This blog is by Susan Berliner, author of supernatural thrillers ("DUST," "Peachwood Lake," "The Disappearance," "Corsonia," "After the Bubbles," "Soldier Girl"); short story collections ("The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales," "George's Mother and Other Weird Stories, "Crash Effect and Other Weird Stories"); and a memoir ("Doing the Write Thing"). This page contains blog entries from January 1, 2017 - December 31, 2017.
Writing resolutions – December 31, 2017
Each year, I make a few writing resolutions that I hope to accomplish during the coming twelve months. In 2017, I fulfilled one of my resolutions and made progress with the other two.
I did help my husband, Larry, complete and publish his book of funny stories. You Can't Be Serious: An inner-city teacher a-muses about school and life is available as a paperback and an ebook, and the early reviews have been terrific.
Here are my 2018 writing resolutions:
- I resolve to publish at least the first part of my doomsday series, The Touchers. Book One is in good shape; Book Two still needs editing. This series has taken a very long time to complete, but I'm hopeful that the journey will soon be over.
- I resolve to complete and publish a second collection of short stories. I've written eleven stories and am finishing number twelve. Since several of these tales are lengthy, I may already have enough material for a book.
Happy New Year!
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Everything good begins – December 26, 2017
"Nothing begins good, but everything good begins.
Everything can be revised, erased, or rearranged later."
– Kevin Ashton
When I saw this quote a couple of months ago, I loved it. Now it's even more relevant because I'm finishing a short story, "George's Mother," that I'm not sure I like.
I love the story's premise—a woman claiming to be a man's dead mother shows up at his door. But along the way, this tale has taken several convoluted turns that may not work. It should be finished in a couple of days and then I'll follow Kevin Ashton's advice: revise, erase, or rearrange. Hopefully, the story will ultimately become something "good."
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Great holiday gifts – December 22, 2017
If you're scrambling for a last-minute gift, here's a helpful suggestion: Give a book. It's a wonderful gift—especially if you know what kind of book the person enjoys reading.
For the reader who likes thrillers with a touch of the supernatural, I hope you'll consider gifting one of my novels or collection of short stories. For the reader who loves to laugh, I highly recommend Larry Berliner's new compilation of funny stories: You Can't Be Serious: An inner-city teacher a-muses about school and life. (Direct links are on the Order page.)
If your reader prefers another genre, please check out the many wonderful books available from well-known and not-so-well-known authors.
Remember: Books make terrific holiday gifts! And even if you're not looking for a gift for someone else, treat yourself to a new book for end-of-the-year reading.
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You gotta have a gimmick (if you're an indie author) – December 18, 2017
At a recent book-signing event, I met an author who had two Middle Grade adventure books traditionally published with a major company, but then published two adult-themed books independently.
"Why didn't you publish your adult books traditionally too?" I asked him.
His answer was enlightening. "I had specific markets for those two books," he explained.
The man is from the Sleepy Hollow area of Westchester, NY and his book contains original stories in the Washington Irving "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" tradition. Before publishing the book, the author arranged for it to be sold in the gift shops of area historic sites that deal with the Ichabod Crane tale, obviously very popular at Halloween. He told me he has sold thousands of his books at these souvenir locations.
His second adult book relates to the late cult-horror author, H.P. Lovecraft and he markets this book at conventions for Lovecraft. He said he has done well here too.
So what have I learned? If you can identify a specific market for an indie book, you are in good shape. Unfortunately, I write thrillers—not a niche market genre. Still, it's good to hear indie author success stories.
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Subliminal thoughts – December 14, 2017
I'm surprised by the way I write fiction—not knowing what will happen in a scene or even how a story or novel will end.
Right now, I'm nearing the conclusion (I think) of a short story titled "George's Mother," about a woman who shows up at a man's door claiming to be his dead and buried mother. After writing 4,000 words, I still wasn't sure where this story was going.
But as I skimmed the early scenes, I noticed a small detail and Eureka! Everything clicked. My subconscious knew the story's direction and planted an important clue to give me the information I needed.
This has happened to me before. I've written things I didn't know that I knew. It's really weird—but then again, I write weird stuff.
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Back to The Bronx (continued) – December 10, 2017
Larry and I returned to The Bronx on Saturday for Preston High School's Christmas Craft & Food Festival (See December 6th post) and here's what happened:
- It snowed—the first snow of the season. Snow is a wonderful thing if you're tobogganing, skiing, or building a snowman. However, snow is a very bad thing if you need shoppers to come to your event. By mid-afternoon, no one was braving the snow, and we, along with most vendors, left before the festival ended.
- Despite the weather conditions, we had a great time. It was wonderful hearing everyone talk with a Bronx accent—just like mine. The people were friendly and fun—and we even met a man who went to our high school (James Monroe), making me realize how much I miss The Bronx.
- We signed books! Larry, who had taught nearby at I.S. 192, did meet a few of his former students (and he would have met more if it hadn't snowed). Pictures are in Happenings and on our Facebook pages.
You can go home again!
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Back to The Bronx – December 6, 2017
Because this is the holiday season—and signed books make great gifts—I've been participating in many craft fairs and festivals. However, the upcoming Christmas Craft & Food Festival on Saturday, December 9th at Preston High School is special. Why? It's in The Bronx.
I grew up in The Bronx—East 180th Street and then Castle Hill. But that's not where I'm going on Saturday. Preston High School is in Throgs Neck, near the bridge and near I.S. 192, the school where my husband, Larry, taught for many years.
Although his new book of funny stories, You Can't Be Serious: An inner-city teacher a-muses about school and life is ostensibly set in Hunts Point, the area where he began his teaching career, many of the incidents he recounts actually took place in I.S. 192, which no longer exists.
But Preston High School exists—and that's where we're going. It will be interesting to see if Larry's former students and students' families attend this Festival and recognize him. Of course, we're hoping they will.
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Review recap – December 2, 2017
You Can't Be Serious: An inner-city teacher a-muses about school and life, my husband Larry Berliner's book of funny stories was published in late-October—and soon after he got three excellent reviews on Amazon. Then the reviews stopped. People still raved about how funny the book was, but no one posted a review—until after I finished this post (another 5-star rave).
Unless you're an author, you probably don't understand the importance of a 5-star Amazon review. It tells potential readers that your book is a worthwhile investment of his or her time and money.
And some folks don't understand that reviews can be posted at any time. One friend complimented Larry on his book and then said, "It's probably too late to write a review."
Huh? It's never too late to write a review! I just got an Amazon Review for my time travel thriller, The Disappearance, which was published nearly five years ago. I'm sure readers are still posting reviews for Gone With the Wind.
If you read a book and enjoy it, please post a review on Amazon—for my books, for Larry's book, for any books—especially those by independent authors. And even if you didn't buy the book on Amazon, you can still review it there. Thanks for understanding—and I look forward to seeing those Amazon reviews.
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Research ruminations – November 28, 2017
Lots of authors love to do research—but I'm not one of them. I prefer to sit at my desk and type a scene in my story or novel. However, even though I write fiction with a touch of the supernatural, my stories are set in the real world so I occasionally need to learn things to make my plots believable.
Here's the problem: I usually have to research subjects that I find especially difficult, like science and technology. For example, I've studied electricity, airplanes, mine car potties, undetectable poisons, and prehistoric fish. Today I had to research DNA testing.
I'd much rather be writing my stories.
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Location! Location! Location! (Take 2) – November 24, 2017
On November 12th, I blogged about how a good location can increase sales. Now I'm writing about the opposite situation: A poor location can reduce sales.
Today, Black Friday, I shared a table with my husband at our local mall. I've been there quite a few times, mostly on the main level. However, today we were upstairs near the elevator and food court—and the location made quite a difference. It was like we were invisible, except for a couple of folks who were looking for certain stores and assumed we were mall employees. Everyone else ignored our table, even though it was attractive and (I think) eye-catching. (See Happenings.)
