Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Symbols of Halloween-Write about Holidays

Masked bandits on the hunt for candy

Unmasked, the bandits return exhausted with their loot.
Parents and neighbors beware. Halloween is here again! Another night for fun and laughter and lots of adventures to write about. Parents and grandparents, your children and grandchildren will love to read about them as they grow up and spend time together with you remembering. Holidays in peoples' lives create bonding and community with family and friends as most other days rarely do.

Halloween, like other holidays, has symbols that represent what the day means to us. I have often wondered why we developed the tradition of masks and jack o lanterns for Halloween (hallows eve). Strange. Okay. Masks I could understand. Sure it's fun and exciting for people, especially kids, to scare others and growl at people who won't know who they are. Yes, there is safety in anonymity. You won't know who the person is until s/he is willing to take off the "mask." Kind of like life, don't you think? Lots of us put on masks when we don't want others to know who we are. Besides, it's fun to pretend we are someone else.

But jack o lanterns? Why pumpkins? Except of course that Halloween is in fall and the pumpkins are plentiful and ready to pick at that point. They are easy to hollow out and carve. Actually pumpkins also seem to be rather popular in fairy tales: "Peter, Peter Pumpkin eater, had a wife and couldn't keep her. He put her in a pumpkin shell and there he kept her very well." You remember Cinderella who went to the ball in a transformed pumpkin (coach).  And then there was Pumpkin Head in the Land of Oz. And the pumpkin in the Grim fairy tales. But a carved face and lights in the pumpkin? That made no sense to me.

So I decided to check on the internet to see how the tradition of jack o lanterns came to be. To my astonishment this is what I found:

Some people say that jack o lanterns originated in Ireland (late eighteenth century) where the Irish hollowed out turnips, mangelwurtzel, and beets, and carved grotesque faces on them to represent spirits and goblins. October 31 (Halloween) - November 1 (All Saints Day) was known as Samhain and it was thought of as the time that spirits and fairies were particularly active. Apparently turnips were hollowed out and turned into lanterns to light guisers (disguised people) on All Hallows Eve. Some say that the lanterns represented Christian souls in purgatory or the undead. Others say that they were set on windowsills to keep the evil spirits and vampires away.

The story of Jack-O'-Lantern, a thief, who made a pact with the devil not to take his soul, was told and retold in different forms all over Western Europe. In most versions Jack dies and he can neither be admitted into heaven or hell. He begs for light and the devil throws him an ember that will glow forever. Jack carves a turnip and tosses the ember inside to light his way endlessly as he wanders the earth.

Wow! Now that's a story. But did you notice how often I said, "Some say---" or "Others say---?" In plain words the jack o lantern became a myth and a symbol, and each group of people modified the story as it served them best when they retold it. It reminds me of playing "telephone" when I was young.And that's how symbols are born.

So writers and readers, try something different this holiday season. Is there something you wish to teach your children or others? Create symbols (metaphors) by slightly changing and emphasizing certain areas of your stories. Take a different perspective than you usually do. Create a "parable." Write the stories down, and share them with others, such as your children.
More on how to do this on Friday November 1st in my next blog.

Monday, October 28, 2013

William Shakespeare---Wise Sage or Plagiarist?

I have always considered William Shakespeare (1564-1616) to be a wise sage and my favorite playwright, probably from as early as the fifth grade. Growing up in a country school in Central Canada, we began reading and memorizing Shakespeare from a very early age. Then we repeated his passages many times throughout the year, using them to validate our own thoughts and writings.

I remember writing an essay on As You Like It in high school and enlarging on what I considered Shakespeare's most wise of passages, "All the world's a stage, and men and women merely players." Those words felt so true to me in those adolescent years. I started looking at the world as a stage and me as one of the performers. Amazing. In that process I could finally separate myself from what seemed like the life and death emotions I felt during those difficult years of hormone changes and teenage angst.

I had always thought of Shakespeare's writings as completely original. "What an incredible mind to think up all these new but wise sayings," I used to say. It was not until later on in college and beyond, that I learned some facts that troubled me. Were all the plays we attributed to Shakespeare really written by him? No one seemed to know. And were his ideas and writings really original?

