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Strong Writing vs Sloppy, Weak Writing

Dear fellow writers,

The one thing that gives me hives faster than nettles, hives, or food allergies is SLOPPY TENSE by a writer!

I am currently reading a book (Spinning Jenny) that could have been an excellent story, could have been pretty good writing for a debut book, and could have some well-thought-out and developed characters except for the writer (Sylvia Ann McLain)  who wrote the entire thing using the present tense. Then slipping into past tense and frequently mixing the two.  (Grrrrr….teeth gnashing.)

Here’s a sample, quoting from the book:  “Children race about, babies are wailing, and clusters of women talk among themselves. Some sit by themselves with Bibles in their laps.  Farther off in the woods, blacks (did they use this term in 1833?)  have set up their own camps; their tents are made of quilts thrown over ropes between the trees.”

Edited:  Children raced around, babies wailed, and clusters of women gathered to talk amongst themselves. A few sat by themselves with their Bibles in their laps.  Further off into the woods Negroes set up their camps.  Their tents were made by throwing quilts over ropes tied between the tree trunks.

and:  “But back at Carefree, there’s a body waiting for her to view it. She dreads it as she drives up the hill to her home.  A body! Has she ever seen a dead person before? Not that she remembers. Why can’t Sophronia get up out of her bed and do something for once? But it’s getting on to twelve o’clock. She has to hurry.” 

Edited:  A body waited for her to view back at Carefree. Stephanie dreaded it as she drove up the hill to her home. A body! Has she ever seen a dead person before? Not that she remembered. Why couldn’t Sophronia get up out of her bed and do something for once? But it was close to noon. She had to hurry.

I like to use italics for internal dialogue but it’s not a rule.   What is a grammatical rule is “i.n.g.’ ing” every other word is poor writing no matter how you look at it.  

There is no rule set in stone somewhere that fiction must be written in the past tense. But it is the accepted and expected tense that 98% of writers use.  More importantly, readers expect it even if they are unaware. 
99% of the time, if a book is written in anything other than past tense, it has not been written that way on purpose; the writer is new, and the book is their first one, and they are ignorant of what is expected and what the industry standard is.  It makes them look like the amateur that they are. 

PS. Finally. Finished it. This book was a real slog. And then to find out the ending was a setup for a sequel. The storyline didn’t support that. Ugh!!!!!!

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Watch for more interviews with authors.  September: Culley Holderfield. October: Simon Gervais for ROBERT LUDLUM, November: Kevin J. Kennedy, December: Marc Cameron, writing for TOM CLANCY

 

A few BOOKS BY TRISHA SUGAREK

Book Review ~~ The Boardwalk Bookshop

4 out 0f five stars  ~~ Book Review

 

No surprise here. Susan Mallery dishes up another excellent contemporary fiction for women. A great story with lots of plot twists and romance. A real page-turner. 

This time three women who don’t know each other share a lease on a retail space none of them can afford by themselves. They set up shop, books, muffins, and gifts, right off the sand, on the boardwalk in Santa Monica, California. Each has been wounded by love in the past, romantic or familial; it all hurts the same. 

All three main characters are equally balanced with in-depth storylines, so the reader has the opportunity to care about each one of them. Will their particular shop succeed? Will true love win out?  How many nasty turns will life serve up before the women find happiness?

I highly recommend this as your next book. But it’s no secret (by now) that I’m a huge fan of Susan Mallery myself.

Did you miss my Interview with author, Susan Mallery?
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Interview with author, Jay Hartlove (conclusion)

Jay Hartlove, no whiskers

Q. How have your life experiences influenced your writing?

JH. I tend to turn victims into heroes in my stories. My abusive upbringing influenced this. Having friendships implode and watching people die has given me the perspective to talk about loss. Being lucky enough to fall deeply in love more than once in my life has taught me how to talk about love and heartbreak. Having raised two children has refreshed my memories of childhood. Having both of them turn out gay has opened my eyes to prejudice.

Q. What’s your downtime look like?

JH. I’m something of an accomplishment junkie. I don’t really have downtime. I travel on my vacations. Evenings out mean movies or theater. When I’m not writing or running my household, my day job is consulting on compliance for banks. Troubleshooting and problem solving for The Man turns at night into troubleshooting and problem-solving in my stories. I love what I do. I don’t need time away from it.