Of course, having a table at a mall, even at this time of year, is different than having a table at a holiday crafts fair where people realize you're a vendor. Still, it's much more enjoyable when shoppers approach the table to examine the books. Today we had to get people's attention just to hand them bookmarks. But when they discovered we were the authors of the books on the table, some of them were excited about purchasing signed copies. And that part was fun.
Location matters. It really does.
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Marketing move – November 20, 2017
If you follow this blog, you know that You Can't Be Serious: An inner-city teacher a-muses about school and life, Larry Berliner's collection of humorous stories, was published last month. The early Amazon reviews have been excellent and Larry has now participated in three signing events, with sales so good we've had to order more copies of the book.
Here's what we've learned: You Can't Be Serious is a magnet for teachers: inner-city teachers, suburban teachers, rural teachers, retired teachers, student teachers. Anyone who's related to a teacher or has a friend who's a teacher wants a signed copy of this laugh-out-loud book. Even though the book isn't just about Larry's school experiences, the teaching part is the main section—and the main draw.
As a result, we're now concentrating on marketing You Can't Be Serious to teachers. We have a new sign for our event table touting the signed book as a "unique, personalized gift for any teacher." And in the spring, we intend to advertise the book as an end-of-year teachers' gift. We're excited about the possibilities.
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Positives and negatives – November 16, 2017
Earlier this year, I wrote two short stories for a major educational publishing company that's developing these tales into individual books for a sixth grade reading program.
It was an interesting experience because after I wrote the stories, I surrendered them to the editors who made many changes, some of which I liked; others I didn't like. Although I had no say in any of the editorial decisions, I was well compensated for my work.
I've now seen the artwork that will accompany both stories. I love the illustrations for one of them. However, the pictures for the other story are stodgy and don't do anything to enhance the tale. It's a time-travel story and a major element that was supposed to be illustrated is noticeably absent. I don't know why the art is missing—and I can't question it.
That's the trade-off: I was paid, but I relinquished control. When I write my own stories for my own book, I'm not paid, but I have control of everything—including editorial content and cover art. I prefer the control over the money.
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Location! Location! Location! – November 12, 2017
It's amazing how much a good location can increase sales. On Saturday, I participated in a large Christmas Craft Fair at the Holy Rosary Church in Hawthorne, NY, sharing a table with YIKES! & TYKES & YUKS fellow authors, Linda Griffin and Larry Berliner.
Actually, the Fair was held in the gym of the church's school. There were more than 50 vendors—and our table faced the door. It was the first thing people saw as they entered the gym—so there was no way they could overlook our books.
Another location plus: This church has a school. That means it has built-in advertising. No doubt the students were given flyers about the event, which added to traffic. In fact, we saw lots of children with parents as well as many parishioners. We even got to say hello to the priest.
And still another location benefit: The church and school are located on a main road, which generated additional walk-in traffic.
All these factors led to a large number of shoppers and excellent book sales for our table and for other vendors. It was a successful day. For photos, please see Happenings.
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Sitting the story – November 8, 2017
I've finished writing my modern fairy tale sequel, "Hat Trick"—at least for now. The story's pretty good, although, like usual, the ending is not what I'd expected. But the tale can use some fine-tuning, especially character descriptions and other details. At this point, however, I'm giving "Hat Trick" a rest.
I find that rereading a tale over and over every day can become tedious and it often helps to put the manuscript aside for a few weeks. When I pick up the story again, I usually have a fresher outlook and can make better changes. Several weeks from now, I'll see if this strategy works.
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Sequel speech – November 3, 2017
This is the first time I've written a short story that's a sequel of an earlier story: "Hat Trick" is the follow-up to "The Rapunzel Effect," a modern fairy tale in The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales.
Before I began writing the new story, I reread the first one (about a girl whose hair won't stop growing) to refamiliarize myself the characters, since three of them appear in the second tale. But after finishing the first draft, I realized I'd messed up the speech patterns of one of the characters—the witch, Rosinda.
Although Rosinda's speech in "The Rapunzel Effect" is rather colloquial, I had upgraded her English in "Hat Trick." Not good. Today, I skimmed through the manuscript, rewriting a lot of Rosinda's dialogue so that she now speaks the way she should.
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Just write! – October 31, 2017
A power outage is never fun. We just got through an outage that lasted 16 hours: No lights, no refrigerator, no TV—and no computer.
It's amazing how much I've come to rely on the computer—for all my writing, editing, and emails. So today, when it was time to sit at the computer and write my short story—what did I do? I stretched out on the bed (where there was more light) and used a pen to write two scenes in "Hat Trick."
I'm not used to writing stories longhand anymore, but it was either write with a pen or write nothing. Of course, now I have double work; I have to type today's scenes into Word before I create a new scene. But I wanted to do my job. Writers write.
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Plot problem – October 26, 2017
Now that my husband's book of humorous essays (You Can't Be Serious: An inner-city teacher a-muses about school and life) is finished, I've been spending more time on my own writing. "Hat Trick," the short story sequel to "The Rapunzel Effect," is almost done and I'm rereading my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Book One).
If you've followed this blog, you know I've been working on the two-part The Touchers series for a very long time. Nevertheless, I just realized there's a plot issue that I ignored. It's a small, but important detail involving the touchers, my monsters that kill people just by touching them.
Luckily, I should be able to fix this problem rather easily—although I'll have to read through both manuscripts (Books One & Two) to make sure every instance is corrected. Still, it's amazing that it took me so long to recognize this error.
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Story sequel – October 22, 2017
I'm writing another short story for my next collection. This one is a follow-up to "The Rapunzel Effect," a humorous story about a girl whose hair won't stop growing that's included in The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales.
I left an opening at the end of "The Rapunzel Effect" for a possible continuation and just recently, I got an idea for a sequel. This new story, titled "Hat Trick," also focuses on magic. So far I've written about 2,000 words and, like most of my fiction writing, I don't know the ending. But, since this is a humorous story, I hope it'll be funny.
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Birthing a book – October 18, 2017
It's been a busy couple of weeks: I've been helping my husband produce his book of humorous essays, a project he's been working on for the last 10+ years. That means we've both been reading, and rereading, and rereading again and again, the manuscript first for the paperback and then for the ebook, removing nearly all the mistakes. (There's a slight quotation mark error that we didn't catch.)
The paperback and the Kindle ebook were both published today. But, as every indie author knows, birthing a book is a tedious and exhausting process. Many people liken it to the birth of a baby.
Now that the book has been born, Larry is anxiously awaiting the first reviews from readers. If you like humor—kind of a milder Andy Rooney—check You Can't Be Serious: An inner-city teacher a-muses about school and life. And if you enjoy it, please tell Larry (via an Amazon review).
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Indie Author Day recap – October 14, 2017
October 14th marked the 2nd annual Indie Author Day, a celebration of local authors in libraries across the U.S. and Canada. I again participated in the event at the Eastchester (NY) Public Library, joining nine other independent authors, most of them fellow members of Westchester Indie Authors. The free event was open to authors, unpublished writers, and, of course, readers.
This year, I was part of two 4-member panels: "From first draft to finished product – what's involved?" (a timely topic since my husband's ebook is being formatted and his paperback book was just finished) and "Fiction: What comes first—the plot or the character?" (a fun topic because it gives me the opportunity to talk about how I developed the ideas for my novels).
It's always great to network with other authors and get their takes on writing matters. Unfortunately, not many readers celebrated with us. Hopefully, the popularity of this new little holiday will build and the 3rd Indie Author Day will be more successful. (See photos in Happenings.)
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Return of the muse – October 10, 2017
Lately I've been busy with writing-related activities—proofing You Can't Be Serious: An inner-city teacher a-muses about school and life, my husband's collection of humorous essays and editing Book One of The Touchers, my two-part doomsday series. But I haven't been doing much creative writing.
Today, however, during a walk around the block, I got an idea for a new short story—well, not entirely new. It's a sequel to "The Rapunzel Effect," a short story in The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales. That story leaves the door open for a follow-up and now I have one. I'll start writing the story tomorrow.
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Proofing process – October 6, 2017
For the last two weeks, I've spent most of my "creative" time reading and rereading my husband's soon-to-be-published book of humorous essays: You Can't Be Serious: An inner-city teacher a-muses about school and life.