This is what I discovered over the years:
Shakespeare like many of us read a lot and used his knowledge of Greek and Roman classics and philosophers to create his works. Sometimes Shakespeare borrowed his plots down to the fine details. He borrowed several of Geoffery Chaucer's poems as sources of his plays. (Most of you will know Chaucer, 1340-1400, as the one who wrote Canterbury Tales.) Then there was Plutarch (46-120 AD). a Greek philosopher, who wrote Parallel Lives. The book became the source for Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. Shakespeare copied whole passages from the work, making only small changes. And the greatest source for his images and symbols was the Bible.

So did Shakespeare plagiarize other authors? I looked up the word in the dictionary. The word plagiarize today means to appropriate passages, ideas, and thoughts of another author and represent these as your own original works. So, as we define it today, yes he did.

But let's think for a minute. Don't we all get our ideas from our readings, the culture, and the beliefs we encounter everyday? How many original ideas are really out there? I am writing a book called How to Cope with Stress after Trauma for veterans and families. The book is a compilation of healing steps I have used for many years with clients. But where did I get those ideas? Yes, from my readings, my classes, my clients, and the people around me. I certainly can't say I have not plagiarized ideas and thoughts although I don't remember where I first heard about them.

Then what really makes Shakespeare so unique? Why are we still fascinated with him and his works? Most of us have favorite plays and passages even today, several hundred years after he lived. As I have become older and hopefully wiser, I have become more realistic and less judgmental in my views. What I see now is an amazing artist and writer, who after the rigid Middle Ages and during the beginning of the Renaissance looked into the hearts of humans and wrote those older plots and passages in such a brilliant way, with such emotional complexity (e.g., Hamlet, Macbeth), that all of us still identify with his characters and their feelings. He saw people (even the monarchy who were often considered to be like gods) as humans who made mistakes and needed forgiveness. He portrayed both the dark and the light side of all of us. That was his true genius. And even though he plagiarized some passages and plots, he wrote his plays and sonnets, combining words and images in such a way that people all over the world resonate with his works
William Shakespeare indeed is a wise sage.

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment.
Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds, or bend with the remover to remove."

Wow! If only I could write as well as he did.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"The Incredible Depth of Green"

Transatlantic, by Colum McCann, is described as "masterful and profoundly moving," by Kirkus reviews. With skill that transcends life itself, McCann weaves together these threads:

Newfoundland: 1919
Two aviators, Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown set course for Ireland in a Vickers Vimy. Hoping that a transatlantic crossing would help to heal the wounds of the Great War, they fly into the cold and dark in a craft made with wood and linen.

Dublin 1845-46
Fredrick Douglas, visits Dublin while on an International Lecture Tour. He finds support for the Abolitionist cause among Irish Quakers. He sees poverty, starvation, filth and disease the likes of which shocks a former slave. He bears witness to the scourge of famine.

New York 1998
Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast leaving a young wife and newborn son at home. The son of an Irish American father and a Lebanese mother, he is sent by the request of the President of the United States, to apply his capable hand to the tiller, and to steer the erratic, explosive and fragile peace process to a safe harbor.

How does Colum McCann whose considerable talents won him the National Book Award, for Let the Great World Spin, manage to connect these events? He employes the perspective of generations of women, all descendents of Lily Duggan, an Irish servant in the household hosting Frederick Douglas.

Transatlantic is a tale so beautifully written, it has an hypnotic quality. Here is one passage:

"The north below, is stunned with morning sunlight. Patches of bright yellow on the mud flats. The fields so wide and grassy. Lake and water meadow. A silver estuary and a huge lake. One small cloud, cast out by the herd, limps away to the west. The plane banks and the city of Belfast appears, always smaller than he expects it to be. The high cranes of the shipyards. The maze of the side streets. The soccer pitches. The flats. The fretful desolation. Then out over the fields again, the incredible depth of green. He has never quite seen the lans so bright before: a clear day through the morning clouds. He is used to its gray edges, its laneways, its high walls. They pull in over Lough Neagh. A vague sadness on touchdown, a tensing of the throat.

On the grass below, the shadow of the plane is squeezed down to its own size, then is gone. Welcome to Belfast Interntational. Contents in the overhead bin may have shifted during flight."   P.121

From an interview in NewStatesman, Colum says, "What could be worse than be called an historical novelist? It's the idea of becoming an alternative historian that really interests me: an historian of the smaller moments. It's a privileged position for the fiction writer, one that opens up a lot of pores- and sometimes wounds as well."

