Thursday, February 26, 2009


Late winter, here in Pennsylvania (where I live) exudes lackluster. That should be a paradox. It should be impossible for lackluster to exude. Lackluster should just fade away. But I'm telling you it's taunting me, it's in my face.

I look out my window to see that the gray woods are conspicuously void of green. The snow that has not melted yet is gray. It sags on the ground, wanting to slip into mud, just not able to muster the energy. The clouds are drab. The air feels cold, but not so cold--teetering between spitting snow or dripping rain. Too void of energy to make up its mind.

Mid semester, my job seems lackluster, too. In the next forty-eight hours, I must slog through seventy-two papers filled with sludgy prose. Sometimes, the prose is worse than sludgy--it's an abomination. (It seems a sacrilege to call it prose. Can I make up a word and call it pranchy?) One student committed twenty-one style errors (grammar and spelling) in three pages. She's a senior in college. Her paper alone almost propelled me out of lackluster and into resigning my job and becoming a grocery store bagger.

I think I'd be a great bagger because I care a great deal about arranging items in bags. I like to group like items together and fit as many as possible into one bag. (No manager would have to stand over me, reminding me to conserve on bags.) I have great rules for bagging--like cereal boxes must be placed in paper bags.

Some days, convincing students to care about writing style rules seems about as possible as convincing the rest of the world that my bagging rules matter.

I'm always looking for ways to lure my students into caring about writing. Last week, in my search I ran across a writing question last week that made me think. It pinpoints a writing essential. Ask of your piece: what gives this piece energy? Is it the plot? The characters? The truths expressed?

A piece without energy is like late winter in Pennsylvania: lackluster.

Cheers to energized writing!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Attack of the Slug Beast

Well, I lived through the dreaded radio interview this morning and the twisted knot that is my stomach is starting to unwind.

I shared with you last week about my radio phobia but my publicist doesn't seem to comprehend the magnitude of my psychosis and has scheduled yet another one for tomorrow with Reach FM (90 stations in Florida). Sigh.

I know. You're sitting there in your nice safe computer chair thinking, "Oh, get over yourself." You see? Now my psychosis is morphing into paranoia.

Actually, the two radio interviews I've done so far haven't been as bad as I anticipated. The anticipation is always worse than the actual thing we're dreading, isn't it? Except maybe an execution.

This morning a lovely lady named Takiela (pronounced like the drink)from Books-A-Latte ( if you'd like to hear the taped interview) called me about five minutes before the scheduled Podcast. We introduced ourselves and she put me on hold while she got connected to her broadcast equipment. Within about two minutes, I heard a click and then her theme music and intro. I resisted the temptation to flee. Then she introduced her special guest, me.

Boy did I feel un-special as the sweat beaded on my forehead and my dripping armpits glued my Dumbo-flap upper arm cellulite to my sides. My tongue felt about the size of that gigantic underground killer slug beast in "Tremors." Once I forgot Takiela's name and started to call her Margarita, but managed to bite the slug beast before it got all the way above ground.

Anyhow, Takiela began asking me the questions I had previously provided to my publicist, who had in turn, e-mailed these "talking points" to the host. This is how radio and TV interviews work so everyone supposedly knows what everyone else is going to say and long awkward silences are therefore avoided.

Since my brain has been leaking essential information like a sieve lately, I had somehow forgotten to have my "script" available so I ended up winging the answers off the top of my head. Thankfully, Takiela was a gracious host and did not once hint that I wasn't making any sense or repeating myself. We actually had a few genuine laughs together and bonded over our mutually pathetic choc-addictions (the book we were discussing was my upcoming March release, Mom Needs Chocolate).

I vow to be better prepared for tomorrow's interview. Yeah, right.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Eyes are the Windows to the Soul

A few days ago, I was reading a book by Eugene Peterson and was struck by a comment he made on eyes. It gave me a new appreciation for that old bromide: The eyes are the windows to the soul. That's what our words can do...take something old and give it a fresh meaning. Something Eugene Peterson is remarkably skilled in.

"Our eyes are remarkable and accurate signs of our inner spiritual health.

They narrow into slits when we hate, envy, and scheme.

