"Roundheads and Ramblings"
 -
RSS Follow Become a Fan

Delivered by FeedBurner


Recent Posts

"A Scratch with the Rebels" -- The Inspiration
"A Scratch with the Rebels" -- a Photographic Record
"A Scratch with the Rebels" -- A Synopsis
Harriet Tubman and the Raid on the Combahee
More Good News about Harriet Tubman

Categories

A new contest
Abolition
absurdity
academic myopia
Almost Free
Amazon
ancestors
Announcement
apocalypse
Applications and software
Appomattox
Arnulf of Lisieux
art of speaking
attracting readers
audience
audio books
Author Central
Author Gifts
author's Plea
awards
baseball
basketball
Battle of Port Royal
Battles
biographical
blind artists
blockade
blog chain
Book Club Guides
Book Design
Book Launch
book stores
book trailer
bookstores
Boxed Set
bright ideas
Building a platform
Business plan
Busy-ness
butterflies
Career choices
cats
cemetery research
Census
challenges
characterization
Characters
Charleston
children
children's books
choosing a publisher
Choosing a Title
Christmas Past
Civil War
commercials
Computer Hacks
Confederates
Conferences
Connections
constitutional amendments
construction
Contract labor
cotton
Countdown Sale
Countdown to Launch
Cover Designs
Cover images
cutting and pasting
Cyber Monday
daily drama
daily events
Dead Mules
depression
diversions
dogs
Do-Overs
DRM
earthquake
e-book pricing
e-books
editing
elevator speech
elmore leonard
Elves and Holidays
Emancipation
England
English class
evidence
excerpt
exclusivity
Exercise
Expertise
Facebook
fact and fiction
failures
fame and fortune
family affairs
Favorites
Fear of Failure
Fish
flood waters
food delights
Formatting
Fort Pulaski
Free Days
freebies
Friendship
Frogmore
garden
gardens
genealogy
Getting organized
ghost stories
Giveaway
Goals
good business
good news
grammar cops
gratitude
gray horses
gripes
grocery shopping
guest blogs
Gullah
Harriet Tubman
Hiatus
Historical background
Historical Fiction
historical puzzlers
historical thinking
history lessons
Holidays
home office
hope and kindness
horses
hurricanes
identifying your audience
illustrations
imagination
indie authors
Inspiration
inspirations
internet
internet history
intruders
ISBN
Kalamazoo
karma
Kindle
Kindle links
Kindle rankings
Kindle Serials
kings
Klout
Ku Klux Klan
Lack of co-ordination
landmarks
language
Laughs
launch dates
Laura Towne
Layouts
legal matters
lending library
Lessons learned
lessons unlearned
libraries
literary genres
local news
love story
making choices
Marketing
Matchbooks
medicine
medieval-isms
Meet the Characters
Memorial Day
memories
Milestones
military matters
mind-mapping
Misfis
Monthly Musings
name recognition
NaNoWriMo
Nellie Chase
New Blog
New Book
New England
New Research
New Year
newsletters
nonfiction
non-profits
nostalgia
Nurses
oddities
odds and ends
olympics
opening lines
outrage
Papacy
parties
Penn Center
photographs
picture book
Pinterest
Pinterest and copyrights
Pirates
planning ahead
plot
point of view
polite society
politics
powerful women
Predictions
pre-orders
press release
previews
pricing
Principles
procrastination
productivity
Profiles
Progress Report
Promotions
proofs
pros and cons
publishing
publishing companies
publishing ploys
publishing rights
pure sentimentality
puzzlements
quiz
rain
random thoughts
RBOC
read an ebook
readership
recipes
Reconstruction
Relaxation
research
Resolutions
reviews
road trip
rough draft
Roundhead Reports
royalties
rules
SALE
Sales
scams
schedules
Scoop It
ScoopIt
seasons
Secessionville
second edition
Second Mouse
self-publishing
settings
Shiloh
Short Stories
Silliness
slander
Slavery
small world
Smile of the Day
snow, living in the south
social media
software
software disasters
South Carolina
Speechless!
sports
Spring
story arc
Substitutes
Success
summer
synopsis
Taking a Break
Taxes
Thank You
the difficulties of blogging
The Gideonites
Theme
Tongue-in-cheek
Traditions
trailer
Travelog
trilogies
trolls
Tweet
Twitter
Upcoming Events
using commas
Vacation
vacation photos
Valentine
video
Visitor
vocabulary
Volunteering
voting
warnings
weather
weather trauma
website
word counts
Word-of-Mouth
Words
Words of Warning
Writer Beware!
Writer's Block
Writing Advice
Writing as Career
writing process

