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Proofreading is an art

From the first draft to the second last, my writing partner and I send chapters back and forth. We ask questions, make suggestions, point out errors in time lines, holes in plot lines, identify discrepancies in character development, and highlight the great bits.

Finally, we come to the second last draft—the one that requires the scrutiny for details. Our goal is always to have a “clean” manuscript.

My writing partner puts the chapters into one document, sends it to me, and I send it to my Kindle.

Why?

I’ve learned that reading on the Kindle puts me in “book” mode and I see the things I miss on the big screen. Note that this draft is already formatted for ereaders so I’m seeing what the buyer will see. Periods in the wrong place, a word that just doesn’t work, “is” when it should be “it,” and a couple of times I spot a missing word that needs to be added, or an extra word to be deleted.

I find a few “that” where I think it should be “who.” I make note of them and my writing partner emails back.

Just now I was looking up when to use who and that. It’s okay to use that for a person, animal, or thing. The criterion has more to do with whether it’s a restrictive clause or not (whether the antecedent is named and whether the sentence can stand without the whole clause). 

As far as I can tell from that, it’s okay to use “that” in those cases where I have used it. It’s a complicated thing though.

I see this sentence, Dad had moved to Regina to teach high school there. I comment,

I think at some other point, her dad was teaching in a college not high school.

I bookmark each page that needs attention on my Kindle and then go back to the computer copy to add my notes with Track Changes. No, I don’t scroll through pages and pages to find the one I need. I pick an unusual word on the page I’ve bookmarked and then use Find to get to the right page on the computer.  

I send the file back to my writing partner. She writes, I went through your suggestions. I had found some of them but missed others, so thank you!” 

I offer to read it one more time, but she declines. I know she’ll go through it one or two more times. Our goal is to have an error free document and we get it right most of the time. After all, two heads are better than one.

 

http://www.darlenejonesauthor.com

 

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How writers write.

 

 

Do writers  sit in a coffee shop or work at home? Do they insist on silence or handle noise by tuning it out? Long hand? Computer? Typewriter? Voice entry?

Haruki Murakami (http://ow.ly/RUSX308ju8Y) says, “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m.”

Maya Angelou (http://ow.ly/RUSX308ju8Y) says, “I keep a hotel room in my hometown and pay for it by the month.

I go around 6:30 in the morning. I have a bedroom, with a bed, a table, and a bath. I have Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary, and the Bible.  I have all the paintings and any decoration taken out of the room. I ask the management and housekeeping not to enter the room, just in case I’ve thrown a piece of paper on the floor, I don’t want it discarded. But I’ve never slept there, I’m usually out of there by 2. And then I go home and I read what I’ve written that morning, and I try to edit then. Clean it up.”

Emily St. Jonh Mandel, author of Last Night in Montreal (Unbridled Books, 2009) and The Singer’s Gun (Unbridled, May 2010):

“I do most of my writing in my home office, at my unbelievably messy desk. It’s by far my favorite place to write—my cats and my music are there, and it’s a very peaceful room. I live in Brooklyn and work at a university in Manhattan, and I get off work in the mid-afternoon. Often if I have theatre tickets or some other plans that require me to be in Manhattan that evening, I’ll linger at work for a few hours. When that happens, I go to the library at the university where I work and write there for a while. Often, very often, I’ll find myself writing in the subway. I spend two hours a day on the F train, five days a week, and I always carry a notebook with me.”

Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh (Picador, 2002) and the forthcoming The Queen of the Night:

“Usually it’s trains where I get the most writing done—I wish I could get a residency from Amtrak on a sleeper car, or an office booth in a cafe car. I recently had a residency at a colony in Florida, where I had two days of writing 17 pages a day and it would have continued if I hadn’t had to leave. I think anonymity and displacement help me no matter where I am—I need to feel like I’ve vanished and no one can find me.”

Nova Ren Suma, author of Dani Noir (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2009) and Imaginary Girls (Dutton, summer 2011):

“I live in a tiny apartment in New York and can sometimes be found writing first thing in the mornings at a cafe, if I can find a good table, but I don’t stay there for long. There are the crowds. The noise. I can’t control the music on the stereo. The real place where I get most of my writing done is called the Writers Room. Billed as an urban writers’ colony in New York City, it’s a place for writers of all genres to go for space, quiet, and uninterrupted time to work. At various desks in the giant loft space of the Writers Room, I’ve written, no exaggeration, thousands of pages. When you pay for an ‘office space’ like this and have a dedicated place to go, one filled with other working writers typing up their own pages, it makes you all the more motivated to do your own work.”

