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Category Archives: readers

Catchphrases

What makes a catchphrase?

The dictionary definition is:  1) a phrase that attracts or is meant to attract attention. 2) a phrase, as a slogan, that comes to be widely and repeatedly used, often with little of the original meaning remaining.

I came across a list of “TV’s 60 Greatest Catchphrases” and looking at them out of context, how on earth did they become so engrained in our popular culture? I think the answer is the “context.” We attach significance to programs we watch that we enjoy, usually more than one time.

When we write, we try to make every word count, but I’m sure our readers like some passages/scenes more than others. It’s what makes writing challenging. Reaching out to readers and making their experience enjoyable. I hope they would read my books more than once.

Below are a few of my personal favorites. Click on the link above for all of those on the list.

1. “Heeeere’s…Johnny!” Ed McMahon hailed the arrival of Johnny Carson from behind the Tonight Show curtain for 30 years and it never got old. Just ask Jack Nicholson.

2. “Yada, yada, yada.” The ultimate show about nothing gave us more than its fair share of catchphrases, but this Seinfeld signature uttered by Elaine to gloss over a bad date and favored by George’s felonious girlfriend is still really something.

3. “And that’s the way it is.” Long before the advent of cable news, revered newsman Walter Cronkite closed his nightly broadcast with these iconic words. And we understood we’d just seen and heard everything we needed to know.

4. “It’s gonna be legen — wait for it — dary.” He’s a one-man one-liner machine, but our favorite Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) quote on How I Met Your Mother brilliantly captures his bro-vado.

Other favorites of mine (by older decades)

“Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!” — Adventures of Superman
“The thrill of victory and the agony of ¬defeat.” — Jim McKay, Wide World of Sports
“Ruh-roh!” — Astro, The Jetsons
“This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.” — Mission: Impossible
“Live long and prosper.” — Spock, Star Trek
“Who loves ya, baby?” — Kojak, Kojak
“Let’s be careful out there.” — Esterhaus, Hill Street Blues
“Make it so.” — Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation
“Resistance is futile.” — The Borg, Star Trek: The Next Generation

And then there’s is the movies…

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” — Rhett in Gone With The Wind

“I’ll be back.” — Terminator

And, so on.

Check out the list and see if your favorites are in the list and let us know which ones. Or, if there is a catchphrase you didn’t find but love, share it with us.

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17 Comments

Posted by on October 10, 2013 in Popular Culture, readers, writers, writing

 

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Note to Self: The Scenic Route is Slow

My daughter and I are on a road trip to the Oregon coast this week. I grew up in mountains and rivers, so I’m not one of those people who yearns for the coast. But I confess, it is a delightful escape from temperatures in the high 90s and fiery smoke-filled air in Boise.

We took a route getting to our favorite coastal spot that we haven’t taken before. So we had no idea what to expect. One road we took looked shorter on the map, but when we turned onto it, the sign indicated it was a “Scenic Byway.” Now, I’ve been around the bend enough times to know that translates as “Slow. Enter only if you time.” Fortunately, we did.

It occurred to me that this is a good metaphor for the way I write. Mostly slowly. Taking lots of time. Enjoying the view. I know others who proceed in a very methodical, planned way, but I tend to turn onto a road and see what it’s like.

My writing process usually looks something like this:

First, the idea hits. I avoid the urge (mostly out of the wisdom of having spent years jumping on each new idea only to have it go nowhere) to start writing. If an idea sticks with me for several months, I know it’s a keeper. I let the idea percolate in my mind, letting details and characters develop, almost as if in utero. Slowly.

Once I am ready to write, I don’t create and outline or a plan. That’s not my style. I often have an idea of the overall arc of the story I’m looking at, which is one reason I let it go through the percolating process. I jump in and start my first draft, following my main character wherever he/she leads me. Sometimes we take detours that don’t really add to the plot, but that I maybe needed to write in order to know something I need to know. I write the first draft all the way through without revising. I know people who revise as they go, but I like to keep my momentum going forward.

Once I have a first draft, I begin showing the manuscript to other readers, such as my trusted and fantastic critique group. (Note: all authors should have a critique group, or at least a few trusted readers who will give you a thorough critique.) I make notes as they critique and they usually write comments on the manuscript. Plus, I generally have a lot of my own changes I want to make. It might take me up to a year to go through a revision. Slowly. I let the story live in my head again, pondering moments that don’t seem to work until a solution comes to me. I write a lot of new scenes, expand scenes that I rushed through in the first draft, and delete a LOT of scenes, or even entire chapters. Sometimes entire characters. To me, one of the most important revision tools is the willingness to cut stuff out. Or “kill your darllings,” as we often hear at writing workshops.

