Sunday, February 21, 2021

Writers Lead the Way!

Let's face it--we're all staying home a lot more these days. Some of us don't get out at all! And after a while, even Zoom conversations with champagne or wine can become humdrum. Perhaps the only good thing about being constantly indoors for the past year (yes, almost a year) has been the opportunity to spend time in front of my computer writing as well as looking for interesting new authors and intriguing stories to read.  

That's why I enjoy featuring authors on my blog, because I get to not only learn about their books but about the people behind the people behind those books as well. Today's guest in My Writing Corner is author Margo Johnson, and I've enjoyed discovering her story and her latest book. 

Author Margot Johnson grew up in a family of writers and says she has always loved books and

writing. She is the author of LOVE TAKES FLIGHT and her new release LOVE LEADS THE WAY. Before turning her focus to the fun writing life, Margot held leadership roles in human resources and communications. Her motto is "Dream big and work hard." 

When not writing, she says she loves to connect with family and friends, volunteer with SK Writers Guild. She tells us she also likes to walk at least 10,000 steps a day (except when it's minus 40!) She lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada with her amazing husband and beloved golden retriever. 

Let's get more directly from Margo herself:

For many years, I worked in a busy corporate environment, and I left a leadership role in human resources and communications to focus on writing. Now instead of guiding employees, I create characters who have minds of their own!

In LOVE LEADS THE WAY, Tessa coaches Mark in leadership, but they both need lessons in love! I hope you have fun with these clashing coworkers as they discover where love leads.

The story is fiction but draws on some of my experiences at work and at home. I’d love to have lunch with Tessa and compare notes on office gossip, single parenting, family quirks, and cute golden retrievers. One key difference is I didn’t meet my handsome husband at work!

Tessa and Mark both support a mother with dementia which brings some tough but also light moments. My late dad died of complications from Alzheimer’s, so that part of the book is close to my heart. He was a journalist who always encouraged me to read and write.

My characters love dogs, and my loyal, old golden retriever, Sophie, is the inspiration for the adorable dogs in my books.

When not writing, I love to travel. One of my more unusual adventures was appearing on the TV game show Let’s Make a Deal where I almost won a car! You can often find me reading a good book for my monthly book club while munching on a large bowl of popcorn.

Thank you, Margot. Let's find out about more about LOVE LEADS THE WAY:

She coaches him in team leadership, but do they both need lessons in love?

Single mom Tessa Shore runs a successful leadership program at work and supports a mother with dementia. She can handle any challenge in her jam-packed schedule as long as nothing spins out of control…especially her feelings.

Engineer Mark Delaney is an expert on pipelines at the same company, but his interpersonal skills need a makeover. Advancing to an executive job requires enrollment in a leadership course he doesn't think he needs.

When their professional and personal issues entangle, life at the office gets a lot more complicated. Romance is impossible…or is it?

Want more? I do!  Let's get a short excerpt:

Pacing around Crescent Park in moonlight trimmed with stars, Mark breathed fresh air and slowed his erratic heartbeats from the shock of Tessa’s invitation. Apparently, the woman who directed the class with the precision of an air-traffic controller could flex…at least, a little. She wanted to spend extra time with him, and he couldn’t refuse.

“I didn’t think we’d bump into other participants at this late hour.” She hugged tighter her windbreaker against the cool breeze. “We won’t mix business and pleasure. I’m strictly off duty, and so are you.”

“Okay, Tessa, whatever you say.”

This sounds like book we're going to enjoy.  Here are the buy links and ways you can learn more about  Margot and her books:

Margot Johnson Author

Any questions or comments for Margot?  Thank you, Margot, for bringing us the details of your latest book! 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Plotting Through People and Places

 During these crazy times, I have heard from many people who have been thinking of their writing goals. Those who have long wanted to be published are often finding themselves with time on their hands while working from home or they are looking for new outlets for their feelings of helplessness. Writing a story where YOU get to make all the decisions can be therapeutic. Some of those friends who know I have often taught writing classes have come to me for tips on how to get started. In coming weeks, I will be posting some of the various lessons I have used in  some of my own writing classes that can be valuable to people starting out or to authors who just want a refresher or a look at new ways to write a book.

Today I am going to start by looking at the overall plotting process and some ways a would-be writer

can get started. To me, it all starts with characters and designing them, but no character can be placed without a story idea so that means coming up first with ideas for plots. 

Everything starts with a story idea and  I always love to say those ideas are all around us--whether through events or various people with a good story to tell or a good character who belongs in a story. I have just finished writing a romantic suspense story that began building in my head many years ago while out on a drive with my brother, his wife and my sister.  Out in a very rural part of southern Colorado we ran across one of our cousins who was a rancher. He had spent his whole life living and working on a ranch owned by his father. He was unmarried and lived in rather primitive conditions -- limited running water and heat. He chopped wood in winter and opened windows in summer. His electricity came in the form of a generator he could only run limited hours of the day. 

