Guest Post

Guest Post by Mystery Writer Reavis Z. Wortham

Please welcome guest author Reavis Z. Wortham.  I met Reavis several years ago at the Mayborn Literary Non-Fiction conference in his native Texas.  We've stayed in touch ever since, and when I heard about the buzz his new mystery novel is getting, I begged asked him to write a guest post about his path to publication.  Read to the very end to catch the very exciting news about his novel (I don't want to steal his thunder by telling you here.)

As A Beginner The Rock Hole

by Reavis Z. Wortham

I have been a published columnist and feature writer for 23 years in newspapers and magazines, but giving advice has always been sticky.

The columns helped me polish my style, and believe me, looking back at those first efforts, I’m surprised anyone kept me on. But I got better, and developed my own voice.

With the success of what eventually became a self-syndicated newspaper column in more than 30 papers, I began to seek out magazines. My first humor column was published by Texas Fish and Game Magazine. That led to Texas Sportsman, Vintage Trucks, American Cowboy and many others. Each success made it easier for editors to see my work and to offer assignments. Sixteen years later, I’m Humor Editor for Texas Fish and Game and still write columns and articles for other magazines.

The book manuscripts continued to cook inside my head, and as I kept experimenting, I read Stephen King’s, On Writing. Not long afterward, David Morrell’s Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing brought my personal faults into crystal clarity. All those things like, “show me in the story, don’t tell me,” “point of view,” and “the right voice” finally made sense.

Reavis picEspecially, show me, don’t tell me.

I took the old adage; write what you know, to heart. The Rock Hole is a mystery set in 1964 Lamar County Texas and based on an old constable I knew, my grandfather. I know the people and the geography. I’d heard the tales they told beside the fire at night, and up at the country store.

The story came easily. My agent Jeanie Pantelakis with Sullivan Maxx Literary Agency fell in love with the manuscript and she quickly placed it in the hands of Annette Rogers, the wonderful acquisitions editor at Poisoned Pen Press, who took me on the next journey.

Annette helped me polish The Rock Hole. I soon learned to write tight when she told me the manuscript had to be cut from 120,000 words, to 90,000. From there it was write, re-write, and use the Word search application that allowed me to see how often I used words over and over again, words like: that, church, old, store, porch, door, and would (to name just a few). I learned to identify passive sentences and cut them out like cancers. Under Annette’s tutelage, I gave my characters an action to perform, to identify who was speaking, while cutting out, “he/she said/asked/replied.”

Her advice and guidance was the difference between night and day. I learned to lift my vocabulary until it sizzled. Then Poisoned Pen Press surprised me. They asked me to rewrite the ending so the novel could continue as a series.

Today, Kirkus Reviews listed The Rock Hole as one of the best mystery novels of 2011. What an honor by such a prestigious reviewer. The sequel, Burrows, is scheduled for release on July 3, 2012. I can only hope it gets half the reception as The Rock Hole.

Visit Reavis's website here, and his blog here.  And go buy his book! You know you want to.

Guest Post: Jessica Baverstock on What’s Your Story?

This is a guest post by Jessica Baverstock, an Aussie writer currently living in Beijing, China.  Jessica read my newsletter discussing how we writers get our knickers all wound up in our stories last Jessica_0551_cropped month and it inspired her to write about her own stories.  The process of which was not only entertaining, but enlightening and worthy of sharing.  So here you go.  And thanks, Jessica!

1. Observe – Make a note of the stories you tell.

I am a failure as a writer.

Sure, I love to write and I have the eccentricities down pat – but I can't actually call myself a writer. You see, I've never had anything published. The closest I've ever come was at 19 when I had a poem read out on the radio. Since then I've endured a distinct silence of recognition.

And rightly so. I have nothing worth submitting. I have no polished manuscript sitting in a slush pile waiting to be discovered. I have no polished manuscript at all! I never finish projects. I have notebooks full of scribbled ideas, a bookshelf full of first drafts and several unfinished 2nd drafts languishing in a dark computer folder somewhere – but nothing actually finished.

So you see, I'm a failure as a writer.

2. Write About It – Pull your story apart.

As stories go, this is demoralizing right from the first sentence. While the statements of 'accomplishment' themselves are true, the conclusions inferred are depressingly skewed.

It does, however, give one a feeling of security. If you've already declared yourself a failure, then no one can be disappointed in you no matter what the outcome of your efforts. It's the same reason why people who are prone to falling find lying on the ground oddly comforting – at least you can't fall any further. In this case, by declaring yourself a failure, it pre-empts someone else implying it or saying it outright.

