Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Help! for Writers: 110 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces by Roy Peter Clark

Help! For Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces
by Roy Peter Clark
We're lucky to have Roy Peter Clark visit with us today. He's shared his thoughts on knowing when you're ready to share your work and to ask for input.

The best time to share your work with others

If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one near to hear it, does it make a sound?  What is the sound of one hand clapping?  Is a story a story if no one reads it?

Without getting all Zen on you, I’m tempted to share my thoughts on the metaphysics of the writing and reading experience.  I adhere to the Triangle Theory of storytelling.  That it is the writer who creates the text but the reader who turns it into a story.  Writer + Text + Reader = Story.  While the writer influences a reader’s response, the writer can not determine it.  Each reader will bring his or her own experience to the reading of a text, which accounts for the divergent responses writers receive for those they seek to serve.

I remember a wonderful cartoon of a cowboy and a horse in the desert.  Cowboy says:  “Well I guess you been a pretty good horse, a little slow maybe…” To which the horse responds:  “Not FEEDBACK, I want a FEEDBAG.”

Writers need feedback (and feedbags).  But it does matter who provides it and when.  You, the writer, must exercise control.  Over time, you should surround yourself with  people who will offer you their impressions.  One teacher or one editor is not enough.  You need a team. You need at least one voice that is reliably encouraging, and another that is tough but fair.  Here’s a key:  the earlier you are in the process, the more encouragement you need.  Near the end, you will need copy editors and proof readers.  But if the voices you hear early on are too negative, or too specific, they will only fuel your internal critic, that Watcher at the Gate who censors your most creative impulses.

More tips:  1) Tell your helper the kind of criticism you are looking for:  “I’d like you to tell me if this is clear to a lay person.”  2) Discipline yourself to think of harsh criticism – even insensitive criticism – as potentially helpful.  3)  Don’t argue against unreasonable criticism; just describe to the critic what you were trying to accomplish.  4) Think of any responder as a test reader, someone who can help you anticipate the full consequences of your efforts.

Help! For Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces
The blurb:
The craft of writing offers countless potential problems: The story is too long; the story is too short; revising presents a huge hurdle' writer's block is rearing its ugly head.

In Help! For Writers Roy Peter Clark presents an "owner's manual" for writers, outlining seven steps of the writing process and addressing twenty-one of the most urgent problems writers face.  In his trademark engaging and entertaining style, Clark offers ten short solutions to each problem.

Out of ideas? Read posters, billboards, and graffitti.  Can't bear to edit yourself? Watch the deleted scenes of a DVD and ask yourself why those scenes were left on the cutting room floor.  Help! For Writers offers 210 strategies to guide writers to success.

I gravitate towards books on writing and grammar in the hope that I'll become a better writer and reduce the tension and procrastination that often characterize a major deadline.  Unfortunately, while I tend to be optimistic about improving my writing, much as I tend to look for the latest fitness books in the hope that this will encourage me to "be more disciplined and healthier",  my follow through often falls short.

If you write and have reached the point where you feel ready to show your work to friends and critics, I know that you will benefit from the advice that Roy Clark offers above.

If you are still "working on" your writing, Help! For Writers provides practical advice and a technical approach to writing and thinking about writing.  When writing and editing, we try to pare our language down to the essentials, much the way that artists, creatives, and even lawyers reduce their ideas to the essential elements.  Clark suggests specific ways to do this, to reduce the unnecessary parts. 

I'm a timid writer.  I tend towards putting things away, disappointed by the first draft.  But chapter 11 "My early drafts are littered with cliches"  helped me put things in perspective.  The advice encourages us to realize that even mistakes and weaknesses can be used to bring us closer to our writing goals.  Clark encourages clear thinking and careful use of language directly and through his tips and exercises. 

While some books target a specific goal, such as writing a screenplay or a novel in several steps or using certain structures, Help! For Writers points out that "the writer does not have to get all Gothic to build cathedrals of words.  On many occasions, the holy trinity of beginning, middle, and end will get the job done."   Clark has gentle suggestions to help look at our problems and roadblocks and learn from them.  Clark gives us examples from other writers which made the concepts concrete.   Help! For Writers encourages us to write and gives specific and practical advice geared towards getting us to keep writing and to become better writers. 

ISBN-10: 0316126713 - Hardcover $22.99
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (September 21, 2011), 304 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Roy Peter Clark is vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute and has authored or edited 16 books bout writing and journalism.  He lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The Call by Yannick Murphy

The Call: A Novel

The Call by Yannick Murphy

The blurb:
The daily rhythm of a veterinarian's family in rural New England is shaken when a hunting accident leaves their eldest son in a coma.  With the lives of his loved ones unhinged, the veterinarian struggles to maintain stability while searching for the man responsible.  But in the midst of their great trial an unexpected visitor arrives, requesting a favor that will have profound consequences -- testing a loving father's patience, humor, and resolve and forcing husband and wife to come to terms with what "family" truly means.

