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Today I’m talking writing with Sharon Zink at The Book Diner. Check it out.

This week’s Book Diner interviewee is the wonderful Bonnie Dodge. Bonnie is a veteran writer, with a stack of books under her belt. I first became aware of her work since I am friends with her author son, Trevor Dodge, who I interviewed recently. Literary talent clearly is part of the Dodge family gene and Bonnie has such amazing insights from her long experience as an author that I found myself pretty much agreeing with everything she said! Her books also sound right up my alley, so I can’t wait to start reading them all! Enjoy!





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Words of encouragement are flooding social media this month. Words like hope, peace, love, respect, patience, and even no. As a writer, I’d like to offer another. Self-sabotage. That thing many writers do to avoid moving forward.

I’m not the queen of sabotage, but I know how to procrastinate. Take this book I’ve been working on for almost twenty years. Ten years ago I shopped this book around thinking it was finished. But clearly it wasn’t or I’d be collecting royalties instead of avoiding revisions.

Why isn’t it finished? It isn’t because I don’t know how to write or deliver a product. It isn’t that I don’t love the idea of this book, I do. The only reason I can offer is that I’ve gotten in the habit of avoiding this project. Every time I set out to finish this book something gets in the way. Here are some of the ways I’ve sabotaged the completion of this book.

1) I can’t work on this book until I finish xxx. Insert clean the house, take the dogs for a walk, or do the laundry.

Life is messy and has a way of getting in the way of writing. There will always be something else that needs attention. Pretending I can’t write until the dishwasher is loaded only prolongs the project. Instead of waiting until everything is done, I need to make working on this project a priority. First thing in the morning I need to sit down and revise a chapter. Before anything else. Waiting until I have a big chunk of time to work isn’t the answer and is just a lazy excuse.

2) I need to do more research.

After twenty years I should have more than enough information to finish this book. And if I don’t I can make it up. After all, it’s fiction, not non-fiction.

3) I don’t have the skills to write this story.

Recently I listened to Alice Hoffman discuss writing. She said a writer needs to write every day. Only by writing every day do you become a better writer. So stop waiting until you have the skill level you seek. Start writing and it will come.

4) It’s not perfect, so why bother.

Good writing is revisions, lots of them. Anne Lamott says write a messy first draft. Get the story down and then do the work of revisions. That’s where skill and magic happen, in the honing of words.

5) I need feedback on this chapter before I continue.

Maybe, but probably not. Even if you are lucky enough to have friends and family who offer to read your work and comment, this can be a big way to sabotage your writing. Reading is subjective and you will get good comments and bad comments. The time for constructive feedback is after the book is done. When you know the ending of your story, you’re better equipped to identify weak plot points and motivation. Too much advice while you’re being creative and writing can stop your story dead. Rely on your gut and trust the process.

6) I’m not smart enough to write this story.

If that is true, than put it away and work on something else. Just because you don’t feel adequate to complete this story doesn’t mean you can’t produce a sexier, better story. Learn to let go. Not everything you write is golden.

7) I need to turn off the internal editor.

Often the fear of failing, or even the fear of succeeding, can prevent me from finishing a project. Yes, criticism is scary. But it’s part of the process. Don’t let fear prevent you from achieving your goal. Writing can be scary, learn to work through the fear.

8) I can’t write until I get in the mood.

The longer you work as a writer the more it becomes a job and there are days you won’t want to go to work. Waiting for the mood to strike could mean days without writing, a sure way to shoot yourself in the foot. Many times I sit down to write, in a bad mood because I don’t want to write that day, and like magic my muse shows up and I produce some pretty amazing stuff. If you want to be a good writer, write even when you don’t want to. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

9) Illness gets in the way.

My goal for 2017 is to finish this book. I had a good start, with four chapters revised before I ended up in the hospital with a nasty gallbladder. See, I told my son, this book doesn’t want to be finished. And, yes, sometimes I feel like that. But the book isn’t the writer, I am the writer, and no one else is going to finish this book but me.

Self-sabotage diminishes passion and energy. It’s just an excuse to keep you from moving forward. If you’re in the habit of self-sabotaging yourself, try to identify why. Then work toward reaching your goal. You’re in control. Only you can do it.

Meet Kathleen Irene Paterka

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Kathleen Irene Paterka by Anora O'Connor, 300 dpiKathleenIrenePaterka_TheOtherWife_1400

Kathy and I met years ago on an on-line writers’ group called GIAM. The writers in this group are my go-to pals when I get stumped or need writing advice. It is my pleasure to introduce Kathleen Irene Paterka, a prolific writer, even with a day job.

