Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Rumplestilskin Effect

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia
Ideas are easy. The ideas for stories are everywhere, they light like fireflies on a hot July night, linger in the smell of fresh baked bread, are tucked into conversations with friends. If you look around and take note, they will come to you.

Turning ideas into a story is hard. It can drive you to your knees with frustration when the words that danced through your brain with such grace congeal on the page like overcooked oatmeal and you have to throw them out and start all over again. That’s the process, write, read, repeat, until maybe something that looks just a little like what was in your mind begins to take shape.

The writer’s art is in the transformation of idea to story. You’ll find libraries worth of books on how to make this happen. The truth is, it happens differently for everyone. The process that works for me might well not work for you. Heck, it might not work for me next week or next month. 

Transformation is an elusive thing, partly based on craft and partly on alchemy. Like Rumplestilskin, we take the straw of thoughts and notions and pictures and sound and smell and emotion and weave it into story. We hope for gold, though sometimes we get dross. We keep at it, and if we’re very lucky, we create something beautiful and shiny and worthwhile. Or at least something we like well enough to share with the world. 

'til next time

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Flash

Monday, September 8, the area of Tucson where I live received a bit of rain. That might not seem so unusual to most folks, but we are located in the Sonoran desert. Annual rainfall is supposed to be about eleven inches in a year, but for each of the past twelve years we haven't received more than nine. Monday, we got four inches in less than one hour.

There is no way one can prepare for something of this nature. The ground has baked all summer into brick. Shrubs and small plants are withered and dry. This town is notorious for rain falling on one side of the street and not the other. So when meteorologists say, "Expect rain to be heavy at times in isolated areas," one shrugs and sets out the rainwater collecting buckets, just in case.

Four inches. In less than one hour. On the hill above my house. Watching out the front window,
The high watermark on the side of our house, about 18".
the deluge looked like Nature's own ice bucket challenge. My husband went out to check the garage and I heard the expletives. As I turned out of the kitchen to go see what he was yelling about, I saw a shallow sea emerging through the guest bath, steadily advancing up the hall. In less than two minutes, the  bath and back bedrooms held three inches of water from wall to wall with Putin-like designs to annex the rest of the house.

Forget the garage.

It's amazing what water can do.The flash flood swept debris from the desert against our back gate and created a dam, forcing water to back up and rise like a lock in a canal. Husband ran out and forced the gate open--and was nearly swept off his feet by the rush into the back yard. So much water moved so fast, it lifted two creosote-soaked railroad ties that had been embedded for eighteen years from their places and shifted them nearly four feet sideways, not to mention a few boulders rolled like marbles.

It's amazing how two people armed with every towel, rag, sheet, and blanket can construct Hoover Dam in a matter of minutes. Then came the race to move the contents of the rooms out of harm's way as fast as possible. Thank goodness we didn't have company visiting, and thank goodness I'm a plastic bin sort of pack rat.

A dustpan makes a good water scoop. A Swiffer turned on its side is a dandy squeegee.  We pushed and sopped and scooped and sopped and scooped and pushed. Some time during the rush my husband had the notion to call the carpet cleaners we use. They sent an angel with a huge vacuum pump and industrial fans within twenty minutes. It was still raining when he arrived, but the tides were receding.

We were very fortunate. There wasn't wall damage outside, only some sad drywall inside. The constant drone of four industrial fans has finally silenced and the carpet has returned to a somewhat normal state. We'll need to repair some things, toss some others, but all in all we are grateful it wasn't worse than it turned out to be.

Happy writing,

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Selling Your Book in This Vast, Seemingly Endless Sea of Available Fiction

With my first YA book, End of Normal, coming out next month, I realized that as a new and unknown writer, I had to do something to make my book stand out amongst the zillions of books out there. This whole publicity thing got me thinking about the difficulties all unestablished writers face from the first word written on the blank computer screen (or big chief tablet like Laura Ingalls Wilder used), to either self-publishing or finding a publisher willing to take a chance, and finally, to the task of getting people to actually buy and read your book.

