Trivial Thursday: three events

On June 29, many events in literary history occurred that intrigue me, but I've chosen these few to bring to your attention.

In 1613, the Globe Theater, where most of Shakespeare's plays debuted, burned to the ground. Like other theaters of that era, the Globe was a round wooden structure with a stage at one end and covered balconies for the gentry. Galleries could seat about a thousand with "standing room" on the ground around the stage for another two thousand.

Shakespeare's acting company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, had built the Globe in 1599 from the remains of Burbage's Theater which had been London's first permanent theater in 1576. Before Burbage had built his theater, plays and such were informal events found on street corners and in the yards of inns.

The second event I find of much importance is the anniversary of the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the most popular woman poet of the 19th century in British literature. I was an impressionable young girl when I discovered her in English lit. I can still recite How Do I Love Thee after all these years.

She died on this day in Florence, Italy, in 1861 and was buried there. She'd come to view Florence as her spiritual home. Her husband Robert, considered a lesser talent most of the 19th century, planned to be buried beside her. Twenty-eight years later when he died in Venice, the Florentine cemetery was full. Separated by death, they remained separated when he was buried in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.

A final momentous event was the marriage on this day in 1854 of Charlotte Brontë and young curate Arthur Bell Nichols. Charlotte's difficult father, also a curate, refused to go to the wedding so she was given away in marriage by her former teacher, a Miss Wooler, after first consulting the Prayer Book and determining that no gender was indicated for the "friend" who was to give the bride away in the absence of the father.

How very appropriate and assertive for the woman writer who many consider gave birth to women's fiction. You, of course, recall that Charlotte under the pen name Bell wrote Jane Eyre, another book that inspired and thrilled me--along with a few million other women through the centuries.

The Reactive Square

I wanted to share this quotation with you. It's such a perfect description of a book.

"A book is a human-powered film projector (complete with feature film) that advances at a speed fully customized to the viewer's mood or fancy. This rare harmony between object and user arises from the minimal skills required to manipulate a bound sequence of pages. Each piece of paper embodies a corresponding instant of time which remains frozen until liberated by the act of turning a page."

So said John Maeda in The Reactive Square published in 1994.

Don't you just love that?

Focus, focus, focus

Focus. Focus. Focus. What does that really mean in the writing biz?

I was talking with a friend recently, and I told her that I think I finally know what it means in all its permutations. So I started to list them for her because she's been struggling with what kind of book to write next. Struggling because she's extremely talented and committed, but can't seem to hand New York a manuscript that is totally and completely loved. She gets rave reviews in letters that tell how wonderful her writing is and how much the reader liked it, but there's inevitably a BUT in there that describes why her manuscript is being returned.

So, like many who keep getting rejected, she's decided to give them what they want - a story like all the others on the shelves or in the pipeline due to hit the shelves within the next 12-24 months.

I don't think this is the answer because usually by the time a writer gets that kind of manuscript finished, the trend has died. I mean how many vampire and werewolf stories, comic or serious, can the market sustain? Look what happened to chick lit.

So we talked about focus. Here are some of the things I came up with.

Know what kind of story YOU like and write the kind of story you want to read. It's hard as heck to write something you don't like.

Know what your strengths are and work to exploit them.

Know your weaknesses and work to improve them.

Submit your manuscript when it is ready, and aim for a good agent so you can be published well rather than just be published. (Read M. J. Rose's blog Buzz, Balls, and Hype if you don't understand what I mean.)

Start another manuscript immediately.

Write everyday even if it's only a paragraph or notes about the story.

Keep submitting until you find someone who likes your writing.

Target that person with as much tenacity as a pit bull hangs on to a meaty bone.

Create an ongoing dialogue with that person.

Keep writing, editing, improving, and submitting until you are accepted.

Ignore trends. By the time you hear the music, the parade will have passed you by.

Ignore what others are doing, the stories they are selling, the multiple book contracts and big bucks they are receiving. They worked hard to get what they're getting so applaud them, stamp out the envy, and get back to work.

Ignore advice that your gut tells you is wrong. But make sure you are open to new information because sometimes your intuition is fueled by fear.

Don't listen to what other people say you should be doing. Design your own plan and follow it. Where do you want to be one year from now? Five years? How do you plan to get there a year from now?

Believe in yourself. Develop your own mantra that addresses your insecurities and read it, better yet, write it, every day. To thine ownself be true, but somehow figure out how to be honest with yourself and what you want to write yet still produce a product someone wants to buy.

Know what you want to write. It's like declaring a major in college. How can you achieve something if you don't know what you want. Declare or put in writing: I want to be published in __________. Fill in that blank with whatever genre appeals most.

Focus on that genre. Don't write a romance this time and a mystery the next then a science fiction unless you are inordinately talented, already multi-published, and have a reading audience that would follow you from romance to literary fiction without hesitation.

