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?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dialogue in Action

Dialogue is among the most difficult aspects of writing. Last night we talked about, and wrote some dialogue.

Dialogue is conversation in action. The characters speak to each other to convey information, but, more importantly, to move the story forward. Good dialogue is rarely anything that would be said in a real conversation, and drops the "ums" and "ahs." Characters each gain their own way of speaking, and have their own voices. They interact differently with different characters. Simple punctuation and vernacular aid the writer in creating these different voices. Dialogue does all this and more.
Though speech is also people talking, it is different from dialogue. There's no narrator to interfere with attribution and description of action. Especially in large groups, often holes in conversation will be filled by other conversations happening around the primary conversation. Though real, speech generally cannot be used directly for dialogue, because it doesn't sound real to a reader.

Last night we worked together to help create dialogue by mixing up conversations, and having multiple writers touch the dialogue. Head over to the website tomorrow for a re-telling of the exercise we did as a group for you to do at home without a table full of writers.

What do you think about writing dialogue? Is "said" over used? Do you rely on a dialogue tag or the dialogue itself to convey emotion?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Playing with Words: Dialogue

I've always been a description sort of guy.  It's something incredibly important to writing--every story needs it.  I love to write description and scenery.  It's something that I've always found to be easy, that a lot of people find to be hard.

Dialogue, however, is an entirely different story.  Like description, there are very few stories out there that have no dialogue (there are some, yes, but they are few and far between).  Without dialogue, you're stuck with one character doing and observing things, and that's not very interesting.

I was going to write a dialogue exercise today.  I really was.  But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I don't actually have a good one to improve dialogue.  So, instead, I'm calling upon you: What is your favorite dialogue exercise?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Playing with Words

Tell me if you've heard this one: What animal can jump higher than a house?

Or the very classic: What goes on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and on three legs in the evening?

So, what do silly riddles have to do with writing? Pretty much everything. Go ahead, try to write one, I'll wait.

Done? How did it go? It's not very easy is it? Riddles, and other word games, have a lot to teach those willing to learn. They use the rules of language, and they twist the rules all around. They are a way of saying something without saying it. Hinting around the edges of what's really being asked, or said.

There are other games that can be played with words. Try this one on. You have a flock of geese, a herd of cows...
A **** of students.
A **** of parasites.
A ***** of ovens.
A **** of dragons.

The point of all this: playing with your language leads to a better understanding the nature of the beast you work with. I'm sure I'm not the only one that aspires to actual mastery of usage. Yes, my genre does not require it, but the better I am, the better my writing will be.

So I have homework for all of you. If you didn't already, go make a riddle. A real riddle, that contains all of the necessary information to be solved, and twisted to say something else. You're all familiar with the riddle. They're the bread and butter of every trivia show you've ever watched. So go write your own, and bring them back to us.

Just to get you started, I'll leave you with one that I wont answer, before I tell you the answers to the easy ones I've already asked.

You're stranded on a jungle island. On this island, there are two tribes of people. One tribe always tells the truth, and the other always lies, and are also cannibals. You are walking on a path through the jungle, and you come to a fork in the road. Standing at the fork is a tribesman, though you do not know of what tribe. The paths lead to each of the tribes. You can ask the tribesman one question, what do you ask?

So, what animal can jump higher than a house? Any animal; a house can't jump.
Man walks on all fours at birth, on two legs as an adult, and with a cane as an old man.
Its a riot of students, a host of parasites (nyuk nyuk), a range of ovens (do the puns burn?), and a slew of dragons.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Death of Fini

Our guest blogger this month is Phil. He's joined The 500 challenge, and regularly posts his pursuit of the challenge over at Tin Can Goat. Keeping himself honest to the task, he always posts his word count at the end of his blogs (and, it's always at least 500 words).

It amazes me what memories or specific instances stay with a person throughout their life; for me it was receiving a failing grade on a ninth-grade creative writing project.