1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

I can’t remember a time that I didn’t want to be a writer. My mother got me my own library card when I was six years old. I remember being fascinated with having all those books available to me, and I couldn’t imagine a better world than being surrounded by books. When I was about 8 years old, I fell in love with the Trixie Belden series. I decided then and there that I would grow up and write more Trixie Belden books. My parents got me a typewriter for Christmas, and I was hooked.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

 I’m up early every morning, at 5 am. By 6:30 am, I’m at the computer and my timer is set. For the next two hours, I concentrate on my current work-in-progress. Marketing and social media also take a considerable amount of time, but I prefer to do that in the evening hours. I do have a day job, just as most writers do (95%, in fact). Mine is rather unique: I’m staff writer at a real American castle where I’m surrounded by romance and royalty. It’s a wonderful life.

3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

My rough draft is where the story magic happens. I am a pantster. When I start writing the rough draft, I’ve done research on my characters, but plot-wise, I usually only know the beginning, the ending, and ‘something-that-happens-in-the-middle’. The rough draft normally takes me 8-12 months (for a 400 page novel), and it’s very complete. I’ll end up with perhaps another 3 drafts, normally done to edit and polish.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

The best AND the worst thing are actually the same thing; it was a rejection letter I received from a well-known editor at a highly respected publishing company. She told me that while she and her assistant editor loved my novel For I Have Sinned, she had to turn me down; the company’s marketing department had informed her that they couldn’t figure out ‘how to sell the book’ because it crossed genres (women’s fiction, inspirational, romance, Christian fiction). When I initially received the rejection letter, I was devastated… but only for a few moments. I realized that the editor had actually given me some very good advice. She told me that many novels which were excellent works had crossed her desk, but ultimately had to be turned down for one reason or another. The editor urged me to find a home for the novel; she felt it was that good, and she suggested that I think seriously about indie-publishing the book. That was the beginning of my career as an indie-author, and I have never looked back. My novel For I Have Sinned went on to final in a few prestigious writing contests, and has received numerous five star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. For I Have Sinned is the book of my heart and I am very proud of it.

5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

I love the rough draft, getting to know the characters, and falling in love with the story line. Being a pantster, I don’t have things plotted on a story board (that would bore me to tears!). So when I’m writing and something exciting or unexpected happens on the page, I’m as thrilled as the reader who’s seeing it for the first time. The thing I hate the most about writing is the editing process. I subscribe to the theory of ‘more is better’, which means I usually end up having to cut lots of words (read: ‘redundant’) from my latest work. I hate seeing words, phrases, paragraphs, and sometimes whole scenes that I worried over eventually end up deleted from the final draft.

6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?

I love a good, emotional read. When searching for a new book, I turn to women’s fiction authors such as Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner, Elizabeth Berg, and Eileen Goudge. All of them are superb storytellers. I also love anything by Stephen King. He is, without doubt, a living literary icon. His masterpiece 11/22/63 is one of my favorite books of all time. When I’m writing a rough draft, I’m careful not to read the type of work that I’m writing (I don’t want to fall under the influence of my favorite writers, and be accused of plagiarism). I often turn to biographies instead.

7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

The best advice? “Never, never never quit” (from an author friend, who was quoting Winston Churchill). This is a devastatingly hard business, and you have to find the courage deep inside to keep going, even when those around you are urging you to give it up. The worst advice I ever got came from an editor at a publishing company who told me that I should quit writing… that while I had considerable talent, my voice was ‘scattered’ and unmarketable, and that I should give up and quit wasting my time. Her words served to inspire me to be even more determined to prove her wrong.

8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

The author Stephen King, because he is not afraid to take chances. He writes for himself; he tells himself a story, and then sets it free in the world for readers to embrace (or not). I like the idea of telling myself a story. I’m writing for myself. If I’m not interested in what’s happening on the page, why should I expect that my readers would be?

9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

The bottom of my computer monitor is lined with scribbled sticky-notes and quotes clipped from inspirational books. They keep me going when my spirits flag. My favorite quote: “Do your work well. Write the stories you were meant to tell.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

People fascinate me. I always wanted to be a talk show hostess. When I was growing up, I used to practice by interviewing myself.

11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

“Hope and keep busy.” I don’t think we can do more than that. The quote is from Marme, of Little Women (by Louise May Alcott), which is one of my all-time favorite books.

12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

I’m currently researching for my next book, which will be a return to James Bay, the fictional resort community, which is the setting for my first four books (Fatty Patty, Home Fires, Lotto Lucy and For I Have Sinned). The book is about Chuck’s Tavern and Grill, and centers on the restaurant owner, Chuck, who was featured in the other James Bay novels. Each chapter in the new book will feature its own recipe. I’m excited about being able to play with the customers who frequent the restaurant, and involving characters from my earlier James Bay novels.

13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

Nothing. I don’t believe in do-overs. I think that we all are given one chance, at each particular moment of our lives, and everything we are, everything we become, hinges on the choices we have made in the past. I am very content with the woman that I am, and the life that I lead. I surround myself with positive people, and I love my life. If I’d had a do-over, I wouldn’t be the same ‘Kathleen Irene Paterka’ that I am today…. But I love who I am. I wouldn’t want it any different.

14) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Don’t give up. Work hard, work smart, work tirelessly. Be tough, be brave and be persistent. All clichés… but when they apply to you and how much you want to realize your dream, they are very appropriate.

