Author Archives: Bonnie Dodge

Billie Neville Takes a Leap

 

Evel Knievel Jump Site Snake River Canyon

 

September 8 marks the forty-third anniversary of Evel Knievel’s attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon. This event impacted many people in southern Idaho, including ten-year-old Billie Neville who wanted to be a daredevil, just like her hero Evel Knievel. Riding “the best bike in the whole world” Billie was desperate to enter a bike jumping contest with three boys named The Meanies and show them her cool bike skills. When Evel came to town, the most amazing things happened.

 

Chapter 1 – THE MEANIES

 

Billie Neville sat on the Snake River Canyon rim and let her imagination soar over on wheels and rockets.

Every day for a full week that summer she wolfed downed her cereal and raced her bike to the spot where her hero Evel Knievel would jump in four weeks. The whole world would be watching. Sitting on the flattest lava rock she could find, Billie held onto her knees, shut her eyes and dreamed her favorite daydream where she was the daredevil ready to leap over the wide canyon. Her fantasy was always the same.

First, she stepped out before a humongous crowd that clapped so hard it drowned out the sounds of the thunderous water going over Shoshone Falls a mile away. Her costume was exactly like Evel’s—only in a junior girl’s size: white jumpsuit with stars on blue stripes running down the front and along the sides of her pants. Her cape shined like a pearl with a huge “1” embroidered on the back. Wearing the baddest sunglasses and smiling the widest smile, Billie waved to her fans and then climbed into her own version of Evel’s Skycycle X-2. Painted red, white and blue, her banana bike was fitted with two sleek rockets on each side. She put on her helmet and climbed in. She didn’t care how deep the canyon was, or how far across; her bravery glowed like a Christmas star. Then her crew lit the rocket fuses. WHOOSH. Her bike-rocket tore off into the sky. Flying high over the Snake River Canyon, Billie landed on the other side, skidding to a halt without a scratch on her bike or getting any dirt on her jumpsuit. In triumph, she smiled as she rode in a parade down Main Avenue of Twin Falls, Idaho, all in her honor.

Then Billie opened her eyes. Of course, she didn’t have a Skycycle like the one Evel was going to ride over the canyon. But she did have the best banana bike in the world. Sure, it was scarred like her knees and it wasn’t the newest model. The long narrow seat was scuffed as an old pair of shoes and smelled like it, too.

She remembered the day her dad brought it home in his truck. A gift for her eighth birthday, he had bought it at Sears. He admitted he got it cheap because the backrest was broken. He fixed it for her after hours at the garage on Main Avenue South where he worked. She loved the u-shaped ape hanger handle bars and the way she could zoom along the streets.

But she really hated that the bike was painted pink, a color for girls, not someone like her. So, unlike the other kids on the block who washed their bikes to make them shine, Billie kept hers dirty. That way it didn’t look so pink. The day she crashed her bike and scratched it could have been the worst moment of her life but she was secretly happy. Without asking her parents, she took a handful of blue markers to the frame. Now it was a cool shade of blue and didn’t look half bad. Her bike couldn’t hit hundreds of miles an hour like one of Evel’s motorcycles, but when Billie felt the breeze stream through her brown hair, she could have been flying faster than any daredevil. Best of all, her bike took her where she wanted to go, and where she wanted to go was to see where Evel Knievel was going to leap over the Snake River Canyon.

A tall wire fence surrounded Evel’s launch site, but she had found a good spot where she could watch all the action. And boy, there was a lot of action. She hadn’t seen so many people in Twin Falls, Idaho, well, since…ever. This was better than the circus coming to town, even though there were no clowns or elephants. Hands tucked under her chin, Billie saw men work on the metal ramp where Evel’s rocket would launch. The ramp was anchored in cement on top of a huge dirt mound piled near the rim of the canyon. Another group of men was building a tower for television cameras. “Wide World of Sports” was going to be there on September 8. “Wide World of Sports!” If they were coming, this had to be a big deal.

Billie glanced across the canyon, which opened like the mouth of an old lion with jagged brown rocks for teeth and wiry sagebrush for a mane. Evel was going to have to tame that old lion, which had a mouth four hundred feet deep. Billie whistled in awe.

Seventeen-hundred feet across. That’s how far Evel would have to ride his rocket to land on the other side according to the TV news station. That number had too many zeroes to think about. She’d much rather think about Evel atop his rocket, his white cape flaring out like a flag.