I don’t believe my English teacher should have written me a failing grade and I’ve spent a whole lot of time these past years crushing on it. It was over one hundred pages long. It was my pride and joy. It was a creative writing project. Yeah, that’s right, a creative writing project. For crap’s sake, how does one fail a fourteen year-old kid on a creative writing project and still sleep at night?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know I spent a lot of time imagining and typing that story. Yep, typing. I typed it all; cover, content, and credits. Although the word processor existed in some form or another at the time, I didn’t own one due to a lack of parental sponsorship and financing. My mother insisted that I craft my story the way God and Hemingway intended; on that mechanical claptrap the typewriter. What a disservice to writers everywhere that machine was. If you’ve never written anything on a typewriter you’re missing out. It’s an experience like no other.

The whole process of typewriting is contrived. It starts with inspiration and ends in pain—bruised finger pads, sore knuckles, and bloody nicks and cuts. Typing with the keys is tough, like pressing your fingers into sun-baked Play-Doh. The type bars often stick to each other, or against the type guide and ribbon vibrator, and the feed roller is a vile piece of engineering with the sole purpose of catching long sleeves and fingertips.

The machine never had a delete key, only a backspace, which, when pressed, slowly reversed the carriage across the body of the typewriter. Another classic and overused feature of the backspace key allowed the ability to repeatedly darken letters or words—the vintage method of accentuating text in bold. Overall, my favorite function of the backspace key was its support in corrections and rewrites.

Corrections and rewrites followed the exact process of the bold function, but expanded the process by requiring that I hold a—shiny on one side, rough on the other—white tape against the incorrect word or phrase on the paper and with my other hand, hunt-and-peck the same sequence of incorrect letters across the keytop. The corrective process was never pretty when complete; the paper dotted with flakey white letters, marking the pages in dirty, white cirrus clouds against a darkening sky.

In the ninth grade I started thinking I was classically cool. I was classically cool and I wanted to share my classic cool with the world. So after I typed the final sentence of my manuscript, I pulled the carriage return lever twice more across my chest, tapped the space bar twenty-four times to center the type guide on the platen and typed “++ FINI ++”. Oh yeah, classically cool; just like they do it in those fancy Penguin paperbacks.

I ripped the paper from the machine and like Stephen J. Cannell, tossed the page in the air so that it would rock itself—as a floating feather—onto the manuscript pile; unfortunately I missed.

I straightened the pages, stapled it three times along the spine, and sealed it with a kiss.

I couldn’t wait to turn this masterpiece in. I was going to be the teacher’s hero, her Hercules sent to save the literary world. She’d fall in love with my manuscript and I’d be published within months.

I was wrong.

I read her note more than a few times, still shaking my head at the red letters across the page, and wondering how she failed to see my genius. “You can’t write a story in which the main character is the narrator and have that character die at the end,” her note on the paper read.

I’ve beaten myself up a lot over the years thinking of how I am right and she is wrong. I have driven myself to tears over it.

I’ve fabricated paths to fame and how I’d push it right back in her face. I’ve thought about how I’d take my fame and write a story in which the main narrator did indeed die at the end of the story and the book would sell millions. There is no way she was going to have the last word on that. I might even make the narrator die twice so she’d really get the point.

So far it hasn’t happened.

I think every writer experience instances such as this and I believe we all react in the same loathing attitude when it happens—some of us more than others. We may blame the person we feel wronged us, we may hate them for mauling our baby, but it’s not worth it.

We need to step back from our writing and view it objectively like others do. Sure it’s precious infant and needs protected, but often we’re overprotective and blinded by our internal visions of glory and grandeur.

When it comes to my own writing, it lightens my heart to say that those who criticize don’t know what they’re talking about, but I know I’m just being overprotective. I’ve found that if I keep and re-read critiques weeks, months, or years later, that I do gain insight from the reviewer’s comments. More often than I want to admit, even the harshest critics have helped me grow as a writer.

I’d like to end with words of advice that will reverberate in the reader’s minds; such as, the teacher was vehemently wrong—and she is—but nothing is coming to mind. Instead I will leave you with a phrase my mom was quite fond of and has contributed to the person I am today: “I didn’t gain weight until you were born.”

Yeah, I don’t get it either.


Want to be a guest blogger? Contact us and let us know.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Thursday Post

Your regular Thursday Post has been interrupted. Please stand by for your regular post to appear at a later time.

Thank you for your patience.