Monday, July 30, 2012

On Budget: Page vs. Screen

by Riley Redgate

Last weekend, The Dark Knight Rises made $160.9 million.

Last weekend—as in, within roughly seventy-two hours—this film made a little more than fifty cents off every human living in the United States. Let's just let that sink in for a hot second.

Has it sunk in? Excellent. Moving on:

I saw The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX. (In fact, I saw it in IMAX from the front row, which was both terrifying and extraordinarily painful, but that's beside the point.) And it hit me while I was watching how much impact the phrase "high-budget" or "low-budget" has on the movie industry. All the spectacle of Nolan's film—I can imagine the creators burning through money, mowing it down, eating it up. Money for every explosion, every costume, every special effect. Would it have been remotely the same film if they hadn't spent $280 million on the thing? One can only imagine.

It's interesting on the other end, too—the output end. Only the rarest of authors make obscene amounts of cash, as opposed to the realm of wide-release films, a realm where $13 million in three days can be described as "paltry".

When it comes to cash, no one can deny that films have a higher throughput. Massive amounts in, and (hopefully) massive amounts out. Of course, artistic vision and creativity also have tremendous influence on the film industry—but budget has a huge impact on the final product, and of course, on the existence of the product in the first place. A film that costs zero dollars to put together would be quite an interesting film indeed.

In book-land, on the other hand, the place of origin—the author's brain—isn't necessarily influenced by money. (I say "necessarily" because I'm speaking as someone who has made exactly zero dollars from writing. There's probably someone out there who makes better first drafts when they're having money thrown at them, but whatever.)

The question: Is there a "budget" of sorts when it comes to writerly ways? I believe there is, and I've drawn up a list enumerating the sources that feed into this creative budget:

1) Time. Because there are never enough hours in the day. Time is a crucial resource, and authors who are lucky enough to have an abundance of it will probably see more productivity.

2) Command of language. Because a strong vocabulary, a good sense of orthography, and sentence-to-sentence flow are gifts that keep giving.

3) Familiarity with genre. Because knowing what's become a trope, what's fresh and original, what's familiar and loved, and what's expected from the genre is a well of knowledge you can draw on with every step down the noveling path.

4) Support. Because one is the loneliest number that you'll ever do. (Two can be as bad as one; it's the loneliest number since the number one.) A network of friends, beta readers, critique partners, and cheerleaders is on the "priceless" end of the value scale.

5) Inner peace. Because seriously, have you tried to write when you're having one of those no-confidence days? Don't know about you guys, but for me, that tends to degenerate into me typing one letter repeatedly and staring at my word processor. Confidence: vital contributing factor, in my opinion.

6) Emotional investment. Because it'd be mighty tough to make yourself write about your characters if you don't care about them.

Oh, and 7) Divine inspiration. Because life isn't fair.

People may rant and rave about how different books and films are, and how one shouldn't compare them. But when it comes to budget, the two mediums run on the same principle: When you make a high-budget film (hey there, James Cameron's Avatar) you're hoping to get at least as much as you spent back, right? The more you put in, the more you'll expect out. And similarly, when you put more time into writing, or when you read books in your genre and take mental notes, or when you edit until you're personally satisfied with it, you'll get output. Maybe not monetary output, necessarily, but hey, raise your hand if you think authors are in it for the money.

... yeah, heh, that's what I thought. But what you might get as payback from a big creative budget: personal satisfaction. Satisfied readers. And hopefully—most importantly—a damn good read. Here's hoping yours is a blockbuster!

Can you think of any other contributing factors to your personal Writer's Budget (tm)?

Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a bookstore-and-Starbucks-dweller from North Carolina. She blogs here and speaks with considerably more brevity here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Avoiding the Writer's Wall

by Stephen L. Duncan

In my fairly limited existence as an author, there have been many truisms that I’ve run across while trying to get the words onto the page. More often than not, these little bits of advice on the dos and the don’ts of being a writer get stuck somewhere in the back of my mind, only to be quickly forgotten. I'm just stupid like that. One, though, rings truer than others and I try to keep it in mind whenever a distraction attempts to call me away from the work.

Writing a novel is all about momentum.

You stick a word down, then another. Soon you have a sentence, and a paragraph follows until a page is filled. You do this over and over, and eventually you'll have all the pages your little spark of an idea needs to be a story.

That’s fairly simple, isn’t it?

Indeed. Yet there are always obstacles in our way. You’ve heard of one, no doubt. The dreaded Writer’s Block. I’ve never suffered from it, but it sounds horrible—a sort of frozen paralyzed state where words just don’t exist in the mind. Momentum can help prevent this little hiccup, because words are like water and a book, after all, is merely the result of a broken dam. The faster the flow, the harder it is to stop.

