Monday, December 29, 2014

2015 Writing Resolutions

From Kate's Writing Crate…

        Like most years, my 2014 writing resolutions became hopeful targets rather than hard and fast goals.

They were:

             Write every day.

    Write 52 blog posts.

             Write, co-write, and/or edit for trade publications or big projects.

             Write a book by writing a page a day.

             Write a poem.


The reality:

             I wrote almost every day so I feel okay with that one.

             I did write and publish 52 posts.

             I did not co-write an article, but I did edit several big projects.

             I did not write a book, but I finally discovered my milieu: essays.

             I did write a poem, although it was shorter than I planned.

My 2015 Writing Resolutions are:

          Write every day.

          Write 52 blog posts.

          Write articles for regional and/or national publications.

          Write at least two essays a month. Word count 1,000-4,000.

          Write a song.

I'll let you know how these resolutions work out next year.


What are your New Year's writing resolutions?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Reads for Writers: May Sarton Provides a Masterclass

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

          Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.

          In honor of the “home for the holidays” sentiment, I write about home for the December Masterclasses. This year, I’m highlighting The House by the Sea: A Journal by May Sarton.

          Sarton wrote poetry, novels, and a series of journals about her life including I Knew a Phoenix, Plant Dreaming Deep, Journal of a Solitude, A World of Light, as well as The House by the Sea. These journals give a detailed look into the life of this writer and how much her homes through the years, complete with cats and dog, meant to her.

          Poets observe life in more detail than most other writers to capture moments in time wondrously in their work. Sarton reveals this truth in her journals.

Wednesday, November 13th, 1974

          “The refrigerator has pots of freesia and daffodil bulbs in it to stay cool for a month or two and then come out to plant in the window, which is really like a small greenhouse. It is lovely now because of a white cyclamen and three Rieger begonia, one bright red, one greenish white, and one salmon pink. When the morning sun streams in, they glow in their transparencies.” (page 17-18)

Saturday, November 16th

          “A serene dawn. I saw the sun first bathing my bureau in rich orange light, sat up, and caught the red disc just as it stood for a second exactly on the horizon’s rim. It is so silent all around that a moment ago when a single wave broke I was startled by its gentle roar.” (page19)

Thursday, January 8th, 1975

          My hope that I would have a whole series of empty days, days without interruption, days in which to think and laze, (for creation depends as much on laziness as on hard work), was, of course impossible. [Jody, a writer hitchhiker, had written she would be stopping by and turned up now.] …I felt dismay at the prospect…She came yesterday, in workman’s boots, overalls, a thin short coat…and a tam-o’-shanter, carrying the usual canvas tote over her shoulder. And I was suddenly delighted!

          …In her knapsack three of my books and a slim new blue notebook in which she jots down poems. I liked her face at once, the quirky mouth and keen blue eyes behind huge gold-rimmed glasses, mousy hair all over the place. (page 177-178)

Sunday, May, 16th, 1976

          Another of those silken days…I am in an ecstasy of birds and their plummeting flight past the terrace. It is very thrilling when a bird closes its wings and shoots along like a torpedo through the air. The elusive oriole is everywhere now, in and out of maple flowers and apple blossom…Out in the field the killdeer give their sharp peep, and the tree swallows go scooting around in the evening. The air they inhabit with such grace is intoxicating in itself, cool and gentle. What days! (page 256)

Tuesday, August 17th

          It is time to close this journal. I need to stop recounting days, one by one, and begin to think about and make notes for a new novel. I am longing to live in an imaginary world again, with people about whom I can know everything and tell the whole truth. That is not possible in a journal intended for publication. (page 287)

          May Sarton also writes in detail about writing, friends, family, gardens, interruptions, disappointments, poetry readings, politics, and many other topics. I mostly chose descriptive paragraphs where readers could picture moments in full color with audio backdrops.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Joy of Writing 2

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          There needs to be more joy in the world so if writing brings you joy, write. Don’t talk about it. Don’t think about it. Just sit down with pen and paper or at your keyboard and write.

          You may meander around topics. You might only jot down words and phrases. Stay seated. Keep going. The hardest part of writing is getting started. As Mary Poppins said, “Once begun is half done.”

