Thank You. Thank You Very Much.

 

Book photo by Svetlana Lukienko/Canva

The other day I conducted an informal Facebook poll asking if people read acknowledgement pages in books. Because folks who respond to online polls are self-selecting, I wouldn’t make bank on the results. Still, they rather surprised me.

After a brief intro, my direct question was, “Do you read acknowledgement pages?” (Pretty tricky, huh?) All forty-some commenters said that they do. Some said so quite emphatically. Confidentially, I need to hire a better pollster because it wasn’t the answer I was looking for. I find writing out the acknowledgements for a book terrifying. There are writers who do it elegantly, and writers who don’t do it at all. Mine are never elegant, and I know I always forget someone important. (And anyone who helps even slightly with a book is important.) I was half-hoping I would learn that no one reads acknowledgements and they think they’re a waste paper. That way I could go on with other projects. It took me five days of dithering and starting and stopping before I finally got them finished. I write fiction for a reason. Acknowledgements are reality in a very pure form.

I like thanking people. I really do! I’m a regular thank-you note writer, and have been since the days when my mother stood over me to make sure I did them. For me, saying thank you for something is often easier than asking for help in the first place. But not in the case of writing acknowledgments. There’s something so absolutely final about writing acknowledgements. They’re there on paper forever–well, until it rots or the pixels die or we have a digital apocalypse, anyway. If I do it wrong, everyone will know!

I don’t have a system for writing acknowledgements. There’s a list in every novel’s notebook where I write down the names of people I mean to thank. But before I start writing what will go in the book, I always peruse my bookshelves to see what others have done. There are no existing rules that I know of.

Here are some random examples from my shelf:

Judy Blume, IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT: 3+ pages

Johnny Shaw, FLOODGATE: 1 page

Con LeHane, MURDER IN THE MANUSCRIPT ROOM: 1+ page

Elmore Leonard, BE COOL: A brief paragraph with song attributions and a line to Aerosmith and Steve Davis. Also a line in the dedication. All at the front of the book

Margaret Atwood, THE BLIND ASSASSIN: A paragraph with the names, only, of 50 + people, then copyright content notes

Rhys Bowen, CROWNED AND DANGEROUS: 8 lines thanking several people on the dedication page

IAN RANKIN, SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE: None

That’s a small spectrum of acknowledgements, but they’re all pretty much different. Is one better than another? I don’t think so. It’s a matter of style. Do I think that a writer who only thanks three people rather than fifty is an ungrateful person? Absolutely not. I doubt readers think so.

I confess that it’s gotten more difficult for me over time. If I had a quarter of as many books as Margaret Atwood, I would probably just starting listing folks as well. One can only extoll the amazing virtues of one’s agent so many ways. At this point I have to go back and make sure I’m not repeating myself.

The FB poll opened my eyes to how important acknowledgements can be to readers, as well as reviewers and bloggers. Acknowledgements give readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the writer’s process and the publishing scene. They also give us a glimpse into the personality style of the writer. Or maybe not. I’m not quite decided on that. I never met Elmore Leonard, and I haven’t met Judy Blume or Margaret Atwood, but their acknowledgements styles reflect what I imagine them to be (or to have been) like. And while I don’t know the rest of the writers in my examples well, I know them enough to find their styles compatible with their personalities. And they’re all lovely people.

There are two instances where I’ll go straight to the acknowledgements page. The first is if I know it’s a heavily researched novel. I love to hear about sources. The other is if I know the writer fairly well. There are few things more embarrassing than learning a year after the fact that someone put you in their book.

Writers–How do you approach acknowledgements? I’m dying to know what your process is!

Readers–Do you read acknowledgements? Do you judge the writer by what you read? What do you look for? Please tell us!

 

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Getting Inspired to Write

 

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

While I am a firm believer in the adage that to be a writer it takes an iron butt, and also that a pro can’t afford to sit around waiting for the Muse, I do believe in inspiration. Just like a football team gets a locker-room speech, so the writer can use the occasional boost in motivation.

That’s why I like writing quotes. Over the years I’ve collected hundreds of them. I glance at them from time to time and, depending on my particular writing challenge of the moment, I usually find a quote that speaks to it.

Today, I thought I’d share a few of them with you, along with some annotations.

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

If you boldly risk writing a novel that might be acclaimed as great, and fail, you could succeed in writing a book that is splendid. – Leonard Bishop

You get what you dare, baby, and if you want big, you dare big. – Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop was a novelist and author of one of the first craft books I ever purchased, Dare To Be a Great Writer. I still love that book and have it sticky-noted all over the place. Here, Bishop advocates the setting of high standards. I join him in saying, Go for it! Look at your own work and assess it according to what I call “The 7 Critical Success Factors of Fiction”—plot, structure, characters, scenes, dialogue, voice, and meaning—and determine to kick each of them up a notch in your writing.