The crews sawed, hammered and talked loud. Billie had never heard so many cuss words in her life when the workmen hit their thumbs with a hammer or tripped over the lava rocks sprouting out of the ground. She was about to head home when the work stopped. A group of workers rushed to the gate. Billie stood up hoping Evel had arrived. The only place she had ever seen him was on TV, or in the newspaper. What she wouldn’t give to meet the famous daredevil. But Evel wasn’t coming through the gate. It was only a truck with more building supplies.

“Hey, Billie Ken-Neville.”

“KEN-NE-VILLE.”

“Billie weirdo.”

She knew those voices. They belonged to the group of boys she called The Meanies because they were mean to everybody but each other. They were best known for catching garter snakes on the canal banks behind Morningside Elementary and chasing girls around the playground. The Meanies included Pete Williams, Arthur Richards and the very worst, Jack Howard. She stood up, pulled down her baseball hat, stuck out her chin and faced them. “Name is Billie Neville.”

“Yeah, right,” Pete spit out. The tallest of the three, he wore cowboy shirts with pearl snaps to school. Pete had a tan face from helping his farmer dad, or so he complained to anyone within hearing distance. Pete also boasted to other boys that he could lift a twenty-pound bag of clover seed in one hand. Billie always thought who the heck would want to do that anyway.

“Weirdo.” Arthur gave a whiny laugh. With a blond butch, Arthur was shorter than his buddies. He was thin as a scarecrow with thick black-framed glasses. Arthur was forever in Pete’s shadow and often repeated whatever his friend uttered.

Then there was Jack Howard. The kind of kid who looked like he had eaten one too many apple pies. His hair was even red like an apple and his freckles always stretched sideways when he glared at Billie, which he usually did. He lived down the street from her and had been teasing her since third grade.

“Weirdo,” Jack repeated, his freckles stretching with his familiar glare.

She wished she could punch Jack in the head, but if she did, his dad the cop would put her behind bars. “If liking Evel Knievel makes me weird, then that’s a great kind of weird.”

We like Evel,” Pete said.

“So that makes you weird, too,” Billie replied.

“Na-ah,” Jack said, while Arthur just looked confused.

Billie pointed to the commotion on the other side of the fence. “You’ll never be a daredevil like Evel.”

“Oh yes we will. We’re going to be awesome daredevils,” Jack said.

“You’re not jumping the canyon.” Billie put her hands on her hips. Boys always tried to sound cooler than they were.

“We’re doing our own stunt at Pete’s farm.” Jack pointed upriver. “His dad’s land is right next door.”

“What are you guys going to jump?” she said.

“A canal four feet wide and four feet deep,” Pete said. “We’re even building our own ramp.”

“Our own ramp,” Arthur echoed. “The day after Evel’s jump, we’re going to hold a contest to see who’s the best daredevil in all of Twin Falls.”

Billie felt her eyes go wider than the canyon. Her bike could handle a canal. But how was she going to get in the contest? If she asked The Meanies nicely they probably wouldn’t let her anywhere near the spot and call her even more names. She smiled with an idea.

“Bet you’re making all that up,” Billie said.

“No, we’re not, Billie Ken-Neville,” Pete said.

“Yeah,” Arthur added.

“Hold on,” Jack said and motioned for the two boys to join him in a huddle a few feet from where she stood. They looked at each other, nodded and whispered in what Billie decided was a kind of boy speak. After a few minutes, they raised their heads.

“We’ll prove it,” Jack said. “Follow us on your girlie bike.”

“This ain’t no girlie bike.” Billie hated when people put down her wheels.

All three of The Meanies snorted, got on their bikes and rode off. Because of the tall fence erected around Evel’s launch site, Pete told Billie they had to take a longer way around to his family’s property. They headed down Hankins Road, which was bumpier than her Grandma Irma’s couch. The boys rode ahead of Billie, taking every dirt mound they could to show off. Jack turned his head to watch to make sure she wasn’t following.

But she was and rode over the same mounds. She swore surprise shot into Jack’s eyes when he saw her expertly vault over a small dirt hole.

The dirt road led to Pole Line Road, which was asphalt but narrow. Looking both directions to make sure the way was safe, Billie pulled out on to the side of Pole Line. She prided herself that she wasn’t stupid on her bike like other kids. She followed all the rules and watched for cars and trucks because her mom threatened to take away her bike if she got in another accident. One time, when she fell after hitting a pothole, her mom wouldn’t let her ride for a week. Billie couldn’t afford a repeat, especially now that there was so much to see in Twin Falls because Evel Knievel was coming to town.

One mile up from Hankins Road, the boys turned left on to another dirt road. They continued until they all came to a metal fence.

