WE WRITE! Creative Writing University to Hold Writing Workshop at Monroeville Public Library
WHO: Pittsburgh writers:
Lee Allen Howard
Monroeville Public Library reference staff WHAT: WE WRITE! Creative Writing Workshop WHEN: September 21, 2013 – 9:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. WHERE:Monroeville Public Library WHY: Writers of all levels learn from experiences of published Pittsburgh Writers and experts HOW: Registration at library
WE WRITE! Creative Writing University @ Monroeville Public Library will conduct the second in a series of an ongoing series of workshops for writers of all genres and skill levels on Saturday, September 21, at the Monroeville Public Library. This event will feature two Pittsburgh authors: Lee Allen Howard, professional editor and author; and Sharon Lippincott, author of five published books, teacher and layout consultant; and Mark Hudson and Marlene Dean, professional reference librarians at Monroeville Public Library.
In session 1, Self-Editing for Publication, Lee Allen Howard will explain the importance and demonstrate basics of effective self-editing. Structured exercises will reinforce his points.
In session 2, Research Tools for Writers, Mark Hudson and Marlene Dean will demonstrate library and other resources to help writers track down crucial details that breathe life and authenticity into stories of all genres and eras.
In session 3, Make Your Pages Picture Perfect, Sharon Lippincott will demonstrate the basics of page layout, demystifying styles, as well as page setup tools, selecting readable fonts and more.
The event runs from 9:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. at Monroeville Public Library, located at 4000 Gateway Campus Blvd. in Monroeville, PA. The cost is $30, which includes lunch. Registration is required, and seating is limited. Register early to ensure your place. Please visit or call the library at 412-372-0500 for further information and to register.
Although fiction is a product of the imagination, if it’s set in the real world at least partially, there will be some real-life things you must get right. This means being accurate with your facts. In a contemporary story, if you’ve got a seasoned outdoorsman who drinks water directly from a still pool in a stream, you haven’t done your research.
Water can be contaminated with a variety of things risky to health and isn’t safe to drink without some kind of treatment, including filtration, chemical disinfection, or boiling. Boiling is best. If this isn’t possible in your story, you’ll get points for realism and accuracy if your character knows the dangers and does his best to mitigate them. If you don’t know your outdoor lore, readers who do will detect your gaffe and call you on it. (They may also quit reading or complain in a review.)
So it pays to know your facts when you write. And that’s where research comes in.
For instance, in DEATH PERCEPTION, my latest supernatural crime thriller, protagonist Kennet Singleton runs the crematory at a local funeral home. When I first got the idea about a young man who can discern the cause of death of those he cremates by toasting marshmallows over their ashes, I knew nothing about funeral homes or cremation.
One of the first things I did was conduct a general Internet search to acquaint myself with the processes of cremation and embalming. Then I went to visit a funeral home with a crematorium. A friend arranged for me to meet the funeral director, and I spent an hour there one afternoon learning about their process.
Being a technical writer, I took copious notes and made sketches. I even tape-recorded the session so I could go back to it if I later couldn’t make sense of my notes. Back home I typed up the document, making computer diagrams from my sketches, and ended up with a 15-page document that I later referred to when I wrote scenes in which cremation took place.
I also read a lot of books on the subject of death, funerary tradition and processes, and cremation. I still have a carton containing these titles:
Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America by Stephen Prothero
Cremation in America by Fred Rosen
Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts: A History of Burial by Penny Colman
Round-Trip to Deadsville: A Year in the Funeral Underground by Tim Matson
What Happens When You Die: From Your Last Breath to the First Spadeful by Robert T. Hatch
I Died Laughing: Funeral Education with a Light Touch by Lisa Carlson
One Foot in the Grave: The Strange But True Adventures of a Cemetery Sexton by Chad Daybell
Cemetery Stories: Haunted Graveyards, Embalming Secrets, and the Life of a Corpse After Death by Katherine Ramsland
Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies? by Kenneth V. Iserson, MD
Some of these books were more useful than others, but I gleaned something from all of them. I used this knowledge to build a foundational structure based on facts about death, embalming, cremation, funeral homes, and cemeteries.
I likewise did research on personal care homes. And more on marijuana growing, poisons, prescription drugs, sexual fetishes, crime, guns, and police procedure. (Yes, all of these are in DEATH PERCEPTION.)
All this said, must you know everything about everything? No. You can’t. Other funeral directors may do things differently in their places of business, and that’s okay. But my facts are accurate according to how one funeral director operates his crematorium.
So, you’ve written a novel and done your revisions and polished it as best you can. Is it ready to send to an agent or publisher—or to publish yourself? Hard to tell.
Instead of crossing your fingers and exposing your manuscript to the risk of immediate rejection, why not first let someone read your book and provide feedback? If they spot any problems with story, plot, characters, or writing, you’ll have a chance to improve your work before you send it to someone who’ll buy.
Writers have been doing this forever, passing on their finished manuscripts to a close circle of trusted readers. But for the new novelist, it’s one more step along the path of learning to become a published and professional writer.