One needs natural talent, much physical energy (which calls for a strict regimen of diet and exercise), and the resilience to bounce back after the most shattering disappointment and frustration. – L. Sprague de Camp

L. Sprague de Camp was a writer from the golden age of science fiction, the America of the 1930’s, and continued writing until his death in 2000 at the age of 92. He was the author of over 120 science fiction and fantasy novels, and several hundred short stories. The kind of writer I admire, one who worked hard at his craft and kept producing pages. Why? Because if he didn’t, he didn’t eat.

Let’s talk about talent. You do need some, but in my opinion it is the least important of the attributes for writerly success. It’s taking the talent you have to the highest level you can that counts.

So does bouncing back. The writing life has myriad ways to disappoint, frustrate, and even anger you. The trick is never to take any setback lying down. Get up and keep writing.

You have to evolve a permanent set of values to serve as motivation. – Leon Uris

Leon Uris’s books have sold over 150 million copies worldwide and have been translated

Leon Uris

Leon Uris

into 29 languages. There has to be a reason for this.

Values may be the heart of it. Uris was a Marine in World War II, and thus his novels have a certain fundamental nobility. Uris’s protagonists are full of passion for justice, and often involved in wider battles for freedom. Battle Cry, Exodus, QB VII, and Trinity each reached the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list.

What are you most passionate beliefs? Transfer that fire to your protagonist. What would he die for? If nothing, he’s probably not that interesting.

At every significant juncture in a story, consciously look at the situation from the viewpoint of every character involved – and let each of them make the best move they can from his or her own point of view. – Stanley Schmidt

Stanley Schmidt is the science-fiction author of such books as Newton and the Quasi-Apple (1970), Lifeboat Earth (1978) and Tweedlioop (1986). From 1978 to 2012 he was the editor of Analog, the noted SF magazine. Schmidt knows story.

Here he emphasizes a key rule of the craft, that of “maximum capacity.” Every character should be in the story for a reason, and the reason must matter greatly to that character (see the previous entry). When shove comes to slap, the characters all should be thinking how they can get their licks in. Don’t ever let the opponents of the Lead operate half-heartedly, lest the readers feel cheated. Don’t ever let the allies of the Lead just “hang around.”

Take a look at your WIP and assess the drive of each major character. Now turn those into overdrive.

Keep working. Don’t wait for inspiration. Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. – Michael Crichton

The best cure for not writing is writing. The best antidote for the writing blues is writing.

Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton

The best thing to do if you can’t face the blank page or screen is . . . write!

But what about the writers block deal we’ve been talking about here at TKZ? Is that real? Only if you don’t attack it by typing or moving a pen.

You don’t have to write on the project that’s stalling you. Work on something else. Have several projects going.

Isaac Asimov had a number of typewriters around his apartment, and when he was stalled on one project he’d get up, stretch, and walk to another typewriter, with a page in it, on some completely different subject, and he’d type some more.

So if you stall on your WIP, work on something else. Anything. Write your obituary. Truly. How do you want to be remembered? This is a great way to focus the mind and get your life in order.

Journal. Talk to yourself on paper or screen.

digiorno-1Heck, you can even be creative with your grocery list. Make it a thing of beauty. Turn it into a series of mini-essays, on the questionable identity of beets, and the pleasures of DiGiorno Pizza.

Once the brain starts cooking with words you’ll be back in the flow in no time.

Do you have a favorite writing quote? Let’s hear it!

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Can Storytelling Be Taught?

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane




I posted some quotes below from bestselling authors on the craft of writing and the writer’s life. Some are funny, most are thought provoking, but the one at the top of the list from Willa Cather struck me as a topic for conversation here at TKZ.


From Cather’s quote, it would appear she believed that most of an author’s innate ability to write comes from how their lives were shaped in the first 15 years. We can read craft books, attend lectures, and follow as much advice as we have time to absorb on how to write books, construct stories, create characters, and world build, but there is also a part of who we are that makes up the total author.

For me, I grew up in a large family and our parents taught us how to laugh and we used our imaginations to tell stories and have adventures outside, not with video games. We even had skits we did for summer projects on our own. We did audio recordings of scripts I wrote as TV show parodies, complete with fake commercials. We chose video recordings (like a filmmaker) for class projects. We were all about theatrics and drama, for fun. 

