Friday, August 31, 2012

As you make plans to enjoy your three-day weekend, consider these fun and enlightening literary events going on in the area:

On Saturday, September 1:

If you and your family have enjoyed sunny days filled with thrilling rides and water slides at Silverwood Theme Park (pictured above), you will want to make a point of visiting the park this Saturday or Sunday, from 10-5 both days, when Silverwood owner and founder Gary Norton will sign copies of his new book, American Theme Park. The book features personal stories and memories from Norton's life and explains how Silverwood came to be. Pick up the book at a special introductory price, and meet the man who made it all happen. (Silverwood Theme Park, 27843 N. Hwy. 95, Coeur d'Alene).

At Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane, Kenny Knight will sign copies of his book Unknown Rock Star from 1 to 3 p.m., in which he recounts his forty-plus years of experience in the entertainment industry, from sound man to stage performer to radio host and studio master. Unknown Rock Star offers a rare glimpse of how an everyday kid from California harnessed his talent and made it in the entertainment industry through hard work, perseverance, personal tragedy, and an unyielding faith in the music. (402 W. Main, Spokane)

At Hastings in Coeur d'Alene, Jessica Hecket of Blanchard will sign copies of her book The Water Words from 1 to 3 p.m. The Water Words is a mystical tale of a young girl who prevails against all odds. You can view a trailer for the book here. (101 Best Ave., Coeur d'Alene)

Joan Kopczynski will sign copies of her book Spies, Lies & Psychosis at Hastings in Spokane from 1-3 p.m. Subtitled "A Personal Journey of Adult Schozoaffective Illness Triggered by Traumatic Events of Love, Espionage, and Betrayal," Spies, Lies & Psychosis tells of a harrowing journey through mental illness to healing and hope. (2512 E. 29th Ave., Spokane)

On Sunday, September 2:

Silverwood founder Gary Norton will again sign copies of American Theme Park from 10-5 at the park. (27843 N. Hwy. 95, Coeur d'Alene)

. . . and beyond the weekend:

Coming up on Tuesday, September 4 at 7 p.m., Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas L. Friedman (The World is Flat) will speak at Gonzaga Unversity's McCarthey Athletic Center, 801 N. Cincinnati St., Spokane, as part of the university's Presidential Speaker series. Friedman's latest book is That Used to Be Us: A Crucial Time for America and the Role Education Must Play. Admission is $15 ($12 for seniors, $10 for students). For more information on this event, click here.

Happy Labor Day!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Writers, what's in a name?

Fiction writers, how do you decide what to name your characters?

The U. S. Social Security Administration has a nifty website showing the most popular baby names for boys and girls in the U.S. during each decade going back to the 1880s. (Other countries may have similar databases of their own--check with the government.)

Did you know that "Mary" was consistently the first or second most popular name for girl babies right up until the 1970s, when it was ousted in favor of "Jennifer" and "Amy"? And it wasn't just nudged off its perch. During the Disco Decade, "Mary" plummeted to #15 and has never regained its former glory. In the 2000s, the top girls' names were "Emily" and "Madison."

Boys' names have been generally more consistent and less subject to trends. "James," "Robert," and "John" pretty much jockeyed for position until the 1960s, when "Michael" blasted ahead and has remained king of the hill ever since.

Getting back to your writing . . . say that you're stumped for a character name. Your story is set in Chicago in the 1950s. If your character is twenty years old in 1955, that makes their birth year 1935. Check the database for names that were popular in the 1930s to get some ideas. "Robert" and "Mary" were the top picks that year--does "Bob" or "Robbie" suit your male character? For girls, other popular 1930s baby names were "Betty," "Barbara," and "Shirley."

Or maybe you don't want a popular name for your character. "Hilda" and "Daisy" were at the bottom of the 1930s list for girls, and "Jon" and Alex" trailed the pack for boys.

Of course you'd want to take other factors into consideration when naming your character. Does he belong to a particular ethnic group? Use his middle name instead of his first name? Go by a nickname? Did he have unusually creative parents? I remember reading a book when I was a child where the lead character was named "Kalahari," after the desert. Her parents were, I believe, archeologists. And there are also connotations to consider. "Elmer" brings to mind a different sort of person than "David."

No data is available yet for the 2010s, but in my (admittedly limited) experience, I predict names ending in "den"--Aden, Braden, Jaden, Caden, Hayden, etc.--will place high for both boys and girls. What do you think?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Back to School: It's Not Just Kid Stuff

I've been out of school for years--yea, decades. And yet there's something about the end of August, when mornings are suddenly cool and there's a new snap in the air, that makes me yearn to stock up on the accoutrements of school: clean unspoiled notebooks, pens fat with dark ink, and freshly sharpened pencils with unsullied erasers. (That the erasers are unsullied means no mistakes have been made yet. How could anyone not yearn for that blissful state of grace?)