Archives

May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010

powered by

"Roundheads and Ramblings"

April 2017

Every Author Needs a Dead Mule

I'm taking a couple of days' break from NaNoWriMo while I wait for my new wrist brace to arrive in tomorrow's mail.   Apparently the last few days of writing 3000 words a day have set off a reaction in my carpal tunnel -- or maybe it's just a warning from the ever-lurking old-age-related arthritis. Whatever the case, I'm trying to limit my keyboard use. So why am I writing a blog? Guess I'm an  IT addict.

I thought I'd use this break to remind you of one of my favorite websites.The picture above is the official trademark of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. If you like it, you can order it printed on all sorts of objects (tee shirts, coffee mugs, even men's boxers!)   
Here's their motto:
 
"No good Southern fiction is complete without a dead mule."
--Val MacEwan, 1996

The website has been active since 1996, but the idea can be traced back as far as 1930 and  the two dead mules in William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.

I discovered their site back when i was writing The Road to Frogmore. I immediately found a spot where I could add the required scene: a disgruntled Confederate veteran shooting an ex-slave's mules and leaving them to die in the middle of the road. 

 And just as quickly one of my readers responded with fury. She wrote that she was opposed to all animal cruelty, and if  I killed an animal in my book, she would never read my writing again. Undeterred, I left the scene stand. Maybe she never bought another book. I don't know.

But I remembered this issue when a similar question arose over at the NaNoWriMo  Camp about killing off one's characters. And yes, I was the one who sparked it by killing off one of my characters. Then I noticed something interesting about the reactions. I'll talk about them in detail tomorrow. But in the meantime, how do you feel about books in which main characters die? i'd really like to know. Send private comments here.

As a Writer, You Must Know Your Audience

This writing business is tougher than it looks!  For most of my working life, I was an academic. I wrote scholarly stuff to prove to other scholars that I  was doing my homework. An academic book requires the author to include such deadly material as detailed, endless footnotes, copious illustrations, diagrams and authentic photographs, frequent references to other scholars in the field, a complete recitation of the current status of scholarship in the field, and at least  one theoretical framework.  It was sometimes boring, but I was pretty good at it, and I had publications with major university presses.
 
Then I retired and turned to a new field of study—one that had always interested me but in which I had little formal instruction. I wanted to write about a small battle of the Civil War, basing the narrative on a letter collection written by my great uncle who founght there. I wrote the kind of book I knew how to write—full of illustrations, professionally drawn maps, lengthy bibliography, and tons of footnotes. I sent the manuscript off to the university presses I knew, and they said “No, thank you. Not enough theroetical positioning, not enough discussion of the current scholarship in the field, no review of literature, yada, yada, yada.”
 
So I re-grouped, faced the fact that my audience was no longer filled with fellow academics, decided there was another audience out there, and sent it off to some smaller publishers who specialized in Civil War books. One accepted it almost immediately and I sent it off unchanged from the original.  They published it, in all its academic gobbledegook, and offered it to re-enactors and battlefield visitors. it fell flat. Only my friends bought it, and they did so only to be nice.
 
When the publisher remaindered it, I took back my publishing rights, did a major overhaul, and created the kind of book the Civil War buffs seemed to be looking for. I took out the footnotes, rewriting to put any vital citations into the text. I took out all the illustrations and put them up on Pinterest for anyone who was really interested. And then I tightened the storyline, hired a cover designer to come up with a more appealing picture, and put much more emphasis on the human interest angles. It was still my book. I was still writing what I knew and what I cared about, but this time I kept the reader in mind. And I sold over 700 books in the first two weeks of Kindle publication.
 
That’s what I call “giving the readers what they are looking for.” KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE!
 
I still have to remind myself of that from time to time. Almost all of my books are set in and around Charleston, South Carolina. Recently I published  a novel set in western Pennsylvania, and my South Carolina readers hate it. It’s not what they expect. I’ve gotten the message. The next one returns to Charleston.
 
