Friday, December 08, 2006

Good Writing/Bad Writing?

During the NWG meeting on Wednesday, we hit on an interesting question. Are there objective measures for good or bad writing? Or does “good/bad” rest solely in the mind of the reader?

Many people argue that good writing must display good punctuation and grammar. As a counterpoint, I offer Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, a National Book Award winner, which eschewed quotation marks. (It was adapted into a so-so movie, although Rene Zellweger did get nominated for an Oscar).

I nominate clarity. I want a writer who communicates her message clearly. Try this: In one or two sentences, describe your favorite books or movies (scriptwriters will recognize this as a log line.) When we grasp ideas clearly, that’s when they resonate… Of course, not everyone grasps information the same way. Dang! That puts us back at subjectivity.

What do you think? What are your personal measures for good or bad writing? What steps do you take with your own work to bring it up to your standards?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Writing With the Door Open

Stephen King talks about writing with the door closed – in other words, your first drafts. The pages full of errors and emotion. The messy revisions. Then, after the pain of editing, you’re ready to open the door and ask for comments. That’s where I’m at with my book, and it’s a strange place.

At first I was scared to ask for opinions. I was afraid someone would tell me I’d wasted my time, that my book was manure, and that I was a lousy writer. After two years, I stopped worrying about these things. I realized I had to ask for opinions if I wanted to move forward. I stopped being afraid to hear what other people thought and searched for the Right Reader: someone well-read, knowledgeable, preferably a writer, and more or less a stranger to me. I needed objectivity. I found someone, and when I saw Right Reader’s e-mail on Thanksgiving day, I opened it with one eye closed and my fingers crossed. I braced myself for some version of “You quit your day job way, way too soon.” To my amazed relief, RR’s comments were positive. Our e-mails have made me think about an entirely new aspect to my book, though. A whole lotta people may be unhappy with what I’ve written because my story doesn’t meet their expectations or match their experiences.

This is the point at which many memoir writers start to doubt what they’ve written. I’ve talked to many people who encountered open hostility from family members over memoirs. One lady I worked with changed portions of her self-published book because a friend objected to her brother being described as gay, even though her brother had been dead for years. Two women I know had their daughters chew them out for writing unflattering things about their fathers. I expected I might get some strong reactions, but I always figured it would be an old boss or co-worker. RR’s comments woke me up to the fact that by opening the door, I’m likely to get far more opinions than I bargained for. Now that the door is open, I expect I'll be discovering all kinds of unexpected, interesting things.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

When Life Gets In The Way

This week -- and possibly next week -- I'll be away from my desk. Is it because I've suddenly sold my book and am on my way to meet with a famous New York agent/publisher? Sadly, no. The news isn't nearly that exciting, although it is good news. I'll be helping my mom move -- now she'll no longer live 45 minutes away from my house. Yippee! Yippee! Mom's support keeps me going. Without her and my husband reassuring me that I am not insane, that I really am a writer, and that I can make a living at this crazy profession, I'd probably be back to being someone's assistant. Oh, perish the thought. I'm afraid that after working for myself for five years, I'd make a very outspoken employee and probably get myself fired. Let's hope I never have to find out.

Check out my latest book review at Kristen King's e-zine, Notes in the Margin:
Kristen's website,, was a finalist for Writer's Digest Top Writer's Websites list. I enjoy her blog, ::inkthinker::. .

This week's Northwest Writers' Group meeting has been cancelled. I apologize for any inconvenience & hope to see everyone next week. In the meantime, happy writing!

Thursday, October 05, 2006


· “You have to talk to Alan,” Manny’s boss told him. “I know he took a swing at you and made a pass at your wife, but….”

· When you’re driving, what’s your biggest pet peeve?

· Fireworks exploded in the sky, terrifying Sparky. The little dog hid under the bed and growled when Diane tried to move him. Diane decided she would have to….

· For long-time Las Vegans, the transformation of our city is shocking. What future changes do you see for our growing city? If you're not in LV, what changes do you seen in your city's future?