I'll admit, the back-to-school aisle at Staples or Office Depot makes my heart beat faster. Have you seen some of the cool stuff that's available today? Begone, bland manila folder! Fie on thee, utilitarian paper clip! Today's students may choose folders in every color combination imaginable, brilliant neon notepads, rainbows of pens, thumbtacks and paper clips with clever motifs to help students express their true selves through their choice of supplies, although I realize that my own list of dream-worthy objects "expresses" my age more than anything else. Today's students daydream about digital gadgets, not sharpened pencils.

Still, every schoolchild knows that the real New Year's Day is the first day school, not January first. As I've said before, by January you've been cast in your role as the class clown or drama queen or nerd. By the time snow falls, you're already ahead of the pack in English and falling behind in math (or was that just me?). But the first day of school, with its unsmudged college-ruled paper and uncracked books still smelling of the printshop, holds the delicious promise that This Year Will Be Different.

As an adult, I encourage you to grab hold of some of that back-to-school hopefulness for yourself. Our fine local brick-and-mortar colleges, of course, welcome adult learners. And thanks to the Internet, the world is your proverbial oyster. Sites like and MIT Open Courseware make it simple to take courses in oodles of subjects, just for the love of them. Or design your own personal "curriculum" in a subject area that interests you. For inspiration, search the Web for, say, "syllabus medieval history" to get a peek at universities' reading lists and study plans for the topic. Or simply visit your local public library or bookstore and browse the stacks for titles in your field, or pick up those classics you've always meant to read but have never gotten around to. Check online for book discussion groups and fellow adult learners on a similar path. At the very least, you owe it to yourself to visit an office supply store and fill a basket with fun tools and supplies that will add a dose of fun to mundane writing tasks.

Youth may be wasted on the young, but learning need never be. Get out there and give your mind a workout today!

Friday, August 24, 2012

By Liz Mastin

Hello everyone! I hope you are having a fun and productive summer. I thought I would continue my column with another form poem from the past called the villanelle. Along with the triolet, rondeau, ballade, sestina and pantoum, the villanelle is a “fixed form” poem.
According to Timothy Steele in his book All the fun’s in how you say a thing, “fixed forms have a specified number of lines, a particular pattern of rhymes, and (often) refrains or repeated lines. Most fixed forms derive from the Romance-language poems and require two or three rhymes to be sustained over many lines. Importantly, these reoccurrences should take on, with each reappearance, additional meaning.”
In my favorite book of forms The Making of a Poem; A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, Mark Strand and Eavan Boland say (about the villanelle) that it is “a sparkling and complicated form that came from an Italian rustic song; the term itself villanelle thought to derive from villano, an Italian word for “peasant,” or even villa the Latin word for “country house” or “farm.”  The villanelle was adopted by the French who infused it with their own pastoral themes.”
Consulting yet another of my sources Writing metrical poetry by William Baeur “The villanelle is the most popular, adaptable, and successful of the various French forms.” I must guess then, that although the villanelle originated in Italy, the French made greater use of it and developed it further.

Rhyme scheme of the Villanelle
The villanelle consists of: five, three line stanzas,
And – one concluding four line stanza.
Note: Tercet is the name given to a three line stanza. Quatrain is the name given a four line stanza.
Here is the rhyme scheme for writing the villanelle: note how the first and last lines of each tercet rhyme with each other and how the middle lines of each tercet likewise rhyme with each other, and an extra rhyming line is added in the last line: the quatrain.

aba - line 1
aba - line 2
aba - line 3
aba - line 4
aba - line 5
abaa - line 6

Repeated lines in a villanelle

Certain lines are repeated in the villanelle:
Line 1 of the first stanza   --  repeats as line 3 of the 2nd stanza
                                            --   as line 3 of the 4th stanza
                                            --  as line 3 of the final quatrain stanza

Line 3 of the first stanza – repeats as line 3 of the 3rd stanza
                                          --  as line 3 of the 5th stanza
                                          -- as line 4 of the final quatrain stanza

 Example of a famous villanelle poem:

*(This poem is written in iambic pentameter.)

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
By Dylan Thomas 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightening they
Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight,
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

You will find much pleasure in writing a villanelle and I hope you will try it.

Liz Mastin is a poet who lives in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho during the summer and Bullhead CityArizona in winter. She thrives on the study of the great poets, their biographies, the schools of poetry to which they adhered, and the poetic conventions of the times in which they lived.

While she enjoys free verse as well as metrical poetry, her main interest lies in prosody. She notices that most of the enduring poems are those we can remember and recite. Liz enjoys poetry forms such as the sonnet, the sestina, the couplet, blank verse, simple quatrains, etc. and she hopes to see modern poets regain interest in studied metrical poetry.

Liz is currently putting together her first collection of poems which should be completed this winter. The poems are a mixture of metrical and free verse poems.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Screenwriting: Should you turn your story into a screenplay?

Writers oftentimes simply don’t understand how the industry works and script sales are a function of demographic and box office rather than simply having a good script.  Although having an outstanding (not just good) script will get you noticed.  Understand that being a good writer and a good person are only two factors in being successful.  Knowing your market and comparable films help separate the writing hobbyists from the professionals.

Film & Television Scriptwriter J Gideon Sarantinos (
Should you turn your story into a screenplay?