What I have experienced recently with the novel I just tuned in to my agent is the Writer’s Wall. If Writer’s Block is this leaded state of being that weighs you down, immobilizing you, Writer’s Wall is something you crash into.

In a way, it’s the opposite of Writer’s Block. You have too much going on in your writing life, too much spilling out of your head onto the page. And then, like something out of NASCAR, you hit the wall. (Hey, I’m from Alabama. I can only go so long in a day without a racing metaphor.) Your words are broken, not working, and your story seems futile. Worse, you're no longer certain you should be writing it.

The symptoms are these: From an abnormally confident valuation of your own work, often joined by a heightened productivity, you will experience a sudden onset of fear of publication characterized by a consuming doubt in your own taste and talent. Every word choice will be in question, every sentence’s worth made suspect. You will begin to negatively compare yourself to notable successful writers. While ideas and stories may flourish, you will encounter a paralyzing lack of esteem that prevents these ideas and stories from being realized.

A lot can steer you into a Writer’s Wall. Rejection. Negative feedback. Too much momentum. The list could go on and on. But the trick to pulling out of the crash is to take some time away from your work. Let it marinate in your head a little. Slow down. Live some of your life away from your computer.

Of course, if you’re like me, you might read this and then quickly store it in some recessed part of your mind, ready to be forgotten.

Write hard, y’all.

Stephen L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, the first book in The Revelation Saga, due in 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging on and on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bloggers, Authors, Reviewers & Other Things that Thumper Didn't Anticipate

by Mindy McGinnis

Oh my.

I won't link to anything because by the time I do that there'll be a newer, bloodier author/reviewer battle to take the place of the one I linked to. Let's just say that there continues to be an epic clash of name-calling—peppered with the occasional well-informed and succinctly delivered opinion—in regards to the interaction between authors and reviewers who give them bad reviews.

But here's the thing, guys—it's not even about books anymore. It's not about authors, it's not about reviewers. It's not even close to being related to the publishing industry in some cases. It's about people who don't like each other saying mean things to one another in a public forum where their family, friends, and perfect strangers can chime in. And then when someone new gets insulted they get their feelings hurt and tell their friends, who valiantly swoop in to insult the person who insulted their friend, and pretty soon we've got a book-based Bloods and Crips situation going on that is debasing to everyone involved.

Good Lord. It kills me. It really kills me, because all of this is under the guise of literary endeavor, which automatically includes you, me, and anyone who puts pen to paper or fingertips to keys.

And there's nothing to be done about it. Engaging is the equivalent of borrowing the Olympic torch and dousing yourself in rocket fuel. There are plenty of even heads and well-placed comments that have attempted to stem the tide on any random debacle, but the voice of reason tends to go unheeded.

And why is that?

Because it's fun to have a tantrum. No really, it totally is. I'm a big proponent of adult tantrums when executed in private where you can't have a negative impact on others. Get mad. Throw things. Say mean shit to blank walls. Hell, lie down and scream and pound your fists on the ground if that's what helps you get your nasty out. But don't do it on the internet, because remember—the internet is forever.

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut dystopian, Not a Drop to Drink, will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins Fall 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Does It Really Take a Village to Write a Novel?

by Cat Woods

Think about that person in your life:

  • The one who encourages his dawg to use your lawn as a canine commode.
  • The one who leans on you to buy the Mother's Day presents and Christmas presents and wedding gifts and Easter baskets and ...
  • The one whose contribution to group projects is her name at the top of the page.
  • The one who "reluctantly" allows his children to spend the night at your house, night after night after freakin' night and never returns the favor.

Yeah, that one. The neighbor, sister, co-worker or friend who proudly proclaims that all great accomplishments in life take the work of a village.

Sometimes I think "village" is code word for "I'm lazy" and the people who say it are nothing more than the village idiots.

Yet, my writer-ego believes the opposite. It tells me that writers succeed because of the village, not in spite of it.

Five Awesome Reasons to Be Part of a Writing Village
  1. It's dark and lonely in the writing closet—at least mine was. Any agents or editors living there before didn't leave a calling card ...
  2. It's impossible to critique your own writing. No joke. I don't care how good you are, everyone needs an extra set of eyes on their work.
  3. Networking, baby. It's hard to network effectively at a table for one.
  4. You have to find the answers somewhere from somebody, so why not from other, experienced scribes?
  5. Friendship. Pure and simple.

