Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Christmas Story from Holiday Hell

The best of times or worst of times, the holidays are always truly inspirational. They’re either inspiring us to pull down boxes upon boxes of decorations and lights from years past or turn off the front porch lights on carolers, hit the ignore button on Aunt Lillian’s phone call, and hope to god Uncle Ned is too drunk to make the festivities this year.

I’ve had some amazing Christmases and experienced the truly horrific as well. I have at least three stories about Christmas trees at my parent’s house falling over and once being intentionally pushed onto my brother. (He wasn’t sharing.)

I’ve had holidays where the decorations were all fixed just right, there was hot cocoa and apple cider, a feast for three days straight and I was surrounded by all those I love and cherish and no one fought. I’ve also had a Christmas that I spent alone.

I’ve also had the mediocre holidays where everything went perfectly fine and as we’re rapping up the festivities my dad remarked that my brother came out looking like a water baby and my mom punched him for it.  

My experiences have left me with just enough to look forward to Christmas every year, hang lights, decorate a tree, and do a whole lot of baking. This year, I even picked up seasonal scented Airwick air-fresheners for the house. (Apple Spice). My experiences have also left me with just enough humor to deal with the not so successful holiday. So as they say in B-list dance/cheer movies, bring it on.

Holiday happenings also make great stories, non-fiction or fiction. I want to encourage everyone reading this to take a stab at their own holiday story by offering an excerpt from a story I starting writing last year. I titled it, “The Weather Outside is Frightful.” It’s about a teenage boy named Leham whose apathetic outlook on the holiday only begins with the burden of enduring his mother’s fanatical Christmas spirit that dawns every inch of their two-story four-bedroom home. After their community is rampaged by an overnight blizzard, he awakes to find himself stuck indoors with his parents, twin younger siblings, and all his visiting relatives (including Uncle Stan whose past three girlfriends have all been named Heather). The story is Leham’s first person account of dealing with Christmas Crisis, complete with sarcasm.

To keep its authenticity, I’ve decided to work on it a little bit each year during the holidays, so who knows when it will be finished. But here’s a small excerpt of the story’s beginning:

        One Christmas my Chihuahua died.
        I’d come home from football practice (I was the mascot) to find him lying legs up and stiff on the hard wood floor.
       The bowl of red and green M & M’s was empty.
      The only indication of their existence was a few chocolaty smears on the inside of the glass bowl and pathway of chewed red and green bits leading to Chico.
       At first I felt sympathy. He was a victim of my mother’s holiday hell. But further reflection on Chico’s death resulted in my seeing the true nature of this tragedy. Chihuahuas are picky eaters, and as long as I had known Chico (and I’d known him his whole life) I’d known him not to stray from this typicality. And like all dogs, Chihuahuas have impeccable intuition. So I can only infer that Chico sensed what was coming, yet again, and needed a way out.
        The M & M’s weren’t an accident. They were intentional. They were Chico using my mother’s weapon against her.
        Demolish the M & Ms, convulse, barf, and crap all over the holiday rug before you leave the mark of death all over the obnoxious Christmas tree skirt that started it all. Well played, Chico.
         Well played.

If anyone has any humorous Christmas stories to offer, I’d loved to post them here (anonymously if need be). Email them to me!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Misheard Expressions

Listening to Paula Abdul's, "Straight Up", takes me right back to childhood, specifically car rides with my mom. It's the song that made me believe there was an expression relating things that went well together as going "ham and ham".

Although my passion is writing when it comes to the English language, I’ve never quiet reached the level of mastery I idolize in others. Maybe it’s because words, written or spoken is what sparks my imagination. I get my best ideas just sitting and listening to others talk. So perhaps while I should have been paying attention, I was just adding in words of my own creation. Years later, I found out Paula was actually saying, 'the words and the beat go hand in hand’, not 'ham and ham'. My best explanation for this is that my creative juices were running wild at the time. Although, I’m sure it’s easy to see how I’d formed this misconception. After all, what goes better with ham than ham itself?

I’d like to share some other language mishaps I’ve (admittedly) had. I hold my head high while I list them:

As a kid I once her my mom call someone a "Prima Donna." However, what I heard was "Pre-Madonna." I had rationalized it to mean ‘before Madonna’. I’d taken the expressed meaning implied that the Pre-Madonna was well on their way to winding up just like Madonna. (I’d just like to point out that this was an early ‘90s Madonna.)

Turns out says I wasn’t too far off:

pri·ma don·na
1. a first or principal female singer of an opera company.
2. a temperamental person; a person who takes adulation and privileged treatment as a right and reacts with petulance to criticism or inconvenience.

Not all of my mishaps with the English language are related to pop stars. In highschool while out with a group of friends one of them asked me a question. Though I don’t remember the question, I do remember my reply, “I just didn’t want to seem all gun ho.”

