Weekly Roundup 9-12-18

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

Grandparents Day was Monday September 10th, and this year turned out to be super special. While I already have two granddaughters, my grandson was born on Monday – nine days late! I certainly appreciate my daughter-in-law’s sacrifice in waiting to give birth just to make the day even more magical for Grandpa!! Don’t know when I will get to see the little guy, since he’s all the way out on the east coast and I’m getting ready to move.

It’s crunch time now. Yesterday was my last day of work, and I have a few days to finish packing and cleaning before traveling to my younger son’s wedding. After that, I return here, pack up the truck and head back out again, arriving on the 28th. I’ve moved MANY times before, but this one is proving to be a bit more complicated than I would like. I don’t relish the thought of doing it all by myself, but there is no one available to go with me. I’m grateful for friends here who are helping me prepare and pack the truck for an eight-hundred-mile trip.

The farthest move happened many years ago when I went off to attend graduate school. The journey was eighteen-hundred miles and took over twenty-seven hours across mountains and two time zones. Two years later, I turned around and did it again. No way in the world I would try it now, and most certainly not by myself! Looking back, I have moved at least thirty times since graduating from high school. I’d like to think this month’s relocation will be my last, but I know it won’t be. Maybe someday I’ll be able to afford a house and put down some roots.

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Traitor’s Moon: chapter eight is complete and initial feedback was very positive! There was a lot riding on this pivotal chapter which included action, danger, drama, and the set-up for relationships in the second half of the book. You’re going to love it! Word count stands at 64,000+.

I was pleased to get it done, as I have to set aside my writing until I get moved and settled. It bugs me not being able to continue – I feel as though I am shirking my duty! I’ll try to keep you informed during the next couple of weeks, but don’t be surprised if I have to skip a Roundup or two.

Weekly Roundup 8-1-18 CURSES! Using naughty words in fiction.

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

Curse. Swear. Expletive. Oath. Profanity. Cuss. Invective. Malediction.

Virtually everyone does it; from presidents to the smart-mouthed kid next door. Swear words may be pithy or profane, mild or malevolent, productive or pointless. Even mild euphemisms such as darn, shoot, and heck are simply substitutes for the “real” thing, and everyone knows exactly what you mean (sorry Grandma).

It follows, then, that fictional characters will also run a blue streak from time to time, and most readers would find it strange if they didn’t. Swear words are verbal emotions; cathartic for the speaker, able to evoke a visceral response in the hearer. It’s a non-physical way to let people know how you really feel and a powerful part of our interaction with others.

I grew up in a household where the strongest language included hells bells, ship ahoy, and crapola. Why? My parents were determined to raise respectful, educated children and they believed excessive swearing was a sign of moral failure and below average intelligence. Consequently, the cuss words I generally use are mild and infrequent and this spills over to the characters of my books.

I find strong language offensive (especially the F-word), and have no interest in creating foul-mouthed characters, even if it makes them more realistic. I believe I can convey the proper meaning and attitude with minimal obscenities, and my readers seem to agree.

I can’t tell you how many times I have stopped reading due to excessive use of profanity, even though the story up to that point was quite good. You might be surprised how much I put up with, but if the writer can’t tell the story without gratuitous curses every other sentence I will look elsewhere for my entertainment. Your standards and mine may differ, and that’s OK – just don’t expect to find F-bombs scattered through the pages of my books!

Here’s a few quotes I like:

“Grant me some wild expressions, Heavens, or I shall burst.” George Farquhar

“The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it.” George Washington

“I think the reason that swearing is both so offensive and so attractive is that it is a way to push people’s emotional buttons, and especially their negative emotional buttons.” Steven Pinker

“There ought to be a room in every house to swear in. It’s dangerous to have to repress an emotion like that.” Mark Twain

“I’ve never found an interesting person with a foul mouth.” Marilyn vos Savant

“Swearing was invented as a compromise between running away and fighting.” Finley Peter Dunne

“Writing for adults often means just increasing the swearing – but find an alternative to swearing and you’ve probably got a better line.” Steven Moffat

“Profane swearing never did any man any good. No man in the richer or wiser or happier for it.” Robert Lowth

You may find these resources interesting:

Why Do We Swear? by John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

What’s Wrong with Swearing? from the Cuss Control Academy

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Traitor’s Moon update. Another Gladstone pack member finds their mate! Word count is now 40,000+.  I finished chapter five on Sunday and will complete the editing today. I prefer to clean up each chapter as I go so the task isn’t so daunting at the end. If I don’t, the errors I KNOW are lurking in the text become so distracting I can’t concentrate on new material! I have read advice from established authors who do all the writing, followed by all the editing, but that method doesn’t work for me.

