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Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: Donald Maass on Tension on Every Page

Friday, July 31, 2015

Excerpt from “Low Tension Part III: Tension on Every Page” in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook: Hands-On Help for Making Your Novel Stand Out and Succeed by Donald Maass:

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook

How interesting is it to hear two people passing the time of day? Usually, not very. Why is it, then, that so much dialogue in manuscripts is of the how-are-you-would-you-like-a-cup-of-coffee variety? Mere talk does not keep us glued to the page. Disagreement does. Friction in dialogue arrests our attention. It begs the unspoken question: Will these people be able to resolve their differences? We slow down and read the next line to find out.

Works Cited:

Maass, Donald. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook: Hands-On Help for Making Your Novel Stand Out and Succeed. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2004. 148. Print.

Writing Advice from the Bookshelf–Madeleine L’Engle on Starting a Story

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Excerpt from “Where the Story Begins” in Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life (compiled by Carole F. Chase):

Madeleine L'Engle Herself

One of the things I learned in college was that I usually was wise to start my story where I thought it ought to start and then cut a minimum of the first paragraph. I had to write my way into where the story began. And that is still often true. You can’t avoid writing your way to where the story begins. That’s often a necessary prelude to getting to the beginning. You have to learn to realize when you have gotten to the place where the story begins, where suddenly you find yourself in a tactile world, a concrete world.

Works Cited:

Chase, Carole F., ed. Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life. Colorado Springs, CO: Shaw Books, 2001. 244. Print.

Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: James Scott Bell on Heroes and Fools

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Excerpt from “Know the difference between a hero and a fool” in The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell:


If you want to be a writer, know this:

A hero knows it takes hard work and a long time to get published; a fool thinks it should happen immediately, because he thinks he’s a hero already.

A hero learns the craft; a fool doesn’t think there’s much to learn.

A hero keeps growing all his writing life; a fool thinks he’s fully grown already.

A hero fights to make his writing worthy, even when no one’s noticing; a fool demands to be noticed all the time, even if his writing stinks.

A hero is persistent and professional; a fool is insistent and annoying.

A hero gets knocked down and quietly regroups to write again; a fool gets knocked down and whines about it ever after.

A hero makes his luck; a fool cries about how unlucky he is.

A hero recognizes the worth in others; a fool can’t believe others are worth more than he.

A hero keeps writing, no matter what, knowing effort is its own reward; a fool eventually quits and complains that the world is unfair.

Be a hero.

Works Cited:

Bell, James Scott. The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009. 16–17. Print.

Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: The Importance of Repetition

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Excerpt from The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman:

The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman

Sometimes the audience needs repetition. There is a lot of information for a reader to absorb in any given work—names, facts, dates, places, settings—and it is quite likely the audience will forget some things as they progress. Thus, if there is a significant fact in your work—especially if it is glossed over and especially if it is a long work—you might want to, subtly, remind the audience at some point. This type of ploy is often found in detective works, where some small detail glossed over in the beginning comes flooding back to the detective in the end. The audience will remember and will be glad for the reminder. Employing deliberate repetition is more important for a book than for a film. Most readers don’t read an entire book in one sitting; indeed, a reader can easily spend several weeks picking up and putting down a book.

Work Cited:

Lukeman, Noah. The Plot Thickens. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2002. 170–171. Print.

Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: How Do You Become a Writer?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Excerpt from The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction by Barnaby Conrad and the staff of the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference:

The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction

If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.

You must write every single day of your life.

You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next.

You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.

Work Cited:

Conrad, Barnaby. The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 1990. 7–8. Print.

A Funny Thing Happened While I Was Reading MANSFIELD PARK . . .

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A week or so ago, I posted the following on my Facebook page:

So while listening to my Annual Austen reading selection for this year, Mansfield Park, yesterday, I started pondering some questions:

What if things went differently for Fanny once she left MP for Portsmouth after her refusal of Henry Crawford’s proposal?

What if Fanny’s family consisted of her older brother William and her widowed, sea-captain father only, and she’d been sent to live with her cousins at MP as a child due to the death of her mother in childbirth?

What if, instead of being sent to Portsmouth as punishment, she’s recalled by her father’s return from the Napoleonic wars and his assignment to the Port Admiralty in Portsmouth, so now he has a home to provide for her again?

What if, once back in Portsmouth, Fanny—or whatever I change her name to—thinks she’s in love with her cousin (Edmund—who will much more resemble Mr. Rushworth/Mr. Collins in this deviation) happens to meet her brother’s Captain, now also turned out on land for an indeterminate amount of time due to the cessation of hostilities with France? And what if his attentions to her make her realize just how poorly this cousin she’s always fancied herself in love with has treated her?

