Sunday, November 28, 2010

Editing Fast & Dirty

The blog returns! Wednesday was a bit of a different critique night - instead of critiquing a page of writing, we talked about the editing process. Though editing can be a long and arduous process, it doesn't have to be painful. The following can be used to edit something that needs a hurried edit. I like to use this process as a starting point to anything I edit.

I look at this initial (or fast) edit in the following four steps:
1. Removal of Extraneous Words
2. Restructuring of Verbs
3. Story & Plot
4. Character

1. Removal of Extraneous Words
This sounds much more complicated than it really is. There are many words that generally speaking are just unnecessary (that, those, this, these, etc). Watch out for adverbs, adjectives, and time constrains as well, such as "as" and "while." Re-read the words, make sure the words are doing what you want them to do. This is a little bit backwards from what you might normally hear: that grammar is the last thing to fix. However, by tightening up your prose just a little bit, finding the bigger problems because easier, as the prose becomes easier to read.

2. Restructuring of Verbs
Verbs are one of the two strongest words we have available. (Nouns are the other). When restructuring verbs, don't get too lost. Stay simple. Remove the passive voice (the verb "to be" - "is, are, were, was, etc."). Instead of forcing your objects to carry action, let your subject do the work. Subjects want to carry the action in English. Let them do their job. In addition, remove the subjunctive (would, could, etc.), except where necessary to indicate the uncertainty that is inherent in the subjunctive. Again, fixing this amount of grammar will help make the prose that much more read-able, which makes the entire editing process simpler, more possible.

3. Story & Plot
Now that you've tighten up the prose, it's time to get into the nitty gritty: story and plot. Find your major plot holes - continuity issues - etc., and get rid of them. Make sure your character always drives the same car (unless, of course, the character sold the car at some point), and that the grief stricken queen dies of grief and not of poisoned soup.

When it comes to story, be sure your reader as all the points to get to the end. Think of the story as the alphabet: a, b, c, d, etc. all the way to z. Not every letter has to be in order, but they all have to be there for the reader to make sense of the story. Does a character suddenly appear in a desert, when just a paragraph earlier they were in the forest? An explanation is needed!

4. Character
When going for a fast and dirty edit, character is hard to attack. Look for consistent names and character traits (spelling of names, red hair versus black, etc.). When completing a speedy edit, the necessary time to spend on editing for character isn't available.

Going through these four steps is just a beginning. Going through them a second time will yield even stronger prose, and allow you to focus more on plot and story. A third time through is more superficial grammar. On a fourth pass, the character starts to come out more, and spending time on character becomes more and more possible.

In December, we'll spend more time with editing character.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I would just like to take a moment to apologize for the lack of regular substantial updates to this blog over the past few weeks. Suffice to say that summer break from the blog is over now, and we will resume our regular schedule.

I would also like to remind everyone out there that Rediscovered Bookshop has moved downtown! We are still meeting at Rediscovered but at their new location.

And now, our guest blogger of the month, Noelle Veldhouse.

Guest Blog:

My mind is completely directed by my stomach, right now. I should NOT go grocery shopping; but, I will. I should stick to the list and ONLY buy exactly what is on my list; but, I won’t.

Writing, is directed by my mood, or is it? Like many, I come up with fun ideas to write about at the most random times, like when I am driving by myself, tucking my daughters in bed, chopping cucumbers, taking a walk or even shovelling down food during a lunch break. Inspiration, I think it is called. However, to be honest, the times I have been beamed with my favorite inspirations are usually when my head is on my cozy pillow and I am either waking up or about to fall asleep.

A lot of ideas or even rhymes will just come and I have to repeat them over and over or write them down quickly to remember them. Moving forward from this one line or one idea is where the challenge or the work comes in! Sometimes it just flows, but then you have to edit and reedit and sometimes it’s just an idea that needs substance. I have heard so many people say, “Oh, I have a great idea for a book/children’s book/way to make a million dollars!” Hey, I’ve been in that boat for the past 20 years! It wasn’t until last year when I decided to actually pick up a pencil and my sketch book and start writing and writing and writing. I could now quote many famous people from Henry Ford to Arnold Schwarzenegger about making ideas become reality, believing in your self, and persistence. The point is, “just do it.”

Making dinner from only what you have in the freezer or the pantry reminds me a lot of writing when you don’t feel inspired or are in the mood for it. I find if I just get started and go, I get warmed up and then all of a sudden, I’ve created a yummy masterpiece, a questionable looking yet delicious whatchamacallit or a pile of “no thanks.” Yet, I am proud of myself because I ventured out and achieved something, or at least I tried and practice makes perfect, right? Or practice at least helps you know what combinations do or do not work.

Once again, I am teetering on the boarder of writing about food while trying to write about writing. Nice, I am such a professional. I think instead of fighting it, I’m going to go with it and do a little children’s rhyme about a trip to the beach…. Here goes:

Eating Sand

I want to eat sand,
I know it just ain’t right.
I think about it all day,
And sometimes late at night.

I want to build a sandcastle,
And take a big ‘ol bite,
I want to throw it at my sis,
And have a sand fight.

I want to shake and play,
I want to stomp and roll,
I want to be a sand crab,
And take a little stroll.

And maybe make a kite,
Or a dolphin or snail,
Or maybe a dreaded pirate,
Out for a booty sail.

I think I like sand,
Or maybe love is the word,
I’m sorry if my obsession,
Leaves you a bit disturbed.

Written in less than 10 minutes, I just wrote and it flowed… NOW, I’m sure it needs some help. A rhythm expert, perhaps? Well, that’s what you get when you get a female author who happens to be hungry and pregnant. Now, that being said, you must assume my current temperament and will probably be very kind in passing judgement.

Cheese tortellini covered in alfredo sauce and bacon anyone?
Lovely day!

~Noelle Veldhouse

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Interview with Noelle Veldhouse

When and why did you begin writing? What genre/style do you generally write (fiction, poetry, non-fiction, mystery, literary, etc)?

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Recently, I decided to follow a dream and started writing & illustrating children's literature.

Do you ever write in multiple genres?

Yes, no, maybe so.
Where might we be able to find your work?I started doing my own blog on my website, but have been so busy with work, kids, house stuff, and being pregnant that I have really haven't blogged in a while. I need to get back to it! However, I do have a poem published with Boise Novel Orchard's first publication Bites From the Orchard. It is called Piggtoot the Forgotten.

What is success for a writer? What do you do to get yourself there?
Success is defined differently for everyone. To me, as long as you are still having fun, writing and enjoying it, you are a success! Also, deep breathing helps.

Do you have a writing schedule? What works for you? How do you keep up the discipline to stick to that schedule?

I LOVE to write first thing in the morning, before anyone else is up and it is just me and the computer. But, I really also enjoy writing during nap time when I get to sit and relax in peace. My goal is to work on my book several times a week and do something every day, even if it is a sketch or a rewrite on a certain line.

You're walking on a straight line. There's trees and grass and bunny rabbits. The road turns a bit, and reveals a fork. Do you go right or left?

I'm sorry, what? I got distracted. I was supposed to be following a line? I was over on the hill chasing a butterfly.

What do you like to read?

Stuff that makes me think, smile and/or laugh.

Who's your favorite author?

I enjoy children's authors, Ted Arnold, Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss. I do read books written for my own age. My favorite book tends to be the one that I'm currently reading.

Has this writer influenced you and your work?

They all have. Love them all & their creativity!

What about a writer you despise?

I think every writer does the best they can with the knowledge they have at the time. I'm not a fan of certain authors, but I don't despise them. I can say that I have no desire to ever read anything that else that John Steinbeck has written after I read Grapes of Wrath.
Has this person affected your writing at all? no

Where would you take your favorite author to dinner?

I would love to have dinner with Dr. Seuss but since that is not possible, Ted Arnold.

What's on your reading list right now?

I just finished reading Born To Run (LOVED IT!) and up next is The Princess Bride.

Do you have any projects on your table right now? What are they?

Pants on Head and
Princess Piper Pillowey

At what stage are they?
I am sketching my 1st dummy for Pants on Head & am working with an editor on it. PPP is on hold for a bit.

Are you satisfied with it?

It is fun & I love it! It is an ongoing process but yeah, I'm more than satisfied with it.

Have you learned anything from writing that applies to other parts of life?

I know that writing has HELPED my other parts of life.

Do you have any personal advice that you would like to share?

Yes, but one valuable lesson that my husband has taught me is that sometimes it is better just to be quiet and listen. I love listening to what others have to say about writing.

Look out! It's the Zombie Apocalypse, and the only inhabitable place on earth is an island. What do you do? Do what Bill Murray did in Zombieland. But if that doesn't work, I'm off to the island.
What do you take with you?My family, my dog, the Swiss family Robinson boat & all their supplies, and LOTS of guns (to kill the zombies, of course.)

Your computer just died, does this ruin your writing day, or can you cope?

I see it as a sign, I need to get outside and breath fresh air, go play or go to bed... depending on what time of day it happens.

Why isn't the sky red?
One sky,Two sky. Red sky, Blue sky.

