Monday, September 15, 2014

Cliches Are Good for the Soul

Cliche: a phrase, word, or idea, that has lost its original effectiveness or power from overuse.
I know, I know, every writing expert admonishes writers NOT to use cliches. They are said to be the mark of a lazy writer. They are characteristic of inexperienced and/or unoriginal writers.

Well, I may not be a writing expert, but I am a reading expert and I've discovered that I'm as happy as a clam when I read a cliche every now and then. For me, they're as comfortable as an old shoe and as welcome as an old friend.

I find them to be deceptively simple, instantly recognizable phrases that are usually the most economical way to say what needs to be said. They add clarity, depth, and a little bit of charm to the words I read.

Why should writers be asked to waste time reinventing the wheel? Why spend hours searching for the perfect, witty words to say something when somebody came up with the perfect, witty way to say it eons ago?

For heaven's sake, these phrases have stood the test of time and proven they are the cream of the crop. Can you even imagine writing a phrase so perfectly constructed that it becomes common usage? I can't.

Isn't this discrimination? There are as many quotes in today's literature as there are Chins in a Chinese phone book, but you never hear of them making critics foam at the mouth like they do when they encounter a cliche.

Writers use quotes to give depth and reinforcement to their work, just like cliches. It's like the pot calling the kettle black, and I don't get the difference. Quotes are just cliches with acknowledgements. Maybe if I start enclosing my cliches with quotation marks, they won't rub my critics the wrong way.

And that's not all. There are proverbs, sayings, witticisms, anecdotes, and euphemisms. None of them seem to drive the experts nuts like cliches do. It's discrimination, any way you look at it.

Searching online I noticed one expert article after another entitled, "Avoiding Cliches Like the Plague." What the heck? It's okay for them, but not for us? I did, however, find one particularly witty cliche-critic who did practice what he preached. His title? "Avoid Cliches Like Erectile Dysfunction." Really?  How far does one have to go to create a catchy new phrase?

Despite all the negative hype, there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for those of us who admire the familiar brevity of a cliche. Banding together on the Internet, cliche lovers offer a scintilla of hope that cliches might one day become a tad more welcome than a skunk at a yard party.

Cliche: Little facets of the truth.  
One of those cliche-admirers, Steve Lautenschlager, began an online list of cliches, which he called "...little facets of the truth." As his list of cliches grew, he discovered that "other people were oddly, strangely, obsessively, perversely, intrigued by cliches as well."

Glad to know I'm not alone.

If you are looking for a cliche (for whatever nefarious reason) be sure to browse through these websites:

My favorite cliche: as happy as a clam. (Just makes me feel good.)

My least favorite cliche:  no-brainer. (Because it's DUMB. Even thinking it's a no-brainer takes a brain.)

Favorite cliche quote: Not all my cliches are original. - Football Coach Chuck Knox

CHALLENGE: How many cliches in the above post? Do you have a favorite cliche? Least favorite?

DEDICATION: The above post is dedicated to Jennifer Lamont Leo, who strives to understand my addiction, but who is also rumored to be planning a cliche intervention for me.

NOTE: This is an updated repost from 2/14/2011.  

Friday, September 12, 2014

Guest Post from Brenda Drake

We are pleased to offer this guest post. Good luck to all brave participants.


#PitMad is a pitch party on Twitter where writers tweet a 140 character pitch for their completed manuscripts. Have several variations of your Twitter pitch available. Twitter may not let you tweet the same pitch over within the same hour. The pitch must include the hashtag #PitMad and the category (#YA, #MG, #A, #NA, #PB and #NF) in the tweet. The “#” is important to include. It will sort the categories to make it easier for the agents/publishers.
For more information about Twitter Pitching visit this post by agent Carly Watters here.
#YA = Young Adult
#MG = Middle Grade
#A = Adult
#NA = New Adult
#PB = Picture Book
#CB = Chapter Book
#NF = Non-fiction
#WF = Woman’s Fiction
#SFF = Science Fiction and Fantasy
#R = Romance
The rules are simple. Everyone is welcome to pitch. All genres/categories are welcomed. Must be completed and polished manuscripts. You can pitch more than one manuscript. Throughout the day tweet your pitch. Try not to do it too much (rule of thumb is twice per hour per manuscript). When you see an industry professional on the feed, tweet it once. Make sure to include the hashtag #PitMad and your genre/category (if you can fit it).
The agents/publishers will tweet their submission preferences and favorite your tweet if they want to see more. If you get a favorite from an agent or publisher, follow their submission preference and send them their request as soon as you can. They should have tweeted what they want you to send, so check their twitter feed for that information. If they haven’t listed it, follow their submission guidelines on their websites. Make sure to put “PitMad Request: TITLE” in the subject line of your email when sending your request.
Don’t tweet agents and publishers directly unless they tweet you first.
Don’t favorite friends tweets. The agents will be requesting by favoriting tweets. so let’s keep that for requests. You can RT your friends to show your support.
Please keep in mind, we never know what agents or publishers will be on the hashtag, so make sure you research each requesting agent or publisher. You do not have to send requests to those requesting if you don’t want to work with them.
If you can’t be there, you can always schedule your tweets by using Tweetdeck or some other application that schedules tweets.
And finally, be nice and courteous to each other, and especially to the industry professionals. We’ve had some success stories come out of our previous #PitMads and we’d hate to have it canceled due to abuse. If you do see abuse, please report it to Twitter or notify one of the hosts of the event. Thank you!