And the rest of us?

            I believe most authors (like me) work at home, at a desk tucked in a corner somewhere, tuning out the normal noises of family going about their daily lives (or wearing earplugs) and adjusting their schedule to the demands of life.

Others don’t have it so good. My Nigerian writer friend says:

Pls you may have to ignore the doc I sent in my previous email. Because of the acute shortage of power I am sort of working under duress. Once I fix my gen I’ll be able to work freely.

And later:

I’ve serviced my generator and now I don’t have to depend on the government for power.

Like many other peace-abiding Nigerians, we somehow still manage to survive. Everyday is an ordeal and sometimes I can’t help but feel the Lord God is punishing us all for the crimes some of us (including the cabal) made by turning to the legendary tyrant Buhari. Nigeria’s pitiful condition is an open book. A researcher some years ago said we are the “Happiest People on Earth.” I wonder if this survey will stand the test of time.

Robert J. Sawyer says it best in answer to this question.

“Name some of the rituals or habits you indulge in while writing.”

Not to be dismissive, but the answer is (a) none, and (b) it should be none. A writer needs to write, period. He or she can’t wait for the muse, shouldn’t need peace and quiet and isn’t entitled to perfect conditions or the perfect spot. Rituals? Fingers on the home typing row. Habits? Getting down to work, whether it’s in my home, on a plane, in a hotel room or (among other places I’ve actually opened up my computer and started writing) in the ruins of Pompeii, on a ferry in Australia or on a park bench in the Yukon.

 

Email lists: What do you want from the author?

 

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For most authors marketing their books is tougher than writing them.

Numerous blogs, webinars, and courses provide advice. The general consensus, at the moment, (I say this advisedly, because a month or two from now, the direction might be quite different) is to build an email list of subscribers.

I’ve subscribed to a number of author emails lists. Some email only to announce a new book, which means I hear from them once a year or so. One gentleman emails about his latest release and also writes about the state of publishing and marketing. This author is prolific. His emails come every few months. Yet another sends fascinating tidbits a couple of times a month related to ancient history—you won’t be surprised to learn that his genre is historical fiction. One woman writes weekly with sage advice and tips about writing.  Then there’s the guy who sends out short bits daily.

So, for an author trying to market his or her books, what is the magic “email” answer?

We’re told:

  • Offer them books, extra chapters, character profiles—al for free of course.
  • Email often—once a week at least.
  • Don’t email too often—once a month will do.
  • Keep your emails short.
  • Provide long, informative emails.

The thing is, with all these emails floating about, I don’t know that anyone has stopped to ask subscribers what they really want. So, here’s the question of the day:

Once you’ve decided to sign up to an author’s email list, what do you expect to receive from that author and how often do you want to hear from him or her?

http://www.darlenejonesauthor.com

The Persistent Author

 

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AgfaPhoto

I wrote a book, something I’d yearned to do since childhood. I naively thought I’d start at page one and proceed in a logical fashion to “The End.” Instead the story came together in fits and starts with a whole lot of organizing, reorganizing, writing and rewriting—much of it done at night when I suffered from insomnia. Scribbles on yellow sticky notes, written in the dark, barely decipherable in the morning, eventually came together as a novel.

In all of my childhood dreaming, I had never considered the roller coaster of emotions that would come with the author role.

Initially, I told no one about my writing, rather embarrassed to presume to have the ability to put myself somewhere among the ranks of my favorite authors. But I couldn’t just leave my baby, er, I mean my novel, sitting on my computer so I joined the provincial writing guild and became a member of a critiquing group.

We were strangers on a mission, all new to the business of being an author, but determined to succeed and intent on helping each other reach our goals. Meeting once a month, nervousness morphed into confidence—not only of our own work, but also of the members’ genuine desire to help, not insult or hurt.

From the critiquing group I progressed to working with a writing partner sending work back and forth, brainstorming ideas, and making corrections. With a completed manuscript it was time to search out agents. I trotted off to the post office and, hands trembling a little, handed my letters over to the clerk.

I waited, impatiently for the post man. Replies did come—eventually. My heart beat faster, my hopes rose. I tore open the envelopes.  Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Hopes dashed, I glared at my computer, gave it a figurative kick and left it standing alone and lonely on my desk. This period of gloom lasted anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours after the receipt of one of those letters.