Proofing is an important, but tedious and time-consuming job. I check for typos, misspellings, and other sneaky mistakes. My last reread was solely for quotation marks—and I found three missing marks and one chapter that contained many incorrectly italicized quotation marks mixed in with regular quotation marks.
And now, after five rounds of rereading, Larry's book is just about finished and I'm looking forward to getting back to editing my doomsday two-part series: The Touchers.
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Title time – October 3, 2017
If you read these posts, you know I love making up creative contests. I've got a new contest on my website, this one centered on my husband's soon-to-be published book of humorous essays—You Can't Be Serious: An inner-city teacher a-muses about school and life.
This contest is really easy. You just have to make up an original funny title using the first three words of his book: You Can't Be ______. If you want to add a subtitle, that's okay too.
One winner will receive a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble and two runners-up will receive signed copies of their choice of any of my novels or Larry Berliner's new book. To enter, please go to the Contest page.
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After writing the book – September 28, 2017
It's a wonderful feeling to "finish" writing a book—when you're finally satisfied you've made your manuscript the best it can be.
But that's just the beginning. There's much more to do before your manuscript becomes an actual printed book (or ebook). You have to edit the book, format it, design the covers (front and back), and create a catchy blurb. Then, when the book is published, you have to promote and advertise it. Of course, you can hire people to help you do some of this work, but you still have to make sure everything is done properly.
I was reminded of the book publishing process recently because of two developments. First, my husband's book is in the formatting stage and I'd forgotten what a painstaking job it is to reread and correct the many formatted versions.
Secondly, on October 14th, Indie Author Day, at 11 am I'll be on a panel with other local authors at the Eastchester Library, discussing this very topic: "From first draft to finished product – What's involved." The event begins at 10 am and will continue until 3 pm with panels, refreshments, and lively book-related conversation. I hope you'll join us.
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Smaller can be better – September 24, 2017
On Saturday, I had another book signing event—the Montrose Fall Festival. It was originally supposed to be the Montrose Spring Festival, but was rained out in April and rescheduled for September 23rd.
There are more events in the early fall than in late spring. In fact, I usually participate in another fall festival, which was scheduled for the same date. But since I'd already paid for this event, I opted out of the other.
However, I wasn't happy about missing the other event, which is much bigger and draws a lot of traffic. It's held on immaculate grounds with more than 70 vendor tables flanking a flowing path and also offers many activities for kids.
The Montrose Fall Festival is a small event that became even smaller with the postponement. Fewer than 20 vendors lined up along the front lawn of Hendrick Hudson High School. The attractions included a bouncy castle and pumpkin painting for kids, but not much else.
However, the results were unexpected. I signed more books at this small event than I usually do at the larger one. Why? Maybe it was because, with so few vendors, nearly everyone who attended stopped at my table. Maybe these shoppers were more interested in reading. Whatever the reason, for me smaller was better. You can see photos of this festival in Happenings.
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Proofing punctuation – September 20, 2017
This week, I'm proofreading my husband's humorous memoir, which (hopefully) will be published next month. That means we're nearing the finish line—getting the book ready for the formatter.
Today I focused on punctuation. It's boring work, especially since I have to read the manuscript over and over. But if this book is going to be error-free, with consistent punctuation, I have to nit-pick.
As a result, I pored through the pages on the computer, making sure all the dashes were en dashes (–) and not em dashes (—) or hyphens (-). Then I checked all the ellipses (...) for complete sentences and added an extra period to the end of those (....).
Proofing punctuation isn't the most exciting work. But it has to be done—and I'm the one who has to do it. (Notice that I prefer em dashes.)
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A tale of two events – September 16, 2017
On September 12, I posted about the problems I had with last Saturday's event—an excellent assortment of craft vendors, but no traffic.
Today's event was the opposite: a great location with lots of traffic—but it was a flea market with many used items from people's attics (e.g. ancient sewing machine and radio) and only a few jewelry and craft vendors. As a result, most shoppers were looking for bargains, not books. Nevertheless, I was able to talk to people about my novels and short stories (always fun). But I only signed a few books.
Next week's event is a craft fair at a good location. I'm hopeful the Montrose Fall Festival on Hendrick Hudson High School's front lawn on Albany Post Road will attract a large number of interested shoppers so I can sign many more books.
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Ad advice – September 12, 2017
On Saturday, I participated in my first signing event of the fall—a charity benefit. The event was indoors and featured a variety of mostly handcrafted goods. All good things.
What wasn't good was the turnout: Hardly anyone came. Why? I think much of the problem had to do with location: The venue was off the main road so people had to make an effort to get to it.
This was the event planner's first show and she did a great job, except for the advertising. Yes, she got an article about the event into the local newspaper and even got the editor to visit the event and take pictures (See Happenings). She also got the local radio station to promote the event. But those two advertising methods didn't draw customers.
Here's what she neglected to do: She didn't put signs with arrows on the main road. I've found that many customers at these fairs are spur-of-the-moment types. They're driving on a Saturday, see a sign for a nearby event, and stop in. If the location is on a main road, those signs aren't that necessary. But if the site is hidden, those signs are a must.
On Saturday, September 16th (weather permitting) I'm signing books at a Fall Flea Market in a heavily trafficked location: The United Methodist Church in Mount Kisco is on 300 Main Street. Hopefully, we'll have many more shoppers.
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Contest creation – September 8, 2017
I love making up fun contests! I created lots of them when I was the promotion manager for a large chain of shoppers—and now, as an author, I post book-related contests on my website.
Not only do I enjoy making up these contests, I also love judging them. My latest contest, based on "The Plant Whisperer," a humorous story in The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales, received lots of punny entries. Many people groan at puns, but I don't; I laugh.
To see the just-posted contest results, click here—and look for my next creative contest at the end of this month.
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Story surprise – September 4, 2017
I often don't know the direction of a short story I'm writing, but usually I know the title. Not this time. When I started this tale about a magical pair of eyeglasses, I chose a working title. However, as my writing progressed, I discovered the story's real title: "Visionary Girl."
In addition to changing direction, this short story has also morphed from serious to light—at least so far. In the last scene I wrote, the main character is about to learn something important. But that's when the scene ended so I won't know what happened until I write the next scene. As I always say, that's the fun of being a novelist—the not knowing.
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Writing crap – August 31, 2017
I hadn't heard of Margarita Gakis before seeing this quote, but I completely agree with what she says—and I love the straightforward way she says it.
No matter how badly you write something—as long as you write it down—you can fix it. Of course, there's always the chance that even after you've edited your manuscript, it will still be crappy. But at the very least, it will be better than your original effort.
As another author put it: You can't edit a blank page. The objective is to put your story in writing and then work, work, work to make it better. Maybe you're a potentially great writer. You'll never know unless you try.
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Shower power – August 27, 2017
Although I get ideas for stories all the time, I do some of my best thinking when I take a shower. Most recently, I came up with details to flesh out an incident in the short story I'm currently writing and also thought of two new and better names for characters.
There's something inspiring about the shower: I'm alone and the bathroom environment is peaceful, invigorating, and conducive to clear thinking. Somehow, the shower cleanses my brain as well as my body.
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The perfect story – August 23, 2017
I've started writing a new short story: This one's about a magical pair of eyeglasses. I've only written a few scenes but, so far, I don't think the story is very good.
I like the above quote because it's so true. Even after I "finish" a story (the word "finish" in quotes because a story is never done), I always think it can be improved. There are very few writers who've been able to create nearly perfect stories (Poe, O. Henry, and Shirley Jackson come to mind)—and I'm not one of them. But I try to make all my stories (and books) as good as possible.
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Character concerns – August 19, 2017
"Writers write because they cannot allow the characters that inhabit them
to suffocate them."
Characters are powerful people—at least they are to me and other authors. The characters I create take over the action in my stories and novels—and often I don't know what they're up to. That's why the above quote (seen on Twitter) is so true. I have to let my characters out so they can live their fantasy lives.