· You’ve won a vacation home! Where is your getaway located?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Just Write News for September 29, 2006

Cathy Scott Appearing On Oxygen Network
Vegas author Cathy Scott will appear on the Oxygen Network (Las Vegas Cox Channel 55) on Monday, October 2, in the show Snapped: Sandy Murphy. In her book Death in the Desert, Cathy wrote about the sensational Binion murder, for which Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish were initially convicted. Cathy spoke to my writing group just as Murphy’s retrial began. Based on her research, she told us, she predicted Murphy would be acquitted. In November 2004, Murphy and Tabish were acquitted of the Binion murder. Was Murphy a gold digger capable of murder, or a convenient patsy? Read Cathy’s book and see what you think.

Visit Cathy Scott’s website at

Shield Law Opposed
Should reporters have to identify their sources? Most journalists and writers say no, insisting that whistle blowers and insiders will hesitate to come forward unless they can be assured of anonymity. Judith Miller went to jail rather than identify her source for the Valerie Plame story – the story she never published. (It’s worth noting that Robert Novak broke the story and skated right through the whole mess, unscathed.) Vanessa Leggett served the longest sentence of any American writer for failing to turn over her notes on a murder case she was investigating for a book. At the time of Leggett’s arrest, part of the problem was that she was a freelance writer judged not be a “journalist,” and thus exempt from protections afforded to recognized journalists.

The senate proposal to shield writers is going forward despite objections from Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who worries that such a law would encourage leaks jeopardizing national security. Personally, I think that if our government can listen in on us without our permission, laws bolstering freedom of the press are a no-brainer.

Speaking of the First Amendment
Philip Meyer wrote on a disturbing statistic in USA Today on September 27, 2006. In a recent study, 55% of high school students said the First Amendment goes too far in granting rights. Meyer didn’t discuss what percentage of Justice Department employees feel the same way.

Janet Fitch Publishes Second Novel
Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander, has just released Paint It Black. So far reviews are mostly positive. I hope this incredible author overcomes the Second Novel Curse.

Mitch Albom and Starbucks
Fans of Mitch Albom (Tuesday With Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven) will be happy to hear they can sip their lattes while perusing his new book, For One More Day. On October 3, 2006, Starbucks will enter the bookselling business with Albom’s latest release. Albom himself might be coming to a Starbucks near you – he’s scheduled to appear at eight stores. Starbucks has already made a splash with music, so books are the logical next step. I think I’ll pass on the Albom – the last time I stopped in Border’s coffee shop to satisfy my need for caffeine, I spilled my $3 cup of joe all over Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. Since I was raised by responsible people, I paid for the book. I managed to make it through the Native American genocide, but don’t think I could slog through another sugary Albom book.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Prompts This Week

· “I’ve failed!” Tammy cried. “All my life I wanted to be….”

· Do you like the Strip, or do you avoid it at all costs?

· Tell us what you think of the expression, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

· “Tell me again,” purred Natalie, “about the time you shot Franklin Mugg.”
Joey leaned forward, eager to tell his story. “It was like this, doll, he was….”

· Pets: More bother than they’re worth, or irreplaceable companions?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Writing News

Janet Evanovich just released a new book, but it doesn't feature Stephanie Plum. She talks about her creative process in How I Write -- Secrets of a Bestselling Author.

The film adaptation of James Ellroy's book Black Dahlia hit the screen recently. Ellroy's story is anchored around the sensational 1947 murder/mutilation of a young woman in Hollywood. The movie is garnering mixed reviews.

Christopher Paolini self-published his first book, written when he was 15. Eragon went on to be picked up by Knopf and Paolini has since released Eldest, the next book in the series. A movie version of Eragon is scheduled for release December 15. Not bad for a 23-year-old.

On Friday (09-15-06) USA Today reported that the Federal Communications Commission ordered the destruction of a study critical of monopolistic media ownership. Fewer media outlets = fewer points of view. Do we really want to have our news single sourced?

Last week USA Today also reported on another troubling new trend -- product placement in books. The headline for their September 11, 2006, story: "Authors strike deals to squeeze in a few brand names." Writers striving for specifics -- it's not a car, it's a Ford; he didn't smoke a cigarette, he smoked a Marlboro -- might be the perfect target for marketers keen to get their products out there.