They open wide in wonder when we live in adoration and generosity."

"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light..." Matthew 6:22

Friday, February 20, 2009

Author Interview with Mark Mynheir

Welcome to author Mark Mynheir.

Can you give us a little bit of information about your publishing history?

Rolling Thunder was my first book; it released in 2005. From the Belly of the Dragon was my second. The Void was next.

The Night Watchman is my latest. It releases in May of 2009.

When in the process of writing your book did you begin to look for a publisher?

I had written a complete novel before I attempted to find a publisher. But to be fair, I knew nothing about the publishing business. I do think it’s good for the first-time author to have the book completed. That way the agent/publisher knows that you have the wherewithal to finish the book.

What has been the best part about being published?

Seeing my name on a book at Barnes and Noble has been pretty cool. But in truth, I enjoy the whole process. I like writing the stories, seeing them published, talking with readers and other writers. The publishing industry is a lot of fun. Sure beats my day job.

Will you share with us how you come up with ideas for your books?

Usually, I use personal and job-related experiences. It’s a mishmash. I take from many sources. Anything that I can think of to make the stories stronger.

Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as write it?

I do a very vague outline and then jump into it. The story often changes as I’m moving along. I classify myself as a seat-of-the-pants writer.

What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your book?

I hope to create characters that the readers think about long after the story has ended.

What are your dreams for your writing?

I’d love to quit chasing bad guys at some point (they’re getting faster as the years go by) and write and speak fulltime. But for now, I still have to split the careers.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given/learned in your life as a writer?

Hone your craft. Everything else revolves around this.

What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a writer for publication?

I wish I’d have read a few more books on novel writing. I’ve had to play some catch up. There are a lot of subtleties and techniques to make stories stronger, particularly with regard to structure and point-of-view usage.

In publishing, I should have taken the time to talk with experienced authors about the business end and expectations. It would have saved me some unnecessary aggravation.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

Quite bumpy. When I was growing up, the worst thing I could think of doing was writing. I loathed putting words to paper. I’m Dyslexic and the very reason (I believe) that God invented spell check. But soon after I became a Christian, I felt the Lord leading me to write. It didn’t make much sense to me and seemed impossible. I shared with my wife what I thought God was doing, and she encouraged me to go to school and learn the skills I needed to write.

So, it took about ten years of classes, writing, and more classes. I met my agent at a writer’s conference. He shopped my first novel, which got some good reviews but didn’t sell. Then I wrote the proposal for Rolling Thunder, my first published novel. He sent it out. I expected it to take six months or so before I heard anything. But about a week later, I got an e-mail from Multnomah, asking if I would be interested in writing a series. I had to wake my wife up to read the e-mail, just to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind.

To say the least, I got kind of weepy when I held my first book. But don’t tell anyone.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

I started with a three-book contract, but it was upgraded to a five-book contract after the release of Rolling Thunder. So The Night Watchman is the fourth book of the contract.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

Chip MacGregor is my agent and a fantastic one at that. (I hope he reads this.) In today’s publishing world, a good agent is a must. The agent does a lot more than just secure the contracts. A good agent helps develop your career and writing as well.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

I think radio and TV are the best options. Oprah would be good.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Self-promotion can be huge. But each author has to determine what he/she can reasonably accomplish. I have a very limited amount of time for self-promotion, so I’m very selective about what I take on.

Where can readers find a copy of your book?

Family Christian Bookstores

Barnes and Noble

Lifeway Stores

And anywhere Christian books are sold.

Please visit me at my website:

Thank you for having me.

Thank you very much for stopping by our blog. We wish you great success!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Literary Awards!

We just found out today that Grit for the Oyster is a semi-finalist for two (TWO!) literary awards by Reader Views!

It was selected in two categories: "How-To" and "Writing/Publishing."

The winners will be announced March 15th. We'll keep you posted!

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Writers Journey Continued

My publicist confirmed a live radio Podcast interview today. Shudder. Am I the only author who grows faint at the mere suggestion of hearing my faceless voice broadcast far and wide? Definitely NOT my best feature. Almost as bad as showing a close up of my thigh cellulite on "Impossible Make-Over."

