Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Five Books I Highly Recommend

It’s time for me to list five books I loved in 2015. As always, I leave off the bestsellers—those ten titles you’ve read about ten times in the last ten weeks of top ten books lists. (After all, no one needs to hear anymore about Girl on the Train or Purity—though I thought they were brilliant!) I tried to keep it to works published in 2015, but made exceptions for The End of the Sherry and Good Sam as they were published within the last two years.

I am also, as always, not including on this list the books I edited in 2015, but I cannot help but mention some of the excellent books I help to bring to the world—like Fourteen: A Daughter's Memoir of Adventure, Sailing, and Survival, by Leslie Johansen Nack. I found Nack’s memoir an absolute pleasure to dive into, again and again. I am pleased that the book has garnered excellent reviews and that Leslie enjoyed the process of working with me—she actually wrote about the editing process here, in a short piece in Writer's Digest.

Another book I edited is Soil-Man by Oz Monroe. This book is much harder to describe than it is to recommend. When I was done with the final editing on the book, I told Oz, “Soil-Man is ready for the world, but is the world ready for it?” The dark fantasy is not for the faint of heart—or stomach—but, if you are not afraid to question your own faith, you’ll definitely enjoy this gritty, black-comic tale of an average man beset by avenging angels. The book is comes out in January, but it’s available now for pre-order.

Here’s my "top five" list, in no particular order:

1. A great choice to gift to others (you can get one, too!) is Embraceable: Empowering Facts and True Stories About Women’s Sexuality by August McLaughlin. There’s more than eighteen reasons to recommend it, one for each of the authors, including “Girl Boner” founder and radio host August McLaughlin herself. The pieces deal with body image, self-love, female empowerment, and sexuality in diverse and inclusive ways. You must know a young woman (of any age) who could benefit from reading this book.

2. Everyone who knows me knows I love visiting Mexico, and this year I went “south of the border” in a superior and eclectic new anthology Mexico: Sunlight & Shadows: Short Stories & Essays by Mexico Writers (the list is long and you’d probably recognize some of the names). There’s definitely something for everyone in this collection of short pieces, which include fiction and non-fiction, set in Mexican locations far and wide. (It’s available on Kindle for $2.99 right now.)

3. Good Sam by Dete Meserve, is a novel about our media culture and television reporting that avoids all the tired cliches while still fulfilling every expectation. And you don’t think the world is such a terrible place after reading this book —unlike the aftereffect of reading most novels that deal with crime and criminals—and those who hunt them down. And, the ebook is currently only 99 cents! 

4. The Black Velvet Coat by Jill G. Hall is a debut novel that feels so assured you just fall right into the story. The author skillfully weaves together two women's lives: one, a young artist in contemporary times, the other, a young heiress in the 1960s. The book is not easy to define, as there are elements of mystery and suspense, but most importantly, The Black Velvet Coat is what literary fiction (and all fiction) should be, and often is not—entertaining. 

5. Those lucky enough to be familiar with Bruce Berger’s writing (Almost an Island, The Telling Distance, There Was a River) won’t be surprised to hear that his memoir The End of the Sherry is a compelling, gorgeously written book. Those who believe they don’t like memoir should give this a try. The character of Berger’s twenty-something self—untethered to job or family, who finds himself in Franco’s Spain in the mid-sixties—felt as familiar as a long-lost friend. His down-to-earth story transported me, thrilled me, and made me laugh.

Now, get thee to a bookseller. Or a library. Or click the links to purchase the books on Amazon. Enjoy your end-of-the-year reading and the holidays...
hasta pronto!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Building, and improving on, great sentences