          Once I have an idea or reach my stream of consciousness, words fly from my brain onto the page. It happens so quickly, I don’t always realize what I have written until I go back and read it.

I am happy to sit still alone and write. I don’t feel joy then, just excitement when I hit my stride.

The joy comes when I sit back and read what I wrote. Even if it isn’t always good, it’s good to get it down—to have written. There is usually an idea, a phrase, sentence, or, upon occasion, a paragraph worth keeping. The longer I write, the more there is to keep.

But that isn’t all there is to writing. Come back to what you have written a day or two later. You will see what is good and not so good with fresh eyes. You will have more to write as your subconscious has been simmering and considering things. The more you work on a piece, the more it shines.

Give yourself the joy of writing. Following your dream is the best gift!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Best Writing Advice Ever

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Concise writing takes more thought, more work, more drafts. However, the results can stand the test of time. Updated 3/30/16: See posts on Mary Oliver on 3/21/16 & 4/4/16. Her thoughts: Give your writing power and time--look for verbs of muscle and adjectives of exactitude.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, published 1935

Omit needless words (page 23).

          Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. (62 words)

Gettyburg Address, 1863, the Nicolay version—thought to be earliest copy of the speech—is copied here:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow, this ground—The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people for the people, shall not perish from this earth. (235 words)

I’m not sure I can legally print lyrics here, but these songs are surprisingly concise:

“Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce, from 1971, is 128 words long.

“Sunshine on My Shoulders” by John Denver, from 1971 is 113 words long.

“Three Times a Lady” by Lionel Richie, from 1978, is only 51 words long.

          Make every word tell. I think that is the best writing advice ever.

Please note: This advice refers to the polishing/self-editing stage, not during early drafts when the goal is to get all your thoughts down on paper.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Festive Book Trees For Christmas

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

I'm in definite, full-blown holiday swing at the moment, which is my excuse for being a bit behind on this week's blog post!

As busy as this time of year is for a mother of eight kids, it also happens to be one of my favorite seasons.  Those who know me well (blogging partner, Kate!) are not surprised that I begin listening to Christmas music as early as late October.  For some, that's absurdly too early, but I find holiday tunes incredibly uplifting and plain old cheerful, and I will be listening to the last jingle bell wafting through my home well past New Year's day.

This week, I am immersed in garlands, wreaths, twinkling lights, shimmering ornaments and everything else that represents the joy of decorating for Christmas.  My kids and I have been back and forth to the attic dozens of times bringing out our treasured decorations, and if we're lucky our home will be all decked out by late this weekend.

While I was doing some research on an article I'm currently writing, I accidentally stumbled upon some amazing photographs of Christmas trees that took my breath away.  No, they weren't 6-feet blue spruces or artificial masterpieces that twinkled in silver or gold, these trees were something even more spectacular--trees made out of one of my favorite items in the entire world--books!

I was so excited when I spotted them that  I immediately sent one to my partner in blogging crime, Kate and a few other friends that are as book crazy as I am.

I know this is a writing blog, but being that I'm presently in the spirit of decorating for Christmas I thought I'd share a few of the tree images I found to be so inspiring.  Who knows, maybe when I finish stringing up the lights on our own tree this weekend, I might attempt a book tree of my own.

Feast your eyes on these beautiful pieces of art!

What are some of the different ways books inspire you throughout the season?

Monday, December 1, 2014

2014 Fun Gifts for Writers

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

 These are holiday gift suggestions for the writers in your life—or for yourself.

By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review Edited and with an Introduction by Pamela Paul
          By the Book is a Q&A article included in The New York Times Book Review each week. Here 65 authors share which books influenced them, what they are reading now, what books they recommend, what books they have not read, which three authors they would invite to a dinner party, what books the president should read, what are their ideal reading situations, their opinions on rereading, descriptions of their libraries, and favorite children’s books along with many other questions and answers. You get insights into authors you love, leads on books to read as well as discover authors new to you. An excellent gift!

New Bold Cristal BICs

          These are iconic, inexpensive pens. I have used them, but never loved them until now. The bold BICs have thicker 1.6mm nibs. The ink flows smoothly, although there are the occasional blobs. They are a pleasure to write with when you want to get your ideas down quickly.

