Frustration, Thy Name Is Technology!

Okay, I’m stumped. My computer keeps telling me that the link to Mark Arnold’s great Sci-fi short, If Wishes Were Horses, is broken. BUT: when I click on the broken link, it takes me there anyway. Still, to be fair to everyone, I’ve tried taking it out and putting it back in a dozen or so times. And every time it comes up broken!

Don’t ask me. Technology has me pulling out my hair – and I don’t have enough to lose! I can’t figure out what the problem is, so until I can get to my computer Guru (at least one of them), if you want to check out Mark’s wonderful story – well worth the $1.99, by the way – just open a new tab and type in the bitly address: bit.ly/QGEgnB

That will take you right to his page. Then just click on the book cover to get more information on the book and how to orer it. Meanwhile, I’ll be pulling out my hair over all this conflicting, confusing technology, and checkingout wigs on the net! Hmmm… wonder how I’ll look as a redhead…

Harses, Harses on the Beach

If you’re looking for a truly evocative photo for ideas for characters or stories, here’s a fantastic one from writer/photographer Mark Arnold (you can find his sci-fi novella here: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/93948) California’s Central Coast is a treasure trove of photo opportunities, none more so than Morro Bay with its mystifying, mythic Rock looming just off-shore. And being in the right place at the right time doesn’t hurt, either.

Three riders on the beach in front of Morro Rock

Harses, Harses on the Beach

This photo blew me away, especially since Mark took it with his phone camera! He calls it “Harses.” It tells a whole story in itself: the lowering, threatening sky, the huge rock lurking just offshore, the three riders walking their horses at the waterline. One almost feels as though one has moved back in time to the early days of Anglo settlement of the Pacific shores.

But what else can a writer see here besides the Wild West? Perhaps it is because I know Mark writes the most amazing sci-fi, but I wonder about that Rock – or is it a rock? What if it were alive, an alien sea creature lying in wait for unsuspecting riders to wander by? Do the riders sense the danger? Is that why they are walking their horses instead of galloping by as fast as they can?

What kind of monster is this lying in wait? Maybe a creature risen from the depths of the sea, or an alien who crash landed in the ocean. And the shapes on the beach, are they merely clumps of seaweed washed up with the tide, or could they be previous victims of the Rock Creature? Or maybe they are baby rock creatures that have just been hatched and are migrating to the water.

Another look at the photo shows one rider has moved a bit away from the other two. Why?  Is this rider reluctant to accompany the other two? Or perhaps he/she does not want to rider any closer to the hulk in the water.

Who are these riders? They could simply be horse owners or lovers out for an early morning ride. But their motive could be more nefarious. Is one a kidnap victim being taken to a hidden place along the shore? Are they inspecting private property that fronts the ocean with an eye to wresting possession from the rightful owner? Or is this a post-Apocalyptic world and horses are the only transport available?

Are those threatening clouds that fill the sky, a presage of dangerous weather to come? Perhaps the air is merely filled with the misty marine layer that usually greets each summer morning along this shore. But maybe the mist is alive, rising into the air from the surface of the ocean waters, seeking what – Food? Slaves? Victims? As these riders come closer and closer to the Rock, will they merely continue on past it, or find themselves transported through the mists to another dimension? And what will they find there?

Who ever thought an early morning ride could be so story-inspiring?

Susan

Words To Write With: Lubricious
Definition: (adj. Lat.) offensively displaying or intended to arouse sexual desire; smooth and slippery with oil or similar substance.
Synonyms: slick, greasy, unctuous
Usage: His lubricious smile made her wish she hadn’t agreed to be alone with him.

What a Wonder to Win!

Last weekend the 28th Annual Central Coast Writer’s Conference brought a couple hundred writers to San Luis Obispo for some fabulous workshops and fantastic networking opportunities. Poet, actor, novelist, screenwriter, energy dynamo and all-around good-guy comedian Jack Grapes gave a kenote address that thrilled and inspired the entire audience.

Jack Grapes Gving Keynote Speech

Jack Grapes Kept Us Spellbound

Among the presenters was Jeff Carlson of Plague Series fame, who gave us a rundown on how to keep suspense high in our work.

Jeff Carlson Giving Pointers on Suspense

Jeff Carlson Giving Pointers on Suspense

The volunteers kept things running smoothly. We even garnered a lot of compliments for our smiling faces and helpful attitudes. And we all have a blast every year. Some of us have been together for years, under the able leadership of Anna Unkovich, who knows how to get things done, along with Kirk Carmichael from Communiy Services.

The 2012 Group of Volunteers

The Motley Volunteer Group

Volunteer Coordinator Anna Unkovich and Kirk Carmichael

Anna Unkovich and Kirk Carmichael

Conference Director Judy Salamacha (on the left, with book blogger Danielle Smith) lined up a truly stellar faculty. The energy ran high for both of the two bootcamps (Travel Writing, and Tech Toys and Tools) as well as the entire conference. I’ve been attending and/or working the conference since 2005 and I must say this year was the best ever in terms of information, energy and networking.