Noelle Veldhouse is a children’s author and illustrator who is exploding into the children’s writing/illustrating market with passion. She teaches elementary school in Meridian She is the mother of 2 ½ children, a dog, a cat and a fish named Buster. Her poem "Pigtoot the Forgotten" can be found in Bites from the Orchard: Bridges.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Writer's block is horrible. trying to think of something to write for the blog today, I couldn't decide if I wanted to approach it from the perspective of the writing process, or maybe I wanted to talk about crafting language? Or, maybe I wanted to talk about crafting of story? All, of course, are very important to the creating of any fiction, or even non-fiction, piece of writing. So, I decided on one, and started trying to think of what topic under that to actually tackle. I failed. So I watched Mythbusters.

I saw something that is typical of Mythbusters--and entirely awesome, but that is beside the point--and rather unbelievable. I find it a bit hard to believe even though I just saw it happen. Cheese, shoved into a cannon, and used in place of a cannon ball. And working. Really, cheese!

Then I got to thinking. I mostly read sci-fi and fantasy, and come across things like this all the time. Unbelievable things. Sometimes I notice them, and having noticed it, I get pulled out of the story and feel disgusted with the book for breaking my suspension of disbelief. Other times I run right over them and never notice them until long after I've accepted it as reality of the book.

How, then, do you keep the reader to swallow your unbelievable events like a pill wrapped in peanut butter? Details. If you get your details right--which is to say, if you have details and they're consistent--they wont question what would otherwise be unbelievable.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Serial, or Oxford, Comma

In the last week, I've run into no less than three separate conversations regarding the Oxford comma, which is almost as heated a debate as the use of "said" versus "murmured," or "whispered," or any other verb that gets a character talking for attribution.

I suppose I should start off with what an Oxford comma is. The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, is the final comma in a list. It separates the penultimate from the ultimate word. Example time:

  • Last night, I had chicken, chocolate cake, and noodles for dinner.
The comma between "chocolate cake," and "and" is an Oxford comma.

What does this little mark do? This is where the debate comes in. Those who don't like this form of punctuation claim that it's unnecessary; that the "and" signifies the last word in the list. Those who prefer it say the comma removes ambiguity, and keeps true to the actual function of a comma: to hold the place of a breath in speech.

Personally, I love the Oxford comma. I'm a huge fan. I notice it every time it's missing. I know there's other people out there who couldn't disagree with me more.

How do you feel about this fussy piece of punctuation?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Exposition: Experts do it without getting caught

When it is done wrong exposition is called ‘info dump,’ boring, slow. Yet exposition is a must have for writers. So what is it and how can we do it without getting caught? Exposition is how information is given to the reader. That information can include description, back story and clues. Since movies and television start out as writing, you can easily switch reader for audience. Exposition is a movie/show giving the audience needed information. Many of the following examples are video clips because they are immediate but I have a few book references as well. In Carolyn Wheat’s How To Write Killer Fiction, she describes poorly written exposition this way,

“It’s the scene where our detective sits over coffee with her best friend and bounces ideas about the murder around, only they both agree on absolutely everything and are really just committing exposition on one another. It’s the scene where the spy gets his orders from MI5 and just stands there as we readers try to absorb a huge chunk of geopolitical backstory that is essential for our understanding of later events but bores us silly.”

If your characters are sitting and talking then you are info dumping. But here is an example that works.
In the clip from The Sentinel a police detective and his partner are discussing a case (exposition) but there is movement, Jim is cleaning his gun, and they keep it brief. It also works because Blair (the partner) is the NEWBIE (more on that in a minute) and it is natural that they would share this information.
At the end of all Harry Potter novels, Dumbledore acts as a fountain of information and tells us all the answers (exposition). Why do we still read it even though it is several pages of talking and not action? It explains what happens, proving us right or wrong and it has little bits of quirky humor or emotional impact.
So all exposition (to be successful) should do three things: Tell us important stuff, reveal character, and entertain.

Couple of useful techniques.
Use an exposition character.
The most popular exposition character is the GEEK. Examples include Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, Erckel from Family Matters, Cliff Claven from Cheers, Spock from Star Trek. These characters are over the top and the information they give, though purposely not always essential, reveal how other characters respond to the subject or to other characters. Of course Spock will give statistical data on the likelihood of success. It’s Spock.
Another exposition character is the NEWBIE. Examples include Daryl Hannah’s character in Steel Magnolias, Harry in the Harry Potter books (new to Hogwarts), Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in 10 Things I Hate About You. Lots of stories start with a change. New kid in school or town. A new job. This gives the opportunity to reveal information in a ‘tour guide mode’.
In the following Die Hard 2 clip, Bruce Willis is giving the cop who is about to tow his car information, aka exposition for the audience. It very quickly tells us where he is and why.

Either a character, and thus the reader, is witness to other people talking or reads information that is given to the reader. The trap here is that it shouldn’t be coincidental. Make the eavesdropper struggle, plot, and swindle to get the eavesdropping chance. Then make the information misleading or hurtful to the character. Let there be a consequence. My favorite example is Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth overhears Mr. Darcy cut her at the dance.

Introducing Characters and All Their Luggage

When working with character description it is tempting to give the reader too much information. Less is more. Allow the reader to see what they want, to use their imagination. Use pre built stereotypes to build characters. If you know a character is a FBI agent you immediately think that he wears a non-descript suit, has short hair and is fairly smart. The reader doesn’t need to be told these things.
Examples: Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich
Character description for Ranger – “Sometimes I moonlight for a guy named Ranger who’s extremely bad in an incredibly good way. He’s a security expert, and a bounty hunter, and he moves like smoke. Ranger is milk chocolate on the outside…a delicious, tempting, forbidden pleasure. And no one knows what’s on the inside. Ranger keeps his own counsel…Ranger doesn’t often smile. Mostly he thinks about smiling, and this was one of those thinking-smile times.” Without them being described we know that Ranger is muscular, has had a tough life and has a secret.
FBI Agent Jules Cassidy in Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter’s Series. “On a scale of one to ten in cuteness, Jules was a four million. He could have gone on an audition for a boy band and been signed without even singing a note.”
We also learn about the person who is providing the description. In Jules’ case it is his partner Alyssa Locke who loves him like a brother. The description should and does sound totally different in other books when Jules’ boss Max is describing him. Ranger’s description tells us about Stephanie Plum. It tells us that she is intrigued and attracted to Ranger. That she has a thing for chocolate and maybe even envies his grace.
Writers should use visual clues to inner assumptions. As the writer we chose what the reader sees. Jeans and a leather bomber jacket and the reader thinks bad ass. Glasses and enduring dimple and the reader thinks cute geek, extra smart. Blonde and trashy and the reader thinks dumb as dirt.
The following is a clip from Joss Whedon’s Firefly. It introduces all characters by name, their position on the ship and their relationships with each other. It is also very cool because it is a single camera shot.

Step 1. Describe a person while people-watching. Take five minutes and don't worry about grammar, only you will see your work. Work on using both physical attributes as well as things you ‘assume’ based on what they are doing or wearing.
Step 2. Now write a scene where you introduce a character that was abused as a child and is now a spy for the government or has a grave secret. Stick to one page. Use the description you wrote earlier as the model. Try it in first person as well as in omnipotent narrator. How does the point of view change the description?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

From the Beginning

I had the unfortunate experience of witnessing an accident today. Fortunately, no one was hurt, though I did have to wait around for the better part of an hour to give a statement to the police, and then write it.

I was excited. I did my civil duty, and I got to write. Life doesn't get much better than that. Or so I thought, until I started writing the statement, and I hit a point of doom: beginning from the beginning.

So often I find myself beginning a story somewhere other than the beginning, and filling in the beginning as I go. But, that doesn't always work. Or, information is just left out, leaving the story not only unfinished but also incomprehensible. Sometimes the beginning really is the beginning, and every single step has to be explained, one at a time.

Do you ever leave out vital information to a story?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Nancy Pearl

Have you ever met a librarian with her own action figure? If not, you should. I had the pleasure this afternoon to meet Nancy Pearl. She's a librarian, author, and general bibliophile of the highest calibre. She is the Linus Torvalds of librarians. Want to meet her? Well, there's still time. She will be at the downtown Boise Public Library! tonight at 7:00pm (yes I know, way short notice, I apologize, mea culpa).

- Sam

Monday, May 31, 2010

I've been reading my own list of blogs, and hoping that some sort of inspiration would strike me for today's post. And, there's been nothing from me today.

However, the folks over at Easystreet Prompts have put up a rather fantastic prompt for today. As their prompts always are, this one is simple, thought-provoking, and has a high potential to be the launching point of some words.

What is it that you're remembering today?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chad Smith: Flow

I recently just finished up a rough draft of a long poem I had been working on with the title “Bébé qui lutte avec des diables”. I would have actually had this post done sooner if I hadn’t been so obsessed with making the poem work right (oh and the LOST series finale also took the wind out of my writing sails). I’m not sure if it’s perfect yet but I’m setting it down for a few days and will pick it up later and hopefully have a fresh perspective.

According to my computer’s translator, Bébé qui lutte avec des diables is French for “Baby who battles with devils”. I don’t know French so I guess that’s right. I don’t know how to pronounce it either. I just know it by seeing it and haven’t tried to say the poem’s title out loud very often yet.