      Recently, on the Southern California Writers Conference Facebook page, I asked the group which of the following sentences was more compelling:
"She looked at the burnt shell of the house she'd once lived in, remembering how she'd once played dolls on the porch and swung on the tire swing."
"Looking at the burnt shell of the house she'd once lived in, she remembered how she had once played dolls on the porch and swung on the tire swing."
"That burnt shell was a house she'd once lived in—played dolls on the porch, swung on the tire swing."
       The group agreed with me, almost unanimously, that the third choice was the clearer and most powerful sentence of the short list. And, no, I don't think any of the sentences are brilliant, they were written by me to prove a point.
       I also posted the question on on my group page (still in beta) of writers that aspire to write great memoirs and adventure travel books and essays—if you want to join tsu, click here
       The point of this exercise was to show that writers use too many "filter words" like "look" or "looked," and too many "thought verbs" like "remember" and "remembered" in crafting their sentences—the building blocks of all writing. These filter words and thought verbs only serve to set us apart from the action of our stories.
        For more on filter words and "filtering" click here for a short piece on Scribophile, and for more on thought verbs, read my posts here on JennyRedbug or read this tough-love post by Chuck Palahniuk.
        Writing is a craft, and writing well takes hard work. And the more work you do on removing words that don't help your story—words that are not visual, visceral, and clear—the less work an editor will have to do to help your story succeed.
        Why do I want writers to self-edit their writing better, thereby making less work for me? Because then I can, as a content editor, concentrate on their manuscript's story structure, and, when line-editing, on finding small errors and typos that might otherwise be missed. There is never enough time to look at a manuscript before it is published!
         If you are interested in improving your craft as a writer, I would suggest that you join a writer's group—if you can't find one, start one. Also, you can attend SCWC at their two yearly conferences (in San Diego and Irvine), and join me on my tsu group. I hope you will keep following this humble blog, as well.
         hasta pronto!


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Some "Ballpark" Humor

And now for something completely different. 
I've been listening to baseball lately—first, the Divisional Series, then the Championship Series, and now the World Series. Since we don't have cable television on board, we listen to ball games on the radio. Last night I was wondering what life would be like with color commentary...
And so, today's post:

Bob: Welcome listeners, it’s a beautiful day here in Frank’s office and we’ll be broadcasting live here all day, so we hope you’ll stay tuned in to our live, on the spot coverage of Frank versus The Manuscript.

Mike: And here comes Frank out for some warm-ups right now…He’s looking confident in his home colors—the traditional blue sweatpants and concert T-shirt—strolling out to the bookshelves to shag a few early ideas and try to build inspiration.

Bob: Frank was warming up in the field a while ago, before we went live, and let me tell you, his defense was looking spectacular. He had some snappy rationalizations, a few reasonable excuses, and a quick, spirited line of attack—you know what they say about the best defense being a good offense!

Mike: And speaking of offense, Bob, he’s stepping up to the computer right now…He settles into the writer’s seat with his trademark wiggle, and immediately goes into his stance. You wouldn’t think he had that long weekend off, the way his fingers hover over the keys.

Bob: He takes the first idea all the way. Never flinches.

Mike: Yeah, he’s obviously waiting for just the right—

Bob: And he hits that first line deep—that’s definitely deep, and with today’s conditions, it could lead to something very profound. Oh, yeah, that paragraph's easily profound, if not quite philosophical. What a start to the day!

Mike: A quick adjustment of his flannels and a tug of his cap and he’s back into his stance, fingers hovering, eyes on the page, once again waiting for that perfect—and he types! It looked good, but by the second sentence it’s starting to drop down into prosaic…Yeah, that has a definite whiff of cliche.

Bob: Whiff? Mike, that reeks cliche. But—as you know from the stats—his second paragraphs have always been a bit hackneyed.

Mike: Yeah, Bob, especially when revising, his first paragraphs have always scored much higher than his second.

Bob: And historically, his on-base percentage falls off as soon as he starts feeling the pressure from having produced some tired prose. He just loses concentration.

Mike: I wouldn’t be surprised if he reaches for the coffee now, Bob.

Bob: That’s his go-to move in this position, Mike.

Mike: Not that it’ll help him, according to our numbers.

Bob: And there he goes—he’s out of his seat and heading for the kitchen.

Mike: Time for us to take a moment for station identification…

I hope you enjoyed my take on sports radio commentary. 
Keep writing, and...
hasta pronto!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

It's Conference Time, Everybody!

