Category Archives: Inspiration for Authors

Tools of the Trade, Part 1: Words

ster•e•o•type  /ˈsterēəˌtīp/ noun 1. a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

I get this. If you’re an indie author, you get this, because, let’s face it, indies have a bad rep in some circles. Now we can’t do jack about folks who believe writing is easy, and/or we’re in this for the money. No changing minds that color all indies as half-witted hobbyists, geeky basement dwellers, ditzy housewives, or bored retirees.

But before I tumble off my soapbox laughing–or foaming at the mouth–let me add this:  Even Psychology Today admits some stereotypes grow like twisted pearls around a kernel of truth. Our kernel is this:  We’ve got too much half-assed writing out there. Not the sole province of indies, I’ll grant you, but we can only clean our own house.

And speaking of houses, you wouldn’t try to build one without tools–well, not unless you’re Popeye the Sailor, who used to drive nails with his fists, and even he couldn’t build a book without the right tools. For the next few weeks, I’m gonna make like Lowe’s, offering tips and tools for your building pleasure. Today’s special, laying a strong foundation.

We start by repeating our mantra for this Saturday:

Words-Have-Power

You bet they do, so don’t get sloppy with them. Would you get sloppy with a band saw–whatever that is? No way. Well, to paraphrase Edward Bulwer-Lytton, words are mightier than band saws. Think about it.

Words are wonderful. Hobgoblin, finagle, lambaste, titular, weensy, claptrap, crackerjack, fluff, knucklehead, quisling, snout, porcine … I mean, you gotta love ’em, right? So choose the right one. If you won’t listen to me on this, listen to Mark Twain.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Choosing the right word is key for, oh, let me count the ways. Nail your nouns, you won’t need to swaddle them in adjectives that bloat your writing. A strong verb will free you from adverbs, which as Stephen King assures us, pave the road to Hell. So forget the bad storm and heavy rain. You’ve got your deluge, your downpour, or, if you’re in Texas, your frog-strangler. Jettison smiled wryly or widely or sweetly in favor of smirked, beamed, leered, grinned, or simpered.

Sad to say, sometimes the perfect noun or verb is nowhere to be found. In that case, you’ve got nowhere to go but adjectives or adverbs, so go for the heavy lifters. And use as few as possible. Sticking with the storm theme: sheeting rain, shrieking wind, soupy fog. Smile fleetingly or darkly or crookedly. And for God’s sake, don’t be afraid of the unusual. Check out this evocative image from J.D. Robb’s Conspiracy In Death:  “the thin and sticky hand of charity.”

See what I mean? And I may I just say, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.”

Make use of all your word tools. Onomatopoeia, for example. You probably know, but in case you don’t, onomatopoeia is “the formation or use of words such as buzz or murmur that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.” (Thanks for the cut-and-paste, thefreedictionary.com!) You’ll find a nice list here. In case you’re curious, a few personal faves include plunk, jitter, plop, babble (referring to speech, not brooks), eew, grit, and gurgle. I could go on and on, so please … stop me now!

Alliteration is another handy tool, but you want to use this one with caution, unless you’re writing standup comedy, and even then, you don’t want to go all Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Check out these powerhouse examples:

  • “I’ll kill him,” he said, “in all his greatness and glory.” ~Old Man and the Sea
  • “his appearance was something displeasing, something downright detestable” ~Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde
  • “the sibilant sermons of the snake” ~The Gargoyle (nice combo of alliteration and onomatopoeia, yes?)
  • ballbuster ~almost any mainstream mystery novel

Finally, as I’ve often said–much to the dismay of friends and family everywhere–if you’re serious about words, if you want to learn to unleash their power, you need to read poetry. (I heard that groan. Suck it up.) Poets rule when it comes to the efficient, effective use of words. Read and learn:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

Frozen-ground-swell, spilling boulders? Oh yeah, words have power ….

Growing Up Indie, Part VIII: As Time Goes By

The fundamental things apply
As time goes by

I don’t know about you, but as time goes by I forget.  Between writing (or fretting because I’m not) and marketing (what little I do) and keeping an eye on sales (it only takes one eye at this point) and the occasional obsession with reviews, I lose sight of fundamentals every author should remember.  Maybe I need to print them out and post them on the giant bulletin board above my monitor, alongside the next novel’s murder map and my train ticket to Bordeaux and the yellow button that says, “I may be over the hill, but I can still get back on top when I want to.”

Today, I thought I would post them here, because maybe you’ve forgotten, too.  That way, I can remind both of us.  So here, for our collective edification, are 5 fundamentals every writer should keep in mind.