The expression I was attempting was, of course, gung ho, however, somewhere along the lines I had confused it and come up with ‘gun ho’ instead. The friend asked, (just as you will, I’m sure) how I had mistaken this. I didn’t know, but I had previously wondered what the origin of the expression had been. The best explanation I’d offered myself was that the phrase was referencing when a British Redcoat got really excited and preemptively grabbed his musket when the situation didn’t quite warrant that extreme. (He'd gone gun ho.)

Why musket? Because I assumed the expression was very old.

Why Redcoats? Because they carried muskets.

It is also possible that somewhere along the lines I’d confused it with the phrase ‘tally ho’. A  British expression (which would explain why I’d related it to the Redcoats), tally-ho used in fox hunting when the hunter sees the fox.

The American Heritage Dictionary gives an excellent explanation of the origin of gung ho:

Most of us are not aware of it today, but the word gung ho has been in English only since 1942 and is one of the many words that entered the language as a result of World War II. It comes from Mandarin Chinese gonghé, "to work together," which was used as a motto by the Chinese Industrial Cooperative Society. Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson (1896-1947) borrowed the motto as a moniker for meetings in which problems were discussed and worked out; the motto caught on among his Marines (the famous "Carlson's Raiders"), who began calling themselves the "Gung Ho Battalion." From there eager individuals began to be referred to as gung ho. Other words and expressions that entered English during World War II include flak, gizmo, task force, black market, and hit the sack.

If you’ve thought of any misheard expressions of your own I’d love to see them in the comments or emails. If I get enough responses, I’ll write another blog featuring other’s misheard expressions, words, or anything that goes ham and ham with the topic.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Writing Links

Something I’ve been wanting to on FictionDish since I’ve started it is adding a permanent link section. Unfortunately with the time I spend writing, blogging, working, eating, sleeping, (less of the latter two) what time I have left I commit to staying married. I thought today’s post would be a great time to bring up some of those links that could be useful in utilizing some of this doses of advice. Here goes: I’ve used this link since I’ve started writing. There is a thesaurus, dictionary, and encyclopedia. Perfect to keep open when you’re writing so when the right word just isn’t coming you aren’t stopping to flip through the pages of a paper reference book. This is a dandy little gadget recommended via blogging by Denise Tompkins. You just copy and paste your work into this automated editor and it points out thing spellcheck misses. You can pay for a membership or you can use the free trial which is handy if you’re working on a short story. You’ll still need edit yourself and have another look over your work, but it gets part of the job done. Denise is an Urban Fantasy writer and damn good at it. She has a wealth of advice to share with young authors and dishes it out on a weekly to bi-weekly bases on her blog. While you’re there, pick up her eBook, Legacy. I can’t put it down. Several words: JA Konrath’s blog is amazing! If you are a writer, you should be reading this blog. JA Konrath, former traditionally published author left to self-publish and make’s a very convincing argument for eBooks and self-publishing. Right now his blog is hosting a series of guest post from other self-publishing authors. Straightforward and sometimes a little shocking, you can’t help but love it. So much of the knowledge I’ve acquired was from this site. If I have a question about writing or publishing the first place I go is generally the search box on this site. A wealth of information. A wealth of resources. One of my favorite thiller writers. Offers alot of information on the writing process as well as getting published in his FAQs.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Defeat Does Not Exist In This Dojo.

There are 12 nijas in this photo. Can you find them?

I’ve had a thought continually resurfacing in my mind lately. Something that I find particularly relevant to this blog since its readers are in the pre-publication stage. It’s something that I didn’t hear until recently. I’d like to pass on the message to those of you just beginning to write while you’re still in the early stages and hopefully it will spare some frustration.

I’ll recount that several years ago while I was cleaning my boss’s floor, I realized that I was unhappy with the route my life had taken. I wanted purpose and a direction so I dredged the depths of my mind for what I wanted to be as child. Because it was long before life began to bear an impression on me, I felt that there, in the memory of my childhood, I would find what would make me happy.

 I did. It was writing.

The best part about it was I could start after my dream, right there while sweeping the floor. All I had to do was get my gears turning. I decided I wanted to expound on a story I’d written in middle school about a killer scarecrow that all the students loved and all the teachers hated. Only it wouldn’t be a scare crow, it would be a real person, there would be a strong female detective as the protagonist, and the plot would be intertwined with twisted romance.

It was probably the worst idea I’ve ever had. Even worse of an idea, I decided it would be a novel.

Ah, here’s where the missing piece fits. If only I had of known that taking on the task of writing a full 200 typed-page 80,000 word novel was even worse of an idea that thinking the base-plot to Silence of the Lambs could be re-worked in any kind of readable fashion again for the 50th time.