Another name I don’t know how to pronounce and mostly just see in writing is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I don’t have to spell much of it either now that search engines fill in what you’re looking for once you start typing Mihaly. I first heard of Csikszentmihalyi’s work in a great class I took in college called the Psychology of Creativity. It was a class on how to beef up one’s creativity. I bought his book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” a few years ago and hope to finish reading it some day.

Csikszentmihalyi is a psychology professor who coined the phrase “flow” to label that moment of being in the zone, bliss, or ecstasy when one is fully immersed in what he or she is doing. That state where you are concentrating entirely on what you are doing and time seems to fly by. Inspiration hits and you are feeling totally on fire and creative. Csikszentmihalyi believes that experiencing this optimal experience brings people true happiness and enhances quality of life.

I am a flow junkie. If I can get to that state while doing something creative then I am totally in heaven. It keeps me coming back to the creative process again and again. After that class on creativity and learning that getting lost in creating ones art was called flow, I started to notice when my own moments occurred.

The first time I really said, “Hey I was just experiencing flow” was when I was doing some digital video editing using the program Final Cut Pro on the computer for an editing class I was taking. I was so engrossed with putting my video project together that I didn’t notice 10 hours had just vanished and the school’s computer lab was closing for the night. Flow has hit me quite a bit while working on video projects. So much so that I had thought that I was going to change my major to video production (I didn’t).

I have experienced flow while drawing and working on art projects. I often get lost in my work when doing illustration or graphics on the computer as well. I hate to admit this of course but even during my day job I have experienced moments of total focus and creative bliss.

Gosh, this is starting to sound a tad naughty.

Until about a month ago I hadn’t really had a flow experience while writing. I was working on a poem, everything was coming together, I was in the zone, focused and it hit me, “Oh my gosh! People experience flow while writing poetry?” I am even more hooked now on writing poetry!

The question then is how in the world do we get into the flow and how do we stay there?

Unfortunately it seems like with what I have read (haven’t finished the book like I said) and studied so far, Csikszentmihalyi takes a Yoda sort of Zen stance when asked how one achieves flow. You won’t know how to get there but you’ll know when you have arrived. I guess that keeps the magic of a muse intact. He suggests paying attention and take note of your surroundings when you discover you have been in the flow. What were you doing to get there? Csikszentmihalyi says that the task that you are taking on has to be challenging, but not too challenging and you have to have the proper amount of skill to complete the task.

It goes back to the old standbys: What time of day do you do your best writing? Do you have a quiet place where you can go and be free from distractions? Are you well rested? Many writers have all kinds of rituals that they perform or things the put in place to get the writing flowing.

I have noticed a lot of creative ideas come to me while washing the dishes or mowing the lawn. I think Csikszentmihalyi was talking about this being a form of flow but I can’t find the exact passage for it now that I want to write about it (of course). Something about the repetition of mundane tasks, getting the brain and body into a rhythm that it can do automatically and not think about while your mind is freed up to wander to and think about creative things. My wife sometimes gets annoyed with how long washing the dishes takes me. Lots of ideas come to me and I have to stop and write them down. Once again my day job’s repetition is great for getting out of my head and thinking of more important things.

Music also helps me get my flow on. I listen to head phones all day at work and I find instrumental music, jazz and lately electronic dance music has been getting me into a trance like creative state. I think there is something to the repetition and the beats.

So had you heard of flow? Maybe you have experienced it but hadn’t heard of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi? I was hoping to give you a bit of an introduction and give you a springboard to do your own investigating. What methods do you use to get into the flow and bring the muse forth?

While looking up info on the nets to help with writing this post, I found quite a few blog posts that covered this subject much better than I. There is a ton of stuff out there if you are interested in investigating flow and creativity further. Here are a few good links that I looked at:

There are lots of videos of Csikszentmihalyi speaking. This TED talk was pretty good:

An article by Csikszentmihalyi in Psychology Today on finding flow:

An article on the benefits of boredom:

Especially interesting to me are these links on poetry and flow:

These last two links are on creativity:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A case for adverbs

A couple of weeks ago, on Wed May 12 (okay, not quite a couple of weeks ago, but close enough) we talked about adverbs, those obnoxious words that tie-up language.

Generally (hey look, there's one!) adverbs clog up speech and don't allow for high-quality communication. But adverbs exist in the language, so surely there must be a case for them, right?

Just like any other writing axiom, the "rule" to never use adverbs is more of a suggestion. Sure, adverbs clog up language. And, yes, the English language demands the use of strong nouns and verbs. What if I had used "strongly requests" or "expertly asks for" instead of "demands" in that last sentence? There's something missing in the meaning of what's said.

But, what about verbs that don't have a replacement? "Swim," for example, doesn't have any replacements. When there's someone walking, I can decide to have the skulk, or wander, or stroll, or even run or job instead of walk. All of these verbs illicit a different sort of "walk," a different action unique and separate from walking.

I can't use the same bit of dictionary magic on the verb "swim." I have to use a modifier instead. I could have someone swim quick, or slow, or stealthily, or any number of ways.

What other words out there might not have a replacement with a better inherent definition; one that doesn't need a modifier?

Sunday, May 16, 2010


It's May 16th (though you're probably reading this on the 17th), which means we're just a month away from the deadline for submissions for Bites from the Orchard: Floats. This got me thinking about floats, and what they might be. I know I always think of a cool root beer float in a plastic Tupperware cup on my grandma's patio in the middle of the summer (even though I don't really like root beer).

Or, sometimes a cloud comes to mind. Floating from work to school to home to evening writerly activities. My horse's teeth that need floated.

Though, that's all just me. And I want to hear about you.

What gets you floating? What do you think of when you hear the word "float." We want to hear from you!

Think about a float, and everything that a float can be. Write us something about it. Send us an essay or a story or a poem or whatever it is that you think fits Bites from the Orchard. Check out the submission guidelines (we accept and consider all genres), and send it to us. We'll read it. And, if we like it, we'll print it, and your work will be available to read in a literary journal.

An extra hint: be sure to read all the submission guidelines. Make sure you save in the proper file format. And, if you have any questions, please ask. We like answering questions.

Can't wait to read all your submissions!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Books, the Making Of: Part Three

I promise, after this one, I'll stop yammering on about making books. When I left off, though, we had a stack of bound signatures, and a stack of casings, and if I recall, we hadn't quite finished up those casings, had we? The spine needs to be rounded on hard bound books, and I've already pointed out the how of it. Let us take a moment on the why.

A hard bound book is an object that is intended to last. In fact, that's the real reason behind binding manuscripts in the first place. A bound manuscript of any sort lasts longer and is more durable than a stack of loose papers. If you'll look carefully at a hard bound book, you might notice that the pages extend behind the boards as they get to the spine of the book, leaving a small soft area between the boards and the spine, this is what allows the book to actually open.

Now, you'll notice, hopefully, a curve in the spine and the pages. When you open it, it will start to to flatten out. Here is the the reason for the spine bending. If you have the spine bent too little, the pages will flatten out with use, which can lead to the whole thing falling apart. If you didn't start with any curve then, the book would fall apart in fairly short order.

Okay, enough prattling on about that, I just needed to waste some time because there's really not that much more to go. In order to glue the signatures into the casing, you use a bit of cloth called mulling. It's rather like cheese cloth, but a bit of a heavier weave (hard not to be). This is usually glued onto the signatures around the spine and, about half an inch onto what is currently the front "page", but as we'll see, that'll never be noticed.

Now, if you're looking at an older book, this next one will be highly noticeable, but if not, you may just have to take my word for it. You open the cover, and you'll notice a paper that looks something like this. Sadly, newer books just use normal, boring paper, as marbled paper like this can be a bit expensive. Anyway, these are called end sheets, and are glued both to the signature, and the casing, to hide the ugly work of the binding behind it (the gluing of the cover to the boards, and the mulling on the signatures).

One last bit. Look at the top of the spine, and you'll notice a bit of fabric sticking up behind the pages, hugging the spine. That's ribbon. It's purely decorative, and glued, or stitched, onto the signatures.

Guess what? We've done all the interesting stuff now. Actually gluing the signatures into the casing? Yeah, it's just that. So that's all.

- Sam

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Adverbs. What are they?

Strictly speaking, adverbs are words that modify verbs and adjectives. Verbs are action words – words like run, walk, pounce, shift, and hyperventilate. Adjectives are words that modify nouns. Nouns are things – you, me, Heather, the hole in the ground downtown. Adjectives describe these words – short, tall, angry, green, ugly. Adverbs modify everything that an adjective can't (verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs). They answer the question how. How big? How ugly?

Generally speaking, adverbs will clog up speech. “He ran quickly” can be shortened to “he skittered.” Incidentally, skittered almost certainly creates a better picture in your mind of what's actually happening. Think about the difference between “ran” and “skittered”. Define the two verbs in your mind. Let a picture form. Which one is stronger?

This is exactly why adverbs are almost always unnecessary and even confusing.

Look at the above paragraphs. I've used some adverbs up there that are completely unnecessary. Find them, and let's talk about why they make the writing weaker.

