Archive for December, 2012

December 31, 2012

If you want your book to sell, make it resonate

Reading David Farland's book on my Kindle!!!

Reading David Farland’s book on my Kindle!!!

If your book reminds potential readers of other books they’ve read and liked, chances are it will sell better than if it’s totally and completely original.

That’s according to David Farland, author of Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing.  In this book, Farland said resonance in writing happens when an author builds on a theme or motif, revisiting it through the story.

Ultimately, it allows readers to relate to your book.

For marketing purposes, it makes sense for authors to figure out who their writings resonate with—and why. It can help them pitch their books to agents and publishers. If their book is a success, knowing why it resonates can help them repeat the process in other writing.

Farland describes three types of resonance:

  • Resonance within a genre—this means knowing the code words used in a particular genre. Wording for science fiction, for example, would be different than wording in a historical romance.
  • Resonance with life—this draws upon the reader’s own experiences. Farland suggests Harry Potter as an example, since most people can relate to the angst of school and friendships.
  • Resonance with emotional needs—this type of resonance may act, in some ways, as a support for someone experiencing emotional distress. Farland described how a book about an autistic child might resonate with a mother of an autistic child.

I once heard that all books come from books. Authors are told to write what they know about, and they’re often inspired by stories they heard or read when they were children.

On the other hand, books that are too original will be unsaleable, even if they’re well-written and intriguing. If there’s a track record out there for similar books, publishers have an idea of how the book could sell. Without that comparison, the financial risk seems too great for a marketing board to seriously consider.

One idea from near the beginning of the book: if you’re going to write in a certain genre, you need to immerse yourself in it. It’s not enough to read a book or two in that genre, think you know everything and try to write a book. You need to know what kinds of tools are used, what kinds of speech the characters would hear, the setting.

I believe resonance extends to nonfiction works, as well.

In one university class, I enjoyed a textbook that included snippets of real human interaction. A myriad of real-life anecdotes were used to illustrate a series of abstract principles. Because it was simply written and had an imaginative visual component, it was memorable. I did very well in that class.

One more idea: For marketing purposes, communicating resonance to an audience is why cover art is so important. David Farland uses book covers made by Darrell Sweet, who also illustrated the covers for Terry Brooks and Robert Jordan. Read more about that in his book.

As I think about resonance and how it relates to my personal writing, I can’t help thinking about my conversation with an agent last year. We were discussing a very early draft of a book I wrote for one of my children. Her eyes grew wider and wider as we talked.

“This is very, very creative,” she said. I felt proud of how I’d pulled some wildly abstract ideas together for an original, action-packed plot based in the local area.

And then she explained it.

“You need to build on the geography here,” she said. “This is what people in this area will relate to. This is what will make it sell.”

That book is now being read by a content editor, and I’m sure the outcome will exclude at least some of those original elements. I don’t know whether it will ever see print, but I can say this—it’s made the importance of resonance rise to the surface.

I’m glad for the education, and I highly recommend this book.

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December 28, 2012

Photo Poetry: Windy

WINDY

WINDY

Invisible as gods descending,

molding humans, breaking, bending–

the Wind flies down from lofty skies,

blows doubts away and makes Trees wise.

This is no curse. The Trees can say,

when Wind has blown their youth away,

that all their joys and all their sorrows

paint great pictures for new tomorrows.

December 28, 2012

More marketing tips for writers from Chuck Sambuchino’s new book

(A quick note:  I’ll be posting on Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing, by David Farland, sometime early next week. If there’s a book you’re interested in learning about but don’t have the means to peruse yourself, please let me know. I’ll see what I can do about it.)

Chuck Sambuchino during a critique session at the 2012 Midwest Writers Workshop. Mr. Sambuchino freelance critiques query letters, synopses, book proposals and novels. Check out his Editing Services page at http://www.chucksambuchino.com for more information.

Chuck Sambuchino during a critique session at the 2012 Midwest Writers Workshop. Mr. Sambuchino freelance critiques query letters, synopses, book proposals and novels. Check out his Editing Services page at http://www.chucksambuchino.com for more information.

