Category Archives: Archives 2012

How to get through that dreaded book signing.

You’ve written a book. You actually have it published and just committed to a book signing, which is still a week away. Already your knees are shaking. Your head hurts. You’re sure you’re coming down with a cold. You’d rather wait tables or clean toilets. Welcome to the wonderful world of being an author.

Book signings can be intimidating. Under pressure, our insecurities bubble to the surface. No one will buy my book. No one will show up. No one will like me. This is a natural reaction for most writers. But book signings don’t have to be painful. Here are some ways to help you have a good time, even if you don’t sell a single book.

Organization goes a long way in making your book signing successful. Once you set up your signing, keep calling back and checking in to make sure everything’s on track. They have you on the calendar. Books have been ordered and will be there in time. If you are bringing your own books, make sure you have them with you and remember to bring them to the store.

Several weeks before the event, promote your signing. Send out press releases and do radio spots if possible. Post on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to get and keep a buzz going. We’re all busy. It’s easy to forget.

The day of the signing, arrive early. Bring signs promoting your event. Dress professionally and try to arrive fresh and relaxed. Make sure you have

books
business cards
plenty of pens
water
tablecloth just in case
bookmarks/promotional material
a smile and positive attitude

Remember to smile and talk. Don’t hide behind books or look away when a customer approaches. Look them in the eye. Extend your hand and say, “Hi, I’m having a book signing today.” Put the book in their hand and ask a question that relates to your book. “Do you like xxxx stories? Did you know xxxxx?” Even a genuine comment, “I like your scarf,” is enough to begin a conversation. People buy books from people they like, so find a way to make these strangers feel comfortable and interested in what you have to say. Forget about selling books and sell yourself instead.

Have realistic expectations. Everyone who walks into the store is a potential customer, but they may not like the kind of book you write. Hand them one of your bookmarks and ask them to recommend you to their friends.

Rather than dread the signing, take advantage of this opportunity to meet people and make new friends. Hope for the best and expect the worst. The result will fall somewhere in between. But mostly, try to relax and have fun. And don’t forget to thank the store for hosting your event.
-Bonnie Dodge

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A working retreat helps you realize you love writing

This summer and fall have been madness.

My daughter’s wedding. The Other Bunch Press release of “Hauntings from the Snake River Plain,” our new ghost anthology.

Then the release of my new book, “The Weeping Woman.”

Hustle, Hustle.

So when we talked about taking our annual retreat, I balked. Usually, I love going. We go to a friend’s cabin, eat well, drink wine and talk and yes, write. In the past, we have gone on excursions such as to ghost towns.

But this year, I had no time. Still, I am happy we went.

I relaxed. With my partners, we celebrated our hard work on Hauntings, of which we are very proud. We took time to work on new projects. We did writing prompts to get the writing juices pumping. We took walks and were inspired to write. I saw the salmon spawning and wrote a poem. We just talked about life  and our families. We ate well. (Fortunately my writing partners are great cooks.)

It made me again realize how much I love writing and although life gets in the way, and business of writing must get done–the marketing, the book signings, etc.–at the heart is still the love of writing.

So when you feel life pressing down on your chest like a sumo wrestler driving a forklift, take time for a retreat, a weekend one or one-day event. Then you can remember why you are putting yourself through such pain.

You love writing.

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Bonnie Dodge and Patricia Santos Marcantonio Speak at Idaho Writer’s League State Conference this weekend

Bonnie Dodge and Patricia Santos Marcantonio will present a workshop, Riding the Storm of Self-publishing at the Idaho Writer’s State conference Writing up a Storm this weekend in Boise, Idaho.

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You’re a great writer, but can you tell a story?

A writer lamented recently about a rejection she received. The agent loved her writing, but the book was still rejected. The reason? The writer couldn’t tell a compelling story.

I’ve been there. For more than three years I worked on a book with mystical elements set on a tropical island. My story had great themes and characters. Several agents told me they loved my writing. But the book was rejected again and again because I didn’t know how to tell a story. Oh, I had a beginning, a middle, and an end. I had outlines and character sketches and over three hundred pages. But in those beautifully written pages, nothing much happened to bring my story to a compelling resolution.