Hmmm . . . I think this requires some additional pondering.

So, now I’ve had a week to think about it . . . and while some of the ideas have changed (some drastically), I’m getting more and more excited about this idea. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far (mostly backstory).

The Heroine:
In 1802, at the age of 12, after the death of her mother in childbirth, Pippa was sent to Clifden Hall to live with her mother’s cousin, Lady Frances Lawes-Lindsay. While Pippa’s mother and Lady Lawes-Lindsay had been raised together and thought of each other as sisters, Pippa’s mother went against her wealthy, but untitled, family’s wishes and married a young, penniless Royal Navy Lieutenant, while her cousin married the baronet, Sir Eldon Lawes-Lindsay. So while Pippa is brought into the household at Clifden Hall and raised with the Lawes-Lindsay children, Sir Eldon and his sister Lady Congreve, the widow of a baron who lives in a cottage on the Clifden Hall estate, never let her forget her status as a poor relation and constantly remind her of just how fortunate she is to have been dressed, educated, and included in the family. She was brought out into society a few years after her older female cousins’ debuts (and only locally in Devon, not London), but not with the same grandeur as her cousins, and not without Lady Congreve reminding everyone in Devon society about Pippa’s true parentage/status in the world (the daughter of a naval officer who had to pawn her off onto rich relations when he couldn’t care for her himself (because he was at sea/war). But they also manage to subtly poison her mind against her father and brother’s profession, letting her know what a disappointment she’ll be if she, like her mother, foregoes the opportunity to marry-up.

Even though Pippa loves her father and brother, and enjoys their rare visits over the years, she believes she has been given the opportunity to marry well—and for a long time she has nursed an unrequited affection for her cousin Gerald. He’d just gone off to Eaton when she arrived at Clifden Hall, but he always treated her with affection, just like his own sisters, whenever he was home from school.

With no offers of marriage over the past six years since her debut of which Sir Eldon would approve, at twenty-four, Pippa still lives with them because she has nowhere else to go. So when Gerald came home with his best friend from Oxford, Piers Hawtrey, and is teased by his sisters at a ball about Pippa being in love with him, Gerald, who only treated her nicely at his mother’s command all these years when he really didn’t ant to have anything to do with a poor relation, is offended. To put her in her place, he gets Piers to agree to pretend to fall in love/court Pippa and get her to fall for him. Pippa is flattered (though she doesn’t really feel anything but gratitude toward him), and starts to receive pressure from Sir Eldon and Lady Congreve to accept his suit and do what she can to get him to propose. But there’s something about him she doesn’t trust—and she’s heartbroken when she realizes that Gerald isn’t the same sweet boy she’d nursed an unrequited affection for all those years. At that point, Piers starts looking better–because he’s not only paying attention to her, he’s being a perfect gentleman.

This is probably where the prologue of the story will begin (it may sound sort of familiar, at least in the beginning—so I probably need to work on this more).

When Piers’s sister, Delia, comes so her engagement to Gerald can be announced, a ball is planned. Piers asks Pippa for the first set and then dances with her twice more before the dinner break, making everyone, including Pippa, expect another engagement will soon be announced. By the time he asks her to take a turn around the garden with her, she has convinced herself that not only will he propose, but that she’ll accept. When it comes down to it, the setting and mood are right, and . . . he laughs at her expectant expression and tells her she’s so beneath him that he can’t believe she ever believed he’d be interested in her. Pippa escapes to her room to avoid any additional embarrassment. The next day at breakfast, she is confronted by Sir Eldon and Lady Congreve who berate her for not just turning down Piers’s proposal but for insulting him in the process (having heard this false version of the story from Gerald and Piers the night before). She tries to set them straight, but they won’t believe her. For the next few days, she not only has to live with her relatives’ censure, she has to put up with Piers’s mournful act in front of everyone else and his snide comments and looks when he can catch her alone. Fortunately for her, two days later, her father arrives to take her home to Portsmouth. He’s been promoted to Vice-Admiral and is being sent to command the Royal Naval Dockyard at Halifax, Nova Scotia. And he wants to take Pippa with him.