Ireland is a nation of story tellers, singers and poets. A scant few stand above all others: Colum McCann is one.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Family Sagas and the Stuff of Legend

 Gone With the Wind,
Margaret Mitchell,

Tolstoy wrote: “All happy families are alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Of all the countless words stemming from Tolstoy's prolific pen, this statement is one of his more famous and oft' quoted lines. 

When I think of this depiction of family life, my mind casts about. Did I come from a happy family? Am I creating a happy family? What constitutes an unhappy family?

When I read Tolstoy's statement the first time, I was still in high school. His words had the ring of truth. I knew some unhappy families, and the sad moniker was more evident in childhood. To this day, I can think of certain houses, walking in, catching my breath and feeling scared. Like a cloak protecting children, the fear was a filmy layer I sensed at once. When I think back to these unlucky homes, I recall the thick silence and an awareness of my beating heart. I felt pity for whomever it was who brought me into this house. There would be an air of tyranny. I would know of an issue too. We had somewhat of an understanding of every marriage in our old neighborhood. I do not know how. I recall that I listened to adult conversations by the hour; I found them fascinating. If I sat very still and remained quiet, I could hear more delicious details. When I heard the phrase, “little pitchers have big ears,” I would sit back on my heels, disappointed to know that I was about to be sent out of the room.

I became aware of family traits at an early age because we were always hearing about whom we took after. I knew the good and the bad from both sides of the family, and where those traits became evident. Life seemed to be a game of genetic ninepins. Good traits were pointed out, and failings all had something to do with ancestry. There was disagreement among the ranks. Nevertheless, with all of our faults combined, we were unabashedly happy. Imperfect, zany, optimistic, risk takers, competitive, generous and compulsive; we seemed to have a never-ending penchant for drama.

Writing a family saga involves events in the character's lives over time and generations. We get involved in political families, famous families, royal families, and powerful families, loving all that is familiar and unique. We root for them, get exasperated by them and generally want to see the family triumph over all adversity.  When setting out to write such a tale, a lofty ambition indeed, we must first decide if they are a patriarchal, or a matriarchal clan. Did they slip along the way, and climb back up again, or did they devolve into a great mess? Do hurts and stings have a lasting effect? Are they a family who can bounce back from adversity? Can they go from an unhappy family to a happy one? Is there an offshoot? Is there a villain, or a hero? Are they the stuff of legend? Will the third generation squander the efforts of the first? Will predators destroy them? There is no end to the possibilities of a great family saga. 
Pictured above is the desk where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind.

In no particular order, I have supplied a list of  family sagas I have read and loved:

Fall on Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald, 

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott,

Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell,

One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez,

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck,

House of Spirits, by Isabel Allende,

The Godfather, by Mario Puzo,

Roots: The Saga of an American Family, by Alex Haley,

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Perfect Fall Day, and Apples

   Today was a perfect fall day. I had the luxury of idle time and sat out on the back deck in a cushioned, comfortable chair.  The air was crisp, the sky brilliant blue. However, my  thoughts weren't of the lake in view or fir trees all around , but of apples.

  Apples and fall go together like spring and chocolate bunnies or summer and corn on the cob. I  remember  when I was a grade school student at St. Rose of Lima , my mother packed a red apple every day in my metal lunch box. Apparently mom believed in the old adage , 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away' .  And dunking for apples and candied apples were always a hit come All Hollow's Eve.

   While sitting under a cool sun, and enjoying the silence about me, I thought of paintings I had seen by famed artist's  Van Gogh and Cezanne,  and how their  still life images brighten the soul. Then  I wondered about writers and apples. Of course the first, and most famous story about an apple is found in the book of Genesis 2:7 when God tells Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit. Then Johnny Appleseed came to mind, a legendary character who went about the land planting apple seeds. And a poem by Robert Frost

After Apple - Picking

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward  heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough

   Apples are like a sweet tonic to me, when I was just a little girl and didn't want to eat vegetables , my Grandpa Austin would tell  me , whatever food I objected to, was applesauce , then I'd  happily eat what was on my plate.  Through the years it became a family joke, whenever  something was served for dinner I thought I didn't like, someone would say, "It's applesauce" .

    Edgar A. Guest writes in his poem The Apple Tree

There 's nothing damn has builded with the
    beauty or the charm
That can touch the simple grandeur of the
     monarch of the farm.
There's never any picture from human
      beings brush
That has ever caught the redness of a single
      apple's blush.

