Monday, March 30, 2015

The Page to Audio Chronicles



By Shelly Frome


Reviews of Twilight of the Drifter, my Southern crime-and-blues novel, plus response to my narration of the first chapter on Take Five led me to believe a recorded  version just might be doable. Especially since many readers told me they could picture my colorful characters in their mind’s eye and imagine listening to the tale while on a long drive, or relaxing at home with a nice cup of tea while it was raining or snowing outside.

At the same time, I realized there was no way I could come up with a professional sounding product, let alone sustain a whole narration. And so I registered for ACX (Amazon’s audio program) and hoped for the best.

And this is where it gets tricky. Like the proverbial shot in the dark, though you play it safe and opt for a royalty share and indicate the type of voice and presentation you’re hoping for, you have no idea what kind of response you’re going to get. You also don’t really know who you’re dealing with despite the fact they’ve posted a photo and a bio. In short, based on firsthand experience, this is what you may be in for.

One “producer” who sends in an audition of a sample chapter is obviously working from a marvelous sound studio. Unfortunately, this reader is simply in love with his or her own voice, affects one tone or accent all the way through, and has no idea how to keep listeners engaged.

A second producer is all fired up over the project, you agree on a contract and date for completion and then nothing happens. Two or three weeks go by till you’re informed that due to pressing personal matters, they’ll have to bow out.

Starting all over, finally hitting on a match, everything seems to be going smoothly. This narrator turns out to have actually been an actor, musician and singer from Nashville, loves your work, lends it marvelous dynamics, is open to constructive criticism and direction in response to every set of chapters submitted. Then, alas, this perfect partner comes down with an illness, won’t be available for three months or longer and you’re back to the drawing board.  

Perhaps the most interesting example involves foray number five. Not only did the producer have all the tools, he was a professional storyteller from the nearby Smoky Mountains. A trial rendition of the first chapter was offered requiring very few suggestions on my part. Then another and another. One day, he decided to finally read the entire manuscript I’d sent weeks before. And here is the upshot. He simply couldn’t go on unless some epiphany took place at the conclusion in keeping with his own religious convictions—a quest I simply couldn’t fathom after all the forces I’d set in motion inevitably played themselves out with no thought of living up to another person’s expectations.
Of course, I’d been told long ago that one of the strongest urges humans possess is the need to rewrite someone else’s story.

But not to worry. There is still the law of averages. Besides, you may find someone out there in the blue who will answer the call at the first go-round and all will be well from start to finish.  
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Shelly Frome is a member of Mystery Writers of America, a professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University  of Connecticut, a former professional actor, a writer of mysteries, books on theater and film, and articles on the performing arts appearing in a number of periodicals in the U.S. and the U.K.. His fiction includes Tinseltown RiffLilac Moon, Sun Dance for Andy Horn and the trans-Atlantic cozy The Twinning Murders. Among his works of non-fiction are the acclaimed TheActors Studio and texts on the art and craft of screenwriting and writing for the stage. His latest novel is Twilight of the DrifterHe lives in Black Mountain, North Carolina. His works can be found on Amazon, through his publishers or via independent bookstores. He can be found at www.shellyfrome.com and has a profile on Facebook where he can be reached or on twitter @shellyFrome.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Your Unique Voice


By Cecil Murphey


"Use strong verbs!" 

"Don't use is."

"Never use the passive voice."

Most of us have had those commands thrown at us countless times (and there was a time when they thundered from my mouth). For the past decade, however, I've disavowed them.

I prefer not to use the passive voice, but there are legitimate times to use it.  Too many writers don't know the difference between the passive voice (I was hit by the ball) and a state-of-being verb (The sun is shining). Some writers feel they have committed a literary sin if they use any form of the verb be.

All words are good words; they're the tools we use to express ourselves.

The major reason I want to bury those three sentences is that they tend to block writers' true voices. 

For instance, I'm working with a talented writer, and she's trying to learn to write with her true voice. Recently, she wrote about a man being shot and his wife situated her head on his chest. She felt that situated was a stronger verb than lay or placed. It probably is stronger, but it doesn't fit.

Later I spotted his body folded together. Originally, she had written, he bent forward, but one of her friends said she needed a stronger verb than bent.

"Do you talk that way?" I asked. When she said no, I said, "Then you're not writing from who you are. Each of us has a unique voice."

Our voices are how we see our world. They make us different from others.  It's the sound of ourselves on paper or the screen. To be true to ourselves, we need to write the way we talk—that is, to be as natural as possible. Writing with our own voices—authentically—doesn’t mean writing subjectively (although there are times we may do so.)

