Friday, November 21, 2014

How to Record Your Own Audiobook: Give the gift of your writing for Christmas

Last year a friend, Rebecca Cook, asked me to write a 30-page Christmas story that she could record as an audio book to be used as a Christmas gift.  I decided to give it a try and the result was a delightful gift we shared with friends and family. 

Rebecca narrated the story and her nieces and nephews gave voice to the elves who bravely faced the computer glitch that threatened Christmas. (They also created the artwork for the CD cover!)  I was lucky.  Because Rebecca records audiobooks professionally, she already owned the required recording software and the skill to edit our book.  

But being a professional isn’t a requirement with the technology available today.  If you are interested in recording an audiobook yourself, just write your story, find a free recording software program on the Internet and start recording.  Asking your friends, students, children, or grandchildren to record different characters makes the book even more special.  You can upload the book and send it to others or make a CD to wrap as a gift under the Christmas tree. 

I found some great advice for writers who want to record their own book on  The article, written by Guy McDowell, outlines the steps needed to make your own videobook.  Check it out at:

A couple of tips from Guy McDowell:
We’re going to talk about taking something that you’ve written or read, and putting it into sounds so that you can either listen to it yourself, or share it with others. We’re also going to do this on the cheap.

Tools Needed
Headphones (The over the ear kind are best.)
Microphone (Preferably one with either foam over it or a pop filter.)
Sound recording and editing software (I like Audacity, but there are other Audacity alternatives.)
Something written (After all, it starts as a book.)
Pencils, maybe even colored ones.

Let’s move forward assuming that you have your recording software installed and have gone through the rudimentary tutorial that probably accompanies it. You’ll probably find that in the menu under Help. Let’s also assume that you have plugged in your headphones and microphone, and tested them out a little bit.

We’re also going to assume that you have chosen, or maybe even written, the book that you want to record. I want to take a little bit here to talk about the book you’ve chosen. Let it be something that, if no one else ever heard your audio book, you’d listen to it at least once a year. Let it be something that, if your descendants should hear it one day, it says something about you and what you believe in. That’s my take on it anyway. Just a suggestion.

Prepping Your Material
Re-read the book, with your pencils nearby. You could use sticky notes or something else if you want. As you go through the book, make notes about how you want things to sound. Think of these as stage directions. I suggest using a coloured pencils so that you have a visual cue as to what you want to do or sound like when you read a certain part. You know, maybe red for anger or blue for sadness. I think you understand where I’m going with that.

Also take a few seconds to just record the ambient noise in the room that you’re recording in. Record the silence. It comes in handy later to fill in gaps or to lead into or out of speech, instead of maybe rustling papers, or coughing.

Check out the rest of Guy’s advice at:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Principles, Perfection, or Probation: Why grammatical purists should leave their red pens at home

Being a strict grammarian doesn’t always pay.  Are your corrections sometimes met with annoyance or even outright anger?  Have you been ostracized for your well-intended corrections?  If so, you may be overdoing it, and now might be the perfect time to step back and reconsider your need to remind others of their bad grammatical habits. 
You might be right, but as Dr. Phil says, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”
 Need some proof being right isn’t always the best thing?  Consider the story about the two young men who undertook corrections that led to their arrest by officials who didn’t appreciate their dedication to grammatical perfection:

In August of 2008, two men were sentenced to probation, banned from national parks for a year, and fined over $3000 to repair a more than 60-year-old, hand-painted sign at Grand Canyon National Park. According to an AP article of August 8, 2008, the two twenty-somethings removed an unnecessary apostrophe and added a comma to the sign during a trip across the United States dedicated to wiping out errors on government and private signs.

The sign, located inside a rustic 1930s watchtower, was printed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, the architect who designed the watchtower and other Grand Canyon-area landmarks.

Authorities learned of their identity from an Internet site one of them operated. The name of their site: Typo Eradication Advancement League, or TEAL. The problem is, what they considered correction, officials labeled vandalism ... and bragging about it landed them in big trouble.