Five Awesome Gifts to Give your Fellow Villagers
  1. Time.
  2. Effort.
  3. Honesty.
  4. Expertise.
  5. Friendship.

Five Awesome Writing Villages
  1. AgentQuery Connect: Hands down, the best on the net. AQC boasts a robust writing community. It's free. It's fun. It's filled with advice on any topic. Did I mention it's the best on the net?
  2. Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators: The SCBWI is all things juvenile when it comes to literature. When you join ($70/yr), you receive the inside scoop on the publishing business where kids are concerned. They host conferences, workshops, face-to-face critique groups and an online forum. I've been a member for eternity. But don't fret if you don't write for kids. Each genre has a professional organization dedicated to helping writers connect with the business and other like-minded scribes. Examples include: RWA and HNS.
  3. Verla Kay's Blue Boards: Another juvie lit community that strives to provide a safe haven for writers penning scripts from board books to YA novels. The Blue Boards are free, but membership must be requested and accepted before you're given the magic key to the kingdom.
  4. NaNoWriMo: I know, it sounds weird, but I met some of my dearest and oldest writing friends during the month-long novel-writing frenzy. We then created a tiny village in the vast ocean of cyberspace on LiveJournal. This group of wonderful ladies got me out of the writing closet and into the writing world. National Novel Writing Month happens every November. It's completely free and totally off the wall. Nothing motivates me to write like my fellow NaNoers.
  5. Private writing groups: These micro-villages can go a long way in keeping us motivated while supporting our entire journey from start to finish. Often, you can find/create these groups after connecting with other writers on bigger writing sites. AQC, for instance, has a Want Ads section where writers can advertise.

Five Pitfalls to Avoid in your Writing Village
  1. Never get more than you give. It torques people off and makes them want to burn down your house.
  2. Never let your ego get in your way. Remember those village idiots I talked about earlier? Yeah, don't be one of them. As writers, we all have one end goal: getting our work published and into readers' hands. None of us are better or worse than our neighbor, no matter how much experience we have on our sides.
  3. Don't build a wall. China's is crumbling, Berlin's is gone. Writing communities are places to explore and unite, not isolate and divide.
  4. Don't be a jack of all trades. Writing communities are notorious for having so many fun alleys and shops that you want to get involved in the goings-on of them all. This is a huge time suck and doesn't really connect you the way you need to be. Instead, find a few niche areas that you can effectively and efficiently partake in and spend the rest of your time writing.
  5. Whatever you do, don't poop on your neighbor's lawn.

Which writing villages are you part of? What is the biggest asset of your favorite writing village? The biggest drawback? How has your writing village played a role in your success as a writer, no matter how small or how great your feat? What tips do you have for writers as they embark on a journey to find a solid writing community?

Curious minds want to know.

Cat Woods used to be a village of one. After her closet door opened, she jumped key board first into a wide range of diverse and intriguing writing communites. You can follow her journey on Words from the Woods.

Friday, July 20, 2012

5 Tips to Increase Writing Productivity

by Jean Oram

We could all use a little boost or kick in the pants when it comes to making the most of our writing time—especially in the summer when ice cream and sunshine threatens to pull us away from the glow of our monitors.

If you're wondering how to get more writing time in your life, try these five tips.

5 Tips to Boost Your Writing Productivity

1. Fast Drafts

Feel inspired? Write it down right now. Right now. Just get it down. Don't edit. Don't jump back up a few paragraphs and tweak—leave yourself a quick note in the document if you need to, but don't move backwards—keep moving forward.

For example, sometimes I'll sit down and write three blog post drafts in forty minutes. Sure, it needs editing, but the idea is there and the main points are there. Later, when I need a post, I can add some polish, go find reference resources if needed and voila. Done. Way faster than trying to write a post when I am not inspired or trying to do it all in one swoop. I can edit in any mood. I can't write in any mood.

Same goes for your manuscript. Just write. Worry about edits later. Just get it down so you will have something to work with later.

2. Write Often

If you can, write every day. This can do amazing things for your productivity because you are used to writing. Your typing speed increases, your finger muscles learn your keys (all keyboards are different!), your mind remembers where you were in the story and can pick up where you left off. Plus, you are in the habit of grabbing the right words from thin air.

Think of it as training. If you were going to be an elite runner you would run as often as possible, right? Same with writing. You need to build those muscles and keep them toned and warmed up.