Here’s the dates for our upcoming quarterly #PitMad events:
September 9, 2014
December 4, 2014
March 11, 2015
June 4, 2015
September 10, 2015
December 4, 2015
#PitMad starts at 8AM and ends at 8PM (EST or EDT, which is New York time).

About Me

I write young adult and middle grade novels. I'm represented by Peter Knapp at Park Literary. Look for my debut young adult novel, LIBRARY JUMPE

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

In One Book

Do you read to be entertained, to be edified, or to expand your horizons? I suppose most of us would answer all of the above. Some writers can do all three in one book. That goes triple for John Irving. Starting with The World According to Garp that won the National Book Award in 1980, I have been a fascinated and loyal reader of his work. The character driven stories and complicated yet subtle plot-lines have always appealed to me.

In One Person is our selection for The Best Food Ever Book Club this month. The story centers around a young man's desires, as he comes of age in Favorite River Academy. Sexuality is a complex subject, and the protagonist is confused as to whether his preferences are settled or remain in flux. The theme of tolerance runs through the novel from start to finish, making us question our beliefs, and our rigid limitations, as we follow Billy's journey. Through high school and into maturity, Billy Abbot is an endearing character.

When authors speak of their work, you will often hear these words. "I wanted to explore..." It is a great achievement to go from that statement to a fully fleshed out novel where the reader is then put into a position of questioning their thoughts on the matter. Hence, the fodder for a great discussion.

John Irving says,

"Billy is not me. He comes from my imagining what I might have been like if I'd acted on my earliest impulses as a young teenager. Most of us don't ever act on our earliest sexual imaginings. In fact, most of us would rather forget them-not me. I think our sympathy comes, in part, from our ability to remember our feelings-to be honest about what we felt like doing."

Irving states that he writes from the perspective of emotional and psychological truths. He writes having envisioned the ending first. The fully complex architecture of his novels is something I can absorb viscerally, but cannot quite identify. I feel it, but I cannot see the scaffolding. In other words, I don't know how he does it. That is fine by me. He is the man behind the curtain, a man I admire, and a man who sets my imagination on quite a journey. He will have a new book coming out soon. Stay tuned...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Moonlit Swims in September

The beauty of North Idaho astounds me. After a glorious summer full of hot days and fun filled nights, the region outdoes itself in the month of September.

During the years we raised our children in the city of Coeur d' Alene, we spent many happy days on Sander's Beach. When the school year began, the beach became empty except for a few happy Mom's who would go down to enjoy some solitude and peace. We are blessed here in North Idaho with a full month of lovely weather where the lake remains warm. Gone are the summer folks, and the lake is now incredibly quiet.

Last night we took a boat ride, enjoying the setting sun and the rising moon. Jumping in for a swim in the fading light, I felt full of glee. I thought about the month of September, and how beautiful it is in many places in the world.

September is a month full of vim and vigor. I still get excited over the idea of fall fashions, new pens and notebooks, of getting down to brass tacks, of starting new projects, but I also have my remaining dock days to cherish. I took full advantage today. The water is seventy- four degrees which enabled me to swim to the next dock via a long slow crawl stroke. As I swung my head to inhale, I faced an unbroken shoreline. In the distance I heard the sound of a boat engine. It amazed me how easily I recalled the sound. Having grown up around antique boats in Muskoka, Ontario, I remembered the put,put, put, the steady drone of a steam engine.  Scanning the horizon, I saw it- a gorgeous little craft from circa 1915, with white sides and striped canopy.