Read the full article:

Still dedicated to being a member of the force? Considering relaxing your standards? Share a comment with us.

Monday, November 17, 2014

4 Reasons Why Grammar Police Make Terrible Writers

The following blog post was written by writer and author Linda Formichelli. Carol Tice reprinted the article on her popular blog, MAKE A LIVING WRITING … practical help for hungry writers, where it garnered 153 fascinating comments.

In Tice’s words, “I consider the occasional mistake the price paid for generating as much content as I do. It happens…and it’s OK. And people who zoom in on that one mistake instead of using the info you’ve given them to go out and earn more have misplaced priorities. Thanks for this post, Linda!"

4 Reasons Why Grammar Police Make Terrible Writers
By Linda Formichelli

The other day I received this email in response to a marketing message I sent out to my subscription list:
Basic grammar forbids the use of double negatives, “…using the wrong set of skills for the wrong job”. An authority on writing must master the rules of writing before they can be taken seriously.
(I so wanted to let this guy know that “the wrong skills for the wrong job” is hardly a double negative, and that some of the greatest writers of all times used double negatives for emphasis — Shakespeare, anyone? But I took my own advice and hit Delete.)

And here’s a small excerpt of a 400-word comment I got a few months ago pointing out two typos in a post:
This the very first article of yours that I have read and I already have an image of you built in my mind. A harried, hair all over the place woman who rushes around to get her work done! Not very flattering, is it.
I DO NOT think that of you, but I could and all because of two little mistakes in your writing! A person’s writing is a reflection of them, is it not? Given that you are teaching writers how to make a living from this wonderful craft, is it not prudent to be as perfect in your advise as possible?
I know other professional writers get all kinds of emails pointing out their typos and grammatical errors. So what’s the problem? People need to know when they’re wrong so they can improve, so why not be the one to let them know — right? Wrong. Here’s why you should retire your Grammar Police badge forever.

1. Grammar Police aren’t perfect

Did you notice the mistakes in these two Grammar Police messages I received? In the first one, he put the period outside of the quote marks. (And I know he’s American, so he has no excuse.) In the second, he wrote “advise” for “advice.” (And there were many more mistakes in the rest of the 400 words he posted.

People in glass houses and all that.

If you want to criticize someone else’s writing, you better make damn sure yours is absolutely perfect. And who wants that kind of stress?

2. Grammar Police waste time

The time and energy you spend policing other people’s grammar is better spent elsewhere— like, say, writing.

I just had to look up the guy who unsubscribed from my Morning Motivations emails because of a perceived double negative, and discovered that he has a book on Amazon. A book with a flabby three-star average rating (out of five stars). And reviews calling the book “boring.”

With all the time he spent getting PO’d about my grammar, writing and sending me an email, and unsubscribing from my list, he could have improved his own writing by reading a writing blog, reading chapter of a book on the writing craft, or editi ng some of his own work.

I guarantee you will never see, say, Stephen King shooting off an email to a writer admonishing her for a typo. He’s too busy, you know, writing bestsellers.

3. Grammar Police have bad attitudes

I love it when people write to me and say, “You may not have noticed this, but I wanted to let you know you have a misspelled word in the title of your post.” That is constructive criticism and that writer doesn’t earn the moniker “Grammar Police.”

I think the term “Grammar Police” refers specifically to people who berate you for your grammar errors — all out of proportion to the severity of said errors. Those who tell you your writing won’t be taken seriously with typos, or who paint a picture of you as a frazzled writer who can’t cope with life.

If that’s the attitude you display to other writers, you’re going to have a hard time networking and making friends in the writing community. And we all know how important contacts are in this industry, right?

4. Grammar Police have trouble writing

People who are sticklers for grammar and who blow up over typos tend to be perfectionists who never get their writing out to the world because they’re too concerned with making it perfect — which it will never be.

