Friday, April 24, 2015

I Just Bought a Book with the Number 50 in the Title, by Jim Hart

This week my wife found a used copy of 50 Short Science Fiction Tales for me at a local thrift store.  I was pretty excited! I was like a little kid with a new toy and started reading it in the car on the way home. (No, I was not the one driving.) 

Short stories are great for us short-attention span readers. You dive right in, and then in just a couple of pages you hit the punch line and you’re left either saying "cool…..didn’t see that one coming”  or maybe just "hmmm……that’s nice.”  But doesn’t sci-fi really lend itself to this type of quick story telling?

The copyright page says this book was first printed in 1963. The edition I now have was the twentieth printing from 1979 and it’s a Perma-Bound library edition. I wonder how many students fingered through the pages while the words floated through their minds.

One of the first stories, from sci-fi great Isaac Asimov, is The Fun They Had.  This little story is set in the year 2155, and it starts out with a little girl writing in her diary “Today Tommy found a real book!” 

The story tells us that the little girl’s grandfather said that his own grandfather once told him that “there was a time when all stories were printed on paper.”  

Asimov goes on to write that young Margie and Tommy  “turned the pages, which were yellow and crinkly, and it was awfully funny to read words that stood still instead of moving the way they were supposed to – on a screen, you know. And then, when they turned back to the page before, it had the same words on it that it had when they read it the first time.”  

This short story, even though included in this collection from 1963, first appeared in 1951! Isn’t that one of the things we love about sci-fi – the often prophetic view into a possible future?

So you never know what small gem is waiting for you on the thrift store book shelves!  Isn’t it worth taking the time to scan through the titles? What’s the last treasure you uncovered in the used book section?

Oh – and the story goes on to say that as little Margie and Tommy were looking through this old paper book, Tommy declared, “What a waste. When you’re through with the book, you just throw it away, I guess. Our television screen must have had a million books on it and it’s good for plenty more. I wouldn’t throw it away.”

Thursday, April 23, 2015

conferences by Terry Burns

I'm getting ready to get in the RV and head to Orange County California for a Christian Writer's conference. It's the first time I have been to that one but I hear they do a nice job with it.

For years I've done a couple of conferences a month and I do prefer to drive if I can because I genuinely do hate airports. I've tried to start cutting back the last couple of years. It's not like I need to generate submissions, I get a ton of them. I can cut back on one that someone from the agency is already working but it is hard to turn down a small conference that's not too far away and needs me.

Then there is the Colorado Christian Writers Conference May 13-17th. We love that one and have gone there for many years. Marlene puts on a great conference. I'll be at the Tulsa Christian Writers May 20-30th,  Inspiration Alive in Amarillo June 11th, and Rose State College in Midwest City OK Sept 18-20th. There's a couple of others I'm not sure about, but I have cut back a bit.

I believe conferences are absolutely essential if we want to write, primarily because they are specifically designed to help us better learn our craft. More than that they give us a chance to interface with other people who really understand what we are doing and what we are going through. Having the support of family and friends is nice, but we really need times when we can interface with other writers, when we can just immerse ourselves in it for a short time.

Long before I became an agent I tried to go to a couple of conferences a year as a writer and it was invaluable to me. It is where I learned the business. There are a lot of them to choose from, some large and well attended, some regional ones that might be right in your own back yard. I mentioned the ones above because I'd love to meet you at one.

What conferences do you like to attend and when and where is it?

And if you haven't been at one, well . . . don't you think it is time that you did?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Interuptions by Diana Flegal

Sometimes unforeseen things outside of our control interrupt our lives. Family medical emergencies. Like cancer, or an auto accident, or your child going off their medicine and winding up far away and in a hospital, not in their right mind.

Or a good thing happens, you receive a bonus from work that allows you to take that long dreamed of vacation, but will be away from your desk and unplugged for several weeks.

Perhaps your wife or husband gets a job offer in another state and you must leave your very helpful critique group behind.

 Other times it is as simple as writers block.

What has taken you away from your writing of late?

Anything we can pray for?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Check Your Blind Spots by Andy Scheer

While reading someone else's book, have you ever caught yourself skimming? I thought so.

The next time you find yourself not reading every word, take advantage of the opportunity. Try to figure what went wrong – why this passage doesn't hold your attention:

The author stepped away from dramatization and dumped a long passage of summary or backstory.
She let a character deliver a speech.
He wants to explain something in numbing detail.
She spent too many pages exploring a subplot instead of advancing the story.

Whatever the problems, store them in a self-editor's checklist, and use that list to examine the nearly complete pages of your work in progress.

If you're fortunate, you'll find pages to revise. But don't trust yourself. You have blind spots – especially about your own work.

That's where beta readers come in. Or they should.

I doubt the author of the nonfiction manuscript I recently edited used beta readers. Or heeded their advice. Most of Chapter 2 expounded basic information his target readers should already know. It interrupted the flow between Chapters 1 and 3, and he'd done nothing to set it in context.