The Call is a novel written in a unique format.   There is no dialogue, no transitions, and all the action and thought is told from the point of view of the veterinarian and father,  David.

Each entry is divided into parts that reflect David's day:  Call, Action, Result, and Thoughts on Drive Home, What children said to me when I got home, What my wife said to me when I got home, What my wife cooked for dinner, What I ate for dinner,  and similar descriptions.

Here's an entry from the first part of the book that gives us a sense of David, his family, and their collective sense of humor.

CALL: Old woman with minis needs bute paste.
ACTION: Drove to old woman's house, delivered bute paste. Pet minis.  Learned their names - Molly, Netty, Sunny, and Storm.
RESULT: Minis are really cute.
THOUGHTS ON DRIVE HOME: Must bring children back here sometime to see the cute minis.
WHAT THE WIFE COOKED FOR DINNER: Steak and potatatoes, no salad. She said, David, our salad days are over, it now being autumn and the garden bare except for wind-tossed fallen leaves.

Murphy uses this unusual format to successfully deliver a story about David and his family.  When his young son is gravely injured in a hunting accident, David becomes obsessed with finding the mysterious shooter. The community is small enough that he suspects his clients know who was involved.  David struggles to maintain a balance that allows him to live and work among his neighbors and still find justice for his son.  Through these unusual entries I started to get to know David and his family, sympathized with them, wanted to shake them into action but also came to admire their gentleness.  In The Call, Yannick Murphy takes an unusual format and delivers a moving story.

ISBN-10: 0062023144 - Paperback $14.99
Publisher: Harper Perennial; Original edition (August 2, 2011), 240 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Yannick Murphy is the author of the novels Signed, Mata Hari, Here They Come, and The Sea of Trees, as well as two story collections and several children's books.  She is the recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Award and a Chesterfield Screenwriting Award.  She lives in Vermont with her veterinarian husband and their children.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Flawless by Carrie Lofty

 FlawlessFlawless by Carrie Lofty
The blurb:
Sir William Christie, ruthless tycoon and notorious ladies' man, is now dead.  Now his four grown children have gathered for the reading of his will.  What lies in store for half-siblings Vivienne, Alexander, and twins Gareth and Gwyneth.  Stunning challenges that will lead them to the marvelously passionate adventures of their lives.

Lady Vivienne Bancroft fled England for New York, hoping to shed the confines of her arranged marriage to unrepentant rogue, Miles Durham, Viscount Bancroft -- though she never forgot the fiery desire he unleashed with his slightest touch.  And when the gambling man arrives on her doorstep for a little sensual revenge for her desertion, he is met with Vivienne's dilemma:  She must earn her father's inheritance by profitably running a diamond business worth millions in colonial South Africa.  Swept together in an exotic undertaking filled with heated passion and hungry temptation, will Vivienne and Miles discover that the marriage vows they once made are the greatest snare -- or the most treasured reward?

Flawless opens soon after the death of millionaire entrepreneur Sir William Christie.  He leaves behind four children, including the adopted and illegitimate Lady Vivienne Bancroft.  Viviene is devastated at her father's death and all the unresolved issues haunt her.   But during the reading of the will,  Sir William is his unconventional and unpredictable self.  Each of four children are given a business and a challenge: they must make the business profitable within a year or their inheritance will be limited to five hundred pounds. If they fail or give up, they cannot receive anything else from their father's vast estate.

Vivenne had been hoping that she'd receive a legacy large enough for her to be financially independent, able to permanently avoid her husband, the dissolute and gorgeous Miles Durham, Viscount Bancroft.  So, when her husband joined the family for  the reading of the will and with the unusual terms of the bequest of a diamond mine in South Africa, Vivienne knew that she had to work with Miles.  

This time in Africa turns Flawless into something beyond a regular historical romance.  Flawless is reminiscent of a Wilbur Smith novel with the  the intrigue, the emphasis on friendship,  loyalty and memorable lead characters.  Miles proves himself to be strong, wily, and loyal - he rises to the challenge and becomes a better man.  Vivienne finds herself falling in love with him all over again.  As they face danger and unexpected obstacles, Miles and Vivienne deliver an exciting and fun romance. I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series!

ISBN-10: 1451616384 - Paperback $7.99 
Publisher: Pocket Books (September 27, 2011), 416 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Carrie Lofty holds a Masters degree in history, which she puts to good use as a devoted historical romance writer and lecturer on the craft of writing, and as a founder of the blog Unusual Historicals.   An active member of the Chicago North and Wisconsin chapters of Romance Writers of America, she lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two daughters.