If you are thinking of becoming a screenwriter, chances are you already have a story in mind.  Perhaps you can picture the action in your mind or you just think the project should be a movie.

It would be quicker and easier to simply write a novel since you probably already have those particular skills, but if you decide to go for the screenplay it will open up a whole new world.  The first thing you must decide is whether or not your project is commercial.  Will anybody be interested in producing your work once you get it written? 

Think about the movies that have come out in the past year.  Does your storyline fit into the genre that is popular today?  Does it have a cast of thousands?  Are there dozens of location changes?  Does the story take place in a historical setting? 

Each of these factors, and more, are considered by producers when reading your script.  With the ever escalating cost of making movies, producers stick with known formulas for success.  Making movies that appeal to the largest movie-gong demographic (16-24 year old males) and producing sequels and remakes of successful films are two ways they can ensure box office dollars. 
Be aware of how much films cost to make and what you are asking of investors.  The typical ballpark production figure for a studio picture is $120 million plus another 30-40 percent for prints and advertising – a colossal investment that needs to be recouped.
Low end studio films, referred to being produced “at a price” cost under $10 million.  The mid-range class of films is being squeezed out of the studio system.
It’s also noteworthy that around 60-70% of studio box office income is derived from the foreign box office, so it’s important that the themes explored in your scripts travel universally.
Know where your film might fit in budget wise. Studios talk about cost to box office ratios to generate a profit. It pays to understand that your small horror movie can’t generally have a production budget of $100 million in light of tracking figures which project expected box office.  Studios basically require movies to earn around three times their production budgets at the box office to become profitable.
This doesn’t suggest that writers must be accountants, but rather understand how studio executives think. - J Gideon Sarantinos
Will it sell popcorn?
Demographics play a vital role when a producer takes a look at your script.  Who will the story appeal to?  Will the previews entice teenage boys, young adults or senior citizens to plop down the money in the movie theater?  Since producers are looking for the biggest bang for their buck, they look for movies that appeal to the largest movie-going audience.
When talking about commerciality of scripts, they refer to the genres that sell the most tickets. Since all forms of entertainment are essentially an emotional purchase, genres are useful tools to cater to audience expectations.
Keep your themes global, current and relevant. Films are a communication medium and must evoke an emotional reaction in their audiences. They seek escapism, reassurance and expression. Executives are looking for familiar stories with a fresh, modern twist. - J Gideon Sarantinos 
The following information on genres is an abbreviated list from an article written by J Gideon Sarantinos, found on  

ACTION films are the most produced genre because they appeal to the profitable 18-24 year old male demographic.  These movies are given the highest production budgets and are often referred to as studio tent pole pictures which “prop up” the box office. 

COMEDY are the second most often produced.  They are cheaper to make, but are sometimes culturally specific, resulting in fewer viewers.  Romantic comedies are highly profitable because of the 16-24 female demographic.  They are also good date movies and cater to groups of single women.

THRILLER is the third most profitable genre.  The category includes horror, mystery and supernatural films and caters to a slightly older demographic, the 24-36 year age group, as well as the 16-24 year old male demographic.  Political thrillers are generally unpopular and are usually made if spearheaded by a star. 

DRAMA is the least profitable of all film genres.  Studios avoid producing them unless they are part of their specialty divisions (genres they are known for producing) and have A-list talent attached.  These are the cheapest movies to produce and generally cater to the 36-54 year old demographic. 

Independent films offer hope
Independent films offer an avenue for screenwriters to see their work in production without trying to break into a major studio.  These companies are often geared toward specific genres and are more approachable than the major studios.  Do your homework and find out which companies produce the type of screenplay you are interested in writing.  View some of their films to get an idea of what they are looking for.  
A true independent film is any film that is produced outside of a major Hollywood studio.  Technological advancements are making it possible for independent filmmakers to produce films with the same quality as Hollywood studios for a significantly lower price. Everything in the industry is switching over to digital, including projectors.  
Self-distribution is bringing the power and control of the films back to the producers by giving them other options to distribute their films other than the conventional method.  The popularity for independent films is rising due to a mature audience. The market is flooded and the competition is fierce so it is ever more important to produce the highest quality passionate stories.
Producer/Director/Shooter Bryan Ross Bieber, (
This blog is the second in a series geared to help writers interested in learning how to write screenplays.  Through these articles I will share the fundamentals of screenwriting using information gathered from the works and words of professionals in the field.

Monday, August 20, 2012

So you want to be a screenwriter

Screenwriting is the art and craft of writing scripts for film and television.  Writing for film is potentially one of the most high-profile and best paying careers available to a writer.  The capricious nature of the film industry makes it possible for a complete unknown to launch a career simply by writing a commercially-appealing screenplay and getting it into the hands of the right people.   - Unknown Internet source

Have you ever thought of writing a screenplay?  Do you want to see something you’ve written up on the big screen?  Do you have an idea for a television series or a made-for-TV movie?  Have you written a book you want to see made into a movie? 