NO EVEL KNIEVEL WATCHERS ALLOWED stated a handwritten sign on cardboard attached to the fence. Everyone got down off their bikes.

“Lots of people are coming on our place and tramping through my mom’s garden and in my dad’s fields,” Pete said as he walked his bike through a narrow opening between the gate and the fence. “But when Evel makes the jump, Dad’s going to charge people to park. Seven bucks a car.”

“Your old man’s gonna get rich,” Arthur said.

“Dad says it’ll probably bring in more dough than he gets for his entire sugar beet crop.”

“Come on. I want to practice. My mom’s cooking fried chicken tonight,” Jack said, ignoring Billie.

Once past the gate, Billie and the three boys got on their bikes. Billie couldn’t help but be envious of their banana bikes, which were newer and shinier than hers. Jack’s was the best with red stars, white rims and a bright blue seat. But even if hers wasn’t as nice, her dad made sure it was well-oiled and overhauled every month, which was one more reason she loved him.

The Meanies finally stopped at a field of short green plants that smelled like one big lawn. Even though Twin Falls was surrounded by farms, Billie didn’t pay much attention to what grew there. Billie followed as the boys walked over to a dirt canal where brown water flowed and smelled fishy.

“There it is,” Pete said with a bit of pride.

“Whoa,” Billie said. It wasn’t the Snake River Canyon, but she’d never jumped anything that wide before.

Arthur walked to the edge of the canal and stomped his tennis shoes, which created a puff of dirt. “This is where we’re gonna build our ramp.”

“Okay, you can leave now,” Jack said. “We have to practice.”

“On that canal over there.” Arthur pointed to which Jack and Pete threw him the dirtiest of looks. The smaller canal intersected the larger one and measured about three feet across and as many down, but was dry.

Billie walked to the smaller canal and squatted for a better look. Once, after watching Evel Knievel soar his motorcycle over a line of busses in London on TV, she sneaked her mom’s old round vacuum cleaner into the backyard. She put a board on a brick as her ramp and sailed over the vacuum. Three feet easy.

Before she could ask to join the contest, Jack got in her face. “Get lost, Billie Ken-Neville.”

“Or I’ll sic my dog on ya,” Pete said.

“Goodbye,” Arthur added.

Billie got on her bike and rode home. “I’ve got to get into that contest,” she repeated almost as many times as her bike wheels rolled over the asphalt.

Her mom’s Chevy was under the carport when Billie got home. One step into their small house on Sherry Drive and Billie’s stomach grumbled and hurled at the same time. Meatloaf. She knew that beefy sweet smell because her mom made meatloaf so much Billie swore she wouldn’t be able to look a cow in the eye. But Billie didn’t complain because her mom was sad enough. Since her dad left, Billie’s mom had also become as cranky as the old man down the street who always yelled at the kids running through his yard. Whenever her mom showed her unhappy or grouchy face, Billie remembered the pretty mom who used to laugh at her dad’s jokes and hummed as she washed dishes. That mom disappeared when her dad moved in with Grandma Irma.

Billie still remembered the day he left. “I’m working all those long hours to give us a better future,” her dad yelled at her mom.

“No you’re not. You’re stealing the present from us,” her mom said. “We’d rather have you home instead of chasing dreams of your own garage.” Her mom cried and her dad slammed the door.

Billie cried too the day he left. She cried the better part of the week, even though her dad said he wasn’t mad at her and he would see her every day. And he did unless he had to work late.

She could hear her mom clattering pots in the kitchen and was glad that her mom didn’t have to work late. Billie even smiled when her mom yelled, “Wash up and sit down, Belinda.”

“Mom, you know I hate that name.”

“Billie makes you sound like a boy.”

“I like Billie.”

“Okay, Billie, my little star.”

Billie ground her teeth. Her mom called her that sometimes because of the dime-sized birthmark on Billie’s right cheek. Her mom and dad said she was their star from heaven. Billie thought the birthmark looked more like a squished grape.

Her mom mumbled something and set a dish of meatloaf and macaroni and cheese in front of Billie on the kitchen table. Billie dug in and swallowed the meatloaf with difficulty. She used to love it, but now the meatloaf tasted different. Like her mom’s unhappiness was mixed into the hamburger, along with the onions, breadcrumbs and eggs. Billie added extra ketchup to drown out the flavor.

Billie jumped up and turned on the TV in the living room. “We’re missing the news. They might have a story about Evel.”

“That man is bringing nothing but trouble to town. And Mr. Knievel dresses like a really bad Elvis.”

