Sunday, December 9, 2012

Heart of Christmas


Heart of Christmas celebrates a blessed time of year with lighthearted tales of friends and family, touching stories, beautiful poems, powerful quotations, and some of your favorite yuletide songs... all wrapped up and ready for you to open and enjoy.





Heart of Christmas was released on December 5, 2012 by Sparkle Press and includes the story, The Smile of an Angel, by Janet Fogg.

Janet is the author of Soliloquy, an award-winning historical romance, and co-author of the military history best seller, Fogg in the Cockpit.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Screenwriting – What’s Hot and What’s Not


You’ve written a great script, a killer log line, and a treatment that does justice to your story. You’ve attended conferences and film festivals. You’ve packaged the script in plain card stock and two brads. You’ve gotten feedback from judges in contests and consultants who constantly take the pulse of the industry. How else can you learn what Hollywood bigshots and indie directors are seeking?


Read the trades, including Variety and Hollywood Reporter, directories like Hollywood Creative Directory, and on-line news mags such as Moviebytes.


Some on-line lead services, such as InkTips, list directors seeking specific types of scripts. The requirements can be as general as “script for 20-something female lead, any genre. Two million budget” or as specific as “psychological horror script, no slashers, set in Tokyo with a 30-something male American lead. Mumblecore (micro budget).”


With InkTips there are two routes to go. You can pay for the full list of leads ($50 for four months) or take the free service, which lists a few possibilities with access codes and links to send your log line, synopsis, and bio to the director. My collaborators and I have found response times vary greatly, but there have been several bites, “send the whole script please.”


Hollywood, like the N.Y. publishing world, likes to see more of the successful – same but different. Familiar says the world is ready for it. Different means it’s a new take on a tested idea. Writing to trends is risky. By the time you complete the script and try to get it out there what’s impressing the box office may be different. Write the movie you’d like to go see. Then pitch it.


Make your script sound as hot as you know it is. Convey your unique premise as HIGH CONCEPT. Imagine what your audience will see on the movie poster. What is its essence? The fewer words you can use to convince someone of its mass audience appeal, the higher the concept, the hotter your story.


Consider crossing one film with another. “Die Hard Meets Forest Gump.” Give them a quick idea of where you’re going. Jaws in space – Alien. Only compare it with movies or books that sold well. If your hook, main conflict and genre are clear and catchy, your script “has legs.”


Give it an attention-getting title, not The Shark but Jaws. I’ve always felt Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was intriguing but hard to remember. On the other hand, could there be a better, more appropriate title than Snakes on a Plane? It’s a high concept pitch, clear genre and conflict all rolled into one short phrase.


Now you know a few ways of discovering what’s hot and can practice making your high concept script stand out. Go sell! And remember: keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.

---  From the Inkpot

(first published in the Writing From the Peak blog September 13, 2011)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Screenwriting – Ready to Adapt?


STEP-BY-STEP PREPARATION FOR ADAPTING BOOK TO SCRIPT

In previous postings I discussed what to consider when deciding whether or not to adapt your story into a screenplay, various forms of story that have been successfully remade for the big screen, the upsides and downsides to turning book to script, and methods that are commonly used to do so.


Are you ready to take the next step?

Preparing adequately will make the screenwriting process go more smoothly. If you are adapting another author’s work, seek rights first. Consider the budget, audience and attached stars (if you are lucky enough to have them lined up). Then prepare. Whether it’s your work or someone elses, there are several useful steps to take.

1) Read the book over and over until you are infused with its spirit.

2) Ask what the story is about.

3) What scenes stick in your mind and why? (Ted Tally, who adapted The Silence of the Lambs, usually latches on to 6-7 scenes.)

4) Reduce each event to a 1-2 sentence statement; be sure it’s a story well-told.

5) Who’s the main character? You may change the POV – The Silence of the Lambs had three other POVs, but Tally considered it Clarice’s story.

6) What’s the ending? Can you make it more visual? Add unity with it? Maintain sympathy for the protagonist?

7) Can you make the beginning grab the audience? The novel The Silence of the Lambs starts with Clarice Starling heading to learn her assignment. The movie starts with her on the training range – showing she’s a dedicated trainee.

Now prepare to reinvent.

1) Reorder events in proper time line.

2) Cut, combine, and create scenes as needed.

3) Turn internal into external.

4) Decide which characters to keep (7 or so).

5) List key dramatic action scenes.

6) Find the powerful dialogue that drives the plot.

7) Be aware of where the passion is.



What needs cutting?
1) Facts unnecessary to the less complex plot.

2) Incidents (Clarice’s confrontation with Senator Martin in The Silence of the Lambs).

3) Some subplots (Detective Crawford’s dying wife in The Silence of the Lambs).

