Tag Archives: writing

Writing about Writing

You might notice that the tag-line to this blog says “Reading Writing Music Theology Etc.” If you’ve been following for any length of time (well, not any length–I mean, if you’ve been following for a few days this wouldn’t appy) you’ll have seen book reviews, Music Mondays, Sunday School Notes, Doctor Who stuff, and other things. But where’s the writing? Sure, I’ve posted some flash fiction from time to time. But you may have noticed I’ve gone quiet when it comes to writing tips and publishing advice.

Back when I started this blog, oh some six years ago now, I did a mini-series (a costume drama, I think) on querying agents, giving tips and suggestions. I was, at that time, querying my first query-ready novel. I had done a lot of reading, and I wanted to sum up all my research and offer it up to the world.

Since that time, however, I’ve done some hard thinking. You see, I am, and remain to this day, an unagented, unpublished writer. So my expertise in publishing is as good as my reading and conversations I’ve had with agents and published writers. I don’t have anything to offer by way of good, positive experience. When I look for query advice, there are two types of people I consider SMEs (Subject Matter Experts):

  • The people who read queries as a job requirement and necessity (i.e., literary agents and editors)
  • People whose queries have secured them multiple requests from agents, or, who have secured agency representation as a result of their queries. In other words, people who have written successful queries. Queries that have produced the desired result.

I am in neither of these camps. So why should anyone listen to what I have to say, when you have plenty of SMEs telling you what you want to know?

As for writing tips, sure I can tell you what works for me. But I have nothing to show for my writing so far, so why should you care what works for me? Clearly what works for me doesn’t yet work for many other people. Again, when I want writing tips, who do I turn to? Published authors whose work I like, people who have demonstrated ability with the craft of writing, and have, as a result, written work that is salable and/or critically acclaimed.

So, at least for now, until I have a credible enough platform from which to pontificate, I’ll gladly point you to SMEs. But unless, for some strange reason, you want to read my thoughts on writing, how I go about composing prose, or whatever, I won’t be posting “tips and tricks” here. Or anywhere else. It just seems a little presumptuous, and a bit arrogant, of me. After all, in the immortal words of the Eighth Doctor, “Who am I?” (Whovian in-joke). So here are some SMEs to get you started. You can easily Google for more:

Query SMEs:

Query Shark/Janet Reid

Carly Watters

Publishing Crawl (Pub Crawl)

Various Tips from Literary Agents

… and other Literary Agent blogs.

Writing SMEs:

Stephen King (his book ON WRITING)

Jeff Somers

Writer’s Digest

James Scott Bell

Birthday Flash!

Don’t worry, it’s nothing inappropriate. As you may have observed, I’m not doing the April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge this year. For the past three years, I’ve posted flash fiction every day in April for this challenge. This year, however, I wanted to work on stories I intend to sell instead. When I told my wife, she was a little disappointed (awww!), since she enjoyed the stories I posted in previous years. “As long as you post one for my birthday,” she said.

My wife’s birthday was on Monday, but I wanted to wait until today to fulfill my end of the bargain, since I knew articles would post on Tuesday, and I didn’t want her to miss it.

But what to write about? I usually have a word or title prompt, so for today’s story, I turned to the trusty Random Word Generator. Here’s what it gave me:

  • square
  • curtain
  • cork
  • socks
  • capital

So, here’s my 200 word story using those five words. Happy birthday, wifey! 🙂

The Cheeder’s Dance

It’s the strangest square dance I’ve ever been to, but we haven’t been out for a month, and I don’t want Amy to think something’s wrong. Besides, she says the Cheeder’s Dance is legendary.

The caller, Mary Beth, leads us through some traditional moves, then

“Curtain!”

I’m confused. Is this part of her patter? I stand with the other guys, while the girls dance around us. Amy puts her hands in front of my eyes. Ah, yes—curtain. I get it. As her hands fall away, I smell something familiar. But we start promenading, before I can ask.

“Corkscrew!”