“I thought Elvis was dead.”

Her mom laughed. “Come back and sit down.”

Billie did, but kept turning her head to look at the TV. There was nothing on but stories about car accidents, the cost of corn and a city council meeting. Then a commercial flashed on for the Twin Falls Department Store.

“Enter our Evel Knievel essay contest.”

“What?” Billie got up and sat down in front of the set.

The television showed Evel making several of his famous jumps. There was also a picture of the canyon where Billie liked to sit and dream.

“Just write an essay about why you’d like to meet Evel Knievel,” said the deep announcer’s voice. “The winner will have lunch with Mr. Knievel at their school. Your parents will receive $150 to spend on school clothes at the Twin Falls Department Store on Main Avenue. The contest is only open to sixth-grade girls and boys. Bring your essay to the Twin Falls Department Store by August 20 and the winner will be announced September 3rd. Enter now.”

“Did you hear that, Mom?”

“I heard. I work at Sears. You shouldn’t enter that contest. The Twin Falls Department Store is our competition.”

“Competition nothing. I’m going to enter! Look, Mom, if I win, think of all the clothes we can buy without spending any money.”

“I don’t know.” Her mom frowned. “That Evel Knievel does nothing but teach kids to take risks.”

“Didn’t you ever take a risk, Mom?”

Her mom’s eyes flashed to a wedding picture in a frame on top of the TV. “Finish your dinner, Billie.”

That night before bed, Billie stared at the photos of Evel she had taped on the walls of her room. The photos were mostly cut out from the newspapers her Grandma Irma saved. Pulling off the white pillowcase, Billie fashioned her own cape with a safety pin. She looked in the mirror.

There she was. Billie Neville. Daredevil.

She was going to find a way into the jumping challenge at Pete’s farm, and also win the essay contest. She leaned in closer. For the first time that birthmark on her cheek really did look like a star.

—————————–

Find out if Billie enters the essay contest and finds a way into the jumping challenge at Pete’s farm by reading the book, available here.

 

Award for Billie Neville Takes a Leap

 

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HOW TO WRITE A SCENE

Rules, rules, rules. For writers, there are so many rules to follow and break.

Never use very.
Never open a novel with a dream.
Get rid of prologues and epilogues.
Remember the rule of three.
Avoid clichés.
Use active, not passive words.
Eliminate ly words.
Include all the five senses.
Get rid of exclamation marks.
Avoid long sentences.
Prepare an outline first.
Let your characters lead the story.

Today, while searching the internet for a way to take the pain out of revisions and outlining, I stumbled across a new set of rules on how to write scenes. I actually like this set, because, as I work through my revisions, I’m tempted to keep the old dead worthless crappy scenes. They’re already written. I’ve spent tons of time crafting them. And I’m lazy. But, if I follow these “rules”, I know my scenes will be more unified, vibrant, and interesting.

So, as I tackle revisions and a new outline for an outdated book, I’m taping this list to my desk to follow. Maybe this list can help you, too.

And, yes, I’ll probably be repeating the process at least two hundred times before I get it right.

-Bonnie Dodge

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SELF-SABOTAGE, MY WORD FOR 2017

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Words of encouragement are flooding social media this month. Words like hope, peace, love, respect, patience, and even no. As a writer, I’d like to offer another. Self-sabotage. That thing many writers do to avoid moving forward.

I’m not the queen of sabotage, but I know how to procrastinate. Take this book I’ve been working on for almost twenty years. Ten years ago I shopped this book around thinking it was finished. But clearly it wasn’t or I’d be collecting royalties instead of avoiding revisions.

Why isn’t it finished? It isn’t because I don’t know how to write or deliver a product. It isn’t that I don’t love the idea of this book, I do. The only reason I can offer is that I’ve gotten in the habit of avoiding this project. Every time I set out to finish this book something gets in the way. Here are some of the ways I’ve sabotaged the completion of this book.

1) I can’t work on this book until I finish xxx. Insert clean the house, take the dogs for a walk, or do the laundry.

Life is messy and has a way of getting in the way of writing. There will always be something else that needs attention. Pretending I can’t write until the dishwasher is loaded only prolongs the project. Instead of waiting until everything is done, I need to make working on this project a priority. First thing in the morning I need to sit down and revise a chapter. Before anything else. Waiting until I have a big chunk of time to work isn’t the answer and is just a lazy excuse.

2) I need to do more research.

After twenty years I should have more than enough information to finish this book. And if I don’t I can make it up. After all, it’s fiction, not non-fiction.