  1. Write for Yourself First.  Don’t start out thinking about sales or gold stars or even the reader.  Stay true to your story; it’s a world only you can offer. Writing at its best is like giving birth. Your imagination is pregnant with a cast of characters and everything that happens to them.  You don’t want to deliver a clone, simply because the kid might be more marketable and people will like you better.
  2. Improve Your Art.  Call me a cockeyed idealist, but I consider writing an art, and frankly, I don’t care whether we’re talking literary coming-of-age novels, romances, or zombie apocalypses.  You’re a wordsmith, and practice should make perfect—or as nearly perfect as we can get in this crazy world.  Get feedback from fellow authors and editors and proofreaders.  Pay attention to what you like about your favorite authors.  Go back and (oh, God!) look at your earlier work and pinpoint what you could have done differently (read:  better).  Always, always be on the lookout for ways to grow as a writer.  Which brings us to our next point ….
  3. Keep It Simple, Silly.  In the past few months, I’ve come close to banging my head against the wall any number of times.  Why?  Because authors who should know better—talking best-sellers here—have suddenly decided more words trump fewer, and the more highfaluting the adjective, the better.  WRONG doesn’t quite cover this phenomenon.  Imagine your next sentence is your hand.  You want your words to deliver a slap or a punch?  Keep your writing compact.  This advice goes hand in hand with fundamental #4.
  4. Write Like You Talk.  Tattoo this Robertson Davies quote on your forehead (backwards, so you can read it in the mirror): “I think of an author as somebody who goes into the marketplace and puts down his rug and says, ‘I will tell you a story’ ….” When you write, tell the story the way you would tell it to a group of friends sitting around a campfire (S’mores optional).  This is what we call your “voice.”  This voice is as unique as your DNA,  flowing directly from who you are and setting you apart from every other author who ever has or ever will write a word.  (This is a good thing.)
  5. Leave Some Gaps.  Want to draw your reader in?  Leave room for his/her imagination.  By that I mean, give just enough detail.  No need to describe every wart, whisker, or button on the armchair.  Let your audience fill in the lesser blanks and get on with the action.  Instead of getting bored, your reader will unconsciously invest a bit of him- or herself in your story.  Plus, you let the reader do some of the work!  What’s not to like about that?

Well, there you (we) have them.  I’m sure you could name other fundamentals, and I’d be obliged if you would share.  Seriously.  Post a comment here, or on my Facebook page or just shoot me an e-mail, and I’ll share.  I’ll be waiting to hear from you ….

Waiting

Growing Up Indie, Part VII: Priorities

Writing is not about the money.  Self-publishing is not about royalties.

There.  I said it.

Now, before you file me under “get real”—or call out the guys in the white coats—let me say this:  Getting paid for what you write is not a bad thing.  I like getting paid.  Royalties make me feel more like a “real author.”  (Whatever that may be, and as sad as that may be.)  Someday, said royalties may event amount to enough to help put gluten-free bread on my table and kibble in the dog dishes.

And lest you think I’ve always taken the high road on money, I freely admit to a darned-near (artistically) fatal case of “gonna make me a bundle” early on in the game.  Yes, as much as it pains me to admit it, I believed the self-publishing-as-the-road-to-riches hype.  Put my books out there, kicked back on the dock, and waited for the Queen Mary to cruise in.

waiting_for_my_ship_to_come_in_by_heylormammy-d33gd1s

I’m still waiting.

Fortunately, the wait hasn’t been wasted.  While peering hopefully at the horizon, I learned what is probably the most important lesson self-publishing had to teach me:  It’s not about the money.  Actually, I think I knew part of this before I started, but the Gold Bug bit me and I forgot.  So, in case you’ve forgotten, too—or maybe never figured it out to begin with ….

“I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.”
~John Cheever

That’s the part I already knew but forgot.  Writing is about relationships—the intimate meeting of hearts and minds.  When I write, I invite the reader to join his/her imagination with mine.  (Think Vulcan Mind Meld, only a lot less creepy.)  Together, we can open portals to new worlds and fantastic adventures.  Go it alone, and I’m just talking to myself on paper.

The part of the lesson that caught me by surprise is this:  Self-publishing is also about relationships.

Say what?

Well, it’s like this:  I never connected with as many kind, helpful people in my life, as I have since going indie.  Reader/reviewers.  Marketing mentors.  Altruistic promoters.  Emotional support groups.  (I was going to say “emotional supporters,” but sounded too much like men’s underwear.)  General helper-outers and cheerleaders.  You simply would not believe how many terrific folks are out there, waiting to join hands.  I mean, hokey smokes, it’s enough to restore your faith in mankind!

