Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Your Point (of View)?

The POV of this picture is from outside the mirror wall

 When we write, we need to choose a point of view (aka, POV.)  I like to write my blogs mostly from a "we" POV because I feel that we are all together in this, sharing our love of writing and working to polish our skills.  However, I try to claim my blunders from an "I" singular perspective, because mistakes I manage quite nicely all by myself!

What is POV?  It's who's telling the story.
*First Person  (I, me, myself, or, in the plural, we, us, ourselves.)
*Second Person
*Third Person (limited, subjective multiple viewpoints, or omniscient)

First Person

 From Me, Myself and I by Cheryl Wright: 
You want to write first person - it's easy, right? Anyone can do it, at least that's what everyone tells you.

Not quite.

First person narration is becoming more and more popular, and this is being recognized by many publishers, including some romance publishers, who are now open to submissions using this point of view (POV). Silhouette Bombshell are one such publisher.

The trick is to eliminate most of those nasty "I" words that sneak into your prose unnoticed. Just because the story is being told in first person, does not forgive starting every (or every other) sentence with "I". The alternatives are endless.

For example: I glanced at the clock
Becomes:My eyes darted to the clock
Or: The constant ticking drew my glance toward the clock
Reworded, the meaning is not lost, but that repetitive "I" is gone. 
Each time you start a sentence with "I", cross it out in red, circle it, or underline it. Do this every time "I" appears on the page. You will quickly tire of this no-win game. (Here's your new mantra: nasty, nasty, nasty!)

Another shortfall many authors of first person have, is to make the reader privy to information not possessed by the narrator. As with most forms of writing, this unforgivable (and annoying) habit can definitely be perfected with practice.
An example of this could be:

Tripping as I entered the room, I landed heavily on my knees. His gentle touch was beyond anything I'd experienced before, but all eyes looked my way. I was blushing so profusely, he must have thought me insane.

Did you pick the error? The narrator cannot see herself blushing, so she can't describe it to the reader.
from this POV we can see the creature has legs and feet
Since I've written this kind of thing myself, I can feel myself blushing, at my literary clumsiness.
Imagine yourself stepping into a room. It could be a ballroom built in 1820. Notice the beautifully carved ceiling. What about those magnificent paintings, hung perfectly straight on the wall?

And of course, you would have admired the chandelier; it takes centre stage above all else, with its two hundred tiny lamps and fifty crystal droplets.

You did see the light bouncing off them, didn't you? Of course you did! 
Did you also notice the masked man coming up behind you, a gun in his left hand, and a black bag in his right?

If you did, you must be my mother. As far as I know, she's the only person in the entire universe to have eyes in the back of her head.

The lesson here, is that a first person narrator cannot see what she cannot see.

What? I've still not made it clear?

The most important thing (or rule, if you prefer) with writing in first person, is to visualize yourself as the narrator.

Stand in that doorway to the ballroom. Look down at your Cinderella dress (if you're a guy, you just became a transvestite - sorry!), look toward the ceiling, to your left, your right, straight ahead. If you don't see it through your human eyes, then my friend, it don't exist. (Please excuse the grammar!) 

For the rest of this great article, go here.  Cheryl's rule about the rule of what the character can see, also applies to third person limited.  If it (whatever "it" is) is happens "offscreen," as it were, the only way either the first person narrator or third person limited narrator can know about it is because someone has told us/them, or because the narrator can hear, for example, a plate dropping on the floor and breaking.  We cannot make our narrator psychic to events happening outside his/her vision or hearing (unless they're psychic through the whole novel!)

from this viewpoint, we can see the egg

Second Person

from Men with Pens:
Second person point of view is rarely used unless you’re creating an instruction manual, a table-top role-playing game or a LARP (live-action) game.
Second person, simply put, is “you.” The author or narrator tells you what you are doing and what you see. Here’s an example:
You see a wood-frame door with teeth marks low down on the right hand side. When you touch them, you can feel the splinters in the wood. You see that there is blood smeared on the carpet… What do you do?
Second person perspective is controlling and dominating. It reads awkwardly and lacks imaginative flow with freedom of creativity.
from the inside, you can see different custom tiles

You can make second person POV work in a very short story or essay, but it's difficult to read as anything with substantial length to it.  Plus, "you you you" can come off preachy or condescending, if someone is saying "You need to" or "you should."  Regardless of whether the advice has merit, whenever I hear "you should" or "you need to" I tend to find something else I "need to" be reading or doing.