    Just as the artist portrays the image he/she sees,   like the beauty of the apple, with paints on  canvas,  perhaps as writers, we can do the same with our words. The next time you see an apple in a bowl or on the ground, fallen from a tree,   take a closer look, then describe its essence in prose or story, to reflect the  sweet memory it invokes.






Wednesday, October 16, 2013


While Summer brings fun in the sun, and carefree days
And Winter is joyous with the blessing of Christmas , and family cheer
And Spring? Well, Spring is like seeing something beautiful and
new for the very first time - brilliant blue sky and budding flowers.
Still,  it’s  Fall that has always been a special time of year to me - the month of
October especially so,  perhaps because it is the month I was born.
 25 October when my world greeted me
with welcome arms and loving heart.
A  feeling of wonder and change permeates the air.
Harvest colors, and a harvest moon;
Red delicious apples and candy corn.

Three  poems help  describe for me  the aura and atmosphere  of
 the  tenth month of the year

Dylan Thomas' Poem in October, in remembrance of his own birth  month , and this verse:
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wondered and listened
   To the rain wringing
   Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me

October by Robert Frost
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall

And this one, October's Bright Blue Weather by American poet and novelist, Helen Hunt Jackson
When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone wall
Are leaves of woodbine twining

Not only Fall, but each  season with its changing landscape,  helps prompt us  to reflect on nature's beauty, and weave it into our own  story of life and love.

***Note: Helen Hunt Jackson  (1831 - 1885) is most famous for Ramona, a novel about a Native American orphan facing discrimination and prejudice. Ralph Waldo Emerson was an admirer of her poetry, and used several of her poems in public readings. To learn more about Jackson visit

Monday, October 14, 2013

Holiday Magazine & Travel Stories

    For those  who regularly read my posts for Writing North Idaho, know I am drawn to nostalgia , and find pleasure in reading novels, stories, essays from  long ago. So, last week while I was with my mother browsing thrift stores in Lewiston for used books, I came across one titled, Ten Years of Holiday that  peeked my interest.

    To my surprise, I learned Holiday was a popular travel magazine published from 1946 to 1977. The magazine, published by Curtis Publishing Company, the same company that published Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal, would grow to more than  one million subscribers in its hey day. According to some, the reason for the magazines success may be because after World War II, travel overseas became more appealing to Americans, and the editors of  Holiday honed in on their passion to travel. I  believe another  reason may be because of the high quality of writers the magazine enlisted.

  Writers like : Frank O' Connor, Richard Llewellyn, Alistair Cooke, E.B. White,  Arthur Miller, C.S. Forester, Cleveland Amory, Irwin Shaw, James Thurber.

    And one other, Phil Stong , who is most known for his novel State Fair, which was later adapted to the famed Rogers and Hart musical of the same name. In the 1952 December issue of Holiday, Stong wrote Christmas in Iowa. That was the first story I read in the Holiday anthology. I think because Iowa is the birthplace of my family, and I have so many happy memories of living there myself at a very young age. What struck me in Stong's story is it wasn't about travel on foreign shore, but right here in America. He not only wrote  of his  hometown Keosauqua, Iowa as it was then, after he had lived away twenty years,  but as it was when he knew it best, during his childhood years, and the memory it invoked.

    It made me think of how travel writing doesn't always have to be about far away and distant places, but  towns close  and dear, the local cities we grew up in, and helped shaped  the people we were, and would become. I thought of my own home town of Bell, California. In the 1950's and 60's a small bedroom community in southeast Los Angeles, where folks were familiar with one another and felt safe in their neighborhood of modestly built homes.  Teenage boys pumped gas, checked oil, and cleaned auto windows at the Shell station on the corner of Gage and Wilcox. Other young fellows  would box groceries  at  Arvo's Market on the opposite corner, where I mostly remember buying an oversized grape  sucker for a nickel, then would go back to  the park to play tether ball with my friend Linda.  Parents weren't afraid for their kids to play outside. In Bell, we'd go  out early morning  to ride our bikes, roller skate, play Hide n Seek and Make Believe  and wouldn't return  home until late afternoon -  sometimes after    watching a Saturday matinee at the Alcazar Theater or swimming at the pool. I remember it as a happy time, the  best time. When life was good.