When you see a writer who is ├╝ber prolific, you’ll find that they make the occasional error. That’s because they don’t get hung up on getting it perfect — they get hung up on getting it done.

Also, show me someone who gets hyper about grammar and I’ll show you someone whose writing is probably stilted, businesslike, and boring. I mean, “An authority on writing must master the rules of writing before they can be taken seriously”? Snooooze.

Good writers know how and when to bend — and break — the rules. For example, sometimes purposely breaking a grammar rule adds emphasis, or makes a piece of writing more conversational and reader-friendly.

Okay — time to hang up your Grammar Police uniform for good, and instead spend your time writing, writing, writing.

Linda Formichelli has written for over 130 magazines, is the co-author of The Renegade Writer and blogs about writing at The Renegade Writer. Her new book is Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race and Step Into a Career You’ll Love.

MJH: I know I'm occasionally guilty of being a judgmental grammarian and often find myself agonizing over my own writing mistakes. Linda's post and the reader comments lifted a little of that guilt from me. I hope you’ll feel the same after you read the post and then head on over to MAKE A LIVING WRITING to check out some of the comments at the address below:

Be sure to leave a comment for us if you've had a run in with the grammar police or are considering hanging up your badge ! 

Friday, November 14, 2014

I Need a Wife

We are pleased to offer a guest post by Kelly Sullivan

I need a wife. But I am one. In there lies a predicament.  I don’t want a modern wife, a liberated one with her own goals … like me. I want the other kind, like the ones from the fifties who freshen up before you arrive home, mix you a cocktail, clean the house, make dinner – and manage all of the small business details of your artistic career. 
OK, I really just want one who will manage all of the small business details of my artistic career.
Striving to be a better painter takes continual ‘work’ if I can call it that. It takes time. And the better you get, the more you want to put out there so that it is seen, and it sells, and it grows. Unless you are ‘kept’, you need to feed your pigment habit, as well as your family. This forces either economic success, or an alternative income. If those are my options, well... there is no option.
I’m fortunate. I stumbled into a nice career of finger painting (believe it or not). I've managed to create a income as an artist, though my tactics were far from traditional. My success depended as much on my ability to produce a proposal as it did the art I created on site. The balance of business and art were equally weighted, no doubt about it. As the years move on, I’ve become more and more dedicated to classical art, and the study of it.  All I’ve ever wanted was to be an artist, surrounded by peers, making a difference in the world.  My vision has become more focused, and my dedication and passion for it has not wavered.
But all the tenacity in the world doesn’t change the fact that if art is to be your business, there is business to be done. There is as much going on behind the easel as there is in front of it: web sites, blogs, shows, frames, marketing, client contact, press releases, finance and taxes.  It is almost too much for one creative mind to absorb, let alone accomplish. Complicating the issue is that the more time I spend in front of my easel, the less time I want to spend at my desk. But it seems that their demands for attention coincide. One without the other is only half the recipe, and your cake will flop – unless of course you have a good wife. Then perhaps it will show up well frosted. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Writing Subtext: What Lies Beneath

