Google Notebooks: Eighth Wonder of the World

I’ve been reading about the search to name the new Seven Wonders of the World. Some of the frontrunners are The Great Wall of China, Machu Pichu, and the Colosseum in Rome. My own personal vote is for Chichen Itza, in the Yucatan, one of the coolest (though not temperature wise) places I’ve ever been.

Anyway, the search for the new Seven Wonders of the World is all well and good, but I have discovered what is the Eighth Wonder of the World, at least if you are a writer.

It is the Google notebook.

This is the coolest feature that you can download by going to the Google notebook page. With the Google notebook, you can make online notebooks on as many subjects as your little heart desires. It is like bookmarking only way easier to organize. I am an inveterate hard-copy notebook creator, so this is like a dream come true. I make notebooks for all my assignments now, for blog entries, for stuff I might some day sort of be interested in, for, well, just about anything.

For instance, I recently had a copywriting assignment to write a report about Voodoo (Zombies! So cool!). I organized all my online research for the assignment into a Google notebook created for that topic. From now I, I’ll organize all my copywriting jobs that way.

The way it works is simple. Once you download it, a little blue icon appears in the lower right-hand corner of your screen. This is your link to your notebooks. Then when you find something of interest, ie, a website, you click the icon and add the link. You can also make comments about it. Or you can click the icon just to make comments. You can cut and paste specific info into it. And, I’m sure there is much more to the application than I have discovered, as the truth of the matter is that I’m pretty un-techy. (The fact that I can manage to maintain this blog is a minor miracle.)

But, God, show me a way to make a notebook of any kind and I’m all over it.

Photo of Chichen Itza by Sergio Blazquez, published here under Creative Commons license 2.5.

David’s Poetry

My friend David Hetzler has a poem on the Short North Gazette.  He’s an awesome poet, and he’ll be reading with the Umbrella Poets in Columbus, Ohio on July 27th.  Go listen–he’s an awesome reader, too.  Check out his poem in the Gazette here.

Slow Writing Movement

Exquisitecorpsebirthday20068 Andrew Gallix wrote a post on his Guardian blog about a movement he (sorta jokingly) invented called the Slow Writing Movement.  He wrote a thought-provoking post about it yesterday, making the point that with the advent of the word processor, writing has become faster, and with the Internet, publishing is fast, too.

"As a result, what often passes for fiction today would have been considered no more than an early draft a few years ago," Gallix says.  He goes on to define two schools of writers:  The Ionic, whose adherents write fast and furious, and the Platonic, who still believe in rewriting and revising, and who "belong to an aristocratic lineage which is at odds with our egalitarian times."   

Gallix takes the Ionic (read: fast) writers, including Georges Simenon, who apparently once promised (or threatened) to lock himself in a glass cage and write a novel in three days, and the nice people over at Nanowrimo, who encourage people to write a novel in a month, to task. 

The best line in the whole piece, however, is when Gallix levels his acid-pen at Jack Kerouac, whose work is lumped in with others such as The Surrealists, and referred to as "penis-extension tall tales of binge typing."  Lord, I love that sentence, even if I don’t agree with him.

I have to admit I’ve never actually read Kerouac, but I’ve always been fascinated with the automatic writing and the Surrealists’ Exquisite Corpse games.  And I am the biggest fan of Joseph Cornell on the planet.  But I digress.

While Andrew Gallix makes some good points about the preponderance of slap-dash writing in the world today, I am still a fan of fast writing.  Fast writing allows you to bypass your critic, and your ego, and the part of you that insists that everything be perfect and pretty.  It allows you to write directly from your heart, or your soul, or your spirit, or whatever you want to call it.  Because of all this, I believe that fast writing is the best way to allow a writer’s natural voice to emerge. 

BUT, and this is a really big BUT, after you’ve allowed the fast writing to emerge, the slow writing must follow.   Slow writing involves rewriting and revising and editing, and then doing it again.  And again.  And again.  This is the crucial part of writing that new writers sometimes miss.

New writers sometimes get stuck in the rush that comes from being totally engrossed in the writing.  Its like falling in love–and just as when you are in love with a person, you fall in love with the writing that results from this process.  Then you start to believe that no rewriting is necessary.

Ah, but trust me, you need to rewrite.  Very few pieces of writing come out fully formed and perfect on the first draft.  And when they do, they are channeled.  I don’t care what anybody says.

Writing is rewriting.  Period. 