Back to my marketing book review: in the second section of Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books, and Finding Success as an Author, author Chuck Sambuchino said writers should do two things right away: create a web site, and start using a few different ways to build a platform.

Web sites was discussed in detail at the beginning of the section. My first question was–can my WordPress blog count as a web site? That was answered in one sentence:

 Know that, by web site, I do not mean merely a blog.

I felt chagrined for a moment, until I read the following:

That said, if you have nowhere to turn to, just use WordPress–simple software that will guide you through creating a web site or blog or both.

If I understand right, one the advantages of a web site is a static landing page (compared to the fluid landing page of a blog).  There should be an ‘about me’ page with a short bio–not a long one, if you’re just starting out–and a head shot. A page listing your books or showcasing your portfolio is a good idea, and a ‘contact me’ page is essential.

Sambuchino spends an entire two pages discussing your head shot.

 “You’ll need it for your website and interviews and lots of other places–and sooner is better for having it done because you ain’t getting any younger.”

He’s not kidding. That’s probably what makes me feel so shy about it.

His notes on bios are to keep them short:

Over the years, I’ve noticed that long bios can actually hurt you. The more things you sell/mention (i.e., the more you stuff into a small space), the thinner everything becomes.

An entire chapter is devoted to blogging. Surprisingly, my favorite advice from that chapter is to avoid posts that are too personal or boring. Who doesn’t like to write about their personal life? I know I do. Since I work at home, it’s sometimes difficult to separate my work life from my home life, and I’m pretty sure that shows here.

Like Caples, Sambuchino suggests spending a significant amount of time on each blog post headline. At least five minutes per headline, he said–which can be difficult to do when your mind is bursting with thoughts for the next post.

The last portion of this section (Chapters Nine through Thirteen) deal with the optional things you can do to build your platform. They include:

  • Starting an e-newsletter
  • Article and column writing
  • Public speaking
  • Using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, effectively
  • Side doors to Platform

There’s just too much in those sections to write about, and there’s more to do than can possibly be done here. I sincerely appreciate Sambuchino’s advice at the beginning of this section, when he says you shouldn’t try to do everything.

You should not dive in everywhere. That’s right. I am officially telling you not to tackle every opportunity or go down every path.

Nice, isn’t it, to know there are so many options out there? And that you’re free not to use them, if you so choose?

This section of reading has left me with three questions for my fellow bloggers:

  1. Has anyone reading this used WordPress to generate a web site? I’m intrigued. Is that different than what I’ve done with my blog?
  2. Does the idea of having a head shot here make anyone else feel shy?
  3. Who has experience with public speaking? What did you speak about, and what was it like?

I’m looking forward to your replies!

Due to a sick baby, this was as far as I read in Chuck Sambuchino’s book. I’ll be finishing it this afternoon, but this is as far as I plan to post. The final section is filled with case studies of authors who have been through what Sambuchino writes about in this book. I recommend buying the book and keeping it on hand for future reference.

December 28, 2012

Marketing for writers: tips from Chuck Sambuchino’s new book

Chuck Sambuchino's book, Creating Your Writer Platform, is one of the best books for writer's I've read yet.

Chuck Sambuchino’s book, Creating Your Writer Platform, is one of the best books for writers I’ve read yet.

I’ve been telling myself for years that writers don’t get paid to write anymore. They get paid to market their books.

I don’t know when this idea first popped into my head, but it seems to coincide with publisher’s ideas of platform. Now, after intentionally shunning the idea that I needed a platform, I’m finally listening to myself, and I’ve started studying marketing (for writers in particular) in earnest.

Last week I read John Caple’s Tested Advertising Methods and gleaned what I thought was a veritable writer’s pantry full of information. I’ll use it someday. For now, that information is stored on my pantry shelves like so many ingredients. And I’m adding to my stores.

This week, I started reading Chuck Sambuchino’s Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books, and Finding Success as an Author.

Remember him from his Guide to Literary Agents?