I thought about movies, books, and ideas centered around September. Is it a great time to clean closets, make dentist appointments and trim our hedges? Yes, it is, but for me, it is a time to linger, a time to get in my kayak and revel in the remaining heat, a time to savor each crisp morning and every bright sunset. It is a time to bask in all the region has to offer. North Idaho is never more beautiful than it is right now.

From Tom Jones:

"Try To Remember"

Try to remember the kind of September
when life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
when grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
when you were a tender and callow fellow,
Try to remember and if you remember the follow.

Try to remember when life was so tender
that no one wept except the willow.
Try to remember when life was so tender that
dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender that
love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember and if you remember then follow.

Deep in December it's nice to remember
although you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December it's nice to remember
without the hurt the heart is hollow.
Deep in December it's nice to remember
the fire of September that made us mellow.
Deep in December our hearts should remember and follow.

Friday, September 5, 2014

International Writing Conferences

Is your muse visiting Peru while you are stuck in Moscow, Denver, Phoenix, Inverness or Sydney? Here is a partial list of upcoming writing conferences. There are conferences for writers held in many cities and areas around the world throughout the year.  Google 'writing seminars', 'writing workshops', or 'writing conferences' and be overwhelmed with the possibilities. Most are held in the warmer months of each region. Several of them combine writing seminars with sightseeing in the host country.

September 19-29, 2014 

workshops, lectures, classes
September 21-27, 2014

October 3-14, 2014

Guatemala—11/9-16, 14
Slovenia Oct. 5-12
December 7-20, 2014 

February 11-15, 2015 

December 7-20, 2014 

February 11-15, 2015 

February 13 - March 7, 2015 

March 22-28, 2015 
workshops, panels, touring 

This writer does not endorse nor have specific knowledge of any of these conferences, retreats or seminars. Please research each one before registering.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Uh oh....plagiarism


Plagiarism is passing off as your own someone else’s work, ideas, thoughts, opinions, theories, statistics, facts, drawings, or paraphrasing the same. Recently several journalists and politicians were caught plagiarizing. Doris Kearns Goodwin, a well-known Pulitzer Prize winner, historian and political commentator was found to have plagiarized portions of her book about the Fitzgeralds and Kennedys. Other books she authored have also come under criticism. She admitted to some of it saying  “that she had an understanding that citations would not be required for all references, and that extensive footnotes already existed. Many doubted her claims, and she was forced to resign from the Pulitzer Prize board.” []   

Jane Goodall, internationally known primatologist, was proved to have plagiarized many sections of her book Seeds of Hope. Jonah Rehrer who was a science and technical writer for the NYT was accused of falsifying quotes as well as general plagiarism. Freed Zakaria, CNN commentator and editor at Time magazine was ultimately reinstated after he was accused of plagiarizing his own work! He failed to note that the lines in one article in TIME had been published in another magazine.

Joe Biden withdrew from the presidential race in 1988 after it was found that he plagiarized a paper in law school. He was also found to have copied for his campaign speeches without noting from British politician Neil Kinnock. Rand Paul has been caught plagiarizing in one of his books. Vladimir Putin is accused of lifting several passages of his economic dissertation from a text book written by two University of Pittsburgh teachers. Alex Haley, Barack Obama, George Harrison and many video game authors have been accused and/or charged with plagiarism.

 There are 5 common forms of plagiarisms:

1.    Duplicating another’s words or phrases, etc. without identifying the speaker or author, or not    using quotation marks.
2.    Same as #1 except including quotation marks.
3.    Using another’s ideas by paraphrasing them without noting sources.een accused of plagiarism.
4.    Submit, enter or sell as your own work by merely rearranging words and/or phrases without footnotes.
5.    Intentional or unintentional, ignorance of the law is no defense.

The devil is in the details, however. According to copyright laws established in 1989, works are now protected with or without the copyright symbol; they are considered intellectual property. As long as the material can be shown to belong to someone other than you, even though altered but similar to the original form, without acknowledgement, it is considered plagiarism. Copyright laws do not protect facts considered “common knowledge.” Common knowledge is defined loosely as information generally known or known by a large group of people, e.g., Roosevelt was the author of the New Deal. Copyright laws can be in effect up to 75 years after the death of the author. There are many variants of the length depending upon how old the work is and who owns the copyright.