Somehow I don't mind TV interviews as much, maybe because I feel that I can redeem my reedy, piercing, Southern-hick voice with a few well placed facial expressions. But there is no hope when the listener mentally constructs the rest of me based on my voice alone. Think Bullwinkle's Rocky meets Dolly Parton. Squeak with a twang.

My publicist has been really busy this week. Besides the Podcast, she also lined up a Choc-tastic Book Signing at my local LifeWay (my book is "Mom Needs Chocolate") and two other pending radio interviews. Fool that I am, when I heard that one of the stations was in Orlando, an hour away, without thinking, I actually OFFERED to drop by the studio and BAM! One of them went from a taped interview to live.

Anyone got any extra duct tape?

Promo is certainly keeping me hopping, and that's a good thing. I spoke at a Pen Women luncheon today and have four more gigs lined up for this week - three schools and a writers group. The good news is that they're all at Cocoa Beach/Merritt Island (the setting for my novels, "The Distant Shore" and "Billowing Sails"). The bad news is that it's supposed to be 34 degrees and windy. Bother. Guess I'll leave my bikini at home (as if I have one).

Speaking of bikini's, I casually mentioned during my writing speech today that I'd lost 40 lbs during the last year. When I opened the floor for questions later, three hands immediately shot up, all wanting to know how I lost weight. No weighty writing queries, no, only weighty weighty questions. I don't know if anybody heard a single thing I said after the weight comment. I wondered why they were all staring at my derriere.

Maybe my next book should be about weight loss. Not a bad idea, really, when you look at the gazillion media ads/articles/product pitches about that very thing. It's what people like to read and fantasize about, including me. Whereas I once wrote an article about my jumbo anatomy called, "My Cups Runneth Over," I could call my new book, "My Cups Caveth In." That was the first thing(s) to go. My heaping C-cups turned into scant teaspoons.

Okay, I'll stop lest our male readers are blushing about now.

So do I have a point to this rambling diatribe? Um, no. But it sure was fun.

Reminders We All Need to Read...Then Read Again

Writing Tip #1: Put off editing.

Each of us works at writing on two levels: a creative, unconscious level and a critical, conscious level.

Writing Tip #2: Write what you know.

Given the chance, what do you talk about endlessly? What drives you to seek out information? What are your passions? When you write what you know, you write with authority. People listen to you because you are one who knows. You are interesting because you are interested. Your knowledge is a gift to share.

Writing Tip #3: Research.

Deepen the well. No matter what you know about the subject, there is always more to learn. Make sure you have the latest information available on your subject.

Writing Tip #4: Use a structure.

For some writers, having a structure in place first makes the writing easier. These writers prefer to think things out ahead of time and then build to a plan.

Writing Tip #5: Use strong verbs and nouns.

The verbs are the action words. They put things in motion. Make yours as strong as possible.

Writing Tip #6: Be wary of adverbs and adjectives.

If your verbs and nouns are strong, you can get rid of many adverbs or adjectives. Don't know what they are? They are the "describing words" your elementary school teachers told you to use to make your writing "more interesting."

Writing Tip #7: Use correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

Yes, there is a time to turn on the proofreader.A book is like housework.

Writing Tip #8: Work the details.

Your ideas come through more clearly when they are supported by details. Sensory details bring a scene clearly to mind. Most of us rely on sight, so visual details are most common in writing. But use other senses, too. Psychologists tell us the most evocative sense is smell.

Writing Tip #9: Cut, cut, cut.

Writers often fall in love with their own words and phrases. Cutting them can feel like killing a person.

It only feels like that.

Cutting words from writing is like pruning in the garden. When we get rid of the dead, diseased, and ugly, we are left with a stronger, more beautiful, fruitful plant.

Be ruthless with your writing. Chop out every unnecessary word.

How do you know what can go?

Read what you've written leaving out parts you question. If the piece still makes sense, leave out the excess. Compressed writing packs a punch.

Writing Tip #10: Use active voice.

Technically, active voice puts the active agent first, followed by the verb (the action), followed by the object of the action.

Passive voice reverses the order.

Active - The boy hit the ball.

Passive - The ball was hit by the boy.