Unfortunately, these characters sometimes run amok, which is fine if they take the story to a good place. But it's not so fine if the characters go off in a direction I don't like. When this happens, I have to rewrite the story and edit their actions. After all, I am the author.
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Review redux – August 15, 2017
I can't overemphasize the importance of good Amazon reviews for an independent author. They're like gold: These reviews confirm people are reading and enjoying your books—and they beget sales.
Unfortunately, most readers don't post reviews. Even readers who write to tell me how much they've loved one of my books rarely take the extra step of putting a review on Amazon.
Recently, I asked (begged) for reviews on Facebook—and got one. It's short, but that's fine because it's 5-stars. Here's what Susan (not me) says about The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales:
"Loved this book! Got lost in a myriad of mystical and wonderful and creepy worlds. You will love this book!"
I realize it's an imposition to ask someone to post an Amazon review. But if you like my book—or a book by another indie author—please take a few minutes to write a review. Here's the link to my page on Amazon.
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Proofing preference - August 11, 2017
I've spent this week proofing and editing my husband's humorous memoir, which he expects to publish later this year. The experience again reminded me how much easier it is to proof and edit another person's book than my own.
When reading Larry's manuscript, I'm objective, not emotionally tied to all the words and that objectivity allows me to identify problems more clearly. I only wish I could carry this ability to my novels, especially The Touchers, my doomsday series, which I have to tackle next.
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Keeping in character – August 7, 2017
During this reread my end-of-world thriller, The Touchers (Part One), I've blogged about my annoying habit of repeating words (See Aug. 3 post). But more disturbingly, I've found issues with the consistency of my characters.
I've come across two problems so far: A minor character who is supposed to be brave and reckless, acts timidly when confronted with a potential danger. If he's reckless, he should rush towards the peril without hesitation. Similarly, my protagonist, Erin, a courageous and somewhat headstrong teen, does nothing but watch others handle a dangerous situation.
I've made changes in the way both these characters behave in the aforementioned scenes. But why did it take me so many rereads to discover these obvious problems?
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Those unnecessary words – August 3, 2017
I'm halfway through another reread of my doomsday thriller, The Touchers (Part One) and I'm still finding repeated unnecessary words—such as still.
I overuse certain words: All, still, just, and even are among my favorites. Since I like them so much, I find them in sentence after sentence I've written. Now I'm crossing them out, but they're everywhere. (Maybe they reproduce by themselves?)
Here are some recent examples of words I've deleted:
I counted all the people who stood in the middle of our street.
He nodded towards the bodies...that still lay in the street.
"We just stand outside in the rain..."
...I'm not sure she could even open them any more.
That's just a small sampling (and there's just again). I've got lots more work to do.
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Puppy love – July 30, 2017
I don't understand Twitter and I don't use the site effectively. Nevertheless, each morning I retweet a few writing quotes I admire, sometimes adding comments, and every four days I tweet blog posts like this one.
For reasons I also don't understand, new people follow me each day. In return—unless they're selling Twitter followers or pushing porn—I follow them. Lately, however, I've been getting more new followers—and not just writing-related folks. Somehow, I'm attracting a bunch of animal lovers, especially dog fanciers.
Although I like animals, including dogs, I've never owned a dog and I don't write anything canine-related. Yet within a two-day span, I was followed by Daily Puppies Photo, Cute Pups, Retriever Planet, Daily Shepherd, Daily Corgi, and a number of Pugs people: Daily Pugs, Pugs Daily, Crush on Pugs, and Popular Pugs.
Clothing is another category I'm now attracting, although I'm not into fashion. Nevertheless, I'm now followed by Dresses, Adorable Outfits, Angle Outfit, and Perfect Outfit.
And there's more: A couple of tattoo lovers and a Hindu activist in India now follow me. I just don't know why. If you're a dog lover, tattoo artist, Hindu activist or anyone else, you can follow me too at berliner_susan.
* * *
Story starter - July 26, 2017
This week, the major educational publisher I'm freelancing for rejected my latest story idea. But that's okay. Although the editors liked the idea, they have too many stories with similar themes and encouraged me to keep thinking of ideas for sixth graders.
In that same email, they enclosed nearly-finished artwork for my first accepted story--a realistic tale told in the first-person by a teenage boy. The illustrations are terrific and I can't wait until the story is published. (Unfortunately, that won't be until at least 2019. These big publishing houses move slowly.)
Seeing my story with four-color art got my creative juices flowing and I've already thought of a new idea--a light mystery, also told in the first-person. After I tweak it, I hope this story will be accepted. And if it isn't, I'll come up with another.
* * *
The next step - July 22, 2017
Although I've finished writing "the Girl in Apartment 5C," this short story isn't really finished. After rereading and editing it, I've still got to make important changes.
First, I'm not crazy about the ending because it's too abrupt. In addition, I need to do research. One aspect is easy: I just need the name of a romantic comedy. But then I have to research a technical subject (not my strong point) for a significant element of the plot. Unlike many authors, I don't enjoy doing research; I'd much rather write.
* * *
Rereading results – July 18, 2017
I've finished the latest reread of my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part One) and it's in pretty good shape—not ready for publication, but not a disaster.
For the most part, my corrections were minor—overused words in description (e.g. "just," "really," "all") as well as unnecessary phrases in dialogue ("you mean," "thinking of," "going to do"). As I've mentioned, dialogue isn't conversation; it imitates conversation, but eliminates the extra words we use when talking to others.
I still have to go through my notes on problem areas with the manuscript, but this reread was encouraging.
* * *
The sounds of language – July 14, 2017
"I use ellipses, dashes and commas quite a lot
because they express how things sound to me..."
I saw the above quote today and retweeted it because I agree with the statement wholeheartedly. In my novels and stories, the characters take over the action and I transcribe what they say or do. And what they say and do often involves pausing via the comma, dash, or ellipses.
As a result, many of my descriptions and dialogues are filled with those three punctuation marks. In fact, in one of my books, I overused ellipses—an early reader found them distracting—and I eliminated some of them before the novel was published. I love using commas to pause a sentence—and dashes are a more emphatic pause.
The only change I'd make in the quote is to add an extra series comma after the word "dashes." You can never have enough commas.
* * *
Let it sit – July 10, 2017
I'm a big believer in letting a manuscript simmer on a shelf for a few months while I tackle other writing projects. So when I returned to my end-of-the-world novel, The Touchers – Part One, after several months, instead of dreading the experience, I looked forward to rereading the book.
I've gone through the first nine chapters and I'm enjoying the story. Of course, I'm still finding plenty of things to correct—mainly repeated or unnecessary words, especially in the dialogue. (My characters tend to talk too much.) However, for the most part, the novel is pretty entertaining, probably because it feels new. And that's why letting a book sit works for me.
* * *
Multitasking again – July 6, 2017
Although I've finished the annual freelance assignment writing simple test passages for ELL students in Texas, I'm currently juggling four other writing-related projects:
* I'm writing "The Girl in Apartment 5C," a light-hearted short story, told in the first-person by a geeky guy. The story's nearly finished—and I still don't know how it will end.
* I'm proofing my husband's humorous memoir, which he hopes to publish later this year.
* I'm editing The Touchers, my two-part doomsday series. Today, I began reading Part One again.
* I'm working on another short story idea for the major educational publisher I've been freelancing for. Of course, after I submit my concept, the editors have to approve it, and I have to write it. But it's a start.
As I always say: Writers write.
* * *
Becoming a better writer – July 1, 2017
You want to be a better writer? You can take a creative writing course, attend a writers' workshop, read a "how-to write" book, or try one of the many other aids available for aspiring writers, beginning writers, and even experienced writers. If you think a course or book will improve your writing, then you should go that route.
But that's not a path I would choose. I agree with Gary Henderson: Writers improve by writing. Don't wait to write until you become more "polished." Maybe you'll never feel good enough to write. Instead, just start writing and, with practice, your work will become better. Don't be afraid to take a chance and write.