For months I was consumed with writing. I’d fill up notebooks at a time writing and re-writing chapters. (I eventually started using a laptop.)When I was nearly done I went back to begin editing only to realize that I’d gotten much better at writing since I’d first began. So much, in fact, that I realized not only could I write better scenes than what I had, I could write a better story. I trashed it and tried again.

This went on again and again for, oh, five or so years. During that time, I really beat myself up that I’d been writing for so long and hadn’t finished anything. Even once I had a credible story and decent ability that nagging feeling that I couldn’t finish hung over my head. Nagging feelings make things so difficult. Once I started networking, I realized this was actually fairly common. At least I wasn’t alone, but I was continually comparing myself to authors that had finished their books thinking, ‘They did it, why can’t I?’

Then I realized what I really needed to do was just finish something. It didn’t matter what it was, I just needed to know that I could do it. So I wrote a short story At the Hands of Criminals. It’s about a criminal that gets thrown over the side of a pier by three of his own. Not only did I finish it, it became the backstory to the novel I’m writing Bad Men. It appears in the novel written from a different perspective.

What I didn’t realize that by writing that story I was following a piece of advice I hadn’t yet heard; new writers should write short stories, several in fact, before they attempt a novel. There are several good reasons:
1.       Books are hard to write. Writing Bad Men is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The mental toll, the physical exhaustion, the frustration….ugghhhh. This is coming from someone who passion is writing. If your goal is find your true being in the great outdoors, I’d suggest search the bike path before you climb the mountain. Chances are you could use the training.
2.       You’ll have several marketable pieces of work. Agents and publishers like writers with credibility. You’re more likely to get a book published by one of the big guys if you have a resume that shows other people have invested in your work. Clean up a few of your short stories and send them to magazines, competitions, whatever. You can also earn a little cash while you build your resume.
3.       You’ll have the confidence. The writing field is full of rejection. The cold, hard truth is that no one considers your writing as valuable unless you do. No one is going to stumble upon your work and tell you how amazing you are and beg you to write more. You have believe in yourself and this requires proving to yourself that you can measure up.

Now, Daniel-son, you have the rag and the Turtle Wax so get out there and polish up the Honda so when bad guys show up in act four you’ll know what to do.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Writer's Block: The Influenza of Literature

Coffee is at your side. Keyboard at your hands. You have the time and will power to write, but you’ve been in this scenario for over an hour now and all you have written is, “It was a cold day in December…”


Ah, writer’s block, the influenza of literature. And to think you thought this novel/short story/ ect. was going somewhere. Think again, right?


It’s a just a slump. I’ve spent time with many authors, good ones even, and they all have been through the same thing. I’ve even picked them for their methods of working through it and it turns out although some writers have a method that works particularly best for them, the methods are pretty much across the board. However, the resolution depends on how you got there in the first place. There seems to be two ways to get into a slump: not writing enough and writing until you’ve drained yourself completely. Here are what myself and other authors have come up with having ran into both situations at one time or another.

Pressing yourself too hard.

Have you set a 2000 word a day goal to complete after your eight hour day job work day ends, after the kids are in bed, after the husband is conked out… If you are spending lengthy amounts of time at the computer and still only reaching 1000 or ½ your daily goal each day it’s because you’re aiming too high. It’s more important to right 500 words of solid content a day than to write 5,000 words of content even yourself can’t get through without being woken by your own snores.

Or maybe you have been hitting 2,000 words a day for the past seven days. Or you’ve been hitting your goal consistently for two weeks now without a day off. Maybe it’s time for a break.

First, tell yourself congratulations for having enough determination to push yourself this hard and if you are still pushing yourself afterward take solace in this: Your endurance shows determination and commitment and will most likely lead to promising things, however, everyone, even writers need a day off. If a runner ran every day without allowing one day a week to allow their muscles to recover, there muscles actually begin to breakdown over time.

It’s time to gas up. Read some fiction. One of those books from your genre that you selected because it is what you strive for. Or watch a movie that makes you wish you’d written the script. I like The Town when my mind needs a rest but I can’t bear to part from “Imagination Land.” It always gets the gears turning.

Music is another great way to get through the slump. I like music from the 60’s and 70’s when I need something different. Otherwise I pop in Johnny Cash, Cake, or The Black Keys. I’d also recommend Two Steps From Hell. It’s instrumental, like the kind you here on a soundtrack, but it’s incredibly riveting, particularly if you write Fantasy genre or Sci-Fi.

Not Pressing Yourself Enough.