15) Something we don’t know about you?

I have a newsletter which hosts a monthly contest (a free giveaway) for subscribers. Sign up for my newsletter (I promise not to flood your In-box with emails!), and you could win a print copy of any of my books.

And: what’d you like us to know about your latest release:

The Other Wife is a women’s fiction novel that deals with issues of death, grief, resentment and revenge. It tells the story of Eleanor and Claire, two women who are horrified to find themselves both married to the same man. The novel begins in Eleanor’s point of view who wakes to find her husband Richard dead in bed beside her. Eleanor, married to Richard for 38 years, is devastated by the discovery. She’s even more horrified to discover, at the end of Chapter One, that Richard was keeping a deep dark secret, and has left all his money to another woman. In Chapter Two, we meet Claire, a 30ish professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. It’s not long into the book before Claire learns that her husband Richard has died… and not only is he dead, he left behind an earlier wife… a valid marriage to another woman. The discovery that her marriage is a sham is a horrible blow to Claire. While Richard has left her all his money, Eleanor is the one who has the title of Richard’s wife, something Claire thought was hers alone. How these two women come to terms with ‘the other wife’ is the basis for the story.

Website:                             http://kathleenirenepaterka.com/

Blog:                                   http://kathleenirenepaterka.com/blog/

Newsletter:                        http://kathleenirenepaterka.com/for-readers/

Facebook:                          https://www.facebook.com/KathleenIrenePaterka

Twitter:                               https://twitter.com/KPaterka

Pinterest:                            https://www.pinterest.com/kathleenpaterka/

Amazon Author Page:      http://www.amazon.com/Kathleen-Irene-Paterka/e/B0081KP1YQ/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Goodreads:                        https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5826393.Kathleen_Irene_Paterka

Find Kathleen’s latest novel here.

Cheryl Strayed appearing tonight in Boise

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This blog might fall under the topic of why you should attend writing conferences because that’s where I met Cheryl Strayed, at a writing workshop in Oregon. That was before Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail took off, before Cheryl appeared on Oprah, and before Cheryl revealed her identity as the author of the “Dear Sugar” columns in The Rumpus. Soft-spoken with a captivating smile, Cheryl looked anything but wild the day I met her.

That was a couple of years ago and today Cheryl’s coming to Idaho. For some of you lucky ticket holders, you’ll get to spend part of today and tonight with Cheryl, and I’m betting you’ll go home supercharged and eager to write. I know I was after hearing her speak about writing from a fearless place. She was inspiring, saying the best writers dare to tell the whole, complicated, beautiful and ugly truth. Write, even if you never get published. Write what’s in your heart. Stay true and stay genuine. Do what you can to support other writers.

Today Cheryl will be in Boise, Idaho. Tomorrow she’ll be in Helena, Montana. And then it’s on to Washington before she returns to her home in Portland. Since her memoir Wild took off, Cheryl’s been on the go talking with writers about writing and taking risks. If, like me, you can’t attend Cheryl’s reading today in Boise, go out and buy her books. Or make a trip to the library. She’s an author you don’t want to miss.


Say Hello to the funny A. K. Turner

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I write a lot ofCORNDOG_Cover_onTemp_220pgsOLF things, but humor isn’t one of them. Writing “funny” is hard work, but A. K. Turner makes it look so easy. Her latest book, Hair of the Corn Dog, releases today. Both members of the Idaho Writers Guild, we love to talk writing. Here’s something about Amanda you may not know:

15 things you may not know about A. K. Turner

 1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

I don’t feel like I had much choice in the matter. My route may have at times been circuitous, but I think this is where I was always headed. My father is a writer, so I had a sense early on of the realities of the writing life. I still had to come to writing in my own way and in my own time, though, which meant a solid decade of the starving artist gig. I waited tables and cleaned houses for years before I found my genre and really started moving forward in my writing career.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

I don’t work on a book every day, but when I do, it is regimented. I map out my progress on a calendar and I stick to it. When I’m writing a first draft, I write 5,000 words per work day. I don’t write on weekends. I have kids and they deserve my full attention during that time, though chances are I might write a little something, even if just an email to a friend or idea for a blog post. If it’s a day when I have a word goal, I don’t allow myself to do much else until that goal is met. The fact that I take breaks in between projects and take my weekends off helps me stay disciplined during my work days.

3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished? 

It varies for each book. I write my first draft very fast, then rewrite two or three times before sending it to my editor. She sends back what is by then a fourth draft. We volley it back and forth. It’s usually on its sixth draft when I send it to my beta readers. I incorporate their comments for an eighth draft that goes back to the editor. Hell, let’s just call it an even ten.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

The best thing for my writing career was impending motherhood. When pregnant with my first child, I felt terrified that I’d missed my chance, that now that I was going to be a mother, I’d never be a writer. That was the kick in the pants that I needed. I’m not sure I can think of the worst thing for my writing career. Even things that seem like they were negative (rejections, disappointments, typos) all help shape the present and future. There is no worst thing.