Refusing to give up, I started to write a second novel while preparing more queries for the first. Eventually a fat envelop arrived. My heart lept. This had to be good, right? All the others were skinny with little “Dear Author” notes inside. A fat letter had to be a positive response. Not! Rejection and pages of agent advertising urging me to spend a bundle of dollars on various services they just happened to be able to offer. Angry and frustrated, I debated quitting. Any sane person would give up. Not me. I persisted. I kept writing.

It was at the Willamette Writers’ Conference (not the first conference or workshop I’d attended, by any means) that I first heard about self-publishing. My writing partner and I pitched to an agent. She was positive, asked to see our work. Elated, we drove home plotting our future. A couple of weeks later we received identically worded rejections from this agent for two very different genres and writing styles. Angry at first, frustrated beyond belief, then overcome with laughter, our determination solidified. That was it! No more agonizing. Future defined. We’d self-publish.

Persistence paid off. I now have six books published (a four novel science-fiction series, one collection of short bits, and a contemporary novel) available in all formats. Ideas are swirling in my head for book seven. Now to get them to settle down into a logical order so that I can write it.

http://www.darlenejonesauthor.com

 

Joys of deciphering English

Dictionary

 

Uzo (my writing partner from Nigeria) writes:

When I am at a loss as to what a word means or how to write something, I consult my English dictionary. But then it’s English we are talking about; a vast somewhat complex language. It appears changes are being made every two or three years. And who am I to question another man’s language?

I imagine traditional speakers of English hold different views when it comes to the application of certain words. Take for e.g. “fell” in the sentence “His face fell.” In the Oxford dictionary there is an example like that along with its meaning. If as a writer, one is trying to convey to his readers that Jane is discouraged by her test results, how does he do so without being wordy? Do I simply say Jane looked discouraged? I am sure a good editor will point that out to me as “telling” how Jane feels. Yes, a writer doesn’t have to “show” everything, but when he does, he either is talking about a body part or anything around his book’s character(s). And from what I gather excessive use of “…ly” words make for lazy writing. So we are back to creativity in writing. How much description is bad and what sentences are now a cliché or not grammatical enough?

 

I write:

English is a horrendous language to learn. Culture plays a role too of course. I was getting my teeth cleaned yesterday and the hygienist, who is Vietnamese, said that her nieces and nephew are half-breeds. She used this expression because her sister and brother married white Canadians. I told her that “half-breed” has a terrible negative connotation coming from racism. When I was a kid, native Indians, (or to use the current politically correct term, aboriginals), who had an Indian parent and a white parent, were referred to, in a very derogatory way, as half-breeds. Of course she was completely unaware of this. Now, people use the term bi-racial. So I would say my granddaughter is bi-racial because she is half Mexican and half white Canadian.

 

At the same time, the complexity of English offers a multitude of nuances of meaning and that, of course, is where the difficulty lies. The article I sent you is just one writer’s opinion. She makes some very good points, but I disagree when she says the expression “his face fell” has the reader picturing his face on the floor. In fact “his face fell” is perfectly understood by native speakers to signify his shock or disappointment.

 

How much description is bad? It’s too much if the reader skips over parts. It’s too much if it doesn’t advance the story. Before television, books had huge passages of description that readers enjoyed, but with all the visual media we have now, readers don’t have the patience for that sort of thing. But then there is also danger in too little description if it leaves the reader puzzled as to what is happening. We, as the writer, have the scene clear in our heads. It has to be clear for the reader too.

 

One of the “joys” of being a writer is trying to find the balance in all of this.
 

Uzo writes:

Half-breed. Ah! We used to call white people half-caste. I thought that was cool until I got into senior secondary. Imagine how embarrassed I was when I was corrected. I felt terrible because one of my very good childhood friends was a white girl. She’s bi-racial – Nigerian and German.

Self-Publishing—who’s making the money now

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In the early days (2010) John Locke loomed large on the horizon as the first self-published author to sell one million books. Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey were not far behind. We did the math 1,000,000 X $0.35—and jumped on the band wagon. We all thought we too could be as successful as these pioneers.

Phase 2 of self-publishing saw the emergence of a plethora of “how to”—how to write, edit, publish.

