Category Archives: Archives 2008

QUESTION OF THE MONTH: WORKING THAT BRAIN

Every year, our Other Bunch of writers tries to go on at least one retreat. One year, it was to a book fest, another to see ghost towns. But my favorite is simply camping out at the cool cabin of one of our members. Amidst the golden leaves and mountains of central Idaho, we reflect, whine, bitch and of above all, work our brains. You might think, “Hey, wait a minute. I’m writing. I’m working my brain.””
That is certainly true, but sometimes we need to try different exercises or we‘re only running in the same place. Recently at one of those annual retreats, we gathered in the warm cabin, while it rained fall outside. With cups of coffee and hot chocolate, we participated in wonderful exercises from the book, “The Virginia Woolf Writers’ Workshop– Seven Lessons to Inspire Great Writers” by Danell Jones and published by Bantam. Our brains got a workout, sweated with ideas and exertion from pushing our minds in a whole new way.
The book is written as if Woolf is teaching a group of young writers, and uses her words. “She” breaks those lessons into practicing, working, creating, walking, reading, publishing and doubting. Within those lessons are writing exercises that Jones called “Writing Sparks,” which also delve into character, setting, dialogue, poetry, essays and more. There were so many sparks, and they were so good that out brains were tired as we went through them that weekend.
For example, we were challenged to write a scene portraying mood, but using very little dialogue. Or to write scenes from the view of someone older, or of the opposite sex. Or, write a scene where the first person narrator misreads a situation.
We were worn out and got so many good ideas that we talked about doing an anthology of writings based on these sparks. We even have a title “Virginia Woolf on the Snake River Plain.” In one short weekend, we came away with dozens of stories to tell with fresh writing perspectives.
So my advice is to check out that book and work it hard. Or go on a retreat or to a writing conference and learn something new, try something different. You may be writing, but you also need to stretch those writing muscles beyond what you are used to. Sure, you might be frustrated and exhausted by the time these exercises, retreats, or writing conferences are over, but like working out your body, working out your brain will result in building a better and stronger writer in you.
Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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WHAT IS A WRITER’S PLATFORM

A writer’s platform is anything that helps you promote yourself, or your writing. A solid writer’s platform lets editors, agents and publishers know that you are a professional writer, worthy of their time and attention. In today’s competitive writer’s market, a good writer’s platform may be just the thing that gets your next book sold.

A good writing platform will consist of:

1) a website/s
2) a blog
3) newsletters
4) workshops
5) social clubs
6) writing groups
7) TV spots and radio interviews
8) a brand. A brand sets you a part from other writers. Think Nora Roberts or John Grisham. A brand for paranormals might be “Stories with Spirit.”
9) having a presence on social networks like Facebook and MySpace, posting videos on YouTube or podcasts to your own website.
10) business cards, bookmarks, other promotional items
11) writing conferences (attending and presenting)
12) networking

Anything you can do to raise public awareness about you and your writing helps build your writer’s platform. Blog or write for established websites. Give talks in schools, churches, libraries, local groups, and conferences. Teach classes or offer workshops. Participate in online communities and forums like we do here at The Other Bunch website. Team up with other writers and co-author books and articles. At the very least, build a website, update it regularly, and include your website URL on every e-mail message you send out. Learn to promote yourself and you will be one step closer to realizing your writing dreams, and getting your next book sold.
Bonnie Dodge

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Bonnie Dodge wins writing awards at IWL state conference

Bonnie Dodge placed first in the 2008 Writing assigned theme or title for teen fiction contest with her short story, Missing Josh. She also won first honorable mention in the 2008 novel contest with her novel, Sarah’s Daughter. Congratulations, Bonnie!

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Patricia Marcantonio wins Reel Women of the West Script Contest

Patricia Marcantonio won first place in the Reel Women of the West Script Contest. Pat also won second place in the contest, which is a first for the Boise-based organization. As first place winner, Reel Women of the West organized a reading of Marcantonio’s award winning screenplay, “Christmas Wrappings” as part of the True West Cinema Film Festival Aug. 9 in Boise.