Each of us has that personal one-of-a-kind tone. We have valuable things to say, and no one expresses them the way we do. They become significant when they come from our authentic selves.
Readers identify with honesty. They may not realize what bothers them about certain writers, but they sense that the writing doesn't have what one person calls "the ring of truth." Too many want-to-be-published authors try to sound brilliant, erudite, or like a real writer.

Discovering and then nurturing our matchless voice is an ongoing process, and to accomplish that, we have to be relentlessly honest.

We can learn techniques, but if we don't write from within, our prose sounds forced and inauthentic, and we stifle the heart of good writing. Not only do we need to discover our voices, but also we have to accept them as valid. They express our distinctive life view. Appreciating our voices comes from facing our fears, accepting ourselves, and valuing who we are.

Finding and honoring our voices is about self-acceptance. When we respect our uniqueness, we become more fully who we are.

We also become better writers.
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Veteran author Cecil Murphey has written or co-written more than 135 books, including the NY Times bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper) and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (with Dr. Ben Carson). His books have sold in the millions and have encouraged and inspired countless people around the world. In addition to writing, he enjoys preaching and speaking for events nationwide. Website: www.cecilmurphey.com Blog for writers: www.cecwritertowriter.com
Blog for male survivors of sexual abuse: www.menshatteringthesilence.blogspot.com


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Are You Listening to My Writing


Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine


I’m told we speak at 100 to 300 words per minute and hear at 900 to1600 words per minute. Women tend to speak more words during the day than men. This could be because they are constantly repeating what they have said to men. No doubt women hear much better than men but we all tend to tune out about 75% of what we hear.  So 25% retention is considered good for the spoken word. 

What about reading retention?

I know as a writer thinking readers only retain 25% of what they read would be devastating but the truth is reading retention is even less. Expectations of 10% reading retention is all you can expect. That is sad, but near the truth. I say near the truth because it can be improved upon. Let’s look at the ways.

White Space
Advertisers know that white space is essential to the printed ad. The white space draws the eye to the focal point of the ad. Although you may think it appears as wasted space it is considered to be worth the cost for the job it does. The benefit to the ad far outweighs the blank space.

Reading Retention Improvement
One of the most common and easiest ways is the use of titles, headings and paragraph breaks. This does two things. First it allows white space which gives the eye a rest. This is very important with digital print. The eye needs the rest from the light and this allows that. Secondly, as stated earlier, it draws focus to the content of the upcoming paragraph hopefully creating curiosity. Ask yourself if that worked here.

Bullets
·       When you see a bullet list you know this is probably important to the topic at hand.
·       Bullet list are concise and provide a quick and intense amount of information.
·       Bullet list also provide an additional amount of white space and rest for the eye.
·       Many times a bullet list will draw the reader back for review and better retention.

Graphics
Visual concepts have been important since the cave man first drew of the days hunt on the walls of his cave. His story was in pictures. Today the business of graphics is a large part of book sales due to the importance of connecting the reader with the words of the author. The graphics should present an interesting vision pertaining to the content of the written word. The graphics should bring curiosity to the reader. Graphics are also used to bring a longing, a desire or some form of hope to the reader. Graphics can be very successful connecting the reader to the word and when done properly it is said the reading retention will increase from 10% to 35%. That is better than the 25% hearing retention. Better but let’s not give up on the audiobooks.

People read differently today than in the past. We need things more concise, briefer segments, more breaks and if using a screen rest for the eyes from time to time. As we write we need to be reminded of this and make our printed word of today more readable. If you have additional information that can help make our writing more readable, please share it here in our comments.

Now give your eyes a rest.

   

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis with 9 Critical Questions


By Chris Rogers


Summarizing your story at dinner to entertain friends is easy. 

You make it sound exciting. But when you sit down to write a synopsis, you get brain-freeze. 

No worries. For a quick, exciting synopsis, answer these 9 Questions:

1.     Who? Who is your hero, what does s/he want (goal), and what stops him from getting it (conflict)?

Show briefly the hero's ordinary world—family, career, location—whatever is pertinent to the story. Start strong, no extraneous details, but if the character must overcome a problem to find love, it’s important to show the strength—belief, skill, knowledge, etc—that carries the hero forward.

2.     Why? Why does s/he care and what are the stakes? This answer provides the catapulting decision that thrusts the hero into the story. Imagine a bridge between the hero’s natural world and the story world filled with chaos and conflict. Across the bridge is a carousel, where the hero can grasp the brass ring—the story goal.

3.     What? What immediate conflicts prevent the hero from grabbing the brass ring? The first time the carousel circles, the ring is out of reach. She stands on the horse for better reach, about to grab it, but a carnival clown walks by and gets in the way. Still standing, the hero reaches again. Another carousel rider knocks her off the horse.