4) Minor characers (or combine characters).

5) Meld several scenes into one.

6) Flashbacks.

7) Philosophies and over thematic content.

8) Pare unnecessary verbiage.

9) Preserve only the best bits of business.

Can you tell I like the adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs?

Do not remove feeling and humor.


What needs to be expanded?

1) Build up certain characters or add some.

2) New scenes to tie bits together (but scenes shouldn’t look like they are there just to fill holes).

3) Missing information that builds your story.

4) "If you need something for the story MAKE IT UP!” – Syd Field

5) Expand character development and subplots in a shorter work like Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption.


As you can see, adapting a story is a complicated undertaking. Typically a writer can’t simply transcribe from a novel to a screenplay. Fidelity in adaptation – how faithful you are to the original – varies. But one must accept that the author’s original vision is typically altered in order to suit the cinematic format.


Best of luck in changing your book to a screenplay. Let us all know when it hits the big screen! In the meantime, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.

---- from the Inkpot

(first published on the Writing From the Peak blog August 16, 2011)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Adaptation: How to Do It


As discussed in the last blog post, there are many forms of writing that can be adapted to film. Because the most common is novel to script, my example assumes you are moving from book to screenplay.


If you have a novel, there are three common ways of approaching adaptation to film. Each has advantages and disadvantages.


1) Follow the book beat by beat.


Pro:

- Outline is there for you and YA length lends itself (Holes is a good example)


Cons:

- It can come off crowded with characters, jerky and melodramatic (motivation doesn’t match action).

- You will have to cut the story down to 2 hours—at 1 page per minute

- You will likely anger some readers.


2) Work from key scenes.


Pro:

- Pick most colorful, dramatic scenes.


Cons:

- Scenes tied together artificially will not look like the novel.

- Again, you’ll anger some readers.


3) Construct an original screenplay based on the book.


Pros:

- Nail down the premise, decide on an appropriate POV (maybe different than the book’s)

- Determine beginning/middle/end, write a treatment and first chapter (called a master scene script).


Cons:

- Must start from scratch and reduce to filmable dimensions.

- Still you’ll get complaints from readers.


Despite all the reader belly-aching, the biggest box-office successes tend to be adaptations. Since Oscars began in 1927-28, more than 3/4 of the Best Picture awards have gone to adaptations of novels. William Goldman is proof that a script can be made from a book without being 100% true to the book and without disappointing readers or viewers. When adapting Marathon Man, his own novel, he kept only one scene from the book (Olivier in the diamond district). Stephen King didn’t like Stanley Kubrick’s handling of The Shining, but the movie is brilliant if you don’t connect it to the source material.


The moral of this posting: Choose the right story, learn the craft, and be flexible. Write a screenplay that keeps the soul of the book and you may touch many more people with your story. In my next post I’ll discuss useful steps to take as you prepare to turn a novel into a screenplay. Until then, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.         ----   From the Inkpot          (first appeared in the Writing From the Peak blog  July 19, 2011)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Screenwriting: More to Consider Before Turning Your Story Into a Screenplay


Notice I said story instead of novel.  Most of us could name dozens of bestselling novels that have been adapted.  Three recent ones: Memoirs of a Geisha, My Sister’s Keeper, and The Time Traveler’s Wife

But there are numerous examples of other story forms that have been successfully adapted:  autobiography (Pursuit of Happiness), YA (Holes), novella (Shawshank Redemption), picture book (Where the Wild Things Are), Comic Book (Spider Man), nonfiction (Helter Skelter), short story (Brokeback Mountain), collection of short stories (Trainspotting), play (Death of a Salesman), journalism (All the President’s Men), lecture (An Inconvenient Truth), blog (Julie and Julia), T.V. Script (X Files), TV skit (Blues Brothers), graphic novel (V for Vendetta), video game (Mortal Kombat), poem (Iliad adapted as Troy), earlier film (Oceans Eleven 2001, 1960).

If you obtain the rights to adapt another author’s work, and even if you adapt your own story, be aware that film is collaborative; your script and the way it comes off on the screen will likely be different from your vision of it.  Other writers have a go at it.  Even the directors and actors implement their own visions.  Some say the writer is the lowest woman on the totem pole. 

I’ve heard successful novelists insist the writer’s dream is to sell the script and have it NOT made, get the money but not have the work butchered.  When eating lunch with David Morrell, I was surprised to hear that he wasn’t happy with the hugely successful adaptation of his novel First Blood/Rambo.  His main beef: a character he considered very important to his story was simply dumped for purposes of the movie.  Though it went on to become a Sylvester Stallone vehicle franchise and made Morrell loads of money, it disappointed him.

