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Posts Tagged ‘writing tips’

Inspiration often comes from a surprising direction.

I recently had a birthday and my sister sent me a gift. It was a pack of pencils, with a cunning two-stage sharpener and a “point guard” (a metal cap that fits over and protects the pencil’s point, a thing of which I never before heard and now wonder how I ever lived without).

I have a thing about pencils. I’m very particular.

I do not like mechanical pencils. I positively loathe the disposable mechanical pencil (such wastefulness should be resoundingly decried). Give me a pencil of wood and graphite, every time.

Over the past six decades, I’ve always had a preferred brand.

  • First and for many years, it was the old-school yellow Ticonderoga #2. Nothing could beat it for availability, economy, smoothness of draw, and dark positive line.
  • Then I discovered Blackfeet Indian pencils and immediately fell for their natural wood finish and aromatic cedar wood (not to mention the cedar wood box each dozen came in); I was faithful to them for years after they were discontinued, but recently the price of a box became too expensive.

Disappointed by replacement options and running low on my stock of (now prohibitively expensive) Blackfeet, I did what any self-respecting stationery nerd would do. I switched to a fountain pen. I wrote all of the Fallen Cloud Saga with a fountain pen, but recently, as I’ve been concentrating more on poetry, I’ve returned to my first love, the pencil, meting out my Blackfeet Indian pencils with miserly oversight, running each one down to the absolute nub.

Then my sister’s gift arrived.

The pencils she sent are Blackwing 602s. As with the Blackfeet Indian pencil, they had a long and storied reputation; 602s were the preferred (and often exclusive ) choice of great talents: artists (Chuck Jones, Don Bluth), composers (Copland, Bernstein, Sondheim), playwrights (O’Neill, Laurents), and novelists (Steinbeck, White). Also as with the Blackfeet, the line was discontinued in the late 1990s (at which time Sondheim reportedly bought himself a lifetime supply).

The Blackwing 602, however, was revived in 2010, and my sister, knowing my love of All Things Stationery, gifted me with a dozen.

And they are wonderful.

Smooth, long, lean, requiring only the lightest touch for a dark line, with graphite tough enough to hold a fine point (but easy to re-tip, using the 2-stage sharpener), and with a wide eraser that can be extended as it’s used up, they are my new favorite.

“But wait,” I hear you say. “What was that bit up there about inspiration? Where does that come in?”0

Well, it turns out that, as I’ve been toying with these new pencils, using them for notes and analyses for my day job, I’ve grown dissatisfied with using these perfect pencils just for jotting down procedures and sketching out data flows. Even using them for poetry wasn’t enough.

The obvious thing, then, was to take out The Wolf Tree, the novel I’ve been working on since before the pandemic, which still needs a lot of writing.

Which means that the gift of a pencil has unexpectedly provided me the inspiration to get back to work on my novel.

And that’s a gift with a worth that’s far above rubies.

k

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Maples at Seattle Arboretum

Well, sometimes the magic works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I’m back from a two-week vacation and, for me, two weeks is the minimum required to feel like I’ve actually had a vacation. The first week I spend powering down—sleeping decent hours, relaxing, reading, puttering—but the second week is when my brain finally looks up, sees the sky, hears the birdsong, smiles, and forgets about the day job.

It was a good stay-at-home fortnight, filled with fall colors (in my gardens and around the Sound), blustery fall weather, rain, walks, movies, and even a bit of socializing. It was a rather creative time, as well. I finished building my hurdy-gurdy, cooked a couple of excellent meals, and managed to craft one or two fairly decent pieces for this blog.

But this week . . . eh, not so much.

Granted, the week back at work after well-spent time off is always difficult, but this one has been quite the challenge. You see, my retirement is out there, waiting. I can smell its heady aroma and hear its quiet song, lofted by the onshore breeze. Going back to the day job gets harder each time, but usually (thankfully) there’s a grace period granted to vacation-returnees: sufficient time to go through the mountains of emails; to catch up on all the changes, gossip, and news; and to ramp back up on the work we’d set aside during our weeks away.

This time, though, it was more of a “hit the ground running” type of week. I was met with an excessively aggressive deadline date (promised during my absence), plus a slew of quarterly meetings that stole a whole day that I really could have used trying to meet that promised deadline.

So, today, when I sat down in front of my blank sheet of paper and tried to come up with a poem or vignette, chicken-scratching my way around the metaphor that’s been in my head for a couple of days (family lineage as a river), I came up empty. Empty, that is, except for lines and stanzas written and then struck out, word clouds that dissipated into thin air, and several crumpled sheets of 11×18 newsprint on my office floor (which at least entertained the cat, if only for a few minutes).

I then compounded that frustration by spending the evening trying to solidify new ideas out of the ether—it’s not as though I had no ideas, just that I could bring none of them into sufficient focus to wrap words around—until, in the end, I cried, “Hold! Enough!”

And so here we are.

If I might torture another metaphor, every farmer knows that letting a field lie fallow for a time benefits the land and the crops. So, seeing as how I’ve been very creative during the past few months, I think I can allow myself a fallow week.

Here’s hoping that my crops rebound after the rest.

k

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It's a Trap!To be honest, I started this blog because I want your money. That’s not the only reason, but it’s definitely in the mix.