3) I don’t have the skills to write this story.

Recently I listened to Alice Hoffman discuss writing. She said a writer needs to write every day. Only by writing every day do you become a better writer. So stop waiting until you have the skill level you seek. Start writing and it will come.

4) It’s not perfect, so why bother.

Good writing is revisions, lots of them. Anne Lamott says write a messy first draft. Get the story down and then do the work of revisions. That’s where skill and magic happen, in the honing of words.

5) I need feedback on this chapter before I continue.

Maybe, but probably not. Even if you are lucky enough to have friends and family who offer to read your work and comment, this can be a big way to sabotage your writing. Reading is subjective and you will get good comments and bad comments. The time for constructive feedback is after the book is done. When you know the ending of your story, you’re better equipped to identify weak plot points and motivation. Too much advice while you’re being creative and writing can stop your story dead. Rely on your gut and trust the process.

6) I’m not smart enough to write this story.

If that is true, than put it away and work on something else. Just because you don’t feel adequate to complete this story doesn’t mean you can’t produce a sexier, better story. Learn to let go. Not everything you write is golden.

7) I need to turn off the internal editor.

Often the fear of failing, or even the fear of succeeding, can prevent me from finishing a project. Yes, criticism is scary. But it’s part of the process. Don’t let fear prevent you from achieving your goal. Writing can be scary, learn to work through the fear.

8) I can’t write until I get in the mood.

The longer you work as a writer the more it becomes a job and there are days you won’t want to go to work. Waiting for the mood to strike could mean days without writing, a sure way to shoot yourself in the foot. Many times I sit down to write, in a bad mood because I don’t want to write that day, and like magic my muse shows up and I produce some pretty amazing stuff. If you want to be a good writer, write even when you don’t want to. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

9) Illness gets in the way.

My goal for 2017 is to finish this book. I had a good start, with four chapters revised before I ended up in the hospital with a nasty gallbladder. See, I told my son, this book doesn’t want to be finished. And, yes, sometimes I feel like that. But the book isn’t the writer, I am the writer, and no one else is going to finish this book but me.

Self-sabotage diminishes passion and energy. It’s just an excuse to keep you from moving forward. If you’re in the habit of self-sabotaging yourself, try to identify why. Then work toward reaching your goal. You’re in control. Only you can do it.

-Bonnie Dodge

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I’m Not Retired, My Husband is, HELP!

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Last month Patricia talked about the “r” word and how frustrating it can be when others who know you work from home think you are retired. This month I’d like to take that one step further and talk about how frustrating it can be to work from home when your husband retires. I speak from experience.

I left a good job to pursue a career in writing. For years I worked from home while my husband hopped into his truck and drove to his place of employment. For years the hours between 8 and 5 were mine and I could arrange them any way I wanted to to meet deadlines, conduct interviews, and write. But that changed when my husband retired. The days suddenly became “ours” and I had to learn to adjust to having someone else in the house.

Instead of soft music in the background to inspire my writing, I had the TV blaring non-stop with all the bells and whistles of game shows and the banter of Judge Judy. While trying to concentrate, I’d get a blow-by-blow description of the Ellen DeGeneres show until in frustration I’d turn off the computer. I’d wait until my husband went to bed before I tried to do any serious writing. Or, I’d write in the mornings before he woke up. I tried to adjust my schedule to his, which was, of course, no schedule at all.

At first it was pretty bumpy. Excited about new freedom and opportunities, my husband woke up chattering. “What are we going to do today? Want to run over to …. and look at ….?”

I always wanted to say, “Um, no, I’m supposed to be writing.” But truth was, I wanted to go, too.

I found myself frustrated and wishing he’d go back to work. I didn’t suffer from “retired husband syndrome” but there were days I wanted to shoot him. I even considered an office away from home and often went to the library just to write.

After years of having the house to myself, I had to do some serious thinking. Did I want to retire too? Did I want to sit in the house alone while he was off playing? No, I wanted someone to share life’s journeys, not sit in the corner and watch while I worked. I had to realize that he wasn’t the problem, I was.

So I readjusted my thinking. I would scale back my working hours. I would spend more time with my husband, and be glad that he still wanted my company.

Now, a year after his retirement, we’ve settled into an agreeable arrangement. Monday and Tuesday he volunteers for local businesses. Wednesday he golfs. That leaves me three days to get my work done. Then I can play, too.

