit Ms Salander!
I am enjoying re-reading Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto
Into the Beautiful North: A Novel
Urrea, author of The Hummingbird's Daughter. Check out his site--witty and chock-full of delights, here. You can also vote for his book for "One Book, One San Diego" there, if you haven't already...
Hasta pronto!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

An award-winning anthology and more

Turns out I've been too busy to keep up with all my "children" (not the soap opera)...
The anthology for which I was prose editor, A Year in Ink vol 3
A Year in Ink, Vol. 3
has won a San Diego Book Award in June.
It really is a fine collection of writers and their writing, both poetry and prose, and I'm so proud to have it selected for this honor. I see that my friends Judy Reeves, Laurel Corona, Nelson Copp, Ken Kuhlken, and John Woods also won awards, and "Best of the Best" winner was Drusilla Campbell, who I met at SCWC. I sure know a lot of good writers! See the list of winners here.
And for those who wonder what I've been up to that has kept me too busy for awards news, check out this video link to my new Kickstarter film project.
hasta pronto,

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Book Review: "House Divided" and more!

Finally getting around to writing my review for House Divided By Raul Ramos y Sanchez.
My bad...No excuse...
House Divided (America Libre Trilogy)
House Divided is the second book in the author's America Libre trilogy, which began with America Libre
I liked the first book, but the second one is really "tight" as one of his teenage characters would say. It is tight in every sense of the word, jammed with ideas, concepts, and thoughtful insights that make the reader go "ahhh...."
But don't panic folks, we're not talking fancy-schmancy "literary" writing here, folks--"House Divided" is easily as enjoyable a "poolside" summer read as any Tom Clancy or Dan Brown thriller in years.
And the book's protagonist, Manolo Suarez, is one of the best fictional heros in recent memory--and that doesn't mean he is not complicated, torn by emotional and cultural issues while he's trying to fight against the bad guys of every shade that never let the poor fellow rest. Check out this post (on Rosie's Renegade Humor Blog. )where she claims, quite understandably, to have a crush on this sexy barrio tough guy.
But I digress--the point is, the two books are well worth reading--do start with America Libre...and they will actually make you think a bit about the world we live in--albeit quite painlessly!
Speaking of reading new books--I was instructed to buy a book at a bookstore today by my agent friend Kelly Sonnack--who posted on Facebook:
"Save Bookstores! Buy a book (or 4) at Your local bookstore (or Powell's ships)
today, June 25th (the first Saturday of Summer!)
Why: Because we need to support our storefronts. No more obituary section in publishing news, please!"
So, let's all go buy a book...and I suggest you make one of the four House Divided (or America Libre) if you haven't read that one yet.
hasta pronto!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hollywood Top Five Reading List

Received a copy of a new Hollywood classic for my birthday: The Healthy Edit, by my friend John Rosenberg. The subtitle is Creative Editing Techniques for Perfecting Your Movie...The Healthy Edit: Creative Editing Techniques for Perfecting Your Movie
Since we're currently staying in a house "high in the Hollywood Hills" while developing some film projects, I dove straight into it. I've been reading it carefully and making notes, so I'm only a little ways into it, but I can already say with confidence that this is a book every filmmaker and film student should read. (That film editors and aspiring film editors should own it probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway.)
John is a brilliant film editor and has a real gift for explaining complicated ideas and theories in a way that's entertaining, clear, and concise. (He's also a fine fiction writer and I'll alert you when his upcoming novel "Tincture of Time" comes out.)
Here are four other Hollywood books I recommend--the last one, "Haywire," I also got as a gift last week. They are all memoirs, and all feature great writing and some sort of historic importance.
Harpo Speaks by Harpo Marx and a co-writer...
Julia Phillips' You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again
Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman
And last but not least, Haywire by Brooke Hayward. This is a new paperback edition (2010) of a book I had remembered loving long ago, and yes, it is as good as I remembered. Of course, the subject matter is once again, angst and the sins of our fathers (and mothers) and how drugs and drink were one's only allies in the war to keep from screaming aloud every minute of every day.
However, she is a fine writer, and the times and the bizarre cast of characters, both known and unknown, are truly fascinating.
hasta pronto!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Depressing novels, new and old, and "singing fish"