   I have lived away from Bell for many years now,  and only recently returned. It is not the same as I knew it then.  The Alcazar is gone, so is Arvo's Market. and Jim's Hairhouse, where so many I knew  used to get their haircut. Don's Hamburger's - 5 for a Dollar-   on the corner of Heliotrope and Randolph  is now a taco stand. But the library and the high school still stand, and my early place of worship, with its Spanish inspired architecture, St. Rose of Lima Church.

    Although I have travelled abroad, and throughout the United States, I've never seriously considered writing about my travels. But after reading some of the essays in Ten Years of Holiday, I may give it a try-  to write about places I've visited, especially those I know best - the cities where I lived.

    As writers, I suggest we all have 'travel' stories we can share. Whether past or present.

   For more information and history  about Holiday Magazine,  check out this well researched  and informative article in  Vanity Fair Magazine







Friday, October 11, 2013

Query Letters to Editors of Nonfiction Books for Children


The nonfiction children's market is one of the easier markets to crack because editors of magazines and books are searching for good writers of children's NF genre versus the over crowded children's fiction genre. There is a scarcity of nonfiction children's books while more emphasis is being put on nonfiction reading by educators and parents. Teenagers, especially boys, have a disturbing dearth of appealing NF books. There are a very few NF magazine articles or magazines dedicated to educational NF topics other than dating, makeup or prom dresses. There is also a high interest in "low vocabulary," beginning readers materials in the nonfiction category. "Low vocabulary" is another term for books with lots of pictures that explain a nonfiction idea to preschool or emerging readers. Editors can pair you with an illustrator but it is much better if you can illustrate your own words via drawings or camera shots. It is one less person with whom they have to deal.  Being able to draw or provide camera photos of your writing also gives your more validity which makes it easier to sell your ideas.

Books or articles discussing ethnic diversity, trending activities (dirt biking, snow boarding, soccer, and photography), biographies and science are in special demand. If you can take a nonfiction topic in a new direction, provide a different twist on teaching an idea or use humor to challenge learning, you will have winners. Children like quirky facts about things and respond well to this type of learning.

Publishers want to know if you can write to a targeted age audience, if you can stay in the required word count and if you can make the information engaging and fun. Redundancy, wordiness, inaccuracies, and insufficient or outdated facts are verboten. You must include all information to document the facts and books used in your research in a bibliography included in your book. Go to to learn the correct bibliographic format for this. Do not use a creative nonfiction format to tell the information, e.g., "Brian Bear's Tips for Fire Safety," or  "Buzy Brianna Bee's Path to Her Hive." Follow submission guidelines precisely; each publishers has its own guidelines and they vary from house to house. Many houses publish books in a series ("How this Works..." or "Science Explained"). There are several web sites that show vocabulary words that are appropriate for specific age groups. Study those and use your thesaurus to find exactly the right words to help  a specific age group learn about your topic of interest.
In your one page query letter, state the title of your article or book and for what ages you wrote it. Give a two to three sentence synopsis. Summarize your approach and why you are qualified to write for them. If applicable, site figures showing the lack of resources on this subject. If you have not written nonfiction, start writing now and get published even if it is adult nonfiction. State you will send writing samples if desired. If you have not written for children, write a sample story following the publisher's guidelines and send it if asked. Give a short bio of your writing experiences, prizes won, blog site(s), and books and articles published. Thank them for their time and include your name, phone numbers, email address and post office addresses. If you used humor in the book or article, try to include humor in the query letter. Never call an editor to give a pitch. Attend conferences mentioned in the Oct. 9, 2013 post or others nearby.

Nonfiction for children of all ages is an increasingly in-demand field of writing. If you have an interest in nonfiction and think you have skills necessary to write appropriately on a subject that appeals to children, try it out and see what happens. This is a niche waiting to be filled.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Children's Nonfiction--Lucrative and Fun Writing

Jennifer Rova

Wouldn’t it be fun to be responsible for the smile on this boy's face? Editors are clamoring for authors who can write nonfiction books and magazines articles for children of all ages.  Fifty percent of elementary and seventy percent of high school reading will be nonfiction according to Common Core State Standards.* School and public libraries shelves are sparsely furnished with up-to-date nonfiction books. You can help fill the gap.