5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

I love the excitement of beginning a new project, the sense of accomplishment at completing something, the space in the middle when you realize your project has legs. I also love that it no longer costs me money to be a writer, which is how it felt for the longest time. I hate horrible reviews and try not to read them. That’s a learned skill.

6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?

I like to read almost anything I can get my hands on. If you looked at my nightstand (but please, stay out of my bedroom) you’d see a collection of short stories, a book of essays, a nature narrative, an epic historical novel, and a lesson on craft. I recently finished books in sci-fi, mystery/thriller, a few that I’d consider literary fiction, and another book on craft. I hate assigning these labels, because most books fit more than one category. I always read, whether I’m working on a book or not. That said, I don’t usually read another female humorist while working on a humor project of my own. Favorite authors: Flannery O’Connor, John Irving, Wally Lamb, Jeffrey Eugenides. Other books I adore: Stephen King’s On Writing, Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop.

7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

Best advice: “Time is going to march on no matter what. In five years, you’ll be five years older. You can be five years older having written a book, or not having written a book, but you’re going to be five years older, either way.” Sometimes I think of this but play with the number. I make it one year or ten and think of what I want to accomplish in that time. Not that writing should be rushed, but life is short. 

Worst advice: “You must write every day.” People take this too seriously. So what if someone else writes 2,000 words every day of the year? Every writer is different, so it makes no sense to latch on to rules that work for someone else. There are no rules, this isn’t football. Every writer whose habits you try to emulate had major faults of their own. Hemingway shot himself in the head. Instead of trying to be Hemingway, find your own path. It’ll likely be less messy.

8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

When I realized that there were people who actually made a living writing humor essays, I knew I’d found my genre. I read David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley, Bill Bryson, and Laurie Notaro, among others. In terms of developing my own style, my husband Mike and my editor Elizabeth Day have been and continue to be extremely helpful in identifying the strengths and weaknesses in my writing. Identifying those aspects and using that knowledge going forward is, in my mind, one way a writer develops her personal style.

9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

I’m not superstitious at all, though I do believe I’ve been very lucky in life. Every writer needs talent, tenacity, and a little bit of luck.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I’d like to say Federal Agent or Homicide Detective. But if we’re talking about reality, I’d clean houses, something I did a lot of before writing full time. I can clean a toilet like nobody’s business.

11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

Every day in which I read, write, laugh, and move is a good day.

12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

I want to continue writing humor, but replace the element of alcohol with travel. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a drink at the end of the day, but in terms of genre, the drinking mommy thing has been done, and I’m ready to move on to something else. We have a trip planned to Australia later this year and I’m working on some preliminary research. The working title is Tasmania with Children and Other Devils.

13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

I’d write more and read more. Other than that, I think dwelling on what I could have done or should have done is a big waste of time. I’m always looking forward.

14) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Everything takes practice. A person practicing the piano doesn’t view that practice time as wasted music notes. Writers need to give themselves permission to write things that never go anywhere, pieces they’ll never show to anyone else. You need that practice and those are not wasted words. We battle this a lot when others ask us about our work. We feel compelled to answer that we’re working on something that is ultimately marketable: a book, magazine article, short story. There’s nothing wrong with working on the writing itself without an end goal in mind. When an athlete exercises, that’s as much a part of their job as playing in the big game. The same is true for writers, whether or not your friends, family, and acquaintances understand that.

15) Something we don’t know about you?

I took flying lessons in a Piper J-3 Cub for about a year when I was a teenager, but never got my license. I worked on two seasons of the television show Survivor. I also worked on a movie, during which I met a shirtless Matthew McConaughey, but who hasn’t?

And: what’d you like us to know about your latest release:

Hair of the Corn Dog is the third book in my “Tales of Imperfection” series. It’s a collection of essays that center on the adventures of family and motherhood, like going to a drag show with your in-laws. But again, who hasn’t? Fans of the first two books, This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store and Mommy Had a Little Flask, will enjoy it. Those offended by raw honesty and four-letter words will not. I’ll be reading and signing on Thursday, March 20th at 6:30 pm at Rediscovered Books in Boise.

Are you transparent?

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A couple of years ago I was attending a writer’s retreat and our assignment was to write a Christmas vignette. When it came time to share, I was frustrated–to cop a cliche–to tears. I had no Christmas memories, no stories to share, and that left me feeling empty inside.

Since then, I’ve tried to be more present in my life, to pay more attention, and here’s what I’ve discovered. I am an observer, rarely a participant. People fascinate me and I love to watch them. I am transparent. Joyce Carol Oates explains it beautifully in this interview. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/06/video-joyce-carol-oates.html?mbid=social_retweet

Phew, for a writer, I’m normal.

Combating self-doubt

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Everything I write sucks. My characters talk like robots. No one’s going to read this crap. I need more coffee, something to eat. I could be hanging out with friends, but, no, here I sit in this chair and stare at this stupid blank screen. I’m never going to be a writer. 