Depressing sells books.
Nothing new here, but it never ceases to amaze me. My latest case in point is The Gathering from 2007...by Anne Enright, winner of the Man Booker Prize. The poverty and ignorance that pervades all modern Irish tales is one thing--sometimes those themes can be written in such a way as to be uplifting, even...but why does every post-modern novel (or is it post-post now?) published have to revolve around the lingering effects (depression, drugs, alcoholism, suicide) of some sort of childhood abuse?
I am also reading Crime and Punishment (click here for a public domain ebook), which isn't helping. Dostoevsky didn't just blame everyone's parents and teachers--and policemen and priests--he blamed society itself for the evils of society.
Both of these novels are gorgeously written, at times, but they are a sure cure for insomnia if taken in large doses. This is quite helpful when a loud hum goes through the hull of one's boat from about 2 am to 4 am, leading you to speculate on everything from illegal underwater generators to mysterious undersea divers and what they might be up to. Some local Catalina Harbor fishermen suggested it was the sound of local fish, "Midshipmen" by name--but we pooh-poohed that answer...Finally Googled "midshipmen fish" and "hum" and got this from wikipedia:
"Mating in midshipman fishes depends on auditory communication; males during the breeding season broadcast a sound usually described as a hum, generated by rapid contractions of the muscles in the swim bladder. The sound can be kept up for up to an hour, and is loud enough to be heard by (and to puzzle) people on nearby land and houseboats; the hulls of the boats tend to amplify the sound to sleep-disrupting levels. Reproductive females develop a selective sensitivity to this sound, and respond by laying eggs in the rock nest of a singing male."
Solves that mystery, and just goes to show what you can learn while out and about in a boat...The whole article, complete with illustration of the ugly devil is here.
hasta pronto!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Reading "New York" in Avalon

Enjoying a week in beautiful Santa Catalina Island and also enjoying New York: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd.
I lived in NYC for many years and find the history of this dynamic city fascinating. In this epic history, the author follows a few families from the earliest European settlers in what was then New Amsterdam.
But I was reminded of one of my pet peeves--editors that are not consistent with adverbs; one page has a line in which the character would: "...laugh when it was called for, though not too loud and not too long."
Wouldn't that be "loudly"? I say, bring back the "ly"... But then, I'm an editor, so maybe I am just being picky. The more informal usage sounds more like what someone would say, but does that might it right, or desirable? I say it depends on the book, and its genre. Seems inappropriate in a history, where the author's language should ideally be "invisible."
hasta pronto!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Super-short Spring Break Post: Editing & e-books

Still slogging north (upwind sailing is no fun) and still slogging through "Count of Monte Cristo" too...Reminds me why authors need editors. So many "great" classical writers wrote on and on--turning out great long tomes every time out--and never seemed to worry about repeating themselves. It irritates me to read something in chapter 35 that I read in chapter 29, or anywhere, for that matter. Maybe it comes from being paid by the word or page? Who knows.
Anyway, it's Spring Break and I should be reading some "beachy" trash book anyway--I searched through my library to come up with a more fun read and found it--Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, which I had bought the Captain for Christmas and never read. What a hoot--the entire story of "The Big Lebowski" written in Shakespearean verse, with an ironic, sly wit. If you are a Big Lebowski fan, I suggest that you give it a try.
Meanwhile--a free ebook, by my dear friend CM Mayo, awaits all those who join the "Dancing Chiva" newsletter. The site sez: "Membership in the Dancing Chiva Literary Arts Club is free. Simply sign up for our newsletter, a brief and informative e-mail that will arrive in your e-mail 5 - 6 times a year. You'll be the first to know about new books, workshops, and special promotions."
Here's the link to the page with the info.
hasta pronto!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

From Monte Cristo, Across the Universe...

Getting ready to set sail for a Spring Cruise and I'm reading The Count of Monte Cristo, which turns out to include quite a bit of the ol' "seafarin' yarn" in it...as well as quite a few familiar plot twists, like the unjustly accused man who serves years in prison, the "romantic robber", and a search for "hidden treasure" on a desert island. The thing is, Dumas wrote this long before most of those other books were written, so it's not derivative--it's original!
And, yes, in answer to an email--I do read most of the classic books I discuss here as ebooks on my iPod (with the Kindle app for iPhone). Not only is that much more practical for someone who live son a 35 foot vessel, but I like having the illuminated screen for midnight reading, without turning on a light. Here is the link to the free public domain book at Amazon.
Last night, going through the DVD collection, we happened upon Across the Universe, known to most of us Boomers as "the Beatles Musical." We both remembered liking the movie, but the second viewing was even better! Unlike most musicals, this movie has a script--and because so much time is spent on songs (and a majority of the covers of the Beatles tunes are amazing and heartfelt) the script has to be succinct and clear. And it is that and more.
One scene is memorable--a great singer is courted by a semi-sleazy record producer and he offers her a deal. She demurs, saying it sounds like a good deal, she has to ask the guys in her band.
"No, you don't" he replies, simply but tellingly.
Those three words say so much about him and her and the whole backstory of her and the band. Great writing.
Back to the list of items I have "to do before sailing"...
hasta pronto!

