Friday, March 23, 2012

Author Holly Michael on Ghostwriting

I began ghostwriting immediately after I quit writing. That’s right. When rejection letters, numbering in the hundreds, angered me into avowing my one-sided love affair with writing, I quit. Not only did I quit, I announced it to God with fervent fist-raising. I bolted that door shut. After my drama, I cracked the door a teensy weensy bit, in case God wanted to sneak in, work a miracle, and change my mind.

A few hours later, an editor with Guideposts for Teens magazine called. She wanted an essay I’d submitted a couple of months earlier. Someone other than my mother and maybe even God, liked my writing. Immediately, I pitched an essay I’d written about my struggle as a teenager overcoming the drowning death of my sister.

They published “Guilty” a few months later. A patient editor worked with me to understand Guidepost’s formula. Once I got that down, she offered regular ghostwriting assignments.
My first job took me near Little Rock, Arkansas, to interview a teenage boy who had survived a plane crash. I wondered how I, a mom in her thirties, raised in the north, could write in a teenage boy’s southern voice. As a natural born people-watcher, I listened to the way he spoke, his dialect, his mannerisms. Voices have tones and tempos. I compare ghostwriting to acting. You must incorporate the same techniques an actor would in taking on a role. You have to get in to the head of a person and understand how he or she would think, feel, speak. Is the person you are writing for friendly, formal, chatty, distant, quiet?

A more difficult assignment was an older woman who had survived a holocaust. I imagined her emotions as a terrified teenager, so many years ago.

For more than ten years, along with other freelance jobs, I interviewed teenagers, took photos, and wrote their stories for this magazine. As my young children matured into teenagers, they became a great help. When I wrote a story for a high-school basketball player, I showed it to my teenage son,Jake. He said, “Mom, no one says, ‘I shot a three-pointer. Say, ‘I busted a tre.’” Tre didn’t survive my spell check, but I trusted Jake.

In any writing, you have to study the voices of the characters (either real or made-up) and learn their lingo. Before the magazine went to an online edition only, I interviewed a teenage girl in India who had survived the tsunami. My husband is a pastor, and he and I were in India for mission work two weeks after the 2004 tsunami hit. The girl we interviewed didn’t speak English. My husband, a native of Tamil Nadu, translated her horrific journey of being swept up in the huge wave and carried through the streets of her village. Watching Tamilarisa’s mannerisms and tuning into her shyness and sorrow helped me write from her point of view.

Though I couldn’t speak her language, I understood the pain and anguish of a teenage girl who had lost a loved one in a drowning death. The assignment brought me full circle with the first story I’d pitched to Guideposts about my own teenage experience of suffering the loss of a sister who died from drowning.

Empathy is a key to writing from another point of view. You must hear the emotion behind the words.

I took what I learned from ghostwriting into further freelance writing work: writing a biography for someone, full time work as a features writer for a newspaper, and other freelance jobs.

Now, entering the world of fiction writing, I use what I’ve learned. A novelist must use various voices. In CROOKED LINES, my upcoming novel, I write from the point of view of two teenagers coming of age in totally different cultures: A boy from India and a girl from the Midwest United States. I carry them through to middle adulthood. My current WIP is I’LL BE SEEING YOU, a novel about a man in a coma and his children who come together with their own issues and agendas. It’s fun and challenging to write from the perspective of an elderly man in a coma.

I’m also looking forward to a future project. Jake, my son is a diabetic who is preparing for the NFL draft. He says after he gets drafted, he wants to write a book about kids, sports, and diabetes. If all goes well and we begin this joint venture, I’ll return to ghostwriting roots. If you want to read more about Jake and me, check my blog:

Subscribe or keep checking back for updates to what happens with the novelist and the NFL player. Holly’s novel, CROOKED LINES, is in the quarter finalists of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. You may download the first three chapters for free as well as rate or review it here:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Guest Author Francene Stanley on The Birth of a Novelist

          As a child in Australia, I grew up entertaining my two younger sisters with stories. Enthralled, they watched me dancing the role of Cleopatra, dying from the bite of an asp. Lost in the wonder of fluidity and the attention of my audience, I thrived.

With the passage of the years, when the body goes through the most amazing transformation from child to woman, I used this grace in my walk. I attracted an action man, strong, handsome and charismatic. Perhaps instinct drew me to a partner who would provide healthy children. Deep inside, I rejected the little voice warning me not to let him control me. I discovered that turning a blind eye to his rages would appease his jealousy. I committed to love and all it entailed—through sickness and in health.

By the time I reached twenty-four, three wonderful children occupied my time, and any chance of a career sailed right past me. Caught up in The Good Life, I taught my children to respect and consider others. Together, we collected rubbish on the beach, helped the aged and strove to be the best we could be.