The girls remove scarves from around their necks and waists. Amy pulls one from a pocket in her skirt, then begins twirling it around my head as she circles me. I’ve seen that scarf before, but I don’t recall Amy ever wearing it. And we’re promenading again.

“Now then ladies, take your bleeders, let’s get capital with those cheeders!”

The girls in unison pull switchblades from their socks. Cheeders? It come at me in a rush. The scent on her wrists, the scarf… she knows.

There’s that perfume smell again.

The flash of a blade.

A tug of my hair.

Darkness.

The Manhattan Trip, Day One

My FirstBorn, Sarah, is in the process of applying to various schools, pursuing her dream of a career on the stage. As one might expect, schools that specialize in the performing arts usually require applicants to audition. So Sarah has been saving up her hard earned pennies to travel around, giving monologues and singing songs in the hope of getting an offer of admission.

Last Friday and Saturday (January 27th and 28th), she auditioned for Juilliard and Carnegie Mellon. Both auditions were in New York City. I thought it might be fun, and helpful to her, if I tagged along. That way, we could split costs and both get to see some of the Big Apple. We set off on Thursday morning, flying down to Charlotte, NC, and from there to John F. Kennedy Airport.

The last time Sarah traveled by plane was eleven years ago, when she, SecondBorn, and I flew to England. She wasn’t even a teenager then, so for this trip, I let her take the window seat so she could enjoy watching the earth fall away from us, and the cars and houses shrink as we flew high over the trees and into the clouds. Flying gives you a whole new perspective on places you think you know. I always find it incredible how green North Carolina is, something I don’t always appreciate at ground level. And I never realized how many little islands there are off the shore line of New York. They sit on the water like broken fragments, some with a few roads and a building or two, some seemingly unpopulated. Do people travel to these islands? Is there anything worth visiting on them, or are they just cast-off bits of land, like strips of discarded cloth on the dressmaker’s floor?

Our New York adventure started with a twist. Just as we were making our approach to JFK, the captain came on the intercom to tell us that we had to circle and land on a different runway because the plane in front of us encountered some birds on touchdown. The aircraft was okay, but the runway had to be cleared of the… results, which meant we needed to land elsewhere. Sarah and I had no agenda for the day other than getting to our hotel, so we didn’t mind the slight delay. The plane eventually landed, and we got out at JFK…

We then spent the next two hours getting to the hotel. Yes. Two hours. First we had to take the AirTrain from the airport to the subway. If you’re not familiar with New York City, like other big cities (Washington DC, London, Paris, etc.), it has an underground railway system that enables people to get around relatively cheaply and quickly without having to deal with traffic and parking. New Yorkers make much use of the subway because New York is very big. Very very big. Our hotel was (and still is) on Seventh Avenue in midtown Manhattan, so we needed to get a train on the E-line. This meant we had to get off the AirTrain at its last stop, buy a MetroCard, and then take the next E-train to Seventh Avenue. From where we were, that was about 20 stops down the line. It would take about thirty to forty minutes normally, but our train had to stop part-way into the journey because the train ahead of us had slammed on its emergency brakes. I have no idea why–our driver didn’t go into detail. But we had to wait for that train to go, and then wait a few more minutes to allow for time between trains.

Macy’s of Times Square, the largest store in the world. I think it would make a nice library.

When we finally emerged onto Seventh Avenue, Sarah pulled out her phone and checked Google Maps. The hotel was on the other side of Times Square, about a twenty minute walk. So we headed down Seventh Avenue, surrounded by the bright lights, billboards, and sky-scraping buildings for which New York is renown. It’s hard to try to take everything in and not get run over by pedestrians. New Yorkers are people on a mission. Whenever we crossed a street, the hoards lined up on either side like warriors on the battlefield waiting for the light to change so they could engage. As soon as the signal turned to “Walk,” the two sides charged, and so help you if you got in the way of someone trying to make it to the other side. Thankfully, Sarah and I packed relatively light, so we didn’t have a lot of luggage to slow us down.

