Tag Archives: internet

The Writer as Technician

We have all read books where the writer pays absolutely no attention to economy and effectiveness – where wordiness offenses are just as egregious as extra strokes in a bad painting. In fact, I apologize for using that big word in the last sentence. It simply means terrible. My wife just finished a book that a respected friend had suggested. Half way through, she told me it was an egregious (sorry…) read in terms of the lengthy and convoluted passages describing feelings, emotions, snarky moods, blue funks, etc. She read a passage to me and I agreed. I have experienced similar exasperations (discomforts) with authors who use buckets of adjectives to describe scenes – evidently feeling this will make their work more “literary” – even as a golfer who can’t keep his elbows in thinks that a new iron will cure his slice.

William Zinsser, the fine author and editor, warned against this. He would know. Mr. Zinsser edited stuff for John Updike when he was on the New Yorker staff. He is an expert on writing well, and in fact wrote a book titled (check this): “On Writing Well.” One of his suggestions I particularly like is “Make things easy for your readers!” I’m not sure that quote is exact, but it is close enough (You should make things easy on yourself, too).

I took that quote(?) to heart. Consider those long, wordy descriptions of scenes or characters. Why are they necessary when the internet gives us resources never before available to writers? Google! Wikipedia! I made up my mind that I was going to write a piece of hot fiction that would cut right to the chase in scene after scene and leave the glossy descriptions to people who knew the subjects better than I did. Here’s a sample:

“Harry finished his third scotch, pushed his little tray up and tightened his seatbelt as the plane slowly descended into the greasy murk of LaGuardia. The New York City skyline (http://www.ny-chamber.com) and the intoxicating bustle of the big cityusually excited him, but there was too much on his mind now. Would she be waiting at the gate to meet him? Would she exude the warmth he was hoping for, or would she be as cold as a frozen daiquiri (http://www.chow.com/recipes/10230-classic-frozen-daiquiri)? Tonight would be the night. She’d accept his explanation and apology for his wine-fueled and ill-considered hot tub cootchy coo with Cynthia – or she would be off to Atlantic City to join the oily Faro dealer who always reminded Harry of Snidely Whiplash (http://bullwinkle.toonzone.net/snidely.htm).”

 Look, nobody is going to wordsmith New York City better than its Chamber of Commerce and I could try all night to describe Rocky and Bullwinkle characters to you – but to what effect? Admit it – you want me to get on to the airport showdown or the murder – or the flashback to the hot tub and the hanky panky. Right?

 I was never very good at metaphors, similes and analogies anyway; and now the digital age has bailed me out. Where is the craft in that, you ask? Listen, some chamber flack spent long hours gilding Gotham’s polluted lily; a mixologist labored for hours perfecting the perfect daiquiri; some underpaid commercial artist knocked considerable polish off his skills to turn in a cartoon that put another tank of gas in his jitney – the better to make the rounds of clients and plead – nay, beg – that they make no more cuts in this year’s marketing budget.

 I couldn’t sleep nights if I insisted on trying to replace their selfless efforts with my own attempts at “literary” prose. I am never going to touch Joyce Carol Oates at that game, anyway. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” says Morelly, and I concur. I badly need descriptive help, and Google has got the goods!

 Chuck Thurston

cthurston@ctc.net

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Connections

By Laura S. Wharton, Author of The Pirate’s Bastard and Leaving Lukens

I struggle with internet connection at my rural home. Some days, I can get online easily. Other days, I feel like I’m standing on a hill far, far away from civilization trying to decide whether sending smoke signals would be better than using a mega horn to get my message across. Some days, I have a connection before it’s dropped … never to be made again while I’m sitting in front of the computer, trying my level best to get messages out.

We’ve switched cables, computers, internet providers … everything imaginable except our location. Still, the lack of connection goes on (or off, depending on your point of view), and with the current economic conditions, we certainly won’t be able to move anytime soon to get better, or more constant, connections. So what’s a writer to do, besides having another cup of tea, hoping that “eventually” the connection will come back? Short of packing up my laptop and going to a wifi hotspot, not much.

Since I have a good deal of down time waiting for internet connection, this issue naturally leads me to think about connections writers make with readers in stories. My father says he’s watched books transform from “who-done-it” to “where-done-it” stories – focusing so much on place, on description of flora fauna, or surroundings, or what the victim wore on the night of the murder. He points out that if all the adjectives were taken out of current books, there might be four words left to tell the story. I suppose that’s okay, as long as those remaining four words actually do the job of 70,000 plus words and connect with the reader for a memorable experience. But which four words would work? It depends on the kind of connection a writer wants with a reader.