He had no television set so his nights were long and lonely. Or at least it seemed like they would be. Turned out though, he kept busy being an artist. His family was talented that way -- his older brother taught art in a nearby town's high school. He had little light but he managed to keep his time occupied drawing and painting.  

Needless to say I was intrigued by the whole story of someone all alone like that and when I got home I began devising a story wrapped around such a character -- someone all alone who spends his time working the ranch by day and being artistic at night.

Because I write Romantic Suspense, I came up with the idea of a long ago murder mystery that would give a character a similar life and put him out there on the prairie alone, painting...

But a story has to be more than just a character portrait. It needs to have something happen, that  plot i mentioned--the story behind it, which is the reason you want to learn about a character. It's the key to any good book. Characters, plot, pacing, dialogue -- they should all work together as you write a story.

Writers who don't like to plot often prefer to write their books a scene at a time.  If they have an idea for a certain event or scene, writing that scene out of order can help the creative process.  Getting the scene down while it is still fresh in their mind can improve the book.

 A scene shows what happens as the action or the emotional problems/reactions unfold minute by minute. A typical book of let's say 85 to 90,000 words has about 70 or so scenes, give or take a few depending on the length of each scene,  with each scene moving the story forward or giving the reader insight in the growth of the main protagonist.

Each scene should have a small plot in it. Remember time and setting - however this is often understood by the reader and therefore not always necessary. Because of the action of the scene, the character MUST react in some manner either to the previous scenes problem or to the plot's overall situation.

Show an emotional change or reaction. The reader needs to know (the motivation behind the character's

actions)  and understand the goal of the protagonist. 
The conflict can be in the action, or it can be in the emotional tension and finally the protagonist or whoever has that scene's POV needs to make some sort of a decision

Scenes can be a variety of lengths, depending on what you choose to include.  Some action-filled scenes may run two to three pages, while a simple conversation may be only half a page...but, on the other hand, it could also be three or four pages.  It all depends on your style, genre and whose POV the scene is in. 

All of these elements can also be affected by the setting, or the time period and location where a story takes place. Actually, setting is more than just a "place." Learn to be careful about how you treat the setting of your story...pages and pages of description, while maybe interesting, should be broken up and used sparingly and scattered in various scenes.

Keep in mind as you begin to put the scenes in order that you will want a variety of action-packed scenes intermixed with slower scenes or reflective moments.  Too many fast-moving scenes coming one right after another can leave a reader breathless, while too many long, emotional scenes can lull a reader to sleep.

 Mix the length of the scenes with a progression that makes sense in moving the story forward and that allows the reader time to think and react along with the characters.

Remember - Each scene needs to contain a reaction to what has just happened or to the dilemma with the choices to be decided upon.  A decision, which reveals the character's determination and the direction of the overall plot and some type of goal set up for the next scene should end the scene.  This is called the hook. Hooks are often what keep the reader going and turning the pages.

Learning about all these various elements may seem overwhelming. For authors they can become second nature after a while, but no one needs to be told that writing a book is a long and involved process.  Getting to the end and knowing it is all going to work out for your heroes and heroines is all worth the work.  Putting those characters in place, developing the plot and writing those scenes -- the final product is where you're headed if you write. It all starts with that simple idea... maybe something as simple as a man painting pictures...

Monday, February 8, 2021

Celebrating our Writing Skills

Ah, the joy of telling a story. Too often writers think only of the creative writing process, but while the joy of being able to write a good fiction story, can be challenging, the joy of writing a non-fiction story can be just as rewarding. Too often we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we have learned as fiction writers and we don’t realize that those lessons can be equally applied to non-fiction. We ignore our ability to produce a coherent piece of educational information or humorous true story that others might enjoy reading. We often don’t allow ourselves to utilize or celebrate the special joy of what we have taken the time to learn about the basics of writing beyond our fiction work.  

When it comes right down to it, the writing process is not easy and as fiction writers, we may be constantly studying the craft and for certain we are practicing it every time we sit down to write another story. What we don’t realize is that for many people writing non-fiction can be just as profitable and as creative as writing fiction and we’re already working at becoming better at it every time we write. Too often writers don’t give ourselves enough credit for the writing work we do on a daily basis.  Whether we’re lamenting not getting our word count done for the day, or worrying about reaching new audiences or really reaching for the pinnacle of success as a best-selling novelist we forget that we have been given a special gift already—our writing skills.

Whether we’re writing promotional snippets or blurbs, or query letters or we write a blog, writing is a major part of our daily lives. This is a skill we should not only celebrate but that we can also use to write articles or pieces that many people can enjoy reading. Even if they don’t enjoy it, that could mean you’ve touched a nerve with your writing but you’re still reaching others emotionally and that takes a special skill tool.