Well, if you are, there is good news for you whether you live in Shoofly, North Carolina, Whynot, Mississippi or Athol, Idaho.  The Internet has changed the way Hollywood does business.  Today you don’t have to move to Los Angeles and slip copies of your project under doors hoping the right producer will read it.  If you learn industry standards, do the work and properly market your project, you have a chance to see your work become a reality without a change of address.

Don’t get me wrong, becoming a screenwriter isn’t easy.  It will take commitment, a lot of hard work and a little bit of moxie to see your project through.  But you can get there from your little corner of the world … no matter where it is. 

More good news for us Hollywood outsiders – you don’t have to do this alone.  The Internet offers hundreds of related sites and online courses.  And once you start looking, you'll discover amazing screenwriting software and dozens of helpful books written by professionals in the field that will help you in your quest to become a screenwriter. 

You might also consider joining a local or Internet writing group for additional support as you learn the craft of screenwriting.

Do you have what it takes? 
You may have heard that breaking into the movie business is tough.  It is. 
However, if you write a script that features a character who has a clean and specific goal, and there is strong opposition to that goal, leading to a crises and an emotionally satisfying ending, your script will automatically find itself in the upper 5 percent.  Few would-be writers have mastered even the basics of screenwriting.  
  If your script also presents a well-crafted story with a strong story concept and an original character with whom people can sympathize, there are agents and producers awaiting the advent of the next great screenwriter. 
Daniel Trottier, The Screenwriter’s Bible, A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting and Selling Your Script
If you are interested in screenwriting, you probably already have an idea for a movie.  You have an idea kicking around in your head that you see as the next Hollywood blockbuster.  But is it?

There are dozens of reasons a project gets accepted or rejected – most of them financial – and all of them out of your control.  There is little you can do to alleviate these concerns unless you learn about the current market and what type of project is in demand. 

Many novice screenwriters are interested in writing ana utobiography or a biography of someone close to them.  Unless it is a humdinger with universal appeal, chances are slim your life story or the story of your grandmother will make it onto the screen.  Does this mean you should drop it?  Absolutely not. 

Write that first screenplay.  Learn the basics and write the storyline that is keeping you awake at night.  Learn how to format a screenplay, write a logline and pitch your idea. 

Who knows?  You might beat the odds and your screenplay gets produced.  But at the very least, you will have become a screenwriter; and now that you have written that story you’ve always wanted to write … now that it is out of your head … your mind is free to come up with other ideas for that next blockbuster. 

What is a screenplay?

The following is taken from Syd Field’s book, Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting: A Step-by-Step Guide from Concept to Finished Script, long considered a must-have reference for screenwriters. 

Well, for one thing, a screenplay is not a novel, and it’s most certainly not a play.  If you look at a novel and try to define its fundamental nature, you’ll see that the dramatic action, the story line, usually takes place inside the head of the main character.  We see the story line unfold through the eyes of the character, through his/her emotions, words, actions, memories, dreams, hopes, ambitions, opinions and more.  The character and reader go through the action together, sharing in the drama and emotion of the story.  We know how they act, feel, react, and figure things out. 
A play is different.  The action, or story line, occurs onstage, under the proscenium arch, and the audience becomes the fourth wall, eavesdropping on the lives of the characters, what they think and feel and say.  They talk about their hopes and dreams, past and future plans, discuss their needs and desires, fears and conflicts.  In this case, the action of the play occurs within the language of dramatic action; it is spoken in words that describe feelings, actions, and emotions. 
A screen play is different.  Movies are different.  Film is a visual medium that dramatizes a basic story line; it deals in pictures, images, bits and pieces of film:  We see a clock ticking, a window opening, a person in the distance leaning over a balcony, smoking; in the background we hear a phone ringing, a baby crying, a dog barking as we see two people laughing as their car pulls away from the curb.  “Just making pictures.”  The nature of the screenplay deals in pictures, and if we wanted to define it, we could say that a screenplay is a story told with pictures, in dialogue and description , and placed within the context of dramatic structure. 
This blog is the first in a series I am writing to help writers interested in learning how to write a screenplay.  Through these articles I will share the fundamentals of screenwriting using information gathered from the works and words of professionals in the field. You can find both Syd Field's and David Trottier's books at  

Friday, August 17, 2012

For Writers and Readers: Author Rick Bass and Others

On Tuesday evening, August 21, acclaimed American nature writer Rick Bass will be at Aunties Bookstore in Spokane presenting his latest book, The Black Rhinos of Namibia: Searching for Survivors in the African Desert (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) about a group of former poachers, now conservationists, who track endangered black rhinos through the punishing heat of their arid land.

Bass is an award-winning nature writer who has authored numerous fiction and nonfiction books and continues to give readings, write, and teach around the country and the world. In 1995 Bass won the James Jones Literary Society First Novel Fellowship for his novel, Whte the Sea Used to Be, was a finalist for the Story Prize in 2006 for his short story collection The Lives of Rocks, and a finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for his book, Why I came West. He also received the General Electric Younger Writers Award, a PEN/Nelson Algren Award special citation for fiction, and  National Endowment for the Arts fellowship.

An environmental activist, Bass lives with his family in Montana's Yaak Valley.