Sound familiar? If you’ve been writing as long as I have, I’m sure you’ve struggled with the same feelings. Self-doubt is a killer. It will eat you up and squash your creativity. Instead of feeling like a failure, I should be walking in the clouds. I should be dancing, laughing and singing. The book I’ve been working on forever is finished. I did it. An editor is looking at it now. But instead of celebrating, I’m second-guessing. What if my plot stinks? What if my characters lack depth? What if she hates it?

I’ve been writing for years. I’ve even had some of my work published, and yet, I still haven’t found a way to combat self-doubt. This week I discovered two things that help.


First, I finally made time to read Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. Carolyn’s book has been on my to read list for more than ten years. Over the weekend I picked up a copy and as I turn the pages, I find myself cursing. Why did I wait so long?

“Pretend to be a writer,” Carolyn urges. “Do Some Magic.” A writer and a teacher, Carolyn believes in practicing affirmations: I can. I am a good writer. This is going to be a great day. She got me thinking. What kind of magic could I create if just for once I believed I could instead of insisting that I can’t?

I have a picture on my desk a writing buddy gave me years ago. It says IMAGINE, and I have pasted a page from the New York Times Book Review of Best Sellers there, penciling my name in as number one. What a joke. I’m never going to hit the New York best sellers list.

No, I’m not. Not if I don’t try. Not if I believe I can’t. But what if I believed I could? Just today one of my friends hit #1 in free Kindle books. It can happen.

My other tool to combat self-doubt is Owen Egerton’s uplifting article in The Huffington Post, Type So Hard You Bruise The Screen”, which you can read here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/owen-egerton/type-so-hard-you-bruise-t_b_3052750.html. He begins his article, Write. Now. Go. In Jack Kerouac style, he offers a list of points for prose. Several of them speak to me including No. 16, which says: Do not write from answers. Write from questions. Discover more questions. Our work is not to explain the mystery, but to expand it. His No. 28 made me laugh because several years ago I quit my “day job” believing I could make a living as a writer. Owen says: If you write because you believe the world needs you, you’ll soon discover we don’t. If you write because you are so naturally talented you must, you’ll soon discover you are not. If you write for money… I’m chuckling at you. None of these reasons will sustain you. Listen. Are you called to write? Then write.

I particularly like No. 30: Writing is both holy and meaningless. That’s all the pressure and freedom you need.

Writing is so much harder than it looks. It’s exhilarating to create new worlds and characters, but it’s also exhausting. Are the commas in the right place? Who or whom? Am I showing and not telling? So many rules to follow, so many mistakes to make. But at the end of the day, I can’t fall asleep until I’ve faced the blank screen and did my best, because, in my heart, I’m a writer.

I’ve pasted Owen’s article to my monitor, and my copy of Carolyn’s book rests between my dictionary and thesaurus. I have a fresh cup of coffee, my butt’s in the chair and I’m looking at the screen. I’m ready to Write. Now. Go. This is a bright new morning. I’ve looked in the mirror and recited: I am a writer. I will have a productive day. I say it again. I am a writer. I will have a productive day.


How to Write a Compelling Story

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Shortly after seeing the musical, Les Misérables, I ran across this post by Joe Bunting:  How to Write a Story Like Les Miserables


It started me thinking. Why do some stories like Les Misérables, Jane Eyre, and Moby Dick have such staying power? They were written over a hundred years ago. What makes them so compelling artists find new ways to retell them, over and over again?

Bunting believes five elements make a story compelling.

  1. Your character has to change. He calls this test transformation. We want to see how characters change, how they struggle to become better.
  2. Write about something with historic significance like the revolutionary war, or some other life-changing event for a country, not just one person.
  3. Have a big cast, many characters people can relate to. Instead of a story about one man’s journey, create a story about many character’s journeys.
  4. Show what your characters want. Give every character an arc. This gives us more characters to root for. To use Bunting’s example: Jean Val Jean wants to be righteous. (man against self) Inspector Javert wants to catch Jean Val Jean. (man against man) Cosette wants a loving family. Marius wants both Cosette and the revolution. (man against society) Éponine wants Marius, and The Thénardiers want money.
  5. Sacrifice Everything. In his book The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler calls this rebirth. A character who risks everything for a virtuous goal, including his life, returns a hero and someone worthy of respect.

In school we’re taught there are three story types: man against man, man against society, and man against self. If a writer can incorporate all three, his story has a better chance of being compelling, one others will want to relate over and over again.

The next time you sit down to write, ask yourself, why is this story important? What can I add to make it more compelling? Then pick up your pen and begin to write.

-Bonnie Dodge

Two of my favorite authors Anne Lamott and Cheryl Strayed discuss life and writing

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Every time I sit down to write, I feel like a failure. Check out this great video. It looks like I’m in good company!

Anne Lamott and Cheryl Strayed


Not in the mood to write

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This is floating all over Facebook today. See, I’m not the only one with this problem.