So allow this junior senior citizen, this student in the continuing-education school of knocks for those hard of head, offer you a few modicums of advice:

  • If you measure social media success by the number of followers you have on Twitter, or the number of likes you have on Facebook, you lose.
  • If you live for retweets but stay a stranger to the folks who help you out—forget to banter with them, encourage them, and/or support them—you lose.
  • If you’re all about self-promotion and never about paying it forward or lending a helping hand, you lose.
  • If you’re so busy courting reviews and counting stars, you don’t have time to toss a few stars into someone else’s galaxy, you lose.
  • And if royalties, not relationships, are your yardstick for success, you definitely lose.
“Regardless of whether a relationship brings us joy or sorrow, each relationship gives us the opportunity to grow stronger, nobler, and more compassionate with ourselves and others.” ~Tamela Rich
Just my opinion, mind you, but that’s what writing and self-publishing are all about.  So, let’s keep our priorities straight, shall we?
HANDSTOUCHINGS-33

Growing Up Indie, Part V: Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

“I’m looking forward to the next installment!”  What greater compliment can a reviewer pay an author?  I mean, I ask you!  Feedback like that makes me want to chain myself to the keyboard and pound out the next novel in a week.  (Okay, maybe two weeks, on account of I have that pesky day job.)  And why not?  The next installment is a already full-blown tale in my head, just begging to be told.  And, brother, it’s a corker!

So I sit down, rub my hands together like Van Cliburn warming up for “Moonlight Sonata,” lay my fingers on the home row, and … nothing happens.  Not.  One.  Damn.  Thing.  For months.

Writer’s block, you say?  Nah.  Writer’s block would be a step up.

I’ve tried all the usual remedies—leisurely walks with my dog, Molly; ice cream; red wine; ice cream; free writing; ice cream; wearing my jersey inside out.  Fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, and, oh yeah, I don’t have a jersey.  Meanwhile, the “agent” perched on my shoulder harps on the dire consequences of “failure to publish in a consistent, timely manner” and points to fellow authors on Facebook—Ten thousand words today!—sneering, “Why can’t you be like her?”

Have I been tense and unhappy?  Do I feel pressured bordering on desperate?  You could say that.  You could also call Katrina a stiff breeze.

Now, as we all know, there are no atheists in foxholes.  That being the case, I decided to discuss my verbal constipation with the Man Upstairs.  And we were chatting, by which I mean I was whining about how I would probably never be able to write again, and how that would just about kill me, and oh, by the way, what am I supposed to do with these two (no, make that three) books in my head?

And I said, with great consternation, “How come writing was more fun before I self-published?”

And He said, “Bingo!”

And I said, “Huh?”

But, you know, I finally got it—well, maybe—one of the biggest dangers of self-publishing, at least for me:  Writing starts to become business and stops being fun.  I lose the sheer delight of my art, the joy of painting with words, as in ….

The tseet-tseet of the blood-red cardinal in my back yard.  Molly’s liquid-brown eyes.  The hollow ache of loss, rain drumming on a tin roof, the way the air tastes in that blue hour before dawn.

Know what’s really funny?  I’ll probably never use those phrases in a novel.  Can’t say for sure, of course, but chances are.  Still ….

I do love to paint.  Love, as Michener said, “the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotion.”

So I’m putting the novel on the shelf for a while … maybe a long while.  Gonna taste some words, paint small, and rediscover the joy.

I’m gonna dance like nobody’s watching.

Then, we’ll see.

The Essential Thing

I love this quote from Marc Chagall.  Could just as easily be said about the writer’s art.  Am I right?

The essential thing is art, painting, a painting different from the painting everyone does.

But what sort?  Will God, or somebody else, give me the power to breathe into my canvases my sigh, the sigh of prayer and of sadness, the sigh of salvation, of re-birth?  ~Marc Chagall, My Life

I Promise

“I think of an author as somebody who goes into the marketplace and puts down his rug and says, ‘I will tell you a story’, and then he passes the hat.”
~Robertson Davies

To My Readers (or Prospective Readers)

  • I promise to write you the truest story I have in me.  I can’t guarantee it will knock your socks off, but I can promise to craft it with care.  No shortcuts or going for the cheap thrill.  I’ll always give you my best.
  • I promise telling the story will always be more important than passing the hat.
  • I promise to learn from my mistakes, avoid stagnancy, and grow in my art.
  • I promise to remember a story is only half a story until someone reads it.  You, the reader, are my partner in the creative process.
  • Finally, I promise gratitude for your reviews, whether you give my books five stars or one.  You took the time to read and review, and I appreciate it.

Thank you for stopping by!

