Thursday, July 31, 2008

This just in...

To tag onto the previous post...
Texting apparently can be hazardous to your health, if you're multitasking

More word play

As a writer, I love to play with words. I cheer when new words are added to the dictionary: because it’s more words to play with in my stories. I get bored with the same old same old.
But texting is another matter. I’m old school, admittedly, and a stickler for correct grammar – I am a product of Catholic school, where the two main subjects were English and Religion. So it’s ingrained in me. When my new cell phone enabled texting, I found it too tedious to type out every word in its full correct spelling, so I fell into the old texting shorthand of “2” for “to” and so on. It didn’t corrupt my language skills. Other sticklers are finding that out, too. Rather than “vandalizing” the language as some predicted, texting may actually be enhancing language skills: and many texters eschew the shorthand altogether anyway.The article brings up some great points – that old-school sticklers may hold back evolution of language by protesting new words and new means of communicating them. Some teachers are adding texting to lessons to engage students: That’s great – many kids don’t have enough interest in studies because they’re too boring. Any means by which teachers can illuminate stale material is good by me. According to this New York Times article, if we want younger generations to read at all, electronic avenues are the way to go:
I still love language, but now I acknowledge that there are some uses for alternate varieties of it. As anyone who’s learned to write can tell you, though -- first you have to learn the rules before you can break ‘em.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Back to Basics

Every writer should have a basic set of language usage tools. Bookmark these three sites for the next time you’re scratching your head, wondering, “which or that?”:

Garbl’s Writing Center:
A wealth of links. Writing Resources alone has links for Creativity Resources, Writing Process, Grammar Guides, Style and Usage, Fat-Free Writing, Plain Language, Action Writing and others. The last link, Word Play, is full of fun stuff.
The editorial Style Manual is akin to an AP Stylebook.
The Concise Writing Guide provides examples of how to trim down wordiness.
The Bookshelf of Writing References has book recommendations for everything from grammar to language usage to creative writing to quotations to advice for web writers.

WordWeb Online:
Your basic dictionary. Encyclopedia links back to Wikipedia (word of warning: Wikipedia can be skewed, and in some instances, dead wrong. Case in point: Someone had uploaded a “story” that Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell had died. Wikipedia didn’t catch it until a Rendell staffer reported that rumors of his death had been greatly exaggerated.)

University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Writing Style Standards A to Z:
Geared toward journalists, but useful for all writers. “The UAB Guide to Style and Design provides guidelines and examples to help maintain consistency in written materials. It is based on three common style guides: the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Medical Association (AMA) stylebook.”

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Big Read

I found this on several others authors’ blogs: The Big Read (at ), an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, estimated that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books on this list. My responses are below – although, honestly, I disagree with some of the choices (The 5 People You Meet in Heaven? And none of Michael Chabon’s books? Pleeeeze.) And how is Shakespeare’s Hamlet listed after “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare”? And only one Margaret Atwood? Methinks someone has altered the list! Although honestly, I checked the Big Read web site and couldn’t actually find this list, but the exercise was interesting nonetheless.

To look at my responses, you’d think I hardly read at all, when in fact, books line my office walls and are strewn around my bedroom and wait patiently for me to unpack them from 10 more boxes in my closet. No TC Boyle? No Alice Munro? Louise Erdrich? Richard Russo? Hmmm. In any case, maybe your list will be more impressive than mine…

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.
Like another blogger, I'm adding a #4) asterisk those you've started more than once, but never finished...

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (well, all but the last two…)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible (not in its entirety, but I have read sections!)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams*
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery (no, but I’ve watched the mini-series…)
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
52 Dune - Frank Herbert*
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac*
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

When I checked the Big Read web site, it was disappointing to see that my home state of Pennsylvania only had four cities participating in the program.
The books showcased by the Big Read on the web varied from the above list. The 2009 program begins in September, so urge your libraries and communities to get involved (last time, even a zoo participated).
My stack of books to be read grows faster than I can keep up. Someday, maybe one of my own might even make the Big Read list! Hope springs eternal…

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hmm... audio publishing

Yesterday, I touched ever so briefly on an area of publishing that has intrigued me since I read this New York Times article:,%20podcast&st=cse&oref=slogin
It’s tough to gain the attention of a publisher, let alone an agent, without some sort of “in,” whether it’s a friend-of-a-friend or winning a contest, or gaining a readership through self-publishing. The article chronicles several inventive writers who have taken it upon themselves to record their own stories and podcast them, thereby gaining a following, and, in Mr. Sigler’s case, an agent and book contract. Not too shabby, for recording in his bedroom closet.
Today I happened across the Writer’s Services site,, which outlines all the logistics and other things I’d never thought of. (Not that I’m considering this – I hate my speaking voice). Still, as I said, the idea intrigues me. The five main publishing houses that think they control the publishing world may have some surprises coming. In addition to their haughtiness, the emergence of e-publishing, along with the new ereaders such as Amazon’s Kindle may be their eventual downfall.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Marketing: A necessary (evil) component to writing