* * *
The eyes have it – June 27, 2017
There must be something magical about eyes because they grace so many ebook thriller covers. Within the last week, I spotted three eye-based covers in email book promos—two in the same email offering.
It's not that these cover eyes aren't attractive; they are. But I wonder how effective eyes can be if they're so common. Here are the three titles and authors:
* It's About Time by Lyle Howard - A time travel conspiracy with a huge and sparkly blue-eye cover
* Keep in a Cold, Dark Place by Michael F. Stewart – A horror novel with a green-eyed creature's claws ripping through the cover
* The Deadly Caress by O.N. Stefan – A murder mystery with a green eye staring from a brown (animal?) face
Perhaps the cover eyes are effective. After all, they did catch my attention.
* * *
A funny thing happened... - June 23, 2017
In my post below, I blogged about the new short story I'm writing, "The Girl in Apartment 5C," that's narrated by a man. Like usual, I wasn't sure where the story was going.
But now I know. It's going to be a quirky, humorous tale with a touch of romance.
It's odd, but I've now written three first-person short stories ("The Rapunzel Effect" and "The Plant Whisperer" in The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales are the other two)--and they're all light-hearted. I've written first-person dramas too. My unpublished doomsday series, The Touchers, is narrated by a teenage girl, and obviously, it's not full of laughs. But these little first-person stories are cute, and I hope, kind of funny.
* * *
Muse moment - June 19, 2017
I woke up early this morning and couldn't fall back to sleep. Instead of performing mindless sleep-inducing activities like counting sheep, my brain, for some reason, decided 4:30 a.m. was a good time for developing short story ideas.
As a result, I started writing a new story today. This one, titled "The Girl in Apartment 5C" is told in the first-person by a man. It's the first time I'm writing a first-person story with a male protagonist so I'm curious to see how it will go.
I'm also interested in seeing where this story goes because, like usual, I'm not sure what will happen to these two characters. But one thing I am sure about: It's going to be a fun ride.
* * *
Second chances – June 15, 2017
I've finished writing my time travel-themed short story, "Do Over," about a man who gets a chance to redo an important event in his life.
Think about it: What might happen if you had the opportunity to redo a turning point in your life? Would the results change everything that followed? It's an interesting concept and one possibility is played out in "Do Over."
After my husband read the story, his reaction was, "You're really weird!" I don't think I'm weird; I just write weird stories.
* * *
Ironic outcome – June 11, 2017
On May 30th, I blogged about writing a time travel-themed short story called "Do Over," noting I wasn't sure how the tale would develop. Now I know.
The story, which is almost finished, has an ironic ending, meaning events turn out contrary to what is expected. It made me think of "The Gift of the Magi," a famous short story by O. Henry that employs this literary technique brilliantly. In O. Henry's tale, a poor husband and wife each sacrifice a prized possession to buy the other a Christmas gift. She buys him a watch chain and he buys her a set of combs. Ironically, however, in order to purchase these expensive gifts, the wife sells her long hair and the husband sells his gold watch.
"Do Over" isn't a love story and it certainly isn't brilliant. But it is ironic and I'm looking forward to finishing the tale.
* * *
Cover critique – June 8, 201
I get lots of "ebook deals" in my inbox and I enjoy skimming through the covers of the novels, especially those in my genre. Many of the covers are striking—the kind that make me want to read the books. But once in a while, I come across a clunker...a really bad cover.
What's my definition of a bad cover? It has poorly-done art, unreadable type—maybe an illegible font—or perhaps both. But this cover is even worse because I can't see the title. That's right, the title—in tiny type—is hidden within the art.
It's a decorative Asian-themed cover and the art is quite lovely. There's a Japanese man's or woman's legs in early 20th century costume and the person's hand holds a bloodied sword over what I think are large red Japanese characters (Real or unreal?—I don't know). And in the center of these letters is the barely legible title, with the just as teeny author's name underneath.
I don't want to mention the title of this book because it looks like a super novel and has garnered great reviews. But I dislike this cover because of the nearly invisible title. Do you think this kind of cover can be effective?
If you're curious about what the cover looks like, please contact me and I'll send you the link.
* * *
Happy talk – June 3, 2017
If you're familiar with this website, you know I always include a creative, fun contest. Why? Because I enjoy making up these contests and readers tell me they enjoy entering them.
My latest competition is based on a humorous short story in The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales called "The Plant Whisperer," which is about a woman who cares for office plants and talks to them while she works.
Contestants can win a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble or a signed copy of one of my books. For details about this contest, please click here--and I hope you'll enter!
* * *
The write stuff – May 30, 2017
In my last post, I blogged about the need to write something every day because writers have to write. However, in my case, creating simple standardized test passages is not as satisfying as writing my own books and stories. And that's what I'm doing again.
This morning, I wrote the first two scenes of a short story titled "Do Over," in which a man goes back in time to try to change an event that impacted his life. Like usual, I'm not sure where this story will go, but I'm looking forward to the ride.
* * *
Writers write – May 26, 2017
If you're a writer, you have to write. As R.K. Narayan says, that's the way a writer learns the craft. Unlike most professions, I don't think a novelist can learn much from taking "how to write" classes. You can learn techniques, grammar, and maybe get some plot ideas—but afterwards you still have to sit your butt at the computer and write.
These days, I'm not writing a book or even a short story. Instead I'm writing short passages for a testing project that's due early next week. It's simple writing; some people would even call this work boring. But it's still writing.
In June, I'll get back to my own more challenging creative writing, but meanwhile I'm writing. Why? Because writers write.
* * *
Checklist chore – May 22, 2017
I'm still going through the checklist for my end-of-the-world thriller, The Touchers (Part Two). I have a simple, old-fashioned way of keeping tabs of problems: I make lists—lots of them. Basically, I write the page number and a word or phrase describing the issue on a piece of paper. Then, after I fix the problem, I cross it off the list.
Right now, I've got oodles of sheets of paper, each with many page numbers. Today, I did cross-referencing between The Touchers (Part One) and Part Two to make sure my details are consistent. What's the name of Erin's grandmother in Part One? (Not mentioned, which is okay.) Who's in Blaine's family? (Not mentioned, which is not okay. He's an important character—so he needs a brief back-story.)
Some of the issues are major, some are minor, and they all have to be addressed. It's a long, slow process, but these two books will be checked and finished—eventually.
* * *
Fixing plot issues – May 18, 2017
This week, I've been tightening the plot of my doomsday thriller, The Touchers (Part Two)—foreshadowing events and eliminating dangling threads.
Here's an example of each fix:
Foreshadowing - There's a scene where my main characters are in danger—not by the touchers, the bizarre creatures that have been decimating the population—but by fellow humans. Blaine, the heroine's boyfriend, comes up with a clever plan to thwart the crooks, but I hadn't given any indication of how his action could happen. I added a hint a few scenes earlier and now this incident makes sense.
Eliminating dangling threads – Sometimes I start a storyline, but neglect to finish it. When this happens, I have two choices: finish the storyline or eliminate it. In this case, Erin, the heroine, was supposed to talk to another girl after dinner about someone who was killed by the touchers, but she never did. When I reviewed the storyline, I realized the action was insignificant so I eliminated the entire thread.
* * *
The muse returns – May 14, 2017
Inspiration is a funny thing: You can't decide when you want the muse to appear. Last night, I woke up about 4:30 in the morning—for no reason—and couldn't go back to sleep because my mind was too active.
First, I came up with an idea for my next creative contest, based on a humorous short story in my collection, The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales. It should be fun and easy.
I also developed an idea for a realistic short story for sixth-graders, which I'm hoping to pitch to the editors of the educational publisher I'm freelancing for. This concept has been kicking around my brain for months and, in my early morning wakefulness, I refined it into what I hope will be an accepted tale.
I would have preferred to sleep, but at least I came up with two viable ideas. Let's see if both work.
* * *
Unnecessary "hads" – May 10, 2017
"Inspect your 'hads' and see if you really need them."
I retweeted the above quote on Twitter this morning and, soon after, transposed some of my hard-copy changes (yes, I prefer to edit the printed pages) of my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part Two) into the computer and guess what I found? Unnecessary "hads"—just like Martin Amis said.