Whom should you choose? It’s best not to choose someone who isn’t an avid reader, who doesn’t like the genre you write in, or who won’t give you honest feedback (meaning both praise and constructive criticism).
A good beta reader is someone who reads widely, reads in your genre, and can discuss with intelligence the elements of fiction (characters, plot, description, setting, dialog, narration, etc.). Your best bet may be another writer whose back you can scratch at a later date.
If you’re working to deadline, it’s wise to set a date for the review to be completed. Just make sure you give your reader plenty of time to read, and agree on the deadline beforehand.
If there are specific issues you’re concerned about—for example, “Does Mrs. Gulliver seem like a fully formed character to you, and are her motivations understandable and sufficient to fuel the brutal murder she commits?”—you may want to communicate these up front so that your beta reader can be on the lookout as she reads. And make it clear that you’re looking for constructive feedback to make your story better, not just ego strokes.
If you send an electronic file (.mobi, .epub, .pdf, or other), make sure the copy is marked “BETA” on the cover page. Ditto for a printed version. And if your printed version is looseleaf, put it in a binder to keep the pages from getting lost. Invite your reader to make comments in the margins as she reads.
This is your precious intellectual property. You may want to include a copyright statement and warning on the title page and in the footer of every page, along with the specific reader’s name.
On the title page: “BETA COPY 1, date”
In the footer of every page: “Copyright 2013 Your Full Name. Duplication prohibited. Beta Reader’s Name – Beta Copy 1 – date”
This way, if you create more than one version, even if a page is removed from the binder, you’ll know where it came from. Print a fresh version for your next reader with the footer changed appropriately.
Once you hand your reader the manuscript, leave him alone. Don’t call or text every day, asking about his progress and whether or not he likes it. The exception here is inquiring about progress as you near your agreed-upon deadline.
When the reading is done, it’s time for a talk with your beta reader. You may want to prepare and print a list of questions about characters, plot, description, setting, dialog, narration, and so on. If they fill it out, you have their answers in writing.
If you sit down to interview, make sure you put her at ease and encourage her to speak his mind candidly about his opinion. Then, let him talk, and keep your mouth shut. Resist the urge to jump in and explain everything (although you should answer questions when asked, or if you’re unclear about what they’re saying). Above all, turn off your emotions, turn on your smile, and THANK him for the hours he’s spent helping you.
If you get published, a nice touch is to mention him in the acknowledgments section, gift him a signed copy of the book, or take him to dinner. Or all three. If his feedback was valuable, you may want to call on him again.
Then, you evaluate the feedback. It may be a good idea to get another reader’s opinion before you overhaul your manuscript based on your first reader’s input. Fix obvious errors, naturally, before printing a fresh copy for your second reader. But remember that opinions are just that—opinions. No two readers will agree on everything about your book. However, if two or three readers point out the same problem, it’s a good sign that you need to do more work.
I followed this process with DEATH PERCEPTION, my latest supernatural thriller tinged with horror and peppered with dark humor. My beta readers were Kerri Knutson and Gary Reichart, whose feedback I appreciate very much. You’ll see them mentioned on the acknowledgments page with a few treasured others.
And the winner of the DEATH PERCEPTION giveaway is…
What a release party it was! On Facebook from May 15–31, 2013, I posted special offers and trivia questions for prizes, including DEATH PERCEPTION magnets, signed limited edition postcards, coffee mugs, books, and… a Kindle Paperwhite!
Winner of the Kindle is Meg M. of Michigan. Congratulations, Meg!
I will be sending out prizes this week. A BIG THANK YOU to all who participated and purchased a copy of DEATH PERCEPTION! All trivia contents on the Facebook events page are closed as of May 31, 11:59 pm.
I’ll be reblogging the guest posts hosted at various sites over the past two weeks. Thanks to everyone who hosted me.
I’ve gained about 50 new Twitter followers, and over 100 new followers on my Facebook author page. THANK YOU, everyone, for your growing interest!
You made the release of DEATH PERCEPTION a special and exciting time for me. I hope you enjoy the book. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear from you personally, or in a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, or my book page.
I finished ahead of schedule, completing the first draft the evening of April 4, 2013, at a total of 51,167 words—very close to my revised goal of 52,500. I was ecstatic! Since the beginning of 2013, I’d been spending two hours almost every weekday evening, and three to six hours on Saturdays and Sundays, plotting and writing. My all-time daily writing record was 2528 words on 3/26; my weekend writing record was 5024 words on 3/29-31; my daily average came out to be 1339/day.
I forced myself to let it cool for a week (well, almost a week) while I worked on getting DEATH PERCEPTION ready for release (next month). Today I exported THE BEDWETTER Scrivener project to a Word file and printed out the entire draft: 241 pages. I will begin my read-through tonight, making notes in the margin. Here’s a peek at the first draft. 🙂
I’ll keep you updated on my progress. In the meantime, drop me a line!