Don’t let the warnings discourage you from adapting your story, however.  There are still good reasons to do it. 

1)    If your agent can sell your book to Hollywood (ka-chink), having the script ready to go means the agent can more easily negotiate for you to be paid to do the first pass at the script (ka-chink).  Count on other established script writers being brought in to do a rewrite or two or three…
2)    You might be one of the lucky few whose script sells before the book or simultaneously.
3)    As I will preach throughout this series, writing screenplays will improve your other writing.

Next time I’ll discuss methods of turning your story into a screenplay.  In the meantime, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief.  Don’t step on the director.  Avoid dusk and dawn. 
 
---- from the Inkpot
 
(first published in the Writing From The Peak blog  June 20, 2011)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Screenwriting: Your Motivations For Turning Story Into Script



It's important to consider your motivations for converting your story into a screenplay. Besides learning skills you can bring into your other writing, why would you want to turn your story into a script? Fame and fortune?

Many of us dream of fortune; most of us have learned the hard way that this one is elusive. Fame? How many people in the world know who Julia Roberts is? Steven Spielberg? How many remember Alan Ball, who wrote American Beauty? Maybe as creator of Six Feet Under, but for his original screenplay? When his script won the Academy Award in 2000, the announcer didn’t even pronounce his name correctly. If fame and fortune are at the top of your list, you may want to step back and study the industry. I suggest The Writer Got Screwed (but didn’t have to) by Brooke A. Wharton, recommended to me by a young film director, and Hello, He Lied--and Other Truths from the Hollywood Trenches by Lynda Obst. Despite the brutal realities explored in these tell-all books, film is quickly becoming the central conveyor of storytelling in our culture. If your story lends itself to the big screen, if you master the script-writing craft, if you do a good job at adapting your work, you may reach millions worldwide. Fame and fortune may follow.

The learning curve will vary. For most, it will not be a light decision made over coffee one morning. The most important thing to consider—and probably least understood—is that adaptation is NOT being true to the original. A book is a book; a screenplay is a screenplay. Even when a book is wildly popular, there’s no guarantee a movie based on its story will be. Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald was a script that tried to stay too true to the book and failed. It was not a visual enough story.

Do an honest assessment. Do you have a visual story to tell? Can it be distilled into a 1-2 sentence statement (its soul)? Is it one that has scenes that stick in your mind and a few dynamic characters? Can it be made less complex than your original storyline? Does it have an ending that adds to the unity of the script and sympathy for the protagonist? Are you willing to reorder events in proper time line, create scenes as needed, cut 200-400 pages down to 80-120 pages with less on each page? Are you able to turn the mental into the physical?

If you answered yes to the above questions, you may want to consider adapting your story into a screenplay. Next time, I’ll discuss a few more things to consider before you do and what goes into deciding whether or not to turn story to script. After that, I'll explore the upsides and downsides to methods commonly used in creating adaptations. The next post after that will discuss three typical approaches to adaptation. In the final post on this subject I'll suggest a step-by-step approach you can use to write the adaptation. So stay tuned!

I'd love to hear why you'd like to turn your story into a screenplay, whether or not you are ready, and why.

Meanwhile, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.  

Fade Out.

--- the Inkpot

(first published in the Writing From the Peak blog May 23, 2011)





Tuesday, October 30, 2012

REPRESENTATION: HELP IN GETTING YOUR SCRIPT INTO THE RIGHT HANDS



Besides pitching to filmmakers seeking scripts through lead services, exciting others with your story at festivals, finaling in contests, and joining local groups like CASA (Colorado Actors and Screenwrites Assembly), you can seek out the help of an agent, manager, or an entertainment attorney.

A Hollywood agent helps find someone to purchase your film.  One who is a Writers Guild Signatory charges 10%, no reading fee, and has a 90 day termination clause.  Hollywood directories will tell you who’s who and give contact information.  Consider attending film festivals.  I pitched to a Hollywood agent at one.  He represented me for about a year.  During that time he brought a romantic comedy (written with Christian Lyons) to Barry Sonnenfeld (MIB), a sci-fi farce (written with Janet Fogg) to James Cameron (Titanic), and a supernatural thriller (written with Janet Fogg) to Sony, HBO and Showtime.

Christian and I were told our script was considered in the final three, but Fun With Dick and Jane (Jim Carrey and Téa  Leoni) won out over ours—a great movie, so I can’t complain too much.
Managers are not WG Signatories.  They typically charge 15%.  Their role is to nurture your career.  They may also help make connections.  They can’t sell your work without an attorney.   By CA law, if a manager ends up producing your movie, she can’t charge you the 15% fee.  It can create a conflict of interst if your manager is also producer on the project; she is trying to limit budget and that includes the purchase price of the screenplay. 

