Monday, February 28, 2011

Settings: Authentic or Fictional?

     The March issue of The Writer has an interesting article about settings: "Make It Up--or Keep It Real?" Author Tanya Egan Gibson says, "Bringing fiction to life, in most cases, requires a blend of invention and fact...The real part of it makes the 'unreal' believable." She also ascribes to a caveat which I've read other places: impugning an actual place (of business) isn't the best way to win friends and influence people--and might get you into trouble!
     The idea for The Face on Miss Fanny's Wall, recently contracted by Champagne Books, came from a visit to Ft. Smith's (Arkansas) Visitors Center, a restored 'social club' known as the 'Hello Bordello'. While I used the names of real geographical features--i.e. rivers--I changed the name and location of my fictional bordello since I invented a plethora of dangerous events occurring in and around it.
     On the other hand, in The Showboat Affair, I carefully researched Houston, Texas, for authentic locations such as street names, neighborhoods, and restaurants--and when my characters went to Branson, I used an actual hotel, tourist attractions, names of shows, and 'The Branson Belle' (showboat)--but all with a positive spin. However, when Nick and Jean start home and run into trouble on the road, though I used the name of a real town, I made up the hotel where the trouble occurs.
     Just this week, I visited two Civil War battle sites, as well as an antebellum home used by the 'Yankee invaders' as a headquarters, and all of those locations will find their way into a current WIP--but under fictional names and in another state. The Penelope Pembroke cozy mystery series I'm working on is situated in the fictional town of Amaryllis, Arkansas, somewhere near both Little Rock and Hot Springs.
     I love the research aspect of writing, despite the fact that it can be tedious and time-consuming. Sometimes it's difficult to keep a 'real feel' while still disguising and/or fictionalizing a setting. But the challenge pays off in the end if readers not only identify with the characters but also with the world in which they live.
     What kinds of settings do YOU use, and how do you craft them?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Websites You Shouldn't Miss--and a Contest Likewise!

This week's blog focuses on a few of the huge number of writing websites out there in cyberspace. It's easy to get overwhelmed with information--much like a seven-course meal! So take it in small bites and spend plenty of time chewing (reading, thinking), and your writerly digestion will thank you!

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing

Writer Beware Blog (previously recommended)

Duotrope's Digest (jobs and markets)

Funds for Writers (previously recommended--don't miss this!)

Writer Gazette (includes potential magazine markets for those interested)

Absolute Write


Cool Stuff 4 Writers


Also, for any of you who enter the occasional contest, don't miss the variety of opportunities offered by Writer's Journal.  The Fiction Contest, with a January 30 deadline, is past for 2011, but there are others:
  • Short Story/$10/May 30
  • Horror/Ghost/$7/March 30
  • Romance/$7/July 30
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy/$7/November 30
  • Poetry/$3/ April 30, August 30, December 30
My all time favorite is their Write-to-Win! Contest. For a paltry $5, you have a chance to win $150 and a year's subscription to this excellent magazine. Also, first prize winners receive publication.There is ONE winner, but the four runners-up win a year''s subscription. I was fortunate enough to be one of the runners-up a couple of years back, and I even renewed my subscription when it ran out! I haven't entered again until this year.

For this fun contest, you must begin your story with certain words:
  • The road wasn't on the map, but... (deadline April 20)
  • The man grinned as... (deadline June 20)
  • Before the end of... (deadline August 20)
There is a word limit for each category. What I like about this contest is that it's fun, no pressure, good writing practice, CHEAP, and...did I mention CHEAP? Most writers count pennies, so $5 isn't unthinkable. I like the fact that the folks at Writer's Journal know this!

For more information, visit the contest guidelines at

If you decide to enter--and you place--let me know! I'd love to do a feature on you and your award-winning story!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Online Marketing--What's necessary and what's not

     M.J. Rose, best-selling author of 11 novels, made an interesting observation in "The Must-Have Online Marketing Plan" in the 2011 edition of Writer's Yearbook (Writer's Digest):  that authors who use free templates to create their websites get the same number of visitors as authors who spend thousands of dollars to have a website created for them by a website designer.
     The comment got my attention because I listened to a speaker spend a great many words on the premise that only professionally-designed websites are acceptable. I rejected the idea then, as did others in attendance, and now I feel vindicated.
     My budget did not and does not allow for that kind of expenditure, so if I'm to have a website, it's going to be one of my own creation--and that's what I have. Personally, I like the freedom to make changes as I deem necessary. I did buy a domain name and email, but the cost was negligible (relatively speaking).
     I digress. The author says that a strong writer's website is mandatory. However, she went on to say that a blog is optional. If the number of comments left on this blog is any indication, it doesn't get that many visitors. I do my best to visit/comment on other writers' blogs, but there are only so many hours in a day. Frankly, I enjoyed writing my personal blog more, but I ditched that to concentrate on a writing blog. Maybe I (we all) should do what I (we all) enjoy most.
     Ms Rose's advice certainly lends credibility to the idea that 'one size does NOT fit all'. Yes, authors have to market their books, and there are some basic 'gotta-do's'. I'd recommend reading her article. It left me with a good feeling that I was doing something right, a feeling of relief that I didn't have to do everything 'they' say to do, and a feeling that there are more things I can do.
     What do YOU think?

     Writer's Yearbook 2011 is not part of the Writer's Digest subscription. Visit your nearest bookstore/newsstand and look for it there.

Monday, February 7, 2011

New Book on the Shelf

 You'll want this one on your writing shelf!

   In one of the writing magazines I subscribe to, I read a short review of John McNally's The Creative Writer's Survival Guide (University of Iowa Press, 2010) and ordered it immediately. Subtitled, "Advice from An Unrepentant Novelist", its 259 pages (minus index) are chock full of timely topics.
     The book is divided into six parts:
  1. The Decision to Become a Writer
  2. Education and the Writer
  3. Getting Published
  4. Publicity
  5. Employment for Writers
  6. The Writer's Life
     In addition, a section simply called "Notes" provides
  • Ten Rules to Keep Near You
  • My Five Favorite Movies about Writers
  • Recommended Reading
     Predictably, Rule #1 is "Writer every day. No excuses." I have to admit that there are days when I don't write a lot. Sometimes I'm just weary of it, so I give myself a vacation. Sometimes I'm just stuck--though I won't go so far as to call it 'writer's block'. Sometimes I have other things to do and run out of time. But I usually write something, even if it's no more than a blurb or a tagline--or a blog.
     Recently, I've gotten involved with a couple of sites for which I'm reading books and writing reviews. That's a good writing exercise, actually, requiring a bit more creativity than simply saying, "It was a good book. I liked it." Or, of course, the opposite.
     Skipping to Rule #10: "Find some joy in the act of writing. If you cease to find joy in it, it's probably time to do something else." Remember the fairytale "The Princess and the Pea"? The litmus test for a real princess was being able to feel the pea beneath stacks of feather beds. Perhaps Rule #10 speaks to the litmus test for a real writer. Simply, we write for the sheer enjoyment of putting the words on paper, no matter how time-consuming, frustrating, difficult, wearying, and often painful it is. For the writer, writing is joy.
     The back blurb says, in part, "Directed primarily at fiction writers but suitable for writers of all genres, John McNally's guide is a comprehensive, take-no-prisoners, blunt, highly idiosyncratic, and delightfully subjective take on the writing life." Now--how can you resist?    
Disclaimer: I bought my own copy of this book and am sharing it with my fellow writers! No perks garnered!