I wrote a lot of things and had always been drawn to the written word. My grandfather had been a big influence on me. He came to this country from Mexico after fleeing the revolution in his country. He wrote for the Hispanic newspaper, La Prensa, in San Antonio and he eventually managed the Alameda Theatre that brought in vaudeville acts and Mexican movie stars to the stage. As a young child I rode a pony across the stage of that theatre as part of an act. 

Mostly I remember listening to my grandfather’s many stories. Some were real and others, not so much. What he didn’t know, he made up with a flourish. All of these influences became ways for me to tell a story and stretch my imagination.


I can see what influenced me as a writer in those early years, but I’d love to hear from you about your lives and formative experiences.

1.) What in your earlier years influenced you to become a writer?

2.) Do you agree with Willa Cather that most of a writer’s basic skills are experienced before 15 years of age?

3.) What do you think influences authors most in those first 15 years?

Quote For Discussion:
“Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”
Willa Cather





Quotes On Craft & The Writer’s Life:

“All the information you need can be given in dialogue.”
Elmore Leonard



“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
E. L. Doctorow



“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
William Faulkner



“People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.”
Harlan Ellison




HUMOROUS (I hope):

“A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it to be God.”
Sidney Sheldon



“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”
Mark Twain


“Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.”
Truman Capote



“I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”
Stephen King


“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
Ernest Hemingway



“Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.”
Robert A. Heinlein

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
Douglas Adams

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Nancy J. Cohen

At book events, someone in the audience always asks the author, “Where do you get your ideas?” As a writer, I don’t understand why it isn’t obvious. Ideas are everywhere. It’s having the time to write them all into stories that is the problem. But if you really want to know our secret, here’s where you might pluck an idea out of thin air.

idea

Newspaper and Magazines

Even in this digital era, I like to clip articles from print newspapers and magazines. Sometimes the subject is relevant to a current plot. Other times, I’ll file the clipping for later when I might need a motive for a suspect in a mystery or a scientific explanation for one of my paranormal romances. Don’t forget to look in the freebie community newspapers, too. Also check out your local library. Some of them have book sales where gently read magazines are available for a good price. Printouts from the Internet can serve a similar purpose, but they’re not the same as discovering random articles in a magazine. Instead, you’ll have to search for a specific subject, unless you have one of those applications that compile daily news for you on selected topics. Or you’ll have to scan the headlines. If so, you’ll be missing the thrill of turning pages in a print publication and discovering an article of interest. I always read the Sunday newspaper with scissors in hand.

Television and Movies

A TV show can stimulate your train of thought. For example, you may like the premise of a particular episode, but if you wrote the story, it would turn out differently. Or maybe the social issue or theme of a show inspires you. A news report might elicit an emotional response that makes you want to include the topic in a story. You never know when inspiration will strike.

Dreams

Do you dream in detail with color and dialogue? If you can remember your dream, write down the sequence of events as soon as you wake up, before reality pushes away the cobwebs of sleep. I used to have story dreams that were detailed enough for me to write several pages. A dream inspired my first published novel, Circle of Light. Lately, my dreams have been a continuation of thoughts or concerns I’ve had during the day, so I seem to have lost this source of creativity. If you have a good dream, write it down. Or consciously direct your thoughts at bedtime to a plotting problem you are having, and let your brain work on it while you sleep.

Books

Do you ever get an idea for a story while reading someone else’s work? Or maybe their book stimulates a new plot thread for your storyline. Ideas cannot be copyrighted. How you develop your characters and plot will differ from anyone else and will be unique to your voice. If you find that a story fires your imagination, scribble down notes and then return to the book you’re reading.

People You Meet

Friends, relatives, and even strangers can provide inspiration. They might generate an idea for a plot twist or give you thoughts on character development. A woman whose bearing and clothes I’d admired on a cruise became the Countess in my cruise mystery, Killer Knots. People who helped me with my research for Peril by Ponytail, my next Bad Hair Day mystery, serve as the model for some of the folks in this story. And I’d better not mention how real life experiences inspired Hanging By A Hair. The lesson learned here is that if you befriend a writer, you might become fodder for her stories.

Personal Experiences

Our life experiences cannot help but influence our stories. With the exception of murder, many of the incidents in my mysteries stem from real life. Naturally, you have to alter the people and the settings, but the actual events might remain similar. Certainly the antics of my late dog are reflected in Marla’s poodle, Spooks. And many of the other things that happen in her life have happened to me. Infusing these experiences into your stories will enrich them. You cannot better describe events than having known them first-hand.

Suited up for copper mine like in Peril by Ponytail

Writing Techniques

If you’re totally stuck for ideas, various writing tools can help. You’ll find each writer has a favorite how-to book or software program for generating plot ideas. Check out the reference section in your local bookstore or library, or go online and ask on your writer loops for what other authors use. You’ll get as many varied responses as there are subgenres.