So write fast at first and then go back and write slow. 

Image of an Exquisite Corpse graphic from Wikipedia, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 license, and I sure hope I’m doing the attributions on the images right.

Fourth of July Updates

Happy Fourth of July. 

It strikes me as amusing that this is one holiday we often refer to by date, as in have a good Fourth.  Rarely do we refer to it as Independence Day.    Think about it–we don’t say Happy Twenty-Fifth for Christmas.  Odd.


Joe Bare sent me a link to a sight about lucid dreaming.  You can access that here.  Its pretty cool stuff.

In my post about Blog evangelism in Orange County, I forgot one of the most important things.  I won one of the prizes they give out at the end and it was a beautiful collection of soap and lotions from the Tara Collection.  These are wonderful products.  Check them out here. 

And Happy Fourth.  Or Happy Independence Day.


One of the main ways I make my living is through ghostwriting, and I love it.  I get to write about topics I’d never write about otherwise, meet fascinating people, and enter the minds of those fascinating people.  Sort of like writing fiction, only not.

What is Ghostwriting?

Ghostwriting is when I write the book for you but your name appears on the book.  As far as the world knows, you are the author of the book.  If I’m lucky, you might thank me in the acknowledgments .  But even that is not really necessary.  Some big-time ghostwriters even get a “with” credit, as in “by famous person with ghostwriter.”  But not usually.

Who Uses Ghostwriters?

A better question might be, who doesn’t use a ghostwriter?  Generally, ghostwriters are employed for non-fiction projects, though many a novel has been ghostwritten (you can read a post I wrote about that here.)   Many of the best-selling business and self-help books are ghostwritten, as are those by politicians and celebrities. 

Not only famous people hire ghostwriters.  People in all walks of life who are too busy to write a book or simply feel they don’t have a way with word hire ghostwriters.  Working with a ghostwriter can be an efficient way of getting your book to print.

Why Do I Need a Book?

You may not have dreams of bestseller status, but you do need a book.  Why? Here are some reasons:

  • A book lends your career immediate status and prestige.  No matter what profession you are in, having a book to show for yourself gives you credibility.
  • If you do any public speaking, or aspire to, you need a book because many speaking bureaus will not book you unless you have one. 
  • A book  offers a potential  additional income stream.   You may choose to sell it on the internet or as a  back-of-the-room product.  If you are providing useful content on your website or blog, people will want to buy a book to read more.  If you are giving inspiring lectures, people will want to read more.  Give them what they want–a book.
  • A book offers you a chance to spread your message in a different channel.  Make no mistake, even iin this digital age, a book is still considered the ultimate authority.

What is The Ghostwriting Process?

People come to me when they have an idea for a book, have been struggling to write one for awhile, or need to get a product out fast, for any of the above reasons.  Generally, the client will have a fair amount of material or notes on the project ready.  If this is not the case, there may be quite a bit of upfront interviewing time required. 

It is my job to take this material and shape it into a finished product that reflects the voice and style of the client.  No two of the books that I ghostwrite will sound like the same author if I’ve done my job correctly.  I assess the potential readers and what sort of style might be appropriate for them, also.

Every project differs, but basically I’ll send the client constant updates of the the manuscript for him or her to edit and make changes on.  I guarantee my work and I’m not happy until the client is happy. 

How Long Does it Take?

The time frame varies.  I’ve gotten books out in as short as a month, while some projects tend to take much longer.

How Much Does it Cost?

While I have a base fee, again, each project will vary in cost.  It depends on how much material you have ready.  Some books really only need a rewrite or edit, while others require a massive assembly of notes and research.  Still others may need a lot of upfront interviewing time to pull the story out of the client, and this, of course, will cost more.   Please, please, please don’t assume that a ghostwriter will work for royalties only.  We’re professionals, too, folks, and we like to eat also.  Royalties are more of an “if” than a “for certain” and if they do every manifest, it may not be for months or years in the future.  Unless you can find a ghostwriter who needs experience and a credit to show, forget about asking us to work for royalties.

I’m Sold, What’s My Next Step?

Contact me  and we’ll discuss specifics.  If you’re not quite ready to hire a ghostwriter, and want to do it yourself, I can help coach you to get your book onto the page, too.

A Post Not About Writing: Party in Venice

Canalsml Went to a party on the Venice canals on Saturday night.  It was a large party, with multiple bands playing sequentially, the grill going full time with hot dogs and hamburgers, and a great potluck spread.  We were there as the guests of film director and producer Lina Shanklin, even though she never made it to the party.