Despite the daunting months, years, or decades of the hard work of writing and selling yourself, there seems to be (to me at least) more books out in the ether than ever. This is both good and bad. Good because everyone that has a book inside of them yearning to be set free is able to get it in front of readers. Bad because everyone that has a book inside of them yearning to be set free is able to get it in front of readers. Don't rush to comment that I'm repeating myself, I did that on purpose so sit back, take a deep breath and let me continue. With every single person on the planet capable of publishing a book, readers have become awash in books, all kinds of books, many of them for free.

Do I think that's wonderful? Yes I do, the problem is that readers (of which I am one) have to sort through a jungle of junk to find the gem. Many readers (including myself) have tried the free books, been disappointed and now, instead of wading among a lot of stinky seaweed, they simply stick with the authors they know and love. (Sorry about all the sea references, I live minutes from the coast and water is often on my mind.)
Helpful hints on how to wade through the sea of books. 
As my beloved Shakespeare would say, "Aye, there's the rub," which according to Webster's, is what you say when  you are explaining what the difficulty is in a particular situation , i.e. You can't get readers to read you unless they know who you are so how do you get readers to know you if their focus is mainly on writers they know? I wish I had the answer.

In this instance, knowing only too well how inept I am at all things dealing with self-promotion, I've decided to hire a publicist for the launching of my book. The cost was less than a lot of advertisements, so I'll see if it helps at all. One thing they are doing is sending my ARC to scores of reviewers, something I would never have done on my own. Fingers crossed some of those sent an advance copy will not only read my words, but also like them, and comment on the book positively in print. I'll let you know how it plays out.

In closing, I have to give you the Hamlet monologue with the "rub" line. Yes, I know, I'm obsessed with Will, I can't help it. Everything he writes is a soothing balm to my soul.

I know shame on me, right? This is an atrocity, still it's kind of funny.
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;

And if I'm anything, it is that I'm beyond obsessive so here's a link to Kenneth Branagh's beautiful version. Oh Kenneth, you make me weak at the knees.

Monday, September 8, 2014


When backed into a corner at a party do you find people asking a lot of questions once they find out you’re a writer, a real writer? A real published writer? In print!

 Should we get snarky, serious, or informative when bombarded?

I incline toward informative. Treat them with compassion. They’re about to enter one of the most frustrating businesses in the world. For some reason, people think writers make money, lots of money. Maybe they believe it’s an easy, fun way to make a living. If we confess that we’re not well paid at the midlist level, we lose their respect. Instead, mention how much attention to detail and hard work goes into writing….

One of the traits of a good writer is that we’re good listeners. (That’s where the characters and their voices come from.) We must consider their questions no matter how much we’d like to snap back, “I’m writing about you and your dysfunctional family!”

I’m especially sensitive to that “cocktail conversation question”. My grandmother (born in 1876) wrote a wonderful memoir spanning her life from 1879 until she was about 25. Historical times. At age 78 she was still taking her treasure, Virgin Timber, to parties my family attended among their New York interior design clients, many of whom were in advertising and journalism. Where was the ghost writer for The Last Confederate Widow then? Although Grandmother spent numerous hours, sober and selling, she couldn’t make a dent in their jaded conversations.

After her death, I sent her original manuscript along with a big color picture of her at her 103rd birthday party, to the town about which she had written. The picture shows a regal woman with a long straight neck and intelligent eyes. I kept copies of her story for the family and used her remembrances for research. She had documented the lumber business in the 1800’s before the Shay Engine moved the trees to their next destination. A detailed account of lumberjacking appears in my book, The World, the flesh and the Devil.

Answers to: What do you write? Where do you get your ideas? Do you write about people you know? How long did it take to get published? And nowadays questions about self-publishing are on the tips of my lips as the party heats up.

 Julie Eberhart Painter, is the Champagne Books author of Mortal Coil, Tangled Web, and the 2011 Book of the Year, Kill Fee and the sequel, Medium Rare. Daughters of the Sea, new this year are a paranormal and a southern drama from http://www.MuseItUp
Visit Julie’s Web site at

Sunday, September 7, 2014

We Are Tiny - Thank Goodness

You might remember one of the most famous photos of our planet. It's often referred to as the Pale Blue Dot. Taken from the Voyager I space probe in 1990, it shows the entire planet Earth as a tiny pale blue speck, less than a pixel.