            My sister has worked in the computer field all her life and she has often told me that while she cannot imagine sitting down and making up a fictional story, much less being able to get it down on the written page, she still needs to be able to write in her work. Because of that she has had to take the time to study and learn to be a better writer. Now she also tells me that her boss is constantly picking her to do certain jobs because she has become a good writer. She has a special sense of being able to recognize what needs to be said and then the ability to get it written down and passed along to others. This is the sort of skill we as writers possess or –like my sister—that we study and should continually celebrate. We can complain about a scene not coming together today, but when it does, we will be ready to write it. We will have the knowledge and the skill and the ability to write. 

            Writing fiction and non-fiction are two separate skills but they can build on each other 

and if  you can create a novel you can probably also write non-fiction. For more than forty years my day job was writing non-fiction as a newswriter, TV producer and later a public relations writer and manager. There was no waiting for creativity to strike. I was given base material and I just plain had to write and produce a news story or a press release. Those are the challenges of being a non-fiction writer where you have to automatically be ready to put words, sentences and paragraphs together that make sense and get a point across.

            But if you are already working as a fiction writer you know most of the basics of putting a story together already. You have been studying and perfecting that craft every day, probably without thinking about it. And what you may not realize is that you’re also gathering information that can be useful in non-fiction stories to promote your work.

            Where do you get some of that information to use? Or how can you use it? Let’s start with gathering the information. Let’s face it, we are often gathering research material for our stories – whether it’s about the historical town where you want to set your story to learning about the local bakery where your characters work. Or perhaps you’re studying a particular time period. Even if you’re making up a story about a spaceship on a trip to Mars, there will be material you might need to research. Writing fictional suspense stories might send you to the library to learn about local mystery or murder tales or you might have to get in touch with the local police department and perhaps take a citizen law enforcement class. Learning about these areas can always provide great blogs, but there might also be places where you can sell that story or you can use it as part of the publicity for your own book.

Community newspapers, short magazine articles, even small neighborhood newsletters can be outlets for your writing. Whether you are writing a magazine story, a piece for a publication or a scholastic or a business letter, the world of non-fiction writing exists out there where you least think about it. That doesn’t even include the world where I worked for those years – in a newsroom where as a young 21-year-old I was handed a piece of wire copy and told to write a story that ran at least thirty seconds or a reporter’s scribbled notes and told to put it together into a coherent story or had to make phone calls to several people to get facts and then compose them into a coherent story. Oh, and get that done in the next fifteen minutes and go find the video to go with those words. Ah yes, the joy of writing news and especially television news, didn’t leave much time to search for just the right word much less get into the proper frame of mind.

            Learning the basics of putting a sentence together is invaluable because once you know how to do it right, then you can start playing with those other little toys, like vocabulary or making the words sing. There’s nothing like reading a well-written story, whether it is fiction or non-fiction. You know when you’re in the realm of a special writer.

            Why write non-fiction when you’re work is in fiction? For me the answer is simple. It expands my horizons, and then writing fiction can be the fun part. But not always. After retiring from writing for news programs and even writing newsletter articles for several school districts and news releases for several city governments, I agreed to write historical biographies for the Colorado Women’s Hall of fame. It started with a video piece on the historic deeds of women in Colorado and then moved into re-writing short biographies for the web and for a program. But the joy of learning about the famous women was just part of the fun. Making each piece a celebration of that woman’s life was a real joy to me as a writer. When I was later asked to help produce longer pieces on some of these remarkable women, I naturally said yes.

But learning about their lives in the early 1900s or as women trying to break through the glass ceiling in medicine or politics, also inspired me as a fiction writer. My latest book I am working on has become a time travel, set back in those historic times, using some of the research I gathered as I worked on my historical pieces, but also in building and creating fictional characters who can become symbols of those real life women I studied. The final result was working for several years on half hour documentaries that aired on the local PBS affiliate and winning several Emmy awards in the process.

Whether it’s writing a report or a letter, we don’t think of the importance of knowng how to put words together. As writers we just seem to do it. And don’t  let negative reactions or criticism ever stop you.  I remember on one of my early newspaper articles as a young college reporter, someone sent a letter to the editor calling me a “half-baked” reporter.  I was hurt and to make matters even worse, my editor published it as an answer to the story I had written. I don’t remember if I was right in the end, but the criticism made me think and made me a better reporter. I was going to be more careful next time I asked questions and no one was ever going to call me “half-baked” again. That letter also helped me in future years when I might review a half-hearted review from a reader for one of my fiction pieces.

