Tag Archives: writing

Writing and Fishing: The Tortures of Favorite Hobbies

Who knew that a cancer patient and a surgeon could form such a beautiful friendship?  During five surgeries together, my husband and Dr. V found a common interest in fishing.  Granted, my husband is a hard-core bass tournament junkie and Dr. V is a recreational fish-for-fun guy–but guess who owns the two-story lake house?           

In a great show of kindness, Dr. V invited us to stay at his cabin.  It was an interesting peek into the personal life of a man with strong family values and great capacity to play.  I’m sure it’s a nice escape from his usual work of intense life-saving.   For me, it was a nice escape from life-living.  For my husband, an escape from working-to-stay-alive.    

A sunny deck overlooking Grand Lake—what better place for a writer to write?  So why is it that while I craved the writing get-away, I found myself looking for ways to “get away” from the actual writing?  A cushioned window seat, a wooden boat dock, and a ping pong table captured my attention more readily than the laptop waiting in the corner.  Nature walks and reading “writing how-to books” also lured me away from the actual task of writing.  

Task.  Funny how this favorite past time…this hobby…this talent…this urge to write…sometimes seems like a chore, nagging at me like dust on the ceiling fan.  “I really should get the ladder out and clean that off,” I think.  “I really ought to plug in the computer and finish that article.”  How did it come to this?  Perhaps the answer is best demonstrated by my husband.  

The bass fishing bug opened its big green mouth and sucked him in at age ten. Hook, line, and watermelon cracker spinner bait.  He saved every penny to buy a real fishing rod.  Not the Donald Duck cheapie from TG&Y, but a real Berkley rod.  

During camping trips, he woke his family up at 5:30 a.m. so he could get down to the river and start fishing at sunrise.  Mornings got ugly, so his Dad finally gave him permission to “sneak” out of the camper on his own.   

Early in our marriage, my husband hinted that he would sure like to get a bass boat.  I suggested that if he doubled his sales that year, we could probably swing it.  He tripled his business.  

Since then, his favorite pasttime has produced all kinds of new challenges.  Boat payments, fuel, gear and gadgets are costly.  Tournaments, too, are expensive, time-consuming, and out of town.  In response, he has used his sales skills to procure fishing sponsors.  Now, he gets much of his tackle, rods and outerwear (all emblazoned with logos) for free, in exchange for marketing products and working at fishing shows.  

He’s slept in cheap, dumpy hotels, in freezing cold tents, and spent scorching nights in the back of his vehicle—all to be able to participate in his hobby, which launches in the wee hours of the morning and often involves pounding wind, blistering sun or drizzling rain. 

Doesn’t sound like fun to me!  But, I love his passion.  No matter how lousy the weather conditions or cheap the reward prizes are, no matter how frustrated he gets—he can’t wait for the next time.  He reads every fishing magazine, studies every fishing show, and spends hours on the phone picking the brains of his fishing buddies.  He works harder at his hobby than most people work for a paycheck.  Just what does he get out of all this agonizing, frustrating, expensive labor?  A satisfaction akin to a cold drink of Dr. Pepper on a hot summer day.  An explosion of pleasure and a thirst for more.     

Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t resent a moment spent on this insatiable drive.  Those green, slimy fish fire his soul and give his personality spark.  Believe me, the year he was jobless, fearful of his illness and in too much physical pain to go fishing—those were the dark days of our marriage.  Lack of soul.  

Any magazine article I could write that would pay the boat payment was a step closer to making him smile again.  And every surgery that happened before fishing season was the one he rehabed from the quickest.  

Such is the life of a hard-core hobbyist; the one who has pursued enjoyment of an activity to the point of competitive perfectionism and bank account drainism.  But in his case, it improves his life anyway.  Spark and soul.  

So why is writing–my enjoyment of choice–sometimes a task?  Because it has become competitive.  It’s hard work, never finished, consumes my thought, requires constant improvement, constant observation, and is a game of challenge (but fortunately less expensive than fishing).  I’ve entered the hard-core ranks.  One book is not enough.  One article begets another.  

But writing also gives me spark.  I’m hooked.  Book, byline and contract.                     

When my husband starts gathering rods at 5:30 in the morning, I groggily think through plots and subplots.  After he shares a good story about a lake adventure, I file it away for a future book.  Each time he gets a new sponsor, I wonder how I could write an article about it.    