A friend of mine reminded me of this photo when she shared a video clip with Carl Sagan narrating the story of the Pale Blue Dot and its meaning. All we are, have been, and will ever be, all of human history, our wars and battles, our triumphs and failures, our love affairs, families, communities, arts, books, everything about being human takes place on this tiny speck of the vast universe.

The images and narration combine to create a beautiful story of both our insignificance and our importance.

As writers, we invest effort in capturing detail. The color of a leaf turning from green to gold to faded brown. The sound of rain pattering on a metal roof. The taste of corn bread made the right way, melting like golden honey in your mouth. The gentle caress of a lover tingling across warm skin. These details are important, as they carry our stories through the imaginations of our readers.

Yet, as Sagan says in the video clip, the perspective from outer space reinforces the significance of how we treat one another and our planet. In hindsight, An Alien's Guide to World Domination, my first novel, is about the same message.

That every once in a while, we need to step back and see our whole world as one small detail in the life of this boundless and ever-changing universe.

You can view the video clip here.

Elizabeth Fountain writes fiction about the humor of everyday life, often set in alternative universes just like our own, but different. You can find her books and read more of her thoughts about writing, baseball, music, and life at her author blog, Point No Point.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Attitudes Change So Slowly

Our college has an across the curriculum theme book as a teaching device this term, Annie’s Ghost, A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg. It is a nonfiction (shouldn’t we have come up with a better name for true stories long before now?) narrative about a Jewish family in Detroit. In the 90s the Luxenberg children learned shortly before their mother’s death that she had a sister. They grew up believing their mother an only child. Steve set out to find his lost Aunt Annie. We (professors) talked about how to use this book yesterday. It has multiple themes, the first being, as the title indicates, family secrets.

As composition instructors who frequently assign narrative essays soon learn, it is always surprising what horrors students are willing to disclose. Not all of them had my secure childhood.  It’s really scary. We talked about how sharing family secrets could cause trouble. Authors should feel free to tell anything about themselves that they wish to, but when telling the secrets of a family member or members, other issues rear up. Two of these concerns include ethics and the possibility of harming someone. We talked a lot about family secrets. It seems we all have them. As an author, Steve Luxenburg was well aware of the duality dilemma of his position as author and family member. What could or should he tell?

There was more. Annie was both physically and mentally handicapped, possibly raped. In 1940, at age twenty-two, Michigan incarcerated Annie at Eloise in Wayne County, an asylum for the homeless and those deemed insane, because her parents were too poor to get better care. She was supposed to stay for a three-day assessment, but that shortly turned to a life sentence that had little to due with Annie's diagnosis. She lived there until her death in 1972, visited by her mother when she could find someone to driver her to Eloise, and no one after her mother's death. At the time, families still often hid from public notice any member who might embarrass them, especially those with various types of mental conditions such as low IQs to those with obvious mental disturbances. This of course lead us to a discussion of how we treat those different from us, and not just the mentally ill or handicapped. For Annie and thousands of other men and women it meant oblivion. They were literally lost as individuals, forgotten by their families, their names, life histories, diagnosis, and even burials, often lost in bureaucratic labyrinths.

A few decades ago many of these ‘insane asylums’ were closed. I remember seeing the 1966 edition of Christmas in Purgatory, A Photographic Essay on Mental Retardation by Burton Blatt and Fred Kaplain. Their photo essay alerted the public about the dismal and inhuman conditions found in many institutions. Now we don’t have enough psychiatric beds in hospitals to treat all of our soldiers coming home with PTSD, let alone the requirements for our non-military population. I remember walking in Washington DC after the Vietnam War and seeing homeless soldiers. How do I know they were soldiers? They told ever passersby about how their country showed appreciation for their service. I now wonder how many of those homeless suffered PTSD with no help or understanding. Perhaps their claims as soldiers were not true, but I think they were, and I doubt our facilities were any better then, perhaps worse. Such conditions tell a lot about us as a people.