Cleaning up the mess

Adverbs are used for many reasons. Sometimes it's a form of laziness: the writer can't come up with a stronger verb or noun, or doesn't want to pull out a thesaurus or dictionary. Sometimes the writer thinks the word is strong; almost, very, and other such words seem like they ought to be strong, and that they make the sentence more specific. They don't. Here's a comparison, using the first sentence of this paragraph (what I tried to write when I started writing this paragraph):

Often, adverbs are used for many reasons; the word almost fits, so the writer chooses to use it. (compare this to the beginning of the above paragraph. Which is stronger?)

How about this: What I almost wrote when I first started writing this paragraph. (Again, compare. Which is stronger and why).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Books, the Making Of: Part Two

Did you know we have a book out? We do. You can find it at Rediscovered Bookshop and A Novel Adventure (not yet available online, we're working on it, promise.) Part two on the adventures of book binding. Last time I talked about how the casing is made. The other really major part of a book, and more important, is the signature. Which isn't quite right either.

Bites From The Orchard: Bridges is what would be called a single signature book. Which is a nice way of saying that it only has one block of pages. What are you talking about? I hear someone saying?

Okay, let's go back and revisit Ulysses S. Grant (and I'll point out that some of these steps do not apply, as Bites From The Orchard is a single signature). It is approximately 300 pages long, and looking at it, has twenty different signatures. Each signature is a pile of pages folded in half. So, Ulysses has twenty of these. Each signature then only consists of four sheets of paper, and each sheet of paper actually holds four pages (incidentally, this is why if you tear out one page, you'll almost always have another page wanting to fall out).

Before I go on, I'm going to jump to a composition book, which happens to be a single signature book, and they lie to you! (at least the Top Flight I have on my desk does.) They say 100 sheets, but if you open it up, exactly in half, you'll notice some thread holding the whole thing together, and that it's actually 50 sheets, for those 200 pages. Anyway, give one of the pages a tear, the first page works really well for this. You'll then find that the back page also wants to fall out!

Enough of that though, we have a pile of twenty signatures now, and that can't be called a book, they're all loose and falling all over the place. Here's where we actually get into binding. Each one of those signatures needs holes in it. A lot of them. Remember in Part One when I mentioned that Ulysses has six lengths of cord stiffening the spine? Here's how that comes into play.

For each and every signature, in the fold, we punch holes, all in the exact same spot for each signature. If Ulysses was using the cord for the signatures (I'll explain that next, I promise!), and let us assume that it does, it would need at least twelve holes in each signature.

So, through those holes, we now take a length of (no, not the cord) thread! Linen by preference. We stack all of our recently holey signatures in a device called a sewing frame. The sewing frame holds the six cords we mentioned earlier nice and tight, and in proper alignment--the signatures holes lining up one on either side of each cord. Then? We stitch each of the cords onto the bottom signature, carry over the stitch into the second signature, and so on and so fourth up all twenty of them. You see, the stitching holds each separate signature together, while the cord holes all the signatures to each other. And no, I will not describe the stitches, if you are that curious, there are books for that sort of thing (and I'm not good enough at writing to accurately give you a picture of what is going on, but let's not tell anyone that).

I did say it wasn't very likely these were part of the signatures though, didn't I? Well, almost certainly they're not. At some point (I don't know an actual date) using cord to bind books fell out of style in favor of ribbon. People still expected those ridges on the spine though. They were attractive. If they weren't there, people would have thought the product was of an inferior quality, and what publishing house wants that? None! So, instead they glued the cord to the inside of the casing, and then pressed the leather around them to give them shape.

We now have a stack of twenty signatures, stitched and bound by cord. We have a beautiful casing, carefully made so every corner and edge is perfect. How do they come together? You see parts I haven't mentioned yet? You promised us a part 3? All are true! And all our next week.

- Sam


If you've read the comments here recently, we've been the unfortunate victims of comment-spam. Just thought I'd make a post here that we do delete comment-spam. Comments that repeat themselves on multiple posts, especially when they have a link to an spammish advertisement, will be deleted.

We love your comments. Please don't leave us spam though :)

Spellchecker says "spammish" is not a word. I say it is! Use it in some writing. Spammish eggs anyone?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why Blog?

The first blog from May's guest blogger, Chad Smith. Chad won the Bridges contest. His poem, "No Rocks on This End," can be found in Bites from the Orchard: Bridges. Happy reading!

First off let me say thanks to Megan and everyone in the writer's group for letting me hang out in the Novel Orchard. I am truly honored to have my poem in your book. Sorry I couldn't make it to the book's opening night, but alas I am in Portland and my private jet has been in the shop all week.

When Megan asked me to be a guest blogger here on Writing Through the Year I was frightened at first. Sure I would do it I guessed, but what in the world did I know about writing? Then I thought about some subjects to write about and calmed down a bit:

I was asked to write a blog post. I can totally do that.

I will have been writing blog posts for 9 years this August. My first post is dated August 18th 2001. Before that I had been keeping a creative journal in a spiral notebook for several years. I don't think everyone was calling it blogging yet back in 2001 (I'm definitely not the first person to have started a blog). I think of myself as a journal keeper. No, not a diary. A journal.

I started keeping a creative journal right after I graduated from high school when an instructor at Portland Community College suggested that everyone should keep one. A place to store all of your creative thoughts. Story ideas, plot lines, dialog. Ideas for drawings and graphics. Notes for your Great American Novel. As I started to get into it and get some words down on paper I found that my creative journal, along with the notes and ideas was turning into a diary. Keeping track of my daily activities was keeping more entertained than scribbling notes for graphic designs or movie scripts.

Around 1996 I came up with the name Jack Noodle. I was subscribed to AOL back then and I wanted a name for my AOL email that didn't have to have a number in it. Chad Smith was already taken (believe it or not). Jack Noodle was born. I was going to use the name Jack Noodle everywhere I went in cyberspace and all of my artworks and writings would be signed by Jack Noodle. Now days I don't try to push the pseudonym as much. Everyone knows that Jack Noodle is really Chad Smith. No mystery.

That takes us to right around 1999 - 2000. I had been reading and enjoying the musician Moby's daily journal that he had up on his website and was also reading a journal by a multimedia artist named Mumbleboy. I was constructing my website and graphic design portfolio around that time and thought it would be cool to have my creative journal, a daily posting area on the site as well. I didn't have Wordpress back then so my posts were entered using raw html. I switched over to Wordpress around 2003 - 2004 and slowly reloaded all of my old posts into the Wordpress database then.

So where is this rambling history taking us you ask?

Well for my guest blog post I am going to agree with your previous guest blogger, Margaret Ellsworth's post last month on Practice and maybe expand a bit on the idea that blogging and keeping a journal is a very important activity for writers to take part in these days.

I think that anyone who is an aspiring writer should get a blog going. It's a great tool in helping build your writing muscles. I liked what Margaret said about getting the sensations of writing imprinted into your muscle memory. Maintaining a blog helps you practice the writing you will do on other projects.

Writing the Jack Noodle Journal is something I do for myself. There are other bloggers out there in the blogosphere that really worry about their numbers and try to get as many page hits as possible using all kinds of tricks. It's really easy to get caught up in the schemes and wizardry of page hits and reader numbers. For me it's about the act of writing and I'm not so concerned about who is reading it. Sure it would be fun to be popular and have a million readers but I like to think that have an audience of twelve.

Well if I'm not concerned with generating an audience with my blog then why put it up on the internet at all? Why not just keep my writing in my spiral notebook?

Despite saying I'm not concerned with how many people read my posts there is a certain level of attention set to the writing style knowing even subconsciously that someone might read what one is writing. That is good to cultivate and is really is a better writing than something one would hide away in a closet and never show anyone. If you are going to be a professional writer you are going to have to show your wares to the public eventually right? Why not start now with your blog?

Another benefit of having a blog is that I have a nice history and artifact of the history of the last 9 years of my life. Oh yeah, and with a search function even! It has been fun going back and refreshing my memory concerning the big events that have taken place. Along with family stuff I have interesting (to me) posts on how I felt on 9-11, a couple of presidential elections and other World events. Oh yes and I do still have some notes on creative thoughts and the start of some ideas I wanted to do for a television show until I saw that LOST was covering all of the topics I had thought of.

I have been surprised a time or two by who has been reading my blog when I get comments or emails. The most resent surprise was when a reporter from the Oregonian contacted me and said she had been reading about the details of my wife's pregnancy and the birth of our son on my blog and wanted to interview me for a story on paternity leave. That was pretty fun. You never know who's tuning in and what kind of opportunities could arise from someone enjoying your writing.

So that's my advice to you fellow writers. If you don't have a blog now then add more time to your already hard to find time for writing schedule and write a blog!

Also Facebook and Twitter are pretty cool too. Probably stay away from Facebook though, as it is a massive, distracting time suck. My Twitter feed is filled with people who continually give excellent links to interesting items. I've found a lot of writers and poets on Twitter as well....

But Facebook and Twitter belong in a different post.

Monday, May 3, 2010

May Guest Blogger: Chad Smith

May's Guest Blogger is Chad Smith, winner of the Bridges contest. His poem, "No Rocks on this End," can be found in Bites from the Orchard: Bridges.