I’ll be his loudest cheerleader when he finally wins the big money, and he’ll be my best salesman when I make the New York Times bestseller list.  And if I ever lose the ability to type words on a page, I’ll rehab fast or find another way.  I’ve married into this hobby, and I’ve married a man who understands. 

I’ve finally torn myself away from ping pong and plugged in the laptop.  Ah, yes, the feel of the keyboard.  Hours passing.  Storytelling.  I’m having a blast writing.  This is so fun!  Why did I put it off?  

I’m thankful to Dr. V for providing us this weekend get-away–a weekend in which we both relax by means of intense participation in our respective pursuits of pleasure: fishing and writing.  

A working vacation.

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Find Your Voice: Put Personality Into Your Writing

I once read that writers have no personality, because they save it all up for their book characters.  Okay, a bit unfair–but it’s true that I’d rather observe and interesting party than be the life of it. 

Finding Your Voice by Les Edgerton: Book CoverLes Edgerton, author of Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing, argues on our behalf, that our own personality is what best sells our writing.  The premise of his book is that writers spend so much energy conforming to English rules and emulating certain styles, that they suck the life out of their own unique style.   The voice that we use in telling a friend a story or writing in our own diary—that’s our authentic voice, and we shouldn’t squelch it.   

To make his case, Egerton shares examples from both writing legends and students.  I gleaned these general points:

  1. 1.      Learn from the masters—but modernize

Over the century’s writing styles have changed, and you’d better conform.  Moby Dick may be your favorite book, but no one would publish it today.  What agent would wade through the lengthy descriptions of whaling or wait 400 pages to get to the plot?  Readers expect a faster pace, less description, and less-formal language. 

Edgerton takes a passage from Jane Eyre and analyzes all the old-fashioned rules that are no longer acceptable in writing–like colons, semicolons, ancient spellings and phrases, and oddly- structured sentences such as “Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early.”  Don’t do that.

  1. 2.      Break the writing rules 

Without insulting English teacher’s everywhere, Edgerton encourages writer’s to forget those nagging guidelines we practiced in high school.  Using “said” is better than “screeched,” “groaned” or “gasped.” 

Don’t use the wrong synonym just because you already used it two sentences ago.  If beguile sounds right and fits best, don’t replace it with the word agreeable, just because it was suggested in the thesaurus.  It’s not the right word.

Contemporary readers expect sentence fragments.  It’s how they talk.  And text.   

  1. 3.      Use movies as your transition guide

These days, transitions are increasingly excluded.  We’ve acclimated to jump cuts in movies.  We were in the Amazon jungle, now we’re in Washington D.C.  No plane ride expected.  A simple line break will suffice.

  1. Less backstory, please

 

Readers are pretty savvy.  No need to over-explain, because they’ll either read between the lines or they don’t care if they don’t know everything.  Don’t stop to tell who Miss Marple is.  If the context is a who-dun-it, they’ll “gather” it. 

In Edgerton’s example, he starts with two prison characters playing double sol and smoking tightrolls.  I’ve never used the word tightrolls, but “smoking” was a decent clue that it was something like a cigarette.  I don’t know double sol, either, but I don’t care enough to look up the game’s rules.  It’s not that important. And if it is, I’ll learn more about it during the course of book.     

Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory is cited.  “Like an iceberg, a good story only shows one-tenth of what lies below.”  When the writer does everything for the reader—furnishes everything, dumbs it down–then reading becomes a passive, boring activity.

Because the author of Finding Your Voice is a writing professor, he commonly sees four writing mistakes

  1. Sci-fi writers think the “story” should be mostly about technology.  (Boring—get to the characters already).
  2. English students force symbolism into the story.  (Most symbolism is subconsciously written in and then “found” by readers, not added on purpose).    
  3. Overdone beginnings.  (Allow readers’ intelligence to “get it”).
  4. Static descriptions.  (Deliver descriptions via action, not prose).

How to cure your writing weaknesses?

  1. Identify your biggest weakness
  2. Read authors who are strong in that area
  3. Write a paper on what you’ve learned. 

Think of it as taking a free college course.  Mental notes are forgotten quicker than when regurgitated–especially for people who learn by reading and like to write.  So, cite examples from authors who excel in areas where you do not.  Then give yourself an A+ on the paper!     

Overall, Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing, encouraged writers to be contemporary by breaking the rules.  And to realize that readers will be most interested in your own unique voice.  So let that great writer personality shine through!