Just finished my last editing project of September, and I'll soon be diving into my HUGE stack of advance submissions for the Southern California Writers Conference—and I'm filled with anticipatory glee.
Why? Because this weekend is fun!
I always have a great time at this conference—I get to both learn and teach, which I love. This weekend, I'm teaching a new workshop called “Backstory: Employing Expository like a Screenwriter,” plus doing "Pitch Witches" and much more. SCWC inspires me to be at the top of my game, because everyone else there is!
If you haven't been to a writers conference before, you're probably wondering, "Why should I go to SCWC?"
The biggest/best reason is to connect with a community of writers—and readers (because all writers are readers, no?). Writing is often solitary so we need to meet and talk to others in our "tribe"—to hear people talk about going through the same things we go through; to learn from their mistakes, and to gain insight from their successes.
Of course, you'll also meet and get to chat with agents, editors, and publishers—not to mention people who are successful author-publishers.
The world of publishing is evolving fast, and it's important for aspiring (and published) authors to keep evolving, to keep their strategies always shifting, in order to compensate. Going to SCWC gives you the cutting-edge tools to do that. The panels and workshops include subjects that span the world of today's publishing. Check out the schedule here.
Hope to see you there...
hasta pronto!

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Pros and Cons of Freelancing

 I am updating and re-posting this piece from a couple of years ago, since a new acquaintance recently mentioned how "fun" it must be to work for myself.

When I tell people that I'm a freelance editor, people always say "How cool—that must be fun!" and of course, it is—but, like most everything in life, there are good and not-so-good points about working for yourself...
Most all authors are freelancers, even if they have a "day job" because they are not usually getting paid to write (not as they write, that is—hopefully, they do get paid, but usually 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; 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.
Pro: Your job is your life and it's fun!

Feel free to add to the list—I'd love to hear from you.
hasta pronto!

Friday, August 14, 2015

My 10 Favorite Adventure/Travel Memoirs

As an editor (and as a writer) I've always been drawn to true stories, and especially to people writing about adventures they have had or about their travels and voyages. Whether harrowing or humorous, these exciting memoirs are always my favorite reads, year in and year out.

Like all my "top ten" booklists, this one is quite personal and highly subjective. I had to leave out some classics like Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux, because it's been so long since I read it, I couldn't remember what I loved about it, only that I loved it. And I left out Into The Wild because it's not a memoir, it's the story of Christopher McCandless, told by Jon Krakauer, an excellent writer.

Readers may notice a number of these titles are about Baja California and boats. Well, I lived on a sailboat for many years, much of that time spent on and around Baja's Sea of Cortez, so I'm partial to stories about the area, and about sailing, too.

Anyway, here's my current list of favorite memoirs that involve travel or adventure:

Adrift: Seventy Six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan

Almost An Island by Bruce Berger

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

Into A Desert Place by Graham Mackintosh

Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles Through Baja California, the Other Mexico by C.M.Mayo

My Old Man and the Sea: A Father and Son Sail Around Cape Horn by David Hays

Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail
by Cheryl Strayed

Let me know which of these books are on your top ten list—and which of your favorite memoirs I should check out.

hasta pronto!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Backstory: What Came Before Page One

There's nothing that makes me quite as crazy as expository dialogue that simply dumps a ton of information about a character's backstory on the page, in quotes, but not in a way that anyone alive would ever speak.
If you're not sure what backstory is, it's quite simple: Backstory is what happened to your characters before page one. (Authors may also write backstories that are not intended to be included in their book, to give their characters more depth and reality, just as some actors write backstories for their onstage characters, but I'm not talking about that kind of backstory here.)
Exposition or expository writing is the vehicle for revealing a book's backstory to readers; handled well, it can be brilliant. But most beginning writers use it like a shoehorn, shoving ten pounds of information into a two-pound line of dialogue.
This "shoehorning" and "info-dumping" most often occurs early in a book, and is the reason that I could probably eliminate—unseen—every first chapter from every first draft on the planet, with no significant loss to global literature.
Often these clunky lines of expository dialogue begin with "Remember when I/we...?" Unless the person being addressed has dementia, they probably remember when that happened, or the charcater wouldn't be asking. So, make the memory brief and conversational, like having a well-to-do person say "Time to bang the radiator, darling," to their spouse as they turn up the central heating. Don't succumb to the urge to get all detailed/tedious, like "Remember back when we had our old walk-up on East Fourth and we'd always have to bang on the radiator to get any heat?" If the colorful anecdote is crucial to the backstory, then have the character reveal it in thoughts, or at least have them tell the story to someone who wasn't there, sharing the experience.
Dialogue isn't always the only offender when it comes to exposition. I so often see writers "dump" expository info in their descriptive text—which always makes the book feel like an old-fashioned romance novel—as well as funneling way too much backstory into their character's everyday thoughts and memories.
Remember that, in the early chapters, we readers only need enough info/backstory to get to the next chapter, not to the end of the book. Portion information out slowly, like it was war-time rationing—don't use up all the butter on day one. Make us wonder, make us curious, and you'll make us want to keep reading!
Below are a couple tips for those wanting to self-edit their first (or twenty-first) draft prior to sending it to their writer's group, beta readers, or an editor. I suggest getting feedback, rewriting, and self-editing your manuscript before spending time and money on an editor, and all of this should happen before showing it to a prospective agent or publisher, or god forbid, publishing it.