I’m guilty of putting a great deal of emphasis on a story’s place. In The Pirate’s Bastard, the tale is set in colonial coastal North Carolina. A tale of history, piracy, blackmail, and ships, what resonates most with reviewers is the lush emerald green marsh grass from which the lead character Edward Marshall takes his name when he comes to the new world, escaping his past and his pirate father’s deeds. Readers also comment on the way I’ve described the grounds and waters near the grand mansion that Orton Plantation was going to be, where Edward served as an agent for the wealthy land owner.

In Leaving Lukens, I set out to write an adventure story filled with a little romance. According to my editor, it’s a romance filled with lots of action. I could connect with readers on the romance level, or the action level. The place connection could be strong, too, since the story is set in the small North Carolina village of Lukens on the opposite shore from Oriental and features New Bern prominently. But what about the history angle? That might be the greatest connection with readers. It’s honestly my favorite part of the story. The impact of World War II was felt hard along our coast: German U-boats sank many American tankers filled with goods bound for England in the lend-lease program. Oil, debris, and even sailors’ bodies littered our otherwise pristine beaches. The black stench of war hung in the coastal air for days after a sinking, according to eyewitness accounts. Pleasure boat-building companies stepped up their production capabilities to supply minesweepers and other ships for the war effort. And little towns like New Bern swelled with military men, or vanished from existence thanks to the “last straw” effect of a war like no other.

My characters experience all this (and so much more) in Leaving Lukens. I wonder how the story will connect with readers and reviewers when the book comes out this fall? Assuming I get a connection today, I’ll upload this blog posting, and look forward to the feedback readers might offer.

Laura S. Wharton is the author of The Pirate’s Bastard and the upcoming novel, Leaving Lukens. Learn more about her and her work at http://www.LauraWhartonBooks.com, http://www.LauraWharton.blogspot.com, or connect with her at http://www.twitter.com/LauraSWharton

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Don’t Let Regency Intimidate

The following appears on page one, chapter one, of Connie Brockway’s The Golden Season: “Ecru-fluted silk trimmed the emerald green pelisse covering her elegant and well-curved figure, while her shimmering burnt-caramel colored curls peeked out from beneath a spring bonnet bedecked with feathers, fronds, and flowers.”

Such a well-timed and apt description throws a reader pell-mell down the Regency well and, with a bit of determination, a writer can keep a reader immersed. Notice I said ‘bit.’

I do not yet consider myself an expert on the Regency era. I cannot name every Napoleonic battle and I cannot name which British crops were exported during those years. But I don’t let that stop me from writing about my favorite era. After all, a romance novel isn’t a history book. It merely requires a smattering of well-placed, Regency-based descriptions. The plot, the sexy hero and the feisty heroine are the true hooks. The Regency details work to keep the story three-dimensional and believable.

Often, the challenge is more about what wording to avoid. No reader wants to be tossed from century to century as they read. Such jolts might cause a reader to stop reading mid-story. For instance, a Regency hero would never use the “F” word. Instead, he’d say “bloody hell” when properly miffed. A heroine would never say, “Sure!” in response to a desirable dance request. Rather, she would say something along the lines of, “I would be delighted, my lord.” A Regency lady does not wear an overcoat. For her, it’s a pelisse, cloak, or spencer—none of which keep her very warm. And while a Lady’s blush can be seen on her neck, a Lord’s flush would not be visible there, since his cravat thoroughly covers his neck.

So, how does one go about “Regencifying” their story enough to make it believable?

One of the most important things to do is to read a lot of good Regency. Jane Austen doesn’t describe clothing very often, but her Regency dialog is—of course—the real thing. Georgette Heyer might as well have lived in the era. Her Regency romances were published more than a hundred years after Austen’s, but she is an expert on the times, and her books make for excellent research.

Take notes while you read. Write down the stunning clothing descriptions and vehicle technicalities—not to copy them, but to learn from them. And if you pay enough attention, you won’t make the mistake of writing about a wager made on a barouche race (although that might be something a man trying to grab a lot of attention might do). If you’re a more visual person, watch movies instead of opening the books. Jot down your notes while watching Emma, Pride and Prejudice, or Persuasion (all easily borrowed at the local library).

Keep organized lists of words like cloak-bag, rake (not the lawn tool), and ton (not the weight measurement). Also write down key phrases like “a child in short petticoats” and “bowed himself out with a flourish” and “every article of furniture in the room, from the sideboard to the fender.” Make notes about who rides in what, what piece of furniture goes where, and who wears what. Then you can easily insert selected details into your stories as needed, to keep the Regency flavor intact.