There are numerous reasons to write children's NF:
---topic choices are unlimited with biographies a constant need. What are you interested in? Probably some children are interested in that same subject and would benefit from reading your book on the topic.
---the field is not crowded thus your chances of being paid are higher.
---teachers are looking for good NF books to use in the classroom.
---you can research and write on one topic but gear and market it differently for different age groups.
---you have a hand in interpreting the world for young readers and sparking ideas for further interests    and jobs through your books.
---you are helping to raise a smarter generation.
---it is fun to share you knowledge or for you to learn something new, share it and get paid.
---parents are looking for books and magazines to teach their children.
---you are fostering life-long literacy skills.
---early readers and emerging readers need to read NF as well as fiction.

Numerous sources are available to scout out what is current and what subjects needs expanding.
1. Visit school and public libraries and book stores. Read NF books. Doing so gives you invaluable information on how to write for different ages, the vocabulary used and what topics are absent.

2. Ask your children, grandchildren or neighbors' kids what they would like to learn.

3. Go to, click on books, advanced search, specify readers' age and specify publication dates, e.g., 2008-2012 to see what has been written and look for missing topics.

4. Query librarians on what topics are most often asked for and for which there are no books.

5. Read children’s magazines to see what hot topics have articles. Are there any books to match these topics? (See list of children's magazines below.)

6. Buy A to Zoo a reference book that lists picture books by subject title and author and Children’s Writer's and Illustrator's Market book by Writer's Digest. The latter lists most of the publishing houses that produce children's books and magazines.

7. Attend one of these conference
*** Second Annual 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference, June 20-22, 2014 in New Platz, NY on SUNY campus.
 ***Broward, Florida 27th annual Conference on Children's Literature in April  2014
***22nd Annual Hubbs Children's Literature Conference, Feb. 22, 2014 at the Keffer Library on the Minneapolis, MN campus of University of St. Thomas. http// 2014

7. Look for and attend a state library association's annual convention to smooze with librarians and book publishers. Companies often have lots of free, helpful information.

Go here for an annotated list of children's magazines.

*Mission state for Common Core Standards organization
"The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy."

Look for Friday's post, October 11, 2013 for some pointers on writing children's 
nonfiction literature and how to query editors who publish nonfiction
 children’s literature.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Different Venues to Being Labeled A Writer

Jennifer Rova
Does the title mean you have to write a New York Times "Top Ten Fiction" books in order to be or think of yourself as a WRITER? Does this mean that you have your name above the title in your mystery book? There are  twenty categories of writing that will define you as a writer.

 "Writing" Original source unknown.
 Play writing---the writing is challenging but more so finding someone to produce your play is harder. A limited number of plays are produced each year and you have to have connections or be at the door when opportunity knocks.
      Poetry---a difficult way to earn a living. There just isn’t interest in today’s world to support poetry. Competitions are numerous however.
      Resume---not a strong wage earner but combined with other types of writing, it has its niche.
      Magazine articles---a popular form of writing. You may write for women’s magazines like Good Housekeeping and Family Circle, men’s magazines like Esquire and Men's Health or specialty magazines such as Iowa Farm Wife that hire outsiders to write for them on a per story basis. Some of the racier magazines pay up to $1.00/word. The lead-time is up to a year ahead.
      Screenwriters---writing screenplays for TV or movies. Movies pay a lot especially if the movie is a success and you have negotiated your contract well, as can writing for a hit TV series.
      Nonfiction---this category contains many subgenres. The stories must be true and accurate. They can be biographical books or articles, stories about any subject for any variety of audiences such as horse riding, sheep tending, sewing, camping, fitness, biographies, etc.
Academic---academicians must “publish” which is doing research, writing about it and finding the appropriate venue for publication. Other academic writing is for the bragging rights of having an article you wrote published in some credible magazine or online but there is often no pay. The pay for the former is that you are allowed to keep your job!
 Speechwriters---these jobs are mostly in the political arena but also may be part of another job like being the VP of a large company where you are asked to write the presentation/speech for your boss. 
Greeting cards---these jobs pay adequately and can be steady employment if you work for a company like Hallmark. These businesses often use freelance writers when they want new materials.
Columnists--- a work-your-way up profession. Writers usually have undergraduate college degrees in journalism or political science and start writing anything for small newspapers. Given time, opportunities and good work, you may be offered a job at a bigger newspaper until you have a reputation for something----adroitness, insight, sharp analytical abilities or a certain savvy or humor in an area.  A steady column may be offered for writing regularly in a newspaper or magazine. This can lead to full books outside of the newspaper job. Fareed Zakaria writes for TIME magazine while Ann Landers and her sister wrote advice columns for newspapers.
Journalists are similar to columnists. Most have college degrees. Some are all-category writers while others specialize in business, coverage of war or near-war situations, local stories, and politics. Some may write a series of articles following an ongoing event or through sleuthing, uncover a scandal or expose fraud.
Copywriters are among the best-paid writers. They are the people who write ads like “Folgers coffee. Mmm, mmm, good” and “Bounty the quicker picker upper.” There are other aspects to copy writing and it pays well, again up to $1/word. It can be freelance or on-staff positions in ad agencies. The ability to sell anything, window cleaner, a fantasy story, a pair of skies or a political mystery all use the talents of the copywriter to market the product.
 Songwriters---most people do not think of writing songs as a writing profession. It is combined with the ability to also write music or collaborate with someone who writes the music and you write the words like Rogers and Hammerstein.