  • Look for lines of dialogue that begin with "Remember...?" Others to look for are "That's just like when I/we once..."
  • Edit early dialogue down to its essence, so that lines contain only the most crucial info.
  • Be ruthless about cutting adjectives, especially when describing your main characters. it's enough to know that a character is in her thirties, red-haired and curvy. It's not necessary, on page one, to know that she is "green-eyed, auburn-haired, voluptuous, statuesque, and sensuous." Less truly is more.
  • Beware of people looking in mirrors and summing themselves up. See above.
  • Beware of set ups that involve someone summarizing the past to another person or group. This often happens with characters in positions of authority, like parents, teachers, judges and heads of companies. Look for lines that begin "You may not know what happened back then..."
Once again, expository writing is necessary and useful—a tool which, when wielded properly, helps propel a story along, fills readers in gradually on key backstory, and keep us up-to-date with what happens off the page. The trick, as with much of life, is using what is useful well, and using it in moderation.
I'll be teaching a new workshop on this very subject, called "Backstory: Employing Expository Like a Screenwriter" at this fall's SCWC (September 25-27, Irvine, CA). Hope you can attend; it's going to be a great conference.
hasta pronto!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Some Spring and Summer Must-Reads

I'm ready for Summer already, aren't you? I'm looking forward to some time on the sand, book in hand, with the sun in a blue sky and a cold blended drink nearby—hey that rhymes! I'm becoming a (really bad) poet.
I'm working today under cloudy skies, anticipating the much-needed rain that's been predicted, and thinking of things I'd rather be doing. (What is wrong with me? After all, I'm in one of the most beautiful cities on earth, I have plenty of work to do that I love, I'm my own boss, and I live on a sailboat—what's not to like?)
So, in order to distract myself from the work on my desk, I thought about some of the new books out for Summer that I'm looking forward to reading. Some are freshly published, and one comes out in July. Here they are, in order of release:
Wild Women, Wild Voices: Writing from Your Authentic Wildness by Judy Reeves (March, 2015).
I am a great admirer of Judy Reeves, not just as a great motivator, teacher, and mentor to writers, including myself, but as a master of the craft, herself. You always learn something (often about yourself) from her, and I always feel inspired to write after one of her classes or after dipping into one of her books. I can't wait to read this new one!
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian (April, 2015). This debut novel by a SCWC conference instructor (formerly a SCWC attendee) has had readers and booksellers buzzing for months. I'm fascinated by the history behind this story, set during 1915 in the Ottoman Empire. The book was recently chosen by the NYT for a piece in the Sunday Book Review.
Scents and Sensibility by Spencer Quinn (due July 14th). If you haven't read any of the "Chet and Bernie" series, you are in for a real treat. Narrated by a wordly yet innocent mixed breed dog named Chet, who works with his master Bernie, a P.I. solving crimes and catching "perps by the pant leg" this series is full of laugh-out-loud moments. Anyone who loves mysteries or dog stories will love them, and there are plenty of them to love. S & S will be number 8 in the series.
And last on the list, but surely not least, the final book on my "I've got to read it this summer" list is
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (due July 14). I am so excited to see what this amazing author's original story was like, before she adapted the storytelling to suit her publisher. And because—for goodness sake, people—she's Harper Lee, that's why.
I hope you're as excited about your Summer "to read" list as I am, and I'd love to hear if you have any of the books I mentioned here on your list.
By the way, I had a great time last Sunday, writing all day at the "Blazing Laptops" fundraiser for San Diego Writers, Ink. My heartfelt thanks to all of you who contributed to helping me support this fine non-profit resource in our community. Between the silent auction, the raffles and the many generous pledges, SDWI raised almost $13,000 toward their goal of $15,000. It's not too late to contribute, on their secure fundraising site, right here. 
I loved being back at at the Ink Spot in Liberty Station, it's been too long. I'll be teaching at SDWI again this fall, and I'll keep you all posted as to those dates. Until then...
hasta pronto!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

JennyRedbug needs YOUR help!

