"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." - Walt Disney

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou Dies at Age 86

Legendary American poet and author Maya Angelou has died at age 86. 

The renowned writer became a literary sensation with her first book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” a coming-of-age autobiography that recounted her turbulent childhood and early adult years.

Her son, Guy B. Johnson, released a statement this morning:
"Dr. Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home before 8 a.m. EST. Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension. She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love." 

Maya Angelou, you will be missed. You created some of the most beautiful and candid descriptions. Thank you for sharing and giving voice to so many!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Proud to Honor Our Veterans

In his Memorial Day message, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki quotes Civil War-era orator, Robert Green Ingersoll:

They died for liberty--they died for us. They are at rest. 

They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless ... Earth may run red with other wars, but they are at peace.

In the midst of battles, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death.

Have you ever written a message to or for a Veteran? Do you know someone to whom you could write a letter of thanks?

Interested in reading the work of veterans? Try one of the Proud to Be volumes listed in the right column. Or submit your own work to Volume 3. Details can be found:  http://www.mohumanities.org/proud-to-be-writing-by-american-warriors/

Hope you all enjoy a beautiful Memorial Day!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

5 Writer Faults

So, you've decided you're a writer. You are embarking on the dream of perfecting your craft, and creating a truly engaging piece. However, you need to be careful you are not suffering from one of the five biggest faults writers have every day.

1. Timidity - It takes guts to be a writer. The inner critic, judgement of friends and family, and rejection by editors and agents all play a part in this career path. You've got to overcome your fears and feelings of inadequacy. Seek out a solid writer's group, either in person or online. Finding an HONEST support group of individuals sharing your passions and struggles is the best gift you can give yourself. Psychologists claim the fear of public exposure, or ridicule, is more intense and can override even the fear of death. Face those fears and you have achieved success, regardless of popularity or money earned.

2. Trying to be Literary - Trying to imitate James Joyce or Virginia Wolf will only turn off readers. No one likes an imitator. Find your own voice. Create fresh and dramatic stories that come from your heart - both drawing on your dreams and your fears. And keep striving for better. Any professional will tell you you have to learn the rules before you can successfully break them. If you are striving to become a great literati, you must first become a great storyteller.

3. Ego Writing - No matter how good you think you are, there is always more you can learn. You should never give up striving to become BETTER. Which means you have to open yourself up to critiques, and really listen to what is said. This doesn't mean you have to make every change suggested, but if you receive the same comments repeatedly, consider the change. Learn to judge honestly what will improve your piece. As Trollope said "lay your own identity aside" and read as a reader, not the author.

4. Failure to Keep Faith - Someone once told me it takes ten years to become any kind of a success as a writer. Ten years, really? Most people will give up after three or four years. Life happens. We get a job to pay the bills, and support the family. The job and family drain our time and energy. We lose focus. Even when working hard, repeated rejections cause us to let our dreams fall by the wayside. Let's face it, it's human nature to crave success and acceptance. We take it where we can get it, and move on from anything causing constant feelings of discouragement. Then, one day you realize you gave up on a part of yourself. You see others finding that success and you feel another stab of discouragement. Discouragement is generally the result of envy. So, if you really want something, don't let go of the dream. Some days you may only write one line, but you are still writing. Never give up on yourself.  

5. Wrong Lifestyle - Writers often let their craft take a back seat to everything else in life. Giving time to one's profession makes perfect sense to people who want to become surgeons, CEO's, lawyers, and any other number of professionals. Why do we treat the creative arts differently? Somewhere along the way, society has deemed it as not important, or unworthy of equal focus. Yet, writing is the life and soul of so many. Even musicians may practice ten hours a day. Athletes, dancers, and actors devote the same. To become a great writer requires just as much. I'm not suggesting you forsake responsibilities, family, or friends. If writing means that much to you, you WILL sacrifice television, travel, and some creature comforts to find the time for your passion.

Writing is a job. It takes time and effort. Set yourself production goals, jealously guard writing times, and always strive to grow as an author. Study the craft, and study people. Sprinkle your observations into your work. Keep producing. Make the decision not to fall prey to one of these faults. From now on, admit you are a writer. Own the title. Do it well, and do it with passion. HAPPY WRITING!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

4 Question Blog Hop

Susan Brody, from The Art of Not Getting Published, tagged me in a writing process blog hop. I am supposed to answer four predetermined questions, and then tag someone else to keep it going.

