Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Give a Child a Book by Andy Scheer

If you're early in your writing career, here's one way to assure job security: Give a child a book.

If you're short on cash, borrow a book and proceed to the next step: Read a child a book. If those five minutes don't count for eternity, they may at least count for a lifetime.

Some good news: If we want to raise a new generation of readers, we're halfway there. A recent report from Scholastic says 51 percent of children 6 to 17 are currently reading a book for fun.

As no surprise, the study found that kids who read often have more books in their home. “Frequent readers” (those who read for fun 5 to 7 days a week) average 205 books at home. Those who read less than once a week average only 129 books.

Also as no surprise, a key practice in growing recreational readers was reading aloud to them, “early and often.” It worked for my children, and it sure worked for me.

A few months ago, I saw a reference to a particular children's book – and instantly I was sitting in my mother's lap as the read me Harry the Dirty Dog. I don't remember if the book had been a gift for Christmas or my birthday, but I sure remember the story by Gene Zion. And the illustrations by his wife, Margaret Bloy Graham.

“Harry was a white dog with black spots who liked everything ... except getting a bath.” With that opening line, I was hooked. An endearing protagonist, immediate conflict, a building crisis, and a surprising story arc: Harry the Dirty Dog had everything a child and future writer could want. Only recently, revisiting the story with adult eyes, did I see the parallel to the Prodigal Son.

Zion and Graham wrote other stories in their Harry series. (My favorite is No Roses for Harry). Graham, who received two Caldecott Honors, died recently at age 94. I wonder how many other readers she – and the people who gave away and read aloud her books – helped grow.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Instead of Minutiae by Linda S. Glaz

You don’t want to nickel and dime your readers to death, so you opt for the twenty-five cent word. Throughout your manuscript you are giving the reader a lesson in vocabulary. In fact, they might have to use a dictionary ten or eleven times just to finish page one. Wow! They will be so impressed.
I’ll never forget the first time that I heard the word minutiae. I have always prided myself on a strong vocabulary, but I sat and stared at the movie screen. Minutiae? What the heck is minutiae? I wasn’t even able to tell by context. Once at home, I researched it and voila! Minutiae. Was I any more impressed than I would been by simple saying the small details? And I’ve actually caught myself wanting to slip minutiae into conversation from time to time because it really does fit better than very precise, small details in certain circumstances, but I don’t. And why is that? Because it could easily be a conversation stopper.
My maternal grandfather, each evening when the girls were all gathered around, would take out the dictionary and word by word, start to finish, work his way through. The girls had to spell each word and know the meaning. He was college-educated, but more often than not, quite self-taught. His English was atrocious, but he worked at it each day. This was by far one of the best parts of Mom’s early education. But did my mom elucidate the specifics of those assemblies to me in that milieu? HUH?
Did Mom tell me about it in that manner? No, she just said it like it was; he believed very strongly in words. And in our stories, as authors, we often have to just tell it like it is as well. Do we want our reader grabbing a dictionary in order to wade through the work? Line by line?
Depending on which stats you draw on, the average American reads between a 7h and 9th grade level. So most novels are written at the 7th grade level to accommodate. Grant you most avid readers go beyond that level, but you see the dilemma here, you don’t want to write above your reader by too much or he’s lost.
“But I can give them a great education!” You can and you will by writing it in your own words, not Noah Webster’s. You do it subtly when you have written the word look too often and switch it up with glance, glimpse, gaze, look, observe, watch, behold, regard, examine, or many others. But to completely give over your writing to the thesaurus means that you often use words which don’t really fit with that exact meaning anyway. And risk coming off sounding a tad pompous or silly.
There’s nothing wrong with well-placed words in your writing, but remember the expression KISS, keep it simple stupid! You will naturally slide in words that this person or that might not know, but don’t set out on a mission to re-educate the public. Let your story do that with details—minutiae that define your genre, not your intellectual prowess. Your job is to tell the story the best way you know how. Bits and pieces will be given to your reader which over time and hundreds of books, will have increased her vocabulary naturally.
Readers will always find a word here and there that will increase their knowledge, but if you determine ahead of time that it’s your mission, you will lose a lot of folks who simply wanted to sit down and have a good read.
I’m not suggesting for one second to dumb down your book, I’m just saying to let your writing unfold naturally. Don’t write to impress, just write your story. And don’t rely on a thesaurus to beef it up!
However, if cultivating the scholarly aptitude of your bibliophile is your aspiration, then go for it, just include a lexicon in the back of the tome!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Politics and the Christian Writer by Terry Burns

The first Presidential candidate has announced and others on both sides of the spectrum are already apparent whether they have announced or not. It has begun, and I guarantee we will all be sick of it before it has run its course.

