Idiosyncrasies of the English Language

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Don’t panic. I’m not going all-out academic linguistics on you, but we need to take a moment to consider the quirks of the American English language (as opposed to British). More to the point: what is said vs. what is meant.

When I say: “Wow, that garbage can is full.”

It means: “Get off your butt and lug out that Hefty bag, would ya?”

When my husband says: “Can I help with dinner?”

It means: “Have you been on Pinterest all day or what? Why isn’t the food on the table yet?”

When the sales clerk says: “Have a nice day.”

It means: “I don’t care a rat’s behind what kind of day you have as long as you fill out the survey on the bottom of the receipt and make me look good.”

When words are spoken face to face, it’s easier to decipher because of body language. But when the written word is your medium of choice, it’s all the harder to convey what a character actually means. On the up side, this can be used to an author’s advantage by choosing words that convey characterization via dialogue.

Or it can leave your reader scratching their head and relegating your book to the bottom of the stack on their nightstand.

What to do?

The best way to make each of your characters say what they really mean (and not give the reader a different expectation) is to know your character well before they speak. This requires some groundwork before you begin a new manuscript. Yes, this takes time, but in the long run it will pay off.

Know your characters. Know them well. Then use the words that flow out of their mouths to solidify who they are in your reader’s mind. Those are the kind of characters that stick with a reader long after they’ve closed the book.

But Don’t Overdo It

I love sarcasm. Give me a character who’s snappy and snippy with their dialogue and bam—instant like fest as far as I’m concerned. So it surprises me when my snarky personalities aren’t always well loved. What’s the deal?

Apparently I’m in the minority. Surprisingly, sarcasm doesn’t head the list of likeable traits, which can work against an author while crafting characters. It is your job as a writer to make your reader fall in love with your characters . . . or at least want to have coffee with them.

What authors do you know who have mastered the art of dialogue?

The Summer of Success: Michael Ehret

Facing a crossroads at the moment—what step to take next and all that. I’m not all angsty over it, but I have been thinking a lot about the late Donna Summer, as a result.

DonnaSummerDonna Summer? The Queen of Disco?

First of all, thinking about Donna Summer is not new for me. I’ve had a long time interest in her career and in the singer, herself. I’ve even been known to be a defender of Summer (she’s so much more than disco), because I think her talent was far overshadowed by her persona and by the Super Storm known as Disco that came in and tried, unsuccessfully, to obliterate the Rock and Roll shoreline.

Variety defined her career

Still, I’m more interested in Summer’s genre-hopping than in her music, per se. For instance, did you know she was nominated for 17 Grammy Awards in eight different categories (sort of like fiction genres)? Further, did you know she won five times in four different categories—twice in Inspirational? That’s right, Inspirational. The singer of 1975’s 17-minute+ disco moan-fest, “Love To Love You, Baby,” won two Grammy Awards for Best Inspirational song (1984 and 1985).

Conventional wisdom is to not genre hop in the publishing world. There’s greater freedom in music (Linda Ronstadt also played the field, musically). But in publishing, writers are often advised that if they start in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense) then they should stay in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense).

But, I must have a little Donna Summer in me because I don’t want to be constrained in that way. Before we get all crazy, let’s remember that no one is knocking down my door for my next book—or, for that matter, my first book.

But—again—we can look to the diva for guidance. Because “conventional wisdom” isn’t called “conventional-sort-of-good-advice,” you know?

Summer made her mark in one genre—disco. It was the red-hot genre of the time and she rode that horse for all it was worth.

But when the horse started to get hobbled, she made the smart move of wrapping up that era with a Greatest Hits collection, changing record labels, and then came roaring back in 1980 with a rock-pop disc without even a whiff of disco, The Wanderer. And a song from that project earned her one of her Grammy nominations.

DiscoBallWhat are the lessons for a writer?

  1. Do your homework. Summer worked in Germany and Europe in various touring companies of shows like “Hair” and “Godspell” before connecting with Giorgio Moroder for her first major album, Love To Love You Baby.
  2. Establish yourself as an excellent writer of (choose one: romance, historical, suspense, other) and then, like Summer, work your butt off to make your mark. She released seven disco albums from 1975 to 1979—that’s four years. Three of them in a row were blockbuster double albums.
  3. Keep your nose to the ground and your face forward. If you pay attention to the market and publishing trends, you’ll know when it’s time to change genres. If you’re a big enough success, you’ll get your opportunity. When you do, show the same quality, perseverance, and dedication to craft that got you where you are.

That’s the way to build a Hall of Fame career (Summer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013) and do all the things you want to do.

Summer died May 17, 2012, at age 63. At her death (from cancer) she was working on two albums simultaneously—a collection of standards and a new dance music collection.