Declare yourself a writer, on the other hand, and people will immediately expect proof. 'What have you written?' 'Have you been published?' 'Can I read some of your work?' Using the above story, you've given them all the proof they need. After such a tirade, who in their right mind is going to ask to see your work?

3. Assign it to a CharacterUse your story as one of your character's stories.

I am assigning this story to Shelly – a character in a novel I'm currently working on.

Shelly is bubbly, insightful and kind – always quick to point out the accomplishments and worth of others. However, as soon as she opens her mouth with this story, we realise she is not as kind to herself.

She's nursing a very personal disappointment. Her dream from childhood was to be a writer, to publish stories and see her name in print. But it never happened. She reads articles about younger people who have achieved their writing dream – how their insight into human nature, their turn of phrase, their attention to detail contributed to their success – and realises she hasn't reached the height of quality necessary to accomplish a similar feat.

She reminds herself that such dreams are childish – don't all young girls want to be ballerinas and all young boys want to be astronauts? The fact is, the world is filled with an infinite array of different occupations. This must prove that at some point in a person's development, childish dreams fall by the wayside to allow new understandings of life and the world emerge. Such is what happened in her case.

However, on the bookshelf next to her bed are several colorful journals, written in from her childhood onward and so precious to her that she cannot part with even one of them. And every morning, over breakfast, she writes in her journal about the wonderful characters and stories she dreamed of the night before.

Now isn't that the sign of a true writer?

4. Consider All the Elements – Look for the main elements, characters, themes, plot, action.

From a storytelling point of view, the only way this story can progress is for the storyteller to effect a complete change of attitude. Currently it's a 'dead end' tale. The words "never", "nothing" and "failure" do not move forward. They do not hold promise of more and better to come. They sit limp, heavy and stubborn on the page – refusing to allow any plot or action to follow.

In order for the plot to develop further, the character must step up and take action. Although the catalyst which starts a story is usually out of a character's control, the character should be the one to make the decision to launch into the next chapter – to spark off the journey which we long to read about.

Therefore this character must change her tune – she must transform her theme from 'failure' to 'opportunity.'

And this can all be done starting with one very simple word – yet.

"I have never had anything published." Yet.

"I have nothing worth submitting." Yet.

5. Write a New Story

I am a writer. I haven't had anything published yet because I'm working through what I like to call my 'apprenticeship.'

I've worked on many different stories, genres, characters and plots – learning along the way. I'm finding my distinctive voice, discovering the tricks to storytelling, creating collections of ideas, instituting schedules, building friendships and practicing the art of writing itself.

One day I will produce polished work worthy of submission. Until that time, I am thoroughly enjoying my journey – for without it I would never accomplish my dream.

Jessica Baverstock had her first run in with the writing life when, at age 3, she met her father's typewriter. Ever since, she's been passionate about putting words on paper, dreaming one day of making it to publication. She can be found at her blog, Creativity's Workshop, where her Creativity is featured as a real character – writing in distinctive purple text.

Guest Post: Erica Nelson and Happiness Quotations

I'm pleased to offer you this guest post from Erica Nelson, author of Happiness Quotations: Gentle Reminders of Your Preciousness.  Read about her book and enjoy an excerpted passage below.  Be sure to visit Erica's site at www.happinessquotations.com.

“Most people pursue pleasure in money, sex and power but are still unfulfilled. Why? Because they are non-sustainable energy sources whereas happiness is the purest, most sustainable and reusable form of fuel for the human spirit. Thank you Erica for writing such a meaningful and important book. I love it and it makes me happy.”

– Michael Port, NY Times Best Selling Author of The Think Big Manifesto HQ FB2

When Michael Port sent this recommendation for Happiness Quotations, it lit a fire for me to finish the manuscript and get it ready for the publisher. Glowing recommendations kept pouring in during the book creation process with this book. Michael actually recommended the book when it was nearing completion. The concept was born right after my last birthday in September 2010. I was ready for the next book, the first book was published in 2008. Two manuscripts are sitting on my hard drive, neither worthy for me to take the time to get them into print and before people.

Initially, Happiness Quotations: Gentle Reminders of Your Preciousness was part of a trilogy on happiness. I considered having a journal created, for people to write down wins and happiness experiences; writing a book on the how-to of happiness; and writing quotations to practically apply the happiness way of life I was born knowing.