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Personal Pros and Cons to Writing Magazine Articles

When I got serious about writing a book in 2006, I lacked credentials.  Getting published in magazines seemed a necessary step toward attracting a book deal.  So, I did my homework, chose a topic I knew well, and targeted the right magazine. Viola!  My very first magazine query letter netted my first published article

 Now, I have about fifty articles published, and my writing resume is looking more padded.  I won’t say it’s an easy part-time job, but the side benefits have been delightful (as you’ll see below). 

For anyone interested in breaking into magazine writing, I’ll discuss technique in a later posting.  Here, I want to disclose some random insights and experiences that have come from my short career.  Some may be seen as pros and some as cons (you choose), but I hope they inspire you to write articles, too.

1.  In a rare gesture of thanks, the Junior Cotillion coordinator had flowers delivered to my office after I wrote a story about her work.

2.  Sometimes, my children actually read one of my articles. (Why do they always seem shocked when they like it?) 

3.  Working on a deadline is like having perpetual homework.  Even if it’s a fun assignment, it’s always looming in the background.

Leona and Amy at News Channel 9.

4.  International opera singer, Leona Mitchell, said I “captured her spirit.”  (Be still my heart!)  Then I had a front row seat to watch her perform—one of the most moving concerts I’ve ever witnessed.

5.   Those extra hundreds a month come in handy for paying down my husband’s medical bills. 

Leona in Concert. Photo by Amy Dee Stephens

6.  I read eight biographies to write one little story about astronauts.  It might be one of my better works–but I lost money on that one. 

7.   At events, I’m usually the one behind a camera or skirting the edges to look for a story or interview opportunity.  As Bob Green wrote in Handbook of Magazine Article Writing, “Show me a great writer and I’ll show you someone who’s rarely the life of the party.”

8.  Some topics sound boring at first (I won’t say which ones), but after a little research, they become fascinating. 

9.  One afternoon, I answered the phone and heard, “Hello, Amy, this is Reba McEntire.”  We interviewed for 18 whole minutes. 

10.  Magazine editors sometimes tweak my words.  It either improves my work or makes me cringe.

Jillian Harris (The Bachelorette) and Michael Moloney (Extreme Makeover Designer). Photo by Amy Dee Stephens

11.  I once stood in the snow for five hours waiting to get one on-the-spot interview with Jillian Harris (from The Bachelorette).  Her heartfelt story was worth it.

12.    What could be more inspiring than a compliment from another writer.  Best-selling mystery author, Carolyn Hart, honored me with this statement, “I feel your story is by far the best that has ever been written about my books.”   

13.    It is tough to stay focused on my novel, because writing articles offers a more immediate paycheck. 

14.    I’ve been asked to voice-record my articles for the Oklahoma Library for the Blind.

15.    When I hear that someone laughed, cried or learned from one of my articles—that’s one of the great compliments ever!

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5 More Things I Learned About Nancy Drew

 (Continued from previous post “Nancy Drew is 80!)

6.   Modernizing Nancy:  All books prior to 1956 have original text.  After that, text was revised to be more modern (no more high heels while sleuthing, different type of car, etc.). 

7.  Nancy Leaves the Country…: The first time Nancy traveled out of the United States, to Canada, was in the book Message in the Hollow Oak.

8.  …and Travels the World:  Collector Lea S. Fox owns over 3,500 Nancy Drew books—all foreign editions, in 27 languages.  The covers are sometimes drastically different than what we are used to seeing.  French children grew up with green-spine books, and the Swedish had red-spine books.

9.  Don’t Be Deceived by Ebay Photos:  Ebay has become an unreliable source for the serious collector.  Many sellers are using stock photos, so the condition may be quite different, or not reflect those important interior details (like endpapers and illustrations) that collectors discriminate between.

10.  Editor Secret Revealed:  One editor of the Nancy Drew series was hired under mysterious circumstances.  Many years and one lawsuit later—she discovered why.  Her first name was Nancy and she’d attended Drew University.

 Again–it’s not too late to read join the Web Conference, which is archived at http://www.nancydrewsleuth.com/2010webcon.html.  If you are a fan of series books, it will be nice nostalgic trip.

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Nancy Drew is 80!

It’s Nancy Drew’s 80th Anniversary!  Instead of growing older, she’s grown younger.  As publishers continue to introducer her to new audiences (with hopes of creating continued followship), she can be seen in graphic novels, computer games, and spin-off series that range from Nancy’s elementary to college years. 

