the writer’s craft

Writing together, sharing the bond

I love everything about writing, getting the ideas, wanting to jump out of bed at 3 am. when get a great character in a dream, writing my first draft on a clean sheet of legal paper (because writing moves organically from the brain the pen for reasons I don’t understand), and typing everything and revising as I go. However, there is one thing I hate—the loneliness of it all.

Writing is not something you can do with a group of friends or even with your family around. You need to be shut up in your office (or attic or wherever you can make space to write) and pound it out by yourself. Some people play music. I can’t even abide that.

But there is a wonderful thing that cures to loneliness of the paperback writer (or bestselling author) and that’s a writers group. Writers of various stripes and abilities find each other, usually through some kind of club or writers organization. They see if they like each other and get together as artists. Then they meet once a month or once a week, anytime to they agree to, and share manuscripts with each other. The result can be just transformative. And it certainly puts a little fun in your day.

I’ve been a member of the Off Campus Writers Workshop in Winnetka, IL, which is billed as the oldest continuously operating writers groupie the country. OCWW is a little different from the kind of writers group I just described. It meets weekly at 9:30 a.m. Thursdays and has a featured speakers. I found that I really don’t want, to get up early and drive far to hear speakers discuss topics that interest me little, so I only go to a few of those. The ones featuring Northwestern University Professor (a leader of a few off-campus groups I was in) Fred Shafer are a must, however, and they lead off the season every fall.

The important thing is that OCWW has split-off individual

writers groups and that’s what I wanted. We have a group of six writers from around the North suburbs of Chicago. We get together monthly and have a new chapter ready for critique in our ongoing manuscripts. One writer, Renee James, is constantly having to bring brand a new chapter to us, because she’s finished the last book already. One has already been published. The rest of us work slower.

We give feedback and revision, all delivered in non-judgmental ways. (That’s a must for a writer’s group to work.) I’ve been told that my characters believable and the dialogue believable, but at least on one ms., the group complained about too much technical language in a story about a computer hacker. Eventually, my publisher had the same complaint, so it’s back to the drawing board on that one. See what happens when you think you know more than everyone else? Better to keep an open mind.

Networking and talking about shared experiences (does your character talk to you?) keep the procedure bright and collegial.

OCWW was founded in 1946 when wives of Northwestern University professors gathered to socialize and write. Rita Turow, Scott Turow’s mother, was a founding member. Since then the group has attracted some 200 members from all writer levels. And the subjects of the books have changed quite a lot. James, is the author of “A Kind of Justice,’ which features the travails of a transsexual Chicago woman. She solves crimes on the way. Not exactly your grandmother’s kind of thriller. James is in my group, and let’s just say that we can’t wait to get to her submission each month.

Many of us are published writers, but all of us know that we can’t get everything right. And when you’re in a dank basement, clicking out words to a novel, if you are only letting your husband or boyfriend, plus a few best friends read the manuscript, you aren’t getting anywhere. And if all your readers are white, middle class, Protestant readers, that’s going nowhere too. Our group is admittedly white, but it’s male and female, Christian and Jewish, former reporters to a mayor’s wife. Right now we are all digging on Susan Van Dusen’s (real name) book on an Orthodox Jewish group that is searching for a lost yad, which is an instrument used to read the Torah. I have none of this experience, yet I find the ms. a must-read.

I could have been anywhere at this point in my writing experience, but I know I wouldn’t have been published if I hadn’t been in a (earlier, but just as good) writers group. Even when they would say they didn’t like something that I loved, I’d take it home, look at it after a couple days, and think, “If they didn’t like it, then some readers out there won’t get it either. Better change it.” If I were doing manuscripts all by myself, I’d never made that kind of jump.

If you are in the Chicago area, contact Off Campus Writers Workshop at http://www.ocww.info. If not, there are always many search programs on your computer.

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The Long and the Short of Stories

I am asked constantly, “How does a writer get published?” Besides the obvious answer “Write well,” I often tell a tale of how the most determined writers get to their goal.

There are two important ways that writers can become published, and they seem almost diametrically opposed.
One way is to accrue a good-sized collection of short stories that the author has published in literary journals from around the country (and even abroad). The more published stories the author has, the better he or she looks to a literary agent or publisher looking at the material.