My husband worked at an advertising agency, so I didn't see him much during my twenties. With his charm and talent, he caught everyone's attention while I acted as his side-kick. But the pressure of work caused him a nervous breakdown. My stepfather offered the chance to leave city life behind and move to a little seaside town—a place where my husband could relax and heal while building sand-hill protection with a view of the ocean crashing on the shore. Here, I went through another transformation. Although he recovered, I saw my husband's bullying with new eyes.

Fantasy became the powerful instructor I needed, the means to transport me into another world, one distant from his demeaning tactics. I read my grandmother's early, extensive collection of science fiction as well as Ayn Rand's novels and Edgar Cayce's readings on the afterlife.

When the children left home, my love went with them. I committed to keep faith with my pledge and continue to strive for my best.

My husband's illness pinpointed bipolar. Although he'd latched onto the sympathy of the first real friend in my adult life, he still wanted my support. When he moved in with my ex-friend, he gave me a freedom I wasn't ready for. Full of sorrow and torment, I forgave myself.

With no expertise, I worked as a nanny, eventually travelling to England. All alone in London, I survived amongst borrowed luxury. But my spirit longed for love. A prince in the guise of an accountant appeared.

Free at last, I explored other ways of expressing myself. First I wrote songs—at least fifty. Seven of the best, produced as demos, molder in files without me ever acquiring the necessary drive to get a producer's interest. Poetry, so similar in rhyme and beat, involved me next—a hundred tomes. The frustration of writing and writing, with no chance of airing the result, caused a change of direction. I wrote my life story for my family.

Right. Done. But what about all I'd learned during my wonderful life?

Use my story as the base of a novel. Show how a gentle, naive woman CAN survive in the face of aggression. Demonstrate how to use the power of the mind to overcome every obstacle with time, space and patience—as Edgar Cayce advocated.

And that's where fantasy came in. An inherited star moonstone ring sweeps Liliha, my heroine in Still Rock Water, away in random visions to help someone in distress. She's so much more than a woman borrowing the story of my life. Liliha took over and created her own circumstances. Her story will inspire each reader during the ride to the joyful ending.

Due to be released soon by Solstice Publishing, Still Rock Water comes first in the Moonstone series. The three books to follow will involve the reader in love, heartache and a fresh start for Liliha.

Francene's blog:!/FranceneStanley

Friday, March 9, 2012

Guest Publisher and Author Nell DuVall on the Importance of the Basics in Writing

What makes a writer? Ideas help, but knowing how to express them and to enthrall readers matters. Integral to that is learning how to write and develop a good story that holds the reader's interest. To communicate we need words, the right words used correctly in the right place. Spelling, sentence structure, grammar, and proper punctuation are necessary. The author's obligation is to provide the best version of their material in the cleanest form possible.

 Competition for agents and editors is fierce. More authors than ever before are submitting material. Wasting their time with an unreadable manuscript will place you on their DO NOT READ lists. Once authors have a reputation for sloppy writing, they risk losing the opportunity to submit to that agent or editor again.

 Agents and editors want a rousing story told in a unique voice, but will never find it if a manuscript is loaded with errors. Publishers in particular want material ready to print. Most publishers expect the manuscript to be clean and free of errors. Copyeditors are an increasingly rare breed. Good ones command premium salaries.

 Here's a quote from Etopia Press's Executive Editor Annie Melton.

"Self-editing skills. This is a different skill set entirely. Self-editing requires you to put aside your ego and take a good, hard, objective look at your story under harsh lighting conditions. Read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by King and Browne. Do the exercises and don’t make excuses for why the rules don’t apply to your particular story. They do. Even if you’re already published, your writing can always be tighter. Stronger. It’s amazing that I still reject stories over and over for the stuff in this one writing reference alone."

 So, what's an aspiring author to do? Read, listen, and learn. What are agents and editors buying? Study the published stories like the ones you want to write. What draws you into the story and keeps you reading? Do agents or editors offer any guidelines or style manuals? If so, use them.

 Most people learn the rudiments of English grammar in school. However, less emphasis is placed on the mechanics of language than on free expression. If authors are lacking in any of the basics, they should remedy their lacks. Additional classes, books, style guides, and critique groups can help, but first make use of the tools available.

 Wordprocessors offer spell checkers and grammar and style advice. Use the tools, but also be aware of their limitations. Words spelled correctly but used improperly will remain unless the author reads and corrects them. The tools suit most, but they do not always work well on fiction.

 Hiring editorial services is possible, but costly. One useful means is to read a piece aloud and see if anything doesn't sound right. If it sounds off, chances are it is.

 Punctuation is a difficult area for most writers. Plenty of punctuation books and style manuals are available. Use them. Misplacing punctuation can change the entire meaning of a sentence or an entire piece. The following example from Lynne Truss' Eats Shoots & Leaves, provides examples. One such shows how punctuation changes the meaning of 'a woman without her man is nothing.'