The golden years of publishers doing the leg work of pushing new books has passed. I missed it! The new era, though, has lots more exciting possibilities. E-publishing. Podcasts and other audio publishers. (Not self-publishing, though. There is a reason for editors, believe me.) Resourceful writers (and I wish I were one) can get their work out there in any number of ways.
Someday, I’ll put up an actual author web site, but for now, Facebook and MySpace pages constitute my networking and promotion efforts. And this blog. Web sites have a distinct role, but so does Facebook and MySpace, which allow you to promote directly to your virtual friends, who are also hopefully your readers. Be mindful, though, of the site rules – see my previous blog for more info.
I’m pretty clueless about marketing my work, so I Googled “author promotion” and found a few great web sites. Some seem like scams – always be on the lookout for others wanting to make money from unsuspecting and newbie authors. Others, though, had good advice: Author and Book Promotions. Check out the Articles link for lots of good tips from experienced authors on everything from writing a book synopsis to the value of a press release. WordPress’ Author Marketing Tools page with lots of great links Muze’s Musings Book Promo 101 is devoted to author promotions A list of sites offering free Web pages
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on promotion. Sites like YouTube feature book trailers (yes, another thing to learn!) that can gain global attention. One generous author posted a tutorial on her site on how to make your own book trailer:
Keep in mind, too, that it’s an ongoing process requiring constant attention to freshen web content or put the latest news out there. It’s one thing to gain a readership, and another entirely to keep it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Facebook vs. MySpace

Lately I’ve fallen into a bad habit. I’d set up a MySpace, but when I indulged in what I thought was a harmless gesture of returning a virtual friend’s good will, was slammed with cascading windows, which then rendered my Internet connection useless. Luckily, I happened to connect with a very patient Embarq techie who helped me reset my computer back to an earlier date, thereby wiping out whatever malicious tendril had taken root (no thanks to my firewall or McAfee, thank you very much).
A friend asked me to set up a Facebook to keep in touch. She’s on the road a good bit, so cyberspace seemed an easy way to keep up. As a writer, I was also curious as to the benefits it might yield. Facebook also appealed to me because it didn’t house the applications on my computer, as MySpace did. I have enough issues with storage space.
At first, the sending of flowers and SuperPokin’ annoyed me, but after awhile, it got kind of fun. I looked forward to seeing who had bamboozled me or sent me a virtual mojito. The “friends” I made were a caring, supportive bunch, too, overall. It sucked my time away. Time I should have been writing.
Then I read messages on a loop about Facebook deleting the pages of authors who posted their book covers. Apparently, this violates the initial “agreement” (yeah, that blurb that no one reads before clicking “I Accept”). From a business standpoint, I guess I understand this tactic – Facebook could charge more for using their site for business rather than idle chit chat. But I’m sure they’re not ignorant to the easy ways anyone wanting to promote their product can get around that. This blogger outlines his strategy: and apparently has proven the value of his page.
Facebook founders are apparently no stranger to controversy, either:
But the politics of it really doesn’t interest me. Whether or not it is eventually a benefit to my writing career remains to be seen. In the meantime, I’ll keep friending other writers to see how they do things. Hopefully, the thing that will drive my success as an author will be whether or not I am a crafty wordsmith.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Odds are...

Well, at least the odds of writing a New York Times bestseller are better than getting killed by a dog bite...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Rejecting Rejections

Hallelujah, I am free! Free of the negativity that has been lurking in my file drawer, taunting me with its bulging folder of apologies and rejections. Yes, I did it – I turned the tables on all those Sorry, not for us slips and rejected my rejections. They’re gone, baby – history. In the circular file folder.
Some were not so bad, mind you. Others were actually kind and encouraging. It gave me no pleasure to dump those. It was all or nothing, though. To cleanse my soul, they had to go. And I felt a heavy burden lift from me. I’d carried the weight of all those no’s for too long.
Yes, I know – some people save them forever. Wallpaper their office with them. Frame them. Whatever. To me, they were heavy baggage – too heavy. I don’t need any reminders of where I’ve been. I want to focus on where I’m going, and how I’m going to get there. If I want a reminder that all authors go through a period of rejection, I’ll read Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul. I recommend it for anyone who’s submitted and submitted and submitted only to be turned down, turned away, turned inside out until you feel like nothing’s left. No one is immune. It happens to everyone, rest assured – you are in good company.
And, like writer’s block, rejections can serve a purpose. First, you must grow a thick skin to be a writer – everyone’s a critic, and you have to be selective about what you take to heart. Sometimes having a manuscript returned allows you to take another look at it, polish it up, and send it off again. I am a firm believer in ping-pong manuscripts: if it’s sent back, knock it back out into the publishing world again. At some point, it’s bound to stick.