This is certainly the long road to getting published, because the rejection rate of literary magazines is phenomenal. In the old days, writers would wait anxiously for their Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) to see if it contained an acceptance or rejection. I remember going to the mailbox and pulling out those poor, thin little SASEs—thin because they almost always contained a terse rejection, written on a small piece of paper. Reason: “does not fit our needs at this time.” Now. submissions are be email, and the magazines don’t answer at all.

Rarely, an agent or agency staffer would ask for a re-write or for some other examples of the author’s work. This usually left the writer crying tears of joy, for someone actually read their story well enough to make a comment about it. Once in a great while the work would be accepted, and then the envelope would be thick and full of contracts that the writer had to sign. I only got one of those and it was so long ago that I forgot what journal accepted the story.

The idea here is that if you had enough stories published by such well-known journals as The Kenyon Review, Granta, and The New Yorker (!), and agent will take the writer on to produce novels, that, they both hope will sell well.

The other road to getting published is less touted by the schools offers Master of Fine Arts degrees, but it often produces faster results. The writer toils on a novel straight from the beginning, mainly because he or she doesn’t have much interest in short stories. The novel is tossed around writers groups, home reading groups and is sent out to minor publishers, gaining comments along the way. Almost always the novel is not accepted at any publishing house, but it can be read and remembered by members of the publishers and editors at various writing establishments, who often share material between them selves.
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The author can self-publish, which doesn’t guarantee much money or readership, but can land the book in the right hands. This is the route I took. I wrote a couple more manuscripts and sent them out to higher-level agents, hoping they’d take a chance on me. None of them did.

But then a miracle happened. One of the publishers who had read my self-published novel remembered it and liked the style. We worked on a science-fiction book together where I was the ghost writer and he came up with the plot. It was never published, but our relationship was tight. When he decided to start his own publishing company, he wrote me and asked for a manuscript to publish. While I was trying to figure out if this was a joke or not, I finally took him at his word and The God’s Wife, an novel about ancient Egypt, was published by Fiction Studio Publishing (now the Story Plant). My publisher is and was the wonderful Lou Aronica.

I’m not saying this happens every day. But novelists who stick to novels instead of goofing around with short stories they really don’t like, often have what it takes to push through to success.

And so, now, I’ve taken a fresh new look at short stories and what they can offer (usually a jumping off point for new novel, for me). My second short story will appear in A Dozen Truths: 12 Works of Fiction. This is the March 14, 2017, Kindle edition and can be pre-ordered at Amazon at this link; https://tinyurl.com/hu4d6wh. A paperback book is also in the works.

So, it can go both ways: short story writers can become novelists and novelists can start writing short stories, The important thing is to write what you love the most. Sincerity just can’t be faked.

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Bringing the holidays to the page (or not)

Not very many fiction writers make Christmas (or Hanukkah) the center setting of their novels. There was only one Charles Dickens and his “A Christmas Carol.” Few writers have even tried to surpass it. The holidays as a theme is usually used for marketing purposes in series detective novels, romances, even those strange hybrids, the cat mysteries (cozy whodunits featuring cats that help solve crimes). Most writers creating literary fiction or even thrillers and pot-boilers stay far away from the cheer and festivity of Christmas.

Some people don’t bring up cold weather at all. I, definitely a summer person, don’t like writing about snow and wind chills, even when that’s what I have swirling around me.tumblr_nrunr1vW2K1u7wocpo1_500 Yet I did bring characters together to Chicago in January in Dateline: Atlantis, freezing up the California-bred characters nicely before sending everyone off to Florida and the Caribbean. Christmas was never mentioned. There was a family dinner in that novel that could have doubled for Thanksgiving, but I never mentioned the holiday. I wasn’t trying to get readers in cheery, cozy mood, because a murder happened while the characters dined.

As much as I hate cold and frostbite, some writers seem to revel in it. Many writers of crime fiction love to make their detectives wade through snowdrifts five feet high, suffer in stakeouts in sub-zero weather, and struggle to hold a gun while wearing two layers of gloves. Hats off  (and quickly on again) to Libby Hellman and Sara Paretsky for making Chicago look so bad, but a perfect place for criminal mayhem.