I had a NaNoCabinmate a couple of years ago who tried to talk me into writing medieval fantasy. I could do that and It would probably be fun (I love Harry Potter!). But I won’t do it. My readers know I’m a historian as well as a writer. They comment on how much they learn from my books. They trust me to give them the nitty-gritty, even when it’s not convenient or pleasant. I can’t betray that trust by turning to fantasy and telling them that dragons are real or giving Henry VIII a seventh wife.
 
One more horrible example set by someone else. A highly selective book award contest recently asked me to review a new book just coming out. It was a war story, but it flashed back and forth between the story of brave and single-minded soldiers in wartime, and the blatantly sexual antics  their wives were up to back home. The audience the writer had in mind was quite obvious. (Note: On Amazon, he had one review from a fellow who admitted he read a lot of “erotica” and gave it five stars.)
 
He was writing for a certain male audience who would enjoy wallowing in their own pornographic fantasies. That was his choice, and he was free to make it. I think he understood that audience. But the poor fellow made the mistake of thinking that everyone would like the kind of book he had written. So he entered a serious book contest designed for military writers.  And instead of someone who likes erotica, he got a reviewer-judge who happened to be an elderly military wife. And she was not amused.
 
Bottom line: You are free to pick your audience. Decide who you want to read your book, and then figure out what they want to read. Then write for them.
 

 

Five More Commandments from Elmore Leonard

While I’m mulling over my writing options, I’m taking a refresher course from some experts.  About six years ago, when I was just setting out as a writer, I came across Elmore Leonard’s  “Ten Rules for Writing.” The essay had appeared in The New York Times, in a series of articles called “Writers on Writing.”  The points he made have stuck with me ever since, although I re-read them periodically.  I thought you might enjoy them, too.
 
Being A Good Author Is A Disappearing Act, Cont'.
By ELMORE LEONARD



6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories “Close Range.”

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” what do the “American and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)
If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character—the one whose view best brings the scene to life—I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in “Sweet Thursday” was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. “Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts” is one, “Lousy Wednesday” another. The third chapter is titled “Hooptedoodle 1” and the 38th chapter “Hooptedoodle 2” as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: “Here’s where you’ll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won’t get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want.”

“Sweet Thursday” came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I’ve never forgotten that prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.

Some Blog Posts Never Grow Old

While I’m mulling over my writing options, I’m taking a refresher course from some experts.  About six years ago, when I was just setting out as a writer, I came across Elmore Leonard’s  “Ten Rules for Writing.” The essay had appeared in The New York Times, in a series of articles called “Writers on Writing.”  The points he made have stuck with me ever since, although I re-read them periodically.  I thought you might enjoy them, too.
 
Being A Good Author Is A Disappearing Act.
By ELMORE LEONARD

These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.
They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.
There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s “Sweet Thursday,” but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .
. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.”

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
.
 
We’ll look at the last five tomorrow.

The K.I.S.S. Principle

As I started thinking about story arcs, I ran across this set of guidelines. It was put together by someone who does a lot of reviewing, and as a reviewer myself, i can clearly imagine the kind of book that spurred him to compose it.  It appeared as part of a longer article, which you might find at: www.writermarkstevens.com, but even without the rest of the article, his point is clear: “Think about your reader, not yourself. The important question is not what you want to write, but what your reader wants to read.” You don’t have to follow these rules – unless, of course, you hope to sell your book!

Hope I can keep them firmly in mind for the next thirty days.

    •     Keep it simple.
    •     Give me one character with a strong point of view.
    •     Show me that character’s attitude about one thing.
    •     Don’t give me blah.
    •     Or ordinary.
    •     Give me edge; risk.
    •     Convince me that the story starts on this day.
    •     Rivet me with a colorful detail. Or two.
    •     Decide why I want to spend a few hundred pages with your main character and give me one reason to engage in the first few pages.
    •     Help me see, taste, smell, touch. Make it sensory.
    •     Avoid using dialogue that is only designed to fill readers in on the background lives of the characters. (Just don’t!) This is dialogue as “info dump.” It’s deadly.
    •     But, mostly, keep it simple.
    •     Really simple.
    •     No, really.