Archive for January, 2013

January 24, 2013

Character development through humor: something new to learn


While cleaning off one of the bookshelves in my office this morning, I came across an old book I picked up at some library sale years ago: How to Write and Sell Your Sense of Humor, by Gene Perret.

If I remember right, I picked this book up because of a discussion with a writing friend back in Bismarck. One of this writer’s many strengths is humor; she’ll be typing away on a plot line, and something quirky just pops up in her head and inserts itself into the manuscript.

It makes her writing a lot of fun to read, and I love working on joint writing projects with her because of it.

A good plot and well-developed characters can make almost any story flow, for me, but I do like characters that make me laugh. I think most of my writing tends to be very serious, maybe even a little bit melodramatic. I’ll be reading this book as I study character development to see what I can glean from it.

For today, I’m including some ideas that popped out at me as I flipped through the pages.

  • Humor can be built around relationships and ironies. Perret says comedy is simply a combination of two or more ideas, and it’s the relationship of those ideas that creates the humor. He included the following example, which he said was funny because it was at least somewhat true and was expressed with unusual tightness.:

Anytime you see a man open a car door for his wife, either the car is new or the wife is. 

  • Humor can be built around visualizations and images. This type of comedy depends on the scene that humor writing puts into a reader’s mind.
  • Humor can also occur through word play. In this case, it seems to be a little bit about puns, but the puns have to still create a funny image in the mind of a reader.

This is new ground for me, but it’s ground I want to walk across. I’m just not quite sure how. Yet.

I think I need some practice.

I’m way nervous to try this, but I’m setting a goal here: between now and the end of January, I’ll try to post at least five things that might possibly be humorous, under the right circumstances. If I can get the hang of that, maybe I can extend it out over the next month or so.

Then, maybe, possibly, I can start figuring out how that could aid character development. It’ll be part of my ongoing education. Any thoughts or comments from other writers here will be greatly appreciated, because I seem to learn the most about writing from other writers.

I think I should study humor more. I’ll try to do some reviews on comedy books or writers over the next few months to see what works and what doesn’t. I could have fun with this.

At the very least, I should get a few laughs out it–even if I’m just laughing at myself.

That’s okay, because laughing is almost as much fun to me as eating chocolate is. 🙂




January 23, 2013

Celebrating the joy of reading

Books on my toddler's shelf--they stay there for a few minutes at a time

Books on my toddler’s shelf–they stay there for a few minutes at a time

Today is National Reading Day.

I know this only because one of my daughters signed up to read books to elementary school children, and yet the idea has thrilled me all day. A holiday for reading! What a wonderful, terrific, absolutely fantabulous idea!

Even though, as I understand it, the idea is to encourage literacy in younger readers, I can’t help celebrating, too. I think it’s probably part of every writer’s lifestyle to celebrate the written word whenever possible.

I carried my Kindle and another book with me everywhere I went today, hoping to snatch a few moments to read. I brought picture books for my toddler. Tonight I plan to wrap myself up with hot chocolate and a good book (by Brandon Sanderson, if you’re wondering) and read until I fall asleep.

Meanwhile, I’m celebrating by reading other blogs when I should probably actually be writing. Here are some terrific ones that have wowed me over the past few days:

Now I’m looking forward to National Read Across America Day, sometime close to the birthday of Dr. Suess.

Also, I just discovered today is also National Pie Day. We may have homemade chicken pie for dinner, but only if I get it started now. I can read while it bakes.

Happy reading, lovely world!

January 22, 2013

Four networking tips, courtesy of freelancer Paige Taylor

Back to blogging again after a long weekend away!

Paige Taylor's book

Paige Taylor’s book

Paige Taylor, author of Secrets of Being a Successful Freelance Writer — 101 Real-World Lessons for Launching, Growing, and Sustaining a Profitable Freelance Writing Career, recently published a terrific post on social networking for freelancers.

I found it while wearing my fluffy red bathrobe and my fluffy black slippers, hair not brushed, etc. It was deadline morning; I had just submitted my article, illustrations and everything that goes with them and was blissfully surfing the web.

The first sentence hooked me:

As freelancers, we get very comfortable at home in our sweat pants and slippers — sometimes too comfortable: to the point where we don’t want to leave our cozy writing dens.

I felt slightly chagrined.

For the record, that kind of day doesn’t happen for me very often. Thank goodness. Still, I know what it’s like to have a completely backward day when you don’t want to talk to anyone.

