Monday, June 30, 2008

Book Review: Act Two: A Novel in Perfect Pitch by Kimberly Stuart


I just finished reading Kimberly Stuart's book Act Two: A Novel in Perfect Pitch. I always hope I'm going to like a book that I'm reviewing--and I'm happy to say I thoroughly enjoyed Act Two. The faith angle was delicately woven through the plot and her characters were believable--some quirky, some appealing, some laugh-out-loud funny. I would have like to see Mac's character developed a bit more, but overall I heartily recommend Stuart's book as a great summer read!

An almost-has-been opera diva stranded on a pig farm in Iowa? Where did you get the idea for the book?
I can’t possibly reveal that to the blogosphere, and I say that only partly because I’ve always wanted to use the word blogosphere. The other reason is that this one percolated for awhile. There was no lightning bolt moment. But I will say that I’m always interested in putting quirky characters in situations that make them woefully uncomfortable and allow the reader to laugh with gusto both at and with the character. A New York opera diva on a farm seemed like a situation that might work for that purpose.

You've got arias versus country music and uptown versus rural. But what else is Act Two about?
Grace, redemption, my love and respect for both urban and rural dwellers, and the under-used gift of laughter.

What kind of research did you have to do for the book?
It was intense. Lots of dangerous, Indiana Jones-type adventures, plenty of nights under the stars and without food or running water. Actually, I traveled to New York and was shuttled around by dear friends who love their city and were infectious in their excitement.
I also relied heavily on dear friends who own a pig farm in northwestern Iowa. Anything I got right on this end is due to their diligence. Anything I goofed is my fault entirely. My husband will tell you I don’t always listen well.

Check out Kimberly's Web site. (Pssst! While you're there, enter her contest to win an iPod Nano!)

Here are the blogs featuring Kimberly during our June 30-July 11 tour.
A Christain Romance Writer’s Journey
Behind the Mountain
Blog Tour Spot
Book Nook Club
Book Room Reviews
Canadian Prairie Writer
Chatter Matters
FictionaryFootprints in the Sand
Gatorskunz and Mudcats
His Reading List
I Don’t Wanna Blog
In the Dailies
Kells Creative Musings
Life with Missy
Lighthouse Academy
Musings on This, That, and the Other
Net’s Notes
Real Women Scrap
Refresh My Soul
See Ya On the Net
Sips ‘N Cups Cafe
So Many Books. . . So Little Time
The Friendly Book Nook
The Law, Books and Life
The Surrendered Scribe
Toni V. Lee
Write by Faith
Writing on the Edge

Friday, June 27, 2008

Words Existing Only in the Plural Form

English is a strange and fascinating language. www.askoxford.com lists words that have no singular form. They include:

Names of instruments: bellows, binoculars, forceps, gallows, glasses, pliers, scissors, shears, and tongs.

Names of articles of dress: braces, briefs, flannels, jeans, knickers, pants, pajamas, shorts, tights, and trousers.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Author Interview with Marlo Schalesky: Part 2

Read Part 1 of this interview here.

Who has helped you along The Writing Road?
My husband, Bryan, has been a huge help along the writing road. Besides being wonderful with support and encouragement, he’s also my first reader for everything I write, watches the kids regularly to give me writing time, and continues to believe that God has asked me to do this writing thing, even when everything doesn’t go as I hope.

Other than that, Ken Petersen (who used to be at Tyndale and is now at Waterbrook-Multnomah) was the first editor to believe in me and my work. My agent, Steve Laube, has been a great source of encouragement and support as well.

And then, of course, there are my writing friends, like Tricia Goyer and Cindy Martinusen, who have been with me (and me with them) through the long process of trying to get published, hoping, dreaming, etc. Back before any of us were published, we used to read each other’s manuscripts and give encouragement, critique, and advice.

What keeps you motivated to move along The Writing Road?
Those moments when I know, without a doubt, that writing is really partnering with God in the creative process. Those moments when it feels like I’m listening in on his musings. That’s what keeps me motivated.