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Horror...The Horror!

Recent reading: Frankenstein by Mary Shelly and Dracula by Bram Stoker--which I just finished this morning.
My review on these horror classics is simple: Frankenstein gets the thumbs down--Dracula, thumbs up!
Part of this is style--Shelley's tome is a story within a story (and sometimes even another level within that--and so never really grips one. Stoker, on the other hand, though he tells his whole vampire story in diary and journal entries, along with letters and such, often feels quite immediate, and often quite eerie.
Neither is the sort of horror tale to keep one up at night with lights on--or give one bad dreams--though Dracula definitely produces a shiver or two.
Another recent read: Wuthering Heights, which certainly qualifies as ranking in the eerie literary world, full of ghosts and such, is still set in a more real unreal world. Heathcliff is a scary old bastard, that's for sure, but the "love story" never gripped me--guess I'm not a true Bronte fan.
Best horror tales I've read would definitely include some Stephen King, like The Shining, Pet Sematary, and It.
Oddly, the spookiest book I ever read was Communion: A True Story, by Whitley Strieber, which is about aliens and the like, but written from such a skeptical "voice" that--true or not--it really frightens!
Next I return to the "scary" world of reading modern fiction...whoo-ooo...
hasta pronto!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The San Diego Latino Film Festival

The last ten days we've been seeing movies at the San Diego Latino Film Festival...Check out their site here or find them on Facebook. What an exciting couple of weeks it has been...Saw a couple of great films and have two more to see today. Speaking of that, here is a Reader article about the "live soundtrack" performance that will be happening during one of the films today...
Seeing films is great homework when you are working on screenplays--it really brings home all the thing you know about how to, and how not to do it--and all the things you always tell yourself! For example--keep the story focused, keep extra characters and subplots to a minimum. Let your film's setting and its visuals tell a majority of the story without words.
We loved "Chicogrande" a new, epic western, shot in Durango, and based on a true story about one of Pancho Villa's supporters. What an incredible setting!
The Watchfire set sail this week, as well--we anchored in Coronado Island's Glorietta Bay and had a lovely time. I'll post some pictures on Facebook soon...or as soon as I can find the time. I'm off to the movies now...
hasta pronto!

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Great Short Story by Lore Segal; Listen and Learn!

If you don't already subscribe to the New Yorkers free fiction podcasts, I highly recommend it--the only thing better than reading great fiction is having someone else read it to you...you can sign up through the iTunes store or visit the New Yorker's podcast archive website to learn more.
I just heard Jennifer Egan read “The Reverse Bug,” by Lore Segal (and discuss it with The New Yorker’s fiction editor, Deborah Treisman). This is perhaps one of the best short stories ever--and the whole podcast is less than an hour, so go ahead and download it or listen to it now!
Writing teachers and gurus always talk about the subtle and not so subtle use of metaphor and symbolism--but most of us fear sounding like a soapbox when we try to tackle big issues. The "Reverse Bug" is an excellent example...In fact, this story is a Master class in the art of writing: how to draw characters, reveal setting and especially, how to employ stunning metaphor.
Again, to go to the New Yorker page where you can listen to or download the story, nicely read by Egan, for free, click here.
I'm writing today...
hasta pronto!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Writer's Groups and Read and Critique Groups

Last weekend, during my workshop at SD Writers, Ink, someone asked how to find a writer's group...
Well, it's hard--or very easy. A couple of friends and I were wondering the same thing a few years ago, so we started our own group. It has had as many as 7 and as few as four members, and we've been meeting monthly (or so) for the last six years!
I was also asked what a writer's group is and does...
Every group is different, but our meetings usually start with us socializing over a meal (usually we all just bring something, to make it easy for the hostess) so we can catch up on life. Then we read anything anyone has brought to share. After we all critique those pieces, we do timed writings until we're too tired to write anything interesting...We have even done writings by the whole groups, just as exercises, by passing a round a story and adding to it.
We six (or so) have become good friends, but more importantly, we are a good audience for each other's work. Right now, all of us are working on projects--books or screenplays, and we keep each other encouraged and inspired with frequent emails during the month between meetings.
There are "official" Read and Critique groups all over--check your local bookstore, library, or writer's collective for one near you. Visit and see what you think...If you feel more inspired to write, then keep coming back.
hasta pronto!