      Another gray area is “public domain.” This often, but not always, means intellectual property that “belongs” to the public and can therefore be used freely. There are variations of law depending on copyright laws in different countries as well as patents and trademarks. It is best to check with an attorney.

The punishments are of varying degrees often depending upon the venue and the amount of material copied. It seems to also depend upon your status in your field and your sponsoring company. Authors writing for well-known magazines or newspapers sometimes seem to be able to slide past legal reprisals, as do some financially lucrative authors. The publishers protect their popular writers. For the rest of us, the greater the amount of material copied the greater the punishment can be.  Most cases are considered misdemeanors bringing fines between $100 and $50,000 and can be accompanied by up to one year in jail. 

Generally, your offense is considered a felony if you earn more than about $2,500 from the book or article with the plagiarism. The punishment could be upwards of $250,000 and ten years jail time. In a business situation, the punishment is usually not of the prosecutorial kind (unless sued by the original author). It takes the form of a demotion, denial of promotions, monetary fine or firing. In the academic world, the punishment is often meted out by the professor which can result in a failing grade, failing the course or, under the auspices of the dean’s office, expulsion from the college or university. The easy use of the Internet has increased the instances of plagiarism in all venues.

      There are a few ways to protect yourself from prosecution of plagiarism.
First, avoid plagiarizing by understanding what constitutes plagiarism. When taking notes from various sources for your writing, clearly identify anything that is not in the public domain or not in your original words and thoughts. Keep all your notes, electronic, recorded and penned, in several backups in various venues; back up your computer file each time under a different name, e.g., essay plagerism-1, essay plagerism-2, etc. This will give you a paper and time trail to strengthen your case should you be charged or you wish to charge someone else with plagiarism.

      Check the style manuals for the organization for which you are writing as to how to format your written word. APA is the American Psychological Association used primarily in liberal arts settings, ACS (American Chemical Association) for writing in the science field, AP and Chicago styles for general writing. Publishing houses and business often have in-house guidelines they wish authors to follow. Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, began his book, “It was the best of times…” If you fail to properly credit your sources in your writing, it could easily become, “…the worst of times.”

(Disclaimer: this author does not represent the material in the essay to be thought of as legal knowledge or advice under any terms or conditions.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Simile is Like A...really hard thing to write


A  simile is a literary device that shows the comparison between two different things. It uses the words "like" or "as" and is therefore a direct comparison. "Ben is as wise as an owl" says that someone or something is as wise as an owl. An owl is traditionally thought of in literature as being intelligent. "Agile as a monkey" is another example of a simile.

The challenge to a writer is to think of similes that are not cliches and to compare the two things you want. A good simile makes it easier to understand your text because it draws a visual picture. The reader can use several of his senses to interpret what you mean. Often he can visualize your image (oceans and spilled water, pumpkins and an orange sunset). Sometimes the reader can smell your simile. There is a children's book whose title is My Dog Smells Like Dirty Socks that illustrates that the reader uses his sense of smell to relate to what you are comparing.

A trite simile makes you sound lazy and is boring to the reader. "Her temper is like a volcano." "...hungry as a lion," "...eyes as big as dinner plates. Often a simile is funny:"Her new hire was as useful as a chocolate teapot."  

Recently I read two books where the authors had a remarkable talent for writing similes. The first book is All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

"The people in Berlin believed in them [the German army] like a nun believes in God. (pg. 102)
"Blood that had spread across the table thickens like cooling wax." (338)
"The Pyrenees gleam. A pitted moon stands on their crests as if impaled." (349)
"...veins that climb in Volkheimer's arm like vines." (152)
"Her skin was as pale as cream and as thin as a blade of grass." (137)
"When he stand up his knees crack like twigs." ((158)
"von Rumple climbs the ladder, his weight like a rag on the rungs." (201)
" easy as trying to pick feathers out of molasses." (126)
"Sleep falls over the child like a shadow."

The second book was a summer beach read by Elin Hilderbrandt.

"...plans falling together as neatly as bricks in a garden path."
"She was perpetually moving like a girl on amphetamines."
"Snoring like the old man who bumped his head..."

Many songs have similes. "It's A Hard Day's Night" by the Beetles. Bob Dylan's "Like a rolling stone" and Jon Bon Jovi's "My heart is like an open highway".

You will be in good company if your simile is as good as Shakespeare's:

"All the world's a stage
And all men and women are merely players,
They have their exits and their entrances."

Put your imagination to work and think up good similes. It will enhance your writing, make the reader smile, cry or shake his head and an editor think he has a new best seller on his desk.