The greatest dialogue in plays, films, or books, manages to impart that which is said and that which has been left unsaid. The elephant in the room, as it were, will keep everyone guessing. A literal definition of subtext describes a message which is not stated directly, but can be inferred. It pertains to the hidden, less obvious meaning perhaps archly delivered by some of our greatest actors.
How is it done? Isn't dialogue hard enough without adding this to the mix? The answer is yes.
Studying the book entitled, Writing Subtext: What Lies Beneath, by Linda Seger I have gained some insight as to how a writer can manage to achieve this. If the audience is let in on a secret, there will be much that can be read into the simplest of statements. A daughter may pretend to like the suitor her father picked out for her, but if we know that she secretly loves someone else, there will be a subtext to all she says. If a mother only wants what is best for her son, but does not want a daughter-in-law who is above her in social standing, she may seem to be welcoming this newcomer, but we will read into her attempts to be friendly. In some cases, such as the world of Shakespeare's Hamlet, the whole of Denmark can be slightly rotten. If the road to power is suspect, the dialogue will be full of subtext. Obviously, Shakespeare was a master at this skill. He would even have a character walk downstage and let the audience in on a few secrets. A sudden windfall, an unlikely suitor, a change of leadership, or even a new invention, can put all known truths under a new microscope. Perhaps everyone is trying to make an adjustment, but no one wants to. There you will see subtext.
A character at odds with the culture about which the audience is familiar will provide many a laugh as the poor fellow bumbles along, unaware of his missteps. Subtext is an essential tool in the comedian's toolkit. In a tragedy, the very elements left unsaid, can be the ones propelling everyone to their doom.
While thinking about this topic, my thoughts lead me straight to a much- loved play, namely, The Importance of Being Ernest. Oscar Wilde states it flat out in Act 1, Scene 1. Two characters, Algernon and Jack, have a discussion while waiting for guests to arrive for tea. Discussing names Jack says, 

"Well, my name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country."


"I have always suspected you of being a confirmed Bunburyist; and I am quite sure of it now."


"Bunburyist? What do you mean Bunburyist?"


"I'll reveal to you the meaning of that incomparable expression as soon as you are kind enough to inform me why you are Ernest in town and Jack in the country."

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious and modern literature a complete impossibility."

By the time the guests arrive, we have learned that both Bunbury and the Jack/ Ernest situation, are used as an excuse. When in town Ernest must leave at once as his brother Jack is in a pickle. When in the country, it is Ernest who calls him away, thereby providing the perfect excuse to escape social functions to which he is less than enthusiastic. Bunbury provides a similar ruse. Through the remaining scenes of this immortal play, all references to these characters are loaded with subtext.
Characters sometimes do not know themselves. Their most basic drives and instincts may be covered up by social convention, or self-delusion. The stage may be full of actors whose roles are at cross purposes. Therein lies the subtext.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

In Flanders Fields

The famous poem written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, penned as a memorial for his slain friend, Alexis Helmer, pictured above, captures the essence of sacrifice. The chilling poem grew to symbolize World War One itself. School children in Canada were tasked with memorizing it, and reciting it at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. This year, as we remember the fallen, we know that they are all together now; there are no living survivors of what is often called, 'The Great War.'
It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. As my great grandfather was a committed pacifist, we can only surmise how difficult it must have been for him to see his only son go off to war. Fortunately, we have access to the letter he wrote expressing his thoughts:
The World Office,
Tuesday 1st February, 1916
My dear boy, I suppose you find it hard to think of yourself twenty-one years ago, but the dear little chap who used to love me so much and put his arms around my neck, and climb up on my knee, and play ball and do all the other little things which you won't think anything of until you have children of your own, are all on my mind. Well dearie, you are a man now and your own master as I have always tried to have you be. I may not have done as well by you as I hoped, but you are all I could wish in the main things, clean, truthful, brave and generous. I think you will have enough regard for the old days to keep these things in your heart all your life.
You are going on a high quest now, not for yourself but for all the world. I have never bothered you much with religion, but I want you to feel that you are at all times in the care of the Master and that He will be with you in times of difficulty or danger. Even though you stand in the shadow of death you need fear no evil for He will be with you if your heart is turned to Him.
The war has interfered with many plans I had for you. You are going to England but not as I expected. I do not know what another year may bring, but we are all in the hands of the Eternal. I hope you won't think of this as a sermon or a screed. It is just a loving word from your old Daddy to wish you all the best things in the world, and to kiss you goodbye as you go away and leave all the old times behind forever. Don't forget, no one will ever love you better than I do. It makes me all the sorrier that I have such a poor way of showing it.
God bless you dear, now and always.
Love, my dear boy, Your loving Daddy