Conference Director Judy Salamacha and Book Blogger Danielle Smith

Judy Salamacha and Danielle Smith

Best of all, SLO NightWriters again took the lion’s share of the prizes in the Lillian Dean First Page Competition. Of the 13 awards, NightWriter members grabbed 7. Congratulations to: Paul Fahey, Adrienne Harris, Rebecca Waddell (who won two prizes!), Judythe Guarnera, Anna Unkovich – and me!

Susan Tuttle, 2012 Query Letter Winner

Query Lettter Category Winner, Susan Tuttle Reads Her Letter

Yes, that’s me, reading my winning entry. It’s a new category this year, a query letter – limited to 250 words. The judge said that my entry was “perfect.” When I heard that, I leaned over to Debra Davis Hinkle and said, “Well, it sure isn’t mine.” Then they announced my name! I couldn’t believe it. Imagine… hearing that the judge said it was a perfect query letter. My prize is I get to send the first 10 pages of my novel to the Larson-Pomada Agency. I just hope they like it as much as the judge liked the query. And I sure wish I knew who that judge was… (Read my winning query letter on the My Writing Page, Winning Entries)

The Central Coast Writers conference is definitely one not to miss. If you’re in the area next year, don’t miss it!

The Birthday That Went Bad

Anna Unkovich (www.annaunkovich.com) sent me this fascinating photo, the third of the trio that told the saga of the setting: one without the cake, one with the cake, and the third with the cake eaten. I found the third to be the most evocative.

Birthday Cake Eaten by One

Only One Place Setting Used

 

It shows a small glass table for two set for a private celebration. The card is open and, presumably, read, the cake eaten and one plate used. Only one, though it was set for two. The second plate remains pristine, with the napkin still covering its eating surface. Why?

Who are the two people who should have been there, celebrating this birthday? Two lovers, one of whom is married? A married couple? Two friends? What circumstances would have kept one of them away? Perhaps there was an accident. Perhaps the wife (or husband) discovered the illicit affair. Perhaps the friend found something more important to do. Or (given my suspense/mystery roots) perhaps the second person lies elsewhere in the room, dead. Now, there’s a story!

Where is this celebratory venue? In a restaurant, a hotel room, a living room, an office? Why did the one person who came eat the cake all alone? The entire piece of cake was eaten. Was it finished out of spite, or sorrow? And was the person who ate it the one celebrating the birthday, or was the birthday person the one who did not show up?

The story could go anywhere, involve anything. What direction will your story take?

Susan Tuttle

Let me know what this inspires you to write!

WRITING TIP: 

(From Write It Right, Volume 1: Story) A person’s quirks and/or weaknesses make them interesting. No one would want to be around someone who is perfect, not for very long—even super heroes have a foot or two of clay in their makeup. Mine your characters’ pasts to find intriguing faults that will make them even more real to your readers.

Cat Falls For Cloth Doll

Even silly snaps we take ourselves can spark some great story ideas. This one I took of my (late) cat, Sir Whikis the Weighty (aka Whiskers) not only makes people laugh, it also gives writers great fodder for story ideas and characters.

Cat sleeping with cloth doll

 

What has made the cat fall in love with this cloth doll? Why has it become his security blanket? Does he carry it around the house with him. (Yes, he actually did!) What would happen if he could not find the doll? Would he still be able to sleep without his doll with him? What kind of thought process would occur in this cat’s brain when he first saw the doll? If someone took the doll away, what would the cat do? Who does the cat think he’s actually sleeping with when he’s with the doll?

If you translate these images into people, who would they be? Would the cat be a child, clinging to his security blanket because of an unstable home life? Or would it become an old man losing his memory, clinging to a last vestige of his past? Would the doll remain a doll, or would it morph into something of deeper significance to the human character?

Whether you anthropomorphize the cat or turn him human, there are great stories waiting in this photo.

Susan Tuttle

 Comments? Your story ideas from this photo…

QUOTE TO WRITE BY:

“I’m not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for?”          ~Alice Walker

Danger in the Moment?

Sometimes even the most mundane, ill-composed snaps can offer story opportunities. I took this one Christmas while my Dad, Ed Tuttle, was still alive. I don’t remember what he and my cousin Dennis Sullivan were looking at, but my imagination has been supplying all sorts of suggestions.

I think it’s the expressions on the faces that intrigue me so much here. Dad (Ed) looks a bit puzzled and quite sobered by what he is holding. Dennis, on the other hand, has a slight smirk on his face, as though he is privy to a joke only he knows. What could it be? What is Ed holding? Why is it important to either of them?

