Sunday, September 14, 2014

Advice from Theodore Roosevelt!

In honor of the Roosevelt documentary that began tonight on PBS, I found a quote by Teddy that applies to writers struggling to get their thoughts on paper (or computer screens).

"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst this you can do is nothing."

Theodore Roosevelt

Write soon, (and don't worry if it's the right thing!)


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Horner's Law of pre-press blindness

I’ll never forget a phone call I received a few days after the magazine I worked on was delivered to its subscribers. A woman’s voice asked me if I had read the issue she just received. Now, as managing editor, I read everything cover to cover, more than once, mind you, and many articles five or more times throughout the publication process. I wanted to answer her question in numerous ways that were neither professional nor courteous, but alas, I refrained. I told her that I had.

She proceeded to tell me about an error on page 47, and I was mortified and embarrassed and I thanked her for her call and told her I would look into it and run a correction if necessary. When I hung up the phone I cursed a blue streak, followed by an afternoon of self-loathing accompanied by feelings of worthlessness, which were somewhat diluted later that evening with alcohol.

The funny thing is, my boss wasn’t upset, and said we could run a correction, and reminded me that overall we had had very few mistakes. I was proud of my relatively “clean” record, but it took just one little error to throw me into a tailspin. Even as I sit here writing this years later, I still feel frustrated. What could I have done to catch it? Why hadn’t I read that article one more time?  

I’m feeling that same frustration now as the second printing of my book “Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing” is just around the corner. I’ve worked with my publisher, Lou Turner of High Hill Press, to correct some minor errors and update information about search engines that no longer exist (good-bye Alta Vista!).

For me, those are easy fixes, and I like doing them. I’ve worked in publishing for many years, and have written and edited hundreds of articles and chapters. But it’s still frustrating that I can miss something on the galleys, or proofs, only to find it EASILY once it comes out in print. Why is that, anyway? 

Let’s call it Horner’s law of pre-press blindness (PPB). It’s a thing, now, and it has a name. Since the first step is to admit the problem, now all we need is an awareness campaign and a fundraiser. How about we discuss this at happy hour, and although we may not find a cure, we can offer support and refills. And if you can't come to the meeting, then share your stories here so I don't have to suffer alone!

Write soon,

Monday, September 1, 2014

Book marketing challenge in September

It’s a difficult task for many writers to market their work. Between social media and speaking engagements, how does a writer get the most return for his or her time and money? Follow this link to find out more, and let me know what you are doing to market you work!

Write (and market) soon!


Sunday, August 3, 2014

First Lines

"Hello, my name is Mary Horner, and today I am going to address how to begin your article." That sentence is the equivalent of an author beginning his or her novel with “Hello, my name is Nora Novelist, and today I am going to tell you the story of my main character, Gretchen, heir to a peanut fortune, and her struggle to overcome an addiction to peanut butter while falling in love with a six-toed man with a nut allergy."

Those sentences aren't terrible, but not effective because they do nothing to move along the story or article. They don’t help the reader get involved in the story and want to stay there. 

Jane Henderson, book review editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, spoke recently to Saturday Writers and advised writers not to back into a story. What she meant by that is don't start somewhere else before getting to the story. She believes that if you are telling a story about someone traveling down a river, don’t start with the history of the entire region before getting to the river. Start with the story of traveling down the river, and then, if it’s pertinent, bring in the history of the region as it unfolds naturally. 

She said that in some cases, she can chop off the first paragraph of a book review because it doesn’t say anything about the book. It’s like my old habit of “But first, … “ when I want to tell you some background before I get to the story. But I don’t have to do that. When I start telling the story at a logical place, the audience will get it.

I love Stephen King’s thoughts on this topic, who said, in The Atlantic, “A book won't stand or fall on the very first line of prose -- the story has got to be there, and that's the real work. And yet a really good first line can do so much to establish that crucial sense of voice -- it's the first thing that acquaints you, that makes you eager, that starts to enlist you for the long haul. So there's incredible power in it, when you say, come in here. You want to know about this. And someone begins to listen.”

So don’t throw away that first line’s potential with something that doesn’t work. Take some time to develop the story and the characters, and perhaps something great will pop that makes you realize you couldn’t start anywhere else.

Write soon,

Here’s the article with King’s quote:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tell me something about yourself

In speech class, I encourage my students to share something about themselves in their speeches. What I mean is that instead of giving a speech full of facts and statistics, connect the speaker to the audience through self-disclosure. Telling a pertinent story about yourself in a speech may tell us why you care about your subject, which, in turn, makes us care. Stories that expose our vulnerabilities can connect us on a level with which we may not be fully aware.

The rewards can be great, but sometimes speakers and writers can be hesitant to “let it all hang out.” There is no right or wrong as to what to reveal and what not to reveal, and everyone has to make their own decisions. I am comfortable telling my students some of the errors or embarrassing incidents that have happened to me, and they laugh, and I think it helps give them permission to not worry about being perfect, and it connects us. But there is a risk when it comes to self-disclosure, so there are a few stories that I will never share, and that’s OK. I have enough embarrassing moments to go around, so I’m not worried about keeping some to myself.