He was impassioned about the information, and the entire chapter sat squarely in his blind spot. After a paragraph or two, readers will skim. If the author is fortunate, they'll peek ahead to Chapter 3 – and check back in.

If you've secured an agent and anticipate traditional publishing, you're working with a safety net that independent authors may bypass. But you're working with gatekeepers who set the bar high.

They'll expect you're aware of your biggest blind spots—and have taken steps to address them.

There's no point in writing words your audience will want to skim.

Monday, April 20, 2015

I Don’t Know Where I’m Going, But I Want to Get There Fast! By Linda S. Glaz

Sound familiar? Sound like the mindset of a new author?
“I think I’ll sit down and write a novel. It will be a bestseller in just weeks. I’m already planning how to spend the money!”
I don’t know about the rest of you as writers, but I have to admit, with a slight variation, this did go through my mind at some point. Have I ever said I’m pretty honest? That was over twenty years ago. I’ve since published six novels and two novellas. Have another releasing in December, but I’m not rich yet. Don’t have a bestseller, and am still waiting to save up enough to spend all at once on something awesome.
But I write! I no longer try to do it fast. I try to do it…well.
I try to understand the changes that have taken place the last few years and incorporate them into my writing instead of fighting them. I work on deep POV and try to make my characters stronger, better, more believable. I want the plot to flow, make sense, transition well. In other words, I have a better clue where I’m going and how I plan to get there.
As an agent, I expect the same from the authors I work with. I don’t make suggestions and send changes only to let them know and then see the work back on my desk two hours later. “A complete rewrite? No problem, Linda. I’ll have it to you by morning.”
They take their time to get it right. Or at the least, make it better.
If your intent is to be the next Brandilyn Collins or Ted Dekker overnight, I don’t want to see your proposal unless you’re doing the work to go with it. And even then, only if you have a sincere heart that is willing to learn.
However, if you want to be a bestselling millionaire by next week, and you have the story to get you there, we’ll talk about it! $$$ Huge smile on my face!
Seriously, there is no substitute for hard work. A teachable spirit. A willing heart to learn and learn and learn, and then work some more!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Written Down, by Jim Hart

This week I went to see Woman in Gold, yet another book made into yet another film. But that’s not what this blog is about. Although Woman in Gold is a very moving true story that I had never heard before. Afterwards my wife and I talked about the importance of people today, especially young people, being informed and remembering this tumultuous time in world history.

WWII is a deep scar on our history. The Holocaust still causes, at the very least, great discomfort when we consider the brutality and hatred that was directed towards the Jewish people. And tragically mankind still acts out in horrific displays of aggression yet today.  

So do we, as a people, need constant reminders of these historic events? Of course we do. It helps us take our eyes off of ourselves, even for a moment, and afterwards consider our place in this current, modern world. It's good to be reminded of the triumph of the human spirit in the face of difficult times. Those stories serve to encourage us in our own struggles, even our day-to-day ones.

These stories, as part of our larger, collective story, educate, enrich, and inspire. They need to be told and re-told.

How much has our national pride, so prevalent after 9/11, faded over these past years? How many of our young people, who were either too young to remember, or not yet born, consider the significance of that day? Although I had an editor from New York City tell me last year that it's difficult for them to deal with the stories from 9/11, and some are not ready to do so. And there are a lot of stories, and editors, in New York.

So here’s my point: We need to keep finding, and writing the stories of those that have been, in some way, involved in the events that, for better or for worse, have been so transformational in human history. Society is strengthened by knowing and appreciating the personal stories of significant events. That’s what keeps history from becoming dates, places and names.

Years ago I found an old hardcover copy of W.E. Woodward’s The Way Our People Lived. It was not a ‘fast read’, but the author accurately recounts the lifestyles of those who lived in the early and middle parts of American history. As a youngster I remember reading some of Laura Wilder’s Little House books. My strongest memory of those books is how happy she was to get an orange for Christmas. I wanted Hot Wheels. The years eventually gave way to books like The Hiding Place, God’s Smuggler, and The Diary of Anne Frank. In my school years I also read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and though it’s a novel, it portrays the aggressions of the Soviet totalitarian regime against its citizens.

Recently I read music producer Daniel Lanois’ memoir, Soul Mining. His accounts of working with musicians like U2 and Bob Dylan were cool, but his recollections of growing up in Quebec in the 50’s and 60’s were really fascinating. There was nothing of history-altering significance, but still it showed me another slice of life, in another part of the globe, that I was not familiar with. And of course it was fascinating to read about the technology that was available to him in the 70's and 80's for recording music. And those small bites of historical information were pretty satisfying. And it's probably safe to say that Lanois' own young history molded him into both the man and the successful musician and producer that he was to become. It reminds us of the significance of back story.

So am I history buff? Maybe more a fan. Maybe I just like the stories. 

John ends his Gospel with“This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

John wrote about what Jesus did, so that future readers would know Jesus and what He did – the single most important person in all of human history.

If you, as a writer, are able to take a moment in time and let someone's story live again on the written page, you will be adding color and texture to the fabric of our history.