You haven’t set a goal. You wait for inspiration. Your too easily distracted by the nearby remote. Seriously?You do want to write, don’t you? Set yourself a goal that pressures you enough to sit down not and not put it off until later that is also accomplishable and regularly achievable so you don’t get into the previous situation. I’ve said before and stand by it, 1000 words a day is a reasonable, reachable goal for someone with other responsibilities. The more often you write, the more often inspiration will come. It may take a few days, but if you put the effort in, inspiration will come out of it. If you’re still having trouble getting the words to come, try some of the above mentioned tactics. They are sure to get the gears turning.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Writing: Your Hunger

Hunger is just as much a part of breakfast as the food. Otherwise, why else are eating?

This may seem like lazy advice but here is a place where the old adage truly applies, “Practice make perfect.” There is truly nothing better to help you develop your craft than to just do it. For most writers, this is easier said than done.

For some (like myself) life involves school, a job, another job, maintaining a hobby like blog writing (not complaining, here) and, oh yeah, eating, sleeping, and I’d like the house to be cleaned every once in a while.
 If you’re following my recent advice I’ve also told you to add in reading books on your craft, networking, reading fiction, keeping up with blogs online. Writing tends to fall by the wayside some days because the necessary order of our priorities.

I once read a blog (though I don’t remember by whom) where the author jumped on their soap box and said that writers need to take their craft more seriously if they have any hopes of becoming published authors. They need to start treating it like a career if they wanted it to be.

Without dragging out my own soap box and berating you guys that are kind enough to pay me attention, I will say, this bandwagoner was right. I myself was the lost soul this sermon was preaching to. After guilt tripping myself for thinking I was doing my best when I wasn’t, I started following the advice. With wonderful results I might add. The blog I read didn’t detail what I should be doing. (It didn’t matter anyway, shamefully admitted, I already knew what I should be doing.) However, I’m going to provide a few tips that may help get to that novel or short story on track:

1.      Write every day.  It’s good to put yourself in the writing mindset for at least a short period every day. Many writers wait until inspiration hits. I used too. Now that I’ve held myself to this promise for some time I’ve found I write better and inspiration hits more often. I’ve also found that writing itself is a great cure for writer’s block. This doesn’t mean that you have to work on the same material every day. Once or twice a week put aside the work of fiction and write a letter to a friend…or a blog. It will give you a break without breaking your promise to do it.
2.      Set a goal. A goal keeps you motivated and gives you a solid number to work towards. It also tells you when you’ve done enough for the days your guilt tripping yourself for not doing so. Set a goal for a certain number of words per day. 1,000 words per day is a reasonable goal even for someone with a busy schedule. Note: If you find yourself regularly exceeding your goal, and it doesn’t feel like a challenge, increase it by 500 words. If you’re just starting out even 1,000 words can be difficult, so decrease it to 500 per day.
3.      Practice what you’ve learned. Try out all the advice you’ve acquired from reading and networking. Some you’ll find useful and other pieces won’t be your style. This is your chance to work it out and find out what does work. Making mistakes isn’t the easiest way to learn something but you always learn something and gain experience in the process.

These are three things you can use right now to accomplish your writing goal and will set you up for successful endeavors. Set yourself a reasonable words-per-day goal and stick to it. Practice what you learn reading and networking with other authors. Find out what works for you and stick to it. Find out was doesn’t and put it aside. Write when it hits you and write when it doesn’t. Trust that inspiration will come if you call for it.

Next post, hmmm, something about reference books. How they can be useful and how they can be damaging to your writing.

PS. I know there are some dedicated readers who noticed this post was late as my last post and I want to sincerly apologize for it. I'm not slacking off, I promise. I cherish this blog and it's readers because of the irreplacable encouragement that it provides me. That being said, I owe you an explanation. A good one. Just to be clear, I've withheld this from conversation for the same reason sports fans don't say they've won the game until it's over. I feel like there is no better place to say it first than this blog. Since this summer, I've been writing working on slaving over a novel I've been writing. The reason for my late post is that I'm in the final stretch and, to put it lightly, I've been very dedicated to it lately. I can't wait to post a short synopsis and reveal the title, but I'd like to wait until it's entirely done. I've set myself a deadline (though I won't reveal when). However I will say, that when it is the readers of this blog will be the very first to know.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Part 5: Reading, The Pancakes and Syrup

Not only is reading crucial, it’s wonderful. A staple, just like pancakes and syrup in a breakfast spread. Such an indulgence, and at the same time, where would your breakfast be without it?

The first time I picked up “The Blade Itself” by Marcus Sakey I said, “This is how I want to write.” The first time I read George V. Higgins, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” I said, “This is how I want to write.” The first time I picked up an Elmore Leonard book I said, “This is how I want to write.” The same happened when I picked up the book I’m currently reading, “The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber” by Julian Rubinstien.  

If you’ve read any two of these authors you know their writing styles vary if not differ dramatically. It doesn’t matter. The point is to read what you think is good. The theory at work here is, “good in, good out”. If you use bad ingredients in a cake the product isn’t going to come out satisfying for yourself or anyone else who didn’t put in the (months of) work in to concoct it. And to clarify any misconceptions that could be taken from the above statement, don’t steal anyone else’s ingredients. But it is okay to be inspired by them.