Writer Stuart Dybek, another Chicagoan, once write a short story called “Cordoba” about a man who hails a cab in a blinding snowstorm. The cabby has the name of woman that he’s in love with.  He hasn’t met only gotten her phone number, but he’s in heaven,  Somehow, Dybek makes the snowscape sexy as the cabby goes on about all the pleasures he’ll soon be experiencing in his new girlfriend’s apartment. That is is he has the guts to call her. Then just as things seem perfect for the cabby, he loses the woman’s phone number and blames his fare for stealing it.  The customer doesn’t have the number but knows murderous lust when he sees it and dives out of the car into the snow. The storm gets worse and the cab gets stuck. The patron makes a hasty exit. At the end of the story, which I heard Dybek read to a group of authors, the customer finds the phone number stuck to his scarf. On a whim, he calls the woman. It’s just a luscious piece of work, even if it makes Chicago look like a horrible place to live. (I’ll write about that another time, but Chicago in spring, summer and fall is quite cosmopolitan and offers great entertainment.)

But Christmas? Well, there are the aforementioned series fiction styles which have a Christmas theme once in a while. There’s The Grinch That Stole Christmas (a true classic) by the late Dr. Seuss, The Christmas Box  by Richard Paul Evans (which I have never read) and the wonderful children’s classic, The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. But nothing earth-shattering comes to mind.

Christmas is a day to take part in and enjoy and not to write about.

 

 

 

 

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Hark! The Spirits of Literature call!

Around this time of year, authors sometimes start thinking of writing about angels. They are such enchanting creatures. They linger here as messengers from God and bringers of light.

I found myself reading “Faithful: A Novel,” by one of my favorite authors, Alice Hoffman, that is suddenly infused with angel imagery. It made me think back to the time in the late ’90s when there was an honest-to-goodness angel fad. You could hardly find a calendar that didn’t feature twelve months of angels. Or pick up a romance paperback that didn’t have an angel hovering over a couple fated for each other.

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The angel Gabriel in Eastern Orthodox form.

I had had an idea for angel book long before the fad started, but I completed “Excited Light” (not on Story Plant books, but published independently) in 2006. That was right at the tail end of the angel binge period and I’m afraid not too many people were interested anymore. I still stand by my work.

However, in the world of fantasy literature, angels are not only popular, but they are almost unrecognizable. They command whole worlds and do battle with one another. They are huge and weild terrific powers. Nowhere is the little cherub playing a violin that was so popular in late ’90s art.

I’m not inclined to read about angels of this sort, but it does cheer my heart that someone is taking them seriously. In the books I’m working on for Story Plant publications have nothing to do with angels whatsoever. But now, I’m thinking of a way to put these sublime beings into the storyline. In no way am I thinking of doing a whole book about angels. The market won’t hold for that. But as additional characters, they can only do good.

I supposed it’s the season that’s making me think back to how wonderful it feels to write about angels. And no one can make fun of me because it’s Fantasy! I never imagined them to be dainty and meek, always powerful and aware. They’d be welcome additions to my word of fantastic and dream imagery.

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Finding friends in a giant crowd

Character Take-Over

When you move, you make new friends. It’s imperative; otherwise, you’ll be shut up in your new place with no human contact. Moving from a house where you’ve spent many years and experienced many memorable events is tough enough. But what happens when you move to another state, to a big city instead of a quiet suburb, and don’t know a soul where you are going? I moved recently, but I’m still in the same basic community I was in three weeks ago. One of my characters has a much more interesting story to tell, having moved from a rugged community near Milwaukee, WI, to a high rise building in bustling Chicago, IL. She’s wrestling the blog away from me as I type….