For the record, Summer’s Grammy wins were for:

  1. Best R&B Female Performance, 1979, for “Last Dance.”
  2. Best Rock Female Performance, 1980, for “Hot Stuff.”
  3. Best Inspirational Performance, 1984, for “He’s A Rebel.”
  4. Best Inspirational Performance, 1985, for “Forgive Me.”
  5. Best Dance Music Performance, 1998, for “Carry On.”

Additionally, she was nominated four times for Best Pop Vocal, twice for Best R&B Vocal, twice for best Rock Vocal, once for Album of the Year, once for Best Disco Vocal, once for Best Inspirational, and once for Best Dance Music.

Not a bad career.

Your turn: So, do you have a little Donna Summer in you?
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MichaelMichael Ehret loves to play with words and as the editor of CHEFS Mix Blog for CHEFS Catalog he is enjoying his playground. Previous playgrounds include being the Managing Editor of the former ACFW Journal Magazine and the ezine Afictionado for seven years. He also plays with words as a freelance editor and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, worked in corporate communications, and reported for The Indianapolis Star. You can connect with Michael via his website, Facebook and Twitter.

Making Connections

Publishing is a funny beast. The author wears many hats – writer, editor, marketer, publicist, sometimes frazzled human being (all right, maybe it’s most of the time). There are moments when the load seems overwhelming and I feel incapable of wearing every hat with excellence.

Kariss' teamMarketing tends to be my weakest link. I’m passionate about my books, love to talk about them, enjoy sharing the story of God’s faithfulness. But when it comes to selling the idea of why others should read them, I prefer to let people determine the quality on their own.

I know. I know. I’m still learning how to do this well. But the key is that I’m learning. Guest posts, social media, contests, etc. are all great tools that I am adding to my belt, but the most powerful tool in my arsenal is my network. These people fall into multiple categories, and every group is important

  1. Close friends and family.
    You’ve got to love this group. They are your biggest fans and cheerleaders. Occasionally they may be more biased than constructive with their feedback, but enjoy the affirmation. They’ve watched the journey, battled the insecurities and joy with you, and want to celebrate the finished product.
  2. Fringe friends and acquaintances.
    These are the people familiar enough with you to ask about the book every time they see you. They are also the ones who bought the book out of curiosity and support and are excited to watch the journey from a distance. If they love the story, you better believe they will share with their friends and family.
  3. Unknown readers.
    These are the people whose constructive opinion you can count on most. If they love the book, then job well done. They hail from all over the country, sometimes out of the country, and their word of mouth is powerful. They don’t know you, but love the heart in your books and will shout it from the mountaintops and anxiously wait for the next book. I love networking with this group. Their excitement fuels my own.
  4. Critics and commentators.
    These are your influencers, bloggers, Amazon comment critics, etc. I don’t necessarily advocate taking their opinions as gospel. But often, they have a powerful voice in their particular online spheres. Learn what they love and what they don’t, filter it to see if there is truth, and build on these admonitions in your next book.
  5. The unreached.
    The good news is that with all these other groups on board, the unreached are now reachable. Diligently work to add this group to the fold. Build relationships with your readers. Write stories that people can’t ignore. And don’t grow discouraged. This is a journey, not a short-distance sprint. Growth happens over time, and it’s exciting to see.

Shadowed_AUG 1 (1)But there is one connection that is the most important. Talking to the Master Storyteller. He knows your story intimately, and He alone can weave your network into something beautiful.

Prayer is powerful. In moments of frustrated marketing, I’ve prayed that the Lord will get Shaken and Shadowed into the hands of people who need to read them, despite my best efforts.

And He has.

Some of my favorite interactions from readers come from those who never heard about the book but wandered into a bookstore, loved the story, laughed, cried, and found hope in Christ. Every time I read one of these messages, I praise the Master Marketer. In spite of my best efforts, He is still placing these books in strategic places.

More than spinning a great story and growing my craft, I want to make an impact. And that only comes through surrendering my ideas in marketing to the One who knows best. I figure with Him at the wheel, I’ll do what I can and let Him do the rest.

Is Multi-Genre Writing Right For You?

to do list (2)One of the ongoing debates in the writing world is about the wisdom of writing in more than one genre. The reality, I think, is that most writers want to write in several genres and, in fact, may be quite good at it. My first projects were poetry, and then I moved on to magazine articles. Think pieces followed, as did newspaper humor columns. My first published book was a small volume about practical Christian spirituality, but then I found my stride in humorous murder mysteries (#6 is out in September, with #7 currently taking shape on my laptop).

Last but not least, a few months ago, my first memoir was published.

So, for me, the big debate about writing in multiple genres is a no-brainer, because I already do.

My experience of doing so, however, has made me recast the debate from a writing perspective to a publishing perspective, and, as a writer who wants to build a career as a published author, I offer my own pluses and minuses of working in a multi-genre career.

