Good Things in the Works for “Writing to be Read”

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I’m so excited! There are changes coming for Writing to be Read. Last week I gave you an introduction to the newest addition to the Writing to be Read team, Jeff Bowles, who will be giving us a monthly writer’s Pep Talk. Since that post, even more good changes have occurred, and I’m pleased to announce that Jeff will be migrating Jeff’s God Complex blog to this site and sharing even more valuable content with us, two Wednesdays a month.

For Writing to be Read and its readers, that means Wednesdays will be awesome! Robin Conley will still be providing her Monthly Memo with great writing tips, and Jeff will provide his monthly Pep Talk. On the two Wednesdays left, Jeff will prov Jeff’s God Complex content. Now, if you want to know what God Complex content is, I’m not sure if I can explain, other than to say Jeff’s posts are unique and can go in any direction, but they are usually about writing. If you want to know more, you can check out Jeff’s posts on  Jeff’s God Complex. I think you will see why this is so exciting.

In addition, Jeff has agreed to provide one gaming review per month in the Friday reviews, and I’m hoping Robin will provide one film review per month, as well. Never fret. That leaves room for at least two book reviews per month and will allow me more time to do them. If you want to pick up more writing tips from Robin, or you’re looking for some of her great writing prompts, check out her blog, Author the World.

One more thing that I will be looking forward to, and I hope you will, too, is a series of author interviews I’m planning to run taking a look at what works for each of them. No one thing works for everybody. Hopefully, in these these interviews you will find some ideas that work for you. So be on the lookout for my Writing that Works interviews, which will be coming soon.

Overall, I think these changes will greatly improve Writing to be Read and make it a more well rounded blog by providing a greater diversity in content, allowing me to offer a little something for everybody. I hope you will all drop by frequently to see what’s new. Or better yet, subscribe to email and get notification to your inbox each time there’s a new post, so you never miss on what’s up on Writing to be Read.


Welcome Jeff Bowles to “Writing to be Read”

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Last week we had our first guest post from the newest addition to the Writing to be Read team, author Jeff Bowles, who will be sharing his Pep Talk to keep writers inspired and motivated, the first Wednesday of every month. I’m excited to have him join my team, and I think you readers will be too, after you learn a little about him.
I had the good fortune to attend the same graduate program with Jeff, and I have to tell you, he is an extremely talented young man. His stories different and often don’t fit neatly into a particular genre, although I think most that I’ve read can be called speculative fiction.
For his thesis, Jeff came up with an epic idea for an Armageddon story, where a gigantic God and Satan have a  physical battle and destroy most of Earth in the process. His thesis proposal was probably an inch thick, and the story outline was very complex. All of his cohorts said, “It will be really hard to pull off, but if anyone can do it, you can, Jeff.” I heard this time and time again. Hey did pull it off, and he ended up with an awesome novel.
Since then I’ve gotten to know Jeff and I learned that he’s a madman when it comes to writing, and you never know what he’ll come up with next. But, whatever he writes, you can be assured that he will put you in the story, and even if his characters are lightning bolts, he will suspend your disbelief and make you care what happens to them.
In addition to his M.F.A. in Creative Writing, Jeff has publishing credits for many short stories, including a collection of short stories, Godling and Other Paint Stories, which he published himself. His second short story collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, will be released on March 28, keep an eye out here for a review). In addition to his Pep Talk here, Jeff’s wisdom and talent can be found on his own blog, God Complex. (You can also find some of Jeff’s opinions on the publishing industry in my interview with Jeff for my publishing series, The Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing.) But, the best way to get to know about Jeff is to ask questions. So that’s just what I did. I hope you enjoy the resulting interview, below.

Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Jeff: I’ve kind of only ever had two passions in my life, music and writing. I wrote my first story when I was about ten years old, which also happens to be the age I wrote my first song. When I got older and met my wife, I realized being a musician wouldn’t be conducive to family life, what with touring and recording and the general pressures of the business. So at that time I decided to settle on my writing, and I haven’t looked back since. Good choice. You can write a song any old time you want. Short story tales are forever.