The journalist credited with coining the phrase "Dust Bowl" has died. Bob Geiger was 103. Geiger refused to take all the credit for the two-word description that came to characterize one of the darkest times in American history. He said an editor added it to one of his 1935 stories.

Writers and journalists throughout the world continue to be jailed, attacked, and killed. People who think that writing's major occupational hazard is paper cuts might be shocked to learn that in 2006, 53 journalists and 17 media assistants have been killed (figures from Reporters Without Borders).

Turkish novelist Elif Shafak faces jail time for writing about a unpopular version of 100-year-old Turkish history. According to USA Today, "It is a criminal act in Turkey to back the view that forced marches to the Syrian border that killed up to 1 million Armenians should be considered genocide." What else, exactly, would we call that?


Since I didn't get a chance to post the prompts last week, I'm posting a double dose of prompts today. Last week I found out that my 80-pound Lab mix has colitis. When I got home last Wednesday, my house looked like a felony crime scene. I'll spare you the nitty gritty details, but suffice it to say that I spent more time wearing rubber gloves than I really cared to. And on that note, here are the prompts!

· Summer was over, but Jim didn’t care. The fall meant nothing to him because. . . .

· The desert stretched for miles in every direction. Stan’s flat tire had stranded him along the barren highway, and he sighed with relief when he saw a car approaching. Then he noticed the car….

· Liz was never a morning person, so waking up at 0500 was grueling. As she struggled to wake up, all she could think was, “Why did I ever agree to….”

· Tell us about a visit you’ve made to a national park.

· What sports do you enjoy?

· The ship skimmed across the water, heading to….

· What’s the most helpful writing advice you’ve ever received?

· Buzzards circled the field, waiting for. . . .

· Senator Blandings never meant to run a dirty campaign, but he felt he had no choice after his opponent, Grant Black, revealed that. . . .

· When Carlos _______ Sammy, he worried about . . . .

Thursday, September 07, 2006


Blogs are:

a) A great way for writers to display their work
b) The electronic equivalent of a bathroom wall
c) A medium that gives the average person a voice
d) The latest time waster for both readers and writers
e) All of the above.

In my opinion, “E” is the correct answer. While many people make good use of our newest information medium, many more people post garbage. You know what I’m talking about – sites like the one I found devoted to studying the jet contrails that dot the Las Vegas sky. (It’s a conspiracy and is melting the ozone, in case you’re interested.) Many blogs are nothing but collections of poorly written ramblings by people who regard punctuation and correct spelling as optional. Yesterday’s USA Today carried a letter to the editor describing all bloggers as “fly-by-night” and ignorant of basic journalistic principles. (Yes, I sent a response to the editor about that one.) If you’re looking to read (or write) a blog, here are some examples of good blogs:

Ink Thinker by Kristen King is chock full of good advice for those us doing our best to hammer out a living at the keyboard:

Denise Kincy chronicles her life as writer on A Writer’s Journey:

For moms who are also writers:

Although I’m focused on blogs that address writing, I’d like to hear about good blogs on all subjects. What blogs do you find are worth your time?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


I don’t believe that Monday is the worst day of the week, but after a Monday like this week’s, I’m willing to reconsider my opinion.

First, my son was on the last two days of summer vacation. While this is a great thing for mommy-son togetherness, this is a bad thing for a writer with two pieces on deadline. During a normal summer day when my son is at home, I can generally get a couple of hours at the desk, but Monday was not normal because my husband was scheduled to work a night shift. Since he was trying to sleep, my son and I tip-toed around the house all afternoon. I thought I’d get to my desk in the evening, about the time my husband left for work. After sleeping for as much of the day as he could, my hubby got up around 3:30 and got ready for work. At 4:00, his job was cancelled. It felt funny to be at my desk when he was sitting downstairs trying to figure out what to do with himself. I decided I would just work at night as I normally do after my husband and child go to bed. At 8:00, I was ready to tuck in my son. That’s when I noticed his pet mouse had died.

I’ll admit that I briefly considered not saying anything. Then I thought about how awful it would be if he found poor Mousey. “Honey, I think Mousey died,” I said, prompting a flood of tears from my eight-year-old.