One step forward, two steps back. As an Indy author, I don’t have access to professional help to improve my writing skills. I’ve learned so much since I published my first five books almost a year ago, with advice coming from beta readers, reviews, various articles and blog posts, and a daughter-in-law with an English major (thanks J.)

When I become aware of an issue, I have to not only incorporate it into my current manuscript, but I also correct the others which came before it. This takes time and headache-inducing editing!

Recently, I’ve been working on three areas of concern:

  • 3rd person POV – apparently I missed the memo about Third Person Omniscient being decades out of fashion and should therefore be using Third Person Limited. What? Not going to happen! Well, not the way it was described in the article I read. I’m not prepared to ditch the Omniscient view entirely, as I find it quite useful, and will most likely continue the combination of Omniscient/Limited I have been using. What I am going to do is limit the view to a single person or group of people in any given scene/paragraph to reduce head-hopping.
  • Quotation marks – “When dealing with quotations that extend over more than one paragraph, you need to put quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph but at the end only of the final one.Great! What wonderful advice! Do you know how long it’s going to take me to fix this? Now would be a good time for an expletive….
  • Several reviewers have commented that they feel they are being told the story rather than living it, but none have gone on to explain exactly what they meant. After consulting with someone who has read all of my books (thanks T.), the suggestion was to include more specific descriptors. Nothing extensive, but by adding occasional colors, textures, sounds, smells etc. to the text, the reader will be able to experience the story in a way which echos real life. This is not a bad suggestion, but will take time to correct retroactively, and force me to change the way I write going forward.

Well, that’s more than enough from me today. Time to get some $!#*&@ writing done!

Age-Revealing Words!

I ran across an article the other day which reminded me once again of my age – not a pleasant topic of conversation considering my birthday is this week. Here’s a few words and phrases which will reveal your age:

Fuddy Duddy  – Just say “old fart” and you’ll be understood.

Dear John Letter – if you have to explain what a “letter” is, you can forget the “John” part.

Davenport – stick with sofa or couch to be safe.

Long-distance call – Ha! even the word “telephone” is fading, along with “operator” and “collect calls”.

VCR and Videotape – now inhabiting every antique store in the nation.

Little Black Book – hmmm….perhaps check your contacts list.

Wet blanket – I prefer party-pooper myself!

Making Whoopee – “hooking up” or the old standby “having sex” will get the idea across.

See the full article HERE if you need more!

Anyway, the issue, as it relates to my writing, is the challenge of creating believable dialog for characters who come from outside my own age group. Fortunately, I don’t write for children or young adults so most of my word/phrase choices are at least minimally understandable to my readers!

What can I say? I’m a product of my generation, which includes the way I speak and the words I use to communicate. Now don’t repeat this, but I enjoy utilizing uncommon words or phrases when possible to make the text more interesting. If my readers don’t know what something means, it’s easy to look it up and learn something in the process.

It is thought there are at least 250,000 distinct words in the English language, with 171,000 in current use and 47,000 on the obsolete list. What richness to draw from when writing! So, go head, choose a few antiques for your next book, story, or blog entry which no one uses any more. You can educate your readers AND rescue some perfectly good words from the “obsolete” list at the same time! You don’t want to be a party-pooper do you?

 

Reader Roundup 6-20-18. Using the Contact Hypothesis in Fiction.

Reader Roundup is a weekly update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

Several factors came together this week from my own experience, my writing, and from society at large. This post is going to be a bit more personal than usual, but it is a subject close to my heart.

Many authors of gay novels make use of the tension between gay and straight as a theme in their stories, as I myself am doing in my current series, Gladstone Shifters. Why? Despite a general increase in acceptance in recent years, the aforesaid tension remains an unfortunate reality in the lives of GSM (Gender and Sexual Minorities) folk everywhere. It’s been present in my life all the way back to grade school and remains an issue today. Mine is not a unique experience, as many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Much of the hostility out there is a result of ignorance and fear, along with a lack of personal connections which put a face on the issue. Incredibly, there are a multitude of straight folk who claim not to know one single GSM person, and yet have plenty to say concerning a subject they know nothing about! As we share our stories, there is a familiar thread which binds many of them together – a change in attitude and position came about only after personal relationships developed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work this way, even among family members, but the concept has been around since the 1950’s.

The Contact Hypothesis, or Intergroup Contact Theory, is often credited to Gordon W. Allport (1954). The premise of Allport’s theory states that under appropriate conditions interpersonal contact is one of the most effective ways to reduce prejudice between majority and minority group members. If one has the opportunity to communicate with others, they are able to understand and appreciate different points of views involving their way of life. As a result of new appreciation and understanding, prejudice should diminish. Allport also claims that prejudice is a direct result of generalizations and oversimplifications made about an entire group of people based on incomplete or mistaken information.