Note: Conflicts must escalate in intensity. Describe major obstacles as the hero encounters them. Introduce the nemesis, the person who most stands in the way of your hero achieving the story goal. If the person's name is known from the beginning, introduce this character by name. If not, then by deed.

4.     What new information kills off former assumptions? This is the midpoint, where stories tend to sag unless given an extra punch. Show the story spinning in a new direction. Introduce additional characters only if they impact the narrative, naming only those who play a major role.

5.     What new story question emerges? Show what the hero is thinking, planning, based on new information presented at the midpoint—and remind us of the ticking clock.

6.     What new conflicts arise? Remember to use escalating tension. Make sure each new question or problem is more exciting, devastating, insurmountable than the last, but keep it sketchy.

7.     What final devastating blow raises the stakes? This is the hero’s lowest moment, when all is lost and there seems no way out. Give more word space to this final—and most traumatic—obstacle.

8.     What decision triggers the climax? What strength does the hero draw on to get back into the fight.

9.     What is the final conflict? Yes, you should always reveal the ending to agents and editors. Describe what happens, who is involved, and the outcome, but wrap it up simple and fast.


Revise and Polish...The answers to these nine questions will help you tell your story in the concise manner an agent or editor expects. 

Mold your answers into paragraphs and add a few zinger details.
_________________________________________________________________
Chris Rogers began her journey as a graphic designer. With the advent of computerized graphics and an economic downturn, she was faced with a difficult choice: either learn this new electronic design tool or choose a new career. She began looking at what that new career might be – writing and illustrating children’s books? Travel writing and photography? She tried her hand at each, and sold her photo-illustrated articles to regional and national publications, but before she was fully committed in any direction, a fire gutted her studio. After salvaging a single drawing table from the ruins, she continued creating marketing materials for clients while seeking a new path in the literary world. Many rejections later, her stories began to win awards. A major publisher produced her suspense novels in print, electronic, and audio formats. Lauded by fans and critics, the books were translated into three languages, and the series was optioned for film. While continuing to explore the literary venue, Rogers inevitably embraced the creative form of paint on canvas, which allows her narrative flair and graphic origins to unfold in unison. While creating new canvases, she often participates in the design of her book covers. Her book, Goosing the Write Brain: A Storyteller's Toolkit. Rogers frequently speaks for writers conferences and her writing instruction can be found on YouTube. Www.Chrisrogers.com Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/crnovelist Chris Rogers on Creative Writing - http://youtu.be/bmsIrt6jI1k Add Surprise &Suspense to Your Creative Writing - http://youtu.be/L8dNr1rO7ek 





Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Where Do I Begin?


by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine


You have an awesome idea for a novel.  You may even know how it should end.  Sometimes, the trickier part is knowing how you should begin the whole thing.  With that in mind, here are three typical story openers which have stood the test of time.


THE CATCH UP

Think of this as "Once upon a time" or "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away."  Fairy tales and sci-fi depend on this approach if a degree of backstory is necessary for the audience to understand what's about to happen. Why is the queen jealous of Snow White? Why are there star wars? We get the info we need right up front. 

When using this approach, be careful not to overload the first chapter with voluminous details to learn.  Readers exhaust quickly if they're required to sort out TMI.  Instead, ease into unfamiliar territory with the grace of Suzanne Collins. While there is much to learn about the dystopian world of the future, The Hunger Games filters in explanations of reapings and District 12 painlessly, alongside an identifiable story that keeps moving.


The Little Mermaid wants to be part of your world.
THE SET UP

Establishing the hero's current (i.e. "normal") circumstances before they are thrown into chaos is among the most popular story openers. It's a plus if it offers a glimpse of what they lack in life, to get your character arc off and running. A Disney heroine or Julie Andrews on a mountaintop aren't the only ones who can make their desires known in their first scene.

The opening chapter is prime time for interaction with supporting characters, and can convey the hero's personality and motivations more easily than a solo scene.  Take care, however, to have enough going on that things don't get bogged down in normalcy.  The audience wants to know and empathize with the characters, but is also eager for something to happen.


FIRE 'EM UP

Even before the opening credits, James Bond knows that some audiences like to be shaken, not stirred. The chase is on and no time is wasted getting the action underway.  Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws and countless other action sagas have grabbed attention from the get-go by jumping right into an inciting scene.

In the case of James Bond, we already know 007 chases bad guys, so no backstory is needed before the thrills begin.  However, if your story stars unfamiliar characters, you'll want to introduce them somewhat before throwing them into the furnace. Otherwise, the audience—which has no investment in these people yet—has little reason to care what happens to any of them.