Kaye: What is the one thing in your writing career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?

Jeff: Let’s see … Probably the couple of comic scripts I sold to English comic book press FutureQuake. I’ve written everything from short stories, novelettes and novellas, to full-length novels, screenplays, newspaper articles, nonfiction, a bit of ghost writing, you name it. I found being diverse and far-reaching was way better than narrowing in on one small niche. At this point I could take a stab at anything, any time. Very helpful if you actually want to make a little money, and who doesn’t?

Kaye: You seem to have a bit of a preoccupation with God, which has certainly shown up in a lot of your writing. Can you tell us what that is all about?

Jeff: Ha ha, well I think I just found it to be the largest, most expansive concept in existence, right? I mean, I try to tackle topics and themes that are gargantuan in relation to small, fragile beings like you and I. That sort of thing has always appealed to me, so God was a natural extension, one most people have a strong gut reaction to in one way or another. My newer work–including my latest short story collection, dropping on March 28–has very little to do with God or gods or anything of that nature. I was also on a personal quest for God for many years, I suppose. I was raised agnostic, so my whole life I was searching for a reason to believe and worship, and corny as that might sound. Writing about Him always seemed like a good outlet for my spiritual curiosity.

Kaye: How many of your stories have been based on God to some extent, or featured God?

Jeff: Quite a few, actually. If not the Almighty Himself, I’ve tinkered with super beings, celestials, demigods, and everything in between. Most writers are timid about concepts. I go for the biggest, largest, hugest.

Kaye: Your thesis novel involves God, and Satan, too. Would you like to tell us a little about your novel?

Jeff: Sure. Body of Heaven, Body of Darkness is a contemporary horror fantasy. Harold Math watches in terror as God and Satan, each ten miles tall, beat each other to death in the rural desert of Nevada. Booze and anxiety become his life, until a strange, supernatural boy in a red cape causes a terrible car wreck that kills his fiancé and unborn son. The world slips into chaos as the deaths of the two immense beings herald national disasters and the destruction of the city of Los Angeles. A horrifying hell-beast emerges in the chaos and begins terrorizing the country, even as Harold reunites with an old flame and tries to put back together the shattered pieces of his life. At last, the boy in the cape reveals himself to Harold as the all-knowing Will of the Universe. He’s chosen him and three others to destroy this contamination before it spreads.

 

Kaye: In addition to being a very talented writer, you are an artist, as well? You did the cover for Godling, right?

Jeff: I did. Just sort of produced it on the fly. I don’t have any training or know-how really. Plenty of talent to spare though, I guess. This is my humble face. Can’t you tell? 😀
Kaye: Your stories are very unusual, your descriptions vivid. How do ideas and images develop into stories for you?
 Jeff: Well they don’t just come, that’s for sure. Most of the time I have to kind of open myself up to the universe, if you will. If I’m actively looking for ideas, working to make it happen, they often occur to me. Thing about really unique story ideas is that first blush versions of them are usually tame and have the potential of having been done before. I like to take a concept and cook it a while before I ever hit the page with it. A lot of the unusual nature of my work has come from a need to be myself. Twists and turns develop in the actual plotting. It’s hard work trying to sell stuff no one’s ever seen before, but so worth it when you do.

Kaye: You’ve had quite a few things published, including a comic book. How did that come about? Did you do the artwork for that? Or was it collaboration? Tell us about the process in either case?

Jeff: No, I didn’t do the artwork. I wrote the script and submitted it to the publisher just like you’d do with any short story. They accepted it and paired me with an artist. I got to see his work evolve over the course of several months, and it was always rewarding to check out what true artistic talent could do with my material. I couldn’t draw like that if you paid me. Writing a comic book script, though, it’s something I urge a lot of science fiction and fantasy authors to try out. Very cool, very challenging medium to work in.