We were staying at the Hotel Pennsylvania, right across the road from Madison Square Garden. The hotel looked nice, and from the lobby area you would think it quite plush. But our room was a bit primitive. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the fact that whenever I travel for work, we usually stay at nice hotels, so I’ve come to expect little details like a coffee maker that I can use to get hot water for my tea, and a shower that takes less than five minutes to produce hot water that comes out of the shower head at a fair clip. And this was supposed to be one of the newer rooms. At least we didn’t pay a lot for it, and Sarah and I agreed it was worth putting up with for a couple of nights for the sake of being in midtown Manhattan, close to where her auditions were being held.

For supper that evening, we visited Korea Town, which is a street in midtown Manhattan given over to the Korean community (kind of like Chinatown, which is elsewhere in NYC). There we found our choice of Korean restaurants, as well as Korean stores and bakeries. Both Sarah and her sister (SecondBorn) enjoy Korean food and music (K-Pop), so a visit to Korea Town was inevitable. We ate at a restaurant called Han Bat, and I ordered a dish called Bok Eum Bab. I don’t recall what Sarah got, sorry. Our meal came with side dishes:

As best I recall, from left to right we have potato squares cooked in some kind of pork broth, thin strands of radish (pickled?), kimchi (fermented vegetables–a traditional Korean dish), lettuce with a kimchi-style dressing (quite spicy), what looked like strips of cooked eggplant–it had that kind of texture, some kind of green vegetable, and crunchy seaweed.

My Bok Eum Bab was essentially fried rice with broccoli and tofu squares:

As you can see, they served a lot of food. It wasn’t bad, but it needed a splash of soy sauce to give the flavor a bit of a kick. It was expensive, however (at least compared to what I’m used to here in North Carolina). I don’t think any of the menu items were less than $15.

After dinner, we ventured back down Korea Way (yes, there’s actually a street called Korea Way, with the street name in Korean underneath the English), and checked out the Korean book and music store. I mentioned Sarah and SecondBorn both love K-Pop, so this was heaven on earth for Sarah. Shelves of K-Pop, as well as merchandise, and posters. I was taken with the rows of books, all in Korean. Down the center of the store they had a table with stacks of books that appeared to be Korean translations of popular novels (GAME OF THRONES, and REVIVAL by Stephen King to name a couple I remember).

After some hot beverages at the Besfren café (I got a chai “Teappuccino”), we took a walk past the Empire State Building, and then back to the hotel.

That was Day One. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about Day Two, which includes Juilliard, the Lennon Memorial, Mood, Hell’s Kitchen, and a Shark at New Leaf…

Why Do You Write?

I’m a writer. Whether it’s flash fiction, or my growing mound of as-yet-unpublished short stories and novels, or this blog, or academic papers, or Sunday School notes, or devotionals, I enjoy writing. But why do I write? What is it about writing that makes me want to do it? Some writers say they can’t not write, or if they don’t write they feel sick, or their world is out of kilter. For some, writing is literally a life-line, saving them from mental stagnation, or perhaps from engaging in less positive activities.

These aren’t my reasons. There are other things I can do (most not nearly as well, however), and I don’t feel like I have to write every day. I don’t believe this makes me less of a writer. But if I don’t live to write (or write to live), why bother? Here are some of my reasons:

To Communicate. I don’t consider myself a sharp speaker. I’m not one of those people who always has the right word on the tip of his tongue. Writing gives me the chance to think about what I want to say, choose the correct words, and craft the sentences so they sing–or at least make a pleasant noise–and do this in my own time. With writing, I can also edit before I publish. Once a thing is said, there’s no taking it back. It’s out there, hanging in the air, and echoing in the ears and brains of all who heard it. When you’re writing, you can let your words sit for a day or two, and tweak them before making them public.