One of the first things Sambuchino says in this new book is a simple but strong definition of what a platform is:

“Platform, simply put, is your visibility as an author.”

The first section of this book is called The Principles of Platform. I read that section tonight and was too excited to share what I was learning to go to bed…so here I am, late at night, writing a post that I hope will help you as much as this book has already helped me.

I was delighted to see that Sambuchino studied John Caple’s work, too. It made me feel as though last week’s marketing experiment was COMPLETELY validated. Sambuchino wrote:

Communities are vertical now–“tribes” of like-minded people, says marketing expert Seth Godin.

One theme stressed in the first section of this book was a platform is essential–absolutely ESSENTIAL–for people who write nonfiction books. While it’s a good thing for fiction and memoir writers, it’s not quite as necessary.

That said, Sambuchino still insists that finding a niche can be nothing but helpful for any writer. Chapter Five–Platform for fiction and memoir–was especially enlightening.

In this chapter, Sambuchino lists three different types of blogs/niches that can be used to start building a fiction or memoir platform. These include:

  • The Loose Connection niche, in which a theme from one of your books becomes the theme for your blog
  • The Altogether Different niche, in which the theme for your blog has little or no connection to your books or memoirs. This may go against common sense, but Samuchino indicated that if it’s something you’re passionate about, you’ll probably write about it often enough and well enough that you’ll still gain blog followers, and this will count toward your writer’s platform.
  • The Writing Focus niche, which focuses on your writer’s journey.

All in all, I’m having a great time with this book. Once this post is published, I’ll delve into it again. I’ll share ingredients from the next section in a post sometime tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, let me share three quotes from the first section that totally resonated with me.

“A conversation is not a nuisance to me; it’s an opportunity.”

No wonder I like this book so much. I feel the same way. There’s something extremely satisfying in talking about writing with other writers.

“People innately respect those who have paid their dues.”

He says this as a means of encouragement, telling us writers to hang in there; success most likely won’t come overnight, but if we work hard enough and long enough at it, the success will come.

“No matter what you want to develop expertise and authority in, it will help a whole heck of a lot if you enjoy what you’re doing.”

Again, justly said. And really, would any of us be writing at all if we didn’t enjoy it?

Well. I feel as giddy as a five-year-old at show and tell. I can hardly wait to post on the second section. Back to the book I go!

One quick note: I’m enjoying my marketing studies so much that I’m adding a new page, Marketing for Writers, on this blog. I’ll link all the pertinent posts I write on that page. I intend to keep reviewing marketing books, and I’ll joyfully share what I learn.

December 27, 2012

Write past the holiday noise

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It’s becoming evident that time management is an obsession of mine. As a work at home writer with a busy family, it has to be–and the more I learn about time management, the more I enjoy it.

Even now, over the holidays.

It’s loud, to be sure. The baby gabs away at his dad, the television blares (my father-in-law can’t hear it otherwise), the dog whines to be let outside and barks to be let in. The phone rings, and a teenage daughter gets the giggles over some unseen antics of the friend who called.

In the middle of this good-natured chaos, I try to work.  It’s difficult, but not impossible. Here’s how I got things done today:

Days like this aren’t the best for phone calls. I save them for quieter times and focus instead on communicating through e-mail. Since most of my work is done electronically anyway, I hardly feel like I’m fudging.

Between every other activity, I check my social networking sites and have a little fun there. That’s partly because it’s the holidays (and I can).  I love talking with other writers. It helps keep me motivated, and when I open up a new file I have at least a few minutes of fire under me.

Rather than trying to focus on the flow of writing itself, I use these days to outline what I want to say.  Once a basic outline is written, I break it out several times until I have a fairly detailed idea of what the draft will look like. Then I move my words from outline format to a simple text format that I’ll use as a first draft.

On days like this, I can’t expect perfection. This draft will be subject to serious editing and re-writing, but when I get to those quieter days, I’m that much further ahead. The writing from these outlines often isn’t very elegant, but it’s amazing how prolific I can be when I’m working one idea at a time. The copy editing can come later.

