My Journey As a Writer

During my Daughter Am I blog tour, I have talked a lot about my writing life, I have done several interviews, I have even shown photos of my workspace, but today’s stop is by far the most candid. I worry sometimes that I’m telling too much — do people really need to know what an incredibly long journey my quest to become a writer has been? It’s an unending journey, to tell the truth. In the past eight years, I have learned how to write, but I want — need — to become the best possible writer I can be, and so I continue to learn.

I also worry that this long hiatus where I haven’t been writing will kill the urge to create, yet I know it’s in the times of not writing that my brain collates what it has learned, and so when I sit down to write I don’t have to think so much about not using adverbs, for example. I simply don’t use them. I first noticed this trait during the writing of A Spark of Heavenly Fire. I wrote the first fifty pages or so and then stopped for the summer. When I went back to writing in the fall, I felt more assured, more competent, and the writing came easy. Well, easier. Writing is never easy for me, except when it comes to stream-of-consciousness blogging. That I can do!

I always need to stretch myself as a writer, so I doubt I will ever become prolific. I also doubt I will ever do any sort of sequel that uses characters I’ve already created, unless, of course, I decide it will be a challenge. I seem to have the strange propensity for writing books I don’t know how to write, and so I always seem to be starting from scratch. I’m not the first writer to discover that writing never gets easier– it just gets harder in different ways.

I’m straying a bit from the subject, which is today’s blog stop. This is a special day for me. I am at Sheila Deeth’s blog, and she has been a staunch supporter from the moment we met online. It’s no wonder she asked such an interesting question, and it’s no wonder I let down my guard and answered.

So, please visit Sheila and me as we discuss: One Writer’s Journey.

Daughter Am I Blog Tour 2009 Schedule

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Live Chat and Dead Darlings

This seems to be a slow weekend here on the Internet. I can never figure out where people disappear to or why. What could possibly be more fascinating than roaming cyberspace? 🙂 I realize in some places the weather is too nice to stay inside, in other places it’s too nasty to do anything online. Many writers are involved in National Novel Writing Month. Many others are busy procrastinating. And me . . . well, here I am, still virtually book touring.

Today’s stops:

Beth’s Book Review Blog — Reading Fiction to Make Sense of Life’s Disorder

Writer’s Sanctuary –- Passion and Puzzles

Facebook — Live Chat: Fate, Writing, and the Power of Three

Dragon My Feet — Dead Darling From Daughter Am I 

The Dead Darling stop is actually yesterday’s but I liked the parallelism of live chat and dead darling. Speaking of the live chat — it will be tonight at 8:00pm ET on Facebook. You should be able to follow the chat without belonging to the Second Wind Publishing group, but if you wish to participate, you will need to join. I hope you do. I’d enjoy discussing writing and the writing life with you.

DAIClick here to buy Daughter Am I from Second Wind Publishing, LLC. 

Click here to buy Daughter Am I from Amazon.

Click here to download 30% of Daughter Am I free from Smashwords.

Click here to read the first chapter of Daughter Am I.

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A Store Walking Down the Street

I recently came across this sentence in a novel: “It was the kind of store I loved to see walking down the street when I was a kid.” Whoooo. I’d like to see any kind of store walking down the street!

I was thinking about that particular gaffe while I was walking down the street today. I happened to see something that made me realize the sentence wasn’t totally ludicrous — a house rolling passed me. Okay, it was being towed, but still, it was moving along the street instead of being securely attached to a foundation.

Something else I saw: a henpecked rooster. Not a pretty sight! That poor thing was pecked raw by the hens. I will never again use the word henpecked, though to be honest, I’m not sure I ever did.

Many words outlive their usefulness and become meaningless clichés, such as pitch black. Does anyone today even know what pitch is? I had to look it up. It’s a black, sticky substance from the distillation of tar. What about hair the color of a raven’s wing. Have you ever seen a raven’s wing up close? Perhaps you saw a crow. I don’t know enough about birds to tell the difference, but I do know that comparing hair to a crow’s wing doesn’t portray the same poetic image. And why are writers still referring to the squeals of stuck pigs? Some clichés are of more recent standing, such as a stuffed briefcase. If you saw someone with a briefcase, how would you know how full it was?

Clichés, poorly constructed sentences, and unnecessary bits of exposition should be eliminated during the editing process. Today’s Daughter Am I blog tour stop includes a segment of Daughter Am I that remained in the book up until a week before publication. It’s not a bad excerpt, but it added nothing except a bit more history to a novel that already had a lot of history.

You can see the segment here: Dead Darling from Daughter Am I.

DAIClick here to buy Daughter Am I from Second Wind Publishing, LLC. 

Click here to buy Daughter Am I from Amazon.

Click here to download 30% of Daughter Am I free from Smashwords.

Click here to read the first chapter of Daughter Am I.