Whether you’re writing a poem for yourself, a novel for a multi-faceted audience, or a piece for the community newspaper, I say celebrate yourself! The joy of being able to write is also a gift not everyone has. It’s a gift that often times others see but we don’t recognize or realize enough.  Even when we are lamenting that we didn’t meet that word count or that we don’t like what we’re writing at the moment, we need to remember, this is a skill many other people don’t have.

The main objective is to KEEP writing! Today I am waiting to hear from my editor on the manuscript I just turned in. But I am also already working on my next project – make that several projects – as the writers’ world keeps spinning on… just like the tales we tell.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Why Edit? Why Not?

 Today I will finish my latest book. Doesn’t that sound great? After months of research, months of planning and many more months of writing and editing, it is finally about to go out the door and I will be ready to celebrate! Months of struggling with not only rewriting the story but also fighting with a dying and eventually dead computer will come to an end, as will editing on a completely new computer. (Sometimes I wish for the days of my old Selectric.)

 While it is great to finally be able to think about sending it off in an email to my editor, and drink the

champagne that accompanies that emailing, it is still sad, scary and with a note of trepidation that I will hit the send key on my computer and know that it is gone. Will it be good enough for the editor to immediately send me the final okay? Will she want more work or changes?

 Heavy sigh… Who knows?

 One thing I know—I will be happy to be finished with the editing process. That’s why today I am discussing the editing process itself. I learn a great deal every time I edit a story, but I know how important that editing can be. A good job of editing can make all the difference in the world on whether a book sells or sits inside your computer as the query letters and submissions go out and you continue to work on the story.

 Having given classes on editing, this whole process should be simple to me, but every book is different and every book needs editing in a different way. Speaking of  seeing things in different ways, some of my older books are getting an update from Wings epress and they are looking great and now available at Amazon, looking better than ever..

With all that in mind, here are some ideas and tips for your own work on editing a book.

 To me, the editing process must go through at least three passes. First I look for obvious mistakes, misspellings, name mistakes where one character is Harry at the beginning and Jeff by the ending. Perhaps the name of the closest town undergoes a name change.

 In the next pass, I look at the basics and mechanics of writing. Yes, some of that can be done with a simple editing program, but I suggest being more careful and doing the job on your own. That means learning and knowing the basic rules of grammar, which is always good for any writer. Learn the rules and make a steady practice of using them and knowing your weak points. That can not only help with this book but any book in the future too.

The next pass is for polishing. Could something be phrased better? Does the writing sing? Where are the passages where I struggled? Did I finally succeed in getting the words just right?  If there were things you wanted fixed, do it now.

The  final pass is one of the most important. I usually suggest that writers complete the process by re-reading your manuscript OUT LOUD.  Why? Very simple. If you stumble over reading a word or a sentence you will notice. Does the sentence need to be rewritten? Is it so long you lose your place halfway through? Did you stumble over a misspelled word or grammatical error? Does the sentence make sense or confuse you even while you read it?

Reading out loud can also help you pick out words that might be misspelled or awkward phrasing. It is particularly useful for dealing with dialogue and whether it makes sense or sounds stilted. Yes, it might seem odd to have to do this, but believe me, I have always found it valuable.  Reading back a story out loud is the ONE thing I suggest to writers when they do any writing—whether it is a book, or even something as simple as this blog. For years when I was working as a television newswriter I almost always re-read my copy out loud before it went to the anchor or report. It was one of the early lessons I received from a wise old news guy (think real Lou Grant) and I never forgot it. I did that in a busy newsroom with other people around and as a result I got used to reading EVERYTHING I write out loud.  (Yes, even this blog as I wrote it – with only the cats listening) In that newsroom most of us did it because we knew our words were going to be read by a reporter or anchorman and the sentence couldn’t afford to be confusing. We couldn’t afford to make simple mistakes that might trip up a person who could be reading the copy for the first time live on the air with thousands of viewers watching. It had to make sense coming out of the anchor or reporter’s mouth.

This is even more true for writing dialogue.  The words should sound as though they were spoken by the hero and the heroine. No one speaks alike so by reading your story out loud, you can hear the words your hero and heroine are speaking and whether they sound different.

My final pass is actually when I make use of the editing program on the computer and only then if I absolutely feel like I need it. What I often find is that my own editing works almost as well, but that also points out anything that might be a blind spot for me or small mistakes that I might make.

As this new week gets underway, I’ll be doing a lot of reading out loud this week as I put the finishing touches on my manuscript.  Hopefully, the cats don’t mind. 

And then  with a heavy sigh and a glass of champagne nearby, I will send out that manuscript! 

One final point -- if you are looking for how to pitch your own story, please watch for my new book on pitching that will be released soon from Savvy Authors. I will have more on information on that in a future blog.

Mysterious Doings

As the  summer begins, it is time to start selecting those books we want to take on vacation or for sitting around the pool or at  the beach...