When I began to post Happiness Quotations, smaller quotations I wrote to encourage people to feel good about life, to forgive old wounds, to recognize ego and connect to source energy – the response was so great. The light of these quotations quickly left the other projects in the dust. I began to concentrate fully on Happiness Quotations, and developed each smaller daily post into a longer passage with more insight, and more information on how to live and integrate the concepts into our lives.

Here’s what came up when I opened the book “Happiness Quotations: Gentle Reminders of Your Preciousness” to a passage for you this morning:

Experience Everything More Fully

Ask more of yourself. Ask yourself to feel joy more fully. Lift your heart higher. Believe in yourself more deeply. Follow your intuition more truly. Be bigger than you thought you could be. Experience love with more depth. Just ask yourself to be more than you thought you could be, and feel more than you thought you could feel.

As you ask, so it shall be. As you step more deeply into the joy that is your birthright, more joy becomes available to you.

So often we forget to ask ourselves to become more than we are. The set-points that become our normal waking consciousness grow engraved and rooted into our behaviors. Yet, you can change a set-point. You can change how deeply you feel. You can experience more of all that you came onto the planet to experience. Just ask.

The next step on my journey will be to write what I’m calling HQ2, or the second in the series of Happiness Quotations. I’m also in creation on a happiness e-class people can take to deepen the experience of living in happiness each day. To find out more about Happiness Quotations, go to www.HappinessQuotations.com, where you can read quotations and get into inspiration to embrace your day.

Erica Nelson Here is a little bit more about me:

I believe that happiness takes time each day. To step into happiness means to let go of judgment, fear, and programmed beliefs that hold you back. I started writing about happiness professionally in 2006. I coach others to let go of negative binds and free up joy and delight, awe and gratitude in living each day. A former Sacramento Bee and Santa Barbara News-Press news reporter, I wrote for California newspapers for years covering education, schools, cities, entertainment and water. She presently writes a weekly advice column in seven San Francisco Bay Area major metropolitan papers including the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times. I worked for about a decade in philanthropy, before I became a coach and independent author. I’m married with three beautiful children and a fabulous Tennessee Walking Horse. We live in California.

More: www.HappinessQuotations.com.

Guest Post: Valentines and Verse

Today's guest post is a bit different in nature, but very timely given that Valentine's Day is Monday. (Yes, Monday!)  Please welcome guest blogger Lora Cain.

The Mother of All American Valentines – and Verse

by Lora Cain Heart_paper_wallpaper_25650_l
 
She may not have written the very first Valentine but Esther Howland certainly was the first American – and woman – to mass produce them.  As a contemporary of the poet Emily Dickinson in 1847, Howland received her first English Valentine at 19.  Valentines at the time were often hand written notes but some had elaborate drawings and real lace.  As her family ran the largest book and stationery store in Worcester, Massachusetts, Esther decided she could do better.  She persuaded her father to order lace paper and other supplies and artistically wrote out and created several samples for her brother’s next sales trip.  Hoping for $200 in orders, he came back with $5000 worth, more than she could make herself. Howland asked her three best female friends to help and a company and an industry were born.

Howland is credited with several innovations including the small brightly colored wafer of paper placed under the lace to give contrast, the built up shadow box.  She also wrote “The New England Valentine Company’s Verse Book", 31 pages of text that allowed customers to choose the verse for their card.  Esther never married, though she wrote about love her entire adult life until she passed at 76.  She made magical love stories possible for so many others.

Lora Cain is the first female Guest Announcer on Wheel of Fortune or any game show that is nationally syndicated in every television market.  You can hear her Valentine’s week, February 14th – 18th, and select dates in March and April.  Vote for her through April to be the first female fulltime announcer on the show here.

Photo of vintage Valentine by Thor, from Flickr via Everystockphoto.

 

Guest Post: The Road to Creativity

This week it's Patrick's turn.  Please welcome a guest post by my new friend and fellow creative, Patrick Ross, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer who blogs at The Artist's Road and is on Twitter at @on_creativity.  He is working on a narrative nonfiction book chronicling his cross-country road trip.   Street_desert_mountain_271063_l

When it comes to ignoring the obvious, I'm a master. What is obvious to me now, and what I ignored for many years, is that I have an internal drive to create, and to express that creation through words. My awakening to this truth did not come easily, but it did come, after the metaphysical equivalent of massive and repeated blunt-force trauma to the head.