And I’m finding that there are times in every book when I see something, when I write something, that I did not plan, did not expect, and didn’t realize the story had been leading up to. That’s when I feel the touch of God, I sense His pleasure, and it’s like getting a glimpse of heaven. I love those those flashes when I know that this is what God has been doing, and the story impacts my heart and life in some new and wondrous way.

Of course, don’t ask me about those other times – when I’m staring at the blank screen, the clock is ticking, and I can’t think of a single thing to write that doesn’t sound like the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. There are plenty of those times too.

But I gotta say, those times when I glimpse God’s vision for a story are worth all the others when I don’t. And those are the moments that this Writing Road is the just where God wants me to be.

What's coming up for you next along The Writing Road?
I’m writing 3 contemporary novels for Waterbrook-Multnomah (a division of Random House). All of them are “Love Stories with a Twist!,” a new type of story that I think will knock readers’ socks off. These stories combine the poignancy of a Nicholas Sparks-type love story with a jaw-dropping M. Night Shymalan-type ending twist.
The first, Beyond the Night, was just released. You can read more about it here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Top 25 Most Commonly Used Verbs

“Why indeed must ''God'' be a noun? Why not a verb—the most active and dynamic of all.”—Mary Daly
Based on the evidence of the billion-word Oxford English Corpus, the most frequently used verbs found in writing around the world include:

1. be
2. have
3. do
4. say
5. get
6. make
7. go
8. know
9. take
10. see
11. come
12. think
13. look
14. want
15. give
16. use
17. find
18. tell
19. ask
20. work
21. seem
22. feel

23. try
24. leave
25. call

This verb list expresses basic concepts. The bolded words in the list above are weak verbs to delete and replace. To improve your writing, consider finding other words instead of the top 25 most used verbs.

Weak verbs form their past tense by adding –ed. Strong or active verbs form their past tense by changing a vowel, i.e., swim, swam, swum, or other changes, i.e. fly, flew, flown.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Author Interview with Marlo Schalesky: Part 1

What got you started along The Writing Road?
When I was thirteen years old, I wrote a poem on the bus on the way to school. It was about an old tree, forlorn and desolate, standing alone in a field. I read that poem at every recess, tweaked it, polished it, and for the first time, felt the thrill of how the written word can convey profound beauty. That day, I fell in love with writing.

Shortly after that, I told my mother (with all the angst of a newly-turned teenager), “I will just die if I don’t write!” So naturally when I grew up I decided to get my degree in Chemistry. And, oddly enough, I didn’t die. I enjoyed chemistry. But always that desire to write was with me, in the back of my mind, saying “Someday, someday.”

Someday finally came. I started writing articles for various magazines and putting out proposals for book projects. I thought it would be easy to get my first book published, but alas, it took years of writing and honing my craft (6 years, in fact). And more than that, it took giving up my dream entirely. For me, I had to come to a place in my heart where I didn’t have to write to be content. I had to let go of that strong desire born at thirteen years old and embrace God’s will for me whether that will included writing or not. Only then, only when my dream had given way to God’s, was I offered a contract by Crossway Books for my first published book, Cry Freedom, in 1999.

What are some obstacles for you along The Writing Road?
Early on my Writing Road, my biggest obstacle was wanting it too badly. Our culture tells us to pursue our dreams, reach for the sky, dream big, nothing’s impossible if only you try hard enough. Sounds good. But for me, that philosophy was deadly. I needed to completely surrender my dreams in order to live God’s. It was like ripping out part of my soul. But it was worth it. Now, when I write, it can be an act of worship and obedience, instead of something that’s all about me and my dreams.

And yet, these days, I find that self-doubt is my biggest obstacle. Every time I start a new book, I find myself muttering “What was I thinking?!!? I can’t write this book! Why did I ever think I could do this?” Right now I’m at the beginning of a new book, so of course all those doubts are raging. But this time I’m reminding myself that this always happens. I just need to push through, do my best, trust God, and the story will come.

To Be Continued!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Is Attention to Detail Your Writing Trademark?