A woman, without her man, is nothing.

A woman: without her, a man is nothing

 Another source of help is a good critique group, provided you make your piece as clean as you can. Critique groups, whether formal or informal are formed to help authors refine their material to the publishable level. However, with error-filled manuscripts, it is difficult to grasp the author's intent or to focus on a poorly written submission. The cleaner a manuscript, the more likely the author is to get useful feedback. Many critique groups are comprised of other authors who may not have strong editing skills. Good ones are invaluable. Too, critiquing others also makes the writers more aware of any similar faults in their own material.

Good writing takes effort. It doesn't just happen. Learning the craft of writing will make material publishable and readers happy.

Nell DuVall at a booksigning
World traveler Nell DuVall has visited all the continents except South American and Antarctica. She participated in marine surveys and archeological expeditions in Scotland, Ireland, the Channel Islands, and Turkey. Train to Yesterday was her first published novel. This year three more will published: When Lilacs Bloom, another time travel romance, and Beyond the Rim of Light, science fiction, in May, and Selvage, a murder mystery in August. She has a book of short stories and appears in two anthologies. She also regularly reviews speculative fiction for and mysteries for under Mel Jacob. Her nonfiction Domestic Technology provided a chronology of household technology. A member of the Internet Writing Workshop, she administer the Lovestory list. She also founded a small POD for illustrated children's, Sprite Press (

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Guest Author Mark Budman on Word Counts and Concise Writing

Word Count: Pretty Unsexy?

What could be less sexy than the word count of a literary work? Even the serial comma or a dangling participle wouldn’t. At least the former went to Harvard (or was it Oxford?) and the latter could be funny. Yet the word count speaks volumes in spite of its diminished sexuality. The right word count can make a difference between the boring amateurish novel and a modern masterpiece. Yes, a literary masterpiece can be long. Oft mentioned by the defenders of gargantuan manuscripts are War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy—560,000 words in length, The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later by Alexandre Dumas, père—626,000, and In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust—a whooping 1,500,000 words. More modern examples are Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling at 257,000 words and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace at 575,000 words. All these are examples of literary and/or commercial success. But should a masterpiece be long?

I saw the same question repeated in many writers' forums again and again. My novel is 150,000, 200,000, 250,000 words. No agent wants to see it, and no serious publisher wants to touch it. How do I make it shorter? My question for those writers is: how did you manage to make your manuscript long in the first place? My answer is: make it short to begin with.

An example from a war novel: “The cars bore the food, clothes, weapons and other tools of war.” But of course they were. The supply trains do that. That is their raison d'être. It would be worth mentioning if they didn’t bear the food because, let’s say, the general thought that the troops would fight better when hungry, or they didn’t bear the weapons because, let’s say, the soldiers used magic.

Don’t describe what the protagonist had for breakfast unless the menu sheds some new light on him or her. Don’t say: “I’ll be brief.” Just be brief.

Dear author! Be concise. Cut mercilessly. Cut the adjectives, the obvious, the irrelevant, the secondary characters, the dead-end plot lines. Better yet, don’t create a bloated monster that needs its stomach stapled in the first place. Write only what is necessary to propel your work forward, to develop your plot and characters. Stop and ask yourself: “Is this chapter, page, paragraph, sentence, word really necessary?” Cut them, re-read and move ahead.

But make sure that you get rid of the fat and not the muscles. Otherwise, “I want sex” or “Give me food” would be fine examples of concise but worthless stories.

Even if you are a novelist and don’t stoop to writing short stories, consider writing flash fiction as an exercise. Come up with a retelling of a famous plot and set up an artificial word limit. Say, retell War and Peace in 500 words, but do it with a plot twist or two and make sure you still have a coherent, appealing story and not the cliff notes. You will not be sorry. Even if you don’t become a flash fiction writer, you still could use the skills you would acquire in writing flashes as stepping stones. They would help you to grow as a novelist. I mean, to grow in strength and your appeal to the reader and not in girth.

Mark Budman was born in the former Soviet Union and is fluent in Russian. His fiction, poetry and book reviews have appeared in such magazines as Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine (UK), McSweeney's, American Book Review, The Bloosmbury Review, Sonora Review, Another Chicago, Sou'wester, Turnrow, Southeast Review, Mid-American Review, The Literary Review, the W.W. Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, Short Fiction(UK), The Warwick Review (UK), Flash (UK), Neo (Portugal) and elsewhere. He is the publisher of Vestal Review, the longest-running flash fiction magazine in print. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press to wide critical acclaim. He co-edited the anthologies You Have Time for This (Ooligan Press) and Sudden Flash Youth (Persea Books/WW Norton). He is at work at two new novels, and puts together an anthology “Condensed to Flash: World Classics.” This anthology will feature world classics condensed to 500 words or fewer.

See Mark's novels and other work at:
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