Let me step back a moment. For about a quarter-century I have been a professional writer. I'm proud of the writing I've produced, and pleased I've always managed to find folks willing to pay me for my prose. But very few of the words I've written over the years have found their way into what we would call "creative" works, whether fiction or nonfiction.

I was creative in pursuing stories as a journalist, but just-the-facts-ma'am in my prose. The think-tank papers and government filings I've authored have resulted from my creative brain being applied to research and problem-solving, but they certainly don't read like a Carl Hiaasen thriller. (Perhaps we'd all be more interested in public policy if government documents did read like a novel?)

Last summer I drove across the United States, a six-week trip through thirty-five states.  I interviewed more than forty creatives — writers, painters, songwriters, photographers, filmmakers, actors — and captured their stories on film. They opened their homes to me, and their hearts.

I began the trip as a journalist. I was there to tell their stories. But to my surprise, my interview subjects received me as a creative peer. They saw my journey as one of creative self-discovery. I told you I can be dense, but after countless hours of driving empty roads, reflecting on my conversations with those creatives, I came to realize they were right.

As it turns out, opening my mind to the obvious was the easy part. The hard part now is building a new life based on maximizing my creative being. I'm shifting my professional focus, remaining a professional writer but doing so full-time under my own shingle. I'm expanding my network of fellow creatives through Twitter and a blog. It's how I came to find the author of this delightful blog, my new friend Charlotte.

Now I'm working to make sure that I remain open to possibility, rather than closed to reality. It's a bit unnerving, expressing my creativity and thus exposing myself. But I take the plunge with joy in my heart.

So go read Patrick's blog, y'all.  He's got awesome videos with fascinating creative people on it.  By the way, the photo is by centralasm, from, you guessed it, Everystockphoto.

 

Guest Post: A Writer Comes Out

 I'm so excited to present a guest post from my good friend David Paine.  Besides mixing the best cocktails in Nashville, David does marketing for a social media company and thinks deep thoughts about God and life and writing, not necessarily in that order.  There's nothing I love better when I'm in Nashville than spending an evening discussing (and solving) the world's problems with David.  Since he writes the same way he talks, now you get a chance to hang out with him, too.  After you've read this post, head on over to his blog to read more.

A Writer Comes Out

by David Paine

Writing is about knowing.

When you write something down, it’s something you know, even though you may not know you know it. In my case, the more I let myself know, the better I write. And the more and better I write, the more I can let myself know.

About four years ago, at the relatively ancient age of 55, I came out to myself as a gay man. The path to this self-knowledge was a long one, involving along the way a reasonably respectable number of girlfriends, two wives, two sons, and three years of gut-wrenching therapy.

Sunrise small

The interesting thing is this: The path also involved writing. Though I didn’t really get it at the time, coming out to myself has also meant coming out to myself as a writer. Because they are both fundamental to who I am, the two identities are intertwined. Knowing I’m a writer as well as knowing I’m gay means knowing myself – or at least knowing myself better than I did before.

The point of final clarity regarding my sexual orientation came when I could say to myself – and mean it – this isn’t about who I’m sleeping with, it’s about who I am. Same thing with writing. It isn’t about what I might be doing – for a living or otherwise – at the moment. It’s about who I am.

Having been in the marketing business for more than 25 years, I’ve done a lot of writing. But it was never the focus of my life at the office. The focus was always elsewhere. The writing was ancillary. And, just as in relationships with women, I never felt quite whole at the office. It’s not that life was all that terrible. But there was something – a fairly subtle something in my case – missing.

Looking back, it’s clear that the process of revealing myself to myself actually began with writing. Seven years ago, while on vacation deep in the South Georgia woods at the edge of a lake that’s been in my family for four generations (and thus fairly basic to my sense of self) I was seized by a need to write.

Boathouse_fog

Right after lunch one afternoon, I drove my rapidly aging father to the little county airport to catch the puddle-jumper back home to Atlanta. I had the clear sense that this would be the last time my father would see the lake, and that I needed to write something down.

I was right on both counts. Dad died without ever returning to the lake he had loved all his life, and I did need to write something down. In fact, my life as a writer began that afternoon.

After leaving the airport, I drove six miles farther up the road to the Winn-Dixie, bought a spiral-bound notebook and a couple of pens, came back to the lake, sat down on the porch and began writing. I wrote for hours – right through cocktails. I kept on writing for several years.