“An image is not simply a trademark, a design, a slogan or an easily remembered picture. It is a studiously crafted personality profile of an individual, institution, corporation, product, or service.”—Daniel J. Boorstin

It was a tough week last week. My main sewer drain backed up. Mopping up was not fun. A better description? Gag!

Did I need Roto-Rooter Man or Plumber Guy? I made a couple of phone calls to obtain a testosterone-laiden recommendation. Beth called Rob, her husband. He suggested Mr. Roto-Rooter. Another blue gene referral, Daddy Warbucks, recommended, “A plumber.”

In my mind, “plumber” means MegaBigBucks. Mr. Roto-Rooter? Just BigBucks.

Remember this jingle? “Call Roto-Rooter, that's the name, and away go troubles down the drain.” I called Mr. Generic Roto-Rooter, who claimed to be cheaper in the yellow pages than Mr. Genuine Roto-Rooter was.

De-Throned: Don’t Flush This Down the Toilet
The problem was of my own doing—throwing stuff down the toilet that I knew I shouldn’t. What a relief to know that the problem was not roots strangling my drain and pocket book. I was so grateful my plumbing did not have mega-serious problems. So much so that I happily paid $166. In return, Mr. Generic Roto-Rooter Man handed me a bag with the goodies obstructing my drain. Gag!

I’ve often coveted the turbo toilet that flushes 29 golf balls with the twist of the wrist, plus anything else you desire to throw into it. What they do not tell you is: your main drain may not accept 29 golf balls.

Trademark Checklist
I wondered, Are roto-rooter or yellow pages trademarked names? Nope. Usually, I Google the word. If ™ is after the word, it’s trademarked. I discovered the International Trademark Association (INTA), which assists authors, writers, journalists, editors, proofreaders, copywriters and fact checkers with proper trademark usage. It includes listings for nearly 3,000 U.S. registered trademarks and service marks with their generic terms as well as proper capitalization and punctuation.

Inserting a Trademark Symbol

There are two ways to insert a ™.

The First Way Is Longer
Click where you want to insert the symbol.
On the Insert menu, click Special Characters.
Click on the Trademark symbol.
Click on Insert.
Click on Close.

This Way Is Quicker
Click on Alt, control, T.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Glimpse of One Writer's Journey Along the Writing Road

We all have our paths along the writing road.
My friend Roxanne's travels have taken her places she never imagined. Her dreams of publication have been delayed as she raised 7 children. Home schooled them. Experienced 2 late-in-life pregnancies. And then the unimaginable heartache of the death of her husband just a little more than a year ago.
Within Roxanne beats the heart of a writer. She is talented--I've laughed out loud when reading her WIPs. And she's won several writing awards that back up my claim. But her progress along the writing road has been interrupted by real life.
When I first tried my hand at fiction a few months back--during a time of burnout--the only person I told was Roxanne. She encouraged me. Read my oh-so-rough draft. Offered gentle critiques. I knew I could trust her with my fledgling dream.
For more of Roxanne's story and the lesson's she's gleaned, visit The Seekers, a blog about "writing, contests, publication and everything in between." Roxanne's the guest blogger today.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Get Organized: Submission Tracking Tool

Another Tool You Can Use
I’ve been trying to figure out a way to track my submissions and store writing guidelines. I found a FREE tracking software tool. Sonar is simple to use.

It Tracks—
Story/Article Submissions: word count, genre, payment, plus notes.
Market Details: address, contact information, URL, and guidelines. You can even print a mailing label.
Submission Details: publisher, submission date, sold, published, payment, plus space for notes.

Now I just have to enter all the articles I’ve submitted. Sonar also filters a list of manuscripts that are gathering dust and available to be sent out.

Try Sonar out. It's a quick download.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Beyond the Night by Marlo Schalesky

I know Marlo Schalesky for two reasons: She is a writer (like me) and she is a late-in-life mom (also like me.) I met Marlo when I interviewed her for my book Baby Changes Everything: Embracing and Preparing for Motherhood after 35.