Well, this is Veronica again, and I am not sure I made the best move of my life or if I really made a complete mess of things. I’m sitting up here in this high rise, looking down on all the little people and tiny cars, feeling 100 miles away from humanity. Just looking down there makes me feel immensely powerful and untouchable at the same time. How do I get those Lilliputian people up to visit me in my new domain. Going down to them means I have nothing to say, no way to share with them as they barrel along the street, late for appointments or hurrying to catch the subway.
I call my friends in Milwaukee and they all say the same thing: “If you have a special interest, join a club.” Oh, sure. I’m interested in reading books, but what am I going to do sit around reading with people? I did check out the Harold Washington Library near me, but there didn’t seem to be anything to do. Only book discussions of books I hadn’t read or didn’t want to read. Things with my late husband Matt were so much  easier. We loved the same type of fiction and nonfiction and together made a book club of two.
But I do like gardening, and I discovered at the Starbucks on the street-level floor of my building that the city lets you rent little plots of land in their community garden program. Y

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ou can grow whatever you like, from sweet potatoes to sweet peas. Surely you end up getting to know the gardeners who are in close proximity to you.
The first day I went out to garden, in April, it snowed. I could have laughed. Spring near the Great Lakes is always a dicey proposition. Milwaukee has the same kind of weather. As I got back onto the L to take a ride back out to the South Loop where I live, a man with a soothing voice explained to me that most people didn’t really get going with their gardening until Memorial Day, or sometimes a couple weeks earlier on Mother’s Day. He guessed that I was from out of town and I admitted that I was from Wisconsin.
I asked him how he knew all this, and he just laughed leaning on his shovel (he was just there to till the earth, not plant anything), explaining he’d been doing the community gardens since he was a young man. As we talked, I found out he was an accountant, and that he led walking tours of Chicago’s most unusual sites (“not the usual landmarks”) on various weekends. He said he had a tour coming up and said that I should tag along. He wouldn’t charge me, seeing as how I got caught in an April snow. He had a nice smile. I laughed and looked his card over. He also lived in a high rise, but one of the ones lining the highway to O’Hare.
Tyson. His name was Tyson, and he just put me at east with his whole manner.
As he was disembarking the train, and I faced a long ride to South Loop, he leaned over and said I looked like a scared bird. “Most people in Chicago are friendly. You’ll soon see that.”

Gosh, I really hope he’s right. And I never asked if he was single.

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You gotta do what moves ya!

The Writer’s World

There’s something about moving (as in moving all your belongings) that doesn’t sit well with the writing process.

First, the muse (If you have one) decides things are way too messy to be around and goes on a holiday. Ideas? Poof! Out the window. Meanwhile those ugly old boxes lurk in your office (and living room and dining room and, well, everywhere) making you feel that you are decidedly out of place. (“What does she do?” “She writes.” Guffaws all around cardboard mountains.)

I have an odd way of getting going on a new book. I write the first draft by hand. I feel closer to the creative process that way. But all those notebooks cause  clutter, so they were consigned to a box that said “Open me first!). Now I’m just going freeform on the computer screen. I should like the freedom but I don’t. I feel naked and exposed. I like my old habits.

There’s also the usual allotment of time the author gives him or herself for writing a day. Some writers insist on 1,000 words a day. Not me! I’m much more free-form. If I find that I can do a 2,000-word chapter in a day and the take some time off for new ideas that works. Other times I do 500-word bites at a time. I’m not a slave to word-count rules. Other writers get to know their characters by writing little vignettes where they go out for coffee together. Not me! Wasted verbiage! If it’s good enough to put on the page, you can work it into your story, ice cream and all. Others get up at dawn to draw on their newly awakened mind for inspiration. The only inspiration I can even begin to find early in the a.m.  is in the New York Times over an overamped cup of tea. Mornings, who needs ‘em? And what’s worse is that the older I get, the less I can stay in blessed dreamland. Is this some kind of joke?

But now that this little moving bit of disarray is creeping into my day, I find myself much more likely to pitch in and pack rather than face a blank page. Manana, Manana. I have started to do some character interviews (on this blog) just to get the creative process going. I pay more attention to my dreams now and imagine my characters in them. And I’ll stay up late writing (or thinking about the next writing turn, which is just as important). But no mornings yet. Heck, that’s why I quit the day job.

This thing isn’t going to be over soon, either. We close early next month—and then my darling spouse goes on a two-week business trip. I’ll have to keep the new house going and check on the old one, all while worrying about getting what I need for the laundry room, bathroom towels, etc. Then the movers will show up and whole hell will break loose.