Occasionally I come to a point where I do need to focus, and then I use headphones to permeate the background of my mind with relaxing music. This seems to wash away the other, more jarring sounds that otherwise interrupt my train of thought.

And when that train of thought just chugs around the bend, when all else fails–I get up and shut my office door.

December 27, 2012

Magic Studies: Happy Hour

Hannah Gietzen and I decided to write fictional letters back and forth to each other after we both read “The Enchanted Chocolate Pot,” which was written the same way.  We’re just having fun with this and we hope you have fun with it, too.  We’ll be posting and cross-posting this story as it develops.

This is the last set of letters until I hear back from Hannah–I hope she writes back soon!

A 'wand' my husband carved for one of our daughters...

A ‘wand’ my husband carved for one of our daughters…

Dear Mother Humphrey,

The happy hour potion worked great. I made it just as you told me, following the directions exactly. I found the potion in my book, as well, but that was only after I had made it.

I started on it after my parents left to argue about whether I should be able to keep my cat. I was all alone in my lab, except for Little Miss, who has decided that the lab is hers.

I began by putting everything in the pot in the order that you said. Then I placed it over the hot coals. I was careful to stir it in the instructed direction for the entire 25 minutes. By the time I took it off the fire it was a pumpkin orange and bubbling nicely.

I let it cool as I cleaned up my lab. All the while, Little Miss was circling the cauldron and purring. After it had cooled I carefully put three drops in a glass of orange Gatorade and sat it on the table until I could give it to Duncan Dunsz’s assistant (Jack).

I had only turned my back on it a second when my little brother came in and drank the entire thing. I know I was not supposed to give it to him but it worked anyway. He was happy for the rest of the day. Now that is saying something, considering that he is a ordinary 10 year old.

The next day he still was not himself. I keep waiting for it to wear off but it hasn’t yet. He is still insanely happy. It is cool.

I took great care in storing the rest of the potion in a glass jar as instructed. That is all there is to tell about the Happy Hour episode. I hope it is what you wanted.

I completely read the chapter on wand maintenance, taking notes as I did.

I then spent three hours at Spector’s studying the different wands. The first I looked at was an oak-fairy level 1. It is only for an advanced magic user who specializes in something. Seeing as this one is oak, I would say it would work best in directing water magic but could also be used as a slime wand. It is extremely delicate and needs to be kept clean, so it is best to store it in a tube of water. It is a specialty wand and is not to be used in everyday magic.

The second was a level 5 pine-SingBird wand. It is a general use wand that is used to teach and practice with. It is used to direct all different kinds of magic, which gives it its other name, the household wound. It needs no special treatment and is often kept in the utensil drawer.

The third was a beech-ogre level 5. This makes it useful for all kinds of outdoor chores and can only really be used dirtside. Like the ogre that it was made from, it does not work well in space. It is most useful at high altitudes. Like the household wand, it is not very powerful but is not used in teaching very often because of its ornery temperament.

The forth was an aged level 2 willow wand with celtic runes caved into it. This wand is used by throes who prefer animal or healing magic. It is very powerful but can only handle delicate magics. It needs to be keep dry and is usual stored in a leather case or a cloth bag. It is not popular dirtside because it can’t get wet.

The fifth was a apple-phoenix level 3 wand with a leather handle. This type is used for people who like fighting magic and it can handle vast amounts of magic going through it at a time. Because of this, it is also known as a blasting rod and is usually used in combat. It is longer then the average wand and heavier, weighing almost 5 pounds. Some argue that it is a staff and not a wand, but it is still considered a wand by the general public.

The sixth was a super oak reinforced pine troll finger wand level 4. This type is famous for earth magic and does best stored in dirt. It is useful in many ways but is most often used by weather mages. It is not all that powerful, but is often useful for teaching.

The seventh was the most extraordinary. It was a level 1 earth redwood unicorn wand. It is used only by hags and is illegal for anyone else. It is often stored in a glass case, though it does not need special care. It is used on any of the five elements, earth, water, air, fire and metal. It is extremely powerful as well as deadly. It is used in combat as well as healing, curses, weather and potions.