I spent most of this past weekend getting reacquainted with relatives and old family friends I haven’t seen in years. Decades, even. In spite of a few shy moments, it was nice. Very, very nice, and I realized I need to interact with other people face to face a lot more than I do.

This is as much for my personal sanity as it is for marketing purposes. The truth is, as shy as I get, I really do enjoy talking with other people. I like finding out about them, sharing common ground, learning from them, laughing with them. I truly and deeply enjoy the variety of people in this great big wonderful world.

Networking as a writer seems to be paramount to success.

I came across an interview earlier today (linked from a Twitter post) indicating that a lot of social media marketing is nonsense. When I asked how it applied to writers, though, I got the same feeling I’ve received from everything else I’ve studied. For writers, networking and other public relations work has to be as much a part of their work as writing is.

For me, that’s done most easily online, sitting behind my desk with curtains open to let in the sun. I’m quite a bit more awkward when I meet people in person. I’m working on that.

Perhaps that’s why Paige Taylor’s post resonated with me so well. Here are the ‘Best Networking Tips’ from this post, to be used at social events (and afterward) for gaining and keeping a strong network:

  1. Speak to at least three people
  2. Share business cards
  3. Follow up with your contacts right away
  4. Find ways to stay connected with your contacts

It’s good advice for any freelancer, but I especially like the fact that it’s a simple solution to facing the public. These are solid steps, but baby steps, so they’re not overwhelming. Even I can do these.

You can bet I’ll be practicing! 🙂



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January 18, 2013

The simple poise of serenity

Always seeking beauty and balance!

Always seeking beauty and balance!

Sometimes life’s greatest amenity

is the simple poise of serenity–

it’s the heartfelt prayer, while life pulses on,

for the beauty of a sunset and the grace of a swan.


Have a great weekend, everyone–I’ll be posting again next Tuesday!

January 17, 2013

Why I write–again


There are brief moments in life that put everything in perspective, breaths when the purposes behind your passion become clearer than life itself.

We had computer trouble at our house last night. I couldn’t log in to the online school to grade papers, couldn’t get on to my e-mail to check for contest replies or fact-check follow-ups, and I couldn’t get on to this blog site. Also, Netflix was down, which caused some minor turmoil in our family Star Trek routine.

It was exactly the lull I needed.

As frustrated as I was at not being able to immediately do what I wanted to do, I began remembering the days before I had a computer of my own. It was a privilege to have an hour to myself where I could actually type out what I’d written out in long-hand earlier that day.

Before that, there was only the college computer lab, and before that, a word-processor that I used and used and used. That was the machine that processed most of my papers for my high school Sterling Scholar book, my scholarship essays and high school writing competitions, my fun fiction that no one else ever saw.

In those days, I kept my journal in a spiral-bound notebook. I wrote in pencil in words so tiny that my brother gave a magnifying glass to my husband when we were engaged.

“That’s so you can read her letters,” he told him.

I have a box in my basement filled with relics from an even earlier age: poems on green manuscript paper, illustrated in crayon; folders with school papers, sometimes adorned with foil stars for writing work I had done exceptionally well on; my fourth grade school journals; certificates for grade-school writing contests; my fourth-grade story, critiqued in a small workshop hosted by Ron Carlson.

My first poems wander around in that box. One of them–a short, sugary-sweet concoction about rainbows and my mother–made my mom’s eyes shine. I gave it to her in second grade, when my favorite books to read were built around words with short vowel sounds.

In the middle of last night’s musings, I realized, again, why I write.

It’s at least partly to make my mom’s eyes shine. To make my dad proud. To help my husband care for our family. To bring joy, if I can, to other people.

I wrote poetry when my oldest daughter was barely walking, poetry about her eyes and her smile and how she made me feel as though I’d swallowed the moon.

I began writing very short stories for her when she got to be in preschool, and then, when my second daughter was born, I tried a young adult fantasy. It sits, forlorn and forgotten, at the bottom of a drawer in one of my filing cabinets, but I promise myself I’ll pick it up again someday.

When we lived in North Dakota, I started accepting journalism assignments as a way to help my husband supply needed funds for our family, and as a way for me to connect with people outside my home. I wrote and self-published a middle-grade fantasy novel as a gift for my second daughter. I blogged about North Dakota and took my daughters on trips all around the state.

After my son was born, I self-published a very short booklet on what it’s like to be a freelance journalist, mostly for friends and family who had more questions than I could answer.