The Hero:
Obviously, I’ve spent most of my time working on the setup and Pippa’s backstory, since that was the part inspired by Mansfield Park, and I haven’t had a chance yet to work much with the hero of the piece. But here’s what I know so far:

Post Captain Quinton “Quin” Ryles met Nicholas Stanhope ten years ago when both were young lieutenants in the Royal Navy who’d just signed on to the HMS Conqueror under Captain Israel Pellew. Within days, they were good friends. Within months, having survived the Battle of Trafalgar (October 1805), they were as close as brothers. On their return to England, Nicholas invited Quin to visit his sister in Devonshire on their leave. While he thought Pippa, just fifteen at the time, was pretty, she seemed a bit high in the instep for his liking and thought the family she stayed with had had a very bad influence on someone who could have been a pleasant girl.

Now, in 1815, with Waterloo behind them and the rank of Post Captain attained, Nicholas will be heading to the Caribbean and South America, while Quin’s ship has been assigned to the North American Station, with its command post being the Royal Naval Dockyard at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Quin is tasked with transporting the new commander of the North American Station—the fleet that patrols the Northern Atlantic from Greenland south to Bermuda. But before they leave, they have a few weeks on shore while their ships are refitted and supplied. So when Admiral Stanhope returns from Devonshire with Pippa, since Quin is staying as a guest in the Stanhopes’ rented house, he and Pippa are naturally thrown together.

Character Casting
You may find this hard to believe, but at this point, the only one of the characters I’ve cast so far is Pippa’s brother, Nicholas:

Richard Madden as Capt. Nicholas Stanhope

Richard Madden as Capt. Nicholas Stanhope

So, yes, I have some serious casting work to do!

But wait! What about that other story idea?
Don’t worry—I haven’t given up on my Matchmakers sequel. I’m still slowly working on that one, too. But it’s been so long since I’ve been this excited about multiple story ideas that I feel like I need to work on them whenever the fervor is there and I’m excited about it.

Amazon Is Turning 20; or, My Life in my Amazon Order History

Thursday, July 16, 2015

For those of us who did most of our “growing up” prior to the internet age, it’s often times hard to remember (a) how in the heck we managed to live before it and (b) just how long it really has been around.

That’s why, when I started receiving notifications of specials “just for Prime users!” surrounding Amazon’s 20th anniversary (yesterday was their official birthday), it freaked me out a little bit that they’d actually been around since I was 24 years old. When I was 24, I was still living with my parents in the Washington DC area and had had AOL, and an email address and what limited internet access there was in 1995, for less than a year. In April 1996, when I struck out on my own and moved to Nashville, I “upgraded” from AOL to a local (?) ISP using Eudora Mail and Netscape (anyone here old enough to remember those?). Things changed rapidly over the next few years, and by the end of the 20th century, I had Bellsouth’s super-fast dial-up and was rockin’ and rollin’ in the new internet age. And that’s where my sixteen-year-long relationship with Amazon comes in.

(And I know this is probably of no interest to anyone but me, but it was very interesting to go back and be able to pinpoint what I’d been doing in my life in each of these sixteen years, just by seeing what I’d purchased on Amazon.)

1999 # of orders: 5
1999 # of items: 11

Even though Amazon opened up (virtual)shop in 1995, I didn’t hear about it for several years. And it wasn’t until it had been around several years that I was brave enough to try it. My very first orders?
Amazon 1999

Two vintage books that completed a series I’d picked up in my ’tween years (and those were vintage even then), and two Star Wars Extended Universe books. A month later, I’d pick up the first three books in the X-Wing series (more Star Wars) and then, in the fall, a couple of books by Ann Radcliffe for my Enlightenment Literature course my first semester back in college. That was also the first year that I used Amazon for Christmas-gift shopping.

The 2000s
Reviewing my purchase history over the next several years, it was great insight not only into my own reading and music preferences, but a great way of tracking the ages of my niece (born in 1995) and nephews (born in 1999, 2002, 2003) by the gifts I purchased for them for birthdays and Christmases.

2000 # of orders: 14
2000 # of items: 34

Orders of note: some classic children’s storybooks (The Story of Ferdinand and Corduroy) as gifts for my niece; Encyclopedia Brown books for my sister’s birthday; some Lori Copeland, Stephanie Grace Whitson, and Tracie Peterson books for me; and several Southern Gospel CDs for my mom.

2001 # of orders: 29
2001 # of items: at least 47
(4 orders wouldn’t load correctly)
This was the year I ordered all of Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series, a lot more Tracie Peterson books, and started venturing out into non-book/music items, like a car charger for my cell phone and a fondue pot for my sister for Christmas. It’s also the first year I ever sent anyone Amazon gift certificates.
Read more…


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