So where do we writers find inspiration? It’s everywhere—in the air we breathe, in the people we meet, in our dreams, and in the stories we read or see on the big screen. The problem isn’t finding ideas. The problem is having enough years of good health and peace of mind in which to write them.

So where do YOU get your story ideas?

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And Introducing my New Release!
Hanging By A Hair, Bad Hair Day Mystery #11 

HangingbyaHair (414x640)

Marla and Dalton Vail move into a new neighborhood and discover a murder next door.

Amazon Hardcover: http://www.amazon.com/Hanging-Hair-Nancy-J-Cohen/dp/1432828142
Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Hanging-Hair-Bad-Day-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B00JJ2XVUQ/
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hanging-by-a-hair-nancy-j-cohen/1116603785

How well do you know your neighbors?

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Books That Inspire

Nancy J. Cohen

My daughter, who is a busy career woman, would rather watch TV to relax than read a book. No matter how much I try to convince her that reading novels can be valuable, she is not a Fictionista. I started thinking how books have influenced my life.

In the early days, I read Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, and Judy Bolton mystery series. This initiated my love for the genre but it did more than that. Reading about Cherry Ames made me want to be a nurse. I wanted to ease people’s fears in the hospital and help them deal with illness. And so I volunteered in the local hospital and took employment, when of age, as a nurse’s aide for a summer job. Nursing school loomed in the future following high school.

A career choice faced me. I was also a student of ballet and could have auditioned for a professional company, but that would have meant daily rehearsals and giving up my ambitions to be a nurse.

Nursing won out, and I graduated with a bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, I was still an avid reader and had even tried my hand at some short stories. But it wasn’t until grad school in nursing that I decided to write a novel. Stories by Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and Phyllis Whitney inspired me to write romantic suspense. I bought a book called Structuring Your Novel and that’s how I learned to write a full-length book. I wrote six books before one sold. My romantic suspense never got anywhere. When I combined my love of scifi with romance, that’s what sold. Now I had two blossoming careers. What next?

I discovered humorous cozy mysteries with Jill Churchill. Oh, my. These were great. I liked the humor. I liked the structure. And so I wrote one. That sold, and the Bad Hair Day mysteries were born. Now I’m retired from nursing but the writing career is still going strong. Thanks to these books I’d read, not only did I become a writer, but I practiced ten good years as a registered nurse.

What books have inspired you in life? Have any of them led to a career other than writing?

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Cutting the Cord

Do you feel jittery if you’re away from your cell phone or computer more than an hour? Get withdrawal symptoms if you haven’t checked your email recently? Find yourself longing to get back to work when out with friends? If so, you need a vacation.

I approached our recent ten day cruise with trepidation. How would I exist without the computer? Could I go without checking my email for even one day? What would I do with all that leisure time? I’d get bored out of my mind during four days at sea. Oh yes, I had books and newsletters on my iPad and Kindle to bring along, but how long can you sit and read without getting antsy?

If you share these concerns, believe me, they will evaporate once you’re out on the high seas, ski slopes, beach, or wherever you choose to go. Out of sight is out of mind. As soon as we set sail, I powered down my iPhone and locked it in the cabin safe. No more email, until I signed on to the ship’s WiFi for quick checks later during the week. I found enough to do that I didn’t miss my inbox.

I had to make myself go online to use up the minutes I’d purchased. Even reading newsletters became too much like homework. I stuck to the fiction I’d loaded onto my Kindle and vegged out on a lounge chair to read, or otherwise I spent my time chatting with other guests, eating, walking around the decks, eating, climbing stairs to wear off the calories, sipping cocktails, eating, watching a couple of movies, and—wait for it—relaxing.

Is the “R” word not in your vocabulary? Then you definitely need to take a break. Just make sure your vacation is sufficiently long to give you time to unwind, play for a few days, and then prepare to reenter reality. And who knows, inspiration might hit along the way.

I got inspired by one lady on a prior cruise. Based on her elegant appearance, I created the countess in Killer Knots, my cruise ship mystery. This time was no exception. When my husband and I both saw this woman, the word “witch” came to mind. Likely she’ll end up in one of my paranormal romances. But even better, the cruise ship captain was a woman. Change her to a spaceship captain and we’re off and running with another story. So give your brain a rest and take a trip away from home. You’ll come back relaxed, refreshed, and inspired.

If you’re the type who loves to hang out and avoid work entirely, this article isn’t for you. You’re the one who needs a kick in the pants to sit down and write. But that’s another topic.