If you look closer, you can see that Dennis’ expression really is quite enigmatic. Is he really trying to hold back a smirk, or is he on the verge of weeping? Has Dennis given the object to Ed, or is Ed holding it up for Dennis to see? To whom does or did it belong? What is its purpose?

What could evoke such rich emotion in both Ed and Dennis? Does it hold danger for them, or for someone they love? Or is it a mememto from someone they have lost? Or simply a leftover part from a you-built-it Christmas purchase?

Where will this picture take you?

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your ideas from this snapshot…

I RECOMMEND:

“Academic Body” by Shirley S. Allen, available on Kindle.

This delightful, classic cozy mystery is well written and superbly plotted. An engrossing read that will keep you guessing right up to the end. One of the best mysteries I’ve read in a long time, with wonderful lead characters that I hope will reappear again and again. Kudos to Anne R. Allen’s 91-year-old mother, Shirley S. Allen, for doing it right.

Join Me On Blog Talk Radio!

Exciting News!

I will be interviewed this Thursday at 3:00 pm Pacific time on blog talk radio by author Barbara M. Hodges. This is  first for me, and I’m so excited about it. If you can listen live, please do. Just click on the link below and you’ll find a telephone number you can call to ask questions if you’d like. If you can’t be there at 3:00 pm Pacific time this Thursday, September 13, you can always listen to the show later in the archives.

This will be a big week for me. Tuesday I’m giving a presentation on Point of View (POV) at the SLO NightWriters general meeting. I learned how to do Power Point (via Apple Keynote) so I could have a more interesting presentation. Handouts, too. Anyone in the SLO area —  the meeting is free and open to the public. Check out the SLO NightWriters website for directions to the venue: www.slonightwriters.org

And then Thursday, the radio show. Here’s the link: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rrradio/2012/09/13/rrw-no-limits

We’ll be talking about Tangled Webs and my Write It Right series, among other things. And answering any of your questions. Hope you enjoy the show!

Susan

Stairs of Bloodred

The stairs might be reminiscent of blood, but this sweet little photo has great potential for stories. Anna Unkovich sent it to me from the vast collection she’s snapped on her many travels. (www.annaunkovich.com)

Romance comes to my mind when I look at this photograph. I imagine two lovers meeting at the top in the dark of night to plan their elopement. They come from two different classes and have been forbidden to speak to each other. But somehow they have managed to fall in love, and want only to live together in peace. Will this trysting place bcome their stairway to heaven, or will it lead them down into despair?

Or I see an old man leaning on the railing, looking down into the still water below, remembering his life. The revolution, the betrayal, the deaths of his youth. The bittersweet loves of his middle years. The lonely isloation of old age. Where will this staircase lead him?

Who will you place on this staircase? What of this scene will be of significance? The still water? The surrounding trees? The red color of the stairs themselves? Do you—or do your characters—see these steps as leading them up to something (or out of something) or down into something?

Where will these stairs lead your story?

Susan Tuttle

 Comments?  Your ideas from this photo…

WORDS TO WRITE WITH:

“Hieratic”
Definition: (N. or Adj. Lat. hieraticus, priest, holy) of or relating to priests; of or relating to styles of art that adhere to fixed types or methods; highly restrained and formal.
Synonyms: priestly, sacerdotal
Usage: The hieratic sculptures, though thought-provoking, left the viewers curiously unmoved.

10 Steps to the Top of the e-Book Chain

With the advance of technology, anyone who can put words into a word processing program and upload a file can post a book in electronic form. Witness the thousands of volumes that appear almost daily on Amazon’s Kindle, to say nothing of the other electronic venues.

With all that competition, how do you get your books noticed? There are any number of ways: social media; giveaways; reviews, etc. Those are all great ways get people to sample your first offering. But how do you keep them coming back for more? How do you make sure they will remember your name and keep buying your books? Follow these 10 steps to take your place at the top:

1) Do not to rush to publication. It’s so tempting to skip that last edit, not send the manuscript out for a final professional vetting and just get it out there. But one of the things I’m finding in reading e-Books is that the ease of posting one makes writers over-eager. They put out their books before the work is truly ready.

This is not happening with just the free or 99 cent books. I’m finding it true with well-established authors, too. One might think an e-Book is considered a poor cousin to the print version, an “Uncorrected Advance Proof,” if you will. The final, critical comb-through has not been done, leaving the reader to navigate a minefield of typos, missing punctuation, incorrect formatting and mis-used words. All of which pull them out of the story. Make your manuscript as picture-perfect as it can be by doing the following:

2) Take your manuscript though a good critique group (more than one is even better). Listen carefully to what others say about your story and your writing. Consider the adage: if one person says you’re a horse, they’re crazy. If three people tell you you’re a horse, it’s a conspiracy. If ten people tell you you’re a horse, it’s time to buy a saddle. (Thanks, Anna!) Let go of ypur ego and do what needs to be done to improve the manuscript.