I’m not in the mood to write

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I’d be more productive if I always felt like writing. This is ironic because before I wrote fulltime, I was always in the mood to write. Storylines popped into my head while I waited on customers. Characters evolved as I placed potatoes and marshmallows in my shopping cart. But now that writing is my day job, I find that I’m rarely in the mood to sit down and write.

What happened? Just because I changed careers it’s suddenly okay to stop working because I’m not in the mood?  What lame excuse is that? I was a bank officer for many years and not once did I call my boss and say, “I’m not in the mood to come to work today.”

Writing is my job, not my hobby, and books don’t write themselves, even though many days I wish they would. So I’ve found a way to write when I don’t feel like working. Maybe some of these tricks will help you write when you’re not in the mood.

1. Listen to music. Days when writing words is like pulling weeds, I turn on Dr. Jeffrey Thompson’s Creative Mind System and place my fingers on the keyboard. Within ten minutes I’ve forgotten that I’m not in the mood to write, and soon my fingers are flying across the keyboard.

2. If I’m having a really uncreative day, I light a candle—something light and airy to help me relax and put me in a more creative mood.

3. I allow my self ONE game of spider solitaire, and then I start writing. I cannot play another game of solitaire UNTIL I have met my word count for the day.

4. When I go to bed at night, I decide what I will work on the next day. I’ll know what distractions I have to attend to (doctor appointments, etc.) and plan accordingly. Then, when I get up the next morning I know what I have to accomplish that day.

5. I try to exercise regularly. I feel better when I’m exercising, and handle stress better when I feel good, which makes writing easier on days I don’t want to write.

6. I schedule my writing time. Generally, I can squeeze out one thousand words in an hour if I allow myself no distractions. If I set myself a goal of three thousand words, I know I must schedule three hours of writing time to meet that goal. Writing time, not computer time, and then I write until I’ve met my word count.

7. I work on more projects than one at a time, and often I feel overwhelmed, which puts me in a lousy mood. To combat this, I’ve started making daily and weekly to-do lists. The story due by the end of the week is listed as number one. The article or essay I want to write before the end of the month is listed as number two. The novel that I’m working on is number three. I give myself assignments. The urgent work gets priority, which makes it easier to meet deadlines.

8. I try to write every day. If I miss a day, I find it’s harder to get back into my story.  Writing is like playing the piano. My work is better when I practice, and often I find that the mere act of writing puts me in a more creative mood.

9. If I get stalled at the beginning of a story, I work on a different scene, anything to get my fingers moving. Author and screenwriter Robert McKee advises to write from the inside out. I don’t always have to start at the beginning. I can start in the middle, or even at the end.

10. I try to eliminate distractions like the Internet, radio and TV. My mind works better when it isn’t cluttered with a bunch of mindless noise.

11. I remind myself that I’m a professional. Professionals work no matter what their mood. And then I remind myself how lucky I am to be able to do what I love.

What do you do to get into the mood to write?

The End

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I’ve just finished writing the ending paragraph to my latest novel. My head is numb; my butt is numb and for a moment I’m elated. It feels SO GOOD to reach the end of this journey. I call a friend to celebrate because she knows how exhilarating it is to write The End. But the minute I hang up the phone my emotions plunge back to reality. This is just the first draft. The nuts and blots of the story are in place. Maybe. Now comes the arduous task of editing and revising.
Some of my writer friends can whip out a book in six months, some even three. But this book has been percolating for several years. I have a file folder three inches thick of scenes I’ve deleted, or research I want to include, or should I say wanted to include as the story morphed to an end. My characters names have changed; I’ve honed their actions and reactions. I know them better than I know my siblings. But still, this book really isn’t finished.
Thus is the task of a writer. Formulating an idea strong enough to carry a book, writing more than 100,000 words. Writing, rewriting and rewriting. I’m not complaining. I love my job. I am so grateful to have friends and family who support my writing and me. I can’t think of a better way to end this year by typing THE END, knowing 2012 is just around the corner, and that this is really just the beginning. Thank you all so much for your support. You have no idea how much you mean to me as I hole away to write my stories.

May Santa bring you everything you want, especially a prosperous New Year.

The Writers’ Block and Me

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Please join Amanda Turner, host and producer of The Writers’ Block and me as we discuss my books and writing this Thursday, March 10 at 1 p. m. MT. Listen live at http://www.RadioBoise.org. If you miss the broadcast, you can listen to it here.

So, What Have You Published?

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Tell people you’re a writer, and the first thing they ask is, “What have you published?” There are lots of ways to answer this question, but I really like award-winning author and blogger John Shore’s observations on the book publishing industry. Check out his recent Huffington Post blog, “Why You Want a Big Book Publisher to Reject Your Book.” Being a writer is not the same as being published and here are some of the reasons why.