Q. Have you or do you want to write in another genre?

Costume design. Conference of Sentient Beings that won Best in Show at Worldcon 2002

JH. When I was working on the third and final installment of the supernatural thriller Goddess Rising trilogy, I was so worried I would fail to wrap up all the threads I had started in the series, and I would fail to deliver a truly satisfying ending to it all, I worked myself into a panic. I had to take a break. I had to get out of my head. So I built a writing exercise for myself. I was going to try a seat-of-the-pants, no outline story, and it would be in a completely different genre, fantasy romance. I was also going to force myself not to outline by publishing it online a chapter at a time, so I could not go back and change anything. The story I wrote was the first draft of Mermaid Steel. I got to the end, and to my surprise, the story worked! My readers loved it. So I went back and added in all the things I had thought of during the writing, and it went from 60,000 to 72,000 words. I cleaned it up and sold it to my publisher. I then went back and looked at what I had to do to finish Goddess Rising. With fresh eyes, my path was clear. Critics have said the book completes the series better than they expected. One said it ends not with a bang but a boom. I also learned a lot about how to tell a romance. The next book I am working on, The Dove and the Crow, has a big romantic thread.

Q. Note to Self: (a life lesson you’ve learned.)

JH. Trust that you will never run out of ideas and will never paint yourself into a corner where you cannot find a solution (even if it is a start-over). A blank page is the most formidable adversary. Just write. Fixing it later is so much easier. Write what you know, but only research as far as you need to tell your story. Write about what you want to write about. Chasing a market trend will a) date your work into obsolescence and b) force you to write about something without your heart, which will show. Writing what you care about will show, and your readers will see this and love your work for it.

Did you miss the beginning of this beautiful interview with Jay?
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BOOKS BY TRISHA SUGAREK

Interview with UK author, Donna Ashcroft (part 2)

My walking pal, Jules

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

DA. I need to know my characters before I start writing. I start by working out who they are and what their internal issues are, i.e. what is their wound? What needs to happen in the novel for that wound to be overcome or healed. I then spend time finding pictures of my characters on Google and adding in details like eye colour, hair colour, age, upbringing. While I discover my characters as I write, I need a fair amount of detail before I get started so they can become real in my mind. Sometimes news stories, novels or movies will help to inspire a character, especially if I admire or identify with particular personality traits.

Q. What first inspired you to write?

DA. I was a huge reader when I was younger and started writing books when I was around twelve. I don’t know what originally inspired me, but I was good at writing and enjoyed escaping into stories and creating my own worlds.

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

DA. For me characters usually come first.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

DA. When things are going well, I get completely lost. I often feel like the words are coming out of my fingers rather than my brain – that’s when my subconscious takes over and almost writes for me. I love those moments but it’s not always like that!

New books are born here. “Book Planning Books”.

Q. Are you working on something now or have a new release coming up? If so tell us about it.

DA. I’m working on my summer book for 2023 at the moment and I’m about 30K words in so I’ve a way to go yet. Recently my 2022 summer novel The
Little Cornish House was published and my first novel Summer at the Castle Café was published by Sphere into paperback. My pitch for The Little Cornish House is it’s The Great Pottery Thrown Down meets The Murder Club (only without any murders).

Thirty-year-old Ruby’s life is safe and predictable: no dramas, no complications, no men. And that’s just the way she likes it – there’s no way she wants to get her heart broken again. But her whole life is turned upside down when her grandmother calls to say she’s in danger of losing her beloved little Cornish House by the sea. She needs Ruby to come back to Cornwall and save the day…You’ll find everything in this summer romance – from a gorgeous hero and heroine, to a whole host of quirky characters, pottery, cake and real ale-

One of my favs

not to mention a mystery, twists, turns and romances crossing the generations.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

DA. In 2017 I was awarded the Katie Fforde Bursary. This was a huge honour, not only to be selected as one of Katie’s promising writers, but also because all of the authors up until that point had gained a publishing deal within a couple of years. I’d been writing on top of my day job for a few years by then, but having Katie’s endorsement, and knowing I didn’t want to let her down, I went down to four days a week at work and decided to treat my writing more like a proper day job. In 2018 I was offered my first publishing contract. I think I had to make the ‘decision’ to take

getting published seriously before this would happen.
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Join us next week for the conclusion of our Interview with Donna Ashcroft 

Did you miss part 1 of our chat with Donna?
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Coming soon!  August: Jay Hartlove

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To Write or Not to Write….more Dialogue…more Description?