There you have just three effective ways to start your story.  Perhaps you know some others.  I'd love to hear your favorite openers with a comment below, or via email at gary @ southernwritersmag.com. Ready?  Begin!



Monday, March 23, 2015

The Four Legs of a Good Writer's Platform


By Dr. Lin Stepp


A Platform in the dictionary is ‘a raised level surface on which people or things can stand.’  A writer’s platform is sort of similar. It’s what you stand on as an author—your visibility as an author, who you are, the connections you have, what supports you. Jane Friedman, who has fifteen years in the publishing industry, says platform may be hard to define … but that editors and agents are attracted to authors who have this thing called “platform.”

All writers’ platforms that are successful have certain main characteristics in common or should.  I call these the “four main legs of a successful platform.

 (1)  Leg 1:  A GOOD BOOK
The first leg of good platform is just having a good book or a good product.  You might talk people into buying your book via many platform venues, but if it isn’t well-written, or is riddled with editorial errors the reader will not be in line to buy a subsequent book and will be unlikely to tell others about your book with enthusiasm, increasing your future sales. Your first book and how good it is – whether you self-publish, publish with a small press, publish with a well-known regional press, or publish with a large national publishing company—sets the stage for the legs of the platform that come next.

(2)  Leg 2:  A GOOD AUTHOR’S WEBSITE
Once you have published a book, the second needed leg for a successful writer’s platform is to create an excellent author’s website with basic information about you, your books, and a way to contact you. All publishers expect a website.  Phyllis Miller, head of an online marketing company says: “if you are truly interested in giving your book the best online marketing opportunities, you need to have your own book author website.”

 (3) Leg 3 – SOCIAL MEDIA
The growing evolution of the Internet and its many connection opportunities makes a presence in Social Media the third leg of your writer’s platform.  This allows as Chuck Sambuchino says to ‘connect with other individuals through websites and social media sites where people virtually gather.’ He advocates that social media allows you – in the comfort of your own home or office – to: “(1) connect, network and make friends, (2) receive information, news and learn, (3) share information that you created or found interesting, and (4) promote your work and the works of other authors whose work you admire.” The two largest of the social media sites that have been found to be particularly effective for authors are Facebook and Twitter.

(4)  Leg 4:  GETTING OUT THERE
“Getting Out There” is the last and final leg on the writer’s platform that all writers need to do – leaving the house to market, sell, promote, sign, and to get your sales product visible.  Simply getting your book on Amazon among five million-billion other books is not getting yourself visible or seen. Becoming an author is like being Johnny Appleseed … You have to put your bag of seeds on your back and hit the road.  And for every seed you plant, for every new reader you gain, you’ll have increase … if you have a good book readers like, they’ll tell their friends, and you’ll get a return on that “planting.” 

In closing … to be successful as an author requires a lot of hard,  dedicated, persistent effort. Most new writers are always surprised at the demands expected. A lot of that work will be within the walls of your own home and a lot will be outside those walls.  But a good book, a good website, good social media interaction, and a dedicated effort to “get out there” to market and sell your book are the four basic legs of any successful writer’s platform.

__________________________________________________________________

Dr. Lin Stepp is a native Tennessean, a businesswoman, and an educator. She is an adjunct faculty member at Tusculum College where she teaches research psychology. Her business background includes over 25 years in marketing, sales, production art, and regional publishing. She has editorial and writing experience in regional magazines and in the academic field.  A USA Today and Publisher Weekly best-selling author, Lin has seven published novels, each set in different locations around the Smoky Mountains. Her latest novel, Makin’ Miracles, set in Gatlinburg, was just released by Kensington and will be followed by Saving Laurel Springs in the fall of 2015 and Welcome Back in the spring of 2016.  A short novel “A Smoky Mountain Gift” was included in the Christmas anthology When the Snow Falls released by Kensington Publishing in the fall of 2014 following the June 2014 release of  Down by the River set in Townsend, TN.  Lin’s other previously published titles include: Second Hand Rose (2013), Delia’s Place (2012), For Six Good Reasons (2011), Tell Me About Orchard Hollow (2010), and The Foster Girls (2009). Lin and her husband J.L. also published a Smokies hiking guide in January of 2014, distributed through The University of Tennessee Press, titled The Afternoon Hiker, which includes 110 trail descriptions and over 300 color photos. Lin has two grown children and two cats -  and loves to hike, paint, read, teach, and speak and share about her writing. WEBSITE:  www.linstepp.com
GENERAL FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/linstepp


Friday, March 20, 2015

The Things I’ve Learned in Ten Years of Being a Writer


By Karin Gillespie


The year? 2004.