[Edit: Never post things half-asleep, especially when copy pasting. The formatting will always get funky]

When and why did you begin writing? What genre/style do you generally write (fiction, poetry, non- fiction, mystery, literary, etc)? Do you ever write in multiple genres?
I started writing and illustrating stories way back in grade school. I took a creative writing class or two while in college. I enjoy being creative and making art stuffs. Most of what I've done in the past has been in the visual arts realm. I'm a graphic design multimedia guy. This year as a New Year's resolution I decided I was going to become a poet and I am starting to get serious about writing.

Where might we be able to find your work?
My poem "No Rocks on this End" in the Bites From the Orchard book was the first landing spot (of hopefully many) out of the gate. I have been posting my poems on my blog at

Do you have a writing schedule? What works for you? How do you keep up the discipline to stick to that schedule?
Oh! I really should stick to a schedule. I find that my best writing and ideas come to me first thing in the orning. I'm a firm believer in documenting anything that comes to you in your dreams right when you wake up. If you say you'll be able to write it down later in the day you won't and the freshness will have worn off. I had a whole poem figured out in a dream, still had it when I woke up and then totally forgot it later in the day. Many writing and artistic solutions have come to me while sleeping. That's quite handy when one can catch it.
If I could get more nuts and bolts, nose to the grind stone writing done in the night before sleeping that would be awesome. I'm usually too sleepy then.

You're walking on a straight line. There's trees and grass and bunnyrabbits. The road turns a bit, and reveals a fork. Do you go right or left?
Left of course.

What do you like to read? Who's your favorite author? Has this writer influenced you and your work? that about a writer you despise? Has this person affected your writing at all? Where would you take your favorite author to dinner?
I'm an excellent starter of books but a horrible finisher. I wish I was more of a reader. I'm in love with the idea of being an avid reader and consumer of books. I think one of my problems is I read too slow and then my mind wanders off when an interesting idea pops up in the book. I'm an excellent retainer of the words that do make it into my noggin though.

What's on your reading list right now?
Right now I am reading all poetry. I've been checking out lots of how to write poetry books from the library and reading as many poets as I can. I'm digging Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg. I discovered Kim Addonizio a couple of days ago and can't wait to check out more of her stuff. I'm going to investigate Gertrude Stein in the near future. Oh yes, and Arthur Rimbaud's "A Season in Hell" is magnificent. I'm still a toddler in the poetry world and I've been quite excited with where my self educating journey has taken me so far. I'm still figuring this stuff out.

Do you have any projects on your table right now? What are they? At what stage are they? Are you satisfied with it?
Right now I am working on a one hundred line poem about a baby who fights demons. I'm also trying to finish up some poems that I'm not posting to the website in hopes of submitting them to some poetry magazines. There's that whole, "Is posting your poem to your blog count as previously published?" question that I haven't got a solid answer on yet. I'm trying to write one hundred poems in 2010. I'm not sure if I'll make it. I have a thing for the number one hundred and I'm trying to slip it in every chance I get. Not sure why.

Look out! It's the Zombie Apocalypse, and the only inhabitable place on earth is an island. What do you do? What do you take with you?
I don't care for the zombie genre so much. I think somebody should totally write a zombie teen romance series in the vein of Twilight though.
My favorite horror movie is "Devil's Rejects" by Rob Zombie. Devil's Rejects is the sequel to "House of a Thousand Corpses" and they should both be viewed in the same sitting. House of a Thousand Corpses isn't as good as Rejects but you must see it to appreciate how horrible and terrifying the characters in Devil's Rejects are. Despicably not for anyone the slightest bit squeamish. Very scary.
Wow look at that tangent.

Your computer just died, does this ruin your writing day, or can you cope?
I'm a computer guy. I have to sit in front of a computer everyday for my day job and I enjoy it. I am getting to the point in my old age though that I probably wouldn't mind if my computers died. Pen and paper is nice for writing. I would miss the spell checker!
That is an excellent reminder to save and backup your files.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Book Review: A Kick in the Head

April is (was?) National Poetry Month. I know I've said it several times now. And, I know it's not April any more. Never-the-less, I had planned a book review of a poetry book all month. It just hasn't happened until now. So, for one more day, it's Poetry Month.

For some, poetry comes naturally. The words flow from the tongue in a form that allows much language to be left behind, yet have more meaning for the lack of words. For others (like me), it's a struggle to read and understand poetry, much less write it.

Regardless of where you stand with poetry, it's helpful to understand the many aspects and forms. Some ideas are best portrayed in one type of poem than others. If you don't know those forms, it's hard to know how best to portray the ideas in your head. How can you choose when you simply don't know? And who wants to dig through mountains of theory and explication in some anthology that takes up more space than all of your favorite books combined?

That's where A Kick in the Head comes in. This succinct book is written for kids to explain different poetic forms. Because it's written for kids, it's simple. An an example is given, of say a couplet. It's short, two lines that rhyme. And there's a glossary in the back with a deeper explanation of the poem in the glossary in the back.

This book took me straight back to my childhood. I had forgotten the joy and beauty of a reference book written for the young. The beautiful cut-out illustrations and the glossary anyone can understand aren't an insult to my intelligence, but rather make a complicated subject simple, or at least give it a simple starting point.

I think I've made it quite clear this month that I'm not a fan of poetry. A Kick in the Head could very well change my mind about attempting some of this form.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Regarding email

If you've tried to send us an email, and you've gotten a return message, not to worry, we almost certainly got it. If you're concerned, please send us a query to ensure we got your email. It can take us some time to look through your email and prepare a proper response, especially if it is lengthy. We are aware of this issue and are working to fix it.

Thanks for your patience!


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wood for the Table

Sorry for the delay, here is the second blog from this month's guest blogger, Margaret Ellsworth. - S.

“Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry… Both are very hard work. Writing is almost as hard as making a table. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

As writers, we work with the material we have at hand—which is reality, and the words we use to describe that reality. Now, I’m a nonfiction writer, so reality is a bit more of an issue for me, since the reader expects my pieces to be fact-checkably “real.” But fiction and poetry have an equal responsibility to reality. Because unless the writer can create a world in her story that’s as detailed and rich as the world we inhabit, the reader’s not going to stick with it. We’re using reality, but we’re also competing with reality, which is already a sensory overload experience.

Which is why good writing draws from reality. The best dialogue has the same rhythms as conversations we’ve heard before. The best characters, while unique in their own ways, often share characteristics with people we recognize from our own lives. Even sci-fi and fantasy worlds may not correspond to “reality” as we know it, but a good writer can fill these worlds with so much realistic detail that we hardly notice.

It’s these details that can make or break a story. So where do we get these details from? The details that allow people to enter the worlds we create, and be able to see and smell and touch the world around them, clearly? How do we gather the wood for our table? Here are a few suggestions:

Get out in the world, and take notes. This is crucial for nonfiction writers—to get out there and experience the reality we’re trying to convey. We can actually go to the settings of our stories, and get details there. But this can be a useful tool for fiction writers too. If your characters happen to be musicians or doctors, see if you can find some musicians or doctors in the real world to shadow. If you’re writing a bustling town scene for your historical/fantasy book, head down to the farmer’s market and watch how people interact with each other there.

Take a notebook and a camera (or a cell phone camera if you’d rather be more inconspicuous) and watch what’s going on. Write down the little things: colors, sounds, smells. Notice the way people move and talk to each other. You could even try to scribble down snippets of conversation, to get a feel for the rhythms of dialogue. Try not to particularly think about your story at this point: if you focus on what you’re writing, you might miss something that’s happening around you. Afterwards, when you read your notes over, you can work the details into your story.

Follow your obsessions. Tamora Pierce (author of the popular Tortall teen fantasy series) said that she watched “The Three Musketeers” movie 17 times during her years at college. Did it have anything to do with her work at that point? Probably not. But it gave her material later on. This is one of the most fun parts about being a writer—the license to be obsessed with anything and everything. Read books, blogs, websites. Watch and re-watch movies. As Pierce says, “All creative people--not just writers!--expose themselves to as much information, in as many forms, as possible, in the hopes that it will be useful down the road, or even right now. You never know what will spark something new!”

Write what you know. I know, it’s an old cliché, something writing professors like to say… and then they end up with a stack of dorm-drama stories on their desk. You may think that “what you know” is too boring to ever interest anyone else. But I’m willing to bet you know some pretty odd things. Just through 20-odd years of life experience, I’ve become (perhaps too) familiar with church politics, long-distance relationships, and wasp-proofing my house. Just to name a few! Go ahead. Take ten minutes, and write down everything in the world you know about, everything you’re an expert on. Maybe one of your characters will love the same band you do. Maybe your summer job waiting tables at a resort will give you the idea for a story.

How about you? How do you come up with the details that bring your stories to life?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Books, the Making Of: Part One

As I hope you know, we are putting out a book (you remember that whole contest thing, right?), and are planning another (open submission this time, more information at the website). If you don't know, either we've been remiss in our duty, or, well, probably we've been remiss in our duty. So to fix that: we're putting out a book!

That's only sort of what I want to talk about though. Since we're hand binding these books (they're quite attractive), I thought it might be fun to talk about the process by which a book is built. So many of us who love writing dream of, some day, being in a book. To have our writing transformed in that magical process from manuscript to book. The very idea thrills us. But, do you know how they're made? Did you know there are names for the different parts of the book?