Ghost writers---a decent paying freelance job with little or no glory. A famous person will “write” her memoirs but you do the actual writing based on interviews with the person. You may get your name mentioned or not. “My Life” by Sandra Bullock with Jane Doe”, Jane being the ghostwriter, or “Elizabeth Smart: My Story” without  your name. (Both are fictitious books made for this blog example.)
Game writers---if you are into computer games, you know the market for video game stories is huge. This writer works with a team of artists and computer specialists to make a video game that appeals to a certain age group. If you write a successful one, it can be part of a series. You can always moonlight as a fantasy or Goth writer in the evenings.   
Grant writers---freelance or work on staff for a not for profit organization that needs funding. You write or petition a targeted foundation, company or business for money for a specific project through a “grant proposal.” This type of writing takes the understanding of how a not for profit organization functions, what its needs are, the details and goal of the project for which the organization is seeking funding. Writers take a percentage of the grant money when it is given (and nothing if the NFP does not win the grant money), or gets a straight fee or is part of a full time job with the agency.
 Fiction---children’s books, ‘tweens, and adults, plus many genres like mystery, romance, fantasy, sci-fi, crime, or learning for children among others. This field is wide open and well known. It can lucrative and is always hard work both writing and marketing your work.   
Online---this can be writing a web site for a business, your own blog or writing for an e-zine. Some businesses pay you to write about their horse stables or golf course while with your own blog, you write for something other than money unless companies pay to advertise on your site.
 Sermons---a specialized niche for a specific profession. It takes insight, knowledge of religion, and determining the right angle for his/her congregational demographics.
  Newsletters---this can earn you a profit after a lot of hard work and time building an clientele. Some businesses hire freelancers to writer a monthly newsletter for its clients or staff. If you freelance, you will need to build up a series of clients in order to earn a living at this type of writing.

Then there is travel writing, cartoons, letters, toasts, short stories, long stories...You can write. Sit down, get busy and good luck!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sherman Alexie and Indies First

Prolific author Sherman Alexie will speak at the Spokane's Bing Crosby Theater on October 9 at 7:00 p.m. (doors open at 6:45). His books include Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and many others. No ticket is required, but a $5 donation is being requested at the door to help pay for the venue. This is an Auntie's/Get Lit! co-production.

Did you know that Alexie is also a staunch supporter of independent bookstores? He's helping to promote the Indies First movement, which is the engine behind a bookseller-for-a-day program on November 30 (the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Small Business Saturday). Here's a letter from Alexie encouraging book-lovers to participate. For more information on how you can get involved in Indies First, click here.