Marlo Schalesky is the award winning author of six books, including Veil of Fire, a novel about finding hope in the fires of life, Empty Womb, Aching Heart- Hope and Help for Those Struggling with Infertility, and Cry Freedom.

Marlo's newest book, Beyond the Night, hit the bookstores yesterday. She's celebrating by having a wonderful contest with a chance to win a fun-filled bag of items related to Beyond the Night. The book combines a love story with a surprise ending twist to create a new type of novel that Marlo hopes will impact readers at their deepest levels.

Beyond the Night is available at your local Christian bookstore, many regular bookstores, and online at sites such as Amazon and Christianbook.

You can keep up with Margo at her blog.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tools You Can Use: The Elements of Style

"Omit needless words."—William Strunk, Jr.

The original version of The Elements of Style is available online for FREE. This classic reference book is a must-have for writers. It concentrates on the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated.

Monday, June 16, 2008

AP Stylebook Online

**First things first: Four brave souls--all women, I might add--braved the Scripps National Spelling Bee Challenge. Amy won a $10 Starbucks gift card. Contact me via my Web site and I'll get the gift card to you!**

As a magazine editor, I frequently refer to the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook with questions about punctuation, capitalization and such. I still have the copy I bought for my Journalism 101 class way-back when. Now you can access the Stylebook, a.k.a. "The Journalist's Bible," online at http://www.apstylebook.com/.
It's so handy to be able to go back and forth between a document I'm editing and the online Stylebook by just tabbing back and forth between the two. The online Stylebook also lets me compile my own custom stylebook of notes--keeping track of those tricky questions that seem to trip me up over and over again.
Does the punctuation mark go inside or outside the paranthesis? My online resource tells me:
PUNCTUATION: Place a period outside a closing parenthesis if the material inside is not a sentence (such as this fragment).
(An independent parenthetical sentence such as this one takes a period before the closing parenthesis.)
If you don't find the answer you're looking for, there's the "Ask the Editor" option, where you can e-mail your question directly to AP editor David Minthorn. And if you have a question about the AP or news in general, you can take advantage of the "Ask AP" option.
An individual annual subscription is $25. If you're a journalist or writing regularly for magazines, it's money well-spent.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Find Writers Guidelines for FREE

Have you ever found it frustrating trying to find writing guidelines for certain publications? If your budget is too tight to purchase a book or online membership listing writer’s markets, the links below will take you to writing guidelines databases that don't require a membership fee.

FREE Writing Guideline Databases

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Random Quotes for Writers

**There's still time to try and win a $10 Starbucks card by taking the National Spelling Bee Challenge. Read about in this post.**

I'm staring down a deadline or two and enduring a mild case of blogger's block. It's like writer's block, only it involves not being able to come up with a decent thing to post about.
So, I decided to pull my copy of Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul off my bookshelf and flip through it, praying for inspiration. What I found were a lot of good quotes. Here are a few of my favorites:

Words are clothes that thoughts wear. ~ Samuel Butler

When I want to read a good book, I write one. ~ Benjamin Disraeli

A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit. ~ Richard Bach

All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.
~F. Scott Fitzgerald

When you speak, your words echo only across the room or down the hall. But when you write, your words echo down the ages. ~ Bud Gardner

Talent is long patience. ~ Gustave Flaubert

When you write from the heart, you not only light the dark path of your readers, you light your own way as well. ~ Marjorie Holmes

Have compassion for yourself when you write. There is no failure--just a big field to wander in. ~ Natalie Goldberg

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Naming Your Unforgettable Character: Tools You Can Use

“I want to feel passion, I want to feel pain. I want to weep at the sound of your name. Come make me laugh, come make me cry... just make me feel alive.” —Joey Lauren Adams

What’s in a Name?
Trying to find the right name for your characters? Names change over time. Choose a popular name that fits the historical period of your story. The Social Security Administration lists the most popular names by year for every year since 1880. It also lists the five most frequent given names for male and female babies born between 1908-2007.