Third Person
 From Suite 101:

Third Person Limited

Third person limited means that everything is seen through the main character’s eyes and in past tense. A book written in third person has the phrases “he said, he thought,” all coming from the same person’s head. The reader sees, thinks and feels only what the main character experiences. There are no shifts at any other time to other character’s thoughts or emotions. Many detective novels are written in this simple, straightforward tense. This POV is comfortable, easy to read, and readily accepted by most publishers.

 Third Person Subjective Multiple Viewpoint

A change in viewpoint can heighten suspense. Many mystery writers use subjective multiple viewpoint to tell their story. In the Tony Hillerman Navajo mysteries, there are two main narrators, officers Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. When the reader is in Leaphorn’s mind, the viewpoint stays with Leaphorn until it shifts to Jim Chee in an alternating section or chapter. (Some portions of Hillerman’s stories, such as a murder scene, may also be told in an omniscient viewpoint, from no particular character’s point of view, however the larger portion of his work is seen through the viewpoint of one character at a time.)
Books written in third person limited or subjective multiple viewpoint
  •  The Case of the Daring Divorcee by Erle Stanley Gardener
  • A Taint in the Blood by Dana Stabenow
  • Cold in the Grave by Peter Robinson
  • Coyote Waits by Tony Hillerman (alternating narrators Chee and Leaphorn)

This is the view from inside the bird-creature
When we do third person multiple viewpoint, the challenge is to avoid  head-hopping.
From Writers' Digest on POV.  This is when you jump back and forth between different characters’ thoughts and feelings. For example:
Jack stared at the hill, which looked to him steep and uninviting. He felt punky, anyway.

Jill thought the hill looked inviting. Great, she thought. I’ll bet there’s a spring at the top.

Oh Christ, Jack thought, following Jill’s gaze. Is that a spring? Knowing Jill, she’ll want me to fetch a friggin’ bucket of water.
The problem with this passage—aside from it being astonishingly lame—is that we don’t know who to care about. This isn’t to say that you can’t switch POV in a story or a novel. You most certainly can. But you risk spreading the reader’s compassion too thin. You also risk confusing readers, who use POV to orient themselves. This is why I strongly advise against switching POV within a particular scene, and for the most part, within short stories.  

Third Person Omniscient (From Suite 101)

In the third person omniscient point of view, the author takes a panoramic, bird’s eye view of the characters and in describing the overall picture. The story is not shown through the eyes of any one character, but an invisible, all-knowing, all-seeing narrator. This point of view works best in a story with a complicated plot and multiple characters. Most of popular author Stephen King’s works are written in third person omniscient.
Novels written in Third Person Omniscient:
  • A Time to Kill, The Partners by John Grisham
  • And then There Were None by Agatha Christie

The problem with writing from an omniscient POV, is one has to be very, very skilled to maintain any suspense, because why doesn't "God" know who the murderer is?  Obviously, the writers listed above do it well, but for your average newbie novelist, it can be a challenge.  It can also be challenging to draw the reader in to emotionally connect with the characters, from that bird's eye view.

this view from the back shows the Queen's silver snakes

Sex Changes - Women Writing Male POV; Men writing Female POV:

ManUp from Fiction Groupie
Gender-Bending from Janice Hardy
from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books  (gotta love that title!)

How To Avoid Stepping Out of Character from Marg Gilks

The key to choosing POV is deciding what we, as the writer, want to reveal, and what the best way is to reveal it.   If we've chosen a certain POV and it's not working, we can always try another.  It may not fix the problem, but it may help us pinpoint it.

Photos © The Writing Goddess, from Queen Califia's Magical Circle Garden in Escondido, Calfornia by artist Niki de Saint Phalle.

What's your favorite POV, and why?  
Leave a comment and let me know!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Going to Our Happy Place

Writers are rarely blocked coming up with excuses why we're not writing.  We've got soooo much to do.  People to call, friends to see, websites to visit...

And all of that may be true, but a piece of our reluctance to apply the seat of our pants to the seat of our chair is sometimes it hurts.  Suffering for one's art unnecessarily, isn't noble, it's... dumb.

from BryanAlexander at Flickr

This is how many laptop users work - just put the laptop on any flat surface, sit down, hunch over, and start typing away.  It's great for short 15 minutes bursts, but we can't sit down for several hours and work like this, without ending up with a sore neck or back. Or we put it on a dining room table, which may spare our backs, but kills our wrists because of the awkward angle necessary to reach the keyboard.

