Friday, August 30, 2013

Unsung Heroes

I have two photos of women of faith in silver frames. One is my husband's grandmother and the other is mine. Both are standing in their tomato gardens.  Both are elderly. My husband’s grandmother is smiling in a sea of tomato plants, her hair tied in a scarf, the hem of her dress brushing her knees and her belt cinched high beneath an ample bosom. My grandmother stands in her jaunty hat, patterned shirtwaist dress and cradling heirloom tomatoes in the crook of her arm. I like to think of her family, present and future, cradled close to her heart. Her faith - their faith - in a loving God whom they served their entire lives was the soil for the seeds that produced vibrant spiritual fruit in the future. Our faith ripened on the sunny window sills of their love.

Neither of these women had easy lives, but they did not become outwardly bitter or jaded by what may have seemed to others as a God who tarried in his promises. I don't think it ever occurred to them to step away from their faith. Perhaps they were more concerned with doing their part than in whether or not God was doing His.

Both were more ‘Marthas’ than ‘Marys.’  Neither were writers, but their lives told stories in doing for others, bestowing kindness and grace and being steadfast.  If they were characters in a book, there would be no need to use the right words or actions to show their love for God.  But it would feel completely natural if they did.

They weren’t perfect – family will admit candidly – but we forgave them anyway.   Making their ways sure-footedly along shifting paths down generations of change, we admired them all the more.  They said, ‘See, it can be done.’ While life isn’t safe, it can be safely navigated.

They held us close to their hearts and sunned us in the Father’s love and were the unsung heroes who beg to be written down.  We all know people who make the difference but will never be the central focus.  Nor would they want to be.  It’s enough that the main character stands on their shoulders.

Do you know an unsung hero who deserves to be written? Who has made such an impact in your life that they could only enrich a story?  We’d love to hear.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Writer's Workshop: Perfect Pitch Part 2. The One Line and Query Letter

Now that you’ve rocked the synopsis (see part 1), you’re ready to tackle further reduction of your work in the form of the one line hook, also known as the elevator pitch.

A pitch line must include four components: Main charactermain opponentmain problemmain action.
Here are some pitch lines from well-know works in various genres:

The largest think tank in the world is behind a series of mysterious deaths, and the young widows of two of the victims must stop them.” Are You Afraid of the Dark? By Sydney Sheldon

“When a grizzled war veteran dies on his 83rd birthday, he finds himself in heaven, where the five people who mattered most to him explain the meaning of life.”
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

“A group of strangers, isolated in the Greek village of Agia Anna, must confront everything they have run away from when an explosion on a local tourist boat rocks their world.” Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy

“In nineteenth century England, a partnership between two brilliant conjurers is threatened when one heedlessly pursues the shadowy magic of the Raven King.” Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

A few things to note in these examples:

·      Each pitch is a single sentence.
·      The order in which the four components appear is flexible and flows with the plot.
·      The definition “main character, main opponent” isn’t necessarily a single person. Sheldon’s and Clarke’s books are “buddy stories” inside of other genres and therefore there are two main characters. Binchy’s novel is an ensemble story with multiple POVs.
·      Proper names aren’t important in the pitch line. Whenever possible, use a concise description of your main character and main opponent rather than using their names. (Unless, of course, your opponent’s name is Raven King. That just rocks.)

The query letter

            The query letter used to be called the cover letter back in the days of Moses when people used snail mail to connect with agents. Today, most prefer e-mail, which has led to writers getting sloppy and shooting off less than professional query letters. Tsk.
            All correspondence with an agent/editor/publisher should be professional, short, error free, short, complete, and did I mention short?
            General rules:
·      Always address a specific agent at the agency. Sending out a query that begins “Dear Agent” will end with your query in the “Dear Deleted” file.
·      Always read up on the agency, and every agent you query. Ensure you send an email that includes exactly what they are looking for in a query (e.g. query letter only, query letter and first five pages, or query letter, synopsis and first fifty pages.) Not all agents want to see a synopsis with a query.
·      Never attach a file to a query. All material should be pasted into the body of your email. If the agent’s website tells you to query with a letter, synopsis, and first five pages, you paste all of that (in that order) in the body of the email you send.
·      Address the agent using his or her surname. Dear Ms. Superduper. Dear Mr. Smartguy.
·      Include the date of your query at the top of the page.
·      In the subject line of your email query (this is important!) you must tell the agent what the email is about. It should read like this: “Query—Agent Name—TITLE OF NOVEL by Author Name”
The letter itself should be around five (short) paragraphs. Here’s a template you can use to help craft your query letter. (This is just an example—be creative, use great nouns and verbs, express yourself clearly, creatively, and most of all use the letter to demonstrate your ability to be professional while maintaining your wild creativity.)
·      Opening: If you have a referral from someone, mention it first. This places you on the ground of the agent’s mind and not just floating in the ether of the slush pile. If not, simply thank the agent for the opportunity to query him/her. Then, hit them with the genre, title, and word count of your novel, followed by the pitch line.
·      Second paragraph encapsulates the main action of the plot, but doesn’t necessarily include the outcome (the synopsis includes how the book ends).
·      The third paragraph is about you, your credentials, why you chose to query that agent, your platform (if you have one).
·      Fourth paragraph is your contact info, and sign off.