 

Many blog posts one could read for free, but how did we know the blogger had any real expertise? We turned to books instead, however a large number of these books are also penned by unknowns, so we had to pick wisely. It quickly became almost compulsory to attend writing conferences as we hoped to find expert advice from the pros.

Phase 3 carried formatters, editors, and cover artists along for the ride. And those of us who were smart hired them to have our books be as professional as possible. If the big publishers wouldn’t take the time to look at us, we’d do it ourselves, and we’d do it right.

Phase 4? Ah, yes, another plethora, this time of advice on how to use social media to promote your books and the great debate about pricing and the wisdom or stupidity of making your books free;  all of this along with numerous book marketing sites. Some listed your book for free, others charged a fee. The problem of course was determining which were most effective, which really had the following to get your book “out there.” BookBub rose to the top charging what are exorbitant rates for most struggling authors, yet it is the one we all aspire to be on.

And, Phase 5? Perhaps the cleverest of all—“How to Market” courses with lovely videos, webinars, and supplementary materials, seemingly (from what one sees on the screen) prepared in the comfort of one’s own home. For the mere sum of $500, $600, $700 or more, you’ll receive the magic answers. Many of the presenters are Indie authors themselves. These “experts” promote strategies they claim worked wonders for their own sales, which makes one question why they are doing all the work necessary to create and present these courses instead of writing more books.

As we wade our way through the phases, weaving back and forth in an effort to produce the best possible book and find the elusive magical hook that will reel in readers, it’s phase 5 that intrigues the most. Convince 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 authors eager for sales to buy your course and you’re laughing all the way to the bank.

 

 

 

 

Would you, if you could, live with aliens?

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Would you, if you could, live with aliens?

One of the joys of writing fiction is the freedom to imagine and create something beyond the realities that we know. I’ve always believed that there have to be other life forms in the vastness of our universe. Heck, there probably are ghosts too. I’m sure I saw the ghost of our dog after she died. Then again it could have been an hallucination.

But, back to my question. In my Em and Yves series, aliens toy with Em, use her to “fix” Earth, play with her emotions and her sanity. None of it fair, of course, but then every novel needs some spice. Of course, I had to give her a chance for a bit of revenge so I let her wild emotions impact the aliens, much to their horror.

As I wrote books 2, 3 and 4, I wondered if Em or any human could or would leave Earth,

leave everything they held dear, likely forever, to go live on another planet with other beings. What would it take to tempt a person to do such a thing? What reassurances would they need? A promise to be able to return home, the opportunity to bring their family with them…?

Would I? Could I? What circumstances would lead me to make that kind of decision, to go into the unknown?

I don’t have answers for myself and so I ask, would you, if you could, live with aliens?

 

 

It’s Valentines and love is in the air – should it be in novels too?

love

Valentine’s Day and love is in the air—and in my books. I couldn’t imagine writing a novel without a love story and at least a bit of hot sex. But love in my books also includes love of family and friends, of life and laughter, and of fellow man.

Love prompts our characters to do many things, to experience a range of emotions that sometimes (often?) takes them down the wrong path. But then that’s good in a book, right?—builds tension, creates suspense, keeps us reading.

In my Em and Yves series, to underscore the action, I created a love triangle, between the heroine, the alien controlling her, and her human lover. Sparks fly, jealousy reigns, emotions run high and play havoc with the story line. In fact it takes four books to sort it all out and yes, there is a happy ending for isn’t that what all love stories deserve?

When the Sun was Mine is a story of love between two strangers; an old lady, who may or may not have Alzheimer’s, and a young girl just graduated from high school. Circumstance brings them together, initial skepticism and fear grow to respect and liking and love, and they offer each other more than they would have thought possible. Yes, the story has its sex bits too.

Mali to Mexico and Points In Between, a collection of short snippets from my life, shows how important people are to each other, and how they, and travel, broaden our perspectives of the world adding deeper dimensions to our love of life.

http://www.darlenejonesauthor.com

Happy reading and Happy Valentine’s Day!

But, wait — there’s more! Here are more great reads from my friend and writing partner, Anneli Purchase.

Unrequited love reigns in the love triangle in Julia’s Violinist. Being “Torn between two lovers” is as heartwrenching for the reader as it is for Julia. Add the setting of postwar Europe with events that will have you thinking about them long after you’ve finished the book, and you have the ingredients for a great read.