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I wrote stories. They were lousy at first. And, a little disconcertingly, they all seemed to be about me. The stories got better with time, coaching and practice, and the “about me” part got more subtle. Although more subtle perhaps, it also got more true. I was peeling back the layers – well before I got into therapy.

Eventually, as I got deeply into the often scary, sometimes very sad process of coming out, the fiction fountain sort of dried up. But it was immediately replaced by a more intentional focus on writing at the office, and this produced some of the best and most enjoyable writing I’ve ever done.

I’m still at it. Blogging for myself and writing for business. Loving both because I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing, and looking for a way to rearrange my life so writing becomes central to my income as well as my identity. And the fiction fountain may be beginning to bubble up again, too.

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Life is good these days. In spite of having ended a better-than-average marriage – with no boyfriend in sight, by the way – and now having to wrestle with a lousy economy and daunting business challenges, I’m more at peace than I’ve ever been. I know who I am. I’m a gay man. And I’m a writer. That’s not all there is to me of course, but these are two big pieces of the puzzle. Pieces I had never quite put into place before.

Out, proud and pounding those keys. Life is good!

 All photographs by David Paine.

 

Friday Guest Post: An Ode to the Ipad

An Open Letter about the iPad

by Roy Burkhead

In keeping with all the Open Letters coming from Apple and Adobe these
days, I thought I’d piggy-back and send my own in reaction to my new
iPad. Actually, most of this comes from a letter that I sent to my
good friend over at Wordstrumpet. She gave me permission to publish my
private letter to her, in full or part. So, here goes:
Buystrip_ipad_20100225

Hey Wordstrumpet:

Okay, this email is the only thing (for me) that I will be doing
today. After I hit SEND, it's time to work on classes, laundry,
dishes, kids, and so on.

Man o Man, the kids woke me up before 8 a.m. today–both of them
wanting to get on the iPad. My son wanted to play a cool race-car game
and Space Invaders, and his little sister wanted to play with a Jackson
Pollock finger painting program. They both gave me the stink eye when
I told them to go away, that I had to use it.

Actually, I am giving it to my son to play with since I'll be grading
papers all day. Blackboard can be pretty complicated, and it helps to
have a 17-inch screen to see everything all at once.

I am still loving the iPad, along with everyone else in my
family…apparently. But I've only had it a few days, and I've been
way too busy to learn how to use it and outfit it properly. Classes
will be over in a couple of weeks, and I'll be able to dig into it.

Honestly, buying it was a tough, tough decision. It's not often that I
spend $500 on something that I technically do not need. When it comes
to these big purchases, I normally put the family needs first. And I
spent another $200 in accessories. Shipping was free, but there was
$50-ish in sales taxes. So, we are looking at $850 door-to-door costs.

I am thrilled that I did it. I love it, and you will, as well. If you
get the book writing gig, you should go for it.

There is one important decision for you to make and one accessory to
get.

I got the cheapest WIFI model, which was $499, aka: $500! It is 16
gig, and honestly, it's been fine. It holds all kinds of media and
photos, and it has countless space for documents for my fiction. I am
glad that I did not pay extra for one of the other two WIFI models with
larger hard drive space. The WIFI is like my laptop now, i.e.: I get
on the wireless connection in my home and in places that have free WIFI
hotspots, like Borders.

Then, next, there is the WIFI + 3G model. The 16 gig version of this
model is $629. This means that your iPad will work like any cell phone,
i.e.: you can access all of the web features no matter where you are.
You are always online, and/but of course you have to pay something like
a $15 access fee each month.

The Question: 3G or the regular model? It's six of one and half a dozen
of another. I don't do all that much roaming, so, it wasn't an
issue/need with me. But you are on the road a lot, and it might make
your travel life just a little bit easier if you chose 3G. For the
extra $129 will probably bring your thousands of dollars in benefits in
the days, weeks, months, and years to come.

The One Accessory: Without a doubt, you need to purchase one
accessory: the Apple wireless Bluetooth keyboard. Oh, the touch screen
keyboard is fine, Great, actually. I am not using it now because I
knew that this would be a long email. In fact, I think that we writers
push the Bell Curve to the limits with this stuff, and those hours
spent in front of a screen really does require the best investment in
writing accessories. We owe it to ourselves to invest in the best
chairs possible, nice keyboards, a generous supply of good Kentucky
bourbon. 🙂

Seriously, though here's an important thing to justify the purchase of
the keyboard for we writers: At this point in my iPad knowledge, with
the touch screen keyboard, I have not figured out how to locate/use the
arrow keys, and this has been a sort of a pain. Of course, you can
touch the part of the screen you want to move to, but navigating
amongst words gets tricky. The wireless keyboard solves this
problem…and it allows me to see all of my text on the screen, verses
splitting the screen between the text and the keyboard.