Are my characters sharing in this experience? Well, let’s just say that by the second chapter I have a character unpacking books at her new high-rise condo. I should have lots for her to do by the time the chapter ends.

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Novelists’ characters take over

It may seem like a strange thing, but many fiction writers become so involved with their characters that the dramatic personae take on a life of their own. In a recent (admittedly small-scale) Facebook survey of writers, a large percentage of novelists admitted that they talk to their characters, dream about them, have arguments (silently) with them and so on. Sara Paretsky, the mystery novelist, once told me that she got the idea for her character V. I. Warshawski, when she started hearing a voice in her head (and I can testify that she’s not crazy).

Now, as I start a new novel, one of my own characters is not only talking to me, he wants to take over this blog for a day. So take it away, Travis:

You know I’ve always wanted to be a blogger, so here’s my big chance! I’m really a photographer and do everything from the occasional portrait to large-scale artwork, mostly ofnature and majestic rock formations in the American West. I do my best work on the art shots and recently was picked up as a freelancer for one of the most amazing photo magazines in the U.S. They are sending me to the Great Wall of China for my first assignment and I can hardly wait. I feel a special connection with China.

You see, I had a dream about being there. It was more than a dream, actually. I felt I was really there. I was in a courtyard, surrounded by scores of martial artists. We all had horses with us. When the clarion sounded and the Emperor came out to the plaza, we jumped up as one and did a synchronized display of martial arts movement, riding dressage on the horses, all while carrying the Emperor’s signature flag. It was spellbinding.

I can’t stumblr_nrunr1vW2K1u7wocpo1_500eem to get rid of that dream. Now I’ll get a chance to find out if I really do fit into the culture over there.

I certainly won’t fit in visually. I’m a tall guy, about six-foot-one, with reddish brown hair down to my shoulders, and a scruffy beard. I could maybe created a small ponytail at the back, but my hair’s just not long enough. You remember Aragorn in Lord of the Rings? My hair is pretty much like that (only not dirty all the time!). I am pretty exuberant and sometimes embarrass my friends in crowds, so the polite Chinese might find me a little much.

However, that’s just the visible me. The inner me is much more complex. Although I have what looks like a good career for a guy who’s in his early thirties, I actually worry every day where the money is coming from. Since the advent of digital cameras, and then the proliferation of cell phones that can take good pictures,

everyone thinks he or she is a photographer these days. I live in Boulder, Colorado, and often sell my photos to the local paper or even the Denver Post. But more and more these publications are buying the work by amateurs. Cell phones may just spell the end of my career if it gets any easier to take a beautiful shot without knowing about f-stops, lighting, and all the things I learned in photography school.

Worse, I wish I had someone to share my life with. I haven’t had a girlfriend since the day my sister Sara died of lung cancer. That was a few years ago. I just haven’t had the will to get out and introduce myself to women. I have become something of an anti-smoking crusader, however. I owe that much to my favorite sister.

So, I hide behind my camera viewfinder and look at the world through a camera lens. Not really participating in the world, but really wishing I could.

And be nice to Lynn. She’s telling my story and it will be in a book one day. Maybe I really will be famous.

Travis

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The Man Who Fell to Earth

It may seem odd for a fantasy writer to be fashioning an ode to rock star/actor/artist David Bowie. But who was Bowie but a fantasy character? He changed personas as often as many people change attire. He was never content to stay in one phase of artistic or musical development, but kept pushing for more and for…ch..ch…changes. As a lover of fantasy and magic, nothing enchanted or intrigued me more.

In all of Bowie’s transformations and new stances, his different moods always seemed to catch me at a significant time in my life, making him all the more worthy of examining.

When I was a kid listening to the mainstream Beatles, Bowie caught my ear singing “Space Oddity,” (“ground control to Major Tom…”). I had just seen Stanley Kubrick’s monolithic “2001: A Space Oddity,” and I caught the way Dowie was both having fun with the grandiosity of the film, but also retaining the ultimate mystery of the cinematic ending. Major Tom is lost adrift in space just the Starman lands on Jupiter for a terrifying transmogrification. What did it all mean? Did it matter? It was magical and inspiring and I loved it.