  1. Minus: If you think it’s demanding to build one platform, try building several at once. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but in my experience, it can’t happen simultaneously (unless you have clones of yourself ready to go – and in that case, please drop me a note at my website, because I could use a couple of clones these days). To launch a book, you have to be single-minded to make the best of marketing opportunities: appearances, talks, media, book clubs, etc. Your new book/baby needs attention 24/7, and if you leave it for a day or two to nurse along another genre, you find yourself playing catch-up when you get back to the newborn. I’m guessing it’s like having twins-one person can’t really hold two babies equally well, so there’s always some juggling going on. Same thing with two genres: you end up feeling like you haven’t been as successful as you could have been with just one book. At the very least, you don’t sleep much, because you’re trying to do the work of two marketing departments in one body.
  2. Plus: Working in two genres is exhilarating! You get to double the people you meet and the interests you cultivate. Your horizons expand and life is so rich with new experiences, it takes your breath away. It’s wonderful to be a writer!
  3. Minus: Publishers are very hesitant to take a chance on you in a new genre. The more you’ve established yourself in one genre, the less a publisher wants to take the risk of launching you in a different direction. Publishing is a business, and publishers have to respect the bottom line.
  4. Plus: If your genres share something in common (mine share humor and a love of nature), your fans of one genre are more likely to follow you into new territory, giving you a base readership on which to build and a headstart on creating a new platform.

Have you had any experience in multi-genre writing? Any insights to share?

A Broken Heart— Repaired

Hi, readers of WordServe Water Cooler! Thank you for having me! I’m Martha Ramirez and though I write for young adults, I have a few children’s stories that have tugged at my heartstrings.

BrokenHeartBroken Heart, my new picture book, was inspired by my own heart journey and having to stay strong and pray for the best.

In 2014, I underwent open-heart surgery to correct a congenital heart defect we never knew I had. Broken Heart is about a brave girl who learns doctors have to mend her broken heart. Seven-year-old Julia goes on an unforgettable heart journey and takes her twin sister along for the ride. Like Julia, my heart defect was not discovered at birth. Unlike Julia, it was discovered many, many years later.

I knew the moment I lay in my hospital bed that I had to write a book about a girl with a broken heart. I also kept a journal, planning to rewrite the memoir I recently finished (super-excited!).

Photo by L.I.L.A. Images

Photo by L.I.L.A. Images

With Broken Heart, inspiration came at me with full force. I couldn’t stop writing until I got to the end. I was so content with the way the story unfolded, it was as if an angel whispered the words to me. When my good friend Mary Jo Prado offered to illustrate the story, I was ecstatic! She’s a talented illustrator and super creative. Without a doubt, I knew she could bring the story to life. I was even more thrilled when she added small but significant touches, such as the actual double doors from the hospital I stayed in.

One of the things I felt strongly about when writing this story was to write from the heart and not to worry so much about how it would turn out. I’m a plotter. An organizer. I always set up my stories beforehand and I always know my GMCs (goals, motivations, and conflict), but not this time. This time it was okay to write like the wind and not worry about the details. Of course, I took the time to go back and make certain all my writing goals were accounted for. But I learned there really isn’t a wrong way to write as long as you follow your heart.

Sean Connery in Finding Forrester says it the best, “You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is . . .  to write, not to think!”

I sincerely hope Broken Heart touches others as it touched me. It’s truly an honor to be here.

What children’s book has touched your heart?

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In addition to writing, Martha Ramirez is a 2012 Genesis Semi-Finalist, a member of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), YALITCHAT.ORG, the Muse Conference Board, CataNetwork Writers, and American Author’s Association. Her articles have appeared in various places including the Hot Moms Club and For Her Information (FHI) magazine. In 2012, her blog was nominated website of the week by Writer’s Digest. She looks forward to expanding her career and is hard at work on her next young adult novel. She currently resides in Northern California where she enjoys gardening and kickboxing (not simultaneously). Visit her blog at: Martzbookz.blogspot.com

Sing it, Lamb Chop!

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This is the song that doesn’t end. Yes, it goes on and on, my friend.”

If you never watched the fabulous Shari Lewis perform with her puppet Lamb Chop, you might not know this delightful ditty from her Emmy-winning show that ran on PBS from 1992-1997. My youngest daughter enjoyed watching it as a toddler, and since I got to join her in front of the television, this song found its way into my permanent recall bank.

For better or worse, the tune takes over my head every time I have a task that seems never-ending.

Which is my way of introducing my topic today: platform building.

You see, platform building for a writer doesn’t end when your book is published. Instead of thinking of platform building as the first step toward publication, I now see it as the task that underlies the entire creative, marketing, and career development process. As long as you write, it doesn’t end.