Here are a few examples:
* I changed "The surviving seven of us who had fought..." to "The surviving seven of us who fought..."
* I also changed "...the girl on our block who had become a toucher had killed him" to "...the girl on our block who became a toucher, killed him."
* And I changed "...they had moved into his house when fire destroyed their home" to "they moved into his house when fire destroyed their home."
I'm sure more unnecessary "hads" are lurking in this novel—and I'll continue to remove them.
* * *
Event recap – May 6, 2017
All events are not created equal. Like most authors, I measure the success or failure of an event I participate in by the number of books I sell. In order to sell books, I need customers. And since some people don't read books, others don't read fiction, and still others don't read my genre—I need a large number of customers. The more, the better.
Unfortunately, the three events I've attended this season haven't attracted many customers. I believe that's the main reason I haven't done well. But luck is involved too. Sometimes, I find people who love reading thrillers with a supernatural touch—and they buy multiple books. That hasn't happened this season. I'm hoping next week's event in Montrose, NY will produce better results.
To see photos of my recent events, please see Happenings.
* * *
Write stuff – May 2, 2017
As many authors have said, it's important to exercise the writing muscle. That means, if you're a writer, you should write every day. And it doesn't matter what you write; just write something.
At the moment, I'm between stories, but I'm that doesn't mean I'm not writing. What am I writing? Simple reading passages—using second grade vocabulary—for standardized tests for non-English speaking students in Texas. Obviously, this isn't the most demanding writing I've done (although you'd be surprised how difficult it can be to create simple stories in less than a hundred words).
And I'm also writing this blog post. Hey, that counts too!
* * *
Let it sit – April 28, 2017
I've "finished" writing my phone-themed horror story. Of course, the tale's not really finished, but I'm done with it for now. I've reread the story numerous times, made many corrections, and frankly I'm tired of looking at it. Now I'm going to put the story aside and forget about it.
That strategy works for me and many other writers. I place the story or novel on a shelf for a while and let it sit while I concentrate on other projects. Then, when I look at the story again a few months from now, I'll probably see things I missed during these first readings—at least I hope I will.
* * *
Kiddy lit – April 24, 2017
Last Friday, I talked about my books to kindergartners in a local elementary school (Thomas Jefferson in Yorktown Heights, NY) as part of the students' unit on jobs in the community. Children's author, Linda Griffin, accompanied me.
This visit was easy for Linda—she read her new children's book, Demetrio Says "No," to the kids. Me? I couldn't even read them a short story. My books are for older children as well as adults, but they're certainly not for kindergartners. As a result, I decided to give a brief description of each book, mention that my stories were all fictional, and talk a bit about the covers.
I started with DUST, showed the kids the cover, and asked if anyone knew what a dust devil was. Imagine my surprise when one little boy said, "tornado." I didn't know dust devils were mini tornados until I read the news clipping that inspired the book.
When I held up a copy of Peachwood Lake and asked the children what was on the cover, I was surprised by their answers. Several said "robot" and no one mentioned "fish." I guess the ferocious creature, based on a real gulf sturgeon, looks mechanical.
It was a different type of book talk—but fun.
* * *
The muse strikes – April 20, 2017
On April 12th, I blogged about finally having my time-travel story for sixth graders accepted by the major educational publisher I'm freelancing for. That was the second story they approved. But I've had a difficult time thinking of a good idea for a third story.
Right now, they're looking for realistic tales, which means my paranormal mind has to switch gears. But every concept I've come up with didn't work for one reason or another. This morning, however, in the shower, I thought of an idea, which I immediately liked. I have to refine it, but I'm sure this concept can be developed into a successful story.
I'll pitch it to the editors next week. Wish me luck.
* * *
Flashing back – April 16, 2017
I'm reading a novel about a man who goes back to his childhood home, an imaginary housing project in northern New Jersey. It made me think of my childhood home, a real housing project in the southeast Bronx.
For some reason, I haven't used the Castle Hill Houses setting as the basis for any novel or short story, nor developed any characters based on friends and neighbors from those formative years. My family lived on the fifth floor of a twelve-story building, in an apartment with very thin walls and a gorgeous view of the Whitestone Bridge and Long Island Sound.
But I'm thinking about those days now. Surely there's a strange story lurking somewhere in my memories. I just have to dig it out and write it.
* * *
Story saga – April 12, 2017
If you've been following the up-and-down (mostly down) saga of the time travel tale for sixth-graders that I wrote for a major educational publisher, you know I've been fighting for this story's life ever since I submitted it. (See March 3 and March 11 posts below.)
First the editors wanted to change the time travel element to virtual reality. Then, when I successfully thwarted that suggestion, they didn't like the way I wrote the story. After discussing the issues with one of the editors and listening to her valid criticisms, I decided to rewrite the story and resubmit it.
The editors sort-of liked my revised story. But they didn't like it enough to immediately approve it. As I crossed my fingers and waited, they finally agreed to edit the story and submit it to their superiors.
And today the story was accepted. In fact, the decision-makers loved it! What does this saga prove? Perseverance pays. Fight for what you believe in. This story took a lot of work, but in the end, it was worth the effort.
* * *
Staying focused – April 8, 2017
"Your smartphone can be your worst enemy. When it's time to write or do other author tasks, leave your phone in another room. Turn up the volume so you hear incoming calls, but put it out of sight so you don't refresh your Twitter feed or check to see the latest Facebook comment."
This quote, from a recent Fussy Librarian online newsletter, reiterates a point I've been making for years: When you write, you need quiet without any distractions.
I'd suggest even going a step further: Turn off the damn phone and take no calls during your precious writing time. You can check your messages, Twitter, Facebook, and everything else after you finish. But first, sit at your desk and write!
* * *
Time control? – April 4, 2017
At last Sunday's book signing—my first event of the season (See Happenings)—I did what I always do: When a person expressed interest in my books, I rattled off a brief description of each novel.
The spiel goes something like this: "DUST is about an evil swirl of dust that terrorizes a condo; Peachwood Lake is about a wicked fish that terrorizes a lake; The Disappearance is a time-travel story about a young woman who's framed for her boyfriend's murder; and Corsonia is a mind-control tale of two girls who, on a cross-country trip after high school graduation, find a little town in northeastern Nevada where bad things happen."
But during my little speech, a strange thing happened—not once or twice, but three times. I repeatedly described The Disappearance as a "time control" story, combining time travel with Corsonia's mind control theme. Of course, there are sci-fi stories of people who can control time—I remember the character Hiro in the TV series Heroes, as well as a Twilight Zone episode. However, I haven't written a time control story. Maybe I should.
* * *
Spoiler foiler – March 31, 2017
As I mentioned in my March 23rd post, I'm writing a horror story based on good friends' real life experience with a rogue phone. Yesterday, I had a "Eureka!" moment about how my tale will end and I mentioned this information on Facebook—not my actual idea, just that I had one.
"Please share or give us a hint," wrote a Facebook friend.
No way would I ever share my ending. First of all, I haven't finished writing the story so the ending could very well change. Secondly, why would I create my own spoiler? I write stories with twist endings—things that readers (and sometimes I) don't see coming.
Reviewers have commented on this point when critiquing my short story collection, The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales. "Each story was unique, and with a surprise ending," said one reviewer. "Most of the time I was completely wrong about where I thought they were going," wrote another.
So if you want to know how my stories will end, you'll just have to read them.
* * *
Conversation vs. dialogue – March 27, 2017
"Conversation is definitely not dialogue."
When I retweeted this quote a few days ago, I realized how true it is. Most of our everyday conversations are boring because we tend to ramble, repeat ourselves, and interject expressions like "uh huh," "yeah," and "duh." As Sam Shepard points out: That's not dialogue.
Dialogue is a literary technique used to propel the plot forward. It's talk between characters that simulates real conversation. No reader wants to sift through all the unnecessary words and phrases we use when we talk. Of course, characters should sound like they are really having a conversation. But they don't have to include every meaningless word—duh, huh, you know what I mean?