(Some posts deserve another airing. Thought I’d share this again from July, 2013)
Most of the authors that I have interviewed are avid readers like myself.  We seem to all agree that is what makes us better writers.   I was reading Caroline Leavitt’s,  ‘Is This Tomorrow’  and it struck me how very different our writing styles are.  Caroline writes pages of beautiful, meaningful description with a few lines of dialogue.  Much like Edna Ferber did.

My fiction has tons of dialogue (probably as a result of my being a playwright) and just enough description to set the time, location and who my characters are.  I have to repeatedly check myself to make certain that I am giving my readers enough description.

Why am I telling you about this?  I need to be sure that you realize that there is no WRONG way.  If you tend to write in story telling form, a narrative, that’s great!  If, like me, you write a lot of dialogue and let that method tell the reader what your characters are doing, what the weather is like, who just showed up at the house, who she/he is in love with, who died, (well, you get the idea).  That’s okay too.

Aspire to write better every day….but don’t worry about your ‘style’, if it turns out that an author you really respect writes differently than you do.  It’s a DIFFERENT style but that doesn’t mean that your writing style is wrong.  Or that their writing is right.  It’s just about style, and what we feel comfortable writing.

If you are more a descriptive writer be certain that you keep your paragraphs short.  Don’t ramble on and on in one paragraph.  The eye of the reader needs a rest.  

 

 And double, triple check your grammar!   

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Available Now!

Want To Publish Your Book?

NEWLY RELEASED!      I’ve just finished some final editing on my latest “How To…” book and it is now available on Amazon.com and all other book outlets.

I’ve tried to create a handbook that will lead the writer, step-by-step through the self-publishing world.  Topics such as picking the right size for your book to advice on choosing a title. Manuscript formatting tips to  recommending self-publishing programs. From royalties to creating a dynamic cover for your book. And much, much more.  

This book is available at your favorite book store and on-line. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   October: Life Coach, shaman, author, Jennifer Monahan, November: Susanne O’Leary, December: Mimi Mathews, February: Jennie Gautet
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Nora Roberts Land by Ava Miles ~~ Book Review

2 out of 5 stars     ~~   Book Review

I ordered more books by this author (hope it was not a mistake) based on the first one I had read. This offering Nora Roberts Land ruined a pretty good story.  The author kept referring to book titles by Nora Roberts and the protagonists of each story. It became very distracting, very quickly.  It smacked of: ‘See how clever I am to know all these titles and their heroes?‘  

I first suspected that this was an indie published book because the formatting was all wonky.  That’s the first clue that an author self publishes. That’s not a bad thing but the author should do their very best at formatting.  The ‘justify’ margin selection would have solved many of the wonky right margins found in this book. It was obvious to me that she had used the ‘left’ margin key. Very distracting. 

The characters were a little shallow. The plot was okay but with the many references to Nora Roberts’ characters it came across as CORNY. 
The sex scenes were lascivious rather than salacious or  scintillating. 

I never finished this book. An unheard-of thing for me.  I usually stick to the bitter end. 
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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    August: Veronica Henry, October: Life Coach, shaman, author, Jennifer Monahan, November: Susanne O’Leary, December: Mimi Mathews
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The Jenny Colgan Month ~~ Author Extraordinaire!

TS. Jenny Colgan, a Scottish lass, has a unique voice as a writer….quirky, fresh and bright. She left university in the 90s and started working for the NHS in administration, whilst always loving comedy and working on ‘funny things’- cartooning, a bit of stand up (horrible and very nerve-wracking); sketch writings and so on. She went on to write my first novel, Amanda’s Wedding, as a comedy novel and she was surprised when it got published. She’s gone on to write around 35 novels…she says she’s lost count. 

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing? (please provide a photo of you at work in your shed, room, closet, barn, houseboat….) Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

JC. I work in coffee shops, or I did before the pandemic. I like the white noise, the sense of life happening all around you; I like that you can’t stay there too long or it’s rude, and I like that they bring you a sandwich. In fact I’m just about to head off to my nearest one, which has a stunning view of Edinburgh Castle and lets me take my dog in.