Acquire tunnel vision with your goal at the end of that tunnel. Keep your eyes on the goal and don't look at the distractions on the side. When you do this, you don't give a lot of attention to the obstacles so they lose their power over you.

Focus. Simple. But not easy.

Scarier than a cheesy horror flick

I received these pictures in a round of emails and went to Snopes to see if they were authentic. Unfortunately, they are though one was not from the same event.

Brrrr. Scares the bejesus out of me.

Sling Words going for another cup of java. Too early in the morning for stuff like this.

Cautionary tale for writers

A few years ago I spoke at a writers' conference and ran into a friend I hadn't seen in a long while. After the usual conversation between writers, she told me she had recently paid nearly four thousand dollars for a valuable writing lesson. Astonished and frankly curious as to what could have cost that much money, I asked her to tell me more.

Turns out, she'd submitted her manuscript to an agent who in turn praised it and said it just needed some editorial input to make it publishable and ready for submission to the big boys in New York. They had an editorial consultant in mind who could take her immediately if she paid in advance.

This woman is intelligent, educated, and normally sane. She'd tried for years to get published. To her, this sounded like her brass ring. She mailed them a check for three thousand some-odd dollars. A few months later she received her edited manuscript.

When she began reading what had taken her years to write, she immediately felt ill. I'm sure her blood pressure sky-rocketed. She told me she found her pristine punctuation replaced by commas, haphazardly injected or erroneously removed. Her tightly edited active voice narrative had been replaced with wooden passive passages.

Her brown eyes were awash with unshed tears when she told me how she realized she'd been had - taken for a ride. And it cost her nearly four thousand hard-earned dollars from her day job salary for the ticket. The killing blow was delivered with the returned manuscript. The so-called agent decided the story really wasn't as salable as originally thought so representation was declined.

If you're a writer and think you need an agent, then for God's sake, do your homework. Know who the demon agents are. Demon agents? Yes, those who prey upon writers and are only too willing to suck the soul and every dollar they can get out of the unwary.

With the Internet, you can find out just about anything you want about any individual, especially agents.

Here are some basic actions you always need to take when seriously interested in an agent.

1. Join a writing organization that has a professional relations committee or agent liaison. Romance Writers of America has such. They maintain a data base of complaints against agents. Check out the prospective agent with your organization.

2. Plug the name into the major search engines and follow the links, and go to more than the first few pages.

3. Ask for information from the writers forums or lists from present clients and past clients of said agent. Request those willing to share email you privately.

4. Go to any of the Internet sites that report on agents.

5. Please check out the list of the 20 Worst Agents maintained by Science Fiction Writers Association and find out who to avoid.

6. When you think you've found someone reputable, know what questions to ask about the agency business practices. These can be found on many websites, published in many articles, etc. I'll post a list of them in a later blog so check back.

7. Use your common sense. If something seems wrong, trust your intuition.

8. Know what you want from an agent and be prepared to express that in your negotiations. If you want had-holding and the agent you've singled out isn't big on mothering, find another agent.

9. Never, ever pay an agent for reading your manuscript or editing. Agents make their income from selling your manuscripts. If they require certain business expenses be reimbursed to them, know this in advance and find out if this is common with most agents. If you don't like it, find a different agent.

10. Educate yourself about contracts so you'll know if an agent is doing the best job of representing you. If an agent pushes you to sign a contract with what is commonly called "basket accounting" in order to make a sale, then that agent doesn't have your best interests at heart. Know the clauses. Know what is standard and what can be negotiated. Novelists Inc., Authors Guild, and Romance Writers of America, to name a few, have published wonderful analyses of standard contracts.

Don't ever be lazy and ignore the research a smart writer needs to do. Writing income is never "easy come," but it's all too "easy go" if you are unwary.

Travel pics: delta museums

If you get a chance to visit the tiny Louisiana town of Ferriday, hometown of Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley, by all means stop by the Delta Music Museum. My Mom, a true Jerry Lee fan, is standing in front of their sign in this pic. The museum has inducted a dozen famous Louisianians into their Hall of Fame. Outside, to the right of the entrance to what was an old Post Office building, laser-etched slabs celebrate the three cousins above, along with Fats Domino, Percy Sledge, Irma Thomas, Johnny Horton, and others. Nice museum. Definitely worth a look for music lovers.

Ferriday has another museum celebrating Jerry Lee Lewis and his sister Linda Gayle Lewis. The Lewis Family Museum, a bit unorganized and run down and totally without air conditioning, is operated by Frankie Jean, sister to the Killer. Frankie greets you personally and throws out an anecdote here and there, but she also goes to great length to tell the visitor "don't get me wrong, I love Jerry Lee and Linda Gayle, but neither of them give a dime to support this museum." She takes donations to support her museum which is the home in which she and her siblings grew up. This one was a definite experience.

That's about it for the interesting things I saw on my swing through Louisiana and Mississippi. Well, I'm not counting relatives I visited and fun I had with them.