What you should read often is the genre in which you enjoy writing, occasionally branching out. I enjoy a heavy amount of American Noir, Crime Fiction and True crime. Every now and then I throw in science fiction (like Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Strain” series to satiate my wild side.

Be aware that what you read will bare an impression on what you write. It’s important to choose a variety of authors. Reading the books of one author won’t make you sound exactly like that author but rather make your writing sound like your trying to sound like that author. Reading a variety will round you out and give you your own voice. Eventually you’ll know what you’re looking for. At first I wasn’t sure what attracted me to a book. Now, I open a book and generally know from the first page, (an occasionally the first sentence) that this is the next book I’m reading. It’s because I’ve developed my writing style. I know what I want to read and I know what I want to write because of it.

(Secret Confession: There is another category of books out there containing various genres I like reading that I know aren’t helping me develop my writing for the simple fact that the writing style doesn’t present a challenge to me. These I call my guilty pleasure reading, and I love them for the lazy reading they are. Everyone has them. However, like Jerry Springer re-runs, these should be used sparingly in one’s life.)

Reading is also an amazing way to spur creativity when you are experiencing “Writer’s Block.” When I feel stuck, I pick up a book I love. I often don’t make it more than a few pages before the gears are turning.

Writing has its rules and a number of authors have made themselves truly memorable by picking up the mold and cracking it into pieces over the rule book’s head. This is not one of those rules. Writers have to read in order to develop their craft. As frequently as they write, in fact, which leads into a topic better suited for Tuesday’s post, “Part 5: Writing, The Hunger.”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Networking: The Fruit Bowl

For me, the word networking conjures images of bedazzled women and suited men standing around with half-filled flute glasses talking indulgently about their infinite knowledge and successes of which I know nothing about. So if you’re curious where I’m at in this imagery, I’m in the bathroom nibbling on a plate of appetizers while my good friend convinces me from outside the stall that, “You can do this…if you try.”

For this reason Networking is the fruit bowl: a necessary part of a balanced breakfast that just might get dumped under the table if no one else is looking.
Rest assured, this imagery has never come to life. Not entirely anyway; I’ve been in rooms filled with bedazzled women and suited men standing around with half-filled flute glasses talking indulgently about their infinite knowledge and successes of which I know nothing about - That part is true. However, not only did I survive it, I learned from it. And the only time I went to the bathroom was with my one close friend to laugh and make fun of the one or two people that took themselves way too seriously.

While my imagination seems to have its own definition nailed down, networking can be anything that puts you in contact with other writers. I spent years as a closet writer before I came out to the world. Once I did, my writing development progressed in leaps and bounds. I found other writers. Made close friends. I found myself getting great advice as well as giving it. I knew much more about what I was doing than I realized and the confidence that discovery gave me catapulted me as a writer in ways that I’m sure I haven’t even fully begun to see yet.

Networking will put you in touch with better opportunities via word of mouth. It can be done through writer’s conferences, creative writing classes, writer’s groups and associations, and even internet forums (though I would exercise some caution on the latter and do some checking on its reputability.)

*If you’re college doesn’t offer creative writing classes, they may offer a journalism class. While it isn’t fiction writing, you will most certainly meet those with an interest in fiction also. Journalism classes can also teach you to work on a deadline and you will get experience with critics and their critiques as well as editors and their editing. They will represent the thorn in your side as well as become an important part of your success. *

Networking is also a necessary part of being a published author. It’s an excellent way to market yourself and your books.

Networking can be scary for writers. We like spending our time in a quiet room alone otherwise we wouldn’t be writers. If not writers, we would be pathological liars constantly looking for someone to listen to the things we make up inside our heads. For those that empathize with my imagery of networking I have a few tips for surviving networking:

1.      When someone asks what you’re writing, don’t feel pressured to give them a detailed explanation. Try to have prepared a 30 to 60 second summary of your novel. If it’s a short story, your summary should be shortened to a sentence or two. This will keep you from fumbling. If your summary starts, “Well, it’s kind of about….” Try again. This is your story, know what it is about.

If you don’t know what it is about, that’s okay too. You can give them the main idea, “It’s about a burglary.” Or “It’s modern take on Little Red Riding Hood.” If you’re too self-conscious to divulge this info, I won’t press you to do so (though it would only help you) but your answer should sound more like this, “I enjoy writing (insert genre) (insert composition type i.e. novels, short stories…).” When I feel self-conscious, my answer is, “I’m currently writing a thriller novel.”