Another kind of love develops in The Wind Weeps. Here we have the misguided love between Andrea and the handsome Robert, whose attentions take an ominous twist. You’ll find yourself wondering how Andrea ever could have thought this was love. But is love that turns into manic obsession really love?

Then we have the love that happens by the slimmest of chances. Perhaps it came about because of the alignment of the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the beach that day, as seems to be the case in Orion’s Gift when Sylvia meets Kevin in a Baja campground. Can a love, that happens purely by chance, withstand the test of time? Can it survive when their former lovers are on a “search and destroy” mission?

http://www.anneli-purchase.com/

 

 

 

Inspiration – essential for a writer?

Edison

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Thomas A. Edison
Edison may very well have been right, but what good is the ninety-nine percent perspiration without the inspiration?

Where do our stories come from? Daydreams, life experiences, the people we meet, nightmares, what we hear, see, read, and imagine? Every author will have a response unique to their life experience and their interests. The answer, for me, is all of the above.

We listen to the news, read the paper, and build in current events. We laugh with friends and build in comradery for our characters. We yearn for love and romance and give it to our hero and heroine. The adventures we long for belong now to our players. The lives we’ve led, or wish we’d led are, in part, imbued in our characters and plot lines.

But there is another aspect to inspiration that is often unforeseen. As we write, our stories take on a life of their own. Characters develop and lead us in directions we hadn’t anticipated or planned. A minor character creeps in and takes over. We try to contain him, but he has a mind of his own and insists on playing his part.

The hero’s friend becomes our friend. The heroine’s fight becomes our fight. And as we edit and polish and rework our novel, we worry about our characters, love them, perhaps hate them, and can’t leave them behind. They become as much a part of our lives as are the people around us. They, too, are our inspiration.

 

 

 

Authenticity in novels

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As writers, we’re told:

Write what you know.

Draw from your own experience.

Research.

We do all of that and then … we receive a note like this from a reader.

This question has to do with your last book, EMBROILED (I’m still reading it). Emily’s character intrigues me. Do you happen to know anyone who’s visited a shrink before? I ask because Emily’s sessions with David are vivid. Engaging. I can’t help but feel that this goes beyond the imaginary. But then, that is what a wonderful writer does, right? Carry the reader along.

No, I don’t know anyone who’s been to a shrink. No, I’ve never been to one myself. So, if I’ve truly created an authenticity for my readers (as this one assures me I have) where did that ability to do so come from?

Perhaps the portrayal of a patient with her psychiatrist is influenced by memories of such events in books I’ve read or movies and television shows I’ve watched. I think that could be an explanation, but I believe that would be only a partial answer.

Then this conversation occurs.

Discussing a favorite movie, one of our friends commented on a key scene. “Then the character said exactly what I expected her to say.” For him that was a defining moment, the key to the character and the plot. If she had said anything else, it would have thrown him out of the scene and back into his theatre seat.

What does it mean to create an Emily, a character that readers find so real?

What does it mean to have characters that “stay in character” like the one in the movie?

How do we create the characters who take the reader into other worlds?

We can describe physical features. We can show their reactions to the world around them. We can have other characters react to them.

But, I believe the most powerful tool the writer has is dialogue. What characters say, how they say it, their tone and body language show the reader who and what they really are.

To create that kind of perfection, the author must know his or her characters intimately. The motives that drive them, their fears, their dreams, all of their idiosyncrasies, as well as the more mundane details of birthdays, family relationships, childhood experiences, teen traumas, friends and lovers. Most of this the reader will never know, but the soul of the character, as the author knows him or her, will leach into the novel and into the hearts and minds of the reader.

Working with Emily through four novels, I’ve come to know her intimately. I know how she would react in most any situation. I know what would make her angry or sad. I know what would set her on the offensive and when she’d cower away from danger. I know that she’s a passionate advocate for education, that she abhors war, that she’s a chocoholic … And I know that her choice of a psychiatrist wouldn’t be random. She’d walk out on one if she thought he was a quack, or his personality clashed with hers, or he lacked compassion. Emily would want an upfront, no nonsense kind of person and that’s what she’d get.

So now, I’m not only intimately connected with Emily, I’m familiar with her doctor and that’s what the scenes are built from. That’s what creates a situation that does not allow for a false note and provides a credible story for the reader.

Knowing their characters as well as they know their friends and family allows the author to create authenticity through the actions and dialogue they engage in.