When people are "into" pain, it's more a bondage club, leather whip kind of thing.  I've never heard of anyone going to a Dominatrix and begging, "Please, make my back ache like I've been hunched over a computer keyboard for ten hours straight!"

We may not be consciously aware of it, but if every time we write for a solid hour or two, we are in pain for that long or longer afterwards... it will make it harder to motivate ourselves to sit down and write the next time we have that window of opportunity.

from Editor B at Flickr

How long are you going to want to apply your derriere to this chair?

from Kare Products at Flickr

It may be well worth the price to invest in a chair like this one.

Photo via Amazon

Or this one.  Whatever works for you and your body type.

If you use a laptop, consider getting a stand, to bring the screen level to a comfortable eye-level, and an auxiliary keyboard at a comfortable working level for your wrists and elbows.

photo via Staples

When we think of sitting down to write, we need to think of it as "going to our happy place."  Like our writing is a beloved lover, deserving of being "spoiled" with the finest mattresses and Egyptian cotton sheets - not some cheap hooker we're hastily doing in the back of the family minivan.

We need to, as much as possible, keep our desks free of clutter, with perhaps a few decorations around that make us feel inspired and joyful about writing.

This Maxfield Parrish print of Ecstacy is my fav.
We may not be able to have our own writing office, we may have to write at an improvised desk in our kitchen, or a corner of the living room.  We may need to put on headphones or plug in our earbuds to block out the noises of the household or neighbors going about their business. 

We must find a way to be kind to our backs, our eyes, our necks, our wrists...  We're going to want to use them for many years to come.  And we need to honor our writing as important and valuable to us, something worth treating with respect.

How do you make your writing "going to your happy place?"
Share your tips in the comments, below.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

5 Very Good Reasons to Buy the New Book by The Oatmeal

#1 Buying this book is much better than being stuck in traffic going to a book signing in Santa Monica.

#2  If you put this book on your coffee table, that goofy aunt of yours, the one who has dolphins tattooed around her ankle, will be mortally offended and finally stop sending you those "It's National Syrup Day!!!  Sending a big sticky kiss to everyone who's sweet!!!  And make sure you send one back to me!!!" emails.

Just click HERE for info on getting your own aunt-repellent

#3 All the cool people with all the cool hats own this book.   (And their little dogs, too.)

 #4 When people bug you to read "War and Peace" or some tripe about a tattooed girl who isn't even American, you can wave Dolphin at them and say,"Gee, that sounds absolutely fascinating, but currently, I'm captivated with all the wondrous things I'm learning about Nature's beautiful creatures."

#5 You've spent more, on crap you enjoyed less.  (FaceBook credits for games, anyone?)

Seriously... it's a great book, put together by a passionate, wildly talented and almost disgustingly young man, who I had the privilege of briefly meeting at his Santa Monica book signing at Barnes & Noble.  (Very briefly, because there were over 200 other fans there, who all wanted to become The Oatmeal's new best friend.)  Kudos to Shane and the rest of the B & N event staff who kept things flowing nicely and the crowd from getting too restless.

With the help of a laptop that suffered momentary stage fright, Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal's real name)  explained how The Oatmeal came to be (the name itself is derived from a gaming name he used,) after he decided he was more interested in comedic art than coding.  (Though he did use his coding talents to play some interesting practical jokes on PETA.)

The book itself is high quality - sturdy cover and pages, good color printing on most of the pages, though there are a very few pages in black and white.  There is quite a bit of factual information sandwiched between the dinosaur on crack rampages and babies vs. rabies comics; how to use a semi-colon, spelling tips, and exotic trivia about beer, coffee, tapeworms, and cats.

How cats manage to puke on demand, especially when company is visiting, or when one is trying to blog, was not covered, however.  Perhaps the next book.

The key to his success, though, is clearly The Oatmeal's dedication and hard work on the art, which is all done done digitally, via mouse (something he doesn't recommend,) and amazing programming and coding skills.  Marketing?  He shrugged.  Besides this book tour, if you create something people really like, the marketing takes care of itself, said he.

