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.