Mean Girls was playing in theaters. Martha Stewart was sent to the pokey, and Janice Jackson had a wardrobe malfunction.

And on a personal level, Simon and Schuster published my first novel in 2004. Back then, there were no Kindles, Nooks or Kobos. Facebook was for Harvard students only. No one tweeted, instagrammed or pinned cute cat photos on Pinterest. The Internet was a wasteland of porn and pop-up ads.

Ten years ago, you actually had to leave your house to promote a book. My publisher sent me on a multi-city tour and, after it was over, I schlepped myself to every bookstore and library in the Southeast.

Now, in 2014, I’m more inclined to promote from my armchair. I’ll still occasionally make in-person author appearances but my days of driving 400 miles to speak to ten people in some forgotten corner of LA (Lower Alabama) are over.

2004 was a very different time for writers, and I can’t imagine what it might be like ten years from now. But although many things have changed, some things about the writing life will always remain the same.

The Muse Must Be First, Everything Else Last

Authors have a need to please their publishers but sometimes pleasing your publisher isn’t always in your best interest. Authors can get a little starry-eyed about their publishing company especially during the honeymoon phase of the relationship when the editor is throwing around the “L” word.
And yes, your editor does LOVE, LOVE, LOVE you and your work until… your book sales slump, you gripe about your ugly cover or you decide to write something that is not your brand.

What writers need to remember is that almost everything about the publishing process is like a PESTICIDE for the Muse. If, for example, you’re writing a series that’s wildly successful your publisher will want you to continue to write sequels, not just until you’re dead, but from beyond the grave like V. C. Andrews

Admittedly, some writers are perfectly content writing about the same characters for years and years, but others aren’t. (Which is painfully obvious when you suffer through their books) You can hardly blame them, especially when the filthy lucre is accumulating their bank accounts so quickly they have to occasionally shovel it out.

But, honestly, why be a writer if suddenly it becomes as oppressive as the day job?
And what about readers? Authors love readers but our relationships with them can also grow sour if they aren’t interested in our growth as writers. Often they want use to produce the same-old, same-old but stagnation is the death of creativity.

Moral of the story: Don’t let anyone hobble your Muse. Not even people you desperately want to please.

Not Everyone is Going to Like You.

In the months leading up to publication, I learned that my novel was going to be S&S’s lead title for the month of August. My head swelled so much I could barely pull a turtleneck over it.
The day my book was available from Amazon I eagerly waited to hear from my public.

One five star review! (Thanks, mom.)

Three more reviews followed in quick succession.

All one star.

Later I discovered those review were all submitted by the same person, a former member of my writers’ group. At the time, I was highly miffed but now I’m grateful.

Why?

Because I was forced to face bad reviews early in my career. I gnashed my teeth, took to bed with whisky and candy corn, called my editor and sobbed, but eventually I got them out of my system. Now I barely flinch when a total stranger says, “I wish I could have given this book minus ten stars.”
Moral of the story: Everyone gets bad reviews. Hemmingway, Jane Austen, Scott Fitzgerald. It’s all part of being an author. (Although admittedly it lessens the sting when you’re dead.)

Dry patches are part of the package

As writers, we get frustrated when nothing seems to be happening and we are running 90 miles an hour. Fallow periods can last weeks, months or years and they can feel longer than a coon’s age. But then, whammo, a millions things happen at once almost making us nostalgic for the days when the only emails we got were from Living Social.

I had a fallow period for six years! (Still makes me shake my head in disbelief.) But I needed those six years to regroup. I got my MFA, wrote a couple of dud novels and plunged into a self-study of storytelling. That time seemed wasted but it wasn’t. During the next 12 months, I’ll have six novels coming out. Six! (Four are re-issues, but still…) That’s one for every year I was stuck in mud. And 

I’m just finishing up a seventh.

Moral of the story: Fields that lay fallow will eventually produce bumper crops. Bring on the zucchini!

_____________________________________________________________________
Karin Gillespie is the national-bestselling author of five novels. She has also written for the New York TimesWashington Post and Writer Magazine. She has an MFA from Converse College and lives in Augusta, Georgia. Karin is a Midwestern girl who, after forty years in Georgia, is still trying to get the hang of being Southern. Her Bottom Dollar books are being re-issued by Henery Press starting in October 2014. I wrote the Bottom Dollar Girl series as a love letter to small Southern towns. Over a period of several years I visited dozens of tiny towns throughout the Southeast and I took copious notes of everything I saw to create my perfect little Southern borough, Cayboo Creek, South Carolina. Her website is at http://karingillespie.net/