Example letter:

August 28, 2013

Dear Ms. Agent,

         PARAGRAPH ONE GREETING AND PITCH LINE:  Thank you for the opportunity to query regarding my GENRE-SPECIFIC novel, TITLE, the story of MAIN CHARACTER, a woman trapped in a dull, meaningless existence until she finds a talking pickle on the streets of Chicago, which grants her three wishes.
             PARAGRAPH TWO, OUTLINE OF MAIN PLOT: Pick up from the pitch line, expound on the main problem, and rising tension.

            PARAGRAPH THREE, CONTINUE OUTLINE OF PLOT: Rising tension, things look hopeless, what will our hero do?

                NOVEL TITLE is a modern fairy tale set in Chicago. It is a layered, quirky novel like Comparable Title, blended with the surprise and adult humor of Second Comparable Title.
               The novel was birthed out of my lifelong love of fairy tales, married to the memories of the summer I spent in Chicago working at a Kosher Deli. I make my home in the hills of Montana. LIST OF YOUR PAST PUBLICATIONS IF ANY, INCLUDING ROUGH SALES NUMBERS IF POSSIBLE, AND ANY AWARDS. THEN, YOUR PLATFORM: I blog regularly at, which is linked to my popular Facebook page with 1,000,000 fans and growing daily. I have a huge Twitter following, and a professional website.         

            PARAGRAPH FIVE: Thank you for considering this query. (OR Thank you for considering this query and the first five pages below. OR whatever the agent website specifically asks for.)
             My email is: 
              This is a simultaneous submission. (If it is)
          I look forward to hearing from you.

            Yours truly,
            Hopeful Writer

Never email later asking if the agent will respond. Some agents have an automatic response emails that let you know the agency received your query. Most don’t. That’s too bad, but there’s nothing to be done. If you don’t hear back within a reasonable amount of time 3-8 weeks, move on.

There are a few agencies out there that ask for exclusive submission. If you go after one of those, be honest and wait out the exclusive submission, don’t send the query out to other agents.

Lots here, I know. Hit me with any questions you have regarding synopsis, pitch, and query letter. I’ll do my best to answer, and I’ll also rely on the collective wisdom of the Novel Matters writers, and readers.

Batter up! 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Writer’s Workshop: Perfect Pitch Part 1

This is part one of Bonnie Grove’s shoot from the hip writer’s workshop on selling your work. Part two will run this Wednesday, August 26.

I open with this caveat: No one writer has the market of knowledge cornered when it comes to selling fiction works to agents/editors/publishers. I certainly don’t. What follows is simply observations from my years as a writer and writing mentor. Glean what works for you, what speaks to you, what stirs you, and disregard the rest.

The one line pitch: When a writer prepares material used in a typical pitch, she often begins with the one line, or elevator pitch. That snappy sentence meant to make publishing professionals swoon, gush, and produce a contract for you to sign on the spot. This is a terrible place to start. I’ve never met a writer who, upon completing a 100,000-word manuscript, had a clue what the thing was about. My advice? Don’t start here. You will spend hours futzing with words and come up short. Worse, you’ll start thinking you can’t do this, shove the manuscript in a draw only to be remembered fleetingly throughout the year always with a strong pinch to the heart. Who needs regrets like that? Not you. Don’t start with the one line pitch (we will return to the ins and outs of the elevator pitch in part 2.)