For writers, take a look at this article by Bass posted in the Huffington Post last year. In the article titled Writing Advice: Rick Bass's "Danger", Bass warns writers about using the wrong words, improperly using similes and metaphors, comparing bodies to car parts, etc..

"Writing a story is like crossing a minefield." He writes. "You cross the field, with the story loosely in your arms, and you try not to step on any of the mines."

Rick Bass will present his work on August 21, 7:00 pm at Aunties Bookstore, 402 W. Main Street, Spokane.

Other author events happening this month include animal communicator Joan Ranquet, movement therapist Larkin Barnett, Author Jess Steven Hughes, and the "Art of Writing" forum with bestselling author Laura Munson. For the details on these and other events, check the Events page of this blog.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Janus Words are Antogonyms or Amphilbolus Words

Janus was the Roman god of gateways and doors. He is usually pictured with two faces on one head; one looks forward and the other looks backwards. This led scribes to create the term Janus words or antogonyms and amphibolus words to describe one word that can have opposite meanings.  Some are nouns and others are verbs. Context helps us determine the intent of these words. As writers, we need to make sure our settings make clear to the reader the intended definition of any Janus words.

BOUND: to move quickly; unable to move. The deer bound into the woods. Jack woke up to find his arms bound.

CULL: to reject; select. Jill culled the peas looking for rotten ones. Jill culled the job applications looking for specific criteria.

HYSTERICAL: funny; being overwhelmed with fear. Ben thought Bill’s parody was hysterical. John became hysterical when he was wheeled into the operating room.

BUCKLE: to hold together; to fall apart. I bought the belt because I liked the way it buckled. Jack buckled when the doctor gave him the news.

MAD: liking something ; anger or hatred. I’m mad about my new Jimmy Choo shoes. I’m mad that Neiman Marcus did not carry the Jimmy Choo style shoes I wanted.

PRICELESS: having high value; having no value. The Hope diamond is priceless. This old vase should be thrown out; it is priceless.

ACT: sincere deed; pretend behavior. Saving the child from the oncoming car was an act of speed. John knew he'd better act as if he were having a good time at the party.

LEFT: gone away; remaining. Mary left this morning for college. I ate what’s left of the pie.

FINE: meets minimum standards; considerably above the norm. “Your report is fine,” said my boss and she returned to her work. Conrad gave a fine display of courage under fire by his actions.

HOLD UP: support; hinder, delay. Jack fixed a crutch so the tree would hold up until the arborist got there. If Jim didn’t arrive soon, he would hold up the presentation.

RESERVATIONS: hesitant about something; firm commitment. My boss had reservations about my project idea. Darren made reservations for the hotels we needed for vacation.

WEATHER: endure; erode. Sean’s trailer weathered the high winds well. The fence at the old ranch had a weathered look.

CLIP: separate; keep together. Dad wanted to clip the hedges. Mom looked for a clip for my hair.

SCREEN: to view; hide. Wilder was going to screen his new film at 7. Bob build a screen around the air conditioner.

CLEAVE: to bring together; break apart. The minister said, “Cleave unto each other forever.”  Dave looked for the ax to cleave the broken tree.

OVERSIGHT: a kind of error; to follow often. The oversight cost the company millions. Anne was charged with the oversight of the new project.

TEMPER: to strengthen or to soften. Steel is tempered with other metals. He tempered his responses despite the angry words from his boss.

BOLT: to secure; to start suddenly and leave quickly. I installed a new bolt on the shed. The robber was about to bolt when he saw the policeman.

SEED: to put into; remove. I tilled the garden and I can seed it tomorrow. Did you seed the grapes before you washed them?

STEM: to start something; to stop something. He hoped his new ideas would stem action. Larry was told to stem his sloppy work habits.

COOL: approving; opposed to. Makayla thought the concert was cool. Her boss was cool to the proposed plan.

SNAP: to break apart; to close together. The coach yelled, "Let's snap this losing streak!"  Megan learned to snap her jacket herself.

SLIP: to hold; to fall. The slip for my boat was expensive. I put sand on the steps so no one would slip.

Give yourself a few minutes to see if you can make up two sentences for each word in which these meanings are the opposite.

Cut, custom, moot, dust, root, scan, stain, rock, last, and patronize.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Writing Book Reviews: An Opportunity for Writers and Readers

Many readers enjoy telling their friends, relatives, and others about books they have read. Whether the books are fiction or nonfiction, they like to share their likes and dislikes—what they learned, how the book affected them, how it relates to their own lives, how they found the book exciting or well-written. Some do so informally through personal conversations and email, while others like to share their responses to books with the public by posting reviews on blogs, on websites, or in other venues such as the Barnes & Noble and Amazon online retail sites.

These public book reviews range from brief, summary reviews, to formal critical reviews. Some readers post reviews simply because they enjoy sharing what they have read, others establish themselves as a book reviewer and are paid for their reviews by posting through for-profit web content sites or writing reviews for print publications such as newspapers and literary journals.