In other words, (and as common sense would tell us), as we build relationships with each other the fear and misinformation can be replaced with acceptance and understanding. Unfortunately, it’s something of a catch-22 trying to overcome the barriers which prevent the relationships in the first place.

Many a gay person, myself included, has been rejected by a neighbor, co-worker, or family member after our orientation was discovered. Being burned this way makes us cautious and less likely to be honest about who we really are. Meanwhile the straight person has no idea they are rubbing elbows every day with GSM folks, and they continue on blindly with their prejudices based on what they already “know”. One remains in ignorance while the other hides in self-protection. We aren’t going to get anywhere this way!

Without mentioning the Contact Hypothesis directly, I will be using the concept in my current manuscript as part of the story. I want to show what is possible under the right circumstances from both perspectives. Is this pie-in-the-sky idealism? Perhaps, but it presents a positive option to the deadlock we often see in modern society, and I really don’t want to dwell on that any more than necessary! For the story, it will provide a bit of drama, solve an immediate problem, and perhaps plant a seed in the minds of my readers.

NOTE: I am not a trained psychologist or make any claims regarding the usefulness of the Intergroup Contact Theory. I wanted to share my thoughts on the subject because they are germane to the story I am working on and dovetail with my own observations and experiences. Take from it what you will!

For more information regarding the Intergroup Contact Theory, click HERE.

Update on Traitor’s Moon: working on chapter 2, word count: 14,000+, three new characters introduced, Jack and William make their reappearance,  Alaska becomes part of the story. I wish I could write faster, but even then it would not be enough for some of my readers! Good things come to those who wait…

Reader Roundup 6-13-18

Reader Roundup is a weekly update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

Seems as though everyone and their mother is trying to sell me their book on how to be a successful author. Much of the material I’ve seen is repetitive, common sense stuff with little value. Allow me to share some helpful gems which are worth repeating – and I won’t even charge you for it!

  1. SLEEP. A consistent sleep schedule with 7-8 hours per night is essential to supply your mind and body with the energy and creativity you need. Shortcuts lead to lethargy, sluggish thinking, and a lack of productivity. No more excuses – DO IT!
  2. STOP. Stop writing before you are finished. What?? The best way to jump-start your writing the next day (and avoid writer’s block) is to stop before you complete the section/chapter you are working on. I find it very helpful to leave myself brief notes which include the things I still want to say, giving me grease for the wheels when I come back to it later.
  3. FORGET. Forget about the guilt if you can’t write something every single day! I work full time and often have days of zero writing. There are enough pressures on my time and psyche, so laying a guilt trip on myself is destructive and pointless. Yes, a serious author must remained committed to the task, but there’s no need to beat yourself up in the process.
  4. COLLECT. I’ve mentioned this before, but always be prepared to record ideas when they make themselves known. Just because you are on chapter one doesn’t mean you should ignore a great idea for chapter six or even the end of the book – or subsequent books if you’re doing a series. Write it down, send yourself an email, record it on your phone – whatever works for you. The point is not to let good ideas get away simply because they occur to you at an odd time. Once forgotten, they may remain so!
  5. EDIT. Go over your manuscript with a fine tooth comb, and then hand it off to a team of beta readers. Make corrections and then re-read the thing from start to finish to see what else you and the others have missed. Repeat as often as necessary to produce the cleanest possible product. If you cut corners here, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Readers will forgive occasional mistakes but they will not give your book(s) a second chance if it is riddled with errors.
  6. COVER. You must have an attractive cover if you expect people to seriously consider looking at your book. Even if your writing is top-notch and the manuscript has been carefully edited to within an inch of its life, you have one chance to grab their attention. Spending the time and money to do it right will pay for itself many times over. Remember this – many potential readers will initially see your book cover in a thumbnail size, so make certain it’s clear and eye-catching.
  7. BLURB. Writing a book description, or jacket blurb, is one of the hardest things an author must do. It has to be brief, yet catch and hold the attention of a potential reader within seconds. It ain’t easy! You are competing with hundreds of other books, and readers are looking at the cover, blurb and price to determine if they want to purchase. If you lose them right out of the gate, all your hard work on the manuscript will be for nothing. Personally, I use my beta readers to help me determine if the blurb is doing its job. If not, I write as many as necessary until they give me a thumb’s up.