A Writer’s Ring (see post dated 3/17/13)

          I love my faux, channel set diamond and sapphire ring that I wear on my thumb so I can see it sparkle in the light as I write, but another way to go may be a very rustic initial that looks like the face of an old typewriter key.

A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration & Encouragement by Barbara Abercrombie

          The 365 mini-essays written by the author include thoughts, observations, and stories about other writers. Topics include: #7 Jumping Off; #28 In the Company of Animals; #35 Eight Ways to Sabotage Yourself;  #68 Making Use of Fear; #127 One True Sentence; #243 Stepping Up to the Plate; and #315 Flying Off Course. Each essay is followed by a quote from another writer.

Literary Necklaces

          I bought a few of these necklaces for fun. However, I don’t wear them. They look like miniature framed quotes so I hook the chains over the corners of my computer screen and around the base of my reading lamp so I can read them. My favorites:

Poetry: the best words in the best order

Whisper Words of Wisdom

Book Vixen

I have taken to living by my wits. (Sherlock Holmes)

Literary Charms

          These charms are book-shaped with titles like Wuthering Heights and Moby Dick.

A Favorite Children’s Book

Memories are wonderful launching pads for writing ideas. I love Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (post dated 1/21/13), most books by Richard Scarry, and The Frances series by Russell Hoban. New favorites are from the Ordinary People Change the World series by Brad Meltzer including I am Albert Einstein; I am Rosa Parks; I am Abraham Lincoln; I am Jackie Robinson; I am Amelia Earhart; and I am Lucille Ball.

Ceramic Mug, Pot, or Vase

          Pick a favorite color, eye-catching shape, or inspiring quote. They are great for corralling pens for the writer in your life. Of course, the mug can be used for tea or coffee; the pot or vase for flowers—all inspiring for writers, too.

Blank Note Cards

Writing is writing so, if you cannot think of anything else to write, send notes to friends or family members. Make them smile when their snail mail arrives—and help achieve your daily writing goal.

A Pad of To-Do Lists

Writers need goals! Lists are a great way to keep you on track for projects and deadlines.

Happy Holidays!


Monday, November 24, 2014

Reads for Writers: Tony Schwartz and Betty Edwards Provide Masterclasses

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

          Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.

          I love to read and write, but I have always longed to draw well, too. My great aunt illustrated dozens of children’s books. Her artwork also included a huge cathedral drawn in charcoal and a mixed media Christmas scene both of which grace the walls of my parent’s home. My favorite painting by her is a three foot by three foot depiction of Noah’s Ark with the most adorable monkeys, giraffes, elephants, ponies, camels, penguins, zebras, deer, owls, hippos, bears, lambs, ostriches, cattle, and doves walking and flying to the Ark that she painted for my father’s nursery and was hung in the hallway outside my room when I was growing up. However, I did not inherit her talent.

          Over the years, I have tried to draw many times. I created two pieces that aren’t terrible, but I really want to be able to sketch quickly and accurately.

          I discovered Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence by Betty Edwards while reading What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America by Tony Schwartz. He included a photo of a self-portrait he completed after finishing Edwards’ course which amazed and inspired me.

I love to learn new things so both of these books appeal to me. In fact, I recommend you read Chapter 4 “Seeing the Big Picture” in What Really Matters before you start Edwards’ book as Schwartz gives a  fascinating look into Betty Edwards, her ideas and research, and her beliefs as well as a detailed view of learning to draw from his own beginner’s perspective. He compares writing and drawing on page 178.

          Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain was originally published in 1979. I did not discover it until decades later, but the instructions still work. If you want to be inspired, look at pages 11-13 to see before and after drawings by six people. The improvements are astounding.

I have completed the first six chapters and have drawn two pictures I am proud to sign: one of my left hand holding my mascara and the other of my bare foot. If you want to learn to draw, start now with this book.

Drawing is an excellent complement to writing. It teaches you a new perspective. It gives you another way to get thoughts and details down on the page about people/characters and settings when you are out and about. Having this artistic skill gives you confidence and another outlet for your creativity.

I’m recommending Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain now as winter weather (or heat waves if you are in the southern hemisphere) keeps many of us inside so we have time to spend on a new pursuit. We can always use a new perspective.