Kaye: Other than God, what kinds of things of things influence your writing?
 Jeff: Movies, video games, life in general. I sort of belong to a generation that’s grown up on 24-hour media and all-encompassing entertainment options. It’s no wonder my stories are fast and loaded with concepts. I don’t think I ever intend my work to come out unusual for the sake of being unusual. Maybe it’s an attention deficit thing. I get bored with stories very easily.

 

Kaye: What are your favorite genres to read? To write?

Jeff: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror are my bread and butter. I like to read and write nonfiction and more literary work as well, but my home and my love will always be speculative stuff. It’s what I was raised on, so it’s the most natural thing in the world for me. Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Marvel and DC, all these mega-nerd story types and franchises, I probably dream the stuff at this point.

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge for you when writing short fiction?  Or when tackling a novel-length work? How about when writing comic books?

Jeff: For short fiction there’s always a push and pull between expressing myself fully, telling an engrossing story, and making something concise and fully realized with a limited word count. Novels are tricky because they’re a marathon, a long-haul project, though I find the actual writing to be easier than short form on a day-to-day basis. Comic book scripts are another beast altogether. Kind of the ultimate test of a writer’s mettle when it comes to precision and execution. Highly recommend writers try it out at some point. Probably learn a thing or two in the process. Sometimes it pays to be a mad scientist with your writing. Take no prisoners! Hold nothing back!

 

Kaye: Which is your favorite type of writing? Short fiction? Novels? Comic Books?

 Jeff: I’ve produced way more short fiction than just about anything else, though I find I don’t like reading it all that much. Books and comics, those are my favorite forms of entertainment, though movies and video games are also very important to my storytelling diet.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
 Jeff: No, I don’t think there is. I don’t have any cute tricks or rituals. It’s a simple equation, really: apply ass to seat and type until something’s done. There’s no accounting for hard work, and the writers who make something of themselves rarely do so without a ton of discipline and a healthy work ethic. You’ve got to write on even when you don’t want to. Especially when you don’t want to.
Kaye: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
 Jeff: Game. Did I mention video games? Oh, I did? 😀

 

Kaye: Any advice for aspiring writers?

Jeff: Absolutely. NEVER GIVE UP!

 

You’ll probably find people in your life will try to dissuade you, or in the very least, that they’ll lack enthusiasm for your work, your calling, until you’ve been at it long enough you finally start to see results. You can’t let that get to you. Apply ass to seat and type until something’s done. Writers are a funny breed few people understand, and sometimes we become crotchety and bitter. But the truth is if you’re going to do this thing, you’ve got to stay focused and disciplined. Much like writing a novel, this job is a marathon. Many very famous authors had to work their butts off for years, if not decades, before people finally took them seriously. I will say it again. NEVER GIVE UP! PROMISE!

 

So, now you know a little about Jeff Bowles, which is good, because you should know who is giving you a writing Pep Talk. I hope you’ll join us every first Wednesday to read what morsels of writing wisdom Jeff has to offer. And I hope that now you’re as excited as I am to have him join the Writing to be Read team.

Interested in Jeff’s writing? Check out his latest short story collection, Godling and Other Paint Stories: https://www.amazon.com/Godling-Other-Paint-Stories-Bowles-ebook/dp/B01LDUJYHU

Twitter: @JeffBowlesLives

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jeffryanbowles

Tumblr: http://authorjeffbowles.tumblr.com

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/JeffBowles/e/B01L7GXCU0/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1479453494

YouTube’s Jeff Bowles Central: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6uMxedp3VxxUCS4zn3ulgQ

 

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Bringing in the New Year Write

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It’s 2017!  Where does the time go? It seems like just yesterday that I was venturing forth to start Writing to be Read on Today.com. Most of you won’t remember. It was supposed to be a site that would monetize my blog, so without a clue as to what I should write about, I jumped right in. I wrote about all kinds of things and at the end of every post I published one of my poems, in order to cover the full scope of the literary world, or something like that. That was in 2010, seven years ago. Wow! Unfortunately, several months later Today.com folded and the sight just disappeared, along with all the writing I had done there. In a panic, I found WordPress and re-created my blog here.