Internet research, both fun and frustrating, is a priceless resource. If you’re looking for broad information, the surfing process is wonderful. Particular details are sometimes a more challenging find. Web sites about English titles of nobility quickly taught me that a Duke outranks an Earl and an Earl outranks a Baron. But when I wanted a specific question answered: “Are a son and a father ever called the same name while both are alive, since sons are often called ‘Lord’ out of courtesy?” I had to dig. The answer, by the way, is no. Only the father would be called, for example, Lord Berkeley; anyone referencing the son would add the son’s first name: Lord Robert Berkeley. The peerage is tedious, but it’s a must-know if you’re going to write Regency, so you simply have to grit your teeth and learn it.

Newgate Prison features prominently in my first novel, Love Trumps Logic, but those scenes initially stalled my writing, since I couldn’t visualize what I was writing about. But a Google search of ‘Newgate Prison,’ led me to an actual layout of the jail in the early 1800s. I dug deeper and found a site that taught me the difference between keepers and turnkeys, constables and thief takers, putting an end to my writer’s block.

Since you cannot plagiarize the clothes descriptions you’ve catalogued, a bit of Internet research comes in handy, determining which fabrics and accessories were used.  Muslin, satin, wool, lace, and velvet are all acceptable, but you won’t find nylon or denim in the Regency period. Buttons were often made of pearl or bone, never plastic. Also, the unmarried young ladies were expected to wear pastels or white. The darker colors were considered more sophisticated and were off-limits to the debutantes. Such tidbits about clothing I found at http://www.rakehell.com.

For those who are members of Romance Writers of America, another Web site for Regency information is http://www.thebeaumonde.com. Join for $35, renew yearly at $30.

A source that I reference often is a book, English Through the Ages, by William Brohaugh. This book gives dates of the first recorded use of more than 50,000 words. Wondering if a word was used back in Regency days? Look it up. If the index directs you to a page that falls after page 208, then the word is too new. I wish I could say that it works as well in reverse, that if you’re trying to find good Regency words to describe ladies underwear it will easily guide you, but it doesn’t. If you have the time, though, it’s a fascinating way to get comfortable with words that are acceptable and might add interest to your story. Some words might surprise: ‘MC’ was first recorded in 1790, and ‘kudos’ was in use by 1800. Thingamabob was in use by 1770, thingummy by 1800 and thingamajig by 1830 (so the last one should not be found in a Regency book).

Another book that’s useful to have is James Trager’s The People’s Chronology: A Year-by-Year Record of Human Events from Prehistory to the Present. Research the book to find events that happened during the Regency period. Insert some of them into your Regency novel to make it that much stronger. Certain tidbits can even inspire plot points. For instance, in 1818, a London surgeon performed the first successful human blood transfusion using a syringe. Such knowledge could perhaps make for an interesting duel outcome.

The most important thing is to write what you love. I couldn’t spend so much time researching the Regency era if I wasn’t fascinated by it.

Lucy Balch

Love Trumps Logic

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I See You

Research is a big part of my life and finding information on any topic under the sun is sometimes more fun for me than actually using that information in one of my stories.

 

Curiosity fuels my mini obsession. Just the other night, a conversation with a friend sparked a hunt for another mutual friend we had both lost touch with. Imagine our surprise when we found out this friend, who had been such a fashion-king in high school, is now a professional clown. Life certainly is ironic.

 

Everything you need to know is sitting out there just waiting for you to pick it up. With the Internet, information is a mere keystroke away. What is really astounding with the Internet is the amount of information you can find on almost anyone.

 

Unless you are living way under the radar, you have a trail that anyone with a bit of mad research skills can find. Public court records are a major source for tracking someone down. If you know their name and address, you can find out how bad they have been.

 

In lieu of court records, online newspapers archives are a rich source for the curious seeker. Internet search engines (Google is my favorite) will hook you up with just about anyone or anything. It astounded me that there were over 4500 references with my real name and over 1700 with my 1-year old pen name.

 

The bonanza for the info-digger is an obscure political contribution site I stumbled upon a few years ago. Just out of curiosity (my bane), I wondered how many of the Fortune 500 had contributed and who they had contributed to. Imagine my surprise when a number of these records contained home addresses. The only thing stopping someone from abusing this information is the real legal threat of fines and jail time. It’s okay to look, but don’t touch.