I don't care if you can only squeeze in 15 minutes. That's 15 minutes more than 0 isn't it? And at the end of a week that is almost 2 hours of writing time that you've snuck in! You can get somewhere in 2 hours. Plus, because you are writing often, you won't take as long to jump into your story making those 15 minutes GOOD minutes. Maybe even better than if you sat down for a two hour chunk. You are fresh and ready to go. It's not a burden, it's a challenge to see how far you can get in that time and you are more likely to look forward to the next 15 minute chunk.

3. Get Organized

Are your notes and ideas all over the place? Get a notebook, binder, or document or folder and keep all your thoughts in one place. Then, when you are ready to go, you can find what you need with speed and ease and get down to it.

Personally, my "office" is wherever I can sit with my laptop. I use binders, notepads, and notebooks for my notes. I also use a writing program called Scrivener which is a place where I can keep all my electronic notes in one place—right in with my manuscript. When my notes are on slips of paper scattered all over I never want to work on the "hard stuff" because I don't want to have to dig around, organize it, and make sense of it all again. That's not efficient.

4. Consider a Writing Program

I use Scrivener, simply the best $40 I ever spent. It keeps me organized and I can jump around in my manuscript and leave notes for myself all over the place. This saves me an incredible amount of time. I can easily jump to wherever I need to be. I didn't realize how inefficient I was using Word until I made the Scrivener jump. I will never, ever go back. A writing acquaintance who has ADHD said Scrivener made writing possible for her because she doesn't get distracted. She can just write.

(Note: You can output your files in Word format using Scrivener—and even ebook formats. If you consider trying this program, I highly recommend doing the tutorial as the time you put into that will quickly pay off and help you get the most out of the program.)

As well, other writing programs such as the mind mapping tool, XMind, can help you map out complex ideas as well as brainstorm. In the end, with writing programs, it is figuring out how your mind works and then finding a program to help make you more efficient.

5. Skip TV

The average American watches enough television a week it could classify as a part time job. Think about it. How much TV do you watch during a week? Be honest with yourself. Now how much time do you spend writing? Actually writing. Not tweeting or updating your Facebook status. Pen to paper. Fingers to keyboard?

If you have to, cancel cable or put the TV in the basement. If you need a wake up slap, put it this way: Are you a TV consumer or a writer? If you watch an hour of TV a day and complain that you don't have enough writing time I will reach out and smack you. Got it? It's a choice YOU make.

Want to know the secret to writing more and increasing your productivity? Turn off the TV. By Jean Oram

Now that you have looked at increasing your writing productivity from the write angle, how about you? What keeps you efficient and on track? Do you use a writing program? How much TV do you watch? Share your tips in the comment section.

Jean Oram is an efficient mama making every moment count in her day of writing and parenting--especially in the summer. Instead of watching TV she blogs at (where she is talking about Scrivener today), shares play ideas on Facebook and tweets writing (@jeanoram) and play ideas for kids (@kidsplay) as well blogs kids play ideas for bored families who are trying to break the TV habit and play more at Oh, and she is sorta on and pins fun kids stuff on Pinterest as well. She's obviously traded TV for the Internet. ;)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Line Between Being Yourself and Being Professional

by R.C. Lewis

There's no doubt social media has changed the world in a number of ways. A particular difference that's struck me lately is the blur between the personal and the professional.

If you're on Twitter, you probably follow some industry professionals. Sprinkled amongst the #pubtip and #askagent info, you'll see tweets about this agent's cat, that agent's kids, and everybody's shoes. In some ways, it's nice to see that personal side. It makes the pros more real, and when querying agents, those little things can give us some clues about whether they're someone we'd want to work with.

Then again, I know I've unfollowed a few who went too heavy on the non-business side, particularly when those personal posts consist largely of rants and general negativity.

We can learn from this as writers. Should we keep our tweets (and other social media content) to all business, all the time? No way. There are approximately a gazillion-and-one of us out there. If we only talk writing, we'll likely blend into the background noise.

Personality is a good thing. It helps us stand out, create an impression, be memorable. Industry pros and readers alike can get to know us as people.

Where's the line between enough personality and too much? There may not be a hard-and-fast rule, but maybe we can come up with some general guidelines.

Sharing something quirky that happened to you today—Good Idea.

Sharing anything that prompts a "TMI" reaction—Bad Idea. (Mindy McGinnis manages to bend this one occasionally, but she's a professional. Don't try this at home.)

Discussing personal opinions—Good Idea ... within reason.

Discussing why every published book in your genre is terrible—BAD IDEA!

You can see I didn't get very far before I stumbled into the fuzzy gray area.