September 1, 2013
Hello, hello, you gorgeous book nerds,
Now is the time to be a superhero for independent bookstores. I want all of us (you and you and especially you) to spend an amazing day hand-selling books at your local independent bookstore on Small Business Saturday (that's the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 30 this year, so you know it's a huge weekend for everyone who, you know, wants to make a living).
Here's the plan: We book nerds will become booksellers. We will make recommendations. We will practice nepotism and urge readers to buy multiple copies of our friends' books. Maybe you'll sign and sell books of your own in the process. I think the collective results could be mind-boggling (maybe even world-changing).
I was a bookseller-for-a-day at Seattle's Queen Anne Book Company when it reopened this past April. Janis Segress, one of the new co-owners, came up with this brilliant idea. What could be better than spending a day hanging out in your favorite hometown indie, hand- selling books you love to people who will love them too and signing a stack of your own? Why not give it a try? Let’s call it Indies First.
Grassroots is my favorite kind of movement, and anyway there’s not a lot of work involved in this one. Just pick a bookstore, talk to the owner (or answer the phone when they call you) and reach an agreement about how to spend your time that day. You’d also need to agree to place that store’s buy button in a prominent place on your website, above the Amazon button if you have one. After all, this is Indies First, not Indies Only, and it’s designed to include Indies in our world but not to exclude anyone else.
This is a great way to fight for independents—one that will actually help them. It’ll help you as well; the Indies I’ve talked to have told me that last year Small Business Saturday was one of their biggest days of the year, in some cases the biggest after the Saturday before Christmas—and that means your books will get a huge boost, wherever you choose to be.
The most important thing is that we’ll all be helping Independent bookstores, and God knows they’ve helped us over the years. So join the Indie First Movement and help your favorite independent bookstore. Help all indie bookstores. Reach out to them and join the movement. Indies First!
Yours in Independence,
Sherman Alexie, An Absolutely True Part-Time Indie

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

5 Things I Like about the Inklings

My recent journey through The Inklings of Oxford made me think about the role of literary friendships in my own life.

The Inklings were a group of academics associated with the university at Oxford, England. From the early 1930s to 1949 they met together on Thursday evenings in C. S. Lewis's rooms at Magdalen College, where they'd read and discuss their works in progress. Some of the members were also in the habit of gathering on Tuesday afternoons at the "Eagle and Child" and other pubs in and around Oxford. From what I understand, the pub meetings were even more informal than the Thursday meetings, meant for fellowship and camaraderie, not the reading of manuscripts. Products of their time, all of the Inklings were male (although Dorothy Sayers was closely associated with them, she never attended meetings), and several of them--but not all--were Christian.

Warren Lewis (C. S.'s brother and one of the group) wrote, "Properly speaking, [the Inklings] was neither a club nor a literary society, though it partook of the nature of both. There were no rules, officers, agendas, or formal elections.”

Of course this is pure conjecture, but when I imagine a gathering of the Inklings, I picture a warm room, perhaps with a cozy fire, the persistent English rain beating against leaded-glass windows, and the pungent scent of pipe tobacco. A number of off-duty professor types lounge about on shabby-genteel sofas and chairs. Several of them hold manuscript pages, and the conversation ebbs and flows: now reading aloud, now commenting, now questioning or offering a word of encouragement in plummy British accents. Doubtless there were some heated arguments as well, which--this being my daydream--I'll overlook for now.

In short, the scene looks not all that different from reading and critique groups I've known and loved--minus the leaded glass and pipe tobacco and plummy accents.

From the perspective of a critique group member, here's what I appreciate most about the Inklings:

*They met regularly. I'm sure that not every member made it to every meeting, and the group that met at the pub overlapped, but was not identical to, the Thursday evening group. Nonetheless the group had a certain consistency and commitment, which fosters familiarity and trust. If you're going to open up your writing to critique, it's good to be acquainted with your critics and know something about their individual backgrounds, writing expertise, personalities, and quirks.

*They were focused. The Inklings gathered to discuss their own and each others' writing as well as other literary and publishing concerns. They were busy academics, choosing to commit their Thursday evenings discussing literature. Their discussions didn't wander all over the place--or if they did, someone would steer the conversation back on course. They made good use of their time.

*They had fun. The fact that the members enjoyed spending time in each others' company apart from the weekly critique meeting shows that they took themselves seriously, but not too seriously. They were a compatible bunch.

*They were flexible. In addition to a core group, there were other Inklings that came and went as employment and other circumstances changed. While there were limitations as to who could be an Inkling, membership wasn't unnecessarily rigid. They also did not gum up the works with a lot of rules and procedures.

*They were encouraging. Beneath its polished exterior, university life can be a rough-and-tumble world filled with competitiveness, backbiting, and petty jealousies. I imagine the Inklings' meetings were a pleasant respite from the workaday world, as well as a kind of laboratory for producing their very best work. Who knows what beloved literature might never have seen the light of day--or might have appeared in some very different form--were it not for the influence of the Inklings?

Your turn: Do you participate in an Inklings-like critique group or book group? If so, tell us about it!