Monday, June 30, 2008

“Techniques of the Selling Writer” - a review

Recently someone posted on one of my email groups and mentioned “Techniques of the Selling Writer” by Dwight V. Swain. There were immediate responses. Evidently a lot of people out there have read this book. My first reaction was wow – I should get a copy; I’ll check it out on Amazon.

I felt pretty foolish when Amazon came back and informed me that I purchased this item on November 16, 2006. I’d like to say I had a senior moment but this is more like a year and a half. I’ll blame it on cubicle brain atrophy. Thank you Amazon for not letting me buy a book I already have.

I can’t be the only reader who does this. You see a book you want, you buy it intending to read it in the near future. It goes on the TBR pile - to be read. Then you buy another book, and another. Soon they’re piled high and you have no idea what you have. Solution - buy your books from Amazon – it remembers everything.

Sure enough I found Swain’s book buried under umpteen others. I started going through it and I’m pretty annoyed with myself for forgetting I had it. It’s a classic. There are forty reviews on Amazon and thirty-two of them give the book 5 stars. Seven give it four stars. One gives it three stars.

I’d give it six if I could. I knew I had a keeper when I finished the first chapter. Here’s Swain on writing exercises:

“Most potentially successful writers have little patience with such. They’re too eager to get on with their own stories; too intoxicated with their own euphoria; too excited over their ideas. Exercises excite no one.”

Right-on! I’ve read many books on writing. Never read that before. Most how-tos include exercises. I tried them. I hated them. I thought it was just me. Even when I started drafting I had no use for practice, I wanted a real job to work on. But I felt guilty that I was too impatient. Can I ever be a good writer if I don’t want to do exercises? Evidently the answer is yes. Now I feel vindicated.

I went on to chapter two – “The Words You Write.” I found myself highlighting lines on every page.
“Your two key tools are nouns and verbs.”
“The singular of a noun is almost always stronger than the plural.” Gems on every page. I learned a lot. Did I already know some of this? Sure. But it was explained in a clear and consistent manner that drove it home.

Chapter three – Plain facts About Feelings
Chapter four – Conflict And How To Build It
Chapter five – Fiction Strategy
Chapter six – Beginning, Middle, End

There are ten chapters in all and an appendix on “Preparing your Manuscript” and “Further Reading.”

This book was first published in 1965. There’s a reason it still remains a recommended read by so many. Without a doubt it’s one of the best books on crafting genre fiction. You’ll refer back to it time after time. I’ve added it to my list in the sidebar.

Techniques of the Selling Writer

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Joy of Writing

Yesterday I came home from Camp Swampy and found a box on my doorstep. That’s not unusual. JP and I do a lot of online shopping and my ARCs arrive by mail.

But this box engendered a lot of excitement. It was filled with books. There was no waiting to get it in the house. I had to open it right then and there. JP’s little knife came out, I lifted the flaps and there they were. Hot off the presses brand new copies of “A Cup of Comfort for Cat Lovers,” and each one containing my short story “The Power of the Purr.”

I went right to page 70 and read the story; then flipped to the back to read my bio. Let me tell you there is nothing like seeing your name in print. I wanted to knock on every door in the neighborhood and yell - Hey that’s me! It’s a high like no other. I felt enormous pride that others liked my baby enough to publish it.

I hadn’t let anyone read the story, preferring to wait until the book was released. Now I gave JP a copy and waited for judgment. He liked it, even seemed a little surprised – like it was way better than he expected. I’m not sure I like that, but you can’t complain about a good review.

Today I gave a copy to a co-worker and waited for a less biased opinion. She loved it, said it made her laugh and then cry. You can’t ask for more than that.

Every writer’s goal is to entertain, inspire and stir the emotions. That’s the best compensation ever.

Enter the contest on my website – win a copy of the book.

Monday, June 16, 2008


"A Cup of Comfort for Cat Lovers" with my short story "The Power of the Purr" will be released in July. You can win a copy of the book. Just send me an email with "A Cup of Comfort for Cat Lovers" in the subject line between now and July 30th. One lucky winner will be chosen from the entries.

Over two million copies of the beloved Cup of Comfort® brand in print!

Edited by Colleen Sell

There are more than 77 million pet cats in the United States according to the National Wildlife Federation. Peaceful, loyal, and loving cats bring joy to their owner’s lives in numerous ways. Now cat lovers everywhere will be uplifted by A Cup of Comfort ®for Cat Lovers: Stories That Celebrate Our Feline Friends (July 8, 2008; Adams Media) edited by Colleen Sell that celebrates the cherished bonds of over fifty cat owners and their favorite felines. From a wayward Calico that rescues his family from a deadly snake to a sophisticated Siamese that helps heal her ailing owner, A Cup of Comfort for Cat® Lovers—the latest in the A Cup of Comfort ® series—is a touching tribute to these furry friends.

The perfect follow-up to A Cup of Comfort® for Dog Lovers, this lovely assemblage is great for basking in the warmth only a pet cat can bring. A nationally best selling brand, A Cup of Comfort®- continues to delight and comfort readers everywhere with personal accounts of life’s sweetest moments. With stories like “A Cat Named Bob” and “The Purrfect Cure” this book is sure to capture the hearts of readers—one meow at a time.

Colleen Sell is the editor of more than sixty published books, including twenty
volumes in the Cup of Comfort® series. She has also been an author, ghostwriter, magazine editor, journalist, columnist, essayist and copywriter.