Researching Names

Below you will find some websites to help you research names for your characters.

First Names

This is an internet-based name generator.

The sites below list first names.

Contains 20,000 names from around the world.
Provides a first name by country origin and the meaning.
Includes 43 links other naming websites.
Lists 12 links to other naming websites.


Research surnames on the links below.
Search for surnames and their meanings.
Find the ethnic origin and meaning of last names.
This is the Google directory of surname sites.

Avoid a Lawsuit
After you’ve named your character, Google the name. If your person lives in a town named in your book or article, check that town’s phone book to make sure no one by that name lives there.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How Would You Do at the National Spelling Bee?


I remember spelling bees during my elementary school days.
My classmates and I would line up along the walls of our classroom. Our teacher would read off the words and we would take turns spelling them. I usually did pretty well. Sometimes I even won.
But that was long, long ago.
As an author and magazine editor, I pride myself on my spelling ability. But I would not want to go up against any of those kids who particpate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
On the Web site, there's a link to a spelling challenge to see if you can spell with the best. I decided to give it a go. Let's just say I was informed I wouldn't qualify for the quarterfinals--and that was with my husband's help.

I double-dog dare you to take the challenge. Here's a hint: Don't forget to use capital letters!
Let me know how you do. How about this? Anyone who takes the challenge and posts back here during the week to tell me how you did, I'll put your name in a drawing for a $10 Starbucks gift card!

Want to brush up on your spelling? Check out the Study Zone over at the Scripps National Spelling Bee's Web site. Among other things, you'll find the Consolidated Word List, a compilation of over 100 Scripps National Spelling Bee word lists dating as far back as 1950. It's 794 pages!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Writing to Encourage Others: Devotions that Inspire

Tonight at Springs Writers, Jeanne Harmon is teaching a writing workshop "Writing to Encourage Others: Devotions That Inspire." She is an author, editor, and speaker, with over fifteen year’s experience in Christian publishing. As Senior Editor of Children’s Books, she co-authored the book, Become a Children’s Book Author, and has written over twenty children’s books, as well as numerous devotionals, book reviews, articles, and Sunday school curriculum.

The speaker usually provides a content rich handout. I also prepare a handout for the attendees. If they want to pursue the topic further, they have the resources to do so. Below you will find information included the Springs Writers Resource Handout.

Online Articles Tips for Writing Devotionals

To read each article, click on the title.

Help! I Want To Write Devotions
Help! I Want To Be A Christian Devotion Writer
D-E-V-O-T-E-D: Seven Steps For Writing Devotionals That Sell
Inspirational Writing: 4 FREE Lessons
Writing the Word on the Web
You Can Write Powerful Devotionals!

Writing Success 101:Devotional Writer
How Religious Does It Have to Be?
Aspire to Inspire
Ten Steps to Writing Devotionals

8 Simple Steps to Writing a Devotional - Part I
8 Spiritual Principles in Writing a Devotional Part II

Online Writing Guidelines for Devotional Articles or Books

Below you will find a few links to publishers who either publish devotionals or devotional books.


Friday, June 6, 2008

Tools You Can Use: One Stop Online Dictionary

Find, Define and Translate Words
OneLook Dictionary is a OneLook® search engine, indexing over 1000 online dictionaries, including more than 12 million words.

Save Time
You can find, define, and translate words at one web site. You can browse different types of dictionaries: General, Art, Business, Computing, Medicine, Miscellaneous, Religion, Science, Slang, Sports, and Technology.