Last night, in the middle of my frustration, it became clear. I write for the people I love.

That realization hit me most poignantly when I got a phone call from my sister. My grandfather passed away yesterday.

Few people ever saw his writings, but he wrote, too. He wrote seriously about what it was like to grow up in mining community. He wrote silly fiction pieces about how to make elephant soup (and why you would want to), and some combinations that I knew were based in fact but stretched as tall as Paul Bunyan.

My grandfather was a World War Two veteran with a purple heart, a fisherman, an electrician, a joker, a photographer. A writer. He wasn’t perfect, but he helped shape my life.

In the end, it’s the subtle influences of all the people I love that make me what I am. I want to write to entertain them, to inform them, to influence them in positive ways. I write because it’s one way I can serve them. I write because their eyes shine when I do. I write because they’re my family, and they seem happiest when writing is a serious part of my life.

I write, with or without the computer, because I love.

January 15, 2013

I won a free book

I won a copy of Jessica Schaub's Gateways!

I won a copy of Jessica Schaub’s Gateways!

I happily received an e-mail message today informing me that I won a copy of Jessica Schaub’s Gatewayswhich is now for sale for Kindle. I’ve been wanting to buy it all week but, you guessed it, I’m working on another deadline. Reading time has been at a premium again.

I’m looking forward to reading Gateways this weekend, after I reach my deadline. I’m also going to gift the copy I was going to buy for myself to my mom.

From the post where Jessica announced her contest:

A year ago today, I took a leap of faith and self-published my first book,Gateways. It was a leap of faith in myself. Do I have what it takes to make it as a writer? Can I tell a good story? Do I use all the literary elements that make stories good?

My conclusion: Yes! Gateways has been recieved well by readers, earning seven 5-star reviews on Amazon and encouraging comments on this blog.

So grateful to Jessica for writing this, for holding the contest and for generally being a wonderful person.

January 15, 2013

Me and the Inspiring Blogger Award

I celebrate January with snowflake curtains in my dining room!

I celebrate January with snowflake curtains in my dining room!

This morning I was pleasantly surprised to see that Slepsnor from Legends of Windemere had nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.


This awards’ rules are similar to the Versatile Blogger Award that he presented me with earlier this week. As a special thank you to him for nominating me, I’m listing the top five reasons I visit his site right here:

  1. He’s not just a good writer, he’s a very friendly person. If you comment on his site, he’ll comment back. We’ve had some really great conversations this way, and it’s made blogging even more fun.
  2. I’m intrigued by his Beginning of a Hero posts. I like the characters, the description and the general feel of the story.
  3. I enjoy the posts he writes about his own writing experiences. It’s nice to find common ground with other writers.
  4. I love the background on his blog. A few minutes there, even if I’m reading, makes me feel as though I’ve taken a walk in the woods. Completely relaxing.
  5. He’s got some exciting things in the works. I’m always happy to see the successes of my other writing friends. Besides encouraging me to keep going when things get difficult, I feel joy for them. I like feeling joy.

Here are the rules for this award:

1. Display the award logo,
2. Link back to the person who nominated you,
3. State 7 things about yourself,
4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them.

Now for the fifteen people I need to nominate–again, in no particular order, and again, I’m sure I could go on and on. Fifteen will not be enough. For the record, these blogs are inspiring to me because of the writing, the background and intent of the writer or the images they post. Often, it’s all three.

And now–seven more facts about me:

  1. I collect kerosene lamps. I don’t even know why I like them so much.
  2. My family and I are kind of into Star Trek right now. I even downloaded a Star Trek cookbook so I could make Rahkt with Yamok Sauce and Gramillion Sandpeas for dinner one night. That was a BIG hit at my house, although I altered the recipes to fit what I had in the pantry.
  3. I rotate curtains in my dining room to match current celebrations. Right now, I have snowflake curtains and snowmen figurines out to celebrate the entire month of January.
  4. I used to want to be a ballerina. I only danced en pointe for one year, though.
  5. When the water’s high enough, I can see a teensy sliver of the Great Salt Lake from my office window.
  6. For years, my favorite mini-series was The Tenth Kingdom.
  7. I had the following conversation with one of my daughters this morning:

Me: “Guess what? I’ve won two awards in one week. First it was the Versatile Blogger Award, and now it’s the Inspiring Blogger Award.”

Her–with a twisted-up expression on her face: “The Bristol Award?”

me: “No. The Versatile Blogger Award.”