I'm guessing B & N and the other locations from the just-completed book tour just might have some extra signed copies on hand, if you check with them.  If not, you can just go here for an unsigned copy.

Have you been to an Oatmeal book signing?
What did you think?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

We Seem To Be Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Not my actual computer.
The good news is, I got a new computer!  Yeah!  It means I can retire Granny (as I'd begun calling my eight-old-year previous computer,) because she'd gotten pretty winded getting up that hill, loading up webpages, and performing... pretty much anything I asked her to do, though she'd plug away gamely at a task, even if it took her all night.

Nowadays these young whippersnapper computers can play a YouTube video and run a slideshow and recalc a spreadsheet, all in the time it took Granny to groan into action and say Welcome to Windows.

So, I've retired Granny.   Passing her along to somebody who isn't 100% convinced a "new" PC is better than the great one he had built in 1986, even if that one does only have 4G total memory.

So, hooray, I got a new computer, and... oh no, I got a new computer.  This means I have a lot of technical things to do, and technology... is not my strongest skill.

Remember these?  Yep, those were the good old days.

I've spent a fair amount of time communicating with ISP techs whose names are probably something like Rajafajaneeferdeefer Shrinimokirajaputtem, but who told me they were named "Rocky" and "Juliet."

So far, I've spent three hours hooking up my old, still works great, workhorse laser printer.  This entailed:
  • Discovering new 'puter did not have a parallel port, much like malls no longer offer hitching posts for one's carriage horses.
  • Trip to Fry's to buy cable with a parallel connection at one end and a USB plug on the other.  Plus an extension for said extremely short cord, since I find it inconvenient to keep my printer under the frickin' desk.
  • Hooking up said cables - done!  Computer says, "You're kidding me, right?  I got nuthin' here."
  • Eventually I figured out I not only had to load the printer driver onto the new 'puter, but a driver for the actual cable.  Who knew even cables had drivers these days?  Luckily, when I checked the plastic clamshell packaging the cable had come in, which I'd been about to throw out before severing an artery on the razor sharp edge, they'd included  the cutest little disc.

  • To which my new 'puter said, "Oh, hell no!  I don't know where that 'cute little disc' has been.  Ain't you never heard of communicable viruses?  You better download the driver from the website, I ain't loadin' nuthin from some freaky little disc."
  • So I did and this time, it listened when I said, "Load this, bitch, or I will hurt you," and I've now printed several things onto the old printer, and that was another thing off my list.
 I had to do this, because I wanted to print the rebate coupons for various products I've purchased.  Step one, get the printer to function.  Step two, go to the website, listed right on the rebate receipts: 
 stuff like:'re-givingyouanymoney/65039677895044785_042311.pdf.  And print.  Easy-peasy!

Did I mention my typing is almost as weak as my technological skills?  With any single mistyped character pulling up a screen that almost shakes its head at me and says, "You poor, poor thing."

I've been loading programs from CD's, because that's how I roll.  Then trying to find where they went, because they weren't in the "All Programs" section of the start menu, they weren't in the list of Office or other products.  When they said the new computers were better at gaming, I wasn't thinking hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo with my programs.

It almost drove me to slitting my throat with that deadly sharp clamshell package edge, but instead I settled for a cardboard "paper cut" on the inside joint of my index finger that almost exposed the bone.

Yes, it's been an adventure.

Here's the thing, though.  If you write, if you dream, someday, of becoming a professional writer... mastering (or at least coming to an armed truce with) the current technology is part of the job.

If you're fabulously wealthy, and you write simply to amuse yourself whilst your staff of pet accountants tallies your doubloons and you've got a staff of "hot and cold running secretaries" a la Jubal Harshaw in Stranger in a Strange Land, you can bypass this, of course.  If you're the average struggling writer, you've got to do your own dirty work.

Which means, learning to use your new computer.  Learning the current trends (This includes following blogs, like agents' - and mine, of course.  Are you following me yet?!)  Marketing and branding yourself.  Blogging.  Doing research.

Writing?  Sure, if you can find the time.  (You poor, poor thing.)

from cchen at Flickr
If you don't hear from me for a while, I am either fortifying myself with a margarita, before tackling yet another set of tutorials with those annoyingly cheerful voices... or I've decided to make good use of one of my clamshells.

Happy writing!