Another Accessory: Okay, I was wrong. Another accessory you MUST have
is the cool carrying case. It protects the device and looks cool, but
more importantly, it flips, locks, and creates a comfortable ad-hoc
place to write on it.

A Third Accessory: Crap, I forgot. There is a third accessory. I was
wrong about the one accessory. Darn, with my 45th birthday approaching
in June, you'd think that I'd stop being wrong at this point in my
life, but somehow, I have not forgotten to do that. Who knew? 🙂

Anyway, the third accessory is the iPad doc. It is ESSENTIAL that you
do NOT get the iPad doc/keyboard combo. That is a single device. You
want these things as two separate items. Oh, the single device is
fine, BUT having the items as two things will allow you a greater
degree of comfort flexibility. When setting up for HOURS in front of a
document, every little bit of comfort helps. Oh, the doc is a great
device that acts like a stand for the iPad, and you can charge it as
well. I read a couple of bad reviews about it online, but from my
experience, they are wrong. It works just fine.

I was shocked at how…instruction-less the iPad was out of the box.
Being a full-time technical writer, writing guides and instructions are
big portions of my day. So, I had a lot of expectations with this out
of the box. There was a small card and a cool decal for my car, and
that was it. I was amazed how easy it was to flow through the product,
through the experience of using it. Oh, there's some digital
documentation available, but it really is NICE TO HAVE/KNOW stuff,
verses MUST HAVE info. I plan on buying a book on it…just to suck
all the value out of it I can, but I am impressed and amazed.

Battery Life: Jesus. I have never owned a laptop that lived up to the
promised battery life time. Ever! But this thing does. TEN FULL HOURS
of doing whatever you want. With my laptop, when the battery gets
below thirty percent, I start to keep an eye on it. With this thing,
it's not even a factor.

The Apps blow my mind! First, there's a lot of stuff worth having that
is just FREE. Even the updates are FREE. Wow. And many magazines have
created iPad versions. These are NOT digital copies of their stuff on
the news stands. These are re-envisioned digital versions. Again: Wow!
And the stuff you have to pay for is go great that you don't mind
paying for it. No one is ever upset at paying for quality.

Ebooks! The Kindle is so screwed. I have been looking at the Kindle
and Sony eReader for over a year. I've wanted one, but I knew that
Apple would come out with something better. I was just waiting for it
to happen. It has.

Anyway, yeah, sure, of course. Get a iPad. 🙂
Wireless_20100430

Okay, I gotta go. My little girl is driving me nuts over the finger
paint feature of iPad, and her brother has a race to run in Italy!

Later

Afterward:

Since sending Wordstrumpet this letter, I’ve had a few other
noteworthy experiences with the iPad.

In no particular order:

I purchased the adapter that…almost allows me to watch shows in my iPad
on my television. For $29, the iPad Dock Connector to VGA Adapter
arrived. My common sense should have told me that I would need to get a
cord with two male ends to connect the end of the dock to my
television, but I was too focused on getting the iPad. Anyway, a $25
trip to Radio Shack solved the problem. The video looks great. The
sound plays on the iPad verses on the television. Not sure if that is
suppose to work that way or if I am doing it wrong. More research
required, BUT it works. Nice feature. I get a lot of content from
iTunes that I cannot find over the counter at traditional outlets. So,
it’s nice to watch my favorite PBS and Sundance Travel shows on the big
television whenever I want.

16 Gig. The minimal hard drive space has forced me to be…selective
about what I choose to load. My iPod is loaded with hours and hour and
hours of video and music and audio books, and so much more.

Bringing it to work and using it at my local Borders has been a good
experience. So much better than bringing my heavy laptop and lugging
that around. Easy and portable and great. Although, I think that I have
received the ‘stink eye’ a few times from my fellow patrons in the café.

I had a great service experience with it today. I noticed yesterday
that one of my books from the iBook bookshelf was missing. Since it
cost me $10, I was a bit unhappy. I went online and was able to
schedule a phone call with support. Instead of waiting and waiting, I
indicated online the phone number and when it was best FOR ME to have
the call. And a couple hours later, my phone rang. That was the best
technology-related service call that I’ve ever experienced! During the
call, they helped me remember that I (most likely) unclicked the entry
for that book/author when I sync’d up my iPad last night…while clearing
up hard drive space. I am sure that it will be there waiting on me
when I get home to my laptop tonight.