A paperback, of course, is boring; perfect bound (the pages are just glued together at the back) and wrapped in a cover. Yawn. No artistry to it at all. A hard bound book though has more parts and pieces than you can shake a stick at, but there are two main parts to it, the casing, and the signature(s).

Now watch as I try to explain in an entertaining way what a casing is, and how it's made! Actually, it's just that, it's a case that wraps around the signature. What, that didn't make things clear? Okay, let's try this. The part of a hard bound book that's hard? That's the casing. Actually, the hard part are the boards.

Let's try again. The cover? The hard part? The spine? Those are all parts of the casing. Confusing? Alright, let's start from the cover. I'm going to use a copy of Ulysses S. Grant from 1868 that I happen to have in my hands (because it's pretty, closer to my desk, and the process is virtually identical), and explain in detail, very briefly, what goes into the making of the casing.

So, we start with a lovely piece of dark, chocolate brown leather (beautifully debossed in this case), and we lay it out on our workstation. On top of that, we glue the boards (the actual hard part, its sort of a really heavy card stock) There are two of these, well, sometimes there's a third making up the spine, but this book is a bit different.

Have I bored you yet? Thought so. I'll just keep going anyway. In the case of this book, the spine is stiffened not with board, but with six lengths of cord, measured roughly equally distant from each other (actually, these are possibly part of the signature, not taking the book apart, more in part two). We take all this, and fold (and glue) the excess leather over the top of the boards, so that now it's all a nice, neat little package.

We're done now, right? Not yet. Let's pretend we did use board for the spine. There's one more thing we need to do. We have to round the spine! Yup, pretty boring. It's accomplished with, lacking the proper name, a wooden jig with a round wells, and a nicely rounded stick (highly technical terms here) which gently, rounds the board that makes up the spine (more on this in part 3).

Did I forget anything? Probably. But that's all for now.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Peanut Satay sauce and coconut milk make some sense together. I say only some because Satay Sauce already has a fair bit of coconut milk. But what about adding some egg to the mix, a little bit more ginger, some chili paste, and cubes of bread?

Sounds crazy right? Not really. This is merely a modification of a basic bread pudding recipe. It'll be savory, and a bit spicy, and definitely not reminiscent of the European origins of a bread pudding. And I skipped the raisins. I hate raisins.

Did it come out any good? It's in the oven right now. I don't know if it's any good yet. I'll share if it's tasty though.

Now, why am I writing about my crazy adventures in food land? It's not because I have a masochistic tendency to invite criticism of what I think might taste good (usually though, it does). I'm writing about savory Thai bread pudding because it's relevant to writing.

To make this, I took just a few simple ingredients and combined them in a new and interesting way. I added a few other seasonings to taste, and stuck it in the oven. I don't know if it will be any good. I'm somewhat afraid of the outcome to be honest. But I tried it anyway. And I told someone else (you, you're reading this) about the experiment. And I'll make my husband eat it.

Why not do the same with your writing? Step out of the normal boundaries of what makes you comfortable. Push the envelope. Combine elements that aren't traditionally seen together, and force them to play nice. Hunter S. Thompson did it with creative non-fiction. Patrick Rothfuss did it with The Name of the Wind, combining fantasy with literary fiction (at least, from what I understand. I haven't read it yet.

This trend of combining, transcending, and flat-out ignoring rules of genre isn't one that's going to stop. Why not give it a try today. Something small. Something simple. 500 words?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Perspective, Worldview and Voice

I was driving home on Friday and I saw a billboard. A big obnoxious number, one that's impossible to miss even if you wanted to (which is more with good placement than with content, but that's beside the point). So, I'm going to describe it to you in as much detail as I can muster, while still being brief; I want to talk about things other than the billboard. Now, imagine with me...

It sits on a corner, lurking just the other side of a stop light, in perfect view while you're staring at the red light, waiting for it to turn green. You've just passed the grocery store, or are returning from it, and you see this billboard, splashed across the top with bright, autumn leaf orange text: “20 VITIMANS AND MINERALS!” Below the text, to the right side of the ad, on a field of perfectly green grass is a smiling boy, kicking a soccer ball, his uniform immaculately clean. Opposite him, like the heart of the sun from which the orange text radiates are two halves of an avocado. In the same orange text, beneath the boy: “Chilean Avocados.”

So, what does this have to do with perspective, worldview or voice? Let us consider each of these things separately.

When we write, we write through a huge number of filters—this is only natural, we perceive the world through those same sorts of filters. Your mood, where you work, what your hobbies are, where you live. What philosophy do you live by? Are you Catholic or maybe Buddhist? All of these effect how you see the world. These, and more, form our personal world view. It's how we see and interpret literally everything around us.

Your characters, too, have their own worldview, and their own perspective on things. If we write with our default worldview, our characters will come off as incomplete, choppy copies of ourselves, and if we try to force other traits on them, those traits will come off as shallow, or just wrong. You, and your character, probably wont agree on some things. Some of them may be little (maybe your character loves spicy food, but you despise it), and some of them will be rather large things (your character is a lawyer that argues for the death sentence, and you've given up chocolate until capital punishment has been outlawed).

The thing with perspective to consider is how close your narrator is to your viewpoint character. In some stories, the viewpoint is very loosely coupled, or entirely separated from the viewpoint character (The Hobbit, by Tolkien). In others, the viewpoint character is your narrator (any Sherlock Holmes story by Doyle—in which your point of view character and your protagonist are different, but that's a different blog). The perspective, naturally, is going to differ based on how tightly coupled your narrator is to the POV character.

Okay, let's tie this together then, shall we? Voice. When you write, you write with a voice. Your voice depends on what worldview you (and hopefully your characters) have. The closer perspective you have to your characters, the more of that characters voice the writing should have.

So, let's go back to that billboard shall we? The night before I drove by that billboard, I had watched an episode of Good Eats (if you like food and like to cook, you should watch it, just saying) about avocados. Fun avocado fact: they never ripen on the tree, and can be stored, unripe, on the tree, for seven months! Which makes them a truly year round food.

So, I had my filters loaded, and when I drove by, multiple things ran through my head in parallel. The important ones that are important, though are as follows: “Why do I want avocados from chili, I can get them grown much closer, they're not seasonal.” “People should eat more local food. Not import it from other hemispheres.” And finally, “Why not? Avocados are avocados.”

That's when my writer brain kicked in, and I saw the filters, the preconceived ideas that I held in my mind. What if I was writing a character, and I loaded onto that character my own world view? Well, maybe that character agrees with me, but what if that agreement doesn't agree with the character? Well, this is how you get discordant characters (I'm sure that you have all read characters that just seemed wrong, or forced).

Or maybe the character is from Chili and, though in general may agree with that particular world view, he may prefer the avocados from his home country on a purely nationalist standpoint. Or maybe the character is a neo-nazi and, when he sees the billboard has violent thoughts towards the foreigners who are taking jobs from American (white! [I'd like to point out that I do not think this way]) workers.

That's just a few examples with a billboard, and every character will have all of these possible branches for, literally everything in the world. If you keep it in mind, you'll have a lot more luck with capturing a convincing voice.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I started taking organ lessons in college, for basically one reason: I wanted to play an instrument that was larger than my dorm room. At organ concerts, I’d admired the beautiful pipes and felt the sound rumble and echo through the concert hall. I couldn’t wait to climb up to the organ loft and pull out all the stops, to feel my whole body shake as I made music.

But after signing up, I realized I only got a few hours a week to play the “big organ.” Most of the time, I was relegated to a tiny practice room. This instrument is tiny; you could probably stack ten or twelve of this little organ in the big organ loft. There are only two stops, or varieties of sound (as opposed to the big organ’s 53) and the highest one is tinny and whiny, slightly off-key. But this actually makes the practice room a better place to practice.

When I talk about practice, I mean the slow, painstaking process of learning the notes. Figuring out how to move smoothly from one note to the next. Playing slowly, one note at a time, until it hardly sounds like music anymore. When I practice, I’m teaching my fingers the path between notes, locking down the fingerings into muscle memory, so when the lights are up and the concert hall is full of people, my fingers will know where to go. And I’m also memorizing how the music sounds. Soon I can hear the next note before it’s even played. I’ll know what it sounds like when it sounds right.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Many of us write in search of those “concert hall” moments—flashes of inspiration. Maybe a word or phrase gets stuck in your head, or a character comes to life suddenly in your imagination. Soon the words are pouring effortlessly out onto the page. But what happens when those flashes don’t happen?

What sustains me as a writer, day to day, is not those fickle flashes, but rather approaching writing as practice. Then it becomes less about the sheer power of your words, but about the little things instead. The feel of the keys as they click under your fingers, letter by letter. The smell of the ink from your ballpoint pen. The more you sit down to write, the more these sensations get imprinted into your muscle memory, into your unconscious.

The sounds of sentences are making their way into your memory too, when you practice. You might try a short punchy sentence one day, or a long rhythmic list the next. You’ll experiment with colons and semicolons and commas. And you’ll start to hear your own voice coming out.

That’s why I consider journaling, blog posts, forum posts, to be writing practice as well. You’re still sitting down to the computer, still working on finding the right words to express your ideas. You are teaching your fingers their way. So when you do get a sudden inspiration, and you grab for your notebook or computer, your body knows how it feels to sit down at the desk. Your writer’s “ear” knows the variety of sentences available to you, and can choose the right one. And the writing that comes out of this “performance” is stronger than it would have been without those hours of practice.

