Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What's help worth?

I was reading something today that reminded me of an opinion I have long held (also reminded me of a "what if?" situation for a novel plot) for some time.

You know when there's a death in the family or someone's been in an accident or in the hospital or some such, and everyone calls and says, "What can I do to help?" If things are not too bad and you can cope, of course you would rather do things yourself. But if you're really strung out, you grab for kind offers.

So you say, "Yes! Thank you, Helma, you can help! If I shoot you a list of telephone numbers, can you call all these people right away and tell them Uncle Henry died and when the funeral is? We have only two days until the funeral so they have to be notified right away. And can you ask Jim and Hank if they will be pall bearers? Thank you sooooo much!"

The next morning, after spending the night helping Aunt Minerva select a suit and take it to the funeral home and visit the pastor and reserve the church, you call Helma and ask if she had any trouble contacting anyone, and she says, "Oh, you know, I had to drive the girls to their ballet lesson and Herman got home late from work so supper was late and by then it was 9:30 and I thought that was too late to call, but I'll get on it right away this morning."

So at noon you call Helma (between ordering flowers, finding soloists, and contacting the Church Circle for lunch) and you ask her how it went, and Helma says, "Oh, my, I'm sorry, you hit me at such a busy time. I'm on it right now, though; I've set aside time."

You tell her forget it, you'll do it. Your voice is grim. And five will get you ten she is offended and says something like, "Well! That's the last time I offer to help!"

Something like this has happened to me several times and I've learned my lesson. Let people view me as someone who won't accept help from her friends; from now on I'm only accepting help from what? overachievers? true friends? non-morons?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Organization is Tough

I, who value organization above many other things, have an organization problem. It's the reverse of what many writers deal with. My muse hands me inspiration and fantastic ideas for novels, short stories, plays, columns, every time I turn around. I can't seem to stop thinking "what if" when I drive past a lady standing on a boulevard with too many packages, or see ladies in the grocery store intent on displaying their canteloupes, or watch two feisty robins chase a hawk, or see a squirrel cross the driveway, or..... Yes, of course, I jot them all down. I have masses of jottings and mini outlines. But they pile up. And sometimes I feel as though I am spending too much time jotting when I should be writing. Worse, when I select a jotting to be fleshed out, I am torn by all the other jottings that are just as interesting and I sometimes start to work on two of them--an hour on one an hour on the other. What I really want is to be locked in my nice warm cave with my computer with no interruptions, no cats, no need to clean myself, and a little conveyer that sends in food every once in a while.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What's the play about?

I came across a playwright who could not respond to "What's the play about?"

"It's about traditions," she said.

The conversation did not get any better after that. She assumed my literary IQ was room temperature and went into a long artistically overblown song and dance about people who expect a plot. A plot! Good heavens no. I expect an arc. I expected her to have sufficient literary IQ to describe her play, plot or not. For instance: "Richard examines his toes for two hours and concludes that Amanda left him because they were ugly." Or how about this? "Three men reveal their empty lives while waiting for a fourth, who never shows." Or this? "Marianne goes slowly insane while locked in a pink room with nothing but memories of her failures."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Is My Book Worth It!

I'm on a humor discussion board at Amazon, and so many of the posts are self-promoting. Well... yeah... why not? However, the problem, in my estimation, is that we authors may say our book is hilarious, laugh-a-minute, the height of humor, totally enjoyable, and so forth. But is it? (Sure it is. I'm the author and I say so.)

My books have gone through a certain amount of editing and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite, but are they good enough yet? This is e-publishing folks, and e-publishing is SELF-publishing. Many inexperienced and untutored writers write "the end" on their dashed-off novel and launch the puppy the next day, complete with all it's warts. How is a potential reader to know crap from pure cream?

Potential Reader has no way of knowing. So my solution is to put my ebooks up for sale at 99 cents. Surely I will get more readers that way, because I'm assuming a reader's attitude will be, "Well, shucks, it's only a buck; what have I got to lose?"

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Writing a Children's Play

I finished the second rewrite of THE MAGIC FLOUNDER this morning. It's a one-hour children's play based on the old tale about the magic fish.

An interesting stylistic decision comes with writing children's plays based on old tales--how archaic is the language going to be? The playwright can commit to very modern dialogue idiom, which makes for a jazzy play, but in some cases can destroy the original tone of the story. Or the playwright can commit to a certain "once upon a time" dialogue style, but in some cases that can make the characters seem artificial and unbelievable.

In THE MAGIC FLOUNDER, I kept to older style, but tweaked a few noticeably dull phrases closer to this century.

Monday, April 4, 2011


The web site 99designs is an absolutely wonderful place to solicit and receive all sorts of design submissions for a book cover project. I've used it twice now, and have been very satisfied with the results.

What an author does is pay money upfront (usually $295.00 for a decent contest) to 99designs. Then you describe what you want and your particular preferences and wait for the design submissions to roll in. It takes 2-3 days before you see much. After that, as designs are submitted, you may comment on them. Feeding off your comments, designers will often submit new versions of a design with changes as you suggested. At the end of seven days you declare a winner and the designer sends you the design in the format you need, and 99designs pays the designer. And no, you do not have to declare a winner. If you get nothing you like, 99 designs will give you a refund.

The only drawback, and this isn't really a drawback, is that some of the designers are not as connected as they could be. You could say, "this design is nice but it won't work because you have pictured an elegant slim lady and the book is about a fat sloppy lady." And so they put up a new design with some elements changed, but still an elegant slim lady. And you say..... and so it goes through many repeated fat sloppy comments and elegant slim re-submissions.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

When To Stop Writing

So many writing advice gurus advocate plugging away, getting words on paper, working through a "block." I wonder if that's totally the right thing to do? Doesn't it depend on what a person is writing? If one is writing a book on the life cycle of grub worms, then I can see value in plugging on. If one is writing comedy, well, maybe pushing it is okay. But if one is writing serious stuff where every word on paper matters and should have a gem-like quality, I wonder if the best course of action isn't to stop and put it away the minute mental fatigue sets in. Is something--anything--on paper good when next session you have to scrap and rewrite it?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Formatting & Writing

I finally finished formatting DEALER'S CHOICE for Kindle and CreateSpace. That's a tedious process. Worse, every time I go over the text, I find another few typos. Let's hope I finally got them all.

After owning a Kindle for six weeks, I finally decided to use it to download a couple interesting books--and found that it doesn't work! There's a flaw in the screen; only a little corner of it responds. I did the suggested resets, but nothing worked, and now I have to call in and talk to a real person. What I like about that service is that when you click that you want a response by phone, your phone is ringing. Right. Now.