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Dealing with Rejection

Rejection.
No other word in a writer’s vocabulary hurts as much. Go ahead. I’ll admit it if you will.
The other day I received news from my agent of a rejection on a manuscript of which I was very proud. And so it was apropos and timely that rejection would be the topic of this month’s column. After the obligatory chest beating and depression over the rejection, I began to ponder why that word hurts like hell.
First of all, rejection can be valuable. Too many rejections on one project, especially if those doing the rejection are saying the same thing, may tell you that a rewrite is in order. But I also decided that there might be other words worse than “rejection” to writers.
“Quit” is one of those worse words, especially when spurred on by the word “rejection.” Not writing anymore because a few people turned you down for publication is a great sin in my writer’s book. Don’t let anyone ever tell you are not good enough. You may not be great, but you can become better if you work at it. And somewhere, somehow you can be published, even if you do it yourself.
It is understandable if you are thrown into a funk at rejection, and I was for a few days. I began questioning myself. “I will never sell again,” I told myself in a whiny voice deep in my head. And that leads me to another worse word.
“Doubt.”
I remember I once had a job where a supervisor didn’t particularly like me, though I didn’t know why. Although I was a hard worker and did a good job, his dislike made me doubt myself. I went through tough times during that doubt phase, then I realized that I have to believe in me. I had to believe in what I was doing. I had to please myself first. Now that doesn’t mean I didn’t listen to criticism that would make me better, but I was not going to pay attention to the destructive doubters because as a writer we deal with self-doubt enough and don’t need any special help.
So back to rejection.
I’ll be honest, each time I do receive a rejection, I do want to quit writing and take up tatting or weaving and I do doubt myself. But I get over it and end up back at the computer. Because if I didn’t write, I would feel much, much worse.
So when it comes down to it, “rejection” is just a word. Erase it. Delete it. Replace it with “write.”
Patricia Marcantonio

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In Remembrance Bill Studebaker

Remembering Bill Studebaker
Several years ago, I took a writing course from Bill. He was intelligent, tough and made me try harder. I always remember him saying to try to do something toward your writing each day, even if it was something small and I’ve always tried to keep to that to varying degrees of success.
In that class he also encouraged students to form critique groups to review each other’s writing, and from there I met Bonnie Dodge, who was to become my very good friend and critique partner. For that I am truly grateful, that is that we connected because of Bill.
As a human being, we may all hope to have a place in the hearts of the people we loved when we pass on. As a writer, we may hope that our words will live on. For Bill, I believe that he accomplished both.
Patricia Marcantonio

In that class, Bill said he did something that pertained to writing everyday, even if it was just lick a stamp. I keep that in mind and try to do something related to writing everyday, even if it is to just read a book.
Bonnie Dodge

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How do I find my writer’s voice?

 

In March, we talked about writer’s voice, and I’d like to continue that discussion, focusing on how to find your own writer’s voice.
The best way to find your writer’s voice is simply to write. Write a lot; write every day. Keep a journal, and a copy of the letters you send to friends and family. Write e-mails, and then study them for clues to your own writer’s voice. If you blog, study your blog. How do you sound on the page? Is your style quirky and upbeat, or is it more philosophical? Is it funny, sarcastic, thought provoking?
As you study what you have written, you will notice that you use certain phrases or words instinctively, phrases and words that sound like YOU when you are talking. You may also notice that your writing has a natural rhythm. It may be short and choppy, or long and rambling, but it will be the voice you hear in your head as you relate your stories.
You may discover that you have more than one writing voice. The letter you send to your ailing grandmother will probably sound different from the one you send to your sister. Your grandmother probably doesn’t give a hoot about the Moschino heels you found in Las Vegas ON SALE, but your sister is going to want to know every detail, including if there are any more left at sale price. As you fill in the details, you unconsciously write to your audience, telling your sister or your grandmother the things you think they will find interesting.
My writer’s voice is different for each kind of writing I do. If I am writing a column for Life in This Magic Valley, my voice is folksy, funny, and filled with words and subjects that appeal to my audience. Since it is a humor column, I will relate in a funny way the advantages and disadvantages of living on ten acres in Southern Idaho where water is scarce and always an issue. The voice in these columns is light, funny, and easy-going.
When I write essays, my voice is usually darker, more philosophical as I ponder the central themes of my essay. Generally, my essays raise as many questions as they answer, so my essay voice is more thoughtful, pondering, not quite as funny or sassy as my column voice.
The voice I use to write novels is usually a combination of my column and essay voices. My voice may be light or dark, depending on the story I am trying to tell and the audience I am hoping to reach. I am always mindful of how I sound, hoping that I sound like I am telling a story to my mother or a good friend. I want it to be entertaining as well as enlightening.
The only way to discover your writer’s voice is by writing. Tell your internal editor and critic to go out for coffee, then sit down and write. Then write some more and listen to the words, the rhythm of your own language. In all that un-edited writing, you will find your own writer’s voice.
Bonnie Dodge

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How do I get published?