Malcolm Gladwell (an amazing nonfiction writer who you should check out, if you haven’t already) recently wrote a book called Outliers about what it takes to be successful. In this book he tells the story of the Beatles (way back before they were, you know, The Beatles) and a series of concerts that they played at Hamburg, Germany. This was a brutal gig—they played at noisy clubs to rowdy patrons, 8 ours nonstop per night, 7 nights a week. By the time they became a US rock and roll sensation, they had performed 1200 times. Twelve hundred. Most bands don’t perform 1200 time in their whole careers! That, according to Gladwell, was one of the things that set them apart from other bands. They had performing in their blood, in their muscle memory. They had put in their practice time.

Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become truly great at what you do. 10,000 hours! If I stuck to the college concert hall schedule, it would take me 39 years to be a great organist. Truth be told, I don’t care about the organ that much…but I do care about telling stories. And so, each morning, I sit down with my notebook, grab my ballpoint pen. I’ve got a lot of practicing to do.

Monday, April 12, 2010

April is Poetry Month

Let's all celebrate Poetry Month by writing a poem. Just one small little poem. Make it be about something local and fun; something you like about Boise, or an independent Boise store. Then send it over to the folks at Rediscovered Bookshop for their contest. I hear there's prizes.

Or, you could write a poem just because. You would work on it all April. Make it strong. Make it all it can be. You could even use one of the themes for the next two Bites from the Orchard: Floats or Hearth and Heath. You could bring it to the poetry critique group forming at A Novel Adventure (look for more details next week). You could read it at open mic night. Or you could submit it for publication.

Long or short, serious, sweet, sad, or happy, poetry warms the heart and invites the soul to communicate.

Spend some time writing some verse this month.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Contest Winner!

We have selected a winner and runners up for the Bridges Contest! And that winner is:

Chad Smith for his poem “No Rocks on This End”.

Our runners up, in no particular order, are:

Noelle Veldhouse for her poem “Pigtoot the Forgotten” and,

Phil McClellin for his short story “Where Lurks the Damned”

You can look forward to reading these excellent selections on May 5th at 6pm when we release Bites from the Orchard: Bridges.

Thank you so much to all of our entrants. We couldn’t do it without you.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Drawing Comparisons

April is in full swing now, and so is the celebration of National Poetry Month. Why not join in the fun by writing a poem?

For some, writing a poem is easy. They sit down, and write, and out comes something to work with, edit, revise, and shape into a masterpiece. For others (myself included) the word "poetry" brings on shivers of fear and dread.

The fear and loathing, however, does not mean writing a poem is impossible. Start with a simple comparison. What was your morning coffee like? Your breakfast? How much would you like to put sugar in the gasoline tank of the neighbor's monster truck? You see what I'm getting at here: start with something small.

Then let it grow. Compare that thing or desire to something else that's not like it. Is your object of description hard and cool? What else is hard and cool? Plates, DVD cases, and jewellery could stand in for an answer.

Now move on to an emotion. Does your coffee make you angry, happy, or something in between? How much is that emotion evoked? Explore it, and see where it takes you.

Even if poetry isn't your forte, drawing these comparisons is helpful. How else are you going to explain to your reader just how much the character hated sliding into the cool waters of the lake? Or show the reader just how bad that concept you're arguing against really is? It's all in the description. While poetry may be too flowery, too much for your specific situation, hyperbole can teach much about moderation.


Monday, April 5, 2010

April's Guest: Margaret Ellsworth

Our guest blogger this month is Margaret Ellsworth. Though she recently moved to California, she's been instrumental in the formation of Boise's Novel Orchard. Head over to her blog (which she promises she wantes to start updating more frequently) for some more adventures in writing.

- Megan

1.When and why did you begin writing?
The why is easy: I've been a voracious reader as long as I can remember. And when you read enough stories, you start to dream of writing some of your own. The first story I remember writing (I think I was eight or nine) was about a seagull who made friends with a beach frisbee. Their names may or may not have been Sparkle & Whisby.

My writing life really caught fire in January 2006, when I started keeping a devoted "scribble-book" or notebook for stories and ideas. Since then, I've tried to write every day.

2.What sort of genre do you write?
Creative nonfiction of various sorts. Most of it falls under the category of memoir or personal essay. I like to write about big questions--religion, ethics, love-- and bring a personal voice and an image-rich vocabulary to it. I also do a bit of literary journalism-- same kind of deal, but writing about other people, not just myself.

3.Have you been published? If so, what titles? Where can we find your book?
I've had two poems and one essay published in various issues of my college's literary journal, Saxifrage. I also have an article that I'm shopping around to magazines right now.

4.How do you define being a successful writer? What do you do to get there?
A writer is someone who writes. Let's start there. As long as I have a notebook that is filling up with words, I am a writer. Every day that I write new words, I am a success.

Long term, I want to share my stories with people-- maybe even let them change the world a little, as the stories I've read have changed me. And for that to happen, my stories have to be out in the world, not just in my notebook or saved on my hard drive. That means re-writing, re-writing, re-writing... and finally screwing up my courage to submit a story for publication. Scary stuff. But worth it if I want to be a published writer. :)

6.You come to a fork in the road. Which way do you go? Why?
Either way, I'll get lost within five minutes. No internal compass here.

8.What book are you currently reading?
Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for the second time. Garcia Marquez has possibly the most beautiful writing voice EVER. In my personal opinion.

9.What are your current projects?
I'm working on a couple of essays right now-- one that takes a different angle on the life of Jesus, and an autobiographical essay about growing up female.

12.Do you have any advice that you would like to share?
Natalie Goldberg said it best: Keep your hand moving. When you sit down to write a first draft, Do Not Stop Writing. If you're frustrated or stuck, write a sentence about being frustrated or stuck, and then move on. Some of my best scenes/images have come when I thought I was out of inspiration and kept writing anyway.

Also, one of the things that has helped me the most in my writing life is the support of a writers' group. Writing's a lonely pursuit, and sometimes it helps to break out of that isolation once in a while. A group can keep you accountable to your writing goals and remind you why writing is fun. Not to mention that critiques from fellow writers are worth their weight in gold!

13.You're trapped on an island, what five things do you have with you?
Hmm... probably no wi-fi on the island, eh? OK then. A notebook, a deck of cards, a good long novel to read, a box of peach black tea, and a solar flare to call for help!

14.Quick, it's a Zombie Apocalypse! What do you do?
Grab my notebook & voice recorder and go to interview the zombies!

15.Your computer just died, does this ruin your writing day, or can you cope?
Nope-- that's what my trusty notebook is for. I actually find I'm more creative when I write first drafts by hand and then type them up. It's harder to make a "perfect sentence" without a backspace key, and if I'm not worrying about making perfect sentences, I get more done.


Please be patient. Today's blog is coming later today or tomorrow. It'll go up on Facebook and Twitter as soon as it's up.

Thanks for your understanding!

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Tasty marshmallow goodness, or crack for sugar addicted children?  Or both?

So, Easter is coming, and Peeps have made their way to the store shelves (well, been there, I try to ignore them).  It got me thinking about the odd things people eat.  The things people secretly enjoy, but refuse to admit.  Or the things that they eat, so that they fit in.

It's one of those odd little character traits, what we eat.  In our society we have available to us nearly every delicacy that you can imagine, and everyone has things that they favor, that others may find odd, or even disgusting.  Some of you no doubt like pocky, others probably have no idea what it is.  Or, maybe you have secret stash of Turkish Delight hidden in your office desk.

It's something, however, that I frequently find lacking in writing.  I've read novels, in fact, that completely skipped over the fact that people eat!  So, I want you to choose a character you're working with, and tell us what his secretly loved food is.

- Sam

Monday, March 29, 2010

Open Season on Submissions

It's open season for submissions!

The conclusion of the contest for the inaugural publication that BNO will produce brought about a new era: open submissions. Themes and deadlines for the next two chapbooks are available here, as well as submission guidelines.

Thank you so much to those who entered the contest. Keep coming back for more announcements, including winners, publication dates, and information on launch parties.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Capturing the Voice

Voice is what makes writing sound right. It's the narrator who's unreliable, but steps out of the narrative to give the reader information necessary to the story, but the characters don't know. It's the speaker in the poem who forces a rhythm to drive home an idea. It's an informed speaker in an article that takes command of the situation, and informs the reader of all the information the reader may want to know.

The words have to be just right, and they have to stay that way through the entire work. This is especially the case when the narrator is unusual, or has a very defined voice. In his latest novel Bite Me: A Love Story, Christopher Moore successfully inserts a teenager into the story, using the first person perspective as the girl writes her blog.

The vernacular and syntax is truly unique, fitting to a character who prefers to call herself Abby Normal. Though the enthusiasm is tiring, the perspective is used wisely, with the point of view switching throughout the story to tell all the different parts. And it never steps out of character, regardless of which voice tells the story.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Critiquing is not an easy process. First the writer must be willing to hand over words written on a page. Then the reader, who will provide a critique, must pick up those words, read them, pass judgement on them, and offer thoughts on the good, the bad, and the ugly.