As a writer, I want people (i.e., you) to read my books. I’ve worked hard writing them, I’m proud of them, and I want folks to read them and enjoy them. I think my books are worth something, though, so I (generally) don’t give them away for free, which means readers must part with some of their money.

Ergo, I want your money. (more…)

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ND Author Services

Since the day Gutenberg pulled the first sheet off his press, we’ve been told “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” and for just about as long, we’ve done precisely that. It isn’t fair, but we do judge books by their cover and now, with the Big-Bang-like expansion of the self-published sub-industry, we probably do it even more.

For self-published authors, cover art is a morass of high cost and low quality. If you’re lucky enough to be an expert photo-manipulator, you may be able to create a decent cover, but even so, the costs of stock images and the complexity of rights and royalty limitations can be daunting.

I’ve created covers for some of my own titles. I’ve negotiated with photographers, fussed with fonts, and tried to apply the wisdom I’ve gleaned from those who do it for a living. I’ve had varying levels of success (the art for Unraveling Time and Cryptogenesis are probably my best), but I’ve never truly been satisfied. Still, whenever I’ve looked into contracting a graphic artist to create a cover, the prices have been out of my range, especially for shorter works which don’t have as high an earnings potential.

Enter ND Author Services.

ND Author Services (NDAS) is the publishing arm of the Hendee writing empire. The Hendees, Barb and J.C., are the authors of the best-selling Noble Dead Saga and other great series, and I’ve sent you over to NDAS before, to learn from some of their excellent articles on the business side of writing.

What most people don’t know is that J.C. Hendee is the talent behind most of their short-form covers. While all their long-form work is published by major houses, they self-publish all their shorter tie-in works, and J.C. crafts the covers. A while ago, I had the opportunity to look over J.C.’s shoulder and study how he builds layer upon layer of graphic elements to create his unquestionably high-quality covers. At the time, I could only dream of having cover art that good.

Now, however, we can all benefit from J.C.’s graphical talents, and you won’t believe how affordable it is.

NDAS began offering “pre-made” covers last year, and they now have an impressive gallery of artwork available for licensing. There are dozens and dozens of high-quality cover art on display, all organized into genre-specific categories. Select the artwork you want, and NDAS will customize it for your title, name, and other specifics. Then they’ll reserve that artwork for a year, so other authors can’t use the same piece.

You can license the work for e-book, print, or both, and here’s the kicker: the price for these is $30, $75, and $85, respectively.

Yes. You can get quality cover art for your electronic and printed book, both for only $85.

I know I sound like a shill, but anyone who has looked into hiring a cover artist knows that this is an incredibly low price, especially if you consider the quality of the work. I’ve paid more than that just to get the rights to a single photo to use in my covers.

Don’t see that perfect fit your title? No worries. NDAS offers services to create custom cover work, as well.

Trust me on this: if you are part of the self-publishing world, you really need to check this out. It may very well be the only cover art resource you need.

k

Typewriter

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Stack of BooksI’ve been thinking about “immersion” lately. A lot. It’s infected my daily thoughts, disturbed my reading, and stymied my writing.

If I was searching for someone to blame, I’d have to pick Jefferson Smith and the “Immerse or Die” project he runs over at CreativityHacker, but since it’s been an interesting and illuminating intrusion, I’ll thank him instead.

Immersion is that willing suspension of disbelief a reader brings to each new book. Readers know that the people in my books are not real, and that the events within my pages never really happened. They voluntarily set aside their logical, common-sense disbelief in the truth of my tale as they dive into my books, swim through the worlds and words of my description, and give their hearts to characters I’ve conjured out of nothing but air and brash intention. This is the contract between us, reader and author: they agree to pretend for a time that my stories are real, and I agree not to burst their bubble. It is a trust that I, as author, must handle gently, because when it is breached, it cannot be rebuilt. (more…)

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Stack of BooksLast Saturday, I battled a demon, and emerged triumphant.

Okay, maybe not “triumphant.” But I was able to walk away under my own power.

Last Saturday, the Sumner Arts Commission, in partnership with the Sumner Public Library, hosted a panel of authors on the topic, “Getting it Right,” i.e., the importance of accuracy in historical research.

With me on the panel were three respected authors: Rebecca Morris, co-author of If I Can’t Have You, about the true story of the Susan Powell disappearance; Ned Hayes, who wrote Sinful Folk, a novel set in the 14th century; and Candace Robb (writing also as Emma Campion) author of the Owen Archer mysteries and whose latest novel, A Triple Knot, focuses on Joan of Kent, cousin to King Edward III.

Yes. Three bestselling authors.

And me.

In front of a crowd of people.

Speaking.

(more…)

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Dragons AheadRejection: a small message written in fog and tea leaves from which a writer tries to extract any clue as to where the hell he went wrong.

I’ve got ’em–a big thick stack of ’em–and now that I’ve re-entered the fray of short story marketing, I’m getting more. Unfortunately, as cryptic as were the rejections I amassed a decade ago, the ones hitting my desk these days are totally inscrutable.

But last week’s Submit post got me thinking about those old rejections…Was there more to learn from them than I thought? So I went up into the attic, pulled down the dusty, crack-edged binder, and started to paw through them.

Here’s what I found.

(more…)

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