2010 Idaho Writer’s League Writer of the Year Award

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Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Emily Dickinson

Talk to any writer and they will tell you that their writing efforts often go unnoticed. For every book/article that is sold, there are a dozen more waiting to be discovered. Writers understand this. They know the road to publication, recognition, and fame is long and painful. That’s why you’ll often hear writers joke about sticking their head in an oven or opening a vein.

I read somewhere that a writer must write over a million words before they have mastered the craft well enough to be considered a serious writer. Contrary to what some believe, writers don’t just sit down at a keyboard and the words pour out in logical sentences. A writer-friend’s impatient husband often asks her when she is in her office hunched over her keyboard pondering just the right word, “What are you doing in there?”

Most of the time what “we are doing in there” is trying to make sense of the words, voices, and stories that pop randomly into our head. I once labored thirty-six hours over a scene, only to delete it with one keystroke the next week. Because, when it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and no amount of superfluous words will make it better.

But sometimes it does work. And when it does, it makes up for all those long, lonely, and frustrating hours at the keyboard.

That’s why, when I received the 2010 Writer of the Year award from the Idaho Writer’s League, I felt a tinge of satisfaction. Of all the Idaho Writer’s League members in Idaho, my work stood out.

I may not be a best-selling author like John Grisham or Nora Roberts. But I am a writer. And now I have an award to hang on my wall to prove it.

Journey Stories . . . Coming to America

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Some people shake their heads when I tell them where I live. They know where Twin Falls is, but they have no clue where to find Jerome, Idaho.
Jerome is eleven miles northwest of Twin Falls, or as locals say, “North of the river.” Jerome is smaller, and not as busy as Twin, but Jerome has its distinct advantages.
Take for example the Smithsonian Institution’s exhibition “Journey Stories.” This traveling exhibition is slated to visit up to 30 states and 180 communities through 2015. In Idaho, Jerome is one of two towns hosting the exhibition. The other town is Hailey.

Mobility is part of our American heritage. “Journey Stories” will try to answer some of the questions surrounding our mobility. Where are you from? What is your story? Why do we move? How do we move? Do you think changes in transportation have changed us as a nation? Why would people need to think about moving or exploring?

My own family moved from Bismarck, North Dakota, to Twin Falls, Idaho, in 1959 because my father hoped for a better job working as a serviceman for Sears. Coming from a farming community, Idaho seems to suit my family well. My parents are deceased, but my brothers and I still reside in Idaho. We have moved away from Twin Falls, but not very far. We seem tied to the land and the many adventures living in Idaho brings.

How did your grandparents come to America? Why did they come? If you have a travel story you would like to share, go to Journey Stories and share your story. And if you are near Jerome, Idaho, in December, drop by the Jerome Public Library anytime after December 11, 2010, to see this memorable exhibition.

Balancing life

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Those who know me know that I don’t write in July and August. Because, for me, writing requires that I set myself apart, enter a dreamlike world that creates a positive place where words and ideas flow. This is a selfish place and doesn’t accommodate “What’s for dinner?” or “Where are my shoes?” Some writers can write even when distracted, and I envy them, but when I sit down to write, I lose track of time. I forget to eat. I don’t like interruptions. And in July and August when my grandsons visit, I want to bake cookies, go swimming, and play.
This leads me to the topic of this post, balancing life and setting priorities. Today I’m sitting in my son’s living room in Hillsboro, Oregon, hanging with my grandsons while my son and daughter-in-law spend some much needed time alone. In a couple of days I will be back home, and back at my keyboard. As I check email and plan my September schedule, I am overwhelmed. One friend has uploaded a book to Smashwords, and is already selling copies. Another has sent a manuscript to her list of dream agents. Another is blogging about her latest release. Another is designing a trailer for her new book. When I look at everything my peers are doing, I feel inadequate, like a slack, because the only writing I have done in two months is write a blog.
If it sounds like I’m whining, I want you to know that I’m not. I’m just stating the facts. July and August belong to my family, and I have learned to schedule my writing time accordingly. Along with this, I’ve learned to use my time wisely, to be present in the moment so I don’t look back and say, “I wish I had . . ..”
Laurie Halse Anderson, the successful author of Speak, Prom, and Wintergirls touches on this topic in her own blog today. Laurie’s blog is thought-provoking not only for writers, but for everyone. Basically, it boils down to deciding what’s important, and then making time for it.
If you struggle with finding time to do something you love, hop over to Laurie’s blog (http://tinyurl.com/36eqzvk) for some wonderful suggestions to make that happen.