Note from Charlotte: Be sure to visit Roy's blog, Novel Operation, where he details the progress he is making on the rewrite of his novel.

Friday Guest Post: The Good, The Bad, and The Critical

Please welcome our first Friday Guest Poster, Jessica Baverstock!  Jessica writes the wonderful blog, Creativity's Workshop, in which Creativity is featured as a real character.  Creativity writes in purple ink, you gotta love it.  And both Jessica and Creativity have really good things to say about writing, as you'll see when you read this post.  Funny story: Jessica had no idea that I was planning to alternate guest posts with mini-critiques on Fridays, but I am, and because of that, the topic of this post is perfect! 

The Good, The Bad, and The Critical
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by Jessica Baverstock

A couple of months ago we were introduced to Charlotte's Inner Critic, Patrick, and then invited to come face to face with our own Inner Critic. Criticism is an important concept to understand and become comfortable with because, as writers, we are always encountering it – be it from our Inner Critic or from others who voice their opinions about our work.
 
We usually think of criticism as the evil, creativity-killing blight of a writer's existence and strive to avoid it at every turn. Anyone who criticizes our work is either an unenlightened cretin who doesn't know good work when it bites him in the nose, or a heartless dream-quasher who opened our eyes to the futility of our struggle so we may now slink away and overdose on hard liquor and dark chocolate. It's not uncommon for us to vacillate between the two opinions as if we were traversing the stages of grief. Very rarely do we manage to accept the criticism without the emotional roller coaster beforehand.
 
However, not all criticism is created equal. There are two types. One is the soul-destroying, idea-murdering negativity that insidiously eats away at your self esteem and drive to succeed. The second, while demoralizing at first, is actually a gift – an opportunity to make changes and improve. If you can identify which type you are being subjected to, then you can decide whether to work on accepting it, or plow on in spite of it.
 
Here is the checklist I use to identify the good from the bad.
 
1. Is the criticism reasonable and helpful?
 
Helpful criticism is usually accompanied by explanation.
 
For example, which of the following two 'criticisms' do you feel is helpful?

    "You'll never be able to get this book published. Your writing is mediocre at best."
    "Your main character is a bit flat. I think he needs more back story. His motivation is just not showing through."

The first example is too vague. "Your writing is mediocre" doesn't provide information you can use to improve and certainly doesn't give you the incentive to try harder. The second example is helpful. It gives you specifics and a direction. While both examples hurt, the second example is the kind of feedback you need to hear. Don't ignore it. It's your opportunity to improve.
 
2. How experienced is the person giving the criticism?
 
Has this person actually worked in your field, or are are they just offering an opinion because they believe it's expected? You would obviously give more weight to feedback from an experienced writer than from great-aunt Maud who never has a good word to say about anyone.
 
This principle can also apply to your Inner Critic. When you are starting out in an endeavor, your Inner Critic tends to be trigger happy, vigorously attempting to scuttle anything 'flawed.' However, remember that your Inner Critic is not yet experienced. It needs time to gain understanding and insight. Perhaps it's worth ignoring that criticism for a while until your experience and skill have improved. Vice versa, if you are an experienced writer and your Inner Critic is nagging you, perhaps he's on to something and you need to take the time to listen.
 
3. Do you receive the same criticism from multiple sources?
 
When your critics begin to agree, it's definitely time to sit up and take notice. As James Surowiecki  says, there is wisdom in crowds.
 
If everyone who reads your novel mentions its abrupt conclusion, then it's probably something you should take another look at.
 
Good Criticism Exists! Use It.
 
Crowds and experts have been known to be wrong. However, understanding the weaknesses in your work will always help you in the long run – to find ways to address those weaknesses or learn to hide them behind your strengths. By always being open to helpful feedback and opinions you can grow in your writing, reaching heights you never could without first addressing the flaws.
 
Remember though, everything improves with practice. Your first efforts at something new will always be below par. Do not let criticism discourage you. Use it to continue improving.
 
What methods do you use to identify helpful criticism?

More Friday Fun: Mini-Critiques

So, last Friday I wrote about the death of Festive Fridays and invited guest posts.  I also invited comment on what my Friday feature should be and it turns out a fair number of you wanted examples of good and bad writing.
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But I can't do that.