2.   If you are at a conference, know the speakers.
Go over the list of speakers as well as their bios. Authors are people - when they get recognized, they are flattered you know something about them. They’ll want to know something about you too. (and the window opens…)

3.   Remember names, save contact info.
The easiest way to stay in touch with your contacts is to keep up with their work. Follow their blog, read their books, then drop them a line to tell them you enjoyed it. Don’t be afraid to give them a little reminder, “We met at…” Most authors are great about responding to readers.

4.   Forget what your there for.
Try to put it aside that this is crucial. One of the worst things you can do is pressure yourself so hard to do well that you wind up standing in a corner for fear of screwing up. I am very bad about this. How can you help it when you want something so bad, right? One thing I do is pretend I’m at a different group setting. One where small talk is small talk and not life or dead. I ask questions like, “Where are you from?” And, “Where’d you get your shoes?” Rather than questions pertaining to writing. Networking is for building relationships of all kinds. Remember to reveal yourself as the multi-dimensional person you are, not solely a writer. You’ll find things in common with people and it makes networking easier and more effective.

If you aren’t a social butterfly, (and let’s face it…) networking can be scary, but it’s always manageable. So swallow down the wholesome networking fruit; it’s part of your career’s breakfast. Then go home and crack open a book for Part 4 of this series. Next post, Reading: The Pancakes and Syrup.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Literature on Writing: The Bacon

Complementary to any breakfast is a side dish of bacon just as literature on the industry and craft of ones interest pairs well with an internship.
I will start this off by apologizing for the adorable pig picture, but it was 100% necessary. The blog begins:

There is a rule of thumb for selecting books on writing. Don’t choose a book entitled, “WRITE YOUR NOVEL IN 5 DAYS!!!” for the same reason you wouldn’t choose a business book entitled, “MAKE MILLIONS IN 5 DAYS!!!” Per the advice of Amanda Hocking’s blog/website I decided to check out Stephen King’s, On Writing. I picked it up on audiobook and not only was it really informative it entertained me while I folded my laundry. (Plot Spoiler: Did you know he was nearly killed in 1999 after being hit by a van?)

One great positive of books on writing is that often they reveal an author’s entire writing process and sometimes their personal struggles in the course of doing so (such as Stephen King’s, On Writing). Not only can they be informative but encouraging as well knowing that even the writers who seem to do it without struggle, don’t do it without struggle.

Don’t just stick to one book, try a couple of different ones by author’s who’s work you enjoy and use what feels natural and useful to you. Remember that the point of this ‘internship’ is to seek out a variety of methods and opinions. My creative process is a hodge-podge of the processes of other writers who have been generous enough to share their experience with the rest of us. Following one other author’s method of the writing process exactly could end up putting a damper on your creative process.

One easy way to build a varied collection of these processes is mixing books with magazines on writing because they feature multiple authors. There are some great magazines on writing out there. Writer’s Digest is the biggest, most common, and also my preference, but dig around at your local bookstore. There are many that cater to specific genres. Don’t forget to check for e-zines online as well.

Other books include grammar, punctuation, and language reference books whose infinite benefits and advisories are far too many to fit into this post but will be enumerate in a post in the near future. What I do have to say is pick up one now. (I selected Strunk & White’s, The Elements of Style.) To fit its benefits into one sentence, it will enhance your writing’s readability.

Tip: While you’re reading the books and magazines you’ve selected, have a stack of sticky notes handy. Bookmark the pages you found particularly relevant, or those that you’d like to revisit. Write a small summary of the advice on the note. It will help you remember to practice it, and it will make it easy to return to it.

Tip#2: If you find a strategy you plan to implement, write it on a sticky note and paste it on your computer for motivation. For example, when I first read that I should set a “words per day” goal, I pasted a sticky note that read, “1000 words today” at the top of my computer. It was a great reminder that I had a commitment with myself to fulfill.

Readers, please post in the comments books or magazines on writing that you have found particularly helpful.

Next post I’ll cover Networking: The Fruit Bowl

*No animals were harmed during the making of this blog.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Well Rounded Breakfast

Believe it or not success in the writing industry doesn’t depend alone on your god-given ability to put words on a page. If that were true, hundreds of unpublished authors would have been published and vice-versa. Success depends on preparation; you have to eat your Wheaties. If you deducted from the above statements this blog is the beginning of a 5 part series listing basic elements to include in a hearty, success-boosting breakfast, you may have read ahead.

Just as a well-rounded meal at the start of the day boosts energy, preparedness, and alertness, having a well-rounded knowledge base of the writing field can better your writing, your understanding of the industry, and spare you from making the naive mistakes some writers make. For most writers, if we could do nothing but type on our laptops all day, the computer would burn out before we would. Fortunately for our computers, success in writing requires us to change out of sweat pants. In short, writers who want to make a career of their craft have to seek out the same pre-professional training generally undertaken in other trades.