* * *
Inspiration information – March 23, 2017
Novelists are observers. We watch and listen to what's going on around us, always on the lookout for an idea that can be developed into a book or story.
Last weekend, my husband and I visited good friends who told us a weird tale. Somehow, one of their phones had—by itself—called other phones. They knew this was happening because confused neighbors (luckily the phone had limited its calls to local extensions) were dialing *69 and then phoning our friends to find out why they had been called.
When our friends complained about the problem to their carrier, they were told to disconnect the phone while the company made some adjustments at its end. Our friends think the situation has now been corrected.
But I loved this story! A phone calling other phones... What if it wasn't just a technical glitch and their phone purposely made the calls? So now I'm writing a horror story about a wayward phone.
Weird things really do happen. You just have to look and listen.
* * *
Editing reflections – March 19, 2017
As I edit my end-of-the-world novel, The Touchers (Part Two), I'm grateful for encouraging quotes like the one above to channel my inner Rumpelstiltskin: All is not lost. I just have to spin the not-so-good writing into words of gold.
It's difficult to reread this manuscript and find so many things I dislike—repeated words, unnecessary words, trite dialogue—plus plot issues still to be resolved. The only consolation is that I don't have a deadline. I can work on this book until I'm satisfied with it, no matter how long it takes.
* * *
Signing season – March 15, 2017
It's hard to believe—especially for us in the Northeast, who yesterday had two feet of snow—but Monday is the first day of spring. Even though the weather isn't cooperating, spring is also the beginning of a new event season.
Here's a description of my first two events:
On Sunday, April 2nd, I'll be at the Alliance for Safe Kids' (ASK) Save a Life Exhibit Hall at Lakeland High School in Shrub Oak, NY, from 1 pm - 4 pm, sharing a YIKES! & TYKES table with children's/parents author, Linda Griffin. The event, which begins at noon, will feature a speaker and advocate for cellphone-free roads.
On Sunday, April 9th, I'll be at the Mother Nature Spring Craft, Gift & Psychic Festival at Cortlandt Colonial Restaurant in Cortlandt Manor, NY, from 11 am – 6 pm. In addition to signing copies of my books, at 12:30, I'll also read an excerpt from my short story collection.
I'm looking forward to the start of the signing season—and I hope to see many local friends. Please check my Happenings page for event updates.
* * *
Rewriting the story (update) – March 11, 2017
I finished revising my time travel story for sixth graders last week and submitted it to the educational publisher's three editors. Since it's much harder to revise a story than it is to write a first draft, this rewrite took me many hours. Finally, however, I think I added the depth to the character and the dramatic moments that the editors felt were lacking in my first attempt.
Then I waited for word that my revised story had either been accepted or rejected. On Friday afternoon, I was notified that the story had sort-of been accepted. The editor who emailed me explained she had been given the go-ahead to edit my rewritten tale—and then the editors would review it again to determine whether or not to approve it.
It seems they like the story, but not enough to approve it right now. So the tale remains in a kind of literary limbo. I've still got my fingers crossed that it makes it through the editing ropes. If not, as I posted earlier (March 3), I will adapt the tale and include it in my next collection of short stories.
* * *
Multitasking the write way – March 7, 2017
I'm working on four projects now, none of them alike. Here's the run-down:
1. If you follow this blog, you know I'm currently rewriting a time travel story for an educational publisher. Although this story is for sixth graders, it's quite complex with an intricate plot and difficult vocabulary. Rewriting is much more difficult for me (and most authors) than writing a story from scratch, but I'm trying my best to revise this manuscript to the editors' satisfaction.
2. I'm beginning an annual freelance project on the other end of the difficulty spectrum: writing short reading comprehension passages, questions, and sentences for a statewide standardized test for ELL (English Language Learners) students in grades 2-12. These 50-word stories use only basic vocabulary, even for high school kids.
3. I'm proofing my husband's humorous memoir, which he hopes to publish later this year. It's his take on his years teaching middle school English in the Bronx, as well as various other facets of modern society. Think Andy Rooney-light.
4. I'm editing my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part Two), which I'm hoping to publish sometime, hopefully in the near future. I just resolved one plot issue, but this book still needs lots of work.
At least I've got a variety of writing and editing choices—and only project #2 has specific deadlines.
* * *
Rewriting the story – March 3, 2017
When I write a book or story, I want to believe everyone will like my work. But that's not realistic. I just wrote a time travel story for an educational publisher. Although the editors loved my first effort, which took hardly any time, this story was an entirely different matter.
I had to fight to keep the time travel element as well as some of my plot incidents. When, after many revisions, the outline was finally approved, I thought I was home free. But the editors didn't like the finished story.
Today I had a phone discussion with one of the three editors, who detailed their issues. Basically, the trio felt the story was flat. They want the main character to have more depth and the plot to have more drama, especially at key moments.
I think my problem is that I'm writing this story so differently than the way I write my own books. In my personal fiction, the characters control the action and often surprise me with their decisions. In the stories for sixth graders that I'm being paid to write, I have to know what the characters will do before I write and this knowledge cuts down on the spontaneity. These characters aren't able to think for themselves.
I'm going to rewrite this story for the editors and I hope my second draft will be accepted. But if it's not, I'm not tossing the story—it's too good. I'll just adapt it for my own collection.
* * *
Reviewing the situation – February 27, 2017
Five-star Amazon reviews are pure gold to authors, especially independent writers like myself. That's why I always urge readers to post brief reviews if they enjoy my books—or those of any other authors. Most readers ignore this request, understandably, because it's extra work, but a few do take the time to jot a couple of sentences on Amazon.
A few days ago, I got one of those golden reviews for The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales. I don't know who wrote it, but it's a gem. Basically, the writer compares my stories to Twilight Zone episodes, (something others have also said), calling the tales "a little touch of the weird, but not too dangerous." The reviewer adds that "These stories are fun, and super-quick...Some of the scenarios are very funny, some are creepy, and some are deceptively ordinary...fun for all ages. If it sounds like you might like it...jump!"
And that's what other readers do when they see a five-star review: They "jump" to buy that book because they want to read something another person liked. These little testimonials are effective advertisements for me and always lead to sales.
So if you enjoyed The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales—or one of my novels—please post a short review on Amazon. It will make some other readers "jump." Thanks—and here's the link to my Amazon author page.
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Never say never – February 23, 2017
Although John Steinbeck was an excellent writer, I don't agree with his statement for two reasons: There are no rules for writing and the word "never" allows for no leeway.
I do agree that it's preferable not to spend lots of effort correcting and rewriting until the first draft is finished. However, sometimes that's not possible. For example, after spending months away from The Touchers, my two-book doomsday series, I often forgot strands of the storyline so I had to reread the entire manuscript. And when I reread, I found things I didn't like, which led to revisions and corrections.
Also, whatever piece of fiction I write—novel or short story—I reread the previous day's scene and make changes before writing anything new. That doesn't make my method right or wrong, but it works for me. Each novelist creates his or her own rules.
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Apostrophe issues – February 19, 2017
Happy Holiday! But what's the correct spelling for this special Monday? Is it (A) Presidents Day, (B) President's Day, or (C) Presidents' Day?
The answer is (C) Presidents' Day because we're celebrating the February birthdays of two great presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and Presidents' Day is the possessive form of Day of the Presidents.
Each year at this time, I check online, newspaper, and magazine ads, looking for incorrectly spelled ad headlines. Unfortunately, I always find many.
Companies that advertise a President's Day sale must celebrate just one president's birthday. I always wonder which man is being honored, George or Abe. This year's culprits include two department stores: Macy's (newspaper ad) and Sears (online ad), both offering "President's Day" sales.
I also found examples of "Presidents Day" events, meaning some ad copywriters think they can simply avoid using the apostrophe. Both Dell Computers and La-Z-Boy Furniture had glossy 4-color newspaper inserts boasting "Presidents Day" sales. Major World, a car dealership, ran a newspaper ad offering "Presidents Day Unprecedented Savings," a clever play on words, but misspelled.