I checked on my husband, who was watching TV in bed as though it was a typical evening. His sleep-wake clock is now seriously askew. “Mousey died,” I told him, followed by cursing. Clearly I wasn’t going to be working anytime before 10:00 p.m.

I didn’t have the heart to abandon my crying son (who immediately lobbied for a new pet – request denied), so I invited him to come downstairs and watch television for a little while. After an hour of America’s Funniest Home Videos, he was recovered enough to go to his room. I wasn’t done writing until 2:00 a.m.

It remindins of this Stephen King quote: “Life isn’t a support-system for writing. It’s the other way around.”

Friday, August 25, 2006

Nothing But Prompts

This week finds me drowning in back-to-school stuff, and when I read what I'd written for this week's entry, well, I rejected my own work. :) Here are some prompts for the 'ol creative juices:

The day after Chad left, Larissa discovered she’d never really known him. Hidden in the apartment's drop ceiling, she found. . . .

What do you think about the new Las Vegas ordinance than bans feeding the homeless in city parks?

What memories do you have of the start of school?

Janet couldn't take the noise any longer. At midnight, lonely (and off-key) saxaphone music drifted from to her ears, even though her head was buried under a pillow. Jim's jazz band practice was driving her insane. "That's it!" she screamed, throwing off the pillow, grabbing her _________________, and marching out the door. Laster, she had a hard time explaining to the police that....

Happy writing!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Slicing and Dicing

I’ve been swinging into gear for class on September 13, 2006. I’ve got a whole mess of warm-up exercises and prompts to write. (I can hear group members groaning at the idea.) Here’s one to get everyone in the spirit:

Which adverbs/adjectives would you delete and which would you keep?

The aging blonde basketball player stoically wrapped his aching arthritic knees, waiting patiently for some unsuspecting young man to stumble unknowingly upon his empty court. The gray-haired man wasn’t waiting simply for a pick-up game; he needed to quickly hustle some cash before the pawn shop closed. The macho twenty-something know-nothings who hung out on these courts had never heard of Willie Denton, the decaying, broken-down former legend of the NBA’s nascent early days.

If this paragraph doesn’t feel as heavy as a fruitcake to you, then I don’t know what to tell you. Start slicing out the modifiers and see if you can lighten its load.

Books we’ll be reading and discussing during this session:

Stephen King - On Writing
Lynne Truss - Eats, Shoots, and Leaves
Natalie Goldberg - Writing Down the Bones
Anne Lamott - Bird by Bird
William Zinsser - On Writing Well
Strunk and White - The Elements of Style

Happy Writing!

Friday, August 11, 2006

The End of Summer

In about a month, my writing group starts meeting again. We take a break over the summer for two reasons. First, it’s too hot to go out. Second, I’m always running short on time during the months my son is out of school. My writing gets put on hold a lot during June, July, and August, and although sometimes it makes me nuts, it’s for a good cause. Part of the reason I’m a writer is to spend more time with my son. He will only be eight once, and I plan to witness as much of it as I can. Besides, the surplus of Cameron time during summer helps fortify me for the other nine months, when I deal with isolation instead. That’s when I’m (embarrassingly) likely to talk someone’s ear off after a stretch of too much time by myself. One of the downsides of being a writer is the loneliness you can feel as you spend hours alone with just your internet connection.

Stephen King does a great job of describing a writer’s life in On Writing, which I just finished. Ten pages into this book you’ll see why it’s considered a classic. I didn’t know what to expect when I began reading, but I instantly connected with his descriptions of the early years of a writer. I, too, had a stack of rejection slips, all resulting from awful short stories someone at Seventeen had to suffer through. Of course, he went on to become Stephen King and I am still working on things, but one never knows. Part memoir, part writing instruction, On Writing is an easy read that every writer should enjoy.

My favorite quotes from On Writing:
“Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Book is Done!!

I’m happy to announce that I’m done with my book!!! Yippee!! Yahoo!! Now I just have to polish it up (it’s done, but it’s not done), find an agent, and get published.