Similar to an internship one might enter into at the beginning of a career in the medical field or law practice, writers have to spend some time to gain basic know-how of practice and tailor that new-found knowledge to what works best for them.

In this five part series, I’ve included elements that have been crucial in my development as well as resources I have known to be useful for others. Although this series is slanted towards those in the ‘pre-publication’ stage, keep in mind we never stop growing as writers until we decide to. Rest assured these elements will be just as much a part of your career as your ‘internship’.

(Note: I had I very hard time choosing a particular order for this series to be posted in, as a result, they are in no particular order.)

Part 1 of 5: The Internet: The Iced of Coffee of Your Breakfast

The internet and its infinite supply of information on the writing field is like the Dunkin’ Donut’s iced coffee of your breakfast. Sure, the writing field survived for years without it, but now that we have it, America runs on it as does the industry to the internet.

(I won’t get started on the eBook battle, but JA Konrath has had some amazing guest post lately on the subject. Read and believe if you still think eBooks are eBull.)

Aside from the amazing strides eBooks authors have taken, the internet is host to a variety of sources which won’t even begin to be covered in this 600 word blog. (Rest assured, more blogs are coming.)

When I began seeking out advice to develop my writing career, I started on the internet. What I found there led me to every other element I’ll cover in this blog series. If you don’t already have a list of sites you regularly visit for advice, I’d recommend starting at the websites or blogs of the authors you read. They can turn out to be your best source. Most of the time they offer up their own stories to publication, advice they have found true, and links to sites they regularly visit themselves. was one of the first places I looked and got lucky. Marcus provides some great info in his FAQs as well as links to outside sites. One is to the blog he belongs to, The Outfit, which is a collective of Chicago crime writers. I read The Outfit regularly. It’s always interesting as well as relevant.

Another author site I’d suggest is Denise Tompkin's site. Her blog is very well written (one of the best I’ve read) and contains great advice, especially for new writers.

I regularly visit both of these sites and have found both authors are great at responding to readers.

Aside from author websites another great source is online thesauruses and reference books. I like to use which has a thesaurus, dictionary, and encyclopedia.

In my beginnings as a writer, as much as I do now, I picked up a lot of advice from They have content from numerous authors on various topics. If you have a question, a lot of times the answer lies here. They also put out a magazine I enjoy, which is (in part) the next element of your breakfast/internship.

What are some of the websites/blogs you have found particularly helpful?

Next Post: Books and Magazines On Writing: The Bacon.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Part 2: My Inspiration, Perspiration, and Reality

After giving up on a career in writing at age nine, I decided to pursue a more grounded aspiration.

I’d settled into a harsh reality I’d been forced to accept; if I didn’t make a change I was destine to become one of the broke and lonely on-screen portrayals of a writer. I was approaching the most important time of my life; middle school. It was time to get serious. It was time to focus on one of the more solid, promising aspirations; a singer or a famous paleontologist whose claim to fame was discovering her first dinosaur fossil in her backyard.

It was time to put down the pencil and start digging.

As middle school progressed, I was forced (yet again) to give up my ‘new dream’ of becoming a paleontologist whose claim to fame was finding a dinosaur bone in her back yard. It became very uncool to spend large about of time excavating in your back yard alone, so I was forced to abandon this dream as well. I resulted to my safety net profession of becoming a famous singer. It was through this outlet that my writing resurfaced. Singers made money and they also wrote songs, perhaps this was the career that was truly my calling.

In my seventh grade year of middle school my friends were into watching horror movies, so naturally, I was too. Around this time movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer were the hot new thing on video tape. This spurred me to write my own horror flick, in short story form. My inspiring story of a murderous scarecrow, whose victims all had the names of carefully selected members of the student body, spurred a group of my friends to compose their own short stories of their own murdering madmen, whose victims’ names were derived from their own selection of members of the student body. The domino line didn’t stopped their; my friends stories were also inspirational. Their stories inspired teachers to assign numerous in-school suspensions and after school detentions. My story was long gone by the time the others stories circulated around the student body and moved on to the staff.

Life continued on through middle and high school. I survived on a diet of songs and poetry, sticking to my aspirations of a famous singer. It wasn’t until after graduation that I finally gave that up.

My reality check came when most do; when I became completely miserable with the route my life had taken. I was twenty years old, not in college, and working a job that I had long since begun loathing. Cleaning my boss’s house, my mind often went other places, as one could imagine why. I was, literally, scrubbing the floors of my boss’s house when I decided that I wanted my life to mean something and then and there decided to figure out what held meaning for me.

I thought about my childhood. The things that used to make my happy: dinosaurs and writing. It was in those degrading moments of sweeping up dried dog poop from my boss’s floor and chipping dried food from dishes that inspiration would return in more ways than one. 