Edited by Colleen Sell
Adams Media, a division of F+W Publications
$9.95; ISBN: 1-59869-654-8

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Looking for Punxsutawney Phil

The past two days flew by in a blur. Monday we received sad news, a death in the family, and Thursday morning we left for Punxsutawney PA to attend the funeral. It’s a 297.4 mile trip from Philly and it took us about 5 hours including the delay caused by a tractor-trailer accident on I-80. We stayed in Dubois, 21 miles from Punxy, and a big town by Punxy standards. We barely had time to check in at the Hampton Inn, meet a few family members and grab a bite to eat before attending the viewing.

Friday afternoon following the funeral there was a luncheon at the historic Pantall Hotel, built in 1888 by Theo Pantall. It was renovated in 1970. Undoubtedly their busiest time of the year is February when Punxsutawney Phil makes his appearance.

If you’re remotely interested in the weather you’re already familiar with the groundhog that comes out of his burrow on February 2nd and predicts the weather for the rest of winter. If Phil sees his shadow, there’ll be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t there’ll be an early spring. On that day thousands of visitors gather at Gobblers' Knob and enjoy live entertainment, music and fireworks while waiting for Phil’s appearance at daybreak. The gates open at 3:00 AM.
We had to satisfy ourselves with a visit to the groundhog zoo located in the park across from the hotel. There were two sleepy groundhogs in residence and I only got to see their butts. But we did take some pictures of the 6’ fiberglass models, each an individual work of art and located around the center of town. You can see the rest of the pictures on my website:

All too soon it was time to leave the beautiful rolling hills of Northwest PA. We arrived in Philly Friday at 8 PM. Culture Shock for sure.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Behind the Barbed Wire

Like my new picture?
I was browsing and this one caught my eye. Considering the number and variety of prints they offer it might seem like a strange choice. But I knew as soon as I saw it - this is Camp Swampy!

Okay so we don't have a blue door or a cat. But we do have a chainlink fence with barbed wire on top. Really, it's true. For me this picture captured the essence of being on the inside looking out.

Besides I was in a pissy mood yesterday. Decided to try a new writing program. I downloaded the trial version and installed it at Camp Swampy. I know I'm not supposed to do my own thing at work but give me a break - I'm imprisoned here 9 hours a day, plus 1.5 hours traveling time.

Anyway, Liquid Story Binder is a beautiful program. The interface is gorgeous. It's got every conceivable bell and whistle - from color schemes to image galleries to music playlists. I wanted to love it. I was almost ready to buy it. You know we writers love our toys. So I played and played and played. Didn't get much writing done but finally I settle down and revised my first chapter. I saved everything and took the files home on my memory stick.

After dinner I sat down at my computer and got ready to play. I copied the files from stick to harddrive and opened my first chapter. No revisions. Where the heck were they? Maybe I didn't copy them from my stick. I did it again. Still no revisions. I opened the files from the stick. Nope they weren't there. Shit!

This morning I opened the program at work and there was the revised chapter. I still don't know why it didn't make it to my memory stick. Obviously I did something wrong. But should the learning curve be this difficult. Believe me I know how to copy files.

So my final opinion is - it's not for me. I don't want to spend a lot of time learning a new program or playing with extras when I should be writing. Ywriter is still at the top of my list.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Meet the Reviewer

Yesterday the July issue of Romantic Times BOOKreviews magazine arrived in my mailbox. I went straight to page 16 and was absolutely blown away.

There was my name in big block letters at the top of the page and a picture of me with Buffy and Spike.

Unless you’re a writer you can’t imagine the feeling of opening a book or magazine and seeing your name in print. It’s thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Yes, I see my name in the magazine every month; my byline appears under my reviews. It's always exciting. It's also humbling. That's the terrifying part.

When you see your own words staring back at you and you think – I should have said this or I shouldn’t have said that…

And the biggie – Will they like it?

They meaning you - Constant reader. The person I most want to inform, inspire and entertain.

I hope I succeeded.

Romantic Times Book Reviews

Friday, June 6, 2008

rambling patter WORDS chitchat babble

Carpenters use hammers and nails. Cooks have their pots and pans. Painters need rollers, latex and ladders. A writer’s tools are words.

Sometimes the joy of stringing them together into something eloquent is indescribable. We know exactly what we want to impart to the reader but we get stuck for the right word to convey our meaning. And sometimes we find the right word and overuse it.

That’s when I reach for J.I. Rodale’s
“The Synonym Finder." It’s a thesaurus in dictionary format which, in my humble opinion, makes it much easier to use. It contains an astounding 1,500,000 words. If you can’t find what you’re looking for it ain’t been said yet. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

My own paperback copy is getting dog-eared. The hardback is on my 2009 Christmas wish list. Are you reading this JP?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I'm Baaaaaaaaaaaaaack!!

It's good to be back. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between the beach and Camp Swampy and writing time has been non-existent. Don’t think for one minute I’m complaining about the beach, no way. But it feels real good to be back at my desk again with a real internet connection. We use NetZero dial-up in OC and I can play a whole round of Zuma while a page loads.

I did manage to enter two contests in May and I’m hoping to enter a few more this month and next. While getting my entries ready I decided my descriptions could use some pumping up. You know – the word pictures that make you feel like you’re right there. I went to my collection of writing books for guidance.

I have quite a few books written for writers. Some are good and some not so good. The not so good ones stay on the shelf.

Today I’m going to start a list of the good ones; starting with one that gets pulled off my shelf a lot - “Word Painting” by Rebecca McClanahan. Non-fiction or fiction, this book made my writing better. It’s helped me turn ho-hum sentences into an electrifying paragraph.

McClanahan defines description as “eye, word and story” and she shows you how to move from one to the other - to look around and translate what you see into something that will transport your reader. There’s technical stuff as well - like point of view, active and passive voice, similes and metaphors. Exercises are provided to get your juices flowing. I guarantee you’ll refer back to it again and again.