I am not a fast writer. Which isn’t a problem for me. I’m not in a hurry to get to a final destination. I have that luxury at the moment. Several of my published friends live by deadlines and frequently feel pressured to the point of ineptitude. I don’t mind writing to deadlines for short pieces, but I think (ask me later if I still feel this way) the blessing of being “pre-published” in the book industry is that I can take all the time I need. I have several manuscripts that I have done this way, and I’ve noticed the process gets more efficient all the time. What used to take years I can now do in months. I can see more readily what needs to be changed.

This didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t learn it all at one weekend workshop. I have learned my style and my craft through long, slow years of trying, failing, trying again. Learning each step of the way. There is always something around the next bend, but you have to drive slowly enough to see it.

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2013 in readers, Revising, writing, writing craft, writing slow

 

Tips for Submitting Manuscripts for Professional Critiques

In a workshop I took last fall, Heather Petty, a very wise author, shared some tips for submitting queries and manuscripts. One of her tips appeared numerous times: follow the submission guidelines. It’s so important, she repeated it.

I found out recently just how annoying it is when authors don’t follow submission guidelines. Our SCBWI region is hosting an event we’re calling The Great Critique, and I asked authors to submit their manuscripts via email as an attachment, in either a pdf or doc format. Most of them got it right. A few put the text of their manuscript in the body of the email. Some sent me a link to google docs for theirs. A few asked who to mail it to.

Since some of these manuscripts were going to agents and editors for paid critiques, it was pretty important that they be correctly formatted. And I asked the authors to resubmit them correctly.

But there are other ways authors don’t use their best judgment in submitting for professional critiques. So here are a few random tips from someone who is often sending manuscripts from authors to agents/editors for these kind of paid critiques. It’s not exhaustive, but it should help.

1. Send only your absolutely best work. Not your first draft for sure. And not a draft that your grandchildren really liked. If you have a regular critique group or one or two trusted readers, make sure they’ve seen what you plan to submit before you send it. Then you’ll be sending the best possible work you have. The reasons for this strategy are many. The most important one, I think, is why would you want an editor to associate your name with anything that is sub par? No, said editor is probably not going to offer you a contract based on ten pages she critiques, but if she ever sees your name again, wouldn’t you want that association to be a good one?

2. Follow the standard formatting of manuscripts. These include double-spacing, 12 point type, a normal font (usually Times New Roman), decent margins, and numbered pages. Even if you’re submitting electronically and the agent/editor can manipulate the text on the screen, why make them work harder to read your story? And make sure to use only single spaces after sentences–it’s so annoying to read ten pages thinking the entire time: “one space. One space.” Make sure there are no typos, your dialogue is correctly formatted, and your paragraphs aren’t too long or too short. Show that you are a professional.

3. Know your genres. If you are submitting a picture book text, it better not be 2,500 words. That proves to the editor that you don’t know anything about the current picture book market. If you’re submitting YA, the protagonist darn well better not be 12 years old. If you don’t know what defines a certain genre, then your manuscript is far from ready for a professional critique. You need to do some research, take some classes, join SCBWI or another professional organization, but you aren’t ready for this.

4. You don’t need a cover letter, a note, an explanation, or anything else. If the guidelines ask for a synopsis, it should be one page or less. The same care and attention should go into your synopsis as your manuscript. Most of us find these truly difficult to write, so don’t just dash one off and assume it’s fine. It needs to capture the basic elements of your action plot as well as the emotional plot. All materials not requested just get recycled, so don’t waste the paper.

5. Know whether your manuscript is appropriate for the professional who will be reading it. This is a common issue with agents/editors who speak at conferences. We often invite authors to submit manuscripts for critique when we have an agent/editor speaking at a conference. But not all agents rep all genres, and not all editors acquire all genres. All of these folks have web sites. At the very least, take a look at that before you submit. If you have a picture book, but the critiquer doesn’t do picture books, don’t waste your money. This is clearly not a genre that this person loves, nor is this person going to have much to say that will be useful to your manuscript. Save yours for a chance with a professional who is totally into your genre. At larger conferences, where there are a wide variety of speakers, you might have a better chance at getting connected with a critique in your specific genre.

6. If you are lucky enough to receive the critique in a face to face interaction, be polite, prompt, and open. Don’t argue or get defensive. Let the professional do most of the talking. You want to learn from them. If you are receiving a written critique, read it, then put it away, then read it again in a week. Our natural response it to think they are stupid and totally misread everything we meant. But a week later, our defensiveness has dissipated and we can be more objective. Usually, we see that the agent or editor was spot on.