Maybe there is one rule we could follow, or at least a question we can ask ourselves. If an industry professional looked at our Twitter stream, what impression would they walk away with? Is it an impression that (1) reflects who we are, and (2) could lead them to want to work with us?

What falls on your own Do/Don't-Do list for social media? How do you show some personality and stand out without becoming unprofessional?

R.C. Lewis teaches math by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. You can find her (hopefully behaving herself) at Crossing the Helix and on Twitter (@RC_Lewis).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bring on the Bio

by Jemi Fraser

A lot of aspiring authors struggle with writing the bio paragraph at the end of their query letters. Maybe 'struggle with' is too mild. Hate might be a better choice!

We worry about what to include, what to omit and how to make ourselves sound interesting. I don't think we have to worry that much.

First of all, agents are humans and when they're reading query letters, they're actually hoping to like us and our stories. They also know that most of the people who are querying them don't have publishing credentials. That's okay. Agents take on first time authors all the time. So, relax.

If you don't have any publishing credentials, it's okay to ignore that. You don't have to point it out. If the agent doesn't see credentials listed, he/she will assume you're a newbie. Again, that's okay.

If it makes you more comfortable, you can actually skip a bio completely. Agents are looking at the story. Not having a bio paragraph isn't going to turn them off. 'Thanks for your time and consideration' might be all you need.

On the other hand, we're writers. We work in words. So, why not have a sentence or two that highlights your personality - that gives the agent a glimpse of you on top of the glimpse you've given them of your book? A well worded bio might be the extra push needed to get that request.

I'm by no means an expert in this department, but I think a bio should be:
  • short—no more than a sentence or two
  • fun—keep it light, make the agent smile
  • in your voice—sarcastic, snarky, sweet, quick witted, silly ... Go for it. Show who you are. If you're depressing and gloomy, you might want to pretend otherwise... :)
  • interesting—not a list of things you've done—more a glimpse of who you are
Any other things you think should be in a bio? How do you feel about writing them?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of romantic mysteries. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Breaking The Rules

by Calista Taylor

I'll admit, I have a running list of rules in my head constantly muttering and nagging at me when I write. Show, don't tell. Don't use "that". No head hopping pov's. Avoid dialog tags. The list goes on and on. However, this wasn't always the case.

When I first started writing, the only thing in my head were my characters' voices. I stuck to the rules of grammar, but other than that, I wrote with complete abandon, totally unaware of all the writing rules I was breaking and would mark my work as that of a young writer.

Needless to say, looking back at those first attempts at writing is pretty scary. I was cutting my teeth on those first attempts. And yet ... looking at my first completed manuscript (there were plenty of false starts), there's something about the voice and how the story's told that works. And it works in part because the rules didn't come into play.

Was the writing better back then? No. But I can say that it's made me realize something important. I know the rules. And now that I do, I can perfect breaking them.

Do you always follow the rules? Have you always ignored them? Or did you start only once you mastered them?

Calista Taylor is the author of two romance series, and also works as a cover artist.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Juggling Multiple Manuscripts

by Lucy Marsden

I can't walk and chew gum at the same time, so I can't imagine what I was thinking when I took on that second story.

Actually, I tell a lie.

My critique partner dared me to do it, and I was feeling frustrated with my Work In Progress at the moment, and the temptation to escape my soul-searing lack of imagination* was overwhelming—that's what I was thinking.

You know how it is when you've got a story idea in your hand, bright and shiny as a new penny. It's all fun and possibility. It's researching, and running amok on Pinterest for pictures of the setting and characters, and putting together soundtracks for your hero and heroine, and not worrying at all about how you're to tell the damn thing. It's my favorite time during a story, before I feel as though the lovely, shimmering thread of it has been snagged, and knotted, and suspiciously stained, and generally pulled all out of shape by clumsy handling.**

So when, as I say, my critique partner issued her challenge, I leapt into all of the above with a gladsome heart, only to find...

My first story wouldn't let me go. Little by little, despite my bouts of frustration and heart-felt profanity, I had turned a corner with it. My characters were becoming real to me; they were pushing for what they needed, pushing back against each other, and the story was truly going somewhere.

At last.

And I decided that I didn't want to walk away from that to chase the shiny, not when I could feel my first story beginning to tell me what it wanted to be. So I let the second story go—not forever; it sends me postcards now and again, and points me to pertinent articles in travel magazines—it'll be waiting for me when the time is right. But for now, I'm choosing not to split my focus.

What about you? Have you been energized and inspired by the challenge of juggling multiple manuscripts at the same time, or discombobulated by the necessity of jumping back and forth?