By the grace of God my grandfather lived and came home to raise a family. A recent book, released in Canada last week, depicted many of his experiences in the war. He was at all four major battles: Ypres, the Somme, Passchendale, and Vimy Ridge. He was also a fly boy, and in this book, I saw a photo of him in his leather coat, leather hat and goggles. At one point, his plane was shot down and even though he was wounded, he managed to land it in an obliging field. He said it fell in circles as a leaf comes down from a tree.
His gunner tapped him on the shoulder and asked, "What is going to happen?"
He said, "You and I have had a lot of arguments about religion Wardsy, and in about forty seconds, we will find out who is right."         
                                                  Conn Smythe in flight gear.
Mercifully, they managed to land and as they scrambled out of the plane, they saw a man waiving to them frantically. Feeling they were about to be rescued, they headed for him only to learn to their horror that it was a German. He pointed his gun at my grandfather's chest and pulled the trigger, twice at point blank range. Luckily, the soldier missed and my grandfather later told us that it was the force of his wrath and will that somehow steered the bullets into his coat, passing him by completely. After this brush with death, he was taken prisoner and later escaped. Eventually captured, he had to spend the rest of the war in solitary confinement.
To read of all these tales so many years later, to learn of the horrific carnage, and see photo's of his old friends and teammates from home, many of whom did not return, makes me so cognizant of the merest thread separating us all from life and death.
We have not lost sight of all the brave Canadians who died so far away from home. We pause in silence this Armistice Day, at eleven am on 11/11/ to remember all the fallen on all sides, and pray, as always, for a real, lasting and enduring peace.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

Friday, November 7, 2014

Binge-Watching Olive Kitteridge on HBO

HBO has released a brilliant rendition of Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. Years ago, The Best Food Ever Book Club chose Strout's novel as our February selection. The discussion was varied and intense. While this is not unusual, the character of Olive was argued over through most of the dinner. The novel, structured on a collection of short stories, is a character driven book. It is not without drama and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. Set in the small town of Crosby, Maine, it would classify as a place driven story. Yet, it is the characters who really make up the narrative, and the way Olive is drawn first by Strout, and then played brilliantly by Frances McDormand is amazing. How do I love seeing a great adaptation of a story I could imagine as well as if I were in the room.

Olive is a math teacher. Her role as a wife, mother and teacher gives her a sense of authority that is at best a bad habit, and at worst a distinct flaw. Her blunt, sharp-tongued, and caustic responses wound everyone  around her. I know she can't help it. How do I know this? There have been people just like her in my midst. Olive is also nurturing; she is an avid gardener, and she cares for those if she knows who are suffering from mental illness. She spots a young man, one of her former students, on the verge of suicide. We learn her father died by his own hand. She is tough and hard-boiled, but not all the way down to her core and that is where the story keeps emerging. When we see her disapproving and judgmental expressions, we know she will let fly. Sometimes her acidity takes us by surprise. You are always on your guard around people like her. They keep you on edge. It seems that the minute you start to get comfortable, or are gaining confidence they will cut you off at the pass. It is complacency she fears the most.

Henry, her husband, played fantastically by Richard Jenkins, is the kindest and most genteel of men. How does he put up with her we wonder? We grow to learn that when the chips are down, and I mean flat down to the bottom, Olive will be in your corner. She is like the tough old nurse all the young ones fear, but when you are in a pickle, she will pull you through. There is humor in how Olive negotiates through the town, and through the years.

The costumes, scenery and sets are just as I pictured them. Weathered shingles, porches done in a dark green stain, plaid shirts on women and men, a family dining at a wooden table in the kitchen. If I were ever teaching a creative writing class in creating characters, or an acting class in depicting characters, this book, Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout would be an excellent place to start. HBO has produced an outstanding adaptation, and this character driven story will be an American classic.

It was dreary here on Windy Bay today. A back strain restricted my activities. Binge-watching the show through the afternoon turned into a rare delight.