As writers we have special communication skills to offer. For those of us who are Christians we have an obligation to stand for our principles. As citizens we have an obligation to use our vote wisely and to try and have a say in how we are represented.

But as writers we have to apply caution. Wherever we fall in the political spectrum there are people who are important to our writing career who will be on the other end of that spectrum from us. If we antagonize them it can have a detrimental effect on our writing career. That doesn't mean we should be silent. For too long we have had people trying to convince us that "separation of church and state" means we are not allowed to talk about politics if we are Christians. That is rubbish, That concept (which is not even in the constitution) came from the writings of Thomas Jefferson and simply means that government was not to interfere with religion and never meant that people with religion gave up their voice.

So as Christian writers we have something to offer to our country, but as writers we have to be cautious how we use that ability. Let me say this is not intended to be a political debate and if posts are entered that take it that way I will remove them. But just so you know where I stand in that spectrum so you can evaluate my thoughts, I am a life-long independent and a conservative. I believe in a limited government and a frugal government. I try to evaluate the thoughts and the candidates from all parties and try to support those I feel best represent the values I support as a citizen and as a Christian.

That's the first principle to apply as a Christian writer. A good writer researches their topic well, whether fiction or non-fiction. We all know what a problem it can be to write something and have someone call our hand on it. The most dangerous thing to our system of government is a non-informed voter. If we intend to use our voice in the political process being as informed as possible is mandatory.

If we wish to not offend those who may be important to our writing career we must not be contentious. By this I don't mean "politically correct." I abhor political correctness. It is yet another means to silence the voice of the Christian writer in particular. There is no problem stating a political position that some important to us might differ with, that is a major part of the political process, but we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the fray. By that I mean a clear stand on an issue we believe in, even responding in a limited way in rational debate, but never be drawn into name calling, personalities, all of the things a practicing Christian should not do. If the forum we are expressing our opinion in goes that way we should stay above that sort of thing.

Finally, as Christians I think we all believe that the Lord is in control. Anyone who is elected to office it is because He wants them there or allows them to be there. But in the process He most often works through His people. I believe we are intended to stand up and be counted as Christians in the political process and to use our vote properly. I believe we have writing skills to offer in the process, but should use the Biblical litmus test in the use of that writing. We shouldn't beat people over the head with our Christian beliefs, but if we do it properly people will always know where we are coming from.


PS I should point out that this is my personal opinion and I don't speak for the entire agency on this subject.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Going After the Book Pirates by Diana Flegal

Today I found out that one of my clients books has been pirated and is being offered as a free book on an online site.

First I contacted the publisher and asked if they had given the book to this site to offer. They had not and told me to tell the site to take the book down.

So I went back to the site and looked for the contact information. I found this:
Blankety Blank Free Books is in no way intended to support illegal activity. Use it at your risk. We uses Search API to find books/manuals but doesn´t host any files. All document files are the property of their respective owners. Please respect the publisher and the author for their copyrighted creations. If you find documents that should not be here please report them.

They uses really good English doesn't they? I clicked on that link and it led me to an email.   

I wrote an email to the address the link provided stating this:

To Whom it may concern;

Please remove the book When More is Not Enough from your site. You do not have permission to offer this book for free here.

(I included the link to the page offering the book in reference)

The rights are owned by a traditional publisher and I represent this title.

Please cease and desist, or we will take legal measures to have this book removed.


The email bounced.

I do not want to sign up to become a member of this pirate sight but I went into the next page to see if I could find more information and found the affiliate host-  Supgame.

I googled Supgame and there were quite a few pages asking if this site was a scam sight. When I went to Supgame.net's site, I had to subscribe to proceed with questions. This time it involved downloading software. I passed on the offer.

Back to google- using a different set of search words- 'book piracy'.

BTW: This particular books proceeds go to a charity- so they are robbing this charity of its money. Thinking about this is beginning to make me angry. Help me Lord Jesus!

WIKI INFO listed a page: How to Combat Book Piracy

WOOT! Finally, I will find out what we can do to get this book down off this page.
Here is the outline of suggested steps. See the above linked article to access the full article.