Any suggestions for what I should name the new 'puter?
If you can't tell, she's got something of a 'tude, 
though she is fast and efficient.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Roman Numerals Are Not The Enemy

If you're like me, when you think of outlining, you think of Roman Numerals.  Of chalk squeaking on chalkboards, black-and-white essay books, of excruciatingly long days in high school with goofy guys hogging the teacher's attention...

(Yeah, I know it's blurry.  Much like my own memories of high school. Thank goodness.)

Many writers prefer "pantsing" a novel, that is, writing it by the seat of their pants.  It's free, it flows, it's Bohemian and liberating and wild!

Photo by prozac1 at FreeDigitalImages
It can be wild, all right. It can also lead to the Half-Novel to No Where.

I knew an extremely talented writer.  Her
pages were lyrical, poetic; the dialogue blended well with the narration, the pacing was excellent, and everyone loved her characters.

But, she didn't want to use outlines. She trusted the story to lead her where it wanted to go.

And she had a stockpile of 5-6 novels written to about page 200-300, and then abandoned, because she didn't know how she wanted them to end.

For most writers, we need to know where we're going. And most types of novels: mystery, sci-fi, thrillers - need structure.  Genre romance, in particular is very structured: we need to meet the Main Characters by page X, and the first kiss must occur by page Y, and so on.
A good outline is like a blueprint of your story. The same way an architect would never start building a house without first knowing where he was going, neither should a writer start building his story without first knowing where it's going. (from
Outlining doesn't have to be the drudgery it was in your school days.  It can be an exciting part of planning your book.

Work on the Possible Twists and TurnsThe advantage of writing a book outline is that one can get the opportunity of discarding or changing the developments of the story line, well before going into the explicit details. It can save you a lot of effort which would be wasted, if you would have fleshed that story line and then realized that it's not getting anywhere. At every point in the story, there are many possible alternative developments, out of which you must choose one. If you are writing a mystery novel, then you ought to put-in tantalizing and misleading clues, which you can plant right in the outline. Put in points in the story, which you could expand at a length, later on.

Make Chapters And Link Them 
Chalk out parts of the story, which can become individual chapters. Write out chapter headings. It may so happen that one part of the story or chapter is very clear to you and feel like writing it immediately while you are in the flow. Do that! It often happens that you start with one part of the story directly and then write the past and the future linking it into a whole. As one goes on writing, one sends a lot of imaginative shoots in the past and future, creating an imaginative space in your mind. To write a book outline is to bring all these off shots together, and tie all the loose ends. The outline will serve as a guide when you start fleshing up the novel and writing in details. It will give you an idea as to how much you have done, where you are and how much more remains to be done!
Writing a book is like climbing a mountain. So you need to plan your trek to the top and that is what writing a book outline is all about. A novel is a fictional journey on which the readers are going to accompany you. To make the journey enjoyable to you and the readers, one must put in a lot of effort!   
Photo via Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos
Mind Mapping
This technique is very effective and a lot of fun. Mind mapping, is graphically mapping your imaginative outbursts on paper. Take a sheet of paper and draw a circle in center and write the central idea of a chapter in it. Then draw smaller connected circles which are the various ideas and developments of the main concept. This way you can have a mind map of your thoughts about the chapter, which will help you in writing every chapter. Then piece together the chapters through a mind map for the whole novel! Try it out! 

e-How's got two good articles - this one suggests: 

Sort out your ending. Figure out where you want the story to go even before you begin. This is a tried and tested method of writing good novels. Many writers say that you must write a story backward. Once you have a strong ending, it is relatively easy to set up the events to suit the ending rather than vice versa.
Yes yes yes!  You, the writer, have to know where the story is going.
Grab your reader with your beginning. Ensure that you have captured the audience's attention by beginning with an exciting sequence of events such as a rescue, a bank robbery, or a car chase involving a protagonist or antagonist. 
I would add, make sure your opening "fits" your genre.  If your book is a thriller or is action-based, a car chase works.  If it's an introspective philosophical tome - not so much.
Tweak your ending or beginning if you need to. This likely won’t present any big problems because you have a clear outline of where your story is (or was) headed.
eHow's other article is more about writing a book outline as a proposal, than as a writing guide, but may also be helpful.

Rekha Ambardar has some fabulous ideas on Writing World for the actual nuts and bolts of outlining.  No Roman Numerals required.