In an interview on NPR with Walter Kirn, author of eight books, including Up in the Air, he said writers try to “build bridges between the parts of people’s selves that are hidden from people’s social lives.” He once had an editor who told him that people don’t want to hear how handsome he is or how well he does, they want to hear about screw ups and embarrassing habits -- those are the things we all have in common.

Let’s celebrate our imperfections and share who we (or our characters) really are, to strengthen our writing, and connect us. 

Write soon,

Monday, June 16, 2014

Interview with Margo Dill, author of Caught Between Two Curses

Margo Dill's newest book!

I just finished reading Margo Dill’s new book, Caught Between Two Curses, that’s so much fun you have to read it! I invited Margo to my blog because I had so many questions about her book and the writing.

The story is revolves around seventeen-year-old Julie Nigelson and a curse put on her family. And it's not just any-curse – it’s strangely connected to the famous "Curse of the Billy Goat" on the Chicago Cubs. Julie must figure out this mystery while her uncle lies in a coma and her entire love life is in ruins: her boyfriend Gus is pressuring her to have sex, while her best friend Matt is becoming more attractive. Somehow, Julie must figure out how to save her uncle, her family's future, and her own love life before time runs out!

MH: I think most people are familiar with the curse of the Cubs, but how did you come up with the idea to incorporate that into a book for young adults?
MD: I wanted to explore the idea that some people survive accidents or tragedies, and that others don't, for a reason. When I created Julie, she survived a fire that her parents didn't, and I wanted her to have a REALLY IMPORTANT destiny to fulfill. I wanted it to be important to her family (thus I created the curse on her family that she has to break) and to her community, which is Chicago (thus the Chicago Cubs curse). I got the idea to use the Chicago Cubs curse in 2003 when Steve Bartman interfered with a foul ball and everyone blamed him for the Cubs failure to make the World Series. Although we all know--it was the Curse of the Billy Goat. At the same time a news story was broadcast about a little girl who survived a car crash that her parents hadn't. In my brain, the two mixed together and out came this book  (after about 100 revisions). 

MH: What are some of the challenges of writing for this age group?
MD:  think the biggest challenge is that I'm no longer a teen. So, I have to read a lot of current young adult, and I have to find my inner teen voice. I also think that teens are very critical or very passionate. They either love something or hate it--there's not a huge in-between. It's also hard to get your book seen when there are such HUGE books in this genre, such as Twilight, Hunger Games, Divergent, The Fault In Our Stars, etc.

MH: I know there has been some talk online about the sexual aspect of teens in your book. Why did you decide to address it in this manner for your book?
MD: It's one of the biggest issues teens face today--and I mean it's been faced for as long as teens have been dating. I had to face it. My friends' kids are facing it. My kids (I HATE TO THINK OF IT) will have to also. So many adults say that YA lit is trash--the characters are all drinking and sleeping with each other. This is actually not true. I think YA lit is very realistic--some kids are doing it in books; some are not. Many are struggling with these issues. I wanted Julie to struggle with what was right for her--not anyone else. At this point in her life, she wants to wait until she's married. She's not overly religious, but she's not ready for sex. She loves Gus and is attracted to him, but she's scared. I believe that MANY GIRLS feel this way, and so I thought if they read about a girl like Julie, they could see how she handled the issue. 

MH: The pace of the book is great, it moves along quickly with short chapters and a compelling story. Can you share any writing tips for the rest of us who struggle with pacing?
MD: I like short chapters because I read a lot before I go to bed and like to try to read at least a chapter. Sometimes I'm so tired that's hard to do. I wrote my book the way I like to read books--short chapters. I try to end on a hook at the end of a chapter, so that hopefully helps the pacing. The hook gets readers to turn the page to the next chapter. I also tried to have several sub-plots to keep the muddy middle from being too muddy and keep flowing.

MH: What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
MD: It's a fun book! So, the cast of characters was really fun to maneuver and manipulate around, especially Grandma, Julie and Matt. I loved incorporating baseball into the book, too, because I have grown up all my life with stories, stats, and scores from my dad, which he got from his dad. Also, creating a curse is exciting--I could create whatever I wanted and also HOW to break it. My book, my rules, my curse! HA!
MH: What are you working on now?

MD: I'm working on two things. I'm ALMOST DONE with a middle-grade contemporary humorous mystery about a super sleuth who has trouble solving a mystery that happens to him. He can't see past the fact that he thinks his sister stole his trophy, and so his super sleuth skills are lacking. It's about sibling rivalry, family relationships, peer pressure, peer approval and solving mysteries. In the rough draft stage, I am working on a contemporary young adult novel about what happens to two male teens after their fathers are involved in a shooting in a local pharmacy--one boy is the shooter's son; the other is the son of a police officer who is shot.
MH: Thanks for the great info, Margo!

Margo L. Dill is a children's author, freelance editor, and workshop leader living in St. Louis, Missouri. She is also the author of the historical fiction middle-grade novel, Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg (White Mane Kids, 2012) and the forthcoming picture books, Maggie Mae, Detective Extraordinaire and the Case of the Missing Cookies, and Lucy and the Red Ribbon Week Adventure. Caught Between Two Curses is her first young adult novel. She promises that she is a Cardinals' fan at heart, but the Billy Goat Curse on the Chicago Cubs was too irresistible a plot line to resist. 

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