That is all I have for the wands. I hope this is what you wanted. I also have to tell you that my mother and Dork Boy did not even see each other. Mother was out shopping when he came.

Well that is all I have for now. I look forward to the next lesson.

Always your apprentice,

Justine

Dear Justine,

How is it that Dork Boy was talking to your mom if she was out shopping? Something is not right here. Please tell me what’s going on—and it had better be good, or I will fulfill your earlier request to know what ‘excruciating’ means.

Under the circumstances, I’m beginning to doubt that the book was destroyed. I need it returned to me as soon as possible.

Your teacher and future Hag,

Elena Humphrey

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December 27, 2012

Four social strategies to ease telecommuting stress

Get out for a walk!

Get out for a walk!

Anyone who’s ever worked from home for a significant time will connect with Steven J. Brachmann’s new post, Telecommuting: A Tough Life.

I’ve worked mostly from home for the past 17 years or so, mostly as a freelance writer. From my perspective, the pros are incredible–flexible work hours, time with my children, no commute, no special wardrobe, and my own personal office (once a bedroom, I’m sure) that meets my needs for a daydream space. It’s my happy place.

This is also the lifestyle I want for myself. I love being able to snuggle with my toddler when he needs me or help my older children with their school work. Writing what I want, when I want and accepting the assignments that bring me the most education and happiness is deeply satisfying. In many ways, working at home is a dream come true.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. Some of them I’ve addressed in earlier posts–Messy Office, Messy Mind and Baby in the background: is this professional? are the first two examples that spring to mind.

Brachmann, however, discusses a challenge I haven’t yet broached: freelancers sometimes feel keenly isolated.

From his post:

I’d add an extra one to this list: Get out. Seriously. Leave your house, if only for a walk. I lived for a month with a very close friend of mine in a different state; it sounded like it would be a great vacation. After three weeks of seeing nobody but him day after day, I began to get a little stir crazy. When you don’t leave the house for work, what do you leave the house for? Working some fresh air into my schedule has done wonders for myself.

For myself, I’ve found three things that help alleviate the crazy sense that you’re all alone in the world.

  1. Send weekly updates to your clients. This seems like a common-sense maneuver, but I have to admit it’s a practice I’ve only recently taken up. It’s been especially valuable with my oil field writing, as so much of that is extremely detail oriented and it’s sometimes difficult to get in touch with sources. Keeping the editor in the loop is simply a good idea. These weekly updates have also been a great tool for keeping me on track with long-term projects for private clients–and the interaction, even if it’s just weekly, is at least a connection to the outside world. Every telecommuter needs that.
  2. Get on Facebook (or your other favorite social networking site) at least once a day. Yes, I’m serious. I know, I know, it’s sooooo easy to waste time there…but a kind word or two from you to a friend needing encouragement can never go wrong. They’ll be likely to return the favor, and besides, giving someone a smile–even if it’s only electronically–helps you remember that you have something to offer to the wider world. Sometimes it even motivates you to get together with your friends–and that brings me to my third point.
  3. At least once a week, visit with someone. In person. This might mean taking a friend to lunch, taking supper to the neighbor, or calling a friend and heading out the door for a run together. It doesn’t have to be big. It certainly doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t even have to be time consuming. Twenty minutes, for me, does the trick–although I like to do this more than once a week if I can, simply because it’s fun.
  4. Call someone who understands why you do what you do. For me, the effectiveness of this strategy falls between a Facebook contact and an in-person chat. I call a friend from out of state who also loves writing and editing. Just hearing her speak enthusiastically about the work she’s doing is enough to keep me motivated on rough days.

In the long run, these small efforts have paid off big for me. Not only have I felt more productive at work (due at least in part to the new perspectives I get from fresh air and fun human interaction), but my social life has blossomed.

That’s another challenge that people who work at home face sometimes, but I have to say, that problem is always totally worth it.