Bronte Sisters Rock

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I was probably ten years old when I first read Jane Eyre. I followed that quickly with Wuthering Heights, and even wrote a paper on the light and dark elements in Wuthering Heights when I was in college. These books remain my all time favorites, my go to books when I want to be transported. I still read them today, even though they were written over 150 years ago. I could go on and on about these wonderful classics, but I won’t. Instead, I’d like to share a video link my friend, Robin Lee Hatcher, posted on Facebook today. She did not make the video, she was just passing it on because it’s too good not to share. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NKXNThJ610

Finding Your Voice Workshop this weekend

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The Other Bunch is putting the finishing touches to our Finding Your Voice workshop that will be held April 17 in Twin Falls, Idaho. We are excited to have bestselling author Joanne Pence as our guest speaker. Her books have been USA Today and Independent Mystery Bookstore Association bestsellers. Author of more than thirteen books, Joanne will lead a workshop on how to find your own unique voice.
Other workshops will include Tools to Fire up your Creativity, Memoirs: Who has to Right to Write One which includes family histories, Creating Sparks and Banning Doubts, and The Writer’s Life.
If you’ve ever had the desire to write, this workshop is for you. You can find out more about the workshop here.

Ten Rules for Writing

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It’s cold in Idaho. I’m in my office wrapped in a blanket, trying to type with gloves on. Yes, my furnace works. Yes, I have heat. But the cold has crawled through the windows into my bones, and short of soaking in the hot tub all day, I can’t get warm. Instead of sitting at my desk, I want to snuggle on the sofa with a cup of hot tea and a good book. But I’m a writer, so rather than give in to my whims, I’m here struggling to make sense out of words.

It may look easy, but writing is hard work. On gray days like this it’s tough to stay motivated, and it isn’t surprising that right now circulating on many writer’s loops is this article “Ten Rules for Writing”. It’s probably circulating now because February is so dismal. Just yesterday a friend said the only good thing about February is that it connects January and March. But I digress. Combine dismal and hard work and it’s easy to see why so many people go south for the winter. Or so many writers stop working.

For me, this article hit the loops at just the right time. Writing is solitary work. Often there is no feedback, nothing to judge if all the time spent at the computer is fruitful. Many times I find myself wondering if I have picked the right profession; if maybe I shouldn’t be doing something else.

Therefore, it’s encouraging to know that even successful writers struggle with self-doubt, and the advice given in “Ten Rules for Writing” is uplifting on this dreary day. I particularly like Margaret Atwood’s comment, “You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.”

I love Idaho. I choose to live here. I love writing, even on dark gloomy days. So maybe it’s time to quit whining, and get back to work.

(you can read the second part of the article here)

Reading at The Cabin in Boise

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Dixie, Pat and I had a great time reading and answering questions at “Random Readings” last week in Boise at The Cabin. The room was full and there were so many questions and great discussions we ran over our allotted time by half an hour. As things get increasingly tough for writers (downsizing, magazines and papers folding) it’s nice to gather with other writers to discuss alternative opportunities. If you live in Idaho and haven’t already joined the Idaho Writers Guild, give it some thought. This is a professional group of writers helping other writers so we can all do what we love. For those of you who stopped by to say hello, or bought our book, thanks so much for your support.

Me, Pat and Dixie at “Random Readings” in Boise.

Random Readings

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I’m starting the new year out right. On January 30, I’ll be reading from “Voices from the Snake River Plain” in Boise at The Cabin. I’m excited to be part of the Idaho Writer’s Guild and participate in their first event for 2010. If you are in the Boise area on January 30, stop by The Cabin between 1 – 3 and join us while we talk about books, writing, and publishing. Hope to see you there!

Here is the Idaho Writer’s Guild news release.

The publishing world is changing daily, it seems, and there’s a lot of interest in the area of non-traditional forms of publishing. As “Writers Working for Writers,” the Idaho Writer’s Guild is proudly launching a new series called “Random Readings” on Saturday, January 30th from 1-3 pm at The Cabin, in Boise. Featured writers will share their experiences, from writing to publishing.

Here’s what you can look forward to: authors will read from their books, with commentary. Afterwards, there will be time for asking questions and sharing thoughts about the nuts and bolts of a variety of publishing processes. Not-to-be-missed refreshments will be served.

Southern Idaho residents Bonnie Dodge, Dixie Thomas Reale and Patricia Santos Marcantonio wrote and published “Voices from the Snake River Plain.” A collection of short stories, poems and essays, the book has been described as “a small treasure….we learn there is beauty in the landscape around us and people with stories to tell.” Some of the tales by these award-winning writers include a jackalope, an old Mexican ghost story, haunting landscapes and a road trip with Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey.

Val Robertson was the former president of The Couer du Bois Chapter of Romance Writers of America, and the founding and current president of the Popular Fiction Association of Idaho, which produces the Murder in the Grove mystery conference. She is also the organizer of the Boise Speculative Fiction writer’s support group. Her debut novel is entitled “Blade’s Edge.”

Also from Boise, Ken McConnell is both traditionally published and self-published. A Software Test Technician, Ken wrote and published “Starstrikers” in 2008. His first novel is “a military space novel that takes place between two galactic civilizations.” He also wrote “Null Pointer,” a mystery novel about a programmer sleuth.

“Random Readings” will take place in the Jean Wilson Reading Room, on the basement level at The Cabin, 801 S. Capitol Blvd, Boise. Admission is free. For further information contact Diane Graham at diane@idahowritersguild.org.

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