There are more intriguing themes in Annie's Ghost such as why such a large Jewish population migrated to Detroit. It gave some background on Detroit’s history that interested me as a Michigander, and an example of the horrors Jews faced in Eastern Europe (Ukraine) during WWII. In the last few years I've met many Christian refugees from the Ukraine, I can't imagine what it was like being Jewish. Besides learning of previously unknown family, Luxenberg told of his problems tracking family genealogy, and the frustration of hitting one dead end after another in research. All edifying topics, not only for students, but for me.

I will use this book in one of my classes, but it will be challenging. On the other hand, as a writer, I know the impact of this narrative reinforced many human conditions I can use in my own writing.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Toe dipping – test the water first

Michael W. Davis

Being a “take charge and haul butt” kind of guy, my strategy in past endeavors has always been to set out a plan then execute to its full potential. Always worked, given my gut insights sounded true in most areas. Early in my writing career I learned that this “full speed ahead” tactic was a disaster. Why? Because my gut sense no longer held true in this new to me world of book promotion. I’ll provide two examples.

One of the first marketing avenues I adopted was advertisement. I mean, it’s always been out there, haunting our every move. Gotta work, right? Big mistake. After spending four grand I learned, least for me, ads suck in terms of providing any return on your investment. For every dollar I spent, I got a nickel back.

Here’s another example. I heard about using videos to market your books so, given my nature, I jumped in with both feet and spent days preparing four trailers, loaded then on a dozen video posting outlets then monitored my web site hits to evaluate the effect. Again, the return was negligible. Oh sure, if someone visited my site and happened to watch one on my videos, their tendency to buy was much higher than if they did not view the trailer, but that was not my original purpose. Plus, given the VERY few that passed through my video page, it really wasn’t worth the effort.

My point is, I’ve now learned that with any new hearsay promotion avenue dealing with pushing my books, I dip my toe in the water, sample if it actually works first before committing major resources. Unfortunately, many of the promotion activities we think will provide significant return never pan out. In fact of the two dozen plus methods I’ve experimented with, those that result in reasonable return number about the same as the digits on my left hand. In the future, I’ll share one that definitely has worked for me, festivals, but only when you prepare and execute properly. I plan to take photos of two this fall and I’ll discuss what I’ve learned as the key to success. Till then, have a good one.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Best Apps for Writers

People say phones are a distraction.  Numerous studies, even, have been conducted on the multitude of ways that using smart phones has harmed or hindered us.  As a college student, I know well that, all too often, smart phones are used to enable laziness and procrastination—just look around most any college library.  However, I also believe that, if used wisely, smart phones possess a great potential for good, especially if you are a writer.  In my efforts to prove this, I have compiled a list of 15 of the best apps that will help you get your book accomplished.  No smart phone?  No worries. Many of the apps have corresponding websites that work just as well. Check ‘em out!


This app analyzes your writing, highlights the difficult-to-read passages, and gives you suggestions for improving it.

For Web.   


If you are collaborating with a friend, keeping track of your own writing projects, or just buying groceries, Wunderlist is almost like a spare brain.  And there’s nothing like that feeling of checking off a box.

For Android, for iPhone, for Web.  


It lets you map out idea flow charts, which it calls “Mind Maps.”  These are great for fleshing out ideas and plots or for charting character progressions.  MindNode really gets your ideas out of your mind’s eye so that your physical eyes can see them too.

For iPhone, for Web


Just like the website, it’s a near-bottomless source of knowledge.  It might not contain all the information you need for your next book, but it can be a great starting place when mapping out research for your novel.  

For Android, for iPhone, for Web

But what about Spell Check, right?  In addition to showing you how to spell words correctly, also serves up intriguing words fresh every day.  This keeps your brain juices flowing and lets you improve your vocabulary by learning something new.  

For Android, for iPhone, for Web

B Rhymes:

For all of you closest (and not so closet) poets out there, this app just might be your new best friend.  You simply punch the word you’re seeking to rhyme into the search bar and it will give you every possible rhyme and slant rhyme.

For Android, for iPhone.

Dragon Dictation:

Don’t have time to write?  With Dragon Dictation, it’s not a problem.  When you use this app, you can “write” without writing.  Simply dictate what you want to say and Dragon copies it down for you, almost like a personal assistant.