Writing Tip #11: Use parallel structure.

Doing the same thing in the same way creates a pattern that helps a reader follow along.

Writing Tip #12: Show, don't tell.

If it's a sermon your reader wants, there are churches to oblige.

What does it look like, sound like, feel like, taste like, smell like? When you describe a person or event, your reader is there with you. When you tell, the reader relaxes to the point of mental slumber.

Writing Tip #13: Use humor when you can.

Not everyone cracks jokes all day long. But a light touch from time to time lowers a reader's guard and opens her to your ideas. Be careful that your humor is kind and tasteful, unless of course you are writing for seven-year-olds, when bodily function humor is high on the list.

Writing Tip #14: Build to the end.

In English we expect the most important item to be at the end. When you write a list, put the most important, unusual, or powerful item last.

The final sentence in a paragraph ties up your ideas in a neat package or hints at what is to come.

Your most powerful paragraph comes at the end of the chapter.

Poets labour over their final word. Let yours linger in the mind.

Writing Tip #15: Choose a beckoning title.

A good title is catchy and says, "Read me." Depending on your topic, you may want to steer clear of a "cute" or "witty" title in favor of one that makes a clear promise of what is inside.

Writers often discover a title as they write. Sometimes a phrase or reference in the book comes to stand for the whole work.

Writing Tip #16: Print out a hard copy.

Now you can do your own editing! Click here to learn how.
Many people compose directly onto a computer. That's what I'm doing as I write this. Even if your printing company wants an electronic file, and most do, print yourself a hard copy. It is easier to read and to find your mistakes on paper.

Worried about the trees? So am I. I print my work on the backs of pages as often as possible. I use flyers, form letters, fax cover sheets, any piece of paper with a blank side. I've discovered even loose leaf paper will go through my printer.

Writing Tip #17: Read your work aloud.


No cheating.

Read all the words out loud in the order in which you've written them.

This is the single best self-editing technique.

You will find awkward places or unclear references as soon as the words are out of your mouth. Some writers stop immediately to fix the problem. Others mark their paper and keep reading, going back later to fix things.

Either way, read every word out loud.

After you've fixed the problems, read it aloud again.

Keep doing this until you can't find any more problems.

Writing Tip #18: Find an editor.

Professional writers edit their own work, share it with trusted friends, and then submit it to a publishing house. There another editor is selected to read the work closely, looking for areas that need improvement or a special polish. In fact, more than one editor will check every book. Professional editors know these 18 writing tips and many more. Furthermore, they recognize strengths and weaknesses in writing.

Source:Writing Tips

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Feature: Author Cheri Cowell

Welcome, Cheri, to Grit for the Oyster!

Can you give us a little bit of information about your publishing history?

I began writing in 2000 after a 15 year career in youth and children’s ministry. After a rocky start (my first contract was withdrawn, leaving me to question this calling), I decided to become a magazine writer expert. I figured rejection would hurt less with articles. I now realize God had given me a taste of success which would fuel me as I learned the publishing lay-of-the-land. Then, seven years later I was ready and He fulfilled my heart’s desire for a book.

When in the process of writing your book did you begin to look for a publisher?

I began with that dream, but tucked it away when the contract was withdrawn.

What struggles have you had on the road to being published?

I’ve already mentioned the contract issue, but more importantly, I’ve struggled with my own self-talk. I needed those seven years to really believe I had what it takes to carry the message- in a book and in my speaking.

What has been the best part about being published?

Hearing from readers that what you wrote helped them through a difficult time. On the funny side, it tickles me when I say to people I have a book published and when they ask with whom and I say “Beacon Hill” their eyes get big. Then I say, “Yes, I know, I did it the hard way.”

Will you share with us how you come up with ideas for your books?

My first book is about an issue I struggled with for years- knowing God’s will, or more to the point, how to discern God’s will. My second book (I’m awaiting a contract offer) came about because of my love of the Church and my heartache for those who view her as irrelevant. I believe we need to have passion for the subjects we write about.

Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as write it?