I had a blast.  I love the canals and the people at the party were friendly and fun to talk to.  Everyone was named John and came from Culver City.  Okay, that’s not true, but I did meet two different men named John and they both lived in Culver City.  The first actually spelled his name J-O-N and was a retired computer guy who now played in a band and experimented with lucid dreaming.  He wasn’t especially old, either.  The second spelled his name the traditional way and was in radio.  He was one of the people who made a fortune (I might be exaggerating a little) selling ring tones when that business first exploded.  Now he’s going to write a novel about internet dating.  I also had a nice talk with a professor from USC.

Came home with a headache from the wine and Mary-Suzanne got it go away with ThetaHealing.  (The photo of the canals is by her, too.)

What does all this have to do with writing?  Not a thing.  Not one thing.  But there will be more posts to come on that topic very, very soon. 

Writing and Waterfalls

Over on one of my webpages, I wrote about the Columbia Gorge (in connection with writing) and illustrated it with photos of waterfalls in the area.

Waterfall Take a look at this gorgeous photo.  It is from my friend Suzanne Peters, who is, clearly, and awesome photographer.  She told me she had lots of photos of waterfalls and would send me some to illustrate my post.

But this one is so cool I thought it deserved its own post.  Go check out her work at Lifewishes Photography.  By the way, at this very moment she is sitting across the room designing a new banner for this blog.  Suzanne is also very good at graphic design and website design. And ThetaHealing. And being a fabulous friend.

What does this have to do with writing?  Well, nothing really.  Except that over the years that I’ve known Suzanne she and I have been a "creative cluster" (as Julia Cameron is fond of saying) of two.  She’s supported me in my writing career and I’ve supported her in her photography career, and now also as she branches out into other areas such as ThetaHealing . 

Having the support of another person is vital in a world where it can be common for others not to support your creative quests.  So I’m very grateful to her.

Writing Fiction: The Two Nows Structure

The task of a novelist is to tell a story so riveting that it will hold a reader’s attention for hundreds of pages. To do this, the author must first know the story intimately herself—which is the reason we write rough drafts (also known as “discovery drafts” or, my favorite, from the beloved Anne Lamott, “shitty first drafts”). After you’ve finished a first draft (or many drafts) and are convinced you know the story inside out, you can start thinking about structure (though there may well be a lucky few who write novels with the perfect structure from the outset). Structure is the way your story is presented to the reader—the ordering of scenes and chapters.

Writers whose novels contain a lot of important backstory often struggle with ways to weave in flashbacks without stopping the forward motion of the story. One approach is to “chunk” in the flashbacks: present several chapters of the story line to get the action moving, and then pull in several chapters (a “chunk”) of explanatory backstory.

But what if your backstory is so compelling or so important to the protagonist’s character arc that you don’t want to wait several chapters to impart it? This is the issue I struggled with repeatedly in writing my first novel. My heroine moves to a new part of the country, which is where the action begins. Yet what makes her move so painful, and the action unique, is her deep love for her left-behind home. My problem was how to get the story moving and keep the reader engrossed while also showing Collie’s ordinary world—the place she left behind.

The answer finally came in a critique session with trusted fellow novelists. Why not try running a dual story line? Tell Collie’s story from the moment she moved to Santa Fe as one narrative arc, and intersperse the backstory in alternating chapters—a dual story line. Chapter one begins the story and immerses the reader in the contemporary story line, chapter two moves back to the beginning of the flashback story line, Chapter Three returns to the present, and so on.

I’ve christened this the Two Nows Structure, because one important feature is the immersion in the “now” of each arc. This is the key element of this construction. We are in the head of the characters as they are at the moment. The flashback storyline is not told retrospectively, with the wisdom of the years that have passed. It is told in the now of that narrative arc. Accordingly, such a structure works best with a limited point of view, either tight third person or first person.

Each storyline has a distinct narrative arc, with its own conflicts, disasters, and troubles for the characters, and its own forward movement and mounting action. To decide where to begin each throughline, bear in mind the advice of writer Jack Bickham, from his book, Scene and Structure, which is “start your story at the time of the change that threatens your character’s major self-concept.