May was a busy month for me. I've not only been busy with work (see below), and spending time with my mom and the rest of my family—we even got some boat work shoe-horned in there. Russel has been designing and installing new cupboards and storage areas on the mighty sailing vessel "Watchfire 2" and I have had to watch, and give advice. Exhausting. Add to that our anniversary and my birthday and you can see why the posts have not been proliferating here.

Luckily my recent book-editing projects have not been exhausting—they've been challenging and exhilarating. I'm doing a line-edit on a timely and evocative Civil Rights Era novel by an author I met at San Diego Writers Conference. Also doing some content/structure edits on a travel memoir and evaluating a new genre novel by an excellent writer. The summer is booking up with new projects, too. I love my job!

You might have missed my last post—it was a guest blog on my friend Oz Monroe's excellent blog. Oz has a fun (scary) challenge for himself: He lets his Facebook friends pick a weekly topic, and the winning topic (by likes) is the subject he writes about. He calls the challenge, "Throw Oz Under the Bus." A couple of us have allowed ourselves to be "thrown under the bus" too, as guest bloggers—I was the latest. The winning blog topic for me was “A feminist perspective on masculinity in the 21st century.” (WTF?) Here's my post for Oz, based on that topic: Man up?

And now, my friends, it's that time of year again...won't you help me to support San Diego Writers, Ink (SDWI), an important non-profit resource in our writing community? Their yearly "Blazing Laptops" fundraising event raises a major portion of their annual operating funds, allowing them to offer great classes at low rates. I donate time to them every year, and I'll be donating a free book evaluation (value $500 to $1000) to the auction; I'll also be writing all day during "Blazing Laptops" at the SDWI Ink Spot in Liberty Station on June 7th.

Could you donate $5 or $10? We'd all appreciate it! My fundraising page is here.

Thanks for any help you can give SDWI, and...
hasta pronto!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Picture This: Good Writing Should be Visual

There have been many studies done on language concreteness—the fact that specific, vivid, definite words and phrases evoke mental images—and it has been shown to be an important determiner of reading comprehension. In a paper published by the International Reading Association, the authors write: ‘“snarling tiger” is concrete and image-evoking, but “policy concept” is abstract, less likely to evoke images.”
Though this conclusion—that some words are more likely than others to produce mental images—seems intuitive, many writers are still ignoring it, and not writing in a way that is most effective at producing word-images. I contend that all of those writers’ readers suffer because of it.
Case in point, a writer I was working with had written a sentence that went something like this: “She remembered how she’d sat there by the fire, as a young girl, having her hair brushed by her mother.” I brought up the concept of language concreteness and together, we changed the line to: “She saw herself as a young girl, sitting by the fire, her mother brushing her hair.”
“Saw” is visual, “remembered” is not—you can picture someone in the act of seeing, but can you picture someone in the act of remembering? And “a young girl” is something we can easily picture (though all of us will have a different picture), so the sooner we get to that phrase, the better the imagery-inducing effect. The mother comes in sooner, too, which is all to the good, as the girl having her hair brushed is a very general idea until the mother comes in—after all, the young girl could have been having her hair brushed by a sister, a friend, or even a teacher. We don’t have to wait so long before we can “picture” what is happening.
This of course, explains the war on “thought verbs” that I’m waging, along with Chuck Palahniuk and others. Thought verbs are not visual. And the current focus on eliminating so-called “filter words” is in some ways driven by the same concept.
One great trick for spotting all this thought-full filtering is to read your work out loud—or have someone else read it aloud. You'll hear endless iterations of your characters having “thought about” and “remembered” and “contemplated” and the like. Mark those words and phrases. When you go back and rewrite, you'll find ways to substitute verbs that make your writing much more active—and, in the process, much more visual.
So, get to reading and re-writing now—and hasta pronto!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Five Fabulous Writing Books to Re-read