To Create. I have a very strong creative impulse. My non-verbal outlet for creativity is music; my verbal outlet is writing. I enjoy creating worlds and characters in my mind, and breathing life into them on the page (or screen). I derive a lot of pleasure from dreaming up possible (and impossible) situations, “what-if” scenarios, and letting them play out in a story. And I love the power stories have not only to entertain, but to educate, and to make you think about things you may never have given thought to before. This gift of creativity is a divine gift, one of God’s communicable attributes, as theologians would say. No other living organism on this planet has been given such creative ability. That alone is good reason to exercise it.

To Affect. Stories, like music, are powerful. They affect people. This affect might be fleeting, or it might be quite profound. It can be no more than giving someone a laugh, or a scare, making a few minutes’ down-time that much more enjoyable. Or the story might comfort someone through a difficult time, or help someone deal with a major issue in his or her life, touching deep into the soul.

When I was young, I was prone to temper tantrums. My mum could tell you stories of the hissy fits I pulled because I did or didn’t want to do something I was being told to do (or not to do). Often these tantrums would end up with me being sent to my room in tears. I would lie on my bed sobbing angrily into my pillow, sometimes hitting the floor or the door (depending on how mad I was) to get my parent’s attention, so they would understand how upset I was, and perhaps have a change of heart. (I’m glad to say, they always held firm and never gave in to me.) After a while, the tears would subside, but I would smolder under a cloud, like a spent fire billowing smoke. That’s when I would go to my bookshelf and pick out a book. We had a set of “Wonderful World of Disney” books, each volume dedicated to a different aspect of the Disney film output (nature, fairy tales, live-action adventure, etc.) One of these books contained fiction stories. This was my go-to book for when I was smoldering. And my go-to story featured Donald Duck (no surprise). I don’t recall the details of the story, but it involved Donald getting really upset about things, and having to choose between following the angel duck on one shoulder, or the devil duck on the other shoulder. Donald ends up learning his lesson and doing the right thing. By the time I got to the story’s end, my cloud had lifted, the smoke dissipated, and I would be back to my better self, possibly even feeling a bit guilty for getting so angry.

I don’t know who wrote that story, but if my writing could have such an impact on even one person, I’d be very gratified.

If you’re a writer, why do you write? Are you one of those “write-or-die” writers, or do you have a much more casual relationship with writing?

Links and Stuff

Hello, again! Or if this is your first visit to my blog, HELLO!! Sorry–was that a bit too loud and overbearing? No… wait… come back!! *sigh* Well, I guess it’s just you and me again, Mum! 🙂

It’s all packing and cleaning here at Chez Smith as the hunt for that elusive right-house-at-the-right-price continues. We’ve looked at some more houses this week, a couple of which have promise, and one in particular everyone seems to like. Except I’d need them to come down on the price. I know everyone’s getting sick of me saying it (“What do you think, Dad?” “Very nice… now, if they could drop the price by about $40k, we might be able to afford it and still eat!”), but someone has to make sure we don’t fall into ruin for the sake of having nice digs. Those who are of a praying inclination, please feel free to offer petitions on our behalf, mostly for wisdom, and patience.

Sam the Cat’s loving all this new empty shelf space, though. We’ve often pondered what he looks like. A loaf of bread? An oversize Pikachu? It seems he thinks he’s the next “Game of Thrones” novel:

SamTheShelf

Can you believe it’s August already? I set myself two goals for the end of July: finish ALEXANDER HAMILTON by Ron Chernow, and finish another short story. As you can see from the review I posted on Wednesday, I completed the first of those goals, and thoroughly enjoyed the book. I also managed the second, which is good since I’m trying to write a short story every month. My hope is to build a little collection of them that I can submit to magazines. Having stories published in well-regarded magazines always looks good to agents, and can give a little bump to the finances, which is not to be sneezed at when you’re contemplating the size of a mortgage.