Lucy Marsden is a romance writer living in New England. When she’s not backstage at a magic show or crashing a physics picnic, she can be found knee-deep in the occult collection of some old library, or arguing hotly about Story.

* Cue the violins.
** Ibid.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Grammar Check: Have I Piqued Your Interest?

by J. Lea Lopez

Homophones are a grammar pet peeve of mine. There/their/they're. Your/you're. Its/It's. But the one that really gets me is peak, peek, and pique. One of the reasons this particular set of homonyms irritates me is that for every person who goes "Ohhhhh, gotcha, thanks!" when the error is pointed out, there is usually one person who will attempt to justify the mistake by trying to equate the definition of the word they've misused with the intent behind the sentence. But they're still wrong. Let me tell you how and why.

I am far from a grammarian, and although I know plenty about proper word usage (most of the time—Robb Grindstaff has to remind me about farther/further every time!) my eyes have been known to glaze over at some of the more complicated discussions of syntax and such. I don't want YOUR eyes to glaze over here, but in order to finally put the peak/peek/pique thing to rest, we'll have to dig into transitive and intransitive verbs a little bit, in addition to the actual meanings of the words.

Transitive verbs

A transitive verb is one that takes a direct object. She left the door open. Here, left is a transitive verb, because it takes the object the door. The action is being performed directly on the door. The sentence would be incomplete if there weren't an object to go with that verb.

Intransitive verbs

Intransitive verbs do not take a direct object, and are complete without one. Intransitive verbs are (often, I'm not sure if they are always) a state of being. The action is not being performed directly to or on someone/something. She left at intermission. Here, left is an intransitive verb. There is no direct object.

If you aren't sure whether a verb is transitive or intransitive, try to reword the sentence in passive voice, using "by". If you can, it's transitive. If not, it's intransitive. The door was left open by her makes sense. You can't rewrite the second sentence in the same way because it's an intransitive verb.

So what does this have to do with peak/peek/pique?

First of all, let's just throw out peek from this equation because we all know the verb to peek means to glance quickly. It is occasionally used instead of peak, but nobody has ever tried to use the different meanings of peek and peak to justify their misuse. It's mostly a spelling error. Though I hold you, dear readers, to a higher standard, so I really hope you're using that one correctly. ;-)

The big two offenders are peak and pique, which people seem to confuse not only in spelling, but meaning.



verb (used with object)

1. to affect with sharp irritation and resentment, especially by some wound to pride: She was greatly piqued when they refused her invitation.

2. to wound (the pride, vanity, etc.).

3. to excite (interest, curiosity, etc.): Her curiosity was piqued by the gossip.

4. to arouse an emotion or provoke to action: to pique someone to answer a challenge.

5.Archaic. to pride (oneself) (usually followed by on or upon).

verb (used without object)

6. to arouse pique in someone: an action that piqued when it was meant to soothe.


verb (used without object)

14. to project in a peak.

15. to attain a peak of activity, development, popularity, etc.: The artist peaked in the 1950s.

verb (used with object)

16. Nautical. to raise the after end of (a yard, gaff, etc.) to or toward an angle above the horizontal.

From these definitions, you can see that the proper statement would be That short skirt and low-cut top piqued his interest and NOT That short skirt and low-cut top peaked his interest.

The sentence clearly means that the provocative clothing aroused the man's interest. Further, you can look at the fact that if you used peak here, it would be a transitive verb, because it has the direct object of his interest. (His interest was piqued by the clothes.) But the only definition given of peak as a transitive verb (used with object) is a nautical reference. You can peak the gaff while sailing, which would mean you raised the after end above the horizontal. The other definitions are intransitive usages of peak.

While doesn't list peak as a transitive verb meaning "To bring to a maximum of development, value, or intensity" or "to cause to come to a peak", there are other sources that do. This is where you get people trying to justify the use of peak in sentences like the one above.

They argue that the sexy clothing could have brought the man's interest to a maximum of intensity, or could have caused his interest to come to a peak, and so that sentence could be correct.

But it's not. It sounds ridiculous, and it looks ridiculous. As a reader, I would never assume a writer intended that meaning of peak, and as a writer, I would never construct a sentence that way. If that's truly the intent of the sentence why wouldn't one simply say The short skirt and low-cut top brought his interest to a peak. There's no grey area about meaning there. Although it's still a ridiculous sentence. If some skimpy clothing brings a character's interest to the highest point, I sure hope that character is a 12-year-old boy who gets big thrills from very little.