The next blog you read here will be about writing.

Sling Words out.

Vicksburg National Military Park

This is on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River at Vicksburg.

Carved reliefs mounted in a curving line below a cannon emplacement.

Travel pics: Vicksburg casino

The casinos on the Mississippi River are designed to look like river boats, that is, what everyone thinks a riverboat looks like courtesy of Hollywood.

Here's my mom standing in front of the Ameristar Casino in Vicksburg, quite a grandiose vessel though I doubt it could actually sail away from the dock.

Sling Words out and moving on.

Travel pics: Vicksburg, Mississippi

This is the double bridge that separates Mississippi and Louisiana. I'm on the Vicksburg side visiting a scenic park commemorating the Battle of Vicksburg.

The Battle of Vicksburg was in 1863 and was officially "Grant’s Operations against Vicksburg." The battle was waged from May 18 until July 4 with Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant against Confederate States Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton. The forces engaged in the battle were the Army of the Tennessee (Blue) and the Army of Vicksburg (Gray).

An estimated 19,233 people lost their lives with 10,142 from the U.S. and 9,091 from the Confederacy.

Grant’s armies converged on Vicksburg, entrapping a Confederate army under Pemberton. Finally, on July 4, Vicksburg surrendered after a prolonged siege. This was considered one of the most brilliant military campaigns of the War Between the States.

With the loss of Pemberton’s army and Vicksburg, a vital stronghold on the Mississippi, the Confederacy was effectively split in half.

According to all I've seen, the South could have been conquered more quickly if they'd just opened up casinos. Legalized gambling seems to have done a pretty fair job of decimating the states I've been visiting. Crime of every type is up. Employment is down. States that once produced goods and services now produce "entertainment" along with gamblers, blackjack dealers, and lots of people with addictions of one kind or another. Too often those who can ill afford to gamble are the ones, paycheck in their pocket, at the tables and slots.

Sling Words climbing off her soap box now.

Not my fault

First, let me say that reports of my escape from the Blogosphere are greatly exaggerated. Yes, I'm gone, but it's not my fault.

Marvelous SBC servers for my region exploded or imploded or something last Wednesday. Suffice it to say, I have no internet until further notice.

So I went traveling. I'm at my Mom's and managed, via the archaic utility known as DIAL UP to get to the Internet where I am now posting this excuse - I mean apology.

I'm traveling around and making notes and taking pictures of whatever strikes my fancy. It's all fodder for the writing muse, isn't it?

Plan to be home next week sometime. In the meantime, I'll post whenever I can log on and try to send some nice pics.

So here's my first attempt at sending a travel picture. This was the main street, also known as Highway 15, in Mangham, Louisiana, on Flag Day. The photo doesn't do it justice. Flags stretched in both directions in the small town. Patriotic events are very important in small town America, and most towns I passed through had flags flying.

Sling Words out.

10 tips from the pros from Dover

How many of you get the allusion "pros from Dover?"

I've been reading through some old notes in my zeal (yeah, right!) to finish cleaning out my files.

Here's advice - some good, some droll - in the form of often quoted remarks from the pros:

1. You must write. You must finish what you write. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order. You must put it on the market until sold. (Robert A. Heinlein)

2. I try to leave out the parts that people skip. (Elmore Leonard)

3. When in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns. (Raymond Chandler)

4. Never let a domestic quarrel ruin a day’s writing. If you can’t start the next day fresh, get rid of your wife. (Mario Puzo)

5. The difference between using the right word and the one that is almost right is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. (Mark Twain)

6. Never mistake emotion for action. (Ernest Hemingway)

7. Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft. (Stephen King)

8. If you wish to be a writer, write. (Epicetus)

9. Read, read, read. Read everything - trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprenctice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window. (William Faulkner)

10. There’s no such thing as a born writer. It’s a skill you’ve got to learn, just like learning how to be a bricklayer or a carpenter. You’ve got to write X number of words before you can write anything that can be published, but nobody is able to tell you how many words that is. You will know when you get there, but you don’t know how long it will take. (Larry Brown)

So now you know. Go forth and write.

Sling Words out.

Apparently, I'm hiding

I can't believe a whole week has passed without my blogging. I have a really good excuse though. I've been helping my daughter move for the last two weeks. Lugging scores of boxes up a flight of stairs has been such fun that I simply didn't have time to blog.

Finally, she's moved; I'm exhausted.

No respite for the weary though. The rental property needed additional work. The contractor I'd hired left little things here and there undone. He's "too busy" to come back and do them so guess who's elected to finish the job?

In another week, I start upgrades on another property. Whoever thinks "flipping property" is an easy way to make a killing, think again.

Kindly allow for a period of recuperation in which I hope to get some actual writing done on my work in progress then I'll be back slinging words again in the blogosphere.

Stay tuned.