3) Do the necessary revisions. Every story needs rewriting, most more than once. Work to make each draft better than the one before.

4) Have the “finished” manuscript critiqued again. This will address those nit-picky things that keep your story just below excellent. With this critique, you can hone until the story is truly tight and compelling.

5) Put it away (hard as that is) for at least a month. Six months is better. It’s the only way to gain the distance needed to be able to view it objectively to see if it needs further revisions.

6) Go over it one more time. Distance from the manuscript will help you check for inconsistencies, misspellings, shaky grammar, punctuation errors, etc. Correct anything you find and then…

7) Have it proofed by a copy editor and a concept editor. Hire editors as professional as you can afford. (If money is an issue—and when isn’t it?—try trading editing or proofing services with another writer.) I say two editors because not all editors are equally skilled at both kinds of editing. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one who is.

A copy editor (sometimes called a line editor) looks for typos, misspelled words, wonky punctuation and grammar errors. This is almost impossible to do yourself because, as the author, you know what it is supposed to say and your eye will correct it before your brain registers the mistake. (Trust me, I know. I grew up editing educational manuscripts that authors claimed were “perfect,” and found numerous errors every time.) It’s best to find someone who hasn’t yet read the book for copy editing. Concept editors will check for such things as consistency in character descriptions and characterizations, settings and action, errors in logic, missed words, consistency in story arc, subplot relevance, etc. It’s equally important to make sure Joe’s eyes aren’t blue in chapter 2 and green in chapter 10 as it is that everything is spelled correctly.

8) Format your book properly. Missing line breaks, the absence of indents, and paragraphs that don’t start on a new line can make even a well-written book unreadable. Been there, read a bunch of those. There are special formatting rules you need to know to format a book properly for e-format. If you don’t know them, or don’t know how to do them, find someone who does.

9) Hire a Professional Cover Designer. There is a specific format for e-book covers that includes size and placement of graphics and words. Visibility in thumbnail size is critical. Cover designers are not expensive and it’s well worth the $25—$50 to make sure your cover stands out from the rest.

10) Check your e-Book immediately after it’s posted. Don’t assume because you followed steps #1-#9 that your finished product will automatically be perfect. There may still be issues that need addressing, mistakes that weren’t caught. Price it a 99 cents, send it to two or three friends (as well as yourself), then have them check it thoroughly on an e-Book reader. Note any errors, correct them, then take the book down and upload the corrected version. You can adjust the price if needed once you know you’ve done all you could to erase any errors.

This sounds like a lot to have to do before getting your book into virtual print. But consider this: Say there are two books available in the same genre for the same price. Each are equally good stories. But from the previous work of these two authors, you know that Author A’s books often have misspellings, format problems and bad punctuation. Author B’s books are almost always perfect.

Which one would you want to read? Which would you spend your money on? Which one will rise to the top?

If you want to be at the top of the e-Book Chain, always give readers your very best.

Finn McCool On The Dark Side

Blog # 16: Finn McCool

A writer friend, Debra Davis Hinkle, who loves playing with her photo program, sent me this picture of her beloved horse, Finn McCool, who she lost in 2011. You can check her out on her KritiqueKritics Website: http://www.kritiquekritics.com . She’s a fabulous writer and not bad with photos, either. She’s given us lots to play with here.

Horse Photo in infrared

Ask yourself: Why are the images limned in neon colors? Is it merely a trick of the light, or has something happened to the sun? Is this a post-apocalyptic world? Is the atmosphere dangerous now? Does everything glow with that unearthly light? Or is there something going on just in this field, in this one isolated spot? What could it be?

Is the horse confined within the field? If you look at the two parts of the fence, it appears as tough Finn had the latch in his mouth and is pushing through a gate. Where is he going? What is enticing him away from the field? Perhaps someone stole him away from his owner, and he is trying to get back. Or perhaps he is now part of this eerie world and has a more sinister errand in mind.

Why are there no stars in the sky? No moon glow? Is this a real scene, or only an illusion? A dreamscape of some kind. And whose illusion might it be—a person’s or the horse’s?

If you look closely at the horse, it appears that his body and mane are covered with a light coating of moss. Perhaps this is merely a statue, sculpted from bronze, slowly greening in a farmer’s field. If so, why would it be there? Who would have put it there? For what purpose? Or is this perhaps a long-lost painting from Vincent VanGogh? Where has it been all these years? Who found it. What is it worth? Will the art world accept it as authentic?

Even images that have been computer-enhanced can tell their own stories, tales very different from those the original photo would inspire. What do you see in this computer-twisted image?

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your ideas from this photo…

On Writing: “A novel is an impression, not an argument.” ~Thomas Hardy