There's so much to be said about writing—and much of it has already been said, by wonderful writers. Here is my short list of the best books I've read about writing. Each of these jewels is brimming with advice and instruction, but each one is different, so there's something here for every aspiring writing.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is the first book I refer to new-to-the-craft writers. Her clear and practical "way" is a great method for kick-starting your writing at any stage, but is ideal for those who've not yet settled into their writing rhythm—those who want to write, but who just haven't yet made it a part of their life. I would suggest that all new writers read this book, preferably in conjunction with Natalie Goldberg's book below. Cameron's process is also effective for experienced writers who are struggling to birth a new work, and can't seem to get the words flowing.
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard inspires me each time I dip into it. Dillard is one of the best non-fiction writers ever and you'll know why when you read this slim book—it carries the weight of years of deep knowledge. Like her masterpiece, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, her book on writing resonates with images of the natural world, and is one you'll want to own. Though she can be a bit tough about what is required to pare your prose down to its essence, it is tough love, not strictness for the sake of itself.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. You've probably heard of him, so I'll say no more about his credentials. The thing is—no matter if you like and read his fiction or not—the man can really write, and he also writes quite well about "the craft" of writing, as he calls it. And he's funny. Enough said.
Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on the Writing Life by Anne Lamott. This is Lamott at her best—and her best is very good indeed. For those who like a little bit of philosophy and theology with their writing instructions, this is the book for you. In this book, she writes: “I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer.” But she also includes some very funny lines that will inspire you to quote them again and again—like this one: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
And, last but certainly not least, is Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. Yes, she has words of wisdom, and yes, she has tips to offer, but the reason this book changed my life (yes, it really did!) wasn't because of all that, so much as her inspirational style. Her voice is the voice of the best friend you can imagine, who will drop everything, anytime, to go with you to a cafe and just write. And listen to your writerly bitching about your story and how it just won't work right, and give you encouragement, and buy you a cup of tea, and keep listening; who offers a shoulder when you need one, and a nudge back toward your work—with a quick word about what she loves about your writing—when that's called for. I love this author and can't recommend her book enough.
Whichever of these books you choose, I hope you'll be inspired to write, and to keep on writing. Remember: "Tell your stories."
hasta pronto! 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Few Words on Favorite Words

We all have favorite words and phrases. As oral communicators, that's fine (until your significant other or close friend finally says that you need to stop saying "like" or "you know"!) As writers, we have to be aware of those pet phrases and try to eliminate a majority of their occurances in our work. If you're lucky, your editor will not only spot the recurring words or phrases, but will help you find ways to work around them, rewrite them, or even delete them.
It's always surprising to see experienced writers, as well as editors, fall prey to this trap. I do it myself, even though I'm aware of my key phrases and words. One of them is "key." Another is "as well as."
I'd suggest that you not try to correct this habit while writing your first draft. Write to your heart's content and don't worry about picking and choosing words while getting your story onto the page. But when you go back over your manuscript, attune your radar to be aware of words that recurr. Especially if the word is an odd one. The word "egregious" doesn't belong in a novel more than once, unless it's used in dialogue to signal a character's persnickety way of speaking.
Obviously, common words can recurr hundreds of times in a manuscript without raising any eyebrows, however, even using a word like "but" too often, especially at the start of a paragraph, will start to annoy readers.
Be glad you have modern software tools like "find" or "search" for seeking out word repetitions in a manuscript. Back in the day, we had no choice but to employ a highlighter pen and a lot of patience.
Something else I'm frequently seeing in manuscripts is the overuse of "thought verbs," like the words "thought" and "remembered." Readers of my blog, and fans of Chuck Palahniuk will have heard this advice before, but you can't hear it often enough: using too many thought verbs is a bad habit that slows down your writing.
If your character is remembering how she and her former flame spent their evenings, you can just write: "The evenings they spent, sitting on that dock..." You don't need to write: "She remembered the evenings they spent..."
Write things a reader can see, in their mind's eye. Remembering isn't visual, or very active. Neither is thinking, or realizing--or, God forbid, contemplating.
Just put us there. Trust us. We'll get it.
There's a place for thought verbs, but we devalue them by overuse. Same with your favorite words. Be ruthless.
Hasta pronto!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Beauty of a Woman Blogfest 2015: The Language of Beauty

Today's blog is part of the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest 2015; here is a link to the fest page: This is a wonderful event and I hope all my readers will stop by today or sometime this week to participate—there are valuable prizes galore, including one from Yours Truly!