Years later, I was just as  intrigued with his role as an alien in Nicolas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” an arty flick about a desperate being who comes to Earth to save his dying planet. Bowie appears to Earthlings as a brilliant inventor who creates technology that makes him wildly rich. But for all his brilliance, he fails to bring water back to the people on his fading planet. Bowie’s character is left on Earth, out of touch and out of time, as his planet dies. It was so mystical and beautiful that it made me cry. I think in that role, Bowie showed me how truly affecting he could be.

I’m sorry to say that I lost track a bit of Bowie during his “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” years. I even was in London during the glam-rock phase (when “The Rocky Horror Show” was the biggest thing on the stage.) I happened to be in my big-shot jazz and intellectual phase then. (Eye roll, please.) I had to catch Ziggy on the rebound years later when I was listening to records I had missed in the college years.

But Bowie grabbed my attention big-time when Ziggy died and he morphed into the powerhouse rocker of the “Rebel Rebel” era. The song (“hot tramp, I love you so”) affected my burst-out-in

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to-the-world outlook at the time, along with “Suffragette City,” and “Diamond Dogs.” It was hot, pounding rock that drove a party as well as the Rolling Stones.

Then the rocker was gone and a character known as “the thin white duke” stepped on stage. He was a different from Ziggy as you could imagine—a suave, well-groomed man in a while suit, dripping with ennui. I, trying to bring up a toddler as a single parent, could appreciate the mood. So, I sopped up the manner and distance of the duke, but looked for Bowie’s next change.

While he was going through those moods, Bowie recorded such pop smashes as “Fame” (with John Lennon), “Heroes” (with Brian Eno, anticipating the fall of the Berlin wall), and “Fashion” (with Robert Fripp). These just kept us spinning on the dance floor waiting for more. (Interestingly, “Heroes” is now topping the charts, when it only rose to No. 47 when it was released in 1977).

By the time Bowie recorded “Let’s Dance” (“put on your red shoes and dance the blues”) he was a bona fide American rock star, minus the crazy hair, odd costumes, and heavy backstory of the past. In his short, combed blonde hair, a t-shirt and pants, he just stood for who he was—a great singer and musical stylist. And he looked forever young. It was as if nothing could change David Bowie now.

Yet, I could tell he was becoming moodier and more mature with 2013’s “Where are We Now?” but nothing prepared me for his sudden, and final, role change of Jan. 9. Although there were rumors in New York of Bowie having cancer, and he was opening a show he co-wrote called, eerily, “Lazarus” (the man Jesus was said to have risen from the dead). When I was in New York last, all my attention was on the musical “Hamilton.” Bowie eluded my vision.

I haven’t been able to get a hold of Bowie’s last album, “Blackstar,” which is sold out everywhere (and my Internet streaming situation isn’t good). But I have heard parts of the work. Surely the biggest clue he gave us about his next transformation were the opening words to the song “Lazarus” (“Look at me. I’m in heaven.”)

It’s the last role I ever would have considered for the biggest fantasy figure I’ve ever seen in my existence. David Bowie now in the afterlife.

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The Beta Connection/Why Writers Need Test Readers

Every now and then I take a break from stories about our fantastic universe to write about the business of being an author.

Most people think that when the writing of a manuscript is done, and the edits are finished, then it’s time to send the novel on to the publisher. That’s not correct. It now is time to send the manuscript out to trusted readers (some just folks who like to read, some professional writers), and find out how the book feels to them.

Most writers are working in closed room, living the novel in theirown minds. The smart ones go to regular writers groups to get feedback on chapters. But even the writers group members are not reading the book as an whole, as it was intended to be seen. So how to get the published book experience from prospective readers. Beta readers.

Writers generally will find about four trusted friends or associates and ask them to go at it: is the book fun to read? how are the characters? Is the dialogue believable? Did I make any egregious mistakes?

Usually, if your test readers are good, you’ll find out in a couple weeks, maybe three, if your work passes the Everyday Reader test. You have to be careful to pick out readers who like your genre

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(I once sent a manuscript of an Egyptian novel to someone who told me she hated reading about Egypt.). They also must be pretty fast readers who have time in their busy lives to breeze through your writing. And lastly, they must be at least decent at grammar and spelling, so they can point errors out to you. And believe me, errors will get past you, no matter how careful you are.