"W" Folder

This is a simple low-tech method. All you need is an ordinary manila file folder, a pen or pencil, and your imagination to create a visual representation of your story.

Open up a file folder and write a large "W" over the entire folder -- one V on each side. Your story starts at the first leg of the "W". Your initial crisis is at the bottom. The top middle indicates the point where problems may be resolved. The bottom of the next V is the blackest moment. The story is completely resolved by the top of the last leg. Scenes and other notes can pencilled in along the legs of the "W". With this method you can insert information that is missing. The folder can then double up to hold your research and other information necessary to your story.


You can use your good old Excel program for a simple chart. If nothing else, a spreadsheet can hold vast amounts of information, so it beats pasting things on your wall. For example, columns can be used for each chapter for fifteen or twenty chapters, ad infinitum. Your rows could be your main characters and the minor characters that influence your plot. Or else your columns could be the chapters and the rows could be the pivotal scenes in each chapter. And you could add, delete, and move scenes around. As you start writing you could pinpoint exactly where a particular character appears in a given chapter without thumbing through hard copy to look up something.

Index Cards

Color-coded index cards are helpful in keeping track of whether or not your story has a balanced amount of goal, motivation, and conflict. The cards may be coded as follows:

  • Pink= Heroine's POV
  • Blue=Hero's POV
  • Purple= Goal
  • Yellow=Motivation
  • Green=Conflict
Put down scenes as they occur -- no details, just enough to know what it's about Write scenes in any order, keep adding cards and scenes till you can't think of anymore ideas. Now organize your cards and keep them in order. The scenes should move n a linear fashion -- Event A should occur before Event B. Decide what scenes are most exciting to the main storyline.  
Add details at the back of the cards, such as Location, Time -- what day and time is a given scene taking place? Characters -- list all the characters who will appear in the scene. Main POV -- each scene shoud have only one POV character. Main POV character's goal in the scene -- what is this character trying to achieve?
Photo by twobee at FreeDigitalPhotos

Post-It Notes

Post-it notes can be smacked on a big chunk of bulletin board paper, and like index cards, post-it notes can be color-coded. Using a yardstick mark off columns on the bulletin board paper -- a column for each chapter. Jot down important scenes on colored post-it notes and move them around as you construct your story. Do you see too much of one color? Separate them and place them such that your story is in balance with the goal, motivation, and conflict of your main characters.
Go the the article for more on the Three-Act Structure.

As I work on my most ambitious novel to date, with shifting Points Of View, a timeline, and various locations, I can't imagine trying it without an outline.  I'm using a spreadsheet, but also colored markers, to make sure I am balancing the different POVs, not having too many chapters occur in the same locale, and also using the timeline to introduce time clues in each chapter. 

One character, for example, is very much interested in gardening and trees, so in every chapter told from her POV she notices what is currently blooming, needs to be pruned, or seems neglected.

If you want to write a novel that is as satisfying as a well-balanced, seven-course meal, learn about outlining, and put it to work for you.

What's your favorite method of outlining?
Got more good links?
Please share, in the comments, below.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What Was I Thinking? Collect Readers First, Assemble Book Afterwards

Take one part universal experience (bad relationships,) two parts collecting and editing such tales from a wide variety of women (including celebrities); record the authors reading their essays aloud, then mix well with music, art, subtitles and video, and you've got VidLit.

The result is wildly entertaining - just play and see for yourself.

Editor Liz Dubelman shared her experiences with the California Writers Coalition (and friends) assembled in Gallery 800 of the gorgeous Lankershim Arts Center last Saturday afternoon.  (It was originally supposed to be at Borders-Sherman Oaks, but as that venue became unavailable, Scott Sonders of the CWC worked tirelessly to secure the new venue, and notify everyone through FaceBook and MeetUp of the change, set up chairs and the A-V system, MC'd the meeting, and probably did dozens of other things that made the afternoon run so seamlessly.  Thank you, Scott!) 

Photo Via Art Directors Guild

My favorite artwork was in the Ladies' Room
Murals by beautiful and talented Nicki LaRosa

The gallery was filled with interesting, beautiful and affordable works of art, mostly by local artists.  If you're ever in the neighborhood, it's well worth a visit - and if you're not in the neighborhood, it's still worth a visit.