LOL, all writers must begin with a skeleton outline as publishers need to know where we are going and if we have enough “there” for a book. However, there is a big difference between this sort of an outline and a detailed outline. When I was writing this book, I had fallen a bit behind and was fearful I’d not meet my deadline- a big mistake. So, I decided to try my hand at a detailed outline. I spent two days working on this outline- two days from writing. I then set about to write that chapter. Well, it didn’t take long before I was no where near my outline, but I liked what God and I were doing so I kept on writing. My chapter didn’t look anything like my outline, but I was happy with the end product. (I did meet my deadline after all.)

What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your book?

That decision-making God’s Way is about a process; it’s not a hidden will we are to find. God loves us so much more than that. He wants you to grow in relationship with Him so much so that your will and His are the same. The six-question process my book reveals is a means for developing that intimate relationship.

What are your dreams for your writing?

I am blessed to be attending Asbury Theological Seminary where I’m earning a Masters in Theological Studies. My goal is to take the wonderful things I’m learning and translate that for the building up of the body of Christ.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given/learned in your life as a writer?

Seek to serve and not to be served; writers write everyday; writers are readers; and the more you learn the more you know how much you need to learn.

What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a writer for publication?

That the writing journey is just that- a journey and the relationships you begin when you first start out are ones you’ll carry with you for life. Therefore, every person you meet is worthy of your time and attention.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

In some ways it was bumpy, and at the time it felt downright pot-holed. But looking back I can see how I was saved from the monster of defeat. That monster steals more dreams than rocky roads.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

I was an unusual case. It was 13 months. My publisher had an opening in their pub schedule and asked if I could meet their deadlines. If I could I had a contract. “Of course,” was my answer.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/she is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

My agent is Les Stobbe, a giant in the publishing industry. I got him by accident; I wasn’t looking for an agent. I had a proposal I couldn’t get interest in and so I submitted it at a writers’ conference to be examined by an expert. Les was the expert who received my proposal and he like it and offered me a contract.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

A publicist. I received a scholarship for a six-month contract with Kathy Carlton Willis. She has been a blessing. I’ve tripled my output working with her and will find a way to hire her for the next book release.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

I planned and executed my own book tour, speaking in churches and doing book-signings. I increased my speaking to promote the book, and I’ve written numerous articles tying themes from the book to current events.

Where can readers find a copy of your book?

My website Direction and Discernment,,, and your local Christian bookstores.

Thank you very much for stopping by our blog. We wish you great success, Cheri!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Writing Day

I was informed last week by the powers that rule my work-life that all meetings scheduled for today were going to (Unfortunately. Haha, if only they knew.) be canceled. There are a lot of things I could do with a suddenly free day, but I determined to set aside Thursday, February 12, 2009 as a writing day. I planned to sit at my computer for at least four hours and write.

Of course, I needed a project. (On Tuesday, I sent a requested project to Discipleship Journal. --Please pray that they love it.--So it's time for a new project.)

Last night, I made a list of possible writing projects and determined that today I would write. I would not give in to writer's block or writer's inadequacy that usually plague me. I would write and write and write.

At 7:45 AM my daughter left for school, I poured myself a cup of coffee and approached the computer.

At 7:46AM the lights flickered and flickered and went out. When I called to report the outage, I learned that due to high winds power lines everywhere were falling. I faced a powerless day.

Only a fellow writer can understand the self-control that I had to exercise not to tantrum excessively. Well, actually not self-control, but prayer--fervent prayer. And God graced me with a better attitude. I found a pen and some lined paper and started to scrawl. An hour later the lights came back on and now I can write...

How would you spend a writing day?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ten juicy tidbits I took away from the Space Coast Writers Conference (the following info came directly from a New York literary agent):

1. "Lists" come out twice yearly
Front list: Big tour authors; current best-sellers
Mid-List: Most new books, more experimental or from new authors
Back-List: Evergreen or perennial books that plod along year after year

2. Many mid-list authors barely sell enough copies for publishers to offer them another book; the mid-list is shrinking and instead of adding more authors to the list, new authors are replacing older authors.

3. Among literary agents, what used to be termed "platform" is now called "content" (means an author's means of getting his/her name before the public).

4. "Traction" means the sales numbers that larger publishing houses look at when presented with a self-published or small press book that is doing well. Purchase of these books is not exactly commonplace, but it does happen; called "self to shelf."