The Language of Beauty
Why is it that we always refer to fabulous women as "beautiful"? Isn't there a better word to honor true inner beauty? Why are words like "strong" and "healthy" and "intelligent" so often seen as a back-handed compliment—the equivalent of the famous blind-date compliment, "she has a great personality"?
I recently saw a Hollywood movie where the female star was introduced to a young girl who would become her adopted grand-daughter. The first thing she said to the girl—who was, of course, very cute—was "Aren't you beautiful? Do you know how beautiful you are?" as if that was the pinnacle of  achievement for a little girl.
We've all heard about the shameful treatment (in a newspaper I won't dignify by naming) of the late, and oh-so-talented author Colleen McCollough, when this line was printed in the first few sentences of her obituary: "Australia’s best selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth."
Wait, what? Seriously?!
What in blazes does being "overweight" or "plain" have to do with this woman's real life—and the pleasure that she brought to millions of readers? Would that this episode had been the first of its kind—we can only hope it will be the last.
But, I admit, I have been too often guilty of referring to my many bright, talented, incredible women friends as "beautiful." Why do I say guilty? Because when I join the legions of people who see women as primarily (sometimes solely) physical packages, to be judged as meeting or not meeting someone's specifications of "beauty," then I'm part of the problem.
Yes, it's hard to see a woman friend's picture on Facebook and not want to say that they are beautiful or lovely to look at, but I'm going to try hard to think of other words to use. I'm going to try to look past their attractive surface and come up with other words—words that pay homage to the many facets of beauty that powerful bright women share. Assets like generosity, loving-kindness, caring, self-respect and respect for others, insight & intuition, and so many others...
Hmm...I may still use the word beautiful when I refer to women, especially those who may not seen by the surface-obsessed world as traditionally beautiful, though—if I feel moved to...Rules, after all, are made to be broken.
hasta pronto!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why Go to a Writers Conference?

Authors often ask me whether they should go to a writers conference--after all, it is an investment of time and money.There are many reasons, but I think the five below are key. I could write about going to conferences in general, but instead I'm going to write about going to the Southern California Writers Conference (SCWC), coming up here in San Diego, on Presidents’ Day Weekend, February 13-16th.
Partly this is because I know this conference the best (I've been teaching workshops there for years), but also because I like the way it's run--the casual, fun vibe of it--and because I've seen it actually work for people, year after year, in so many different ways.
Here's 5 Reasons you should go to SCWC:
#1. Great Workshops/Excellent Teachers
The weekend is full of great workshops--on everything from writing and editing your manuscript, to pitching, selling, & marketing your book. All the workshop leaders are either published authors, working editors or agents, or publishers (some are even all three!). They ALL have something to teach you. Soak it all up!
#2. To Get Feedback
No matter how wonderful your writers group and Beta readers are, it's good to get some more eyes (usually ears, actually) on your project. Go to Read and Critiques and read--and listen... Find out what works, and what doesn't. You might find some Beta readers, too.
#3. To Network with Other Writers
Writing is a solitary sport--it's good to meet others who sit in rooms and type for days on end…You will meet others who share your interests, and some who will introduce you to new ways of writing, thinking, and thinking about writing. After all, these people are your TRIBE. 
#4. To Meet Industry Experts
Even if you don't have Advance Submission slots set up, SCWC gives you plenty of opportunities to meet literary agents, editors, and publishers, not to mention successful published authors. Have a glass of wine at happy hour or dinner or sit down and visit over coffee or lunch. Take time to talk--not just pitch your project--and listen!
#5. To Hang Out in a Cool Place
I probably don't need to explain this one...Come on, it's San Diego. Perfect weather, fabulous setting. You are allowed to have FUN in life, after all--even before you finish your book or get published. Invest in yourself!
I think I've said it all...Hope to see you there. For those who live in San Diego, I'm also teaching at San Diego Writers Ink this coming weekend, both Saturday (editing workshop) and Sunday (pitch, query class). There's plenty of info on their home page.
hasta pronto!