To be honest, I don't know why some dictionaries list peak as a transitive verb in anything other than the nautical usage. ( doesn't; Oxford doesn't; Merriam-Webster does, but doesn't specify anything about nautical usage; You Dictionary does; American Heritage does.) Perhaps it's an old usage that has fallen out of style? I'm not sure. But it's used so far and between that I couldn't find a single usage of it as a transitive verb after lots of Googling and discussion with word nerds on Facebook and Twitter.

So there you have it. Now you know the proper definition of pique versus peak, and should you ever forget which you want to use, look at whether you're dealing with a transitive or intransitive verb. With the exception of the nautical usage we covered above, you should NOT be using peak as a transitive verb. That should take care of using peak when what you want to use is pique.

And of course, please don't use peek when you mean to use either of the other two. Just don't.

If I ever see any of you write "It peaked my interest", I will call you on it. I might have a temper tantrum about it first, but then I'll call you on it.

What are your grammar pet peeves? And which mistakes do you find yourself making?

J. Lea Lopez is a writer with a penchant for jello and a loathing for writing bios. Find her on Twitter or her blog, Jello World. She has had some short stories published, most recently in the Spring Fevers anthology.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Amazon is Like a Chowder Festival

by Pete Morin

Like most self-published novelists looking to crack the Amazon sales riddle, I’ve spent some time in the Kindle customer forums, and trawled the myriad of eBook sales websites that offer freebies, near freebies, advertising, interviews, etc. After nearly a year of it, I can confidently say that I have no better idea today how to sell successfully than I did the week before I uploaded Diary of a Small Fish.

And that’s okay, because the playing field is different today than it was then. Hell, it’s different than it was yesterday, and it’ll be different tomorrow.

But while I have been unable to extract any stone tablet Strategies for Novel Marketing that apply across the board to all fiction, I do occasionally come up with a nifty metaphor to keep my blogging active and current.

Amazon is a chowder festival.

For those unfamiliar with New England clam chowder (I shall not abide a diversion to that inferior stepson, the Manhattan clam chowder), it is a recipe with base ingredients of clams, potatoes, onions, and cream (or milk), and has been around in limitless varieties for hundreds of years. You can add dill, or rosemary, or coriander, or chocolate—anything—but the bottom line is, if you haven't used the magic 4 ingredients in roughly correct quantities, your chowder will fail.

In summer months, many seacoast communities have Chowder Festivals, where local restaurateurs compete for the prize of Best Chowder. I was, for a time, an avid participant in the Cape Cod Chowder Festival (now in its 32nd year!). The winner of the contest is not chosen by culinary experts of the chowder genre, however.

The winner is chosen by customers.

This is where the Amazon-chowder metaphor works, I think.

Chowder eaters come in all varieties. Some understand the fundamentals of chowder (can’t have too many potatoes or too few clams, can’t use too much pork fat or bacon, and for god’s sake, forget about the corn starch!), and some haven’t a clue what good chowder is, they just like to taste. I overheard one “judge” express his adamant preference for chowder thick enough to stand a spoon upright. This is utter heresy, as chowder aficionados know, but as the old saying goes, the customer is always right.

Still, while clueless chowder judges may indeed outnumber the culinary experts (you can tell by the plaid shorts and sunburn), never do they elevate a pasty gruel to the top of the chowder heap. Why?

Just because. No product ignorant of cooking fundamentals tastes good. Crap chowder always tastes like crap, even if you salt the hell out of it. People will taste it, go “Ewww” and move on. They don’t have to determine that the potatoes were mushy, the onions were undercooked or the clams were spoiled (I’ve seen that train wreck before). They just “know.”

A novel is like chowder. It has clams (plot), potatoes (characters), cream (voice) and onions (structure). In a good novel, each ingredient is of good quality, and in proper proportion to the whole. Too little of one (or more) results in a reader’s diminished enthusiasm. Too little of all is a revolting experience.

There is a lot of bad chowder out there on Amazon. But Budweiser isn’t the #1 selling beer in the world because beer customers have discriminating palates. A Burger King Whopper isn’t made by a graduate of the American Culinary Institute. But damn, it tastes good.

You can’t worry about that, though. You can’t make a sublime paella and expect it to sell better than a Big Mac. The numbers just don’t work in your favor.

But you can always make a good chowder, if you just get the basics down. Then you can add whatever you want to make it your own.

Amazon is the ultimate test kitchen. There is always a multitude of tasters, looking for cheap eats. Give them more for their money than they expect, and you’ll do okay.

Just don't add corn starch.

Pete Morin is the author of Diary of a Small Fish and can occasionally be found swimming in his own pond.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Getting Out of the Writer's Nest

by Cat Woods

Happy Independence Day, everyone. Today I'm taking a different spin on the idea of independence.