Monday, February 21, 2011

How to Re-work It

Here's a bit of doggerel I wrote this weekend during SCWC. It was after my query class yesterday--which was a great group, by the way--and I just wrote it so I had an excuse to go to Ed Decker's Poetry Cram workshop. What fun to listen to so many talented poets!
Anyway, this is for all the hard-working writers out there who, inspired by all the comments, critiques, and insights shared with them, are already busily re-working their stories, chapters, scenes, and lines.

How to Re-work It
Make it much tighter, make it much shorter
Clarify structure, define every border
Speed the pace, describe the place
Focus on detail--is it ale or porter?

Know your characters, find your antagonist
Of behaviors and habits, make a long list
Learn to know, then let it go
Distill and simplify it down to the gist

Find the humor, keep the pathos, see it from above
If the conflict or drama flags, give a gentle shove
Rewrite it again, rework that refrain
And don't forget to do it all from a place of love


Next Saturday is my editing workshop at San Diego Writers, Ink. The location is downtown San Diego--visit their site for more info.
Hope to see you there.
Hasta pronto!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Preparation, perspiration, and creation

Many writers I know like to think that their work takes no preparation..."It just comes to me," they say, when their work is going well. "I am waiting for my muse" they muse, when it isn't. But good writing, like any other artform done well, is brought about by preparation, from the practical to the poetic.
Everyone has practical tips, of course, that range from "always write at the same time each day" to "get the best tools" to "have a special place for your writing that is sacred."
The more poetic suggestions include: "inspire yourself with art" and "prime the pump with daily writing" and even "surround yourself with beautiful sights and sounds." All of these may be true to one or the other of us--the trick is to find what inspires you, what motivates you, what prepares you to write at your best. Or, at least, to write!
There are also ways for writers to prepare to be published--beyond writing well and often. Many good writers will never be published authors, and for many of them that will be just fine. But for those who do seek publication, there are some steps that need to be taken.
I'll be teaching a class called "Why Some Authors Get Published--and Some Don't" at the Southern California Writer's Conference next week, and going into great detail on this subject, but here are a couple of quick "how to succeed in this business" tips.
Do your homework: If you are targeting a certain market (YA, New Age, Literary Fiction) make sure you read what is being published in that genre. If you desire representation, see what agents are successfully repping your type of work. If you want to be published by a certain press, study their line, and read some of their latest releases.
Be prepared for success: Build a platform, in whatever ways you can--create a buzz about your work with friends and family and then "grow that brand" as the business bigwigs say. Start a blog, write a newsletter, market yourself as an expert in a filed that complements your work.
Be easy to work with: Be professional, and thorough, and kind. Present yourself confidently, but don't be rude or pushy. Do your work (rewrites, for example) in a timely manner.
Hope you can make the conference--it's always inspiring and fun.
hasta pronto!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Seth Godin does it again!

Today's words of wisdom from Seth Godin--a smart man who is also a smart businessman!
"In and out--That's one of the most important decisions you'll make today.
How much time and effort should be spent on intake, on inbound messages, on absorbing data...and how much time and effort should be invested in output, in creating something new.
There used to be a significant limit on available intake. Once you read all the books in the college library on your topic, it was time to start writing.
Now that the availability of opinions, expertise and email is infinite, I think the last part of that sentence is the most important:
Time to start writing.
Or whatever it is you're not doing, merely planning on doing."
Sounds like a message from the universe, eh? Time to start writing! And check out Seth's blog here, for more words of wisdom about life and work.
I'm writing today--and getting ready for my workshops and seminars this month at the Southern California Writer's Conference, and at San Diego Writers, Ink.
And I just finished a wonderful book called Room, by Emma Donoghue, which I highly recommend--not only is it gripping writing, but it's thoughtful and moving story about human goodness and strength (and its opposite) in the modern world. And a great example of someone who created an unusual and true "voice" in a work of fiction.
hasta pronto!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

We Can Change the World--with Writing!