Happy creating!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Writing Gratitude

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

During this wonderful season of Thanksgiving, today's post is devoted to what I consider one of the greatest gifts a person can have--gratitude.
We all experience difficult days, sometimes very long stretches of challenge after challenge, but if we have the tools to turn those tough times into temporary setbacks and instead focus on all the positives in our lives, I believe we live a fulfilling, joyful and worthwhile life.
One of the most popular ways to live a grateful life is to keep a gratitude journal.  You've probably heard this said many times, but have you ever thought about keeping one yourself?  My first experience with a gratitude journal came from reading one of my favorite and most meaningful books, Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach.  This book really tuned me into the art of appreciating the simple things in my life.  I still keep this treasured book on my nightstand and have given dozens away as gifts to the special women in my life.
I must admit, however, although I first read Simple Abundance in 1996, it wasn't until a few years ago that I actively kept a gratitude journal.  I had good intentions for many years but my ready-made excuse of "busy mom of eight kids" was usually the reason I never kept at it
My gratitude journal means many things to me, but at the end of the day if you were to have a peek at the hundreds of pages I've written I think you'd be surprised at how simple my thoughts usually are.
There are days when I give thanks for a beautiful new piece of artwork hanging in my house, or finally finding a pair of jeans that fit me just right.  I also note the amazing experiences I am so lucky to have like visiting my dream publisher--Macmillan--in NYC--because I work for them or how fortunate I am to have just taken 7 of my 8 kids on a fabulous trip to Disney World this past summer.  But for the most part, my pages are filled with things such as being able to listen to Christmas music in early November, cuddling with my dogs on the couch after a full day of work, baking brownies with my 9-year old daughter, sharing my smile with people all day long.  Those are what I jot down in my gratitude journal on a regular basis.
So, today, one week before we celebrate Thanksgiving, I wanted to share with you how important gratitude is not only in my life, but especially to my writing.
If you've ever contemplated keeping a gratitude journal for yourself, this just might be the perfect time to give it a try.  And if you already do have one, what keeps you writing in it on a regular basis?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Writing Despite the Cold

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I feel like the proverbial poor starving artist in a cold Parisian garret. Well I’m not starving or in Paris, but I am freezing. A new furnace has not married well with a very old chimney. This is the busiest time of year for chimney sweeps so it’s proving difficult to get an appointment to fix or replace it.

          We can live without heat for a few more weeks by wearing three, four, or five layers. The difficult part is living without hot water heated by the furnace. Makes us reconsider bundling them. Plus our tech bundle—cable, phone, and Internet—went out two days later.

          So we are having a too close for comfort look at living 100 years ago except, luckily, we still have power so no candles for lights and I can still use my computer for writing. Since no experience goes to waste for writers, this situation has provided inspiration along with goose pimples.

          How dedicated writers were when they had only quills and pens with scratchy nibs that had to be constantly dipped in ink. Add the cold to that situation and I’m amazed at what they produced. Writing requires endurance.

          It also gives me a whole new appreciation for our ancestors who only had heat and hot water from fireplaces and wood stoves. All the work of chopping wood and gathering kindling to keep the fires burning all day and night, then pumping water into buckets, then heating water in pots to pour into a tub must have been exhausting. No wonder people only bathed one day a week. (We are doing far better than that thanks to nearby relatives.)

          What really strikes me is the quiet of the house with no incoming signals from the outside world or even the cycling of the furnace as it keeps the hot water hot. No dishwasher either. I'm heating water on the stove to wash the silverware and pots and pans. We switched to paper plates much to the delight of the dogs who, on sunny days, are napping on the deck warmer than I am sitting at my desk. At night, they wear their flannel-lined coats while sleeping on warm, cozy beds.

          I thought I lived a quiet life, but, compared to this day, not so much. Usually, I have the TV or radio on in the background as I write. When needed, the dishwasher is running. The house seems active; now it’s napping.

          I know the tech part will be fixed shortly. I have an “account current” relationship with that company.

I'm not so sure about the chimney/heat/hot water situation. I've never met a chimney sweep, but I will be exceedingly grateful when I do.