There are four ways baby birds leave the nest.

Only one of them is a round trip ticket back inside.

Writers are similar to birds, and the adage—survival of the fittest—rules both the success of fledglings as well as the longevity of writers.


  1. Don't stand too close to the edge, lest you lose your balance. I see this all the time in my windy neighborhood. Unprepared birds gawk out into the world. They haven't committed to flying, yet they don't want to stay confined in their little twig home. They hover precariously with one foot on the ledge until a puff of wind carries them over. Writers, either write or don't. Declare yourself a writer—to yourself and others—so you leave the nest by choice. Otherwise, you'll putz your way through the vast world of publishing and likely starve long before you actually realize you're on the ground. Make writing-to-publish a conscious choice, one in which you are responsible for the path you will take.
  2. Don't jump before you've strengthened your wings. Okay, I don't actually know if birds jump before they are ready, but I suspect a handful of daredevils each year try flying before they've done the appropriate exercises. In fact, there's a fledgling in my backyard who is extremely motivated or exceptionally stupid. Either way, he's out of the nest more than he's in it and always needs my help getting home. I won't beat a dead bird here, but I will say this: do not submit your first novel the second it is done. Do not. Learn to write. Learn to edit and learn to polish. These are all separate things and you can't succeed without learning all three. There are no shortcuts to publishing well.
  3. Don't get eaten. Birds of prey love to swoop down and snag unsuspecting babies from the nest. It's not a pretty sight. Nor is it pleasant to watch eager writers get stalked by scam agents, editors or publishers. Even worse, jealous fellow writers who can crush the hopes and dreams of their competition as easily as a grackle can crush a tiny robin. To protect yourself, research BEFORE taking action. We have a whole list of resources for you to pick through. Use it.
  4. Do prepare yourself. Nature has a way of letting birds know when it's time to fly. They've eaten enough grubs to gain weight, they've earned their feathers and they've strengthened their wings. Be the bird. Be deliberate about your passion and turn it into your job. Work hard and work smart. To do anything less will have you walking down the middle of the road peeping for help that will never come.

But what if we're the Mama Bird? How do we know when to encourage our fellow writers to leave their nests? And is it even our job to do so? Can we do more harm than good when trying to boost others from the nest?

Curious minds want to know.

Cat Woods has built her writer's nest at Words from the Woods. So far she's managed to write by choice while evading hungry predators. In her free time, she moderates at AgentQuery Connect, raises her own fledglings and freelances for local businesses.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hangin' with Jennifer Rofé

by R.S. Mellette

How lucky am I?

For months and months I've been getting e-mails from my local Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) about schmoozes they have for authors in the area. And for month and months, I've been too busy to go. Finally, I got the e-mail right when I had nothing on my schedule and could easily make it. And what's the topic of this get together of local writers? Jennifer Rofé, of Andrea Brown Literary Agency is coming for a living room chat.


The hour plus discussion with Jennifer and a handful of writers was informal and off the record, so it would be improper of me to get into details, but I don't think it's out of bounds to say that she is:

  • Hilarious
  • Delightful, and
  • Wonderfully blunt.

I wouldn't advise asking her for an opinion if you're not ready for a raw, honest answer. And believe me, that's refreshing here in Hollywood.

Blogs were mentioned as the evening broke up and Jennifer said to pass on her mantra about queries. MAKE THEM PROFESSIONAL. Of course, if you're reading this blog, then you probably know about AgentQuery Connect and have worked hard to have a professional letter, so no worries there ... right?

Something else she said that I think all writers—or, in fact, all people—should hear again and again.

Don't live your life in fear.

Jennifer was talking about writers who are afraid to do this-or-that, when in fact both this and that fall well within the realm of reasonable professional behavior. Say a writer meets an editor at a conference who invites the author to submit. "Should I?"

"What do I do?"

"Will this ruin my career!?!"

Don't live your life in fear. Do what your intelligent, professional gut tells you is right. Wars will not be started over your submission. There is no patient on the table waiting for brain surgery, so relax. Take it easy.

Of course, we hear this over and over again, but it always bears repeating. Go for the gusto. Live life like there is no tomorrow. Learn the rules, then break them. Enjoy yourself.

And I can't help but think, here we are, writers. Like gods, from nothing we create people that live in the minds of others. We turn blank paper into whole new worlds, and yet we're afraid to say hello to an agent at a conference.

Live life without fear.

Live life like the characters you create.

R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the Spring Fevers anthology.