Since then it has be remodeled several times until it is what you see here today. As I said in my Looking Back on 2016 post last week, this past year has been a good one for Writing to be Read as it has grown in popularity. So to start the new year out, I’d like to take a closer look at what I hope to accomplish with the blog this year. In last weeks post I mentioned a few ideas I wanted to see come to fruition: author and screenwriter profiles, more screenwriting content, coverage of more writing events, and guest posts by authors, screenwriters and other industry professionals. That is the shape I foresee for Writing to be Read.

But, you know, this blog wouldn’t be anywhere without you, the reader. Watching my statistics, it’s you that determines what content I create. It’s you that make the number of followers climb, you who increase my page views. With this in mind, I know I can’t move forward without asking you what content you would like to see here in the coming year. Are there topics of interest you’d like to learn more about? Do you have questions you’d like to have answered through one of my posts? And while we’re at it, who would you like to see profiled or interviewed? What books or movies would you like to see reviewed? What topics would you like to see investigated? What events would you like to see covered? What kinds of things will keep you coming back for more?

Another goal I hope to accomplish is to continue to increase my following and have more reader interaction through comments. I appreciate every reader I have gained over the years. Some of you, I have come to think of as friends as well as readers. I also welcome new readers. If you are here for the first time, or maybe you’ve been here before but you haven’t subscribed to email or followed on WordPress yet, please do so before you click on the next website. I make no money off Writing to be Read. My only reward is to watch my followers grow and know I am being read. Subscribe, follow, leave a comment to let me know you were here, or do all three. With your help, we can make 2017 the best year ever for Writing to be Read.

 


Looking Back Over 2016

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This will be the last reflective post of the year. Next Monday’s post will find us in 2017. For my writing career it has been a slow take off, but I’ve seen progress. In July, I completed my Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. With emphasis in both genre fiction and screenwriting, and two completed novels, Delilah and Playground for the Gods Book 1: In the Beginning, two full feature film scripts and one comedy series pilot script in hand, I eagerly jumped right in to get my feet wet in either the publishing and/or screenwriting industry. I began submitting my work to agents, publishers, and competitions like crazy. I received mostly rejections, as expected, and although I still haven’t found a home for either novels or scripts, I did manage to find a home for two poems and two short stories. Not too bad. While the poems, Aspen Tree and Yucca! Yucca! Yucca!, appeared in print, (in Colorado Life (Sept.-Oct. 2016) and Manifest West Anthology #5 – Serenity and Severity, respectively), my short story,  I Had to Do It was published on Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry, and my not so short, short story, Hidden Secrets was published on Across the Margin.

2016 has been a pretty good year for Writing to be Read. The revamping of the blog site was completed in March, I’ve managed post things on a fairly regular basis, we were honored with guest posts by my friend Robin Conley, and my visits and page views have risen, with almost 2000 visitors and over 2,500 page views. Looking at this, makes me feel pretty good about the blog, as a whole. Another good change is the addition of screenwriting content, which I believe has drawn a larger audience by widening the scope of the content.

13595804_10208551605339796_604487774_nThe top post of 2016 was my book review of Simplified Writing 101, by Erin Brown Conroy, which is an excellent tutorial on academic writing, including writing advice that every writing student should know. After that, the reflective post Writing Horror is Scary Business would be second in line. Other popular posts include my four part Making of a Screenplay series,( Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4), my Tribute to My Son, and What Amazon’s New Review Policies Mean for Writing to be Read. More recently, my ten part series on publishing, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing gave me the opportunity to interview some awesome names in the publishing industry: self-published authors, Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch; traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch and Mark Shaw; independently published author Jordan Elizabeth; and children’s author Nancy Oswald, who has published under all three models; as well as Caleb Seeling, owner of Conundrum Press and Curiosity Quills Press – with the final installment summarizing the conclusions made from those interviews. Snoopy Writing

Many of my posts were reflections of my own writing experience. These included: Why Writing is a Labor of LoveFear is a Writer’s Best FriendI’ve Come A Long Way, BabyWriting the Way That Works For YouCreating Story Equals Problem SolvingWhat’s A Nice Girl Like Me Doing Writing in a Genre Like This?; Acceptance or Rejection – Which Do You Prefer?; A Writer’s Life is No Bowel of Cherries; Write What You Know; Discouragement or Motivation?; What Ever Happened to Heather Hummingbird?; How You Can Help Build a Writer’s Platform; and Why Fiction is Better Than Fact.