The One Sheet (CBA fiction writers): If you’re writing for the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) market, there’s a chance you’ll use this marketing tool as part of a pitch to agents/editors. The ABA (American Booksellers Association) does not use them. A one sheet isn’t what most writers think it is: a slick, attractive sheet highlighting your story. It does contain those elements, but that’s not the primary purpose or use for a one sheet. If you’re tempted to begin your proposal writing with the one sheet, I say—again—don’t start here. You’ll miss the purpose of this tool if you try to begin here.

The synopsis: Finally, the place to begin your proposal writing. If you haven’t already constructed a chapter outline (something you could do as you write, revising the outline as you revise the manuscript), you’ll be starting from scratch, pulling together the main plot points and relaying them with dazzling clarity and punch. Easy right?

Over the years I’ve noticed a pattern of errors writers make when attempting to condense their novel down to two pages. (Oh, if you’ve wondering how long a synopsis should be: rule of thumb says two-three pages, never exceeding five. I say, except in rare cases, two pages is plenty long. I’ll explain why in a minute.)

The first error is that the synopsis does not contain the plot of the book. This is a large error, as you can imagine, and I bet it’s one you’ve made, too. Instead of plot, the writer waxes long on themes, adding editorial comments along the way, which serve to muddy the waters, drowning any chance of sparking interest or excitement in the project. 

Let’s break this down.

Themes: We love reading novels with rich, complex themes that linger long after we’ve finished the book. We work hard to ensure our novel incorporates, expounds, and defines important themes that bring the story to life, give it legs. When we attempt to condense our novel into two pages, we feel we’re shortchanging our work convening nothing but the plot. The plot, after all, is simply This happened, then this happened, then that happened, then this happened. How dull.

It’s not dull. It’s killer important that you convey the plot in detail in your synopsis. When an agent or editor reads they synopsis, they are looking for the plot. Why make them slog through theme to get the to the stuff they want to see?

Does that mean we save theme solely for the manuscript? Not at all. You impart theme in a synopsis the same way you do it in the manuscript, through careful word choice, stringing together nouns and verbs that, while spelling out the plot, infuse depth of meaning, feeling, setting, and themes to the synopsis.

An exercise: You can do this no matter where you are with the actual writing of you manuscript.

Use bullet points to write out the plot points in your story.

e.g.:      Mary finds a pickle on the street.
            Mary tries to eat the pickle, but the pickle speaks to Mary, begging for its life. It promises to grant Mary three wishes
            Mary takes the pickle home and hides it.  
            Mary goes out on a date with her boyfriend Harry and breaks up with him.
            Mary comes home from work one day to find all the furniture in her apartment has been rearranged.
            Mary is certain someone is watching her.
            Mary comes home and all her kitchen utensils are in the fridge.
            Mary confides in a friend, and they decide not to call the police.
            Mary makes her fist wish, and the pickle grants it: a handsome new boyfriend.
            Mary is followed home from work, but she doesn’t see who it is.
            Mary’s apartment is ransacked. Nothing is stolen, until Mary checks the hiding place and finds the pickle missing.

Not exactly riveting reading-yet—but it is clear.  There’s a good chance you’ll need to rearrange the plot points from the way they appear in the novel in order to present a straight plotline. Often, in the writing of the novel, we play with plot points, hiding and revealing as needed. Go ahead and rearrange the plot points in the synopsis so that one action follows another.

Also, notice that above we have a novel about Mary and a magic pickle. Except the manuscript has a great sub-plot about Mary’s friend, Anna, and her dealings with an enchanted piece of toast. And what about all the nuance between the ex-boyfriend and the new, handsome boy friend? Oh, and there’s all this great stuff between the pickle and Mary’s dog, Bones. None of it goes into the synopsis. Only include the plot points from the MAIN story.

The next issue is editorializing. This is massively common because it’s so natural when trying to condense the story down. We include phrases such as: She was terrified. Everyone hated Billy. She felt desperate and alone.

Editorializing is anything that attempts to explain why a character acts the way he/she does in a scene, explains a character type (mean, angry, silly, careless), or otherwise injects the author’s point of view or intention into the plot outline.

It takes a great deal of control to write a simple plot outline that allows the plot to stand on its own without embellishments of theme and editorializing.

Know what else it does? Reveals holes in the plot, highlights spongy sections in the story that sag and bore readers, and lets you, the writer, take a clear-eyed look at the bare truth about the story you’ve written.

A good synopsis will very often lead to going back and editing the manuscript.