December 26, 2012

A writer’s stewardship: green living, responsible reporting

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One of the most interesting things I’ve investigated this year while writing about the Bakken oil fields is water.

More specifically, I read about clean water technologies and talked to as many people as I could. It’s amazing how much the new technologies can do to keep groundwater safe.

Even better, these technologies are being used to recycle water used in the oil fields.

  •  One company specialized in a purely mechanical, highly efficient way of separating oil, water and solids. The water was re-used for drilling and production purposes and even the solids were useful as soil buffer zones in landfills.
  • Another company I looked at developed a subsurface irrigation system for farmers who have gas wells close to or on their property. The irrigation systems recycle production water from the gas fields. This technology works more with gas fields than with oil fields, but I believe they did open an office in North Dakota last year.
  • Yet another company has found an extremely safe biocide that can help control corrosive bacteria, thus helping prevent underground spills and leaks from damaged pipes and casings.

I love what these companies are doing.

I’ve lived away from North Dakota for more than a year now. It’s only fair to ask this question: why do I think about these things now, and what does it have to do with writing in general?

First, I think that everyone has an obligation to be a good steward of local resources no matter what career they have. This includes writers; if all we can do is reuse old papers for shopping lists and work more electronically, we’re moving in the right direction. No one has to be a fanatic about it for the world to find clean energy solutions, and green living can happen in small ways everywhere you look.

Second, it’s imperative that writers look on the good side of the issues they write about.

Here’s why: companies who have experienced negative articles become less likely to talk to the press. One or two stories like that makes it so all writers who need to contact them for information suffer, and the readers suffer, too.

From my perspective, this has happened somewhat in the oil fields. For one article I wrote earlier this year, a main source pulled out at the last minute because of bad press experiences. Two other sources requested that if I used their information, I leave their names and the names of the companies they worked for out of the story.

Sure, people should be informed if something goes wrong.

They should also be informed about the good things going on. The issue is getting corporate representatives to talk when they’re afraid all you’re capable of is airing dirty laundry.

I sometimes think writing is a bit like using the Force in Star Wars.

Negative stories tend to be angry and accusatory in tone. They grab attention powerfully, and because of this they might seem easier or more seductive–but these negative articles have headlines that scream in the faces of their readers. Who enjoys that?

Positive stories are quieter…they’re found behind the scenes, working unobtrusively but powerfully to make the world better.  They’re also more common. Writers may have to work harder to find them because they have to fight through the negative voices of the world to get to them.

And yet, by their sheer numbers, the positive stories can yield as strong an effect as the negative ones do. We just have to give them a chance.

The world won’t know the good things going on in any arena—education, politics, or environmentally sensitive areas like the oil and gas fields–unless writers are willing to seek out good information and write positive stories.

That includes the positive things happening in the Bakken. Personally, I’m always happy to write about technologies that recycle water in the oil and gas fields, and I enjoy learning about the oil fields in general. Sometimes I might say too much about the Bakken, about North Dakota, about life in general.

That’s only because I believe all good things should be celebrated. Writing about them is one way to do that.

December 26, 2012

Magic Studies: The Table of Sorceries

Hannah, who writes as Justine, is home from University now. It will be interesting to see how often we’re able to post together like this.

A 'wand' my husband carved for one of our daughters...

A ‘wand’ my husband carved for one of our daughters…

Dear Mother Humphrey,

Did you know that the Hag exams are coming up? This is so exciting. They’re only six months away. I can’t believe that the year that I start to study magic there will be a new Hag.

I asked mother why they only allow one person to become a Hag every thirty years. She said that it is because the members of the Table of Sorceries are a bunch of sick control freaks that need to have control over everything. What do you think?

Oh, and why is the name of our ruling body called something as silly as the Table of Sorceries?

Now, first things first. Mother did destroy the book. I know because I looked everywhere for it. There is no sign of it anywhere. I even went to her office and looked through her things there. All I got was dust bunnies and a near heart attack when mom’s secretary walked in on me. I managed to convince her that I was cleaning mom’s office as punishment after I used her credit with out permission.