Writers can become obsessed about their writing routines. But life is about more than how many books you can write or how many stories you can tell. Life includes lunches with your spouse, walks on beaches, and new adventures, all of which make your writing better if you relax and let it. Juggling writing with a newly retired spouse can be tricky. But it can work if you remember that this is a big change for them, too. Learn to compromise and set play dates. Be flexible and stop taking yourself so seriously. Learn to let go and enjoy the journey.

-Bonnie Dodge

 

 

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Should You Co-Author a Book?

A few weeks ago I received a call from a fellow writer. Knowing I’d co-authored Billy Neville Takes a Leap with Patricia Santos Marcantonio, the writer wanted to know how hard it was to co-author a book. She had been asked to help write a sci-fi story and she wasn’t sure if she should do it.

Co-authoring can be tricky. There are pros and cons and a constant shuffle for balance. If it’s something you’re considering here’s some tips to help you decide.

1) Pick someone whose writing you know and like.

Pat and I have been a writing team for almost twenty years. We met in a college creative writing class, formed a critique group, and have been working together ever since. We know each other’s weaknesses and strengths, and we’ve learned how to agree to disagree when we have to.

2) Set your ego aside and let the story take you on a journey.

As a co-author, your partner will love some of your sentences and hate many of your ideas. Like that old saying ‘kill your darlings’, this is the time to check your ego at the door. The story is more important that your brilliant words. Once you set your ego aside, you’ll be surprised how the characters unfold. Once we discovered the essence of Billie, she took over, and all we had to do was sit back and take dictation. We alternated writing the chapters and there were times when we couldn’t tell who wrote what. That was when we knew the process was working and that Billie had come to life.

3) Be flexible and willing to compromise.

It’s good to establish a schedule and try to stick to it, but life often gets in the way. There’s no reason to be rigid and insist that you keep to schedule if your co-author is ill or expecting out-of-town company. Also, be flexible when it comes to disagreements. As you write the story, be open to suggestions and willing to listen to your co-author’s ideas. Be willing to win some, lose some, and don’t take it personally. This is a product, not your first-born.

4) Have a long-term plan, and if necessary, put it in writing.

Who is responsible for writing each chapter? Who is responsible for research? How will you market the book? Who pays for what? How will you split royalties? Who owns the copyright? All of these business questions should be addressed before you begin writing. When we started River St. Press we learned how to maneuver through all the business questions before we ever thought about writing a book together. With all the technical stuff out of the way, the writing part was easy.

Writing Billie Neville Takes a Leap was a rewarding experience. Together we developed a character with spunk. Marketing is a pleasure instead of a chore because we don’t have to do it alone.

There are lots of ways to write a book. If co-authoring is something you’re considering, don’t be afraid to take a leap. You just might surprise yourself and have fun along the way.

-Bonnie Dodge

Ten-year-old Billie Neville wants to be a daredevil, just like her hero Evel Knievel. She also wants a best friend. Riding “the best bike in the whole world” Billie’s desperate to enter a bike jumping contest with three boys named The Meanies and show them her cool bike skills. When Evel comes to town to jump the Snake River Canyon, Billie learns she has to be a friend to make friends and that not all heroes have to soar over canyons.

 

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Find out more here: Billy Neville Takes a Leap

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How to Write When You Lack Inspiration

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You’re half way through your novel and suddenly you don’t want to work on it anymore.

You’re past deadline and your editor wants to know where your manuscript is.

The thought of writing gives you a headache and sends you to bed.

We’ve all been there, the writer who doesn’t want to write. We’re tired, we’re bored. We’d like to take a break and do something else more exciting, even if it’s scrub the toilet or feed the pigs. Ernest Hemingway said it so well. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

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I believe writing is a gift. Others look at writing as a job. Either way, we all come to the page the same, inspired or not to get words on paper.

How we do that, though, is another story. Some writers designate a specific time, say, every day 8 a.m. to noon, as their writing time. During those hours they write, whether they feel like it or not. Others write in big chunks of time when they feel inspired. They let artistic inspiration take over and write until they are empty. Then they wait for the well to fill and repeat the process. Productivity is as varied as there are writers, and we each handle writing-time differently.

I don’t write everyday. Many days I lack inspiration. But I do do something writing-related everyday. This is my job and fans are waiting for the next story. I can’t let lack of inspiration keep me from doing the work. If I did, nothing would ever get done.

So here’s what I do when I don’t feel like writing.
I work on something writing related, like marketing.
I research for the next story.
I edit.
I do something writing related and record it on a calendar I keep on my desk. Too many blank days in my calendar means I’m lazy and unfocused and I need to get busy.