Book reviewers are sometimes sought out by publishers to review books. In return, the reviewers reap the benefit of receiving free books. One program that flips this publisher-seeking-reviewer method on its head, however, is the method provided by BookSneeze.

Established 2010 by Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson, BookSneeze is a program that supplies book review bloggers with free books in exchange for a 200-word honest review of books published by Thomas Nelson. A Christian-focused publisher, Thomas Nelson, is one of the largest trade publishers in the United States, acquired by HarperCollins in 2012.

To become a book review blogger for BookSneeze, you must have an actively maintained personal, public blog (it is suggested that new content should be posted at least once a week); your blog must have a minimum of 30 followers (followers can be from a variety of sources such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc.); and bloggers must reside in the United States.

Reviewers can sign up for a free account with BookSneeze. Once the application is accepted, reviewers can select from the available books. BookSneeze will mail a free copy of the book selected and will also provide resources to use in the reviewer’s post, such as book cover art, available audio/video clips, etc..

When ready, the blogger must post their review of the book on their blog, as well as one consumer website (such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.). Once the reviews are posted, the blogger provides a link to the review on their BookSneeze account. The reviewer is then able to request their next book for review.

BookSneeze will also provide an external link from its site to the reviewer’s blog, which can help with the blogger’s ranking.

Even if you don’t have a currently active blog, if you love books and like to share your thoughts about them, consider checking out BookSneeze. This could be that first step to getting started as a book reviewer, not to mention a great way to build your reading/lending library.

Friday, August 10, 2012

French Food and Fiction, Part Two

 Do you know why diets don't work? Neither do I. Diets don't fail, dieters do, so therefore if you don't like failure, for heaven's sake, don't go on a diet.

I credit my mother for my long and tiresome history with dieting, as it was she who would always start with the latest diet book. After she left this world and I had to close up her apartment, there on the night table, right beside her bed was Dr. Phil's book of strategies for weight loss. She would rail against the strictures of these programs, and then get in bed and say, "I have to read about what I get to eat tomorrow." From the eggs, steak and grapefruit of the sixties, to Weight Watchers, to Atkins, to South Beach, to Palm Beach, you name it, she was always game. Not being overweight, ever, and in possession of a healthy body and mind, she was nevertheless always after those elusive ten to fifteen pounds that seem to plague us all. At the same time, she entertained and churned out more meals for guests than I can possibly count. This extended to her family, children and grandchildren and we do not think of her without remembering all those wonderful dinners. As her mother came from a large Irish clan, the tradition of eating food in season and not being too extravagant in any one direction, came into play.

When I worked with Coldwater Creek, the idea of an employee cook book sprang to the mind of the H.R. director who wanted this to happen, but did not want to do it herself. Yours truly here volunteered to head up the project and a labor of love began. I decided that it would be great to celebrate our mother's and grandmother's cherished recipes and put their full names, place of birth and dates alongside those family treasures. Sharing this task with our counterparts  in West Virginia, we gathered a compilation of culinary wisdom entitled, Coldwater Creek Cooks. To this end, I managed to get the best pound cake recipe ever, originating from Kentucky and served with hot butter sauce with a touch of Bourbon. As my son was getting married that year, I thought it would be great to give my future daughter-in-law all the reference material possible from the culture of his maternal line. As my daughter headed off to college and moved from wretched dorm food, to her own apartment, she had her copy as well. How I delighted in those first calls for instruction in basic meals. I am so proud to say that both my children love good  food, eat well and share this bond with me.

Writers who love fine cuisine share a particular place in my heart. When The Pat Conroy Cookbook came out, I raced home with my copy, hot off the press and read it from cover to cover. Tasked with preparing the evening meal for his family when his wife decided to go to law school, he began the challenge in the way most writers do: he went straightaway to his favorite  book store. He picked up a copy of The Escoffier Cookbook and learned the basics of French cooking which always begin with homemade stock.

 My culinary history has a similar origin. As a young adult, living on my own in a stone house in the country, I came down with a nasty bout of pneumonia and moved back home to recover. My mother, working as an interior designer at the time, decided that if I was home all day, I could take on the responsibility of dinner.  In her collection of cookbooks, I found one published by our favorite restaurant in Palm Beach, Florida, called The Petite Marmite. The pictures were so beautiful, and inspiring, that I set out to recreate them. I had to start by making stocks which I have always believed are not only the essence of great dishes, but also of good health. In Conroy's book, he describes his time in Paris and also in Rome, the places where he dined after a hard day of writing The Lords of Discipline and The Prince of Tides. He also peppers his chapters with tales of the region he knows so well: the low country of South Carolina. When Mireille Guiliano created French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, I knew I had found the ultimate book for me. Years ago, in Paris with my mother, we decided to uncover the secret we could see all around us, that being, French women ate the best food in the world and seemed much thinner than their North Americans counterparts. We thought we could just indulge to our heart's content and it would all somehow balance out. Wrong.

You cannot describe the physicality of a character in exact terms. It would read like a medical chart. Your reader will get a better picture by depicting what they eat, how much, how often and how important it is to them.  Do they eat to live, or are they more like me, a person who lives to eat. Are meals, described in terms of grabbing a bite, or set under an arbor in the garden and encompassing most of the afternoon? Is food a necessary chore, or an unbridled passion? Above all, what do they eat for lunch?