Her: “Oh, good. I thought you said you won the Bristol Award. I thought you meant you advertised a reward for your contest and then gave it to yourself, and then I thought, ‘you cheater.‘”

I’ve been laughing about that all day. I LOVE being a mom!

January 14, 2013

My contest, The Night Ones Legacy and a fire that burns from the inside out

Purple Flowers

These are my ‘serenity flowers.’ They remind me that writing should be a calm experience, not a fiery burn-yourself-out one.

The whole idea of hosting a contest has made me think back to when I first wrote The Night Ones Legacy. Like many writers, I secretly harbored a dream that it would be BIG, but I’m also pretty grounded in the idea that book sales from an unknown author takes a lot of work.

If I remember right, I sent one query off for The Night Ones Legacy, just about the time my son was born. Most of the books and articles I’ve read on the subject say one try simply isn’t enough. When you’re looking for an agent or a publisher, you have to try over and over and over again to find the right fit.

I didn’t know why at the time, but I was reluctant to send more queries out. I read about self-publishing somewhere, and the idea clicked with me immediately. I felt an urgency to move on the idea. Two weeks later, I published The Night Ones Legacy for Kindle and on CreateSpace.

I shyly gave a few copies of the book to friends in North Dakota. I was pleased (and still shy) with the enthusiastic response I got. Someone told me a local book club read it and discussed it, and I was elated (and shy).

Soon after, we found out we were moving to Utah. I didn’t know where we’d be living or how long we’d be between homes. I had a local e-mail carrier that was canceled when we moved, and my phone number changed three times over the course of about five months.

Looking back, I realize I didn’t know what a rough move it was going to be. I only knew I needed to do SOMETHING with my book RIGHT AWAY. You know that feeling. It’s the fire that burns from the inside out, the warmth and heat that gives you courage to do things you wouldn’t normally do.

In any other circumstance, self-publishing wouldn’t have been my first choice. This time, it turned out to be perfect for me. It got the book out of my heart and mind and into the wide world, leaving me free to focus on keeping my family together through our difficult year. While I didn’t do much to market it, knowing it was available gave me the confidence I needed to introduce myself to new friends.

I found myself straightening a little every time someone asked what I like to do. “I’m a writer,” I said. “I mostly write for regional newspapers and magazines, but I’ve also got a book out now.”

My family and I were in a jumble between May and November, when we finally purchased another home. It’s taken another year to stabilize our lives (and my writing schedule).

Now that we’re finally somewhat settled, the fire inside is blazing again. This time, it has to do with the contest I’m throwing. I deeply hope to give away at least five gift cards, but I can’t see the future any more now than I could in 2011. I just know this is something I have to do.

No matter how shy I feel.

No matter what the results are.

I tell myself that those are the things that don’t really matter. The fire inside DOES matter, and I’m always a better person if I pay attention to it.

January 13, 2013

Me as a versatile blogger

Yesterday, Slepsnor of Legends of Windemere nominated me for this Versatile Blogger award.

I’ve been following his posts almost since I began blogging again and I’ve truly enjoyed his Beginning of a Hero posts. My many thanks to him for this award, but also for his encouragement, his kindness and particularly for his engaging writing.


Versatile Blogger Rules  (If you choose to obey them)

  • Display the Award Certificate on your website
  • Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented your award
  • Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers
  • Drop them a comment to tip them off after you’ve linked them in the post
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

Like Slepsnor, I often get caught up reading other people’s blogs, including his own. I check my WordPress reader several times a day for updates from my favorite bloggers. May I just say I’m glad I can pass this on to fifteen people? There’s no way I could narrow it down to one or two.

For the most part, I’ve chosen my list of fifteen bloggers for their insight, for the broad topics they write about and simply because I love the things they write. I wish I could spend more time on their sites than I do.

Here are the fifteen bloggers that I choose to present this award to, in no particular order:

  1. Michelle Proulx Some exciting things are happening on this web site! Come see!
  2. logosconcarne, by Wyrd Smythe. His posts leave me pensive and grateful for all that I have.
  3. Cristian Mihai Have you seen his magazine yet?
  4. thejournalfiles, by Liz Bell. She is one prolific writer.
  5. Lots of food for thought here.
  6. Bottledworder I know she’s been nominated more than once, but I can’t help it. She’s great.
  7. expeditionsofelise I can’t even remember how I stumbled across her blog, but I find it inspiring.
  8. booksnlibraries I’m still thinking about the question she asked in her last post.
  9. fiction favorites, by John Howell–another very thought-provoking blog, especially in regards to writing, from a talented man
  10. The Garret, by A.J.  I love the tone of this blog.
  11. The Write Transition A great writer who immediately puts readers at ease. Lots of good topics, too.
  12.  Innovictor Writes Informative and friendly
  13. The Monster in Your Closet  I relate very well to this blog–it’s a perfect mix of real life and writing and how how real life impacts writing
  14. jessicaschaubbooks A great writer, a supportive friend and an all-around wonderful person. I enjoy every interaction I have with this lady.
  15. shannonathompson This site is organized and easy to maneuver, and the ideas here are intriguing. Very enjoyable!

Well. Now that I’ve thought about my fifteen, I’m wishing I had at least a few more spots. There are lots of really great blogs out there.

Now for seven things about myself:

  1. When I was five I punched my best friend in the nose to show him how tough I was. He wasn’t my best friend after that.
  2. I make up songs about tractors and dump trucks to help my toddler son go to sleep–and then the songs, which are really weird, get stuck in my head and I find myself singing them all day long the next day. “Tractors are like rainbows…”
  3. I love bitter chocolate. Well, really, I love most kinds of chocolate–but if I’m craving it, I can eat a square or two of bitter baking chocolate and thoroughly enjoy it. How odd is that?
  4. Nearly two years ago, I read that if you want to become an expert at something, you have to dedicate 1000 hours of time to it. This idea deeply impacted my life. I made a list of things I want to learn to be really good at. I started reading about these topics and finding ways to practice them, and I’ve started counting the hours I spend doing that. While this type of education doesn’t result in credentials, I’m happy with the things I’m learning and VERY happy that they fit so well into my family’s budget.
  5. I’m enthralled by Thomas Kincade paintings. Read more about this on my Amazon Author Page.
  6. I’m proud to say I’m a Wolf Den leader here in Utah. I love the cub scout and boy scout programs. Also I love girl scout cookies. (I never actually got to be a girl scout. I only eat the cookies.)
  7. I didn’t like cheese until I got married. I also didn’t wear glasses until I got married. Oh, the way he changed me! (For the better, mostly. I’m still in love with him after nineteen years.)

That’s that! Thanks again to everyone who blogs so well, and thanks to Slepsnor for passing this on.

January 13, 2013

Enter to win a $25 Amazon gift card

The Night Ones Legacy book cover--Ruby Rift is the most most recent draft of a possible sequel.

The Night Ones Legacy, available on Amazon Kindle and other outlets

Beginning on January 15th, 2013, you have a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card for reading and answering three questions about The Night Ones Legacy.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Read The Night Ones Legacy, by Gwen Bristol–you can get a copy here.
  2. Send me (Gwen Bristol) an e-mail with the word CONTEST in the subject box, at this e-mail address:
  3. In the body of your e-mail, answer these three questions:
    1. What did you like best about this book?
    2. What would improve this book?
    3. Who would you recommend this book to, and why?
  4. Also, please include your mailing address so that I can ship the gift cards to the winners. I’ll keep your information private.
  5. Wait to see if you’ve won! Contest updates will be posted periodically on

The first 100 e-mails I receive will be entered in a drawing to win a $25 Amazon gift card. The winner will be contacted immediately and the gift card will be shipped the following business day. All other participants for that round will be contacted when the gift card ships.

HERE’S SOMETHING IMPORTANT: This contest doesn’t end with the first 100 e-mails. I’ll hold a drawing for a second $25 Amazon gift card when I receive a second set of 100 e-mails (e-mails 101-200 will be eligible for this drawing). I intend to hold drawings for at least five sets of 100 e-mails.

If I receive a big enough response, I’ll continue holding drawings all the way through the month of February. The deadline for all e-mail drawing sets is February 28, 2013. If there are more than five drawings but the last set is incomplete, I’ll hold the drawing as if that set is complete.

E-mails are only eligible for this drawing if all three questions are answered, and they’re only eligible for the drawing within the 100 e-mail set.

ONE MORE THING TO NOTE: I’m considering this contest as a ‘marketing lab’ that will count toward my personal 1000 hours of marketing education campaign.

I intend to keep practicing. With that in mind, please look for future contests, give-aways and free stuff on this blog site. I’ll be adding a ‘Contests and other cool stuff’ page to this blog site soon so these things will be easier to find.


I’m looking forward to giving these $25 Amazon gift cards away!


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