Kathy DiSanto

On the Care and Feeding of Introverts

I didn’t see it coming.

Maybe I should have, but social networking has always seemed like an introvert’s dream to me.  You know, superficial communication conducted more or less on my terms and mostly from a distance—my personal, private parsec of cyberspace.

Now here I am, marketing one book and getting ready to release another and market that.  Translation:  I’m up to my ears in Tweets, Facebook messages, e-mails, random postings on any page that will take them … and I’m a wreck.  WHAT HAPPENED TO MY ALONE TIME?

Now, I don’t know if all authors are introverts, but a lot of us are.  Trouble is, 75% of the world’s population are extroverts, who tend to socialize every livelong chance they get.

They’ve got us surrounded, people.  So in the interests of peaceful coexistence, I offer the following checklist extroverts can use to recognize us.

But first, repeat after me:  Introversion ≠ shy.  (I’m constantly explaining that to folks who know me as an inveterate cut-up/class clown.)  A look at this list of famous introverts will help make my point:

  • Albert Einstein (who had enough chutzpah to turn the world of physics on its head)
  • Mahatma Gandhi (who had enough chutzpah to turn the British empire on its head)
  • Dwight Eisenhower (who had enough chutzpah to turn the Third Reich on its head)
  • Stephen Spielberg (who produces groundbreaking movies like ET, Letters from Iwo Jima and Schindler’s List)
  • Michael Jordan (fearless on the basketball court
  • , and a terrific salesman, although the less said about underwear here, the better)
  • Steve Martin (a wild and crazy guy)
  • Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry, Gunny Hightower and the mayor of Carmel, mind you)
  • Johnny Carson (yes, the Great Carnac himself)
  • Mother Theresa (who touched the lives of millions in India and around the world)

Shy?  I don’t think so.

Now that we’ve cleared up that misconception, here are a few ways you can separate genuine introverts from everybody else.  You might be dealing with introverts, if …

  • their favorite spots at any given party are cozy corners where they can happily, albeit safely, observe extroverts in action.
  • their first reaction to stress is a desire for space and plenty of it.
  • their last reaction to stress is a desire to talk about what’s bugging them.
  • they think a good weekend is one when nobody calls, visits, or emails.
  • they hold life’s most important bits close to the vest.
  • they like people but prefer them in small doses and need time alone to recharge after contact.
  • their mental calendars are full, their social calendars, not so much … and that’s fine and dandy with them.
  • their worst nightmares are well-meaning friends or relatives who have decided introverts are shy or lonely or depressed and just need to be “drawn out.”
  • they visit a new church and hesitate to fill out the visitor’s card, because they know it will unleash a kindly, completely overwhelming torrent of invitations to a) join small groups, b) come to dinner or c) “get together and chat.”

I hope all the extroverts out there are paying attention.  If you are, and you’ve suddenly realized your BFF is an INFP, don’t panic.  Check out the following tips, take them to heart, and you’ll earn our undying gratitude.  Trust me on this.

  1. Don’t take it personally, when we go hedgehog.  It’s not you, it’s us.  We’re not mad, we still love you, we just need some time alone to recharge.  Depending on the circumstances, recharging can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 months.
  2. Don’t ask, “Are you all right?” or “Is anything wrong?” or “Do you want to talk?”  The answers are:  “Yes,” and, “Only the fact that I’m not alone right now,” and, “Absolutely not, but I’ll call you, if that changes.”
  3. If you’re getting grunts, hmmms, other monosyllabic answers, or that I’m-in-an-alternative-universe stare, we probably need some space.
  4. We do occasionally explode into nonstop chatter.  This usually happens after a prolonged period of “working things out in our heads.”  Pretend you’re listening, smile and nod, remind yourself that this, too, shall pass.  (And count yourself lucky; these eruptions tend to be infrequent.)
  5. In times of extreme stress, we find invitations, phone calls, shooting the breeze and email forwards that have to be returned under threat of gaining 10 pounds extremely taxing.  Like Greta Garbo, we want to be alone.  We want peace and quiet.  We need to think, to process.  (As opposed to extroverts, who seem to process everything out loud.  I can’t tell you how many times an extrovert has told me—in excruciating detail—about his/her current problem, then concluded cheerfully, “Thanks for helping me with that!”  How that works, I have no idea.)
  6. Finally, when we really start to get on your nerves, remember:  While we’re doing our withdrawn-uncommunicative-introversion thing, we may be formulating the Theory of Everything or composing the Great American Novel or inventing the solution that will permanently straighten your naturally curly hair.  Don’t interrupt the flow, anticipate the results.

(In the interest of transparency, this post is modified from one I wrote for another blog.)