That was a close call.

I could have told you that I was not going to find it because mother quit using magic years ago, but I have a feeling that you wanted me to look for the book for a different reason. Am I right?

I also know mother destroyed the book because I was talking to my father and he said that he had to buy mother flowers to apologize for getting mad at her for burning a book. Magic books are the only books that dad thinks should be burned. So you see, the book has been completely removed from my reach. You don’t have to worry.

I have just recently learned that I have a familiar. I know I am not suppose to get one until I am a Sister, but let me explain.

My Aunt Doggerel came for a visit. She brought with her the prettiest black cat you have ever seen. She said here name is Little Miss and that she was mine. I told her that I would have to ask mother and father before I could keep her. That is when my aunt told me that she was already mine and she had been since the day I was born.

I tried to tell her that it was not possible for a cat to live that long, and that is when my Aunt told me that Little Miss is a familiar. I started to argue when my parents walked in and mother told me it was true, that children in our family had familiars bound to them right way.

Daddy was not happy. He asked mom what right she had to do something like that without his permission. Mom said that it was not something she had to discuss with him because it was my right as her daughter to have a familiar. Both of them keep yelling at each other for a good hour before father went fishing. Mother told me to feed my cat, as I would be keeping her. I asked why and mother said, “What is done is done.”

Next: I have the best news ever. I am every good at making happy hour. It did not work exactly the way you said it would, but it sure did work.

That is mostly all that happened this week, I look forward to your next letter.

Your ever constant apprentice,

Justine

Dear Justine,

More details on the outcome of Happy Hour, please. To whom did you give it? What were the results? I expect a full description of what happened.

After you have told me more about Happy Hour, read the next chapter in your book on wand maintenance. Then go to Spector’s House of Fortune, which is about a sec and a half from Dunsz’s shop. Spector keeps a wall of fashion wands at the back of the store. I want you to describe and evaluate at least seven of the wands he has on hand. For each wand, tell me whether or not you would choose it and why.

I can’t tell you how relieved I am that the book was burned. But you didn’t tell me—what were Dork Boy and your mother talking about when he was there? I knew your mother in school, and I can’t believe she completely gave up on it.

Have you tried Happy Hour on your father yet? That might help him get used to Little Missy.

Congratulations, by the way.

Dork Boy has just brought my new Superpoint Concentrator witches hat…the latest model, and it fits perfectly. I can already feel its effects. I’m off to hit the books for a few hours.

Your ever studious teacher,

Mother Humphrey

P.S.- I believe they call the council the Table of Sorceries because they conjure complete Turkey dinners and peppermint ice cream at every monthly meeting. Hag Murtle requires the council to eat at the table now because the last time they ate in front of the entertainment screen, someone spilled cranberry sauce and it got mashed into the white carpet.

There’s a slim chance I could be wrong about the Table. However, you should know that stains from enchanted food DO NOT come out.

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December 23, 2012

Gerunds and active writing voice

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For your ‘viewing’ pleasure…does that count as a gerund, anyone? 🙂

I’m ashamed to admit that until recently, I didn’t know what a gerund was.

I’ve been using them all my writing life. If I understand right, they’re verbal words ending in ‘ing’ that can be used as nouns.

As in ‘my writing life (?).’

I’m still learning about it, obviously. For me, it’s a little like diagramming sentences. Some things I’ve done by instinct for a long time now, but my writing can only get better if I keep learning. Grammar is one of those areas of personal education that I think I’ve neglected far too long.

One of my big questions about using gerunds was whether or not they contributed to an active writing voice or whether they made writing sound passive. I found this site that has some wonderful information.

It looks like they can be used in active voice (as in ‘writing makes me happy’), but also in passive voice (like ‘having’ or ‘being’).

When I first started writing fiction more than a decade ago, my writing style was mostly passive. I understand that active voice in writing makes it more enjoyable to read and easier to sell.

As my personal fiction style develops, I’ll be keeping a watch on gerunds. I’m curious to see if they impact my writing as much as I think they do.

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