2013-03-16 Ice Festival 014Sadly, I only attended two events that were reported on, on Writing to be Read in 2016 – the 2016 Ice Festival in Cripple Creek, and the 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference in Gunnison, Colorado. What can I say? I’m a starving writer. This is something I hope to improve on in 2017 by attending more events to report on. One possible addition to the 2017 list that I’m very excited to think about is the Crested Butte Film Festival. The details are not ironed out yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.Fear of Laughter

Screenwriting content included this past year seemed to be popular. In addition to my Making of a Screenplay series and Writing Horror is Scary BusinessWriting to be Read also featured Writing Comedy for Screen is a Risky Proposition, and a book review for Hollywood Game Plan, by  Carole Kirshner, which I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone desiring to break into the screenwriting trade. Robin’s Weekly Writing Memo also included several writing tips that could be applied equally to literature or screenwriting.

Another project I’m particularly proud of is my ten part series on publishing, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing, which I just finished up last week. In this series I  interviewed nine professionals from within the industry to get the low down on the three different publishing models. My interviews included self-published authors Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch, traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch (children’s books) and Mark Shaw (nonfiction), and independently published YA author Jordan Elizabeth. To balance things out a bit, I also interviewed children’s author Nancy Oswald, who has published with all three models, Clare Dugmore of Curiosity Quills Press and Caleb Seeling, owner and publisher at Conundrum Press.

bottledOne of the great things about doing book reviews is that you get to read a lot of great books, in with the okay and not so great ones. In addition Simplified Writing 101, my five quill reviews in 2016 included Jordan Elizabeth’s Runners & Riders, Mark Shaw’s The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, Nancy Oswald’s Trouble Returns, Carol Riggs’ Bottled, Jeff Bowles’ Godling and Other Paint Stories, Janet Garber’s Dream Job, Art Rosch’s Confessions of an Honest Man, and Mark Todd and Kim Todd O’Connell’s Wild West Ghosts. I don’t give out five quills lightly and every one of these books are totally worthwhile reads.

Point Break 1Of course, not all books get a five quill rating. Other books I reviewed that I recommended with three quills or more include three short story anthologies: Chronology, Under a Brass Moon, and Cast No Shadows; two poetry collections: Suicide Hotline Hold Music by Jessy Randall and Walks Along the Ditch by Bill Trembley; Escape From Witchwood Hollow, Cogling, Treasure Darkly, The Goat Children, and Victorian by Jordan Elizabeth; Dark Places by Linda Ladd; Chosen to Die by Lisa Jackson; Wrinkles by Mian Mohsin Zia; Full Circle by Tim Baker; The 5820 Diaries by Chris Tucker; The Road Has Eyes: An RV, a Relationship, and a Wild Ride by Art Rosch; Hollywood Game Plan by Carol Kirschner; Keepers of the Forest by James McNally; 100 Ghost Soup by , and A Shot in the Dark by K.A. Stewart. I also did two movie reviews: Dead Pool and Point Break.

I feel very fortunate to have had Robin Conley join us with her Weekly Writing Memo and her guest movie reviews. The useful writing tips in her Weekly Writing Memos covered a wide range of topics including critiquing, using feedback, ways to increase tension, Relatability or Likeability?, 3 Types of Plot, story research, what to write, making your audience care, world building, handling feedback, writing relationships, establishing tone, editing, word choice, How to Start Writing, endings, queries, Parts of a Scene, making emotional connections, the influence of setting, Building a Story, Inciting Your Story, movement and dialog, Writing Truth, time, Overcoming the Blank Page, Networking, character names, theme, set up, cliches, parentheticals in screenwriting, horror inspiration, and Learning to WriteRobin’s guest post movie reviews included Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Batman vs. Superman, Miss Perigrin’s Home for Peculiar Children, and The Neon Demon13624744_10104024218870042_2001375168_n

I am thankful for Robin’s valuable content and am glad that she will still be contributing Memos on a monthly, rather than a weekly basis. Although I was sad to lose her weekly content, I am happy for her as she moves forward in her own writing career and I wish her well in her writing endeavors. For those of you who looked forward to her weekly posts, you can catch more of her content on her own blog, Author the World.