From The Pat Conroy Cookbook:

"I write of truffles in the Dordogne Valley in France, cilantro in Bangkok, catfish in Alabama, scuppernong in South Carolina, Chinese food from my years in San Francisco, and white asparagus from the first meal my agent, Julian Bach, took me to in New York City."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Perfect Ending

You know it when you read one. Whether it be an essay, a short story, or a novel, if it sums up the entire work into one killer conclusion, the reader closes the book with a sense of satisfaction. A bad ending, or the wrong ending can ruin everything.

In my current work in progress, I am now at the end of the second draft. I spent the spring and summer to date reworking the final third of the book. The past three weeks have seen me re-write the final sentence several times a day. 

The quest for that last great sentence sent me on a search and  I came across this article from The Guardian. 

F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Perhaps the most frequently quoted final sentence. One of those endings that suggests the opposite of an ending: you may want to "move on", but you keep getting taken back to the story you thought you'd finished.

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
This is the terrible one because, by the time you get to it, you realize how inevitable it is. Winston Smith's fate is not just to be defeated, but to have his will turned to submission. "He loved Big Brother."

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
"After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain." At the end of this novel of love and war, hope and desperation, all passion is spent. The narrator's lover has died in childbirth and the only possible conclusion is one of those perfect Hemingway sentences, expressively drained of expressiveness.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
"I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be." A more recent example of the ending where the weight is in what is not said. If you haven't read the novel, it is banal; if you have read the novel, you'll know how eloquently desolate this is.

Voltaire, Candide
We must wander into French for one of the most discussed final sayings in fiction. "'Cela est bien dit,' répondit Candide, 'mais il faut cultiver notre jardin'." After everything absurd and horrific that they have seen, after traveling the globe to witness the extremes of human folly and cruelty, Candide recommends a little horticulture. Endless ink has been spent explaining what Voltaire was "saying".

Franz Kafka, The Trial
The ultimate finality, the moment of the protagonist's death. As a knife twists in his heart, Josef K realizes that it is the victim who is ashamed, not the perpetrator. "'Like a dog!' he said, it was as if the shame of it must outlive him." In German, it is even more terrible.

Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
More ending in death, but this time it sounds like a solace after life. "I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."

While this list covers many of my great favorites, I cast about for my own choice. What sprung immediately to mind comes from James Joyce. His memorable short story, "The Dead," carries my choice for the perfect ending. In this case, the whole paragraph must be included.

"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, on the Bog of Allen, and farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

Because I cannot possibly add anything to that,  I will simply close by writing these words: The End.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Tribute to Barry Unsworth

Our book club just finished reading and discussing Barry Unsworth's, Sacred Hunger.  Some of us read it  for the second time.  A sequel entitled, The Quality of Mercy, slated for August, had many of us feeling that it would be good to go back and take another look at the first one. When mulling over this idea, we stated that in all the years of reading, in comparison with the many books we have read, Sacred Hunger remains one of our great favorites. Our book club is  not alone in that assessment: it won the Man Booker Prize, the top honor for literary fiction, in 1992, tying with Michael Onadatje's, The English Patient. Being that it was extremely unusual to have a tie, one can only imagine the endless discussion and I daresay, heated arguments, taking place by the esteemed panel of judges. Since they could not give one even a slight edge over the other,  they settled on co-winners which I am sure neither author minded.

When asked what Sacred Hunger is about and answering that the drama takes place on a slave ship,  understandably there was some reluctance.  After all, could there be a more disturbing topic? We all have a sense of the truly ghastly conditions on board those vessels of despair, so therefore, one might ask, what more do we need to know? Plenty, as it turns out.

Unsworth puts us in the mind of the merchant who builds  the ship and sets out on this endeavor. Therein lies the dramatic tension, coupled with a growing awareness of the genuine ability we share as human beings to justify almost anything. It was perfectly legal at the time and a good business; the reality of conditions on board were an entirely different matter.  They were to set sail from England carrying trade goods which would enable them to acquire slaves. They would then pick up the cargo in Africa, that's right cargo, and deliver the said goods to Jamaica.  The plan was to sell  the slaves there, in exchange for sugar and rum. They would then sail back to England with a ship full of the spoils of free labor,  sell the goods and  make a tidy sum in the process.