So, you have your plot points, you’ve edited the manuscript to fix holes and fill in bogs in the story. Next, you pull out your largest toolbox, your vocabulary, and begin building in theme, setting, and even the occasional editorial comment through word choice. Let’s revisit out plot outline above, infused, but still clear:

            Mary blusters out of the fifty-story office building where she works, and onto the crowded Chicago streets. She muscles her way to the bus stop to catch the 517 that get her home by 6:23. Something green and white catches her eye, and she kicks at it with the toe of her sensible shoe, while she ponders the date she has tonight with Harry, her boyfriend of six years.

Words like “blusters”, “muscles”, and the specificity of the bus number and the time she will arrive home all paint a fuller picture of the setting, Mary’s character, and set up some of the themes explored in the novel. This continues, solidifying our suspicions with words such as, “sensible shoes,” and “boyfriend of six years.” The picture is coming together quickly without bogging down the rapid-fire delivery of the plot. 

Try this exercise on your story. We’d love to hear the results!

Part two, on Wednesday, will look at the one line pitch, the one sheet (briefly), and the query letter.

Write on!

Friday, August 23, 2013

I'm Blue

On Wednesday, Patti promised a post about writing, even though it didn't seem like it in the beginning, and as always, she delivered. Well, I'm not making any such promises today. I am, in fact, taking liberties with you. Hope you don't mind.

Anyone who knows me, knows that my husband and I are big time baseball fans. More importantly, we're big time Dodgers fans. Living in northern California, the home of the San Francisco Giants---you know, the team that won two of the last three World Series---makes us the odd man out for six months of the year. That's okay. We don't mind. We bleed Dodger blue.

We watch every game, courtesy of MLB Extra Innings, and have been known to drive six hours to Dodgers Stadium, watch a game, and turn around and drive home, all in one day. And win or lose, we love our boys in blue. That assertion was put to the test this year when our season got off to a slow start. We were 30-42 (wins/losses) on June 22, and in last place in our division. Then on June 23, something happened. Things turned around. In a big way. After the All-Star break, the Dodgers had a stretch where they won 42 out of 50 games, which ties the best 50-game stretch by any MLB team since the 1942 Cardinals, and we're breaking all kinds of records. Suddenly, everyone's talking about the Dodgers.

So, what's that got to do with writing? As promised, nothing. But it sure gives this writer something to smile about. In a year that's been fraught with struggles and deep disappointments it's a bright (blue) spot in an otherwise difficult time in our lives.

Like a lot of other Dodgers fans, we're holding our breath, hoping and praying they can go the distance. I've not boasted on Facebook or Twitter about our wins and the long-standing records we're breaking. I've not ribbed our friends who are Giants fans---you know, the team that's bringing up the rear in our division (sorry, Debbie). I'm not doing any of that, because I don't want to jinx it. I don't believe in jinxes. I don't believe in luck. Still ...

As most every sports-minded person knows, Vin Scully has been the voice of the Dodgers,
announcing their games on radio and television since 1950---which is before I was born!---and what a fine, fine man he is. He doesn't just call the plays, he humanizes baseball like no other announcer in
any sport, anywhere, by telling human-interest stories about each player on the field in any given game. Like how one player's right-handed dad taught himself to pitch left-handed so his son could learn to hit a leftie or a rightie. Or how one young pitcher from Central America strengthened his arm as a boy by grinding corn for the tamales his grandmother made and sold every day to provide their living. Where else can you hear things like that? No where. It's possible that this is Vin's last year as the voice of the Dodgers---though we certainly hope not---and I can't think of a better way for him to end his amazing career than to see his beloved Dodgers win the World Series. Okay, it's not just for Vin Scully that I hope the Dodgers win the World Series, but you get my point.

So I'm holding my breath, and hoping. Cheering on my guys whether they win or lose, thanking them for the great entertainment they're providing this year, with my eye on October.

And so this isn't a total waste for all our faithful writer friends, here are two punctuation points to ponder:

First, Commas are important.

Why? One of my new favorite songs is "Empty" by Ray LaMontagne. It's a great, haunting song. I listen to it on Spotify over and over and over. To help me learn the words, I printed out the lyrics from a site that usually gets them right. In this case they only made one small mistake. The first line reads:  She lifts her skirt up to her knees, walks through the garden rows with her bare feet laughing.

Of course, that should be "bare feet, laughing." My feet have been known to bark on occasion, but they've never, ever laughed. However, I laughed heartily all because of a missing comma.