Photo via CRA/LA

Sorry, what was I thinking/saying?  Every time I pass under the GateWay to NoHo my thoughts get a little scattered and Bohemian.

Back to Liz (and co-editor/collaborator Barbara Davilman was present, too, she simply waved and smiled) was explaining how they came up with the concept, first, then pitched it on Craigslist, MySpace, and most fruitfully, FaceBook.  Women were happy to chime in with their own stories - but don't cringe, men, it truly wasn't male bashing.

From the Intro:
What Was I Thinking? is a collection of personal essays written by women describing that moment in a relationship when, no matter how much you think it should work or want it to work or need it to work, it becomes clear to you that it's not going to work.
Except for the "written by women part," I'm thinking that everything there has happened to every man who's dated more than one woman in his life, too. 
...this is not necessarily the moment of the actual breakup.  Rather, these stories describe the instant when logic, common sense, and simple self-interest triumph over the human need to be loved - or, at least, the need to be in a relationship.  The relationship may not last beyond lunch, or it may linger for weeks or even longer.  But inside, you know: He's going to be an ex.
Okay, so you've got material for the anthology that will be What Was I Thinking? 58 Bad Boyfriend Stories.  You're putting together the video clips - how/where do you sell it?

By having much of the material together, Liz and Barbara were able to sell the book proposal to St. Martin's Press.  Why?  Built-in readership - every woman that contributed probably has a mom, sisters, brothers, network of friends - all who will buy and help promote "her" book.  So with 58 authors, that's several thousand people right off the top.

Liz said they worked every avenue possible.  Through FaceBook, they found a friend of a friend of a friend who knew somebody who wrote for O Magazine.  That got them a mention there.  They did Vimeo, and YouTube, podcasts, radio interviews, Twitter.  They used their (small) advance from St. Martin's to... do promotion.  They secured sponsors for their parties that were featured in video clips with a tie-in to the subject matter of that essay.

Did I mention that they sold this video book to New Line Cinema?

They "discovered" a long-forgotten holiday - one which I plan to celebrate from here on out.  Play here for more on "Come to Your Senses Day."

I love that it's the day after Valentines' Day, and one of the honored traditions is eating all one's VD candy in one sitting!    Join the sisterhood here:

You may think- watching these videos - wow, that looks very slick.  I can't do that

Liz's advice on technology was that it isn't expensive, these days, it just takes a strong stomach (and time to learn.)  I think she may be a bit modest about her own talents - they don't just hand out Emmys to anyone, after all, and she's got two.  But she's probably right in that if you are a good writer, then you have the intelligence to learn anything, if you want to.

On that note - the presentation was followed by an Open Mic session.  Participants were young, old-ish (not gonna hang myself by calling anybody old here!), male, female, published, not yet published, and the material was everything from poetry to essays to short screenplays to material that truly defied categorization.

It amused me, speaking of technology, that the first reader, Amy S., did not have pages, in the traditional sense.  She read several wonderfully evocative haiku poems directly from her SmartPhone.

I think everyone took away from the evening many ideas to ruminate over.  And to blog about!

Your thoughts?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Guest Post: Pitching a Novel to an Agent from BookEnds LLC

Photo by artolog at Flickr


How do you pitch in person to a literary agent?  BookEnds LLC can coach you through it.

Pitching Effectively

I'll be attending a writers' conference and have a 10-minute appointment with a literary agent. Do you have any suggestions on what the pitch should - and shouldn't - include? Is there something people do that really annoys you? Anything that's particularly effective? 

The most important thing your pitch should include is your blurb. Really, it doesn’t need to be that different from your query letter, a short, compelling description of your book. Everyone is different, very different, when it comes to what makes a successful pitch. I think it’s Janet Reid who has posted on the subject, and what she’s looking for is different from what I want to see. All that being said, if you give a short, compelling pitch you’ll win an agent over every time.
Here are my tips for pitching successfully.

  1. Bring along your query, a short 1-2 page synopsis, and the first chapter of your book. Have it out when you sit down in case the agent finds it easier to read off that.
  2. When you sit down, introduce yourself and take a moment to ask the agent how she’s doing or how she’s enjoying the conference. In other words, a few seconds or a minute of small talk tends to break the ice and make everyone a little more comfortable.
  3. Start your pitch with your title and genre, then give your blurb. Your blurb should not go on and on. It only needs to be a written paragraph, and if it’s easier for you to read it go ahead and read it.
  4. Have questions. In other words, use your time wisely. When authors pitch to me I’ll often ask questions about the book, but I always ask the author if she has any questions for me. Have some. This is your one-on-one time with an agent, so use it. Ask questions about her, the agency, the business of publishing. Think of it as a pre-interview. If she calls to offer representation, you already have a sense of how well you talk and how comfortable you are with her.
  5. Relax and enjoy yourself. 10 minutes can go quickly.