How exactly is this done? I'll give you the ideal critique process that I go through every time I pick up something to offer my opinion. Though this is my ideal process, it's not always possible to go though it because of whatever reason, and that's okay. I don't beat myself up about it, though I do always try to give my best.

1. I read the words on the page as a reader. I sit down, usually on my couch with a tasty beverage, and I read. I let the words take me where they will. And I put them down and let them mull over in my brain.

2. I pick up the words again, and I read them, this time with a writing utensil. Red pens are popular. I've bee liking my trusty mechanical pencil lately. I make notes about when I'm confused, when I enjoy a turn of phrase, what I like, what I don't like. And, I always try to mention WHY. The why is important, to both parties. The writer needs to know not only that someone liked or didn't like the words, but what made the reader like them. As a reader, the more I can comment on why I do or don't like something, the more I can emulate or avoid that aspect in the own writing. I put the words down.

3. I pick up the words for a third time, and I read them again. By now, I'm quite familiar with the words on the page. I mark them up. I mark grammar and punctuation and I offer ways to re-phrase sentences to tighten them; make them stronger. I comment when a sentence or paragraph isn't doing anything, when it's doing something other than intended, and when something is missing.

And, in a nutshell, that's what I do when I read for critique. Sometimes it's helpful, and sometimes it's not. The most important thing of everything though, is I constantly ask the question: Why? Why is the sentence there? What is it doing? Does it move the story forward? Does it give character or background? Or does it serve no purpose? If it serves no purpose, can it serve a purpose? Did I connect with the story on a deeper level? How did I do it? If not, what do I think can be added, or taken away, from the story so that I will connect on that deeper level?

And with that, I wish you all a happy critique.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Good Flourish

A lot of people think that starting a story is the hard part.  It's the search for the perfect first sentence.  You just need that awesome character that everyone will identify with, or a plot that will wrench the emotion from the reader.

It's hard, yes.  Its daunting, certainly.  It's down right terrifying.  The search for the beginning of a story, to begin filling that blank page can freeze you in your tracks.  Starting, however, can be as easy as just doing it.  It also has nothing to do with what I want to talk about. 

Have you ever read a novel, or a short story, all the way to the end, only to find that it has no ending?  Or that the ending makes no sense?  It's a problem, bad endings.  I've read books, some by my favorite authors, that have endings that, well, don't.  Or there are ones that end a different story than the one that they started telling.

I've always hated that, and I'm guessing that you probably do too.  What's worse, I have no problem starting a story, but sometimes, when it comes to wrapping a story up, to finishing it, that's when I freeze up.  Beginning, middle and, notebook shoved into a box somewhere.

So, this week my devoted Viissada, five hundred words to an ending.  Yes, I know five hundred is a very short piece of writing, but an ending is as hard on 100,000 words as it is on five hundred.

The Gauntlet is thrown, do you dare pick it up?

- Sam

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Last Minute

The last minute is never too late.

I don't say this just because this post is going up at 2:30 today, but also because we're less than three hours away from deadline on the contest.

Keep in mind though, that the last minute isn't too late. Keep working at it, and don't forget to hit the send button before 5pm Mountain Time.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Finding My Voice

And here's Phil, March's guest blogger. He can be found over at Tin Can Goat. Rumor has it he might be at the critique group meeting next week.

Here it is Saint Patty’s Day, the day before the day that fills me with angst; March the 18th.

You see, on the 18th I’ll officially age another year. I’ll tick another mark on the wall of my heart and plod on, chalk in hand, to the next year, ready to mark again.

Now, I’m not trying to bring anyone down. Lord knows I’m not one of those negative people who worry that I look older than I should. Or that my hair is turning gray (it is); that my skin doesn’t pull tight against my body anymore (only in a couple of places, most notably my chin); that I have hair growing where it shouldn’t, or longer than intended (ah, eyebrows, I curse at thee); or that I’m getting crow’s feet near my eyes (though the Carrion Crow are circling). Nope, I don’t worry about any of that, but I do wonder where all my time goes.

It seems the older I get, the more I slow down, but the quicker things need done. I need to finish the patio before it rains, or the days grow too hot. I need to play with the kids before they reach the age in which I embarrass them. I need to…blah, blah, blah. It’s all a foot race to my grave and I feel like I’m losing. Where is the time I need to keep up on my writing?

I’ve researched the writing habits of a few authors in attempt to sharpen my own writing. Most of these authors claim they write in the early morning, taking advantage of a time in which their minds are fresh, active, and alive. That during the early morning the imagination is fostered and the mind expounds creativity. Good for them, seriously, but I find it difficult to roll out of bed before 10 a.m. and stare aimlessly at the boob tube, let alone attempt to write.

The authors go on to suggest I carry a tiny notebook everywhere I go and jot down the surprising or interesting things I experience. Yeah, great in theory, but I’ve noticed as I age, so does my handwriting. I tried the notebook technique and jotted things for a couple of weeks, but I didn’t review the notes until months later and by then my writing looked Cantonese. Then again it’s probably just the floaters in my aging eyes.

I tend to write more effectively at the end of the day; a time when the wife and kids are asleep and their voices aren’t blasting through the vent system like a dusty, screen-covered megaphone. This is the time I find most peaceful and I can focus on the impactful things that happened during the day and I am compelled to write about.

I hold steadfast in my belief that all writers learn from other writers, good and bad. I tend to mimic the style of those writers I respect, as I think we all do. I think mimicking is helpful, as established authors help mold the style we eventually come to embrace as our own.

What I don’t believe is taking suggestions verbatim. Don’t get up at the crack of dawn just because someone else does. Don’t take entire pages out of a story just because one person doesn’t like it, re-write it and try again. Don’t paint a large pig black and white and call it a Holstein.

By the way, don’t worry about getting older, I don’t. Everyone grows old; it’s simply a matter of how we react to change, but change is good. Change helps us experience those things we normally wouldn’t, which helps us find our voice. Then once we have that voice we write and we write and then we write more; much, much more.

Have an idea for a guest blogger? Let us know!

Monday, March 15, 2010


Have you ever walked away from your computer? I don't mean leaving your computer for a few minutes, or even a few hours, to do something else. I mean turning your computer off and ignoring it for a length of time.

What about your cell phone? Or your land line? Or your fax machine? Your television? What about your favorite mp3 player?

All of these technological advances can help with writing. Eventually, the work needs to go into the computer. It just does. And cell phones are quite handy for creating voice memos or entering in quick notes. There really isn't anything that isn't a source of inspiriation, whether it's the right music to get you in the mood or a pundit that breathes life into a point you'd like to make, or even the crazy antics of your Aunt Lucie (my apologies to anyone with an Aunt Lucie - I mean no attack) that she reports in a fax sent to all the family every week, it's all ideas that encourage you to get it all down

But what about the distractions? The internet is a big one, as is that one last Solitare game; one more episode of Scrubs. So, why not remove it all? Unplug yourself for a period of time. Force yourself to be disconnected. Turn off your cell phone and your fax machine. Disconnect your internet. Better yet, if you're mobile, take your computer somewhere you don't have internet access. Even better: write by hand for a time.

Now's the perfect time to give this a try. The contest deadline is just around the corner on Saturday. Unplugging might give you that extra push to get things done. Just don't let yourself be driven to distraction by a dirty bathroom or a less technological hobby. Unplugging might be limited to technology in practice, but not so in spirit.

How long can you stay unplugged?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Morning Book Review

Up today, the 3 AM Epiphany.

This book has been a favorite of mine for years.  Even so, I'm not going to say much about it. Why? I hear you ask.  Well, there's just not that much to say, and most of that glowing.

The book is absolutely filled with hundreds of exercises that work on nearly every aspect of story telling, from structure (write a story with a figure eight pattern! No really, I mean it!)  To narrator's voice.  What's more, they're all fun, and fairly unique.

Some of the exercises though, may seem a bit dense, and advanced for some newer writers.  Does this mean the book isn't a fit for them?  Not at all.  If an exercise isn't a challenge, you're not going to get much out of it.  What's more, the book provides an explanation of what each exercise is trying to accomplish.

- Sam

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saturday Morning

It's Saturday morning, and I don't want to write. Yes, you read that right. I want to sit around and drink coffee and watch the terrible TV that's available on Saturday morning. And maybe clean the bathroom. Maybe make a cheesecake.

Really, it's Saturday morning and I don't want to work. I've spent the week working, running around, responding, reading, and writing. Come Saturday morning, I don't want to write. I want to enjoy my weekend. Writing is work. I may not get paid for it, but it's one of my jobs none the less. I have to write for free before I can write for pay.

Which means I need to write every day. Even on Saturday morning, when I'd rather just enjoy my coffee.

So, how do you write when you don't want to do it? I force myself. I sit down at my computer and I say "write Megan!" and I write. Sometimes I go back to an old project, but, especially when I don't want to work, I find that I just scroll around through the words and tell myself that I'm revising.

More often though, I'll start something new. I'll find a bit on inspiration somewhere (often a prompt) and go. I'll even give you a little bit of a head start with a quick, short prompt: Why is the French press on the coffee table nearly empty? Use this question as a jumping point, regardless of your genre.

What do you do to get yourself writing on the weekend?