Second, "it's" with an apostrophe is ALWAYS "it is." Always.

Have a great weekend!

Go Dodgers!




Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Being Found: Writing for Your Audience

Factoid: Some people make sticky scar tissue.

I'm raising my hand. I have sticky scar tissue. Some don't. If you're  a non-sticky scar tissue person, get down on your knees and thank Jesus.

Sticky scar tissue is quite pesky as it can adhere to things you don't want it to adhere to and give you bigger problems than what you started with.

(This post is about writing, I promise.)

When the sticky scar tissue happens, a very strong but heartless person must dig around your wound (I have two) and tear apart the scar tissue.

I would rather give birth to a full-grown porcupine, breach!

It hurts.

A lot.

Ice is my friend.

So how is this related to the writing life? Because when you're a writer, everything is related to writing.

I've been, as you know, trying to figure out how an author can give away over 20,000 books, get great reviews, and not sell enough books to cover one month's groceries. A great mystery.

An even greater mystery is what to write next. Commercially speaking, series are golden in the Kindle world. Can I come up with one series idea that makes my heart pitter-patter? Of course not!

I have five great stand-alone ideas. Ugh.

And then I read this:
Listen up: Do not keep the marketplace in your head while you are in a creative mode. Writing with the marketplace in mind is no way to write. Learn your craft, write lots, and when you are ready, the marketplace will be ready.-Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, Pen on Fire

She's talking to students, but this is what I needed to hear. My audience will find me. They will. And until they do, I must keep writing better and better books. Stories that are dangerous and embracing at the same time. I can do it!

Here's the tie-in with the scar tissue: Shifting from marketplace thinking to storytelling thinking, which aren't mutual exclusive, I know, but I've gotten out of kilter, putting more emphasis on the marketplace than creativity. And fun. And so, it's time to break up, tear, scrape (all words used in the process of scar tissue taming) away the paralyzing hold that market-driven writing has on me.

It's gonna hurt. But I'll be better storyteller in the end.

We do not have to talk about scar tissue, but we should discuss what motivates us to write. Is it the marketplace? Many authors have made handsome livings doing this. Think Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele. Is it notoriety? You might do better running down Main Street naked. Is it validation? Is it ministry, a calling? Can our calling to write change? Do you ever attend a writers' conference to behold a sea of eager would-be authors and wonder if they aren't all a bit delusional? 

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Pilgrim Book Lover's Confession

I have a confession to make-- one that might pass without much comment in much of the world, but will be akin to heresy here in this forum. 

I'm getting rid of many of my print books. Actually, I have been weeding them out for years. First I sold or gave away most of my collection of books about ancient Egypt. And I had a lot of them. The only ones I wanted to keep were the ones from my childhood and the art books.  Next were the paperback novels I don't think I will have time to read. I don't mean I won't have time this year or next. I mean I won't have time ever. And that applies to many other "dispensable" books on my shelves. Category by category, book by book, they are leaving my house.

When I was younger the very presence of books were my riches. I spent all my babysitting money, indeed all my money until my senior year of high school (when everything had to go toward college costs) on books, usually paperback and used. 

I hauled them with me when I became temporarily homeless, then to college. When I got married we bought bookshelves and went without a television for a while. I had my priorities.

Every house I've lived in was arranged around books. And now I am parting with them. At this point I probably have fewer than half of my books. Unless there is a reason for a print book, I am buying electronic ones. And of course the free ones, I've acquired some of them too. 

If my Kindle could bulge, it would. I don't know what its capacity is, but even its shelves are stocked with the temporary: I'm already mentally preparing to delete those whose allure has dulled. 

Though I am unaware of any health issues, I believe the truth of the outward wasting away that Paul spoke of--even as I am surely being renewed day by day, fitting myself for a great coming journey.

Something about the unsubstantial and weightless nature of electronic books is a sobering reminder. Not only am I passing away, the apostle John said that this world itself--not just its physicalities but its thoughts and its books-- is passing away too. 

Only what is eternal will last. I want ideas that are true in my knapsack for my journey. I don't want to carry around or dust things I won't read. And as for everything else-- I'm traveling light, my friends. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Empathy 102: What I Learned Outside My Door

We writers like to say that a novel's job is to entertain, and nothing more. But few of us really believe it.

At least that's my conviction based on years of reading other author's stories, both good and bad, both CBA fiction and general market. We all hope our writing will entertain you and challenge your cherished assumptions, entertain you and make you a kinder person, entertain you and change the way you vote. And the novels I have loved the best have done all these things for me and more.