But instead of looking at that task as an overwhelming, time-consuming responsibility, I’ve chosen to see it as the lifeblood of what I do.

My platform is my path to accomplishing the work that gives my life meaning. In my case, I want to bring people into closer communion with God’s creation, and I do that through the written word, telling entertaining stories about nature, and in particular, about birding and dogs.

Using this perspective motivates me to continue, and expand, my platform-building. Here’s a quick snapshot of what that looks like for me.

My first book – a small treatise about finding meaning in life – led me to discover my own passion: writing about engagement with nature. To market that first book, I gave retreats and workshops about identifying what you love and what God calls you to; as a result, I added speaking opportunities to my platform. Then I began writing my Birder Murder Mysteries, a light-hearted series about a birder who finds bodies (incorporating my own passion for birding and mystery). To sell books, I began reaching out to birders around the country (and the world!), connecting with them online, attending birding events, sharing information and becoming interested in conservation issues. That influenced additional books in the series, and led to more interaction with like-minded nature-lovers, which has both enriched my writing and my life with speaking/marketing opportunities and new friends. Six years after my first Birder Murder was published, I now have plenty of ideas for future books and venues to market them, as well as a list of birding hotspots to add to my bucket list of personal adventure.

My memoir about my dog is building a new addition to my original platform, giving me more places to talk about nature and to sell all of my books. I’ve begun volunteering with my local Humane Society because of it, and I now see all my writing as advocacy work for improving the human-nature connection. Yes, I know that my platform building doesn’t end, but neither do the rewards I’m finding when it comes to new experiences, learning interesting things, and contributing to my world.

What joys are you finding in the never-ending task of platform building?

Concrete Tips on Book Writing: It’s Like Working a Puzzle

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Just how does one go about writing a book?

Have you ever had that thought?

I am a published author and most days, I still struggle with that question. There’s so much involved in writing a book: craft, connections, moxie, perseverance.

And then there’s this, too: writing is vulnerable. Edna St. Vincent Millay said “a person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down.”

But what else can we do? We must write. And sometimes our efforts turn into a book.

I am in the process of writing my second book, which has pretty much eclipsed everything else in my life. With my first book, I took years writing the whole manuscript before finding an agent and a publishing house. This time, my agent sold the book on proposal with a deadline. I was given eleven months to write and submit it. Yikes.

But how do you actually do it?

I’ve decided that, either way, whether you are on deadline or on your own agenda, writing a book is like doing a puzzle.

I write creative nonfiction. My puzzle pieces are anecdotes and stories from my life. I lurch around in the darkness of my writing cove, type words, peel back memories and scenes from the past, and try to find something salvageable to get down on paper. I try pieces in different places, and attempt to trust that the piece has a place, and that at some point the puzzle will be complete.

Yeah, but, can you answer the question?

Oh, right, I’m supposed to give you a few concrete tips on writing a book.

Let’s assume you are a writer. Here are skills you already possess: you read a lot, you write, you have taken classes or participated in a writing workshop that critiqued your work. Let’s assume you are ready to write a book, and you are looking for a few quick, concrete tips regarding the process.

OK, I can help with that.

-I prepare. I read a chapter from a book I love. I pray about my writing. I block common distractions (i.e. if the kids are home, it is off to the coffee shop I go). I look at my calendar on Google and plan writing time. It is as official as doctor appointments and school functions.

-I write. I can’t tell you how many people have talked to me about writing. “How much of the story do you have down?” I ask. “Oh, I haven’t started writing yet. It’s all up here.” (points to head). Yeah, no, that’s not going to work. I try to find several hours to write. I shoot for 1000 words or two hours editing. I spend time looking off into space, though, too.

-I realize that it takes a lot of work. It took me years to write the first draft of Sun Shine Down. And just so you know, nobody writes wonderful first drafts (if they do, I am going to avoid them and refuse to read their work on principle). Rewriting is key. I hired a professional editor, printed out her suggestions, sat down to the blank page, and re-typed the whole thing.

-I look for tools that will help. I purchased Scrivener, a word processing program specifically for writers. I can pop in and out of chapters easily and I love the cork board feature that helps me see the big picture of my book. I also found an app in Google Chrome based on the Pomodoro Technique. It blocks social media for 25 minutes and then gives me 5 minutes to check email or get up before returning to work. Keep your eye out for tips and tools that will help you and then go a step farther, and utilize them.

-I try to ignore negativity. Beware. Throughout the process you will assume you can’t do it. After, God willing, your book publishes, you still won’t believe you did it or that you could do it again. One of the best ways I know to ignore negativity is to keep writing. I also talk to other writers and attend a monthly writing group.

The second half of Millay’s quote is “If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book nothing can help him.”

So, here’s to good books! Here’s to puzzle pieces in place, and here’s to us in our writing pursuits!