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If you’re feeling uninspired, here are some tips that may help.

1) Show up.

If it’s a workday, work. Record your progress on your calendar and then go play. At the end of the day you may not have written five pages, but you will have done something to move forward and the day won’t have been wasted.

2) Reward yourself with Internet and email after writing. You’d be surprised what a motivator that is.

3) Set a timer and start writing.

Turn off your internal editor and just start writing. Anything. Even if you write ‘this is crap’ for ten minutes. Free writing stimulates the brain and before you know it you’ll be in the zone. You can’t edit a blank page, so get to work.

4) Change your location.

Sometimes a change in location can be just the boost you need. Go outside and write in the sun. Go sit by a stream. Even a coffee shop or library can inspire you to be productive.

5) Work on something new, or collaborate with another writer.

Often we get tired of working on the same thing everyday. It’s boring and unchallenging. Work on something else. Have more than one story in the basket at a time. When you tire of one you can still be productive. Just be sure to complete those stories and not use this as an excuse to procrastinate.

6) Have a writing buddy.

Having someone who understands the writing process is invaluable. Whine to your writing buddy when you don’t want to write. Finding out that they are having a good productive day will tweak the competitor in you and send you to your desk. Before you know it the words will flow again.

7) Get up and move.

Take a walk. Take a coffee break. Physical exercise often stimulates the muse.

8) Listen to music and set the mood.

I have a meditation CD I play when I lack inspiration. Sometimes I also light a candle. These stimuli tell my brain it’s time to work and add pleasure to what can some days be daunting.

9) Read a good book. Read a bad book.

Either one will get you thinking. Why did he/she use that word? Why does this work so well? This is a piece of shit. I can do better.

10) Allow yourself to make mistakes.

The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be written.

Not every writer approaches the blank page the same. Some writers work best at night. Some in the morning. Some during the day when kids are in school. Some only when the muse strikes hot. How you approach the blank page is up to you. The trick is to be consistent, to keep writing even on days when you’d rather mow the lawn.

-Bonnie Dodge

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Show, Don’t Tell

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Beginning writers are often instructed to Show, Don’t Tell. Sounds simple enough, but exactly what does that mean? Here are a few examples.

Telling. Bob Jones was fat.

Showing. Bob Jones pushed himself out of the chair. His arms wobbled has he hefted his large body up and tried to stand. His knees buckled under the weight and he had to sit down and catch his breath before he could try again.

Telling. I hurt myself.

Showing. My arm throbbed. Blood streamed from a large gash, staining my shirt and pants.

Telling. I was nervous.

Showing. Waiting for my teacher to reply, I grew dizzy. My face flushed and I hoped my deodorant was strong enough to mask my fear.

Telling. It was hot.

Showing. Max sweltered under the noonday heat. Beads of perspiration formed a river, dropping into his eyes and clouding his vision. If he didn’t find water soon, he knew he would pass out.

These are simple examples, but you will notice two things. It’s easier to tell because it uses less words, and often the word “was” shows up in the sentence. I was doing something; he was doing something. Your reader will get a better picture and be more invested in your story if you can describe what is happening with action. A man is so heavy he can’t get out of his chair. Blood streams from a cut on an arm.

Remember to use Show, Don’t Tell wisely. If you “show” every sentence in your novel it could easily reach 200,000 words. Show the things that are important and the things you want your reader to remember. Tell the small things that don’t matter. He started his car. He walked to the store.

Don’t forget to incorporate the five senses. What does your character hear? The sound of the chair creaking as he tries to stand. What does he smell? The grease from his cold French fries. What does he see? Blood staining his clothes. What does he taste? Salt when he licks his dry lips. What does he touch? His wet forehead when he wipes away the sweat. Using the senses is another way to make the scene more intimate and allows your reader to experience what your character is experiencing.

Balancing show and tell is tricky, but once you master it your writing will sparkle and your readers will ask for more.

-Bonnie Dodge

 

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How Important are Book Reviews?

How Reviews Help Authors

Do you read reviews? After you’ve read a good/bad book, do you leave a review? Should you?

In the super competitive world of publishing, reviews are important to writers. Many authors see this as a dreaded nuisance; you wrote the book already, why do you need to worry about reviews? The answer is simple. Because reviews matter to the industry. The more positive five-star reviews you have on Amazon.com and Goodreads, the more visibility your book will get, making the book easier to market. That’s why, if you follow many authors on social media, you will find them asking for reviews every time they release a new book.