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He Mumbled, Groaned, Hissed, Spat, Purred, Whispered

As part of my Daughter Am I Blog Tour festivities, I am exchanging blogs with Aaron Lazar. I am blogging at Murder by 4, and he is blogging here. Lucky for me!  

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at www.legardemysteries.com and www.mooremysteries.com and watch for his upcoming releases, HEALEY’S CAVE (2010), FIRESONG: AN UNHOLY GRAE (2010), and ONE POTATO, BLUE POTATO (2011).  Aaron talks about dialogue tags: 

When I first started writing over a decade ago, I exulted in every new dialog tag I could think up. I preened over “he croaked” and purred over “she grumbled.” Finding new and inventive ways to say “he said” became my quest.

My early works were peppered with gloats, murmurs, and barks. I even started a most coveted (only by me) list. 

How many words can you think of to say “he said” or “she said?” Here are some, in no particular order:

Mumbled
Murmured
Expostulated
Grunted
Groaned
Whispered
Purred
Spat
Huffed
Croaked
Barked
Choked
Queried
Cackled
Harrumphed
Stuttered
Muttered
Moaned
Hissed
Grumbled
Whined
Sang
Twittered
Tittered
Griped
Yelped
Cried
Stammered
Shrieked
Crooned
Wheedled
Retorted
Pressured
Cajoled

How many more can you think of? There are probably hundreds.

Okay, now that you’ve wracked your brain for tantalizing tags, let me tell you one very important lesson.

DON’T * EVER * USE * THEM

What? Such brilliance? Such innovative thought? 

Yeah. Sorry. Forget it. Never use anything but “said,” “asked,” or an occasional “whisper” or “mumble.” 

Once in a great while, if you feel you really need it, slip in a “spat” or “croaked.” But I’m here to tell you that dialog tags, for the most part, should be invisible. “Said,” is invisible. “Asked,” is invisible. “Barked” stops the flow of the dialog. Anything that makes your story stutter needs to be eliminated, including these juicy but totally distracting tags. 

Got that part? 

Now that I’ve encouraged you to use “said,” I’m going to retract it. 

Forgive me, but that’s just the way it is. If you can avoid a tag altogether–through the clever use of action “beats”– then more power to you. 

Here’s an example of changing a passage from lush useless tags, to he said/she said tags, to using beats instead of tags: 

Case A:

          I maneuvered the van around the next pothole, and was about to congratulate myself for my superior driving skills when a series of washboard ruts nearly popped the fillings out of my teeth.
          “Want me to take over?” Tony wheedled.
          “Why? Am I making you nervous?” I retorted, gripping the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white.
          “Of course not, sweetums. You’re a great driver. Just thought you might want a break,” he crooned.
          We rounded the bend and the road disappeared. The crater before us could hold three elephants. Big elephants.
         “Whoa! Watch it, honey. Don’t wanna blow a tire,” Tony groaned.

Case B

          I maneuvered the van around the next pothole, and was about to congratulate myself for my superior driving skills when a series of washboard ruts nearly popped the fillings out of my teeth.
          “Want me to take over?” Tony said, leaning on the dashboard.
          “Why? Am I making you nervous?” I said with a frown.
          All smiles, he said, “Of course not, sweetums. You’re a great driver. Just thought you might want a break.”
          We rounded the bend and the road disappeared. The crater before us could hold three elephants. Big elephants.
          “Whoa! Watch it, honey. Don’t wanna blow a tire,” Tony said in a panic. 

Case C

          I maneuvered the van around the next pothole, and was about to congratulate myself for my superior driving skills when a series of washboard ruts nearly popped the fillings out of my teeth.
          Tony braced himself on the dash. “Want me to take over?”
          My knuckles turned white. “Why? Am I making you nervous?”
          “Of course not, sweetums.” He forced an innocent smile. “You’re a great driver. Just thought you might want a break.”
          We rounded the bend and the road disappeared. The crater before us could hold three elephants. Big elephants.
          Tony’s frozen smile barely hid his panic. “Whoa! Watch it, honey. Don’t wanna blow a tire.”

***

These examples aren’t beautifully written or perfectly rendered. But they should give you the gist of what I’m trying to illustrate today. 

Add your own examples below, if you’d like. Let’s see some Case A, B, and C’s in the comments section!

copyright Aaron Lazar 2009

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Blog Tour — Update and Downside

I’ve passed the halfway mark of my Daughter Am I blog tour, and already I’m feeling sad that it’s going to come to and end. I was a bit nervous in the beginning about making such a blogging commitment, but it’s worked out great. My hosts have been very kind, my commenters generous, and the stops have been varied enough to be interesting. You can see the entire schedule here: Blog Tour 2009. The beautiful thing about an online book tour is that if you missed a stop, you can still come to visit, and I will always be there to greet you.