Q. Do you have any special rituals or quirks when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

JC. No I think that kind of thing can be very dangerous for writers, and certainly is for wannabe writers. You end up living in an isolation box, driven mad by the noise of your own fridge. Instead, be a soldier about it and learn how to work anywhere, the way they learn to go to sleep on command.  Aeroplanes are good places to work, trains are terrific.

Once when the children were little I took them to see Chicken Run in an otherwise empty cinema. I snuck up to the back row and worked on a manuscript there. It had rather more chickens in it than my agent was expecting, but otherwise it worked absolutely fine. If I turn up ten minutes to pick up the kids from school, I can get 500 words in if I have to. Momentum is very important to novelists, so clear anything that can hold you up, like thinking you need a special notebook or whatever.

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

All written by Jenny

JC. I find writing quite easy, but I find playing the piano very difficult. I probably spend about as much time playing piano and worrying about it as I do thinking about my books.

Q. What tools do you begin with? Legal pad, spiral notebook, pencils, fountain pen, or do you go right to your keyboard?

JC. Sometimes I like to sketch my characters to get a view for what they look like and what they’re doing. If I’m a bit stuck, I’ll start drawing. I also keep a file of pictures from actors, people in the news who look a bit like my characters in my head. Otherwise it’s straight to the keyboard, wordcount at the ready. I’ll write 2,500 in a sitting or 3000 divided into two sittings depending on where I am with deadlines.

Perfect son, perfect dog

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

JC. Yeah, about 11.30am I like to start. So I have time in the morning to drink coffee, read the internet, get the kids to school, walk the dogs and take some exercise, shower, practice my scales. I’ll work till about 2 ish depending on how the word count is going.

 

 

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

Join us, May 14th,  for Part 2 of this wonderful Interview

Watch for my reviews!
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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica, March: Lee Matthew Goldberg, May: Jenny Colgan, June: Don Bentley writing for Tom Clancy.
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What Does It Look Like?…..From ‘no book’ to ‘finished book’?

write, create, writing, authors, blogRecently a fellow writer and friend asked me this question:  “What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like?”  

My first novel, Women Outside the Walls began as a full length play.  I used my play script my book outline/treatment.  As the scenario was so current (because it was a play), I found that flashbacks were a great way to flesh out each woman’s story and it served me well.

It took me a year and four months to write it, format it and edit it. That equals 72,000 words.

I did not have a deadline and it probably would have really helped. I was my own deadline setter and that didn’t work out so well. On the other hand, I think having a publisher breathing down my neck would have stifled my creative flow.  When life got in the way I wouldn’t work on it for weeks but then I would get inspired and work on it for days, weeks, non-stop, sometimes 10-14 hours a day. So I guess it all evened out.  Whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t write for a few days….you’ll make up for it with better, more relaxed creative writing.

Because I inherently ‘rush’, I found that I had to watch-dog myself and be careful not to leave out important roads of the story. I was in early proofing of the final product of my novel and realized (in a countless re-read) that I had never described my female negotiator’s physical appearance. (Yikes!).  Again, (if the writer tends to rush) go back and re-read your work to see where you need to flesh out a chapter or a character.

I am not structured at all. I write a new project in my head for days, weeks and then when my brain is about to burst I begin putting it down on paper. I also write out of sequence and I think that’s okay. My novel’s last chapter was completed months before the middle was written.

Some writers have actually written whole books while blogging; they found it less daunting by writing in segments. At the end they had a book.  If you need a deadline the days that you commit to writing a blog would serve.  For me this wouldn’t work;  I would feel too exposed having my rough draft out there for the world to see as I am a writer who slams it down the first time around and then edit, edit, delete, edit.  Did I mention that the lettering ‘D’ is worn off my ‘delete’ key?

Frequently I will begin a story that has inspired me, not knowing much about the subject. It has sometimes stopped me dead in my tracks while I researched (example: hostage negotiations).   I had 8 pages of a new play, about Winston Churchill, written and  had to stop to do research. I find that it can be done while I am writing and that is what I prefer. It’s more fun and keeps me interested. I don’t think I would do well having my research all done before I put my story down. I find that the research itself inspires my story line.