Q. What are you working on? Too many projects at once. I have articles due for several different magazines, a newspaper article burning a hole in my computer, and edits waiting on a couple of short stories. Then there are always my partially completed books. While I love my fiction projects, my nonfiction sees the light of day more often. I'm not sure if it's because I take them more seriously, or I feel others will take them more seriously, but there you have it. Besides, the instant gratification of seeing my articles published the next day, or at least within the next month or two, feeds my ego more than waiting six months to several years for the fiction release.

Q. How does your work differ from others of its genre? Hmmm... Doesn't every author hate this question? Why do I have to justify my greatness to you, just read it and behold my awesomeness! (BTW - I don't recommend actually saying this out loud ;-)

Q. Why do you write what you do? *Refer to my instant gratification comment in #1. Seriously though, Journalism was my first real foray into the writing world. Wonderful high school, and later college, mentors inspired me to stretch my abilities, and reach for improvement. The article writing allows me to freelance from home, setting my own schedule and rules, and affords the opportunity to cover many different topics instead of being limited to one niche.

Q. How does your writing process work? Like a bipolar clown. Some days I may write a couple thousand words, complete edits, set up interviews, outline a draft, read multiple works, create character back stories, etc. Then there are the days where I just leave technology off, color and play games with my kids, and don't so much as look at a book - unless you count The Napping House or Dr. Seuss.

Now it is my great pleasure to introduce the next member in this blog hop: Sherry Perkins. She has two blogs you can visit, several books you can purchase, and multiple other publications where you can find splashes of her genius. She is also an extremely active mentor to many writers, young and old. In a few days, you can find her responses to these four questions at:  www.copperhead1864.blogspot.com 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

9 Great Reads From Various Genres

This morning I was trying to decide what I wanted to read. I was reviewing my TBR pile, and then began thinking about revisiting some of my favorites. Here are just a few that have stayed with me. I hope you find some new authors and novels that will enlighten you at some point down the road.
Romance - When I think of great romance, Jane Austen's name comes to mind. Pride and Prejudice is my favorite. First published in 1813, and now one of the most popular novels in English literature, it has been made into countless movies. It's the story of Elizabeth Bennet, the second of five daughters. She has a witty and sarcastic sense of humor, and soon meets and develops a complicated relationship with Mr. Darcy. Both must learn to overcome their differences before they can ultimately be together.

Political/Historical Fiction – A Tale of Two Cities is a novel by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. With well over 200 million copies sold, it ranks among the most famous works in the history of fiction.

Fantasy - The Hobbit (1937) A blend of British adventure stories, European mythology and fantasy, with a sprinkle of Christianity thrown in, I don’t know if there is a better fantasy world than the one Tolkien built for his books. In this one, Bilbo Baggins, the original hobbit, becomes the first to leave the shire on a call to adventure by Gandalf the wizard. If you have only seen the movies (which are great) pick up the books, too, as they provide so much more detail.

Science Fiction - Dune (1966) by Frank Herbert. A Hugo winning novel, and the inaugural Nebula winner for best novel, it tops many best lists. Set more than 21,000 years in the future, it’s the story of young Paul Atreides, the heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides—their planet the only source of the “spice” mélange, a valuable commodity. Touching on a wide range of subjects including politics, environmentalism, social issues, Zen philosophies, and heroism, it’s captivating from start to finish.

Horror Salem’s Lot (1975) – Really, I could have chosen so many of Stephen King’s books for this category, but this is the first one of his (and the first vampire) novels I read. Writer Ben Mears returns to his hometown Jerusalem’s Lot to discover a horde of vampires have overrun the town. All signs indicate the new town antique dealer, Kurt Barlow, has unleashed this unimaginable terror upon the community. The vampire Barlow is a modern day Dracula. 

Crime/Thriller - Red Dragon (1981) by Thomas Harris. I could also say The Silence of the Lambs, but Red Dragon is so very creepy, so tense and powerful. Will Graham stands in a silent, empty house communing with a killer. An FBI instructor with a gift for hunting madmen, Graham knows what his murderer looks like, how he thinks, and what he did to his victims after they died. Now Graham must try to catch him. But to do it, he must feel the heat of a killer's brain, draw on the macabre advice of a dangerous mental patient, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (the first time readers meet Lecter), and follow a trail of microscopic clues to the place where another family has already been chosen to die--and where an innocent woman has found the Dragon first.

Young Adult - Harry Potter (1997-2007) by J.K. Rowling. Yes, the entire series. If you really want to understand what makes for great YA reading, not just fantasy, but world building, language, relationships, and tension, you MUST read this series. There is so much magic, love, beauty, strife, and tragedy in this series. These characters have become almost iconic—Harry Potter, the destined hero; Ron Weasley, his red-headed sidekick; Hermione, the love interest and genius; Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster, acclaimed wizard and mentor; Severus Snape, the unreliable potion’s master; and Lord Voledmort, the Dark Lord. An epic story spanning many years, it is ultimately a very rewarding experience.