Need a way of keeping track of your ideas?  Use Evernote!  It is a virtual notebook with cloud capabilities—meaning you can access it on your desktop, your laptop, your phone, or your tablet. And if you’re a college student like me, you can record lectures and seminars right into your notes. And you can add pictures and diagrams into your notes too.  It really is very incredible.

For Android, for iPhone, for Web. 

Som Note:

Somewhat similar to Evernote, but perhaps a little more colorful.  And the world could always use more color, right?

For Android, for iPhone, for Web.


Someone once said that to write well you must read often.  The free Kindle app grants you access to over 1 million eBook downloads on your phone.  With a library that size, you could literally read until the end of time.

For Android, for iPhone.  


Just like the literary website, but for your phone!

For Android, for iPhone, for Web.


It lets you block certain sites from your phone or computer for a certain period of time so that you will be less distracted and better able to write that novel.  Besides, who couldn’t use more self control?

For Android.  

Write or Die:

It lets you set goals for your writing projects and even allows you to set punishments for yourself if those goals are not met.  Use caution with this one, friends.  The disappointed face of Grumpy Cat greeting you if you fail to complete your tasks is pretty terrifying. Be afraid…?

For Web.

Spice Mobile:

Looking to spice up your writing?  Tired of using the same old adjectives?  Spice Mobile allows you to search the writings of Shakespeare and Dickens and many others to find some new word-choice inspiration.

For Android, for iPhone.  


In the pursuit of muse-worthy music?  Pandora is a hefty serving of internet radio with a side of freedom.  It allows you to create your own stations.  You can choose soft, slow music to get your thoughts moving or even something a little more epic to get your blood pumping.  Whatever mood you’re in or whatever project you’re working on, Pandora will undoubtedly have something to fit the bill.

For Android, for iPhone, for Web.  

Well, that's about all I've got right now, but these apps have been a huge help to me.  If you know of any other amazing writing apps, feel free to leave them in a comment!


Hannah Lokos is a college student and an author.   Her novel of historical fiction, Labyrinth of Lies, is based on the true back story of a Greek myth and will keep you guessing till the end.  She also has lately taken to making chocolate. Find her on Facebook or Google+ or check out her website!

Remember, There is Life Outside of Writing

When I get deep into a writing project I start to forget about my actual life. You know, things like my family, friends, work around the house and so on.

That focus makes me highly effective at getting the writing done. It is also very effective to alienate the important people and things in my life. It is when I am most focused that I have to work hardest to step back and do the everyday things.

Nothing exemplifies that more than how I forgot to let my spouse know about a writing convention I was attending. To make matters worse, I was launching a book at the conference.

We have a family calendar that everyone is expected to write any significant events on. I, naturally forgot. When my spouse asked me if I had everything on the calendar, I blindly (or is it, stupidly) said, "yes". That was in March. With that affirmation, my wife went ahead and booked our vacation (for the following August)

Fast forward several months when it finally occurred to me that I might have a problem. You see, the writing convention started the same day we were going on vacation. My book launch was three days into our vacation.

I realized my faux pas and apologized to my wife. I told her that it was my mistake and I would miss the book launch because, "the only reason I'm able to write is because of the sacrifices of my family."

Did I mention my spouse is wonderful?

I probably didn't, but she is. She came up with a way to do both the writing convention and join up with the family a few days late.

Despite that good fortune, it reminded me that I need to pay more attention to what is going on around me. Even when I'm having a great session of writing, I have to come back up for air. I have to see what I'm neglecting so I can reprioritize my schedule to accommodate everything.

Even if it means I don't spend as much time writing. Because writing, no matter how much I love it, cannot ever replace the people around me.

Random Thoughts on Writing Captivating Heroes

Here's a few thoughts to help you Create an Unforgettable Hero:

Find the character's Achilles' heel—his/her greatest fear or weakness or vulnerability.
That's the character's internal conflict.
Now crush it.
That's the external conflict in the book.
The crushing is your plot.

WARNING: Do not develop a perfect hero. Perfect people are boring and boring is deadly--especially in lead characters.