Forbes issued its list of the World’s Highest-Paid Authors. Now, I know we don’t write for the money, but many of us would at least like to make some kind of a living with our words. So, in a strange way, it can be encouraging to see authors earn lots of money from their books. After all, if these few can make millions, then isn’t it possible for many of us to at least pay the bills and buy food? To me, it was fun to see Veronica Roth on the list. I remember reading the blog posts when she signed with her agent, Joanne Volpe, now with New Leaf Literary Agency. And then her YA dystopian novel, DIVERGENT, was published to great fanfare. It became a bestseller, then the sequel came out, then there was talk of movie deals… and now she’s in the Top 20 richest writers list. Well done, Veronica!

What are your thoughts on writing and money? If you’re a writer, have you ever written for the money–even if it was just one short story to help pay a bill?

That’s it for now. Have a great week! 🙂

2016 April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge: Reflections

This past April, the blog went flash fiction and Paul McCartney mad. Bonkers. Completely loopy. And all thanks to this year’s A-to-Z Challenge. My theme for the month was “100 Word Flash Fiction Stories Based on Paul McCartney Song Titles.” Here’s a breakdown of how things went.

Method

Having done this for a few years now, I thought the best approach would be to start early and try to get all the posts written before April. Sometime in January, I decided upon the theme and made my list of songs. Some I chose because the song is a favorite, some I chose because I thought the title would be a challenge, and some I chose because there really wasn’t much choice (“Q” and “Z”)! The only letter Paul didn’t have covered was “X”, but I figured a way around that. I then set about writing the stories, mainly over February and March. I carried that list of songs around with me the whole time in the event I got a few moments in the day to work out stories.

Results

I was very pleased with the number of visits my pages received, and the kind comments people left on the stories. Thanks, guys! 🙂 It’s hard to quantify how popular each post was since the A-to-Z linky list only linked to my site, not to each individual post. So any hit counts I have will be based on people going directly to each story via Twitter, or maybe their RSS feed. The counts don’t include people visiting from the A-to-Z list; those visits get rolled up into the general daily site hits total. Bearing all that in mind, combining individual page hits and “likes”, here are my 2016 A-to-Z posts in order of popularity:

Another Day
That Day Is Done
Keep Undercover
Rainclouds
Coming Up
Hope of Deliverance
Junk
Backwards Traveller
Live and Let Die
No Words
Zoo Gang
Fine Line
Waterfalls
Girlfriend
Young Boy
I’m Carrying
X is for Heather
One of These Days
Used To Be Bad
Pretty Little Head
Every Night
Stranglehold
Venus and Mars
My Brave Face
Distractions
Queenie Eye

It’s not very scientific, but interesting nonetheless.

My Favorites: “Rainclouds”, “Used to Be Bad”, “Pretty Little Head”, “Zoo Gang”.

My Wife’s Favorite: “Backwards Traveller”

“Fan” Favorites (i.e., mentioned in the comments): “Coming Up”, “Hope of Deliverance”, “Backwards Traveller”, “Another Day”, “Girlfriend”.

Lessons Learned

It’s the same old problem: making time to visit the other A-to-Z-ers. I did manage to get to a number of them, but not as consistently as I’d hoped. That’s a shame since this is a key part of the challenge. I did find some new blogs to keep an eye on, which is good. Hopefully, keeping my posts short was helpful to visitors (a lesson learned from a few years ago). It can be tempting to write long articles, but if you only have a limited time to get around a lot of blogs, long posts can be daunting.

How was your A-to-Z experience?

Zoo Gang

ZThis is my fifth April A-to-Z Challenge. The past couple of years, I’ve written 100-word flash fiction each day. This year I’m doing the same, only with a twist: each day’s story will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song. Today is the last day of the challenge, so let’s finish up with…

ZOO GANG

Joe passed the beans to Amy.

“Where’s Rob tonight?”

“Working late,” she said, taking a spoonful. “So, tell me more about your squad. Rob hardly mentions it.”

“Not surprised,” said Bill through a mouthful of steak. “Iraq was tough.”

“But we bonded,” Joe said, nodding to Bill.

“Remember our gang?” Bill smiled. “You, me, Rob, Pete.”