Over a decade ago, he began writing a column for Hellnotes journal called “Instigation,” which provided not only creative—but darkly creative—writing prompts for writers. He continued this tradition at Gorelets.com and in his Goreletter (totally worth subscribing to). Arnzen has expanded his original collection of prompts and revised, updated, organized, and supplemented it into a terrific resource for creative writers on the dark side.
I recently downloaded INSTIGATION and gave it a spin. I’m so glad I did.
In “Here Comes the Fork: An Introduction,” Arnzen discusses writer’s block and creative desiccation, and how writing prompts can get the imaginative juices seeping again.
One trick to getting started is to sidestep the burden of coming up with ideas or a plot first. That’s what a prompt does — it challenges the writer to respond without having to worry too much about premise or plot. It hands you a deck of cards and maybe even the rules too and encourages you to simply start dealing them out.
Yet for the writer of dark fiction, most writing prompts fall short, providing only inspiration. “Rarely,” he says, “do they push you to do something truly weird, taboo, goofy or unthinkable (ergo, original).” Sure, your plot and writing may follow typical form, but Arnzen believes that “the best genre fiction always marries convention with invention.” And that’s where his envelope-pushing prompts slither in.
Arnzen suggests successful usage in “How to Use This Book,” while advising that, when writing, the best counsel is, “Do whatever works.” This may involve journaling or freewriting.
“365 Sick Scenarios” lists a story starter for every night of the year, with prompts like: “Create a numbered list: ‘Rules for Human Hunting'” and “Clot a wound or make a tourniquet with an unexpected object.”
“Spurs: 31 Turns for the Worst” includes prompts for works in progress—when you need a jab in the flank by your demon rider to “take things in an unexpected direction.” Like “Torment with temperature” (a creative way of saying turn up the heat on your character).
“Resurrections” are prompts that will help bring your story “back from the dead” during revision. This will come in handy for me soon.
“Memoir Mayhem” is a collection of journal prompts to inspire you beyond the realm of dark fiction.
The D.I.Y. section, “The Devil Made You Do It Yourself,” enables you to customize his prompts or come up with your own writing exercises. I particularly like “The Monster Mash” and “Weird Sins.”
All these sections are numbered with a scheme so that you can do a random search to pick a prompt out of the skull cap.
INSTIGATION concludes with a few short articles to help you overcome writer’s block. (Which makes me think of a chopping block. “Stick your neck out and write, or just stick your neck out.” How’s that for inspiration and encouragement? You only have me to blame for this prompt, I’m afraid.)
Arnzen encourages INSTIGATION users to write their own material and drop him a line to get a link to their work posted in his “Instigation Showcase.”
Mike Arnzen is also the creator of “The Refrigerator of the Damned” magnetic poetry kit. Take down your kids’ drawings and post a horrific poem about how they cried. Get your kit at Raw Dog Screaming Press.
I’m participating in a blog hop called The Next Big Thing, about my latest work in progress. I’ve got other things in the work, but here’s what’s up next…
What is the title of your next book/work?
DEATH PERCEPTION. You can read the summary and the first chapter here.
Where did the idea come from for the book/work?
Where it came from, I’m not certain and am a bit afraid to know! But the original idea was that a young man can discern the cause of death of those he cremates–by toasting marshmallows over their ashes. When what he discerns differs from what’s listed on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers.
What genre does your work fall under?
DEATH PERCEPTION is a blend of supernatural crime, horror, and the paranormal. With a touch of black humor.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I’m showing my age here with a few of these answers, but if he were younger, Casey Affleck would be a great fit for protagonist Kennet Singleton. Richard Deacon (if he were still alive) could play antagonist Cecil Grinold. And a younger Joan Collins would do justice to co-antagonist Flavia Costa. Reese Witherspoon could portray Kennet’s love interest, Christy Sprunger.
What is the one-sentence synopsis to explain where your work begins?
Nineteen-year-old Kennet Singleton is cremating his last corpse of the day when he receives a call urging him to visit his invalid mother.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
DEATH PERCEPTION was my thesis project at Seton Hill University, where I earned a master’s in Writing Popular Fiction. It took me two years in the program to complete the first draft. By the time I graduated, I was burned out on the project that I put it away for a few years. Off and on, I did a few more revisions and finally completed my ninth at the end of 2012.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Although I wrote most of DEATH PERCEPTION before I read the popular Dean Koontz book, the protagonist and his spiritualistic, paranormal world is similar to ODD THOMAS.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I became obsessed with the idea of someone who could communicate with the spirits of those he had cremated. It wouldn’t leave me, so I honored it and turned it into a story.
What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
When I first started this project, I didn’t believe in communication with the departed. Since then I’ve completed a course of study with the Morris Pratt Institute and now work part time as a Spiritualist medium. I found that many things in the early manuscript were accurate when compared to actual studies of after-death communication. In later revisions, I used my education and experience as a medium to flesh out Kennet’s psychic abilities and enhance scenes.
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