2016 was a great year for Writing to be Read, even if it was kind of rough for the author behind the blog. You readers helped to make it a good year and I thank you. Now it’s time to look ahead and see what’s in store for 2017 Writing to be Read. I mentioned some of the things I hope to achieve above: more posts pertaining to the screenwriting industry, and coverage of more events throughout the year are two of the goals I have set for my blog. I also plan to add some author, and hopefully, screenwriter profiles into the mix. I had good luck with author profiles during my Examiner days, and I think they will be well received here, as well.

I also hope to bring in some guests posts by various authors or bloggers, or maybe screenwriters, just to give you all a break from listening to me all the time. I believe Robin plans to continue with Monthly Writing Memos, which will be great, too.

I look forward to all the great books that I know are coming my way in 2017, too. The first reviews you have to look forward to are a short memoir, Banker Without Portfolio by Phillip Gbormittah, a YA paranormal romance, Don’t Wake Me Up by M.E.Rhines, a Rock Star romance, Bullet by Jade C. Jamison and a short story, How Smoke Got out of the Chimneys by DeAnna Knippling.

Happy New Year

I hope all of you will join me here in the coming year. Follow me on WordPress, or subscribe to e-mail for notifications of new posts delivered to your inbox. Have a great 2017 and HAPPY WRITING!


What Amazon’s New Review Policies Mean to “Writing to be Read”

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Originally, Part 2 of my Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing series was scheduled for today. The series will continue next week, but today I need to talk about the new changes in Amazon’s review policies, because it may directly affect the authors of the books I review.

Two of my reviews have recently been pulled by Amazon. The reason given was that I hadn’t spent at least fifty dollars on Amazon this month. Under their old review policy, if you had ever made one purchase on Amazon, you were eligible to post a review. I also noticed it posted that their review policy now states right on the review site that they do not accept reviews that are done with a free copy as compensation.

There are two issues here. One, I’m offering a free honest review, but it doesn’t make good sense for me to spend fifty dollars a month just so I can post them on Amazon. I don’t my reviews think I have ever spent fifty dollars on Amazon in one month. I am a starving writer, after all.

The other issue is the fact that I do offer reviews in exchange for a free copy of the book. It’s what I do. And I had been previously advised to state in my review that, “I received an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest interview.” This was supposed to make it so Amazon would accept the review, because it was right there out front where everyone could see, like a big disclaimer. Now, including this information will get my review kicked back.

Besides that, I don’t believe in paid revues. As a reviewer, I would feel obligated to give only favorable reviews if they were bought and paid for. I don’t give bad reviews often, but if I do give an honest opinion of the book, even if it doesn’t shine a positive light on the work. This new policy of Amazon’s will disqualify almost every review I give.

So, from here out authors please be aware when submitting a book for review, that while I have in the past submitted basic reviews to Goodreads and Amazon, I can no longer guarantee the Amazon posting. I don’t plan to start making purchases on Amazon for the privilege of posting. I can’t afford to do that, and I don’t think I should have to. But, I do plan to keep doing honest book reviews and posting them on my blog. Since Amazon has recently acquired Goodreads, there may be problems in the future if they adopt the same review policies there, but until that time, I plan to continue posting basic reviews on Goodreads. I can also post on Barnes & Noble and Smashwords if requested.

I know that Amazon rating is like gold to authors today, where the majority of the market trends are determined by reviews there, and I’m all about helping out my fellow authors, so it pains me to be unable to provide this service any longer. I can only hope that it won’t discourage authors from submitting books for review. I will also continue to heavily promote my reviews on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pintrest and Tumblr, just as I always have.