I’ve been working on plans for the next session of the Northwest Writers writing group and should have more info posted next week. We’ll be back on our regular schedule September 13, 2006. I’m reading Stephen King’s On Writing, which will be the first book we discuss in class. He recommends setting aside your freshly completed book for six weeks before going back to do the final polishing, but I don’t know that I can wait that long. I’d chew my fingernails down to my elbows, I’m afraid.

Happy writing everyone!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Doldrums

Every writer knows that some days your brain refuses to help you string the words together, and as soon as you’ve beaten your gray matter in submission, you hate the result. These are the days when I realize what a mistake it was to sign up for all those lovely cable channels. Showtime and HBO always seem like good alternatives when I feel that nothing sounds right. This is when I ask myself, “Why keep doing this?”

Every writer I’ve known has asked herself these questions. You’re not likely to make a very good living writing (yes, I know there are BIG exceptions to this – like Stephen King – but let’s be real). If you write about friends and family, they’re likely to be unhappy with your observations. Writing may be difficult and draining as you rummage through your memory and subconscious for the raw material to glue stories together. So, then, why keep pounding away at the keyboard?

You have to write because you want to, not because you think you’ve got a best-seller in you or because you think it’s great to see your name in print (although those can be legitimate secondary goals). If you don’t enjoy putting the words down, you will never outlast the critics, the rejection, or the doldrums.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Courtesy of a Rejection

Back in the old days when I first started freelancing, things were different. After you chipped the letters into the stone tablet, you hitched the oxen to the cart so you could drag your tablets into town… just kidding. I never kept an oxen in my apartment. But I’m not kidding when I tell you that because we didn’t have computers (I can see the twenty-somethings gasping now), we treasured our manuscripts. Before ink jet printers and the internet, we treasured those painstakingly typed pages. If you wanted copies, you used carbon paper. That’s why an SASE was so important – if you didn’t get your manuscript back, you had to re-type the whole blasted thing.

Nowadays, we writers are able to e-mail editors with queries and manuscripts and hear back right away. Well, if we hear back. That’s another thing that has changed – now editors don’t feel the need to say anything at all to you if they’re not interested in your work. When I started freelancing, accepted wisdom was that you knew you were making progress when instead of receiving form rejections, you got handwritten comments on your rejections. Now, progress is getting anything back. Take my recent experience with a local paper. I’ll call them Paper A. They posted a call for work. I answered. The editor e-mailed back, “Hey, we’ll be in touch with you next week!” I never heard another word. Two months later, I checked back with Paper A to see if they were still looking for people. “Yes, we’re still looking. Send us something,” the same editor replied. That was a month ago. I guess I’ve been rejected.

I know editors are overwhelmed with work. I read a great piece a few months back by a writer who resolved to personally respond to every piece of junk mail he received. As you can imagine, he soon developed a new appreciation for editors who must wade through the slush piles of unsolicited manuscripts and query letters. Can you imagine if you responded to each and every piece of e-mail you received? We'd all have to quit our day jobs just to keep up. I understand, really. I just never thought I’d be wishing for the good old days of rejection letters.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Books and Prompts


To Hell With All That
By Caitlin Flanagan

Caitlin Flanagan took a beating in the press after publishing To Hell With All That. She’s a self-described “antifeminist,” but I think her book does more to further the cause of feminism than she thinks. Since reviews of Flanagan’s book painted it as a mandate for mothers everywhere to return home and start baking cookies, I expected to be offended. Instead, I saw a modern version of the wealthy woman’s version of parenthood – nannies, assistants, neurotic overprotection. I think she’s less an anti-feminist than an anti-middle-classist. Still, the writing is engaging and, like it or not, she has some good points.


--Boredom crept over Tammy. The scorching heat kept her inside, and the only way to keep cool was….

--Clark County is under fire for its aggressive stance in removing children from their parents. What do you think about foster care, CPS, or child-based social services? What experiences have you had with any of these agencies?

--If they can send a man to the moon, then they should be able to….

My New Blog Site!

While I didn't have much to complain about with my old AOL blog, the one problem I did have was that non-AOL visitors were unable to post comments. That really seemed to be both unfair and annoying, so here I am! Look for my regular post to appear later on today.