          In the meantime, I will continue to write. If Christmas gets closer and we are still without heat, I think I will be feeling more and more like Bob Cratchit. I better look for my gloves now.

P.S.  This happened in late October/early November so dogs were never freezing. Heat and hot water are restored.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The New England Butt'ry Shelf Cookbook

From Kate's Writing Crate…
          November and December equals food and family so now is when I look through favorite cookbooks to start planning holiday meals and treats. Two that still delight me are The New England Butt'ry Shelf Cookbook: Receipts for Very Special Occasions and The New England Butt'ry Shelf Almanac: Being a Collection of Observations on New England People, Birds, Flowers, Herbs, Weather, Customs and Cookery of Yesterday and Today by Mary Mason Campbell. Both are illustrated by Tasha Tudor.
          These books were Christmas gifts from my grandmother when I was nine years old. She had her own well-worn, cherished copies.
Even though I had never seen an old-fashioned butt'ry (pantry) before, I loved the cover illustration of one with wooden floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed full with mason jars filled with bright red, yellow, and green preserved fruits and vegetables, blue and white crocks, pots, pans, platters, and pitchers. Baskets of apples, onions, and potatoes sit in front of the shelves alongside ripe pumpkins at the edge of an oval blue and red braided rug with dried herbs hanging overhead. It's comforting and cozy.
          Inside the Butt'ry Shelf Cookbook are ideas and recipes for holidays as well as afternoon tea parties, birthdays, anniversaries, breakfast under an apple tree, and mountain cookouts. Who wouldn't want to attend these events?
          The Thanksgiving Dinner menu (page 129) includes:
Oyster Cocktail
Hearth-roasted Turkey with Spiced Red Crab-apples
Sausage and Sage Dressing           Giblet Gravy
Creamed Onions        Mashed Potatoes       Squash Souffle
Eben's Cranberry Sherbet
Cranberry Sauce       Celery Sticks       Pickled Peaches
Cornbread               Fresh Butter
Pumpkin Pie       Apple Pie
Mince Pie with Brandy Hard Sauce
Thick Cream              Yellow Cheese
Champagne Cider       Coffee       Orange Liqueur
I have never tried Eben's Cranberry Sherbet or Champagne Cider; however, when my grandparents were alive, Thanksgiving always included giblet gravy, creamed onions, squash, and Mince Pie with Brandy Hard Sauce. Time passes and some traditions fade away, but it makes me happy to have the recipes in case I ever need them.
          Mary Mason Campbell's books take readers back to yesteryear when everything was homemade and deliciously rich. Most of us don't have time to make everything from scratch, but a few of these dishes added to a Thanksgiving feast can become family traditions that make the holiday memorable.
          The Christmas menu is wonderful as well plus there are a dozen cookie recipes.
Happy Holiday Season!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Getting the Most from Facebook

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

When I want to unwind and have a little internet fun the first place I usually head to is facebook.  Though I was skeptical when I first learned of facebook well over five years ago, now I can't imagine going a day or two without visiting my trusty news feed to see what's been going on since I last logged on.

I often refer to facebook as my personal playground.  It' here where I can connect with dozens of friends and family and learn what's going on in their lives, check out their recent photos, laugh at silly cartoons and jokes, and find interesting articles and information about nearly anything under the sun.

As a mom, I'm able to see what's trending in parenting--the latest products, advice, and even support groups.  As a writer, I'm also able to glean up-to-date information from hot authors, writing gurus and fellow bloggers.

Today, I found a very interesting and informative article that focused on clever ways to increase fan interaction while using facebook.  It was like hitting the jackpot so I wanted to share it with you--fellow writers and interested readers so perhaps some of these ideas will help you connect with more fans and followers.

For instance, did you know that 

The Best time to post on Facebook  is when your fans are not at work?

The analysis showed that it was best to post during times when fans were not at work and between the hours of 8pm and 7am. So to increase your “likes” and “comments”, post during “non-busy” hours.


The Best day to post on Facebook is Wednesdays and Sundays.

These are just two of Bulla's great tips.  To learn more, click on the link above and read the rest of his simple but effective strategies to get the most bang from your facebook buck!