So that’s where my reviews sit at this time, and I may still have an upset author here and there, who didn’t see this post. But, hopefully, this post will make what authors can expect from my reviews clear, so there will be no misunderstandings in the future. I want to thank all the authors who have sent books for review in the past, especially for their patience when my review que got backed up due to technical difficulties, of which, I have many. Ask that authors submitting books for future review, do so with the understanding that the review appearing on Amazon is not guaranteed

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read, and she never charges for them. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Which Comes First, the Story or the Theme?

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I asked Robin to do a post on theme for last week’s Writing Memo, as a compliment to my post here.  She did a great job of explaining what theme is and how to bring it out in your story. She talked about how to identify your theme, how to bring your theme out in your writing and how multiple themes can be, and often are, woven into a single story. After reading her post, it sounded so easy.

One of the most difficult parts of writing, for me, is determining what my story’s theme is. The theme is what your story or screenplay is really about, and it isn’t always obvious. Often you really have to think about the story as a whole and look for the underlying theme. Or at least, I do.

 

Die Hard is a story about a man, John McClane, (Bruce Willis), trying to save his marriage, but when her office party is taken hostage, it becomes a story about survival – survival of the good guys, as well as survival of the marraige. (Yes, I see the irony in the fact that Robin and I both chose to use Die Hard in our examples.) Survival is what the story is really about.

life-and-deathLethal Weapon may be a buddy cop movie about the two cops getting the bad guys, but Roger Murtaugh, (Danny Glover), is struggling with aging and his approaching retirement, and his partner, Martin Riggs, (Mel Gibson), is struggling with the loss of his wife and certain suicidal urges. Dealing with aging and the end of life is what the movie is really about. But the underlying theme is not always easy to pick up on under all the shoot ’em up, good guy – bad guy stuff.

 

While pursuing my screenwriting emphasis for my M.F.A., one of the things that I was taught was how to breakdown the structure of a movie into different parts, or beats. My professor and screenwriting advisor, J.S. Mayank, had us use the structure model presented in the Save the Cat books by Blake Snyder. Professor Mayank had us watch a lot of movies and read a whole lot of screenplays and break their structures down, and one of the things I learned from this, is that in almost every movie, one of the characters states the theme in their dialog, usually by page five. As a general rule, it’s true. And if you can figure out what the movie is really about, you can put your finger on which line of dialog that is, however, that’s not always an easy thing to do.

 

For onedialog thing, the line of dialog that states the theme usually doesn’t do it outright. To do so would make the dialog feel forced, untrue to what the character would say.  For instance, the line that states the theme in Lethal Weapon is, “Your beard is getting gray. It makes you look old.” Coming from Roger Murtaugh’s daughter, as his family serves his 50th Birthday Cake while he takes a bath works well, but it doesn’t come out and say, “You’re getting ready to retire and your life is coming to an end. How are you going to deal with it?” It’s said and gone, and most viewers probably didn’t even catch that it was the theme stated unless they were looking for it.

 

These exercises in screenwriting were very helpful to me, but they required that I view movies in a whole new way. (We did a similar thing in my genre fiction classes, dissecting different novels to see what methods the authors used to portray their stories and how effective they are. And when you critique as you read, it’s a lot different than just reading to enjoy the story.) Most people watch movies for entertainment, right? I always had. But when you are doing structure analysis, you have to concentrate more on how it’s put together than you do on what happens in the story. And to figure out what the theme is, you have to watch, or read in the case of screenplays, with a philosophical eye to discover what the story is really about.

 

Thmoviesat’s where I had problems, especially when I was watching the actual movie, rather than reading the screenplay. I always sat down to watch a movie and immediately immersed myself in the story. Before I knew it, I would look up and realize the first five pages of script must be long past and I had failed to identify the line of dialog in which the theme was stated. It was the thing with reading screenplays. I found myself reading and re-reading those first five pages, searching desperately for the line that would tell me what the whole movie was about. I didn’t understand how I could be expected to pick out a line of dialog that stated what the movie was really about before I’d read the entire screenplay. And the sad thing is, I was no better at picking out theme in my own writing and writing a line of dialog to state it.