The only downside of my tour so far came today when today’s host didn’t post my bloggery. So I posted it. You can find the interview at: Dragon My Feet. Dragon My Feet is my procrastination blog. It was supposed to be the place where I talked about everything I was doing to procrastinate, yet somehow I never got around to posting what I intended. By default, it’s become a book blog.  Now that I mention it — if you have any promotional materials you would like me to post, such as an interview, a press release, a review by a friend, a blurb, send it, along with a jpeg of your book cover, to pat(at)patbertram.com. I’ll be glad to post it on Dragon My Feet. Don’t forget to substitute @ for (at) when you send the email.

I planned to do a recap to let you know what I have learned so far about blog tours, but I haven’t learned much. At least I don’t think I have. Nor am I sure I’d do it again. Don’t get me wrong — I’d like to. I really have been having fun. It’s  just that it seems so presumptuous to ask people if they will be a host for the tour. It’s a lot of work for them, and I’m not sure what they get out of it. Interestingly, I felt just as presumptuous when I was asking authors if they would like to be a guest on my blog.

If I do it again, I will have the articles written ahead of time. So much less pressure! On the other hand, I did write a lot of articles ahead of time, but then I posted them on my blog, so it sort of defeated the purpose.

Be sure to check back tomorrow — Aaron Lazar, author of the LeGarde mysteries, will be a guest here while I am a guest at his MurderBy4 blog.

Don’t forget, you can download 30% of Daughter Am I free at Smashwords.

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Big Bird and the Military

Sesame Street is forty years old today. When the program first launched, it was touted as a show to help kids learn and to show them that learning is fun. I never understood why they needed talking toys to instill a love of learning. I thought then, and I still think that learning itself is fun. You don’t need to play games while learning to find the fun and excitement of expanding your brain. But apparently, even when I myself was young, I didn’t get it. And now I’m wondering if all those Sesame Street children didn’t get it. Where are all those creative and brilliant adults that the show was supposed to produce? It seems as if both the Internet and shows like Sesame Street encourage passivity and an expectation that learning is always be easy and fun, colorful and noisy.

Oddly, as I was thinking these thoughts, I happened to notice an article suggesting that kids today are too fat, dumb, or dishonest to join the military. (75 Percent of Young Americans Are Unfit for Military Duty.) These would be second generation Sesame Streeters, first generation Internetters.

Perhaps the over-forties are every bit as passive as the under-forties, choosing the easy fun of video games, television shows, and films over books. Not that it matters, except that I have books to sell, and I wonder what my demographic is. (You did know I would come around to that, didn’t you?) I have never understood how one chooses a demographic, though I have finally realized that’s what a genre is for — finding your demographic, which is a population who will be more receptive to your book than any other population.

Today, I am a guest at Un:Bound for Ravenous Wednesday, which is so not my demographic. On the other hand, they have welcomed me and made me feel at home, and they are readers, so — despite my lack of flowing tresses and lethal wings — perhaps they are my demographic. Ah! Now I have you intrigued! You can find me, an interview, and a lively discussion at: Ravenous Wednesday with Special Guest. That special guest, of course,  is me.

DAIClick here to buy Daughter Am I from Second Wind Publishing, LLC. 

Click here to buy Daughter Am I from Amazon.

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Tripping Over Words, Rocks, and Other Things

Today when I was out walking, I took a rockier route than I normally do. I wanted to photograph some shaggy beasts that live down the road. I was paying more attention to the creatures instead of where I put my feet, and I went sprawling. The whole thing was a bit ridiculous. I’d taken the same walk yesterday for exactly the same reason, though yesterday when I tried to take the photos, I discovered the camera batteries were dead. On my way home, I tripped on a branch embedded in the ground and fell. So today, I very carefully stepped over the branch and tripped on a rock. Sheesh.

I did get some photos, though the beasts were too far away for me to get a good image. I think they might be yaks, but it’s hard to tell.

The point of this article is that if you trip over a rock or a branch, you have to pick yourself up and continue on your way. Assuming you’re not hurt, of course. (This is hilarious! MsWord has just told me “you’re” should be “you is.” As in “Assuming you is not hurt.” Yikes!) If you trip over words while writing . . . ah! What joy. You can go back and untrip. Nothing is permanent. Everything is subject to deletion, insertion, revision. (You really didn’t expect me to let a chance to moralize about writing slip by, did you?)

So what does this have to do with my Daughter Am I blog tour? Not a thing. However, since you asked —

Today I am being interviewed at the D.C. Examiner: Pat Bertram discusses her obsessions, reading, and latest projects.

I am also discussing my writing space at Savvy Verse and Wit: Pat Bertram Shares Her Writing Space.

You can also download 30% of Daughter Am I free at: Smashwords.