I can't do that because I don't look at writing in terms of good and bad.  I look at it in terms of where it is now, what it is currently accomplishing, and how it could accomplish more. 

So, if you would like some illumination on your writing along those lines, I'm inviting you to send in your work for critique.  I'll alternate critiquing Fridays with guest post Fridays.  Here are the rules, such as they are:

1.  Send ONE paragraph of your work.  I repeat, ONE.  The original idea of having a consistent Friday theme was to make it easier for me to post and if you send more I'll get overwhelmed and have to quit.

2. Put FRIDAY MINI-CRITIQUE in the subject line. Okay, it doesn't have to be in all caps, I just did that for emphasis.  (See below, please.)

3. Tell me a tiny bit about it–ie, its from a novel, a non-fiction piece, etc.

4.  Tell me if you want your name used (and a link) or if you wish to be anonymous.

5.  I will point out 1 to 3 things that are working well, and 1-3 things that could work a bit better.

Okay?  Okay.  I'm excited.  Thanks to all of you who suggested something along these lines, including Ledger, Derek, and Susan.

Did I miss anyone?  If so, forgive me.

ADDENDUM:  The paragraph should be a maximum of 250 words and in case it wasn't obvious from the above, email it to me at wordstrumpet@gmail.com.

**The photo is of a 17th century Commonplace Book from the Beinecke Library.

Guest Post: Networking: An Essential of the Writing Life

Please welcome my good friend Linda Busby Parker to Wordstrumpet today.  I'll let Linda tell you the story of our friendship, but I want to urge you to go visit her blog, because she is starting a book club on May 1st, and let me just tell you, nobody deconstructs a novel the way Linda does.  You'll learn so much about writing, trust me.  So check it out.  And now read on:

My good friend and fellow writer, Charlotte, invited me to occasionally post on her blog.  She favors me by doing the same—posting on my blog.  Here’s my first post for Wordstrumpet.

NETWORKING:  AN ESSENTIAL OF THE WRITING LIFE

I first met Charlotte in the fall of 2001 when we both entered the low-residency MFA in Writing at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky.  We were both in a workshop taught by Sena Naslund, author of AHAB’S WIFE, FOUR SPIRITS, and ABUNDANCE.  Charlotte submitted a terrifically good short story for workshop—I still remember it.  It was subtle and understated.  For whatever reasons, we hit it off right away and became companions at meals and joined a group of other students after hours for a glass of wine to close the day down. 

Our circle of writers in the MFA program grew.  At the last residency in the fall of 2003, Charlotte and I participated in a novel workshop.  Each of the five participants submitted a completed novel for critique.  That workshop was led by writer/professor Julie Brickman.  The five students in that course plus Professor Julie became close friends, colleagues, and supporters of each other.  We called ourselves THE NOVEL GODDESSES. 

It’s been nearly seven years since that workshop convened, but the novel goddesses are still friends and colleagues.  Two members of the group—Julie and Deidre—reside in California, Charlotte in Oregon, Maryann in Michigan, Katy in Kentucky, and I’m in Alabama.  We’ve enjoyed one writing retreat—all six of us came—on the Gulf Coast of Alabama.  In the fall of 2010, we will again convene as a group—all six participating—in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

In the intervening seven years since we first met, we have supported each other through many writing triumphs and disappointments. We’ve also given advice to each other when asked to do so.  On a personal level, we’ve seen each other through the deaths of four of our collective parents, the major illness of one husband, and the marriage of one daughter.

Having these writing sisters has sustained me more times than I can count.  They are the first group of friends/colleagues I go to when I’m terribly disappointed about what’s happening in the writing world in general or my writing world in particular.  It’s also the first group I go to when I want to share a great joy in my writing life. 

I’ve established other networks of writing friends here locally in Mobile and at both Bread Loaf and the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, but the Novel Goddesses constitute the largest of my writing networks—the Goddesses have remained a close group and continue to offer support for each member in the network.  I cannot stress enough the importance of forming networks if you are a writer.  The writing highway is crooked, the hills steep, the disappointments numerous, but joys are also a part of that crooked highway.  Networks get us through the crooked bends and twists in that highway and give us sustaining friendships when it’s time to celebrate!

Linda Busby Parker is author of the award-winning novel, Seven Laurels and is a professor of writing at The University of South Alabama in Mobile.  She also teaches in a low-residency program in Continuing Education—The Writers’ Loft—at Middle Tennessee State University.  Her blog is www.lindabusbyparker.us