When you find  yourself (if you do) glued to your electronics, how do you break away?

And since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, let’s be grateful for friends and family and things that enrich our lives that don’t depend upon electricity. Including you, dear readers. Thank YOU for visiting our blog throughout the year!

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ANSWERING JORDAN . . .

By: Kathleen Pickering

Last Thursday, Jordan Dane’s blog discussed how we stumble upon, or in the more focused minds like the scientists of NOVA, discover plots that ultimately form our stories. I’m here to answer Jordan’s ending question on motivating, strange events.

Jordan, I’m discovering the strangest things that make me think of a book plot come from my own family–my sisters and my mother. (My two brothers are currently exempt.) I’m convinced the women in my family have been sabotaging my thirty year marriage and hence, giving me fodder to plot murder mysteries.

For example, today, my bathroom sink drain wouldn’t open. So, I climbed under the cabinet to fix it and found a pair of perfumed women’s Spanx stuffed in the back. Now, mind you, Spanx are not a lacy, black thong, but a highly constructed, beige spandex body slimmer, thigh length. Not at all sexy. See what I mean?

spanx4real

I laugh and post the photo on Facebook because it’s too freaking funny. Between the constant flow of house guests and the occasional pet-sitter, I know there is an answer other than the obvious insinuation that my husband has been having voluptuous women over when I’m traveling. Because after all, I would have to plot a murder mystery based on his unexplained demise, should it be the truth.

A phone call from one of my five sisters solved the mystery: “Oh, Kath. Ha. Ha. That’s mine. I was wearing it at your party in January and it got too uncomfortable. Ha. Ha. I’ll bet you gave Jimmy a rash over that one! By the way, can you take the photo off Facebook?!”

Or the time, when I picked up Jim’s suit from the cleaners, only to have the man who didn’t speak English very well hand me a folded wax paper bag with a woman’s bra . . . lace . . . beige . . . not mine . . . that the cleaner had found in the breast pocket of his jacket! I had been on my way to pick Jim up for a trip to eastern Long Island at the time. Needless to say, this “find” made for some colorful conversation on our two hour trip.

What did we discover upon arrival at my mother’s? “Oh. Ha. Ha. Isn’t that funny,” says Mother. “When you were here last week, I was picking up after everyone went swimming. Saw the bra on the floor, thought it might be yours and stuffed it in Jim’s suit pocket.”

Ha. Ha. It was my other sister’s. Or the other time, my younger sister borrowed my clothes and Jim pinched her rear-end because from the back, he thought she was me? Or the time my other sister took off her shirt in front of Jim thinking she still was wearing a bikini top? Here is a pastel of the women in my family, minus the artist—the one Jim pinched:

Mary alice pastel

The stories go on and on. So, I ask you? What kind of family would sabotage their unsuspecting brother/son-in-law with a wife in possession of an over-active imagination unless they were trying to trigger her homicidal story ideas? There’s more, but I’ve already over run my 300 word count.

The strangest things come from my family, Jordan. I will be writing an autobiography very soon.

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Dinner Party for Six

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

So after battling two bizarre bouts of benign positional vertigo (who knew there even was such a thing?!) and a case of Laryngitis I have to say inspiration is a bit thin on the ground at the Langley-Hawthorne house, so I thought ‘who would I want over for dinner to help liven things up?’ To limit myself I went for ‘dead writers’ only – much more fun (and, hey, I am the historical author after all). Although the choices are vast, I also wanted to focus on those who would inspire me the most as I try (once the world stops spinning) to finish the third Ursula Marlow book.

Voila! Here’s my list for my ‘dinner-party-for-six’ (my husband gets to go out and eat with the boys while I entertain the spirits of writers past):

  • D.H. Lawrence – so I could get the low down on use of flowers as sexual imagery:) and ask how to really write a good sex scene
  • Daphne Du Maurier – to feed off her Gothic vibe
  • Jane Austen – so I could ask her (a) is she a vampire? and (b) how does she feel about Pride & Prejudice becoming a new bestseller as a ‘monster mash’ with the living dead? I could also do with her as a muse for some really good one-liners
  • Nancy Mitford – because she must have been such a savage wit and I need more of that in my life
  • Ted Hughes – tragic, hunky, talented poet – I can always use that kind of help (really, need I say more? – though I spent my adolescence despising and blaming him for Sylvia Plath’s death)
  • And me…of course!
There are many other ghosts-of-writers past whom I would dearly love to entertain, but this is the list of those I feel I need the most right now…

When you lack for inspiration who would be your ‘dinner-party-for-six’ picks and what would ask them?
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