1) Don't Panic Really??? 
2) Search the site for all copies of your work. If you are a multi-published author you need to do this. It is likely they have stolen more from you.
3) Make a record of the exact link(s) where your file(s) occur. Send it to your email and cut and paste into a word doc.
4) Find the copyright officer. It is supposed to be listed- in the small print. Get a magnifying glass.
5) Collect and save the required information. And have dated written verification you contacted them (This is a good time to remove all sharp objects from the house because you may be tempted to slit your wrists soon.)
6)  Visit the profile of the person who updated the file. (See what I mean about removing sharp objects?) You should be able to find the person who might have mistakenly scanned the material from your book to post on the site not realizing they were passing along stolen material. SERIOUSLY WIKI??
REPEAT #1 Do Not Panic! Or think evil thoughts or call down curses on another human being- remember who the Christian is here! And go to the linked page to read the reasonable material there that instructs you how best to proceed.
7) Send a note to the copyright officer. Be reasonable and polite. (Ramblings of the father in A Christmas Story mumbling about the dog stealing his turkey enter my mind.) Wiki offers a nice format you can use. Note to self: No need to start world war three Diana.
8) Follow up. Go back to see if the book has been removed or has shown up again under a different screen name, etc. If it is not removed or shows up again, contact the copyright officer again.

Why is it that the bad guys who don't want to work cause those of us that do, to work harder for what we work for? I think of this every time I have to arrive at a major airport two hours before my scheduled flight because of security measures imposed upon us, the innocent, due to terrorist activities.

David prayed precatory prayers in the Psalms- they went something like this. Father tear out the livers of all book pirates, gouge out their eyes so they may never read again, take away their seed so they might vanish off the face of the earth.  Yikes, that is pretty rough.

Or we might go to the polls, then trust the government to write new laws, eliminating this offense once and for all, and while they are at it- add an addendum to establish peace and harmony throughout the earth while eliminating world hunger. Most likely not going to happen in my lifetime.

Many of you are thinking right about now- wow, Diana's cheese seems to have slipped off the cracker. Precatory prayers are not her normal style.

You are right. The point I want to make is, we shouldn't be caught by surprise at activity like this. We live in a fallen world- where some feel they have the right to take what is not theirs to meet their selfish needs. And because of that, we have to spend a few hours combating and reclaiming what is ours.

Lord help us regain what the enemy has stolen. Keep our hearts right in the midst of the battle, and let us not lose compassion for the lost in the process. Amen.

Please pray I succeed in getting this book off the free site, and if you subscribe to these lists, unsubscribe. It is stealing and wrong.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Enriching Your Plot by Andy Scheer

This past weekend I began turning over my garden.

With the first bite of the spading fork, I was surprised anew by the rich, dark soil.

A dozen years ago, it was little more than sand. With the added challenges of Colorado's dry climate and short growing season, I wondered if gardening would be a waste of time.

For some crops, it was. I discovered that with the cool nights at our 6,800-foot elevation, I could forget about getting ripe tomatoes. But potatoes and carrots? Wow!

Still, not at first. Success came only after I'd spent a few seasons improving the soil. Each fall I'd use a mulching mower to shred our crop of aspen leaves, spread them over the garden, and dig them in.

Year by year, the ground became more fertile. And the crops grew more fruitful.

But it's never easy. Before I plant, I'll need to turn over the ground a few more times, clear some sticks, roots, and old stalks, and smooth the surface. I'll need to decide what seeds to buy and actually plant them. Then comes a season of waiting, watering, and weeding.

Only then, if all the conditions prove right, comes a harvest.

Gardening reminds me of writing. Especially improving the soil. If you long for a harvest of publication, I hope you're enriching your garden plot by investing in classes, critiques, coaching, and conferences.

Compost whatever you can, like rejections or projects that cease to bloom. Take those experiences and work them into the ground of resources, skills, and experiences from which you write.