Okay, I'm jazzed about the written word--high on literary forms. Started the weekend with the first night of "The Tragedy of the Commons" at Cygnet Theater. The play was written by Stephen Metcalfe, an amazing playwright. If you are in San Diego--or anywhere in Southern California, for that matter, go see it! It's arguably the best play I've seen in a decade. Who is arguing? Me, I guess. Maybe I'm just trying to remember if I've seen anything this vital or current or real this century on this coast, period.
Can't remember it, if I have.
The really great thing about the play--aside from brilliant acting, fierce and dynamic direction, and a fine set--was that it not only felt real, and true, but it made you want to keep discussing its ideas, and start solving the problems, not just go out "humming the tune". Of course I am not comparing it to a musical, just the usual mindless "fun" television-posing-as-theater that seems to be our little/big town's constant fare.
Also finished Anna Karenina, and was struck by how often Tolstoy wrote about things that seem so very "now." Politics, labor, and war, but also so many kinds of pride and status-seeking and fashion-chasing in society as a whole.
So I guess what I'm saying is that great writing is as meaningful today as a hundred years ago. And today's writing...So, what are you writing today?
hasta pronto!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Resolution: Attend a Writers Conference in 2011

This is a short follow-up post to remind you of your New Year's resolution: write more. Okay, one way is to attend your writer's group. (Don't have one? Start one!) That will spur you on to write, because otherwise you'll have to say "I didn't write anything this week/month" to more people than just a few of your personalities (and the voice of your grandmother in your head).
My writers circle (we like the word circle better than group) of six warm and talented women, has been meeting in some incarnation for about 5 years, almost monthly; we always enjoy the opportunity to share new and revised short stories and poetry, encourage new work, and, of course, to constructively critique each other's writing. So start attending or creating a writer's group!
I talked about writers conferences and workshops (like the Southern California Writers Conference and San Diego Writers, Ink) last week, but I bet you haven't signed up for a conference or a workshop/class this Spring, yet, right?
Check out this short piece on Divine Caroline (a very cool site that is a virtual "writers community") on how and why writers conferences benefit writers.
And see info and links for my amiga CM Mayo's latest fiction writing workshops here.
Meanwhile--until you get to your group, or find your circle, just resolve to write or rewrite something today...or this week, and I will, too.
I'm re-reading "Anna Karenina" and loving it--"A Tale of Two Cities" was much better than I remembered.
hasta pronto!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A New Year's Resolution for Writers

Writers write.
We've all heard and read this so many times, it has probably ceased to mean anything, but nonetheless, it's true. Actors will find a way to act, painters will find a time and place to paint, and writers do, in fact, write! One of the best things about being a writer is the simple fact of being able to do it almost anywhere...and almost anytime (even when pen and paper are not handy--one can always THINK about one's story, setting, or characters!) unlike most artists, who require studios, orchestras, or productions companies.
So, for 2011, make a promise to yourself to write--no, it doesn't have to be every day, and it doesn't have to be work on a project with a date-specific deadline, or even a goal. Just write. Enjoy the process.
For those who need encouragement--and who, among us does not, at times--here are two encouraging groups that can set you on course, and teach you a course, as well.
Regular readers may remember my recommending the Southern California Writer's Conference before, but it's worth repeating. The next conference happens February 18-21st here in San Diego, and the lineup of authors, agents, editors, and workshop leaders is very impressive, as always. (Full Disclosure: I'm on staff and have been for years, but I'd recommend you go whether I was there teaching a workshop or not). The 25th anniversary conference this year promises to be a special and inspiring one--but no doubt fun and laugh-filled!
Another great local (San Diego) resource is San Diego Writer's, Ink which is a wonderful, warm, giving community of writers and teachers (who are all published writers and really know the ins and outs of what they teach).
Of course, no mention of resolutions for writers would be complete without this brief directive--keep reading great writing while you are working on your own books or stories or notes for future works. The rule holds: Good in, good out, and that's nowhere more true than with writers. That doesn't mean you have to read Literature at all times, but don't waste your time with junk, either. There are plenty of good writers writing in all genres of fiction and non-fiction--if you're in doubt, drop by your favorite bookstore or neighborhood library this week and do some looking. I love to look in the new fiction and new nonfiction to start with, but I often end up buying or checking out a classic, too.
That's all for now, I've got to save some time to write today--how about you?
Happy New Year--and hasta pronto!