 

Here’s where I digress from Robin. You cannot decide what you want your theme to be and then write a story to fit. At least, I can’t. It won’t work. For me, theme must evolve from the story naturally, not the other way around.

 

When I decided to write, Bonnie, my screenplay for my thesis, I thought I was writing a story about two young kids who chose to live on the wrong side of the law in order to cope with the circumstances of living in the depression. But Bonnie is different than other renditions of the Bonnie and Clyde story, because it is told from Bonnie’s perspective, and before I had finished it, I found that what it is really about is Bonnie’s love for Clyde. Their love is my underlying theme. Just as love is the underlying theme in a story about a huge ocean liner that hit an iceberg and sank into the ocean, sending most of the passengers to their deaths. And just as it worked for James Cameron, when he wrote Titanic, I think it works for Bonnie. Love is what it is really about, the underlying theme.love-emerges

The point here is, I didn’t set out to write a story about a young girl’s amazing love. That is what evolved from my story about a young couple’s choice to embark on a life of crime. Love was Bonnie’s motivation. Undying love was my theme and I didn’t even know it until I was more than halfway through writing the screenplay. This is why I say theme is the most difficult part of writing for me, whether I’m writing a novel or a screenplay.

 

But, I still say writing to the theme is more difficult. The theme must emerge naturally from the story, whether you’re writing for the page or the screen. If I just write the story, being true to my characters, the theme will come to the surface of its own accord. But, that’s me. Obviously, it’s different for Robin, who likes to identify her theme before she begins the story and finds ways to bring the theme out. Which comes first for you?

 

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Writing the Way that Works for You

Snoopy Writing

There are many ways to write story. In his book, On Writing, author Stephen King claims he started out as a kid, printing out stories on a drum printer in his basement, using grape jelly for ink. Some of us older generation writers remember hammering out our stories on manual or electric typewriters, whiting out the errors and going back to manually making corrections.

With the dawn of the technological revolution the way we write changed for most of us. At the 2012 Writing the Rockies Conference, author Kevin J. Anderson told how he wrote while hiking through the hills surrounding the Gunnison Valley by using a hand held digital recorder to dictate his story, then having his assistant transcribe it and type it up on the computer for him. I tried his method, but found I needed to see the words on the page, or screen in front of me.

No one way is right. Different methods work for different writers. When I first started writing I wrote everything long hand, then typed it out on an electric typewriter. The advantage to this methods was that by the time I typed it up, it was like a second draft and I could edit and make changes as I went. The downside was the enormous amount of White Out I went through, because I’m a lousy typist and the incredible amount of time it took to produce a piece of work worthy of submission. It was so bad, I actually gave up on writing  for several years, until I discovered the world of computers in 2008. Computers allowed me to edit as I write, and although I’ve been cautioned against it by many of my college professors, I still do it. It works for me and produces first drafts that require minimal amount of editing.

Unfortunately, my computer recently crashed. My son, who is also my techie, has been unable to fix it. He thinks I fried my mother board. Bottom line – I need a new computer, and I’m forced to go back to writing everything long hand once more, at least until I can get a new one. But, what I’m finding, is that writing long hand requires a different mind set for me than writing on the computer. Robin touched on this, as well, in last week’s Weekly Writing Memo on Overcoming the Blank Page.

On the computer, I can multi-task, switching to online research or other activities when I get held up for words. Writing long hand, if I get held up, I find myself staring off into space to gather my thoughts. It also seems more difficult to me, but that may be because I have to transfer my words from page to screen whenever I can get access to public computers at the library.

All of this got me thinking about the different ways there are to write and what works for others. How do you like to write? Are you an old school writer who still writes long hand? Do you use more than one method, writing different stories in different ways as Robin suggested? Leave a comment and let me know. If nothing else it will be interesting.