Short Story Collections – The Great Short Works by Leo Tolstoy - The book contains well-known works by the author, including the book that is considered by many as his best, War and Peace. Some of his other stories that are covered in this book include Ivan the Fool, How Much Land Does A Man Need?, A Prisoner in the Caucasus, and God Sees The Truth, But Waits. His story, War and Peace, focuses on the French Invasion of Russia, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the revolution, narrated from the point of view of the Tsars. While Ivan the Fool is a parable, How Much Land Does A Man Need? focuses on a greedy peasant. Tolstoy’s stories are very humorous, with an underlying political or philosophical message. 

Literary Fiction - Blood Meridian (1985) by Cormac McCarthy. There are many different genres that would love to claim McCarthy as their own, and they do. But I’ll qualify this selection as literary for a couple of reasons—the language is dense, complicated, and obscure, making it a challenging read. This book is simply the story of “The Kid” and his exploits with the Glanton Gang, a historical group of scalp hunters who massacred Native Americans and others in the United States–Mexico borderlands from 1849 to 1850 for bounty, pleasure, and eventually out of sheer compulsion.Judge Holden is one of the most evil, intimidating, and vile characters in contemporary literary fiction. This is a western, a supernatural tale, and a horror story rolled into one package. The violence in this story is some of the worst, and most beautifully rendered. NOT for the faint of heart, mind or soul.

So many titles and authors could have been included here. About once a month I discuss some of my favorites (and not so favorites). You can find more in my archives, and upcoming posts.
Have you read any of these? Did you enjoy them? What are some of your favorites to recommend?

Friday, May 9, 2014

One Week Left!

Only one week left for these two submission opportunities:

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels in our Midst or My Guardian Angel  - Do you have a story about an angel encounter or have you been helped by angels? How did your angel manifest himself or herself? How did your angel help you or someone you know? Please do not send stories about people who are "angels" because they do nice things, and also please do not submit eulogies where you say that your loved one is now an angel. The deadline for story and poem submissions has been extended from December 31, 2013 to May 15, 2014. If you have already submitted a story or poem for this title please do not submit it to us again. We have it in our database and it will be considered for this title.

REMIXING THE WORLD'S PROBLEMS http://robertleebrewer.blogspot.com/2013/09/remixing-worlds-problems-challenge-for.html --- NO ENTRY FEE. I want poets (and non-poets) to try their hands at remixing the poems in my Solving the World's Problems collection. The inspiration comes from pop and dance music, which routinely offers remixed versions of the original songs. Some sound similar to the original; others are grand departures. For me, this challenge is a great opportunity to collaborate. I hope that's an intrinsic benefit for you as well, but one lucky person will receive the extrinsic benefit of $500. Deadline May 15, 2014. Enter as often as you wish.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ask the Agents II

It's May and the newest issue of Southern Writer's magazine is available. Along with some really great articles on the craft, you can find the second installment of my series "Ask the Agent". In this issue, I talk with four agents to find the answers to some of the questions authors ask most often.

If you enjoy these interviews (starting on page 16) you can find the first part of my agent series in the March issue.

To learn more about this magazine or to order a copy, please visit: http://www.southernwritersmagazine.com/

How are your manuscripts or other projects coming along? Are you reading any great books and magazines?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cinco de Mayo

What and how is Cinco de Mayo Celebrated?: There are parades, dancing and festivals. Traditional Mexican food is often served or sold. Mariachi bands fill town squares, and a lot of Dos Equis and Corona beers are served. It’s a fun holiday, really more about celebrating the Mexican way of life than about remembering a battle which happened 150 years ago (not Independence Day as many assume). It is sometimes referred to as a “Mexican St. Patrick’s Day.” 

Want to share your Cinco de Mayo celebration with the kids? Try these resources from Scholastic: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/unit/cinco-de-mayo-everything-you-need

Or try these FREE printables and games from abcteach: http://www.abcteach.com/directory/holidays-months-and-seasons-holidays-cinco-de-mayo-3639-2-1

Try a writing exercise where you create your own holiday to celebrate an event or way of life.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A to Z Survivor

Congratulations to everyone who successfully completed the "A to Z" Blog challenge. I've had so much fun meeting new people, and following creative blogs. Thank you to everyone who visited, followed, and left comments here. Your support and enthusiasm have made this experience well worth the time and effort. Congratulations and HAPPY WRITING!