Maybe the 2018 holiday ads will be better.
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Short story tweaks (continued) – February 15, 2017
The situation (see February 11 post) looked bleak until the end of an hour-long phone conversation with one of the educational publisher's editors. Then, just before we both gave up, I had an idea that enabled us to resolve a key issue with my short story for sixth graders. And, after all was said and done, I got mostly everything I wanted.
It will still be a time travel story. And the characters will remain basically the same, except for a few small changes. One minor character has been eliminated, with another now taking on that person's role in an important late scene. The plot is unchanged.
However, I did give in on one issue: the method of time travel. I agreed on a portal rather than the simpler way—a blackout—I preferred. But the editor did so much compromising that I had to give in on something.
Now I'm incorporating the changes into a new proposal, which should be approved. Then I can finally write this terrific little story.
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Too many tweaks – February 11, 2017
I've hit an impasse with the story I'd hoped to write for the educational publisher I'm working for. After reviewing my proposal, the editors came up with "tweaks"—lots of them. Some changes were fine and would improve the story, but the main ones, in my opinion—and I'm the writer—would destroy it.
Here's my major objection: This is a time travel story and the editors want to remove the time travel element. They also want to alter the characters and plot in ways I don't like. These are big changes, not little tweaks.
On Monday, I'm having a phone conference with one of the editors to discuss my concerns. If we can't tweak these tweaks, I won't be able to write the story for this company, which means I won't be paid. But even if that happens, I'm still going to write this tale. I'll adapt it (make it less preachy) for my own short story collection.
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Story, story, story – February 7, 2017
I am now writing two kinds of short stories and will soon add a third variety. Here's the breakdown:
* I write and publish paranormal-themed stories for teens and adults like the fourteen stories in my collection, The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales. I'm currently editing "The Key," a story I recently finished.
* I write fictional stories in a wide variety of genres for an educational publisher. These complex tales for sixth-graders follow specific guidelines, with challenging vocabulary and complex plots and characters.
* I write reading comprehension test passages and questions for low-level ELL students (Grades 2 – 12) for another major educational publishing company's annual project. These really short stories (under 100 words) require simple vocabulary and short sentences.
As you see, I write all types of stories—and I enjoy the variety.
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Fairy tale twist – February 3, 2017
I love making up titles and I love updating fairy tales so, for my new contest, I combined those two fun elements. The contest is based on "The Rapunzel Effect," a short story in The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales. In my updated version of "Rapunzel," a young woman's hair grows, and grows, and grows... You get the picture—and here it is:
For this contest, all you have to do is make up an original modern title for a well-known fairy tale. It's fun and easy—and you can win a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble or a signed copy of one of my books. Check it out here—and I hope you'll enter.
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Upon further review - January 30, 2017
Now that I've finally finished writing the first draft of "The Key," I'm rereading the entire 9,000-word short story for the first time. During the writing process, I just read the previous day's work and continue the story without going back to the beginning.
I must have started writing "The Key" a long time ago because I've forgotten some of the story's details. Today, I thought I made a mistake about a character walking through a forest and then realized I hadn't erred; I'd forgotten what happened to him afterwards.
I've reread about half of the story and it's pretty good, but it's got lots of holes, some of which I've repaired. Others still need mending.
After I get this tale in better shape, I can look forward to editing my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part Two)—and that book is as holey as a block of Swiss cheese.
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Euphemistically speaking – January 26, 2017
Sometimes we soften the words we say or write to make them seem more pleasant. Mild or vague expressions substituted for terms thought to be too harsh or offensive are called euphemisms. For example, instead of sending convicts to prisons, we ship them to "correctional facilities." Similarly, used cars are advertised as "pre-owned" and seals aren't killed for their fur, they're "harvested."
I thought of euphemisms this week when White House press secretary Sean Spicer claimed, "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration." Afterwards, the statement was proven to be incorrect, making it a falsehood, lie, fabrication, mistruth, or fib. Since those words all sound negative, the next morning, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway coined a new euphemism, calling Spicer's words "alternative facts."
But facts are facts and can't be modified like opinions. Creating a new euphemism doesn't change the nature of the original statement; it is still false.
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Editing experience – January 22, 2017
Most of us don't like to be criticized. I know I don't. That's why I always cringe when a story or book I've written is edited. Usually I dislike the changes the editor has made and challenge many of the "improvements."
This time was different. The editor who worked on my story for sixth grade students did such a fantastic job that I was stunned. Every revision improved the tale—and the changes didn't alter either the plot or my writing style. After I thanked the editor, I even received a detailed email explaining why each change was made.
And I'm being paid well for writing this short story. Now I can't wait to write another.
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The write stuff – January 18, 2017
It's a busy writing/editing time. On the short story front, I've written a tale for sixth graders that's been revised and edited by the publishing company. I'm also working on a time-travel idea that the project heads want me to submit. Meanwhile, I'm still writing "The Key," my own long short story, which keeps changing direction and is becoming weirder and weirder.
On the novel scene, I'm editing the first draft of The Touchers (Part Two), my doomsday tome. My next step is verifying dates and extending the timeline so the book ends in late October rather than early October because I want colder weather. After that, I have to sketch an area map (for my reference) and fill in street names.
My other assignment involves editing my husband's humorous memoir, which is nearly finished. Busy! Busy! Busy!
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Verb power – January 13, 2017
Strong verbs are powerful tools that propel a story's action. Janet Fitch is correct: Writers tend to rely on a few basic verbs and neglect to choose a more specific word. Why? Probably because it's easiest to use the obvious verb.
This doesn't mean a writer should substitute obscure verbs that no one's heard of. But why write, "John went to the store"? Instead, describe the way John went to the store. Did he walk, run, jog, dart, dash, saunter, or sprint?
"Put" is another vague verb. Rather than write, "Mary put the book on the table," find a stronger verb. Maybe Mary was angry and slammed the book or perhaps she was careful and lowered the book. She could also have dropped, positioned, or planted it.
Strong verbs are powerful tools for writers of fiction. Strengthen your verbs and you'll strengthen your writing.
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Word words – January 9, 2017
"The Key," the short story I'm writing is longer than I'd expected—now over 6,000 words—and this fact reminded me of discussions I've had about length of novels.
Q: How many words should your book be?
A: As many words as you need to tell the story.
The same "rule" holds for a short story, which can vary from under 1,000 words to about 7,500 words. A work between 7,500 and 17,500 words is considered a novelette. The next story size is a novella, which can range from 17,500 to about 30,000 words. Longer works are novels. Of course, all these numbers are somewhat arbitrary.
But the number of words in a work of literature isn't important. What's important is the story—i.e. what the writer says with the words he or she uses.
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The hard part – January 5, 2016
I'm working on two of my New Year's resolutions (see post below): writing a short story and editing The Touchers (Part Two). The first task is creative fun; the second is difficult.
Right now, I'm compiling lists of details—logging the names of all the characters (I've already found repeats, not unexpected since this manuscript was written over a long period of time), dates, and events. I also have to make an area map like I did for The Touchers (Part One).
The Touchers tasks are all work and no fun. That's why I'm trying to alternate the editing and list-making with the creative writing.
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Writing resolutions – January 1, 2017
Happy New Year! Each January, I review my writing goals and list them as resolutions, hoping this act will make them more concrete and attainable. It hasn't helped so far, but here I go again:
1. I resolve to finish editing The Touchers two-book series.
I've finally finished writing Part Two so now I'm editing both books, but the second novel needs a lot more work. Eventually—maybe late this year—I hope to publish these doomsday novels.
2. I resolve to complete a second book of short stories.
When I got tired of writing and editing The Touchers, I switched to short stories and discovered I enjoyed creating these strange little tales. My first fourteen stories became a book: The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales. I've written five additional stories so I'm well on my way towards achieving this goal.
3. I resolve to help my husband complete and publish his humorous memoir.
He's written the book, but it needs further editing and organizing. I'm hoping to publish it later in 2017.
And, of course, I always resolve to write every day, if possible. Write! Write! Write!