How often do you engage your fans on social media sites like facebook?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Writing Weather: National Novel Writing Month

From Kate's Writing Crate…
          Every day is a writing day, but some days are easier than others. Deadlines motivate me as do projects I love, but I am also influenced by the weather.
Rainy and snowy days are perfect writing days. I generally write in the mornings, but "bad" weather means I will stay at my desk longer.
Sometimes I take walks in the rain, but, generally, I prefer to hear it hit the roof and windows as I write. Snow makes me especially grateful to work from home. The weather provides atmosphere; it's not an obstacle.
In the same 24 hours, I get much more done during the days of late fall and winter compared to spring and summer. There are simply less excuses to leave my office when it's cold outside. Then factor in the early darkness. The sun setting before 5pm makes me feel like hibernating which again means more writing time.
A project also helps keep me writing and November is National Novel Writing Month. However, as I have previously stated in my post "Deadlines are Essential" dated 11/5/12, January or February would be a better choice for this project. Thanksgiving and preparing for the December holidays take up a lot of time in November. It's also my favorite time of year—and I want to enjoy it--so I have no problem changing this deadline.
I wish success to all who are writing their 50,000-word novels in November.
Wish me well when I write mine during a colder, darker, stormier, uninterrupted-by-holidays January.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Reads for Writers: Patricia Briggs Provides a Masterclass

From Kate's Writing Crate…
As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.
          Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice and/or creativity.
Since it's October, I'm recommending fiction that relates to Halloween. The paranormal genre may not appeal to everyone, but I've found reading strong writing in any form helps improve my writing. This recommended series includes excellent examples of all of the reasons I listed in the introduction plus humor and action scenes.
          My favorite series by Patricia Briggs centers around Mercedes (Mercy) Thompson. Half Native American on her father's side, she's a walker which means she can see and communicate with ghosts as well as shift shape into a coyote. (The backstory: Her teenaged mother, a rodeo groupie left alone and pregnant when Mercy's father died in a car accident, had no idea how to raise a child with these talents so Mercy was raised by the leader of all North American werewolves in Montana. Most werewolves have no respect for coyotes so Mercy learned how to get along with others, how to get around others, and how to stand up to others.)
          The series is set in Washington state where Mercy, a college graduate history major, is now the owner/mechanic of a garage specializing in German cars located about 10-15 minutes from her home and her neighbor, Adam Hauptman, the sexy, forceful, but fair-minded Alpha werewolf of the local pack. Mercy and Adam clash and spar quite often, but Mercy admires him especially as he's a good father two years out of a divorce raising his 15-year-old daughter, Jesse.
          Besides werewolves and walkers, a local seethe of vampires, various fae creatures, and Russian witches all reside nearby. Mercy is friends with Zee, a gremlin, who trained her then sold her his garage, and Stefan, a powerful vampire who drives a VW bus painted to match the Mystery Machine in Scooby Doo.
          In Moon Called, humans are finding out about the fae living among them. The werewolves are considering going public since DNA and other forensic tools will soon prove their existence, but not all of them think this is a good idea—and not every werewolf is good, especially those who attack Adam and kidnap Jesse. Mercy races to help, but more allies are needed to rescue the Hauptmans and defeat enemies known and unknown.
          The rest of the series titles are: Blood Bound, Iron Kissed, Bone Crossed, Silver Borne, River Marked, Frost Burned, Night Broken, and Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy Thompson. (Warning: These books include violence and a sexual assault.)
          In each book, Mercy helps her friends, sometimes their friends, and sometimes even the enemies-of-my-enemies-are-my-friends fight evil in many forms. A purple belt in karate, Mercy can fight hand-to-hand or shift to a coyote and fight with real bite. Her sense of smell and her ability to detect magic are also invaluable assets.
          Mercy and Adam are drawn closer to each other with every conflict and adventure. Their evolving relationship is one of the best parts of this urban fantasy series, but all the characters and the action-packed plots are spellbinding.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tightening up Your Writing

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

As a writer, I am pretty comfortable admitting what my strengths and weaknesses are.  I'll start with the positive:  Humor writing is my passion and when I'm in the "zone"; I can write essays, short-stories, human interest articles and even witty dialogue--sometimes effortlessly--because I'm comfortable writing in this genre.  I'm also very detailed oriented, which is something I rely on when I'm interviewing people for the magazine articles I write each month.  Third, I think my imagination is pretty darn colorful, so it's rare that I can't come up with an idea when I need to craft something interesting or even time sensitive.