Maybe you’re not a fan of reviews. Maybe you never read them. But most of the world does. According to social media, over 85% of all Amazon Kindle readers rely heavily on book reviews. In a sea of books, a good book review helps readers determine if the book is for them and worth the money.

Additionally, many online advertising venues have requirements such as a certain number of positive reviews before they will sell you an ad. The same is true with book review sites. More reviews get authors exposure to other book review sites, blogging communities, and book clubs. More reviews equal more sales for authors.

If you’re an introvert like me, it’s hard to ask for reviews. Especially from people you see everyday. Further, some sites look closely at author relationships, going so far as to take down reviews they believe are not genuine or too closely related to the author.

So, what’s an author to do?

It’s your book, who better to promote it? Get over yourself and your fear of asking for reviews. Ask everyone, your friends, family, and other writers. Offer copies of your book, in print or a pdf file in exchange for reviews. Consider using sites like Kirkus Indie Reviews and pay for reviews.

Ask, ask, ask, but be realistic in your expectations. Not everyone is going to like your book. Not all your reviews will be positive. What one person likes, another one won’t. Don’t be afraid of bad reviews. They often spark interest.

Book reviews come in all shapes and sizes. Successful authors know reviews are an important part of the process.

-Bonnie Dodge

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Resolve to get your literary estate in order

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Ah, December and time to reflect on a productive year. Many writers, as they put away the tinsel and take down the tree, begin to think about things they need to do before yearend: last minute tax deductions; filing up do date; all invoices paid and accounted for. As they gather receipts and checks for the accountant, there is one more thing they should consider. What will happen to their intelligent property if/when they die?

Die, you say, we’re talking about planning for a new year. We’re being positive, not negative. But we’re also so busy looking toward the future we forget to plan for our literary estate. When we die many things are left undone or forgotten.

Example. Several of my friends have passed but they still have Facebook accounts. Every year their birthday pops up and startles me. Didn’t they die, I think because I’m getting older and sometimes forget. Since they didn’t make plans for their intelligent property or tell someone the password so the account could be closed, I get these disquieting notices that occasionally curl my hair.

Another Example. An author dies and their intelligent property passes to someone who doesn’t appreciate their books and writings, in fact hates them. Unlike Emily Dickinson’s sister who made sure Emily’s work was preserved, that author’s work is discarded, burned, gone forever.

Neil Gaiman recently wrote an excellent article on this subject. At Neil’s request, a lawyer drew up a document you can use to protect your literary estate. It’s free and you can find it here.

If you’re a writer, or any other kind of artist for that matter, as you gather items for yearend and tax preparation, make time to write down the passwords to all your social media accounts and place them with your important papers. Take time to make a will or a codicil to protect your intelligent property. Then you can begin the New Year knowing you’re ready and have everything in order.
-Bonnie Dodge

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Steps to Writing

“Now shall I walk or shall I ride?
‘Ride,’ Pleasure said;
‘Walk,’ Joy replied.”
― W.H. Davies

I love being a writer, but writing has its hazards. One of them is the amount of time I spend in front of my computer. If I’m deep into a story, I can sit for hours, forgetting to move as I struggle to create a perfect phrase or sentence. When I finally look at the clock, I’m often surprised that the day is over and I haven’t made time to walk.

It’s no secret that walking is good for us. A Harvard health letter claims walking can strengthen bones, tune up the cardiovascular system, and clear a cluttered mind. Because I try to walk every day, I know these declarations are true. In addition to lowering my blood sugar, the minute I put on my shoes and start to walk, that plot problem I’ve struggled with for hours, or that special word I couldn’t find in the thesaurus, pops into my head and just like that I’m eager to finish my walk and return to my desk.

Often I find myself suffering foggy brain syndrome. When I sit too long, everything slows down, including my brain. A quick stroll, even just ten minutes, helps combat this affliction. Walking moves my muscles and pumps fresh blood and oxygen through my head, triggering the release of feel-good chemicals and making it easier to get back to work.

I’m not the only writer to find walking beneficial to my craft. Henry David Thoreau said, “Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Gretel Ehrilich said, “Walking is also an ambulation of mind.” And Thomas Mann said, “Thoughts come clearly while one walks.”

Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast, “I would walk along the quais when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out.” And Henry Miller said, “Most writing is done away from the typewriter, away from the desk. I’d say it occurs in the quiet, silent moments, while you’re walking or shaving or playing a game or whatever.”

The next time you get stuck with a plot point or are facing writer’s block, put on your shoes and go for a walk. It might just be the right step to take to further your writing.
-Bonnie Dodge

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