Because few sailors would work on  slave ships they were often “Shanghaied” into service, making their experience not much better, except for the fact that they would at least earn a wage. Conditions on board were described with such clarity that one simply comes away with a sense of awe at the descriptive powers inherent in Barry Unsworth's work.  Each morning the slaves would be brought up on deck, with shackles clanging, and made to dance to the fiddle, a practice widely employed, in order to keep them fit.  The strength of this marvelous book lies in the author's power to create an inescapable mood.
Here is an excerpt from page 233:

"The moon was high and clear of cloud, astoundingly radiant, eclipsing the stars. Moonlight gleamed in a sheet of silver over the marshes and flats of mud they had crossed to come here, so cluttered and tawdry by day, all unified and resplendent now as if lying under some moment of blessing. And for a moment this transforming moonlight was confused in Paris's mind with the sunlight of earlier, the form of the woman edged with fire against the bars. 'It is not even true that I want to die,' he said, and with this ultimate confession he saw the moonlit levels run together and glimmer, as if washed in some thin solution of silver, and then blur to bright webs, as the tears, held long in check, came freely now to his eyes,"         

 The  author, described as slim and elegant,  was born in Wingate, England to a family of miners. He lived in Tuscany in later years, devoting his time to writing.  I was shocked to learn that he left this world recently, on the same day as fellow writer Ray Bradbury, June 5, 2012.   Was Unsworth fated to be paired with others? If so, it is of little consequence. His writing will find its place among the greats of our time, and it will live on.

If writing itself is a journey, then tales of an epic voyage that goes badly wrong, as if ill fated from the start, take their place among the greatest stories ever told. So it is with Sacred Hunger. Place this novel along side Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness; it is that good.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Winging It, & Writing

Writers so often hear how important it is to outline and plot before ever starting  to write their story. To know their beginning, middle and end. To already have a vision,   and  are able to define their   protagonist and antagonist.

I agree this  seems the popular formula for writing a best selling novel, essay or memoir. 

Who am I to disagree?  I have yet to write a   book , let alone be published. Yet, I am a writer with hopes one day to   write my  novel, and yes,  have it published.  So I'm  always looking for inspiration and ideas about the best way to go about it.  I certainly  adhere to the axiom, write, write, write and re-write , but   today, I  was fascinated , and found it interesting when I read the mediation for August 3 titled Winging It,  on how   to cultivate a productive and meaningful writing life in  Fred White's The Daily Writer.

Writers tend to be intuitive sorts. Yes, it's sensible to work with an outline or synopsis, especially for the book -length projects., but sometimes too much planning ahead can impede output. If you find yourself plodding along  or feeling that writing is more of a chore than an adventure, consider winging it, flying by the seat of your pants, putting yourself out on a limb, having faith in yourself.

We learn from our day jobs the importance of planning ahead, of keeping the risk factor at a minimum. with writing, as with most any kind of creative work, intuition and cautious planning ahead are often at odds. So much of creative writing involves spontaneous discovery and following one's hunches. Sure, we can fall flat ,but part of the fun of writing is seeing where it all leads. The payoff quite often compensates for the setbacks.

So , following White's For Further Reflection, I'll try 'winging it' and take flight from the tried and true, even  if I'm not sure where I'm headed  with the new idea. White encourages writers  to explore new ways of telling a story, of turning a phrase, and says, " Keep in mind that readers are explorers too, and they will be delighted to embark on new narrative and verbal pathways."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


When I went to Maeve Binchy's web site this afternoon , I was sorry to read the following :

It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of Maeve Binchy on 30 July, in Dublin. Her husband Gordon Snell and her sister Joan Ryan were at her side. 

Maeve was a weaver of magic whose stories touched  the hearts of millions. She died far too soon; she had many more stories to tell.

She will be sorely missed by her family, her friends, her publishers and her readers throughout the world.

After reading  Maeve Binchy's debut novel, Light a Penny Candle  in 1982, I quickly added her to my list  of  favorite authors. I admire her gift for story telling, and consider her  best-selling Circle of Friends,  about the intimate story of friendship one of her  best. Perhaps it's because of my Irish ancestry, I like her novels so well, especially the fact they  are set in Ireland, and often deal with the emotional struggle between folks there. How they rise and fall, and rise again.

Cindy Shanks writing for Helium describes her novels as a gentle but addictive read. "Her books remind you of an intimate conversation with a close friend."

Prior to her success as a writer of novels and short stories, Binchy was a  teacher, then a journalist for the Irish Times. It's seems unbelievable her first book was rejected five times. Especially since  today her books  outsell those of other top Irish writers, such as Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, Edna O'Brien and Roddy Doyle.

Binchy received many literary awards , including the Irish PEN /AT Cross Award, joining such luminaries as John B. Keane, Brian Friel, Edna O'Brien and William Trevor. In 2010 , she received a lifetime achievement award from the Irish Book Awards.

With her characteristic Irish charm Binchy  encourages  writers  in her  book, The Maeve Binchy Writer's Club -  Advice, inspiration and information on writing and getting published.   "The most important thing to realize is that everyone is capable of telling a story. If you scribble story ideas on the back of receipts...if you file away bits of overheard conversation from the coffee shop...if you've already chosen the perfect pen name..well, then the journey has begun."

Maeve leaves   us with  an insight into her character, and what she believed important when  she wrote on her homepage:

The happiest moments of my life are connected with family and friends. There is a great comfort about being with people who knew you way back when. There is a mental shorthand, an easy -going feeling that life doesn't have to be explained or defined; we are all in more or less the same boat. To have a community around you in a changing and unstable world is invaluable and nothing can beat the feeling that there will always be people out for our good.

Maeve Binchy (1940 - 2012)   RIP +