Since focusing myself on my chosen path, I found a number of people at the college I now attend, in the same path I was. They're outing their dreams and wishes. I’ve found myself giving a lot of advice, and getting a lot in the process. I wanted to extend that to beyond those who I see daily, for myself as much as others.
Now, after my extended introduction, I welcome you to my site, my blog, my mishaps, my mistakes, my misunderstandings, all spelled out. In hopes to provide direction, encouragement, inspiration, and a little entertainment to those in the process of cooking up their own Fiction Dish. 

Next post: There are five things ever new writer should be doing. Revisit Fiction Dish to find out what they are!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Part 1: My Inspiration, Perspiration, and Reality

At age ten I gave up on my dream of becoming a writer. My pursuit of the craft originated three years prior.

My second grade class had been assigned the task of preparing individual, fictional compositions. We were given the option to submit our prepared work to the Young Georgia Author’s contest. To inspire us, my teacher had brought assorted photographs and clip art. We could write our story based on whichever picture we selected. I remember being particularly esteemed to get a ‘good’ picture. I remember feeling, in my unfaltering seven-year-old confidence, that I could do better than anyone else in the classroom and I didn’t want a good picture to be wasted on anyone else. The picture that sent me soaring from my desk, hand-up, was the picture of a dinosaur playing the piano with a little girl.

The story I wrote was about a dinosaur who was also a piano teacher. He was being held captive in the zoo. In the story, he meets a little girl who wants piano lessons and, consequently, a pet dinosaur. It had a happy ending and placed in the contest. I have since lost the publication the story was printed in, so I don’t remember the specifics of its award. The story, however, compelled me to write more.

And I did. I wrote incessantly. When I wasn’t inspired to write on my own, I begged my teacher for an assignment. I wrote poems. I wrote songs (whose tunes only I could decipher, since I could not write music). I wrote advertisements for the contents of my family’s refrigerator. (My most memorable to date was a Jamaican influenced jingle for an alternative butter spread.)  I wrote letters and more short stories. One year, for black history month, I even wrote a fictionalized journal of Harriet Tubman. I read it to a friend, who was older than me, and she called it stupid. So I tore it up and threw it away. In retrospect, it was probably for the best. I was seven at the time, unaware of much about the world I lived in, and it’s quite possible that my work of art bore solely out of admiration for her story, might have actually been very offensive.

Although I don’t remember the exact moment it first came to me, I knew during those delicate years writing was my reason for existing and I was destine to do this for the rest of my life. It was sometime in my fourth grade year that I formulated a different idea.

I don’t remember the exact moment it happened, or the exact thing that spurred it. Scratch that. Actually, I do remember. It was in the classroom of, at the time, my most favorite teacher that I’d ever had. During that year, our classroom was overtaken by an evil student teacher, whom I was tricked into liking, because my favorite teacher seemed to like her. It was one of the worst days of my young life that she substituted the entire day for my favorite teacher who was out sick. Though I don’t recall the context, or even the reason behind her saying so, that day she told the class that writers did not make a lot of money. They were basically just starving artists.

Gasp. Panic. The world, a whirlwind around me.

So this is the awful fate I’d been resigned to? This was my destiny? To spend every waking day alone in a dimly lit room, a slave to the pen, surviving from stale bread and gruel?  (I know, the imagery I fathomed was rather theatrical, but I have an excuse; I’m a writer).

And so, I resigned from my craft to pursue my other, more realistic aspirations of becoming a famous paleontologist. (Famous being the key notion here.)

It was time to put down the pencil and start digging.

The story isn’t over, but Part One of this blog is. My next post will be Part Two of My Inspiration, Perspiration, and Reality.

What inspires you? What makes you sweat? Comment below!

Thanks for reading!

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fiction Is A Dish Best Served Hot

In your mind, as in your cabinets, exists a store of ingredients. Words. Images. Ideas. Fantasies. Mixed together without the right recipe, they’d most likely come out an unappetizing mess, but with the right measurements and direction, your hypothetical ingredients can be turned into something real. Something that will be summed up here as your, “Fiction Dish.”

There are no steadfast rules for creating a work of fiction whether it be a short story, novel, novella, etc. However there is plenty of advice to be had for an emerging writer who has aspirations to one day be published. (Believe me, I know firsthand.) The aim of this blog is to help centralize that advice and fold in a dash of encouragement.

Measurements can vary, but the basic recipe is as follows:

One part inspiration.
One part perspiration.
A healthy dose of reality.
Blend well.

I hope to encourage all three in this blog on a weekly if not twice weekly basis.

Thank you for being one of the first to check out my blog! I hope to have you back in a few days for a second helping. My next post will share some of my personal experience with this recipe in a two-part post keenly entitled, “My Inspiration, Perspiration, and Reality”.

Your comments are appreciated, requests are welcome!