 

How can you really get into your novel when you are writing about places you have never been? Research helps, of course, but the gold ribbon goes to Google Earth. Type in any location and you can pull up a satellite view of the place. If you’re really lucky, you can also get a street view that puts you right there with a 360 degree angle.

 

If the information you need is not out there, then find a source as close to what you need as you can get. After that, it’s time for your imagination to kick in gear. Just like every myth or urban legend has a grain of truth, imaginative writing needs that little nugget of truth-based fact to be believable in the eyes of the reader.

 

The need to know about the world around you is crucial to writing. With just an Internet connection, a little imagination, and some mad research skills, you can find whatever treasure you are searching for.

 

J J Dare is the author of “False Positive” and “False World,”

the first two novels in the Joe Daniels’ trilogy

 

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Stories Are as Necessary to Us as Love

Ever since humans first noticed they were different from the other creatures, they (we) have been trying to figure out what specific quality sets us apart. Opposable thumbs? Awareness of self? Awareness of death? It can’t be; other creatures share, or at least seem to share those characteristics.

From the beginning, as humans huddled around the fire, they exchanged stories, and the best storytellers were revered. That is the one trait we humans alone have: the ability to tell and appreciate stories. Stories are our foundation, as necessary to us as love. Stories help us figure out who we are as individuals, and who we are as a people. Stories take us away from our problems, yet they also help us solve them.

We cry at the misfortunes of people we’ve never met, people who never were, people who seem more real to us at times than our own families. And we rejoice in the successes of those story people as if they were our own successes.

With all our sophistication and technology today, we haven’t come far from our primitive beginnings. Where once we huddled as a group around flickering fires, we now huddle singly before our flickering screens, but the need, the basic human need for stories is the same.

With the internet, we all have a chance to reach others with our vision of the world, with our interpretation of it.

There is satisfaction in that, though, to be honest, getting paid is even more satisfying.

Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One,  and A Spark of Heavenly Fire now available from Second Wind Publishing, LLC.

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Pens, Paper, and Word – Oh, My

An unprecedented event happened two days ago that made me realize how dependent I am on my technology.

I live in the Deep South, nestled in a small town above a warm lake fed by the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Our inclement weather usually involves hurricanes and thunderstorms. Most of the time, we coast through the winter complaining that it’s never really winter weather down here during the cold months of the year.

Many a winter holiday, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, see the Deep South populace roaming around in shorts and t-shirts. The most snow that we might see every decade or two would be around a half-inch that quickly melts as soon as the sun rises.

Not this year. Yesterday, December 11, 2008, my daughter called me at six-thirty in the morning to tell me it was snowing. Expecting to see a light dusting of white on the ground, I was stunned to see three inches of snow already with more coming down. Before the day’s end, I had seven inches of snow in my yard.

Excitement quickly turned to dismay with the cracking sounds of snow-laden limbs falling from trees in the neighborhood. In the white stillness, the sounds echoed like rifle shots.

Shortly afterward, the electricity went out. Now, I’m used to the electricity going out during hurricane season, but not during the winter months. This is not supposed to happen, especially when I am trying to finish writing my latest book.

Although I have access to power and Internet right now at my daughter’s apartment, I will have to go home eventually to a darkened and cold house devoid of power and heat.

I realized how very dependent I am on technology. I rely on Word to help correct my erratic spelling errors and I depend on the Internet for research pertaining to my writing.

Most of all, I need power to keep the laptop going so that I can write. It has been a very long time since I have had to write the old-fashioned way. I am not sure if I have a notebook to write in and I do not know if I even have a pen that is not dried up and useless.

Over the last twenty-four hours, I have come to appreciate the authors before me who wrote lengthy novels with only pen and paper or, in older times, quill, ink, and parchment.

J J Dare is the author of “False Positive” and “False World,”

the first two novels in the Joe Daniels’ trilogy

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The Big Picture

I want to share a little of what it’s like to be a part of Second Wind Publishing. We are so much more than a group of authors who share the same publisher. We are a collective bargaining team. We make decisions together and discuss options in our own private group. We read over each other’s work and share ideas on covers, plots, storylines. We each blog here and have input on our website. We swap marketing ideas and cross link to our personal websites. We share stories about our children, our jobs, our hopes, and disappointments. Second Wind isn’t a faceless corporation where the shareholders are raking in the dough and paying out overinflated royalties. We are small, friendly, and working for ourselves as well as each other.

Since we are the “little guys”, it’s up to us to promote ourselves and support each other. If you have a moment, go check the website to see what’s new. You may discover your next favorite author!

www.secondwindpublishing.com

 

Claire Collins

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