In my research on this structure, I’ve discovered two main variations. The first is a linear style, in which each story is told in strict chronological order. This is the structure used in the recent novel, A Blessed Event, by Jean Reynolds Page, which is the story about a woman desperate for a baby, and the controversial actions she takes to get one. In dealing with the consequences of those actions, the protagonist uncovers secrets from her past. The contemporary story begins in Texas in 1983, and the backstory action starts ten years earlier. Chapters alternate between the two time periods, and each story line moves steadily forward until they begin to merge about three-quarters of the way through.

A permutation on this linear storyline structure is found in Jane Hamilton’s novel, The Short History of a Prince. While Hamilton’s two narrative arcs also follow chronologically, her novel begins with the flashback storyline. The book alternates between 1972 and 1995, with each distinct arc covering roughly the same period of time—the months of a school year, September to June. In Prince, the events of the past storyline are so strong and compelling that they have affected every single character in the twenty years since, which is no doubt why she chose to begin in the past.

The second variation on the Two Nows Structure is the thematic style. In this construction, the flashback chapters are arranged in seemingly random order, but the author has placed them so for thematic reasons. Maryanne Stahl’s novel, Forgive the Moon,, is fashioned in this manner. The story of a woman whose marriage is threatened, the contemporary action takes place over a one week vacation on Long Island, and the flashbacks show snapshots of the protagonist’s past which illuminate her current behaviors and decisions.

Both the linear and thematic structures tend to follow a similar pattern—chapters alternating consistently between the two nows with an equal emphasis on each storyline. Occasionally, authors allow us to remain in the contemporary storyline for more than one chapter, but this rarely happens with the past storyline. Its important to keep the contemporary narrative moving (which is why you chose this structure) and lingering in the past will not accomplish that. By the last third or quarter of the novel, the two storylines will, of necessity, start to merge until there is one seamless narrative remaining.

Why choose this structure? In rewriting my first novel, I found it benefits my writing in several ways. By not relying on flashbacks and instead immersing my characters in the “now” of their lives, I am forced to write with more immediacy. Instead of lapsing into telling, I easily see ways to show. This, in turn, helps me to show character motivation in real time, instead of using a flashback that stops the action of the story to explain why a character does what he does. For instance, in my own novel, I revealed a crucial character motivation in a flashback scene. Try as I might, I could see no way to get this information out in any other way—until I recast the novel in the Two Nows structure. Immediately, I saw how this bit of info could be revealed in the contemporary story line, thus pushing the action ahead and keeping the story moving.

The Two Nows Structure is a useful paradigm for a variety of novels, but especially for those which rely heavily on backstory. Ultimately, I decided not to use this structure for my novel, but its certainly something I’ll consider using for future novels.

SEO and Blog Writing Evangelism

Ewomenweb We went to the Ewomen networking lunch in Orange County yesterday.  I’m usually not a huge fan of networking events, as they can so often take on the air of desperation.  But I know they are a fact of life in business these days and so when I’m in LA, I usually allow Mary-Suzanne to drag me along to them.

However, I must say–I really loved the Orange County Ewomen.  The group is organized by Aggie Kobrin, who is a wonderful, warm, delightful woman.  The women at the lunch were a successful, cheerful bunch with a true desire to support each other.  The speaker was Kristine Catalina, who talked about male female relationships and urged women just to appreciate men for their yumminess.  The two token males seemed a wee bit overwhelmed by all the attention to their yumminess, but they coped. I also met two amazing women who sell Himalayan Goji Juice. 

Everyone has to get up and talk about themselves, and while I tried to pretend I was so seriously focused on the crappy coffee and sorta good cheesecake that I couldn’t possibly tear myself away, it didn’t work.

So I talked about writing for websites, and SEO copy, and blogs.  It never ceases to amaze me how many people out there really don’t know exactly what a blog is.  Further, they don’t have a clue about all the possibilities blogs offer.  So I was being a bit of a blogging evangelist and found an eager audience.

Next we went to visit my new client, Jessica Arzt.  I’m going to be writing copy for her business, Harmon-eyes Iridology, and her website. She and I had talked on the phone and emailed, but never met in person.  Turns out she is a doll–enthusiastic, eager, and passionate for her field.  (For those of you who don’t know, and I didn’t, Iridology is a modality in which the practitioner takes a photo of your irises and from that reads your body.)  We had so much fun talking and throwing around ideas for articles for her site.  The Wellness Center she is a part of is a wonderful, serene place, too.

Check out her site now, because iridology is really interesting, but check it out again in a couple months, because then it is going to be chock full of great articles.