Now for my weaknesses. I can be just as honest.  I overestimate how much I can complete before deadline; don't know all my grammar rules as well as I should; and finally--I'm much too wordy and often struggle with keeping my thoughts and my sentences as concise as they could be.  

One of my favorite ways to improve my writing is to find helpful articles and then save the thoughts that really hit home with me and that I find helpful.  Since tightening up my writing is always something I strive to improve, I just reviewed my article files and came across ten of my favorite tips that I gleaned from other writers over the years.  I hope you find them helpful as well:
1. Cut long sentences in two
I'm not talking about run-on sentences. Many long sentences are grammatically correct, but long sentences often contain several ideas, so they can easily lose the reader's focus because they don't provide a break, leading readers to get stuck or lose interest, and the reader might get bored and go watch TV instead.
See what I mean? If you spot a comma-heavy sentence, try to give each idea its own sentence.
2. Ax the adverbs (a.k.a. -ly words)
Adverbs weaken your copy, because these excess words are not adequately descriptive. Rather than saying the girl runs quickly, say she sprints. Instead of describing the cat as walking slowly, say he creeps or tiptoes. The screen door didn't shut noisily; it banged shut.
Find a more powerful verb to replace the weak verb + weak -ly adverb combo.
3. Replace negative with positive
Instead of saying what something isn't, say what it is. "You don't want to make these mistakes in your writing," could be better stated as, "You want to avoid these mistakes in your writing." It's more straightforward.
If you find negative statements in your writing that contain don't, shouldn't, can't, or another such word, find a way to rewrite them without the "not." That probably means you'll have to find a more powerful verb.
4. Replace stuffy words with simple ones
Some people think jargon makes their writing sound smart, but you know better. Good writing does not confuse readers. If they have to grab a dictionary to finish a sentence, your writing has room for improvement.
To get your point across, use familiar words. The English language has thousands of words. You can certainly find a shorter or more common word in your thesaurus than a jargony one.
5. Nix "that"
In about 5 percent of your sentences (total guess from the grammar police), "that" makes your idea easier to understand. In the other 95 percent, get rid of it. "I decided that journalism was a good career for me," reads better as, "I decided journalism was a good career for me."
6. Replace "thing" with a better word
Usually when we write "thing" or "things," it's because we were too lazy to think of a better word. In everyday life, we may ask for "that thing over there," but in your writing, calling anything a "thing" does not help your reader. Try to replace all "thing" or "things" with a more descriptive word.
7. Try really hard to spot instances of "very" and "really"
This is a difficult one to remember. I almost never get it right, until I go back through my copy, and the word jumps out at me, and then I change the sentence to, "This is a difficult one to remember." Because really, how much is that "very" helping you get your point across?
It doesn't make the task sound more difficult. Same thing with "really." It's not a "really" difficult tip to remember. It's simply a difficult tip to remember. Got it?
8.  Avoid "currently"
"Currently" is virtually always redundant. Don't write: "Tom Jones is currently a communications director." If Tom Jones is anything, he's that at that moment; you don't need "currently" to clarify. Just get rid of it.
9.  Eliminate "there is" or "there are" at the beginning of sentences
This is often a symptom of lazy writing. There are lots of better, more interesting ways to start sentences. Oops. See how easy it is to make this mistake? Instead of starting a sentence with "there is," try turning the phrase around to include a verb or start with you.
For example, replace the sentence above with, "Start your sentences in a more interesting way." If your copy includes a lot of phrases that begin with "there is" or "there are," put some time into rewriting them.
10. Steer clear of the -ing trap
"We were starting to …" or, "She was skiing toward …" Whenever you see an "-ing" in your copy, think twice about whether you need it—because you probably don't.
Instead, get rid of "were" or "was," then eliminate that "-ing" and replace it with past tense: "We started to …" or "She skied toward …" Pruning excessive "-ings" makes your writing clearer and easier to read.
How do you tighten up your writing?  If you have any other tips that can be added to this list, please comment and share!