Joe laughed, “Yes! We even gave ourselves code names. Who were you?”

“I was Gorilla,” said Bill. Amy smiled. Given Bill’s physique, it fit. “Pete was Monkey—that laugh. And you were–?”

“Panther,” Joe said. “Obviously.”

“What was Rob called?” said Amy.

“Cheetah.”

That’s it for this year’s A-to-Z Challenge! Thanks for reading, especially if you’ve been following my flash fiction for the past month. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

“Zoo Gang” was the B-Side to Wings’ 1974 single “Band on the Run” in the UK.  It has subsequently appeared as a bonus track on CD re-issues of the albums “Venus and Mars” and “Band on the Run.” The piece was originally composed by McCartney for the short-lived UK TV series, “The Zoo Gang,” which ran for six episodes between April and May of 1974.

Here are the opening titles to the TV show:

Young Boy

YThis is my fifth April A-to-Z Challenge. The past couple of years, I’ve written 100-word flash fiction each day. This year I’m doing the same, only with a twist: each day’s story will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song. So let’s continue the fun with…

YOUNG BOY

“Do you think William will be okay?”

“Yes, dear, I do.”

“Did he pack a change of clothes?”

“I’m very sure he did.”

“What about underwear?”

“Yes, even underwear. And his toothbrush. And toothpaste.”

“Does he have enough money, you know, for snacks and stuff?”

“Yes, I do believe he’s okay for cash.”

“That boy,” Tom said, smiling. “They grow up so quickly.”

Mary echoed his smile. “They do.”

“It seems only yesterday he was playing with his trucks on the carpet.”

“I know. And now he’s driving one of his own.”

“He’ll always be our boy, though, won’t he?”

Check back tomorrow for the last day of the challenge, the letter “Z”…

“Young Boy” is a track from Paul’s 1997 album, “Flaming Pie.” It was released as a single that same year, reaching number 19 in the UK charts. He is joined on the recording by Steve Miller, who plays electric guitar and supplies backing vocals.

Waterfalls

WThis is my fifth April A-to-Z Challenge. The past couple of years, I’ve written 100-word flash fiction each day. This year I’m doing the same, only with a twist: each day’s story will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song. So let’s continue the fun with…

WATERFALLS

The water cascaded like a thin net sheet, its wet strands forming cobwebs over the rocks. Masami sat on a bench listening to Yasu fall into Yoneshiro, the one giving life to the other.

She felt a presence beside her and at her back.

Masami breathed steadily as a hand started on her leg, and another slid over her shoulders.

She focused on Yasu’s strength.

Barely a flick of the wrist, her white stick connected with the head behind her. Her elbow found seat partner’s chest, and the stick found his crotch. She heard feet running.

Peace again to meditate.

Check back tomorrow for “X”…

“Waterfalls” is a track from Paul’s 1980 album, “McCartney II.” It was released as a single that same year, reaching number 9 in the UK charts.

Here’s the music video based on the radio edit:

This is the complete album version of the song:

Venus and Mars

VThis is my fifth April A-to-Z Challenge. The past couple of years, I’ve written 100-word flash fiction each day. This year I’m doing the same, only with a twist: each day’s story will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song. So let’s continue the fun with…

VENUS AND MARS

José looked back at Sonia. Her fists were balled, her breathing heavy, her face noticeably flushed. The boys walked on ahead of her.

“What’s the deal, Marco?” he said, glancing again to make sure Sonia was out of listening range.

His friend shrugged his shoulders. “She’s a fiery one, you know,” he said, half smiling.

“You crazy, man.” José shook his head.

“I know. So, I asked her to marry me.”

José stared at his friend. “Serious?”

“She said yes.”

“Then why–?”

“I forgot the ring… kind of.” Marco looked back at Sonia. “She’s so beautiful when she’s mad.”

Check back tomorrow for “W”…

“Venus and Mars” is the title track of the 1975 Wings album. The song was also released as a single, along with the song “Rock Show,” in both the UK and the US.