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Writing as Conversation with Readers

One of the guest stops on my Daughter Am I blog tour is the Second Wind Publishing Blog. I talk about a fan letter  (well, fan email) I received, and cite a quote by John Cheever, “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss — you can’t do it alone.”

Many writers don’t consider readers — they write solely for themselves, or at least they say they do — but often as I am writing a passage (or more precisely, after I have written it), I wonder what readers will think. Will they understand my references? Will they find the humor? Is my writing clear enough? I like thinking that perhaps someday a reader will share the product of my mind.

Malcolm R. Campbell, author of Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire responded to my guest post with, “Whether it’s a book, poem, post, review, article or news story, I always hope somebody will say something. One never knows. It’s a slow conversation, so much time having gone by between the moment when something was written and the moment when somebody tells you they found it.”

Such a wonderful description of writing/reading — a slow conversation. I know I’ve read many books where I felt the author and I were having a conversation, silent though it may be. I read and I think about what I read. It’s quite a heady realization that now I am a writer with readers of my own.

If you’re interested in reading the original blog post, you can find it here: Writing Without a Reader is Like a Kiss Without a Partner.

I am also at the D.C. Examiner today: Pat Bertram speaks about her novels and her writing

Today is the last day for the Clue Game at the Simpson Haunted Mansion

Also, this is your last opportunity to leave a comment to win Daughter Am I from: Book Reviews by Bobbie

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Plagiarism?

I had a bit of a scare this morning. I checked my blog as usual found a comment on my “Origin of the Grim Reaper” bloggery from someone named Robert Weniger, who said: You Plagiarist. I posted the exact words and you copy/pasted it from my website.

Um . . . What??

I love WordPress and all the statistics and information one gets! Besides email addresses from commenters, wordpress notes the IP address. I searched for Weniger’s address on the “What is My IP Address” site, and discovered the comment had been sent from a proxy server. According to the IP address site, A proxy server is a computer that offers a computer network service to allow clients to make indirect network connections to other network services. A client connects to the proxy server, then requests a connection, file, or other resource available on a different server. The proxy provides the resource either by connecting to the specified server or by serving it from a cache. In some cases, the proxy may alter the client’s request or the server’s response for various purposes.

Apparently, the comment was some sort of spam. What’s interesting is that most of  that particular bloggery was plagiarized, though if one credits the writer, it’s not truly plagiarism. It’s called research.  So, if you’re interested in my citation of William Bramley’s grim reaper information, be sure to check out The Origin of the Grim Reaper.

I also had a delightful surprise this morning. At today’s Daughter Am I blog tour stop, Zhadi’s Den, they are talking about my books! Wow, if anything will make someone feel like a real writer, it’s e-vesdropping on a people discussing one’s works. (Nope, that’s not a typo. I just thought it looked better than e-eavesdropping.) So, please meet me at Zhadi’s Den to talk about consistency in writing or my books, whichever you prefer.

DAIClick here to buy Daughter Am I from Second Wind Publishing, LLC. 

Click here to buy Daughter Am I from Amazon.

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Persisting in Delusion

“It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” — Carl Sagan

Is this true? When it comes to the cosmic universe, perhaps. When it comes to our personal universe, is it better to persist in delusion? Isn’t that what a dream is, a delusion? The dream might be attainable with luck and hard work, in which case it’s not a delusion. If it is not attainable, is it better to hold on to the dream or is it better to persist in delusion?

I used to think reality was important — I spent my life trying to get down to the rock bottom of “what is” (as opposed to what we think is). I studied particle physics and quantum mechanics (for fun, can you imagine that?) and discovered that every particle can be divided into smaller particles and those particles can be divided, until what you end up is nothing. Or a wave. Or a thought. Or something that changes every time you look at it.

Now I don’t know if reality is all it’s cracked up to be. If our perceptions can change “what is” at the quantum level, perhaps it can change life at the macro level where we live. If so, it might be better to persist in delusion.

I explore this theme of delusion (or illusion, which perhaps comes down to the same thing) in all of my books: What is truth? What is reality? Who are we, really — are we our memories, our experiences, our dreams? And I still don’t have an answer.

So what does this have to do with my Daughter Am I blog tour? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps I am deluding myself that what I am doing will increase sales, increase name recognition, increase my network of friends. (The last is not a delusion — I am making new contacts.) And if this tour turns out to be some cosmic illusion, is it still worth persisting? Of course it is. It’s the doing that’s important — the quest.

Very strange — these are the thoughts that usually strike me late at night, and here it is early afternoon. Must have something to do with all those late nights. Or maybe it’s just an illusion.

Today I am guesting at Alan Baxter’s blog, talking about writing tools. You know the ones I mean — hammers and chisels. Please stop by and say hi. At least there, the talk is much more concrete.  You can find me here — Alan Baxter: The Word.

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