7. Don’t get the same manuscript critiqued over and over. Most of these kinds of critiques usually want the first 10 or maybe 20 pages. Work on the rest of the manuscript too. Don’t work the opening to death. Each reader is going to have a different opinion, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed and confused when you have too many opinions. If what the first critiquer says make sense to you, then take those suggestions and use them as you revise your entire manuscript.

8. Never forget that some of the best critiquers are right here, your peers and colleagues. Yes, we all value what an agent or editor has to say, but sometimes you will get far more usefulness from peer critiques in a group setting than anywhere else. Don’t discount those valuable fellow authors and their knowledge.

 

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Create Writing Connections

One of the best investments you can make in your own writing career to to attend conferences. Sure, they cost money, and I’m often the first to use no money as an excuse. But it’s money well spent. What business can prosper and survive without investing in it? If you are ready to take your writing seriously enough to invest in yourself, congratulations.

The conference I want to tell you about is our regional SCBWI (that stands for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Boise, Idaho, April 27. You can register for it here. And even if you don’t write or illustrate for children, that’s okay. It will be an awesome conference. Here are a few highlights.

Sare Megibow

Sara Megibow, an agent with Nelson Literary in Denver, will be speaking on a number of topics, including Connecting with Ourselves as well as Choices in Publishing. These will cover flip sides of the coin: turning inward to connect with yourself as a writer, and turning outward to seek out the best route to publish your book.

Karl Jones, an assistant editor and jack of all trades with Grosset and Dunlap (a division of Penguin), will wow us with his techniques in how to pitch your story. Karl tells me he does this on a web channel, and it’s very popular, so I asked him to recreate the experience with us. He’s also got some other magic under wraps for the day.

Karl

In addition, we have Miriam Forster, whose debut novel, City of a Thousand Dolls, came out this past May. I’ve been in critique groups with Miriam, and she is a talented author and delightfully fun person. She will share two of her favorite topics. First, she’s going to wow us with the wonder of How to Connect to Your Reader with Social Media. Miriam is well acquainted with all kinds of social media, and you should be too. Her other talk will be about World Building. In Miriam’s book, she creates an amazing and realistic fantasy world with such subtle skill you hardly even realize it. Learn how to do this in your own writing.Miriam

Author Anne Osterland will be on hand to help us focus on creating awesome characters, plus she will be talking about the small stuff, the details that bring a story to life.

anne

Sherry Meidell, a picture book book illustrator, will offer her insights about what makes a good picture book. Beginners in the children’s lit world often set their sights on picture books, so we have asked Sherry to help answer all the usual questions about how picture books are made and how you write one. Since she’s an illustrator, she’ll have loads of slides to show. I love going to illustrator talks, because I am not a visual artist, and it always amazes me how they think of story in pictures.

sherry

So you have the opportunity, in one day, to learn about:

  • creating intriguing characters
  • building a fantasy world
  • how to use details to bring your writing alive
  • using social media to your advantage to connect with your readers
  • connecting with yourself
  • pitching your ideas
  • making picture books
  • multiple platforms for publishing

And, you’ll meet people with whom you might bounce around ideas or become critique partners. You might talk with Sara at lunch and realize she’s the agent for you. Or you might find out from Karl Jones that his company has work for hire gigs you might like.

For me, one of the best things I get out of conferences, and I’ve been going to them for more than 12 years, is the inspiration. Always, I come away with new ideas, new perspectives, and even new friends. Whether you are a beginning author or and old pro, you never stop needing inspiration and growth. I hope you’ll join us in April.

 

Another Reason to Buy an E-book

Recently, my husband said I should get a new Kindle Fire, the one with the larger screen and the capability to be online anywhere with a reasonable distance to a cell tower. I knew phones could do that, of course, but I didn’t know a tablet could, so in a few days I held one in my hand. The 4G Kindle Fire takes a little time to get used to, at least for me, but once I have it figured out I should be able to do just about anything with it.

At work, I looked for some vocabulary curriculum that I could use with my high school students, and came across a reading comprehension sheet from Read Theory, LLC. The paper didn’t have a title or a mention of the author who wrote it, but it was about books becoming relics, and how e-readers are superior. Obviously it was a persuasion essay, and I’m not here to tell you to throw away your books. I will always love an actual book I can hold in my hand, too.

I have heard several of the author’s arguments before, but one thing really opened my eyes. E-books are environmentally friendly. Of course they are, I have no argument with that. Further he/she stated how many trees it took to print a book.

80,000 pieces of paper in a tree.

If your book is 300 pages long, printed 1000 times, it will take 4 trees.

If your book is a bestseller, selling 20,000 copies a week, it will take over 300 trees per month.

If you are J.K Rowling, with the Harry Potter series, you have sold 450 million copies and have used 2 million trees to print your books.