That is a question someone asked recently,and it is a very good question and one that most every writer will ask themselves at one time or another.
Lots of books, articles and Web sites have been devoted to answering that question and that is a good place to start to find some answers.
So, how do you get published?
Here are my suggestions based upon my own experiences.
Write the best manuscript you can and believe in it.
Tell a unique story with a unique voice.
Grow skin as thick as cement for rejections.
Never stop learning how to improve your writing.
Be tenacious, but not obnoxious.
Learn about the publishing business.
Even with that, it’s also a matter of luck and opportunity, market and more.
But to me, the first question writers should ask themselves is WHY do I want to get published?
Do you want to be the next John Grisham or Danielle Steele?
Do you want to make lots of money?
Or do you simply want to be a storyteller and share your stories with others?
For me, it is the latter. First and foremost, I want to share what I have written, to communicate with others so they can feel what I felt when I wrote those words, to give them a look through the eyes of someone else, to move readers, to entertain them.
Yeah, it would be way cool to sell as many books as John or Danielle, but when I sit down to write, I’m not thinking about getting published or how much I would earn from my books if they are published. I’m thinking how I can tell the best story I can.
Personally, if I try to guess what publishers will buy, I will make myself loco.
Telling stories as best as I can is my best reward.
Of course, I still dream of that big publishing house paying me a big advance for my manuscript, then selling lots and lots of books.
But if I can’t get published by the big houses or smaller university presses, and I really want to see my words in print, I will find a way, either through self publishing, or even putting my words on the Internet as I do now.
How do I get published? Good question, but search your writer’s heart for the answer to the other question. Why do I want get published?

Patricia Marcantonio

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What is a writer’s voice?

 

Often at writers’ conferences you hear agents and editors say, “I’m looking for an author with a distinctive voice who can tell a good story.” In today’s competitive market, having a great story isn’t good enough. You also must have a strong, distinctive voice if you hope to be published. What, then, is a writer’s voice?

When I think of writer’s voice, I think of the way an author’s voice sounds when I read it, how the words sound on the page. It’s the way an author puts words together to tell a story. I like to think of it as the author’s specific fingerprint, that thing that makes his work different from another writer’s. It’s an individual writing style that combines syntax, diction and punctuation. It can often include themes, character development and dialogue.

For example, if you read a story written by Patricia Santos Marcantonio, you will find the diction simple, filled with Latino words that attack the senses. You will also find a bit of humor, as evidenced in the opening of her short story, Red Ridin’ in the Hood.

“Inside the cardboard box, Mamá packed a tin of chicken soup, heavy on cilantro, along with a jar of peppermint tea, peppers from our garden, and a hunk of white goat cheese that smelled like Uncle Jose’s feet.”

Marcantonio’s use of words like cilantro and a hunk of white goat cheese combined with subtle humor makes up her unique writer’s voice and is one of the things that draws readers into her stories.

Another writer with a distinct voice is Earnest Hemingway. His style is simple and direct with unadorned prose, as shown in this excerpt from Islands in the Stream.

“Thomas Hudson didn’t know what the man expected to happen when he got up on the dock. No one said anything and there were all those black faces around him and he took a swing at Roger and Roger hit him in the mouth with a left and his mouth started to bleed.”

Often called a man’s man, or a man’s writer, Hemingway’s prose is sparse, to the point, and often centers around hunting or fishing. Notice the lack of adjectives and adverbs, how simple the text is.

William Faulkner, a southern writer, also has a unique voice, as shown in this excerpt from Requiem for a Nun.

“The courthouse is less old than the town, which began somewhere under the turn of the century as a Chickasaw agency trading-post and so continued for almost thirty years before it discovered, not that it lacked a depository for its records and certainly not that it needed one, but that only by creating or anyway decreeing one, could it cope with a situation which otherwise was going to cost somebody money;”

Faulkner’s style is described as stream-of-consciousness, which means that the prose flows with the character’s own inner monologue. Note seventy-one words and not one period.

Another example of writer’s voice is this excerpt from Lynda Barry’s novel, Cruddy.

“Once upon a cruddy time on a cruddy street on the side of a cruddy hill in the cruddiest part of a crudded-out town in a cruddy state, country, world, solar system, universe.”

Barry begins in a fairy-tale way but blasts the fairy-tale fast with her continued use of the title word, cruddy.

Each of the above authors has chosen certain words and styles to tell their stories. Each voice is unique and shows the author’s personality. Each voice sounds different from everyone else’s.

A distinct writing voice is as important as a compelling story. It is a powerful tool for connecting with readers. It is a sound that sticks in their heads, that thing that grabs readers and keeps them turning pages.
Bonnie Dodge

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