 This week, I participated in a wonderful Nancy Drew Web Conference.   Kudos to Jennifer Fisher, the Nancy Drew fanatic who put together this amazingly diverse Web Conference (which also featured the Hardy Boys).  Each day, three guest speakers shared essays and photos on various topics, which ranged from cover artwork to collector tips. 

 5 Things I learned from the Nancy Drew Web Conference

 

  1. She’s Been Busy the Last 80 Years!:  Nancy Drew has solved over 500 cases–but she never solved a murder until 1980. 
  2. What’s Hot in Collecting:  Collectors tend to focus on books from the era when they grew up reading Nancy Drew.  As the oldest books see less circulation—the hot commodity is now the yellow-covered books from the 60s and 70s.  (That’s what I grew up on!)   
  3. Writing Clue #11:  Penny Warner, author of The Nancy Drew Handbook, suggested that writers “Make the situation hopeless…[then, like Nancy] she must find the courage to go on, make another decision, and get herself out of this devastating trouble.”
  4. Nancy’s Secrets are Archived:  Many records from the Stratemeyer Syndication (the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boy, etc., original creator) are on file at the New York Public Library in the Manuscript and Archives Division.  For any of you New Yorkers looking for volunteer work—much of it still needs to be inventoried (wish I lived closer). 
  5. Nancy Shows Brief Romanticism:  In the 1980s books, The Phantom of Venice and The Bluebeard Room, the usually-aloof Nancy Drew falls victim to a hunky news reporter and a rock star.  Quite different from her platonic relationship with boyfriend, Ned Nickerson

 It’s not too late to read join the Web Conference, which is archived at http://www.nancydrewsleuth.com/2010webcon.html.  You can register ($20) at anytime to access all 24 articles.  It was delightful–I highly recommend it. 

 Check out my next blog posting, which will be 5 More Things I learned from the Nancy Drew Web Conference!

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Spring Conference for Writers & Illustrators

If you write or illustrate, you know that few people “speak your language.”  You may feel driven, but insecure about your talent.  You may feel happy, but lonely in your craft of solitude. 

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is an organization to recharge your batteries, assure yourself, and meet wonderful people who understand.

I’ve been member of SCBWI for about 4 years now.  Not only is it an amazing network of people who are making the same writing journey as myself, the conferences have given me exposure to professionals in the field. 

Each spring, top-name agents, (an) art director, and publishing editors fly to Oklahoma to speak on their craft.  They are also keeping a sharp lookout for promising authors and illustrators.  Attendees have the opportunity to submit their work for critique–a great way to get your work in their hands! 

This year’s conference on March 27th features:

*Amy Lennex, Editor, Sleeping Bear Press

*Kate Fletcher, Assoc Editor, Candlewick Press

*Greg Ferguson, Editor, Egmont USA

*Stephens Fraser, Agent, Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency

*Kerry Martin, Sr. Art Director, Clarion

I’m attaching the conference flyer if you are interested in more details, SCBWI Spring conference flyer pdf or visit www.scbwiok.org.     

If you’re serious about writing or illustrating, consider this conference your college crash course.  It has certainly increased my level of knowledge.  Also, I feel so connected to the attendees, who also  understand this strange drive I have to put ideas on paper.  

Please come!  I’ll be there running the book sales table, so visit and say “hi” if you attend.

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Strong Characters Need to Laugh, Cry and Quake

If you write fiction, you know it’s all about the emotions.  What good protagonist doesn’t glare, stare or growl?  Surely your leading female will need to shed a tear, give a smile, or gasp with fear at least once during your story.

The problem is—how to describe these emotions without sounding trite or overdone. 

Well, I’ve stumbled upon a jewel that will help.  The book is called The Romance Writers’ Phrase Book by J. Ken and C. Shelton.  The authors have selected fifty common emotions, characteristics and movements, and listed over 3,000 ways to describe said emotions, characteristics and movements. 

Why have your bad guy act angry when you can have him glare with hostility or let rage distort his features?  Maybe his eyes can convey the fury within.

Speaking of eyes, let me tell you—romance writers know a thing or two about describing eyes.  This section alone has a list 8 ½ pages long!   Why have green eyes when you can have eyes the color of malachite? Eyes that glint indulgently. Or eyes that flash with azure fire?

Yes, some of these are a bit extreme for the non-romanticist, but this book is still a great source for thinking outside the stereotypical box.  I can truly say, without a shudder of humiliation, that The Romance Writers’ Phrase Book has spiced up my descriptive writing.

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