Bill Johnson, in his book A Story is a Promise: Good Things to Know Before You Write that Screenplay, Novel, or Play, says understanding “that a story is a promise is a cornerstone of the foundation for understanding the art of storytelling.” Further, a good story sets out its promise and moves an audience toward a desirable resolution.

Telling stories sounds simple, but it isn’t. As a writer I have to stay focused, to remember what I promise my readers—this is a story about a young woman who finds something to believe in—and then make sure I deliver. Side tales about enchanted forests and supernatural sharks may be entertaining, but do they really move the story toward its resolution? If they don’t, they’d better be deleted.

Knowing how to tell a good story is as important as being able to write beautiful words. If the story you love is getting rejected time and again, the rejection may have nothing to do with your skill as a writer. It just might be that you need to learn to become a better storyteller.
-Bonnie Dodge

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2012 Idaho Writers and Readers Rendezvous contest winner

Congratulations! to Patricia Marcantonio for winning first place in the short screenplay category with her screenplay,  “Blk 40 Building 6”.

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Eliminating prepositional phrases

I’m in the process of editing my current novel and looking for ways to make my writing better. One way to reduce words and clarify meaning is to identify and eliminate as many prepositional phrases as possible.

For example, in the above sentence, “in the process of” is a prepositional phrase. I could just as easily say, I’m editing my current novel.

When writing, I listen to the voice in my head, putting words down as I hear them. That doesn’t make them golden, or darlings I’m reluctant to kill. That makes them patterns of speech I hear in my head. My job as a writer is to edit those patterns for clarity.

One way to spot prepositional phrases is to look for the following words, which are often used in prepositional phrases:

about                       below              in spite of                  regarding
above                       beneath          instead of                  since
according to           beside             into                             through
across                      between         like                              throughout
after                         beyond           near                            to
against                    but                   of                                toward
along                       by                     off                              under
amid                        concerning     on                             underneath
among                     down               on account of         until
around                    during             onto                         up
at                              except             out                            upon
atop                         for                    out of                       with
because of              from                outside                     within
before                      in                     over                          without
behind                     in front of      past                          with regard to

Here are some examples from the first chapter in my current novel.

Herb’s stomach could no longer handle food. Just the thought of it sent him to the refrigerator in search of another beer.
Better: Just the thought sent him searching for another beer.

The residents of Aspen Grove don’t talk.
Better: Aspen Grove residents don’t talk.

We can sit in front of the fire and make snowflakes.
Better: We can sit by the fire and make snowflakes.

Rows of fat becomes fat rows. The decision of Abbie’s mother becomes Abbie’s mother’s decision. In an efficient manner becomes efficiently.

As you eliminate prepositional phrases, you’ll discover verbs and adverbs become stronger. For example, Abbie responded to the allegations with vehemence becomes Abbie responded vehemently to the allegations, resulting in less words to wade through and a clearer picture of Abbie.

In Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us, Jessica Page Morrell describes too many prepositions as “the carbohydrates of writing.” She gives the following examples to streamline your work:
went up in flames: burned
at a later date: later
drew to a close: ended
in the vicinity of: near

You get the picture, simple and concise. Too many prepositional phrases put distance between important words and dull your writing.

The next time you sit down to edit, besides looking for ly words, to be, and redundant sentences, keep an eye open for excessive prepositional phrases. You’ll be surprised how much better your story will be.
-Bonnie Dodge