5. Book titles and plots/ideas can't be copyrighted but song titles and lyrics can. Be sure to do your legal homework in the use of registered or trademarked products.

6. What literary agents look for:
A. How prepared is the author to apply for the job of "Book Author"? What is his/her strategy? Marketing plan? How does he/she plan to help? (Promo is now more the writer's job than ever before and publishers expect them to get out there and get their hands dirty.)
B. Is there a good answer to the old Max Perkins (the agent who discovered Hemingway)question: "Why does the world need this book?"
C. Does the book have a good prognosis? Will the topic sell in the projected market two years from now? (The average time from contract to press is 1-3 years.)
D. "Perfect pitch" - the query must elicit sparks and stand out above the rest. Key words to include are "fresh" and "new."

7. Agents make their decisions based on page one of your query; sometimes paragraph one. Don't overwhelm them with multiple pages and start with an irresistible hook.

8. "Querial killers" (rookie mistakes in queries):
A. Ignoring "show, don't tell"
B. Not including these crucial elements: Protaganist, Setting, Problem, Take-Away (take-away must be significant and memorable; must connect with targeted readers).
C. Author expecting to sit back and let the publisher sell the book.

9. "Acq.Ed" (pronounced "Ack Ed"): Acquisitions Editorial meetings are usually held weekly at publishing houses to discuss/discard/choose new projects. Agents are often invited in the later stages; Agents consider themselves "midwives" in delivering new books, or matchmakers between publishers and authors.

10. Book titles are VERY important; current trend is for buyers from major book sellers to be queried for title suggestions (because of their fingers on the pulse of the public). Titles must grab the eyeballs of readers from first glance on; new trend is shorter titles for fiction and non-fiction, with longer non-fiction subtitles explaining the specific topic of the book.

Parting quote: "All the sensitivity in publishing can fit in a gnat's navel."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Have you received any rather rude rejection letters lately? If so...don't take them too personally. Suffering a few battlescars is part of being a writer. The following are excerpts from rejection letters sent from publishers to authors...

Jorge Luis Borges

'utterly untranslatable'

Isaac Bashevis Singer

'It's Poland and the rich Jews again.'

Anais Nin

'There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my opinion, no artistic.'

Jack Kerouac

'His frenetic and scrambled prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don't think so.'

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D H Lawrence

'for your own sake do not publish this book.'

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

'an irresponsible holiday story'

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

'an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.'

Watership Down by Richard Adams

'older children wouldn't like it because its language was too difficult.'

On Sylvia Plath

'There certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice.'

Crash by J G Ballard

‘The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.'

The Deer Park by Norman Mailer

'This will set publishing back 25 years.'

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

'Do you realize, young woman, that you're the first American writer ever to poke fun at sex.'

The Diary of Anne Frank
‘The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the “curiosity” level.’

Lust for Life by Irving Stone

(which was rejected 16 times, but found a publisher and went on to sell about 25 million copies)

‘ A long, dull novel about an artist.’

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

'The grand defect of the work, I think, as a work of art is the low-mindedness and vulgarity of the chief actors. There is hardly a lady" or "gentleman" amongst them.'

Carrie by Stephen King

'We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.'

Catch – 22 by Joseph Heller

‘I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities.’

The Spy who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré

‘You’re welcome to le CarrĂ© – he hasn’t got any future.’

Animal Farm by George Orwell

‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA’

Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde

‘My dear sir,

I have read your manuscript. Oh, my dear sir.’

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

‘... overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.’

Source: Writer's Services.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Our daughter Carolyn turned 16 last week and decided she's old enough for a part-time job. She's been visiting restaurants and filling out applications. She recently applied at a restaurant her older brother was fired from a few years ago.

Later that day at the dinner table she mentioned to him that she'd applied there and he said, "EEWH, I hope I didn't wreck your chances of ever getting hired there. If I did, I'm sorry."

I was happy that he'd matured enough to be sorry.

My husband Steve didn't think that was enough and said, "Matt, I wish you'd write a letter to the owner apologizing for your actions."