There are probably a zillion other things I could mention, assuming I’m even aware of them myself, but this is a good start. The next step is marketing, which is a minefield each author must learn to navigate for themselves without losing limbs, and I’m not going to pretend I have it figured out. For now, focus on writing a great story and preparing it for publication, since that in itself is a huge milestone and worth celebrating!

Do you have tips and tricks to share? Comments/questions? Just want to say hello? I would love to hear from you! Click HERE.

***Update on my current manuscript, Traitor’s Moon. I finished chapter one today and am ready to move on to chapter two! This may not seem like such a big deal, but it’s an indication of real progress. I’m eager to write about new characters as well as old friends from book one who have an integral part in the story.

The World I Like Best

I have always considered reading as a healthy way to escape for a while. One glance at the news gives ample reason to seek a temporary way to stop the real world and enter an imaginary one. Like a pressure valve, it enables me to face the sometimes harsh reality of life by being able to remove myself from it, even if only for a short time.

It was only recently I understood that writing the story serves a similar purpose for me. One of the perks of being an author is the opportunity to let my mind and imagination LIVE within the story I am creating. Even more, I get to influence each event and character to my liking. It satisfies a bone-deep desire to have mastery over something – anything – since real life gives only a fleeting illusion of any sort of control. It also compels me to keep going, since I miss the characters and the lives I’ve designed for them.

Writers, then, are doubly blessed – or cursed, depending on how you look at it. There is something deeply fulfilling about creating an imaginary world which is uniquely mine. The setting, characters, action, and outcome are all mine to fashion, and I relish in crafting a story in which I get the final say. Nothing in real life allows such complete creativity, enabling me to enjoy not only the worlds created by others, but the ones I craft myself. A double blessing indeed.

Where it All Started

My desire to write dates back to a 7th grade challenge given by my English teacher. A speech contest was coming up and we were all encouraged to enter. I cannot remember my personal motivation at the time, but it was probably a desire to boost my fragile self-esteem by finding something I was good at. It would never be sports or academics, and I had a terrible time making friends. I was a lonely, rudderless kid searching for a place in the world.

There were various themes from which the contestants could choose, and I selected to speak on Big Brothers/Big Sisters. I did my research, interviewed someone at the organization, and set about to write and memorize my speech. I recall how nervous I was that night, standing on the stage in front of a hundred strangers. The speech went off without a hitch, and I was flabbergasted to be awarded first prize! I don’t have that trophy any longer, but I kept it for years as validation.

From there I was emboldened to continue writing other things – mostly short stories, songs and poems. (I still have some of these, and might be persuaded to share them with you sometime if you ask nicely!) My new-found confidence spilled over into drama and music, as I finally found something  I could DO, something which reflected the real me. I never got over the nerves of performing in public, but I didn’t let it hold me back. Public speaking became a regular part of my life for many years, though my writing took a back seat until very recently.

In some ways, publishing my books is just as nerve-wracking as public speaking. It is difficult to leave my creations out there for all to see (and criticize). Reviews are both a blessing and a curse, since most authors tend to take negative criticism very personally – even though we are warned not to. I am learning to appreciate the feedback from my readers; even the ones who are unnecessarily vicious in their comments. I have learned much already, and my readers are helping me to be a better writer, editor, and businessman.

The learning curve has been steep, but I hope that a year from now, or ten, my books will be better in every way. Who knows? Perhaps I still have a chance to win a trophy or two.

 

Where do story ideas come from?

I have been asked where the ideas come from for my books, but the question does not have a simple answer. For the most part, the source is my own imagination which is fed by life experiences, news reports, casual conversations, dreams, movies, and other books I have read. It may be said there is a story to be told in almost anything – the trick is to make it interesting for the reader.

I cannot speak for any other writers out there, but I live in my head most of the time. Ideas come and go constantly, and some get more attention than others. The good ones tend to stick around and bug me, while the others are dismissed unless they come up again. When that happens, I tend to stop and rethink the possibilities. Some ideas would be great for a short story but impossible for a novel length piece. Other ideas are ones I wish I could write about, but lack the skill or experience to tell them properly.

With a brain like grand central station, I am forced to write things down when inspiration strikes, or I tend to lose them quickly. I have a number of file folders, divided by genre, filled with scraps of paper with hastily scribbled notes. That may seems like a quaint and inefficient way of doing things, but it works for me and gives me the peace of mind to let the idea go for now, knowing it is safely recorded for use when I need it. Each day is filled with potential story prompts, and as long as I have a pen and paper handy, I will have plenty of fodder for creative and interesting future books.

If you have read my books and have suggestions for future stories, drop me a line at aelliottbooks@gmail.com

I never know where a great idea may come from – it could be you!