Also tell the test readers this is not an edit. You don’t want a manuscript that’s bleeding red ink with things they’d like to change. This is your book and you don’t want anyone telling you how they would write it. You’re pretty much done with the book and you only want big-picture comments, especially those that tell you if you described a landscape all wrong or if a character always reacts to bad news with stomach pains (these you can vary with headaches and gasps, etc.) Beta readers also can point out repeated words, a real bugaboo of mine.

I wasn’t as lucky as I usually am on my last group of beta requests. One treated it as an editing job (although some of the changes she made were lifesavers), one said she’d be done in two weeks and then suddenly was off the radar. Another had an illness in the family (excused, obviously). And the last sent it in late, but had great info in her comments.

Using the two usable beta reads I had, I was able to add in some seriously needed changes, fix grammatical goofs, and get the state of Connecticut so it sounded right. (I’ve only been there once, and made a few crucial errors.)

Without the comments from my beta readers, I doubt I’d have the air-tight novel I have now (or so I believe). My publisher is busy until the first of the year, so it will go off to him then.

Not too many people know that the best writing is somewhat a group effort, with test readers and professional editors all playing a part.

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Writing Fantasy—Where Those Ideas Come From

This blog is mainly for relating news of the fantastic and seemingly magical things that go on in our world and the universe. However, I’ve been asked to write about my own work with fantasy fiction, as well. So from time to time, I’ll write about how I go about writing fantasy, which I base in the current world. (I don’t do sword and sorcery writing.)

The thing most people ask me is where I get my ideas. I’m not sure why they ask this, because everyone comes up with ideas in unique ways. Some just have flashes of brilliance, others do research for years. I’m in between the researcher and flash-of-insight kind of writer. For my first book with the Story Plant, The God’s Wife, I had done years of reading on ancient Egyptian culture and religion. In the midst of all this reading (which was done for

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my own enjoyment), I discovered that there was a type of ancient priestess in the early dynasties, the 18th Dynasty, and in New Kingdom,  called the God’s Wife of Amun. She was supposed to be the earthly wife of Amun or Amun-Re, who was the chief god of the leading triad of gods during the New Kingdom and then later in the waning years of the Egyptian civilization. (Egyptian religion is so complicated that books have been written trying to describe it, but just accept that Amun was the top dog.)

I also traveled to Egypt, when it was safe, with John Anthony West, who lead an extraordinary tour of the pyramids, Sphinx, and great temples. I did research over there too. Plus I learned what the land was like, how the Nile smelled (surprisingly sweet), and how ancient Egyptians depicted themselves in artwork.

Because the God’s Wife was married to the head god, she trumped all the male priests in the temple. Some Egyptologists contend that she was second in power to the Pharaoh, because religion and government were the same in that era. She often came from the Pharaoh’s family.

Also. earlier I had seen a Polish movie, “The Double Life of Veronique” by director Krzystof Kieslowski, translated into English. I was fascinated by this tale of two women who shared the same soul. I decided to make my fictional God’s Wife share a single soul with a contemporary-era Chicago dancer who is to dance the lead in a production of “Aida,” based in ancient Egypt. I leave it up to the reader to figure out how this can be (although I hint strongly a the parallel universe theory). Eventually, they have to merge.

In retrospect, I wish I had put the single soul concept in my promotional material, because many people didn’t understand the dual plot. I did change my Amazon description to make this clearer.

For “Dateline: Atlantis” I read so much about the fabled disappeared continent (or large series of islands) that I don’t know where to start. The idea just grew in my head about a reporter who discovers an underwater world and the romance, murder, detective work, and near deadly underwater encounter all grew out of that. Some plots just do themselves.

I must give special credit to Graham Hancock’s many books about the possibilities of pre-Ice Age civilization as my guiding lights. Hancock, a real reporter, stood out from some of the loonies who wrote strange. unbelievable books on Atlantis. For my next writing project, Hancock is an  influence again, and the story involves, somewhat, a killer comet heading towards earth.

My books are published by the Story Plant, a great, innovative, independent publishing company,

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