The ones I have loved the least have only tried.

And they have failed resoundingly enough to make me cautious about what exactly I would try to do beyond telling the best story I could. The thing I landed on was this: A good story would make the reader see through another person's eyes. It would give her a sustained, 300 page experience of deep empathy.

To do this, I had to climb inside my character's skin while I wrote, to flesh out the way I would feel in her circumstance, to experience the empathy I wished to pass on to my reader.

You yourself may have read something you've written, knowing you've accomplished the thing you'd set out for... but not entirely. I've done that: read my work and known I'd given the reader a 300 page experience of empathy - but not deep empathy.

I believe my year of working at a Resource Center and soaking in all the training my job requires has shown a bit of where the problem lies in my fiction. It begins in the "crawling into the skin" part. I've only ever crawled in as far as my own lifetime experience can take me. My work and training has shown how far that falls short of the mark. This year I have learned a simple, profound lesson:

Lot's of people don't think like I do.

For instance: a person whose parents and grandparents held a socio/economic status different from mine would hold un-questioned, so-obvious-they-never-even-notice-them values that differ profoundly from my own un-questioned values. Not only that, but their values might make perfect sense from where they stand, and untill I manage to stand in that place with them I'll know nothing about empathy.

The extent to which I flesh things out from my own experience is the extent to which I create a character like me, and, probably, like my reader. I could easily bump into Dara at church. I could stand next to Bertie in the checkout line and never notice. Couldn't you?

I'm not sure when, but one day I want to show you the world through the eyes of someone you've never been before. For now, I'll just show you a highly-watchable video from a woman who has changed the way I see the world.

I'd love to read your reactions. Please do share.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Writing School Roundtable

Please bear with us - we are having some issues with Blogger today.
And we want to wish our own Katy Popa a very Happy Birthday today!

It's August, and in my part of the world kids are buying school clothes and lunchboxes and Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils for the new school year.  It may be the only time of year that some children genuinely look forward to going to school.  And while they are generally interested in seeing friends and meeting their new teachers, there is also an element of excitement in the challenge to learn something new.

Learning new things is brain exercise.  You may not look forward to the process, but you feel great having stretched. People learn in different ways, and that goes for writers, too.  Sometimes, a great how-to book on writing makes learning a technique easy.  At other times, it's the doing that leaves a lasting impression.  Experience is often the best teacher, or at least, talking to someone who has gone through it.  Some of us are off today, but those of us still here are sharing bits and pieces that we have found invaluable over the years.

Here are some of the lessons I hold valuable:
  •  write at the same time every day
  •  write what you love
  •  don't talk out your book before it's written
  •  read widely
  •  read about writers you admire & what they have to say about writing (Madeleine L'Engle is one)
  •  write a lovely note to a writer you admire (before he/she is gone)
  •  hold the pen loosely in case God has a different direction in mind for your writing

It's interesting that you picked this topic, Debbie. I'm beginning to prepare to teach at a writers' conference in October. Now that people assume I know something about the craft of writing fiction, I'm scratching my head and wondering how I did learn to write dialogue, for one, or where a story should start, my two workshops. Before my first novel was published, I took one fiction writing class in college, read a book titled How to Write and Novel and Sell It, and took a class on how to write great fiction--a Saturday class--that my mother paid my way to attend. I was in my late thirties at the time. I finally obeyed my mum. I have since attended several writing conferences and r, but I learn the most from reading fabulous fiction. Presently, I'm focusing on strengthening my grip on structure and plot.

Lessons I hold valuable? I've done what we all have to do to make how and what we write our own. I've listened to a variety of teachers, emulated some, dismissed others, and cherry-picked from others. I've practiced, practiced, practiced and now have a subset of skills that I have put in my magic bag. If we were to peek in any writer's bag, the magic would be recognizable but different from what is in my bag.

My life is made up of 3x5 cards. I have bought thousands of them in my life. I keep a basket of them on my desk, and carry spiral-bound ones in my car. The notebooks I keep in my purse have pages about the same size.

If I’m researching materials for a non-fiction, both the bibliographic items as well as notes are on 3x5 cards. If I’m collecting notes for character sketches for a novel, I write them on cards. Cool phrase that pops into my mind? Interesting tidbit or description? 3x5 cards. I couldn’t write – in fact, from high school on have never written –without them.