BookEnds also has great related posts: Pitch Lines That Don't Work, and I Stop Reading When (on ways to keep from figuratively shooting yourself in the foot when querying.)

Keep in mind, writing queries, blurbs, synoposes, and marketing yourself is part of your work as a writer.

I would also suggest, if you are currently a techno-dinosaur, don't be too frank about saying so.  "I could never use Twitter!" or "I would never write a blog or use FaceBook to connect with fans."  An agent wants to hear, not that you are necessarily a techno-geek, but that you are prepared to use (or learn to use) whatever the current tools happen to be, to promote your work.

Agents make money when you make money.  They don't make money by babysitting a "shy" writer or teaching a client how to use their computer.  Given a choice between representing two authors of roughly equal talent, they're going to choose the writer who's committed to being active in promoting the work, not somebody who will need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 20th Century. 

Yes, I know we're in the 21st.  Do you?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Guest Post: Story of Your Life in Six Words

By Dan from FreeDigitalPhotos

"I made this letter longer than usual, because I lacked the time to make it short" was expressed by Blaise Pascal, but that could have been me - or most writers.  We do tend to ramble, alas!  Trimming to fit a Tweet is tough enough - but how about telling something important in only six words?  Can you do it?

Stretch your mind - and your skills.

Stolen Borrowed from Psych-Central: The Story of Your Life in Six Words
by Margarita Tartakovsky
Many people think their lives aren’t interesting enough or worthy enough of being committed to paper, even in journals or on scraps of napkins (my preferred writing materials).

Whenever I tell people about the importance of journaling or leaving behind some sort of written record of their lives for their families, they usually say the same thing: “Oh, who’d want to read that?” or “My life isn’t that exciting” or “I don’t have much to say.”

But just like creativity is in our bones, writing down our lives isn’t just worthwhile.

It is within us and it’s a wonderful thing to do to process our world.

It’s even good for us. For instance, journaling provides a variety of health and wellness benefits.

One way to write our stories is through the six-word memoir.

I first discovered six-word memoirs while reading Gretchen Rubin’s interview with Larry Smith. Smith is the editor of SMITH magazine, home to the idea of writing your life in six words.

Then, I read about six-word memoirs on one of my favorite healthy living blogs and then I wrote about the concept on my body image blog Weightless.

According to their mission, “SMITH magazine celebrates the joy of passionate, personal storytelling.”
The inspiration for six-word memoirs came courtesy of a legend about Ernest Hemingway. As the story goes, Hemingway was once challenged to tell a story in six words. He came up with this:
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Six-word memoirs are a profound and creative way to think about your life, your surroundings, your reality and ultimately yourself.

It’s an interesting, surprising and exciting strategy for self-expression.

There are many ways you can interpret six-word memoirs to make them your own.

You can write about your days in six words in your journal. You can process your emotions — whether that’s grief or giddiness — create a mantra, generate goals or contemplate your secret to happiness.

You can capture an experience or a memory in a single, succinct sentence. Write about how you see the world. Or how you’d love to see it.

(Six-word memoirs are also both exciting and challenging for wordy-warts like me!)

Smith writes a blog where he features a variety of six-word memoirs.
Here are some of my favorites from the blog that may spark your imagination:
“Teaching 18-year-olds poetry; pray for me.”—CuriousThing
“She’s my flashlight in the dark.” —Onion
“I would do it all again.”
—Jason Madaus, Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003-2009
“Finally realizing: I AM good enough.” —AddySue
“Laying with you but sleeping alone.”—1111pm
“Dining solo, but not without candlelight.” —Geo
“Everyone has scars. Everyone has stories.” —HearUsNow
My six-word memoir?

“Finding my voice, while learning self-love.”


Here's a couple of mine - a mantra:  Live and love with mindful joy.
On writing: Crap! Billionth rewrite, coming right up.

Show me your six word wisdom.