Reverse Dictionary
OneLook's reverse dictionary lets you describe a concept and get back a list of words and phrases related to that concept.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Another Cure for Writer's Block

My deadline was Friday.
It was Wednesday.
And my article was dead in the water.
I had nothing. Not a beginning. Or a middle. Or an end.
In my defense, I hadn't ignored my deadline. I'd tried writing something. Anything. The tried and true writer's rule: Just throw up on the page, produced nothing but dry heaves.
What's a writer to do?
In my case, I took my blank Word document to my writers group.
Want a sure-fire cure for Writer's Block?
Tiffany, Scoti and I gathered around Scoti's table. The first thing I did was read them the editor's notes about what she wanted for the article. That way we all knew what I was supposed to be aiming for.
Then I handed them a page with some extremely sketchy ideas: a quote, a sentence, a phrase. Maybe something would prove to be worth nurturing into an article.
Scoti manned the laptop, ready to take notes.
Tiffany asked questions. (She's very good at it.)
I talked. I told them the lead sentences I'd thought of and discarded. I told them stories. I told them what I thought the article was about--and what it wasn't about.
Scoti typed.
Tiffany questioned.
I talked some more.
They told me what they liked. What they thought might work. What they thought was a rabbit trail or was done to death.
By the time I got home from the group, Scoti's notes were in my inbox. I printed them out and used them as a guide to start pulling together an article. I sent Scoti and Tiffany two drafts to critique on Wednesday. Another two drafts on Thursday. On Friday, I submitted my article on time.
And the editor loved it.
Once again, I thank God for my writers group.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tools You Can Use: Unconfuse Confusing Words

Do you pause for a second before typing a certain word? Writers often misuse or abuse words that are pronounced alike (homonyms) or sound similar, but have different meanings.

What Words Confuse You?
Lay and lie?
Affect or effect?
Insure vs. ensure
Accept or except

Confusing Words contains a collection of over 3000 troublesome words. To double-check the word in question, type in that word. You’ll see words grouped according to the way they are most often confused or misused.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Any Fantasy Writers Out There?

While I admit to wandering from my nonfiction roots and trying my hand at fiction--Wait! One of my characters is talking! I need to get this line of dialogue down before I continue this post.
Sorry about that.
Anyways, while I'm having some fun with fiction this summer, I'm sticking with this world, rather than delving into fantasy. But I came across The Fantasy Novelist's Exam, with thanks to Josh over at Through a glass, darkly.
The exam was compiled by David J. Parker and Samuel Stoddard. Here's reasoning for the exam:

Ever since J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis created the worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia, it seems like every windbag off the street thinks he can write great, original fantasy, too. The problem is that most of this "great, original fantasy" is actually poor, derivative fantasy. Frankly, we're sick of it, so we've compiled a list of rip-off tip-offs in the form of an exam. We think anybody considering writing a fantasy novel should be required to take this exam first. Answering "yes" to any one question results in failure and means that the prospective novel should be abandoned at once.

Here's a glance at some of the questions, picked at random because they made me laugh. Go here for the entire exam--there are 75 questions in all.
  • Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages?
  • Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world?
    How about one that will destroy it?
  • Does "a forgetful wizard" describe any of the characters in your novel?
  • Did you make the elves and the dwarves great friends, just to be different?
    Does everybody under four feet tall exist solely for comic relief?
    Do you think that the only two uses for ships are fishing and piracy?
  • Did you draw a map for your novel which includes places named things like "The Blasted Lands" or "The Forest of Fear" or "The Desert of Desolation" or absolutely anything "of Doom"?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Tools You Can Use: Avoid Repeated Words Forever

What words do you overuse? Last night I discovered a wonderful website called Wordcounter. No, it doesn’t provide a word count. It counts the words you write most frequently.

Copy and paste your text into the Wordcounter box, then click go. To avoid repetitive words, bookmark this page and avoid redundancy forever.

Mark Repeated Words in Your Manuscript
To highlight each repeated word throughout your manuscript, on the Edit menu, click Find. In the Find and Replace box, enter the word or phrase. Then click on the Replace box. Select Highlight. Then Find All.

Here are repeated word results for this blog entry.

Word Frequency
word 8
repeat 3
box 3
find 3
avoid 3
click 3
count 2
replace 2
forever 2
highlight 2
website 1
entry 1
page 1
wordcounter 1
paste 1
copy 1
doesn’t 1
write 1
night 1
discover 1
enter 1
frequent 1
result 1
wonderful 1

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