Then if you plant something, it just might grow.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Plate of Spaghetti by Linda S. Glaz

You search the pantry and pull out all of the ingredients. Chop veggies, add tomatoes, add the meat. Shucks, you don’t have the ground sirloin, but plain hamburger will do, won’t it? A little salt, a dash of pepper. Cook for two hours, and voila! A plate of spaghetti.
No one asks for seconds, and you, as well, find it hard to choke down the last noodle. What happened?
You ponder your blunder for just a second. While you remembered the salt and dash of pepper, in your haste, you completely forgot the rest of the spices. No garlic, no basil, no oregano, no dash of cayenne for that extra kick. While rushing to get it to the table, you didn’t even remember to sprinkle the parm on top. No wonder nobody asked for seconds.
And isn’t that just like a good story? You rush to get it to the agent or editor? You know it still needs some spice to bring reality to it, but he wants to see it, right? And after all, that’s the most important…get it in their hands. But they don’t ask for a full read. No seconds. What happened? The story was there. It was obvious what the conflict was, who was going to fall in love, how it would all turn out, but the spice was missing. The dash of this and that that makes the whole story come alive. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes.
When you write, do you remember to sprinkle in the extra kick? The part that makes your story real? Or do you rush it to table only to find that no one wants a plate of your spaghetti?

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Book was Better by Jim Hart


How many times have you come away from seeing a movie that was based on a novel and said “I thought the book was better”? And really meant it?

Are you excited when one of your favorite novels has been made into a movie? Or do you, as many of us will, make up your mind that it can’t possibly be any better than the book?

When I asked my son which he liked better, World War Z, the book or the movie, he just said “they were different" and explained why.

My wife and I saw The 100 Foot Journey without reading the novel first, and we found the movie to be excellent. But does is it ruin a book for you if you've seen the movie first? I think it can be a bit of a risk - once those movie visuals have gotten into your mind.

What about Left Behind? I’ve yet to read the books, or watch the movies. (Should I be admitting this?) But I hear people much preferred the books.

The Outsiders has been credited with creating the modern YA genre. Even though I read the book years earlier, I really enjoyed the movie version. As for the Lord of the Flies – I thought the book was better.

The first book-movie combo I remember encountering was 2001, A Space Odyssey. And honestly, I have equally enjoyed both the book and the film. Maybe the film a bit more. However, in this case, it's important to note that the novel for 2001 was developed at the same time as the movie, and was actually published after the film version was released. So it may be difficult to say whether the screen visuals or the book narrative was the major contributor to the overall story, and which one carried the other. In this case, we might not have had one without the other – the movie or the film!

We all know there are authors who do an outstanding job of showing a scene without the aid of a film. Through their writing alone, our imagination yields vivid pictures – how we see the hero, what the setting looks like, and maybe even the sounds and smells. Isn’t that the goal of a great novel – to create such a strong sense of place, character and history that images from the written page settle in our mind and become memories? And sometimes they seem as real as reality itself (but not quite to the extent of the Matrix....yet).

The images and emotions conjured up by a great book stay with us for a lifetime. The adrenaline of a good movie quickly fades. Books, we treasure. Movies, we appreciate. There’s a difference.

When I saw the movie Prince Caspian, decades had passed since I last read that C.S. Lewis series. When Reepicheep first came onto the screen I let out an involuntary vocal response: “Reepicheep!”  The visual had instantly resurrected a memory and accompanying emotion, long since filed away, of that valiant little mouse. Isn’t that the power of a well written character?

While watching The Two Towers I had an even stronger reaction when, at the battle of Helms Deep, Aragorn “looked to the East, at dawn’s first light” and saw Gandalf come riding over the hill on Shadowfax. The sense of hope that was portrayed, without a word being said, nearly brought me to tears right there in the theater. In that brief nano-second, when synaptic nerves fired and chemicals were released in my brain to do their job, I simultaneously imagined what Christ will look like, and what our response will be, when He returns to finish the battle, riding on a white horse. That’s what can happen when a director does a proper job of interpreting a great scene from a great book.

Aragorn is the character that I most enjoy in the Lord of the Rings movies. He looks, speaks and fights as I had imagined when reading the book. Or maybe the visual on the screen has replaced the visual in my mind? Or maybe just enhanced it. I’m sure there’s some psychological principle that could explain it, but that would take away from the mystery and wonder of the process. I’ll just conclude that I’m satisfied with the image of Aragorn that I’ve retained, because its origin is still found on the printed page.

In the introduction to Fantasy Fiction into Film: Essays, Leslie Stratyner and James Keller write “changes to the written text in a screen adaptation are not undesirable. The film text is not another edition of the original, but a distinctive art from that involves a unique set of priorities and requirements.”

So there you have it. Not better, just different.

Although I still think the book was better.