An uncomfortable silence clogged our dinner conversation (this is a good place for a strong metaphor and if I wasn't blogging, I'd star this section and come back to it in a few days.)

After a few awkward moments, Matt said, "Well, Dad, I bet you have a few letters of your own to write."

More uncomfortable silence. To my credit, I didn't start listing people Steve could write. And after a minute, I recalled a line from one of my favorite movies. "Everybody has to write their own letters," I said quoting a line from "Changing Lanes" and attempting to shift the conversation to a less stifling topic.


I love memorable lines like that. Some day, I want to write a novel that's full of them. But right now all my novel ideas are unfinished drafts on my computer.

It's so hard for me to devote substantial time to my novel ideas because I'm afraid the finished product won't meet my expectations.

I was speaking with a friend at work about my hesitations. She said, "It's better to do it imperfectly than not to do it at all."

Another good line. I think I'll make it my new writing motto.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Writing how-to Snippets

A few choice tidbits gleaned from New York publishing house editors and several successful authors at a recent writers conference:

1. Trend for today's successful novels: third person POV.
2. Build rapport with characters before you kill them off (which can be a problem if you start with a murder in the first chapter).
3. Insert the threat of danger rather than danger itself to keep suspense high.
4. Common "early writer" mistake: resolving conflict before the end of the book without introducing a related conflict.
5. Developing a 20-second "elevator pitch" about your project is a MUST. Use it as promotion in conversations everywhere (you won't be considered a bore if you keep it brief and people won't roll their eyes when they see you coming).
6. Include an unexpected change in each scene.
7. Nothing will kill a story worse than an extemporaneous scene (a scene added to explain the story line).

More later...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Advice from John Steinbeck for Beginning Writers

John Steinbeck is a local hero in my area. I came across this letter he wrote and thought it would fit in Grit's theme:

"I have written a great many stories and I still don't know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances..."

Dear Writer:

Although it must be a thousand years ago that I sat in a class in story writing at Stanford, I remember the experience very clearly. I was bright-eyes and bushy-brained and prepared to absorb the secret formula for writing good short stories, even great short stories. This illusion was canceled very quickly. The only way to write a good short story, we were told, is to write a good short story. Only after it is written can it be taken apart to see how it was done. It is a most difficult form, as we were told, and the proof lies in how very few great short stories there are in the world.

The basic rule given us was simple and heartbreaking. A story to be effective had to convey something from the writer to the reader, and the power of its offering was the measure of its excellence. Outside of that, there were no rules. A story could be about anything and could use any means and any technique at all - so long as it was effective. As a subhead to this rule, it seemed to be necessary for the writer to know what he wanted to say, in short, what he was talking about. As an exercise we were to try reducing the meat of our story to one sentence, for only then could we know it well enough to enlarge it to three- or six- or ten-thousand words.

So there went the magic formula, the secret ingredient. With no more than that, we were set on the desolate, lonely path of the writer. And we must have turned in some abysmally bad stories. If I had expected to be discovered in a full bloom of excellence, the grades given my efforts quickly disillusioned me. And if I felt unjustly criticized, the judgments of editors for many years afterward upheld my teacher's side, not mine. The low grades on my college stories were echoed in the rejection slips, in the hundreds of rejection slips.

It seemed unfair. I could read a fine story and could even know how it was done. Why could I not then do it myself? Well, I couldn't, and maybe it's because no two stories dare be alike. Over the years I have written a great many stories and I still don't know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances.

If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.

It is not so very hard to judge a story after it is written, but, after many years, to start a story still scares me to death. I will go so far as to say that the writer who not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium.

I remember one last piece of advice given me. It was during the exuberance of the rich and frantic '20s, and I was going out into that world to try and to be a writer.

I was told, "It's going to take a long time, and you haven't got any money. Maybe it would be better if you could go to Europe."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because in Europe poverty is a misfortune, but in America it is shameful. I wonder whether or not you can stand the shame of being poor."

It wasn't too long afterward that the depression came. Then everyone was poor and it was no shame anymore. And so I will never know whether or not I could have stood it. But surely my teacher was right about one thing. It took a long time - a very long time. And it is still going on, and it has never got easier.

She told me it wouldn't.