So, here is another reason to buy E-books. I, personally, love trees and am rethinking the value of a book held in my hand.

http://www.maryvine.com

 
16 Comments

Posted by on March 19, 2013 in 4G Kindle Fire, books, ebook, readers, reading, values

 

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A Kindle Way of Life

012Christmas before last, my husband gave me a Kindle Fire. Sure, I had thought about having an e-reader one day, but I was quite happy with having an actual book in my lap. My dream was always to write a book I could hold in my hands. I’m grateful I got to have just that before we all turn electronic one day.

After making my New Year’s resolution to exercise last year, I noticed that I could multi-task by using my exercise bike and utilize Facebook at the same time. Once I finished checking in, I could read email or an e-book while cycling away. I also use my Kindle to look for information on the internet.  Sometimes, I get quicker results than on my computer.

This past year I had some major editing to do on a manuscript, so I looked for a couple of craft books for inspiration. The two books I chose were available in e-book format, so I opted for the electronic version mainly because of the cheaper price. A nice surprise was that I could lay my small kindle next to my computer instead of two books. I’d zip through the pages of the reader as I worked and my husband got tired of hearing about how convenient this arrangement was.

Several authors have free or discounted e-books so I download them on my Kindle. I get excellent buys on 013books and easily store them on my Kindle, verses filling my already full bookcase or end tables. I like that my books are more affordable as e-books, too.

I look at my pile of magazines and think that I will start ordering them in e-book format, so I won’t have them lying around, and will be at hand on the Kindle I have in my bag when I’m out and about, or travelling to see my family. When I do travel my Kindle is smaller and lighter than my computer, and it is WiFi accessible.

Just before Christmas break, I worked with a high school student who likes to read but struggles with vocabulary/hard words. To help her understand, we looked at the other words in the sentence before and after to help her understand the meaning of the word. Her eyes lit up when I told her that on a Kindle you can touch the word on the page and the meaning comes up.

I love to read to my grandchildren. I started thinking that if I could have my favorite children’s e-books on hand where ever I am, then I’ll always have the opportunity to read to them while not having to carry the copies around.

I found some free and inexpensive children’s e-books. This past Christmas I got a chance to read them to my grandchildren. I did read hard cover books to them while they were here, and it was perfect just before bedtime. Yet, in the living room, I noticed how easy it was to pull the kids into my lap when they were fussing, getting bored, or tired, and open the Kindle Fire and read. The kids and I enjoyed the color pictures and how they slid across the screen. In my opinion, at that moment, they enjoyed the e-book version as much as the hard cover books.

It took me a little while to understand the value of my husband’s gift, but now I consider it to be a gift that keeps on giving.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Blogs, Boise, books, ebook, Family, Idaho, readers, reading, travel

 

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Archetype vs. Cliche

There are some very interesting discussions going on in the comments of this post at Dear Author on “Slut Shaming” in novels written by women. (I’ll get to my actual topic soon, I promise; wait for it!) I recommend that if you write romance or stories with female characters you take a look at that post. It’s thought provoking and some of the comments are even more so, but it’s not what I want to talk about. Rather it prompted me to think, as she was describing some of the things that bother her in romance novels – misogynistic or not, that’s lazy writing.

The characters Jane of Dear Author was describing felt like cliches to me: the hero’s ex-wife who we know is unworthy of him because she sleeps around; the female antagonist who we know not to trust because she flirts with anything in trousers; the co-worker we know is bad at her job because her skirt is too short and she shows too much cleavage to be professional.

Why was my first thought to label those characters with the pejorative “cliche” rather than the more neutral “archetype”? All characters fall, essentially, into archetypes, and really these are just archetypes I’ve seen a lot and don’t particularly enjoy. That doesn’t mean these characters are unrealistic, I’ve met all three of them in real life, but it does mean I roll my eyes when I meet them on the page. A good writer can still make me enjoy those characters, however it takes something special to get me past my initial distaste.

But … I don’t roll my eyes when I read another uber-competent tight-lipped hero – though lord knows that is a character that has been done to death. I just LIKE that cliche. That particular archetype doesn’t immediately raise my feminist hackles in the ways that the characters in the previous paragraph do.

As a new writer it’s really easy to write in shorthand, especially for secondary characters. A minor, but crucial, character in the first chapter in my WIP is a greedy, sexually harassing partner at a law firm. I’ve known people just like him in real life, but will that save him from a reader labeling him a cliche instead of an archetype? I don’t think so. I think it will depend on how well I write him and what baggage and preferences a reader brings to the experience. I can’t control the latter, but I can write the hell out of him and make sure that I’ve thought carefully about the pros and cons of every character trait I put on the page.

What about you? Are there archetypes you just can’t stand (or can’t get enough of)? Do you carefully interrogate every trait you give your characters for its cliche potential?