An Important reminder on heroes:

Heroes are the people we want to be. So it's important to remember why we want to be like them.

Being a hero is not about what a man does.
It’s about who a man or woman is—it’s about character.
A man’s character governs what he does, to whom, and how.
His character is what makes us deem him heroic.

To hammer that reminder, I'm going to use hero. Know that is a synonym for protagonist and not gender-bias.

The method used to create novel elements, including an unforgettable hero, is insignificant. What is significant is developing an unforgettable hero, incorporating specific and universal character traits that appeal to the majority of us and are perceived by us as heroic. We craft the remaining novel elements--plot, structure, tone, theme--to support and prove the hero is worthy of the name.

A character wants something. If no one, or nothing stands in the way of getting it, then you have no conflict, no story. So the writer needs an antagonist--a villain.
Who most wants to stop the protagonist, and why? What motivates the villain? What does s/he have at risk? Are the actions s/he will take in this novel worthy of a respectable villain? And are both the protagonist and antagonist likely to be found in this setting?

Story people emulate real people, though they are actually just the creative genius of the writer who develops them. Creating something or someone from nothing and convincing others the creation is real is creative genius. As writers, our key responsibility in the creation process is to craft specific characters for specific story roles. Every character has to grow and change by the events encountered in the novel. Not as a reaction to what happens--reactionary characters are victims--but as a direct result of his or
her choices made by experiencing novel events. This is where the angelic gems of simultaneous development of story people become evident.

Readers' most beloved characters are ones they most strongly identify with--people like them. Admirable people who entertain them. Writers, remember that readers' are armchair adventurers who want to explore interesting places, dynamic events, and hard issues--but they want to do it from the safety of their recliners. Our characters give them the opportunity. Story people aren't truly like readers, but they are like the people readers want to be. They're admirable, heroic, logical. They have common sense, worthy goals, and they are tough opponents. Strong qualities--and that goes for villains, too.
The main characters are all, in a word, competent.

Competent characters can carry a lot of weight--face more complex challenges that are worthy of our admiration. No unforgettable hero is incompetent. If a geek, he has other amazing qualities. If an Alpha guy, he has heightened sensitivity. If somewhere in between, he has other female-potent qualities that
make women admire, respect, trust and adore him. His obstacles are credible, difficult and his motivations are ones women consider heroic.


Heroic men are multidimensional: physical, emotional, social and spiritual. Writers cue readers on all dimensions with details. Everything about a hero—speech patterns, body language, job, interactions with others; internal and external, physical and emotional actions and responses to other’s actions--identify him as heroic. No hero without clearly depicted universal and unique traits is unforgettable.

Universal Traits

Universal traits are those most of us, as human beings, identify with and feel empathetic toward, and are typically tied to emotions.

Core-level universal feelings. Emotional reactions that many of us human beings share.
Not all of us have had the same experience in which the character is currently engaged in our book, but we understand what the character is feeling. We all can associate love, hate, shame, embarrassment, humiliation, fear, grief, and/or guilt. We understand the feelings even if the event itself is alien to us. These are our common bonds with most other human beings. These are our universal traits.

Unique traits are those applicable to us. Convictions, ethics, beliefs, social mores--all of those traits that come as a result of our personal histories, backgrounds, and experiences. Those traits that mold our unique characters. Force us to take a stand, to see where on the fence we sit. We choose what we
emphasize in our character, and that makes us unique.

An unforgettable hero reacts as the majority of us do to these emotional triggers.

Unique Individual Traits

The unforgettable hero, defined on all three levels, holds significant universal appeal and yet must be highly specific to the individual to set him apart from every other male in the novel.

Giving the reader the physical attributes provides a photograph of the hero, but even when amazingly attractive, it’s flat and dull.

At times, we all have to pick ourselves up and press on, just as we know that at times we need to kick ourselves in the butt and remember: "We are not the person we were. We are the person we've become." That’s critical insight into an unforgettable hero.

Our experiences and insights gained from those unique individuals experiences, make us grow and change, providing us with the tools--emotional and spiritual--needed to meet challenges constructively. Heroes meet challenges constructively.
Like I said, these are random thoughts. Let me know if you have anymore.