WRITE WITHOUT FEAR
EDIT WITHOUT MERCY

And then there is that unseen, unheard phenomenon where, with any luck, the characters take over and you become the typist.   This has happened to me time and again, and while I resisted at first (being a control-freak) I now embrace and welcome it.  In Women Outside the Walls my character Alma, at sixteen, is abandoned by her promiscuous mother.  Alma is befriended by the ex-girl friend of the man Alma had a teen crush on.  They end up being room mates.  I could never have dreamed that one up;  but my characters got together and decided that this was what they would to do.

I don’t think that there is a right or wrong way to go through the process. Each writer should be unique in how they work. Instead of thinking of it as a project/deadline ‘thing’; think of it as a work of art, created just for you and by you. Where possible, let the characters lead you. They will never steer you wrong!

well, there you have it…the process such as it is and how it works for me.   

(Originally published January, 2013.)

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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!     December: Lauren Willig, January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica, March: Lee Matthew Goldberg, May: Jenny Colgan
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Interview with Sci-fi Author, Lee Matthew Goldberg

Lee Matthew Goldberg is the author of the novels THE ANCESTOR, THE MENTOR, THE DESIRE CARD and SLOW DOWN. He has been published in multiple languages and nominated for the Prix du Polar. His first YA series RUNAWAY TRAIN is forthcoming in 2021 along with a sci-fi novel ORANGE CITY. After graduating with an MFA from the New School, his writing has also appeared in many other publications.  He is the co-curator of The Guerrilla Lit Reading Series and lives in New York City. Follow him at LeeMatthewGoldberg.com

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing?  Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

LMG. When the weather is nice, I normally write at a tree in Central Park. I’ve written all my books there. It helps me to be in fresh air and around nature, especially living in NYC. So, usually I’m there from April through November. My dream work space would be having my own backyard or even a terrace to write. If we’re already fantasizing, a terrace overlooking Central Park would be pretty great. I’ll have to sell a lot more books to get that, though.

Q. Do you have any special rituals or quirks when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

LMG. Not really. I try to put away my phone so I won’t be distracted. And I write best when I’m in nature. All I need is my laptop. Sometimes I listen to music, but not as much as I used to. Living in New York, the energy of the city really inspires me, but I also need the quiet of nature. I’ll sit on the grass, take off my socks and shoes, and usually spend most afternoons writing that way.

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

LMG. I love to travel. It helps inspire me. This past year has been difficult without traveling, so I’ve had to find inspiration in other ways. Oftentimes, I work travel into my writing. A book I was working on took place in the jungles of the Amazon so I traveled there once for research. It helped immensely because it would’ve been very hard to write about the jungle without experiencing it firsthand: the sounds, the smells, the feel. It would’ve come off phony to me. Part of another one of my books took place in Morocco, so I went there as well.

Release date: March 16th

Q. What tools do you begin with? Legal pad, spiral notebook, pencils, fountain pen, or do you go right to your keyboard?

LMG. Sometimes I outline first, but usually on the computer too. Once I have a chapter outline set up, I begin. Although, the book has likely marinated in my head for a while by then. It could be in my head for years before I start writing. With very early ideas I used to jot them down in a notepad, or sometimes I would even call my voicemail if I was out and had a great idea. Now I use the Notepad app, which makes it so much easier to jot down ideas.

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

LMG. I’m best in the afternoons, so 1pm – 5pm is my ideal writing time. I’ll edit what I wrote the day before in the mornings and sometimes at night. Again, since I work outside a lot it’s usually the best time to catch the light.

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

LMG. Set a work schedule that works for you. Try to find inspiration. Don’t force it too much if it’s not there. Resist your phone and going online. Find a space that you can be the most productive. Also, it’s important to find people in your life that can give you honest feedback. Early on in my career before I was really published, it meant so much to have friends and other writers give notes. Sometimes people you know who are just good readers can give the best advice. My parents were always very supportive in my writing growing up so I had them read drafts of early works.

Join us for Part II of this insightful Interview
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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    November: Ella Quinn, December: Lauren Willig,
January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica, March: Lee Matthew Goldberg
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