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It’s really Thelma’s movie

One of the first things writers learn is that good drama means your characters change, either for better or worse, within the scope of the story.
Why is change so important?
Because it doesn’t happen without conflict, which keeps the motor of our story running. That lesson really struck me to the core when I took a screenwriting class. The instructor used the example of “Thelma and Louise.” Whose movie was it? he asked.
It was Thelma’s and Louise’s, we answered.
No. Who was the person who was different at the end of the movie?
The answer is Thelma. She started out as a mealy housewife who had the fortitude of a Twinkie. At the end, she found strength and resolve. Louise’s personality didn’t really change. So it was Thelma’s story.
Another example, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Sure, the movie seemed to focus on that charming and funny Ferris. But did he change during the course of the movie? The answer is no, again. The movie really belonged to Cameron, Ferris’s friend. Cameron went from a kid afraid of his father and afraid of life to a young man who would stand up to his father and therefore, to life.
One more example, “The Shawshank Remptiomption.” Is it really Andy Dufresne’s movie? No siree. It is Red’s, who began the film as a man who dared not to hope and ended as a man who looked toward hope as he met his friend in Mexico.
Whenever I watch a movie or read a book where there is little, no, or God forbid, superficial change in the characters, I feel unsatisfied.
Not all change has to be for the good, nor does it have to be a lightning bolt from God. It can be subtle as silk. Take the recent movie, “The Ides of March” (and here comes the spoiler alert). Stephen Meyers, played by Ryan Gosling, works for a presidential candidate played by George Clooney, who also directed and co-wrote the movie. Stephen starts as a true believer in his candidate and loves being in the thick of the campaign. After learning a secret about the candidate and becoming a victim of dirty behind-the-scenes politics, Stephen also digs in the dirt to stay in the game. He changes for the worse by becoming the very thing he hates.
Of course, some characters are so iconic they don’t seem to or have to change, such as Sherlock Holmes. And there is much joy in watching them make sense of chaos. Still, I think about how much more depth to those stories if Sherlock had showed change. The game is afoot.

–Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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Managing Procrastination and Distraction

I’d like you to meet my two best friends, Procrastination and Distraction. They follow wherever I go. It’s as if they sit on the floor beside my bed, waiting for me to wake so they can tag along all day and torture me. Yesterday I rose, a hundred tasks to finish, and there Distraction was, pulling me away from my chores. After a trip to the bathroom—I left the light on because I would be back soon to take a shower—I padded into the kitchen, poured a cup of coffee, and went to my office to check for an important email. After reading email, Facebook, and Twitter, I returned to the bathroom, ready to take my shower only to discover three hours had passed and most of my morning was gone. I had a short story to write and a deadline, and I had yet to write a single word. Distraction was howling with glee but I was furious and disgusted.

After lunch—no breakfast because Distraction was too busy to let me eat—I sat down with full intention of roughing out the first draft of my story when Procrastination wanted to play. Okay, I said, ONE game of spider solitaire, then back to work. One game became four. Then I wanted a snack. Then I had to use the bathroom. Then I needed to take that shower I didn’t get in the morning. By 4:30 Procrastination needed a nap, so I sat down at my computer and opened my file. I wrote a few sentences before Distraction pulled up a chair.

“Hello,” she said. “Let’s look up haunted mines in Idaho.”

That of course led to a site about cemeteries, which lead to a site about who was buried where. Before I knew it it was time to think about dinner so Distraction and I started looking up recipes for corn chowder. After dinner I promised I would work on my story, but then the phone rang. I had to clean the kitchen, fold the laundry, and by eight o’clock I was just too tired to write.

I was talking with another writer a few days ago, saying I accomplished so much more when I worked full time at the bank.

“Me too,” she said.

“I’m too easily distracted,” I said.

We agreed that working from home is full of caveats. A trip to the bathroom means a trip to the kitchen where a glass of water turns into an apple with peanut butter. Then flip on the TV to check the weather, when just as easily we could look out the window to see if it was snowing—we’re supposed to be writing so what does it matter?

Why do we do this? I tell my writer friend it’s because writers are creative people. They write poetry. They make sculptures and paintings. They play piano, guitar or drums. They belly dance. They are creative. Creative people like to make things then rip them apart to make something new. It’s more like play than work, and of course my two friends Procrastination and Distraction would rather play than work.

As a creative person, writing to me is like playing. It doesn’t feel like work, so I treat it accordingly. And to be honest I am a terrible boss. I don’t hold my employee accountable. I make sure she shows up at the office, but I never really check her progress. I read once that Harold Robbins was on deadline and his editor locked him in a hotel room and refused to feed him until he produced a certain number of new pages. So see, it isn’t just me.

Ah hmm. Today is a New Day. I will use a heavy hand; after all I am the boss. I will not have lunch until I finish the first draft of my short story. I will not check email and Facebook until I have my pages done. I will not play spider solitaire AT ALL, not until this story is finished. I will not turn on the TV to check the weather. I will drink water instead of coffee, which keeps me hyped and edgy. Today I will be a better boss and make sure my employee is more productive. And when Distraction and Procrastination call, I’ll tell them to go outside and jump in the snow.

What can you do to eliminate Procrastination and Distraction when you should be writing?

-Bonnie Dodge

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Filed under Archives 2012, Question of the Month, Writing