Also producers bring scripts to actors or directors.
An entertainment attorney can play several roles.  Protecting your interests should be paramount.  An attorney I signed with when producer Ken Berk took my story under his belt years ago also helped market work as part of his practice, sometimes even books to N.Y.

If you get yourself out there and expose your talent to people who can help you market it, you may well break in with a spec script as your advertisement. 

 Another way to break in is to write an adaptation of another work.  Your own or someone else’s.  I’ll discuss adaptation in the next few posts.  Meanwhile, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief.  Don’t step on the director.  Avoid dusk and dawn.     ---   from the Inkpot

(first published on the Writing From the Peak Blog April 4, 2011)

Friday, October 26, 2012

EVALUATION AND EXPOSURE


Now that a good draft of your screenplay is completed and protected, it’s time to get it some exposure. There are many ways to do this.

One four-pronged approach includes contests, conferences, script consulting and coverage.

Network through conferences and writers organizations. I met talented writer/director Jan C.J. Jones (co-producer of Walt Disney Treasures – 50th Anniversary ) at a conference and have considered her friendship, advice, and encouragement invaluable in my journey. Join local groups devoted to film-making. Colorado has a thriving community, CASA, Colorado Actors and Screenwrites Assembly. I’ve made several valuable connections through this group. You can find them on line. Broader groups, such as Boulder Media Women, are terrific sources for networking.

Contests vary in their value. Some, like the Nicholl Fellowships, Sundance, Slamdance, AAA, and Reel Women are prestigious—often quarter finalists are approached by producers and directors. BlueCat Screenwriting Competition offers an evaluation every bit as helpful as industry coverage. Entry fees vary from early entry fees of $30 up to late entries of $75 or more. Format requirements vary, Word/Final Draft/ RTF/PDF. Regardless of cost and feedback, you’ll want to be sure the finalists are read by industry insiders with the power to buy and produce your screenplay.

Contests are often associated with screenwriting conferences and film festivals. Workshops and screenings alongside schmoozing and pitching are great vehicles for exposure. A pitch to an agent at a film festival where I volunteered my time landed me a Hollywood agent. Good screenwriting conferences/film festivals include Sundance, Toronto, and Santa Fe.

Consider paying to have a script consultant evaluate and make suggestions for changes. Think of them as script doctors. One of the pioneers in this business is Linda Seger. She has written several helpful books that offer a head start on evaluating your script. I recommend her Making a Good Script Great.

Another useful evaluation tool is coverage. On the surface, getting help from a script consultant sounds similar to getting coverage but they are different services serving different purposes. Coverage is not a tool for the writer so much as a market evaluation for the purchaser. Usually a page or two long, coverage includes the evaluator’s take on the script, a log line, short synopsis, weakpoints and strengths, and an honest, industry-savvy opinion about the script’s demographics, timeliness and overall marketability.

Unlike script consulting, it doesn’t involve any tutoring through changes. It is simply an evaluation and a marketing tool. The purchaser of coverage owns it and is not obligated to show the author. Authors can buy coverage, however. My last agent got coverage for all my feature length scripts. I was lucky she shared the one-page evaluations with me. With both consulting and coverage, their strength and usefulness vary (as can book doctors’ feedback) so get recommendations and always remember coverage is one person’s opinion - though an educated one, ideally.

Next time I’ll discuss represention: producers, agents, managers, and entertainment attorneys. Meanwhile, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.

From the Inkpot
(first posted on the Writing From the Peak blog, Feb 28, 2011)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Screenwriting: Protecting Your Work


I have an idea for a great movie. I have my pitch all ready to go. It’s high concept. I even have a rough treatment (synopsis) and a catchy title. I’d like to stir up interest in the idea, then write it. I plan to pitch it at the Monterey Bay Film Festival. Should I?

NO, NO and NO.

Titles and ideas are not protected. Hollywood is notorious for stealing and running with ideas. You are much better off waiting until you have a completed product. It’s probably cheaper to pay you for the draft than to be dragged through a lawsuit. Speaking of lawsuits, be prepared to sign a waivor. Hollywood types are paranoid about lawsuits and usually want you to release them of liability in case anything they are developing looks like your idea. Sounds like a bum deal. Right? But look at it from their POV and sign it. As my mentor, Jan Jones, once preached, you can’t get exposure if you don’t allow yourself to feel a little vulnerable. Dealing with known entities helps you protect yourself.

Once you’ve written your screenplay it’s important to protect it. The legal issues of ownership are no laughing matter in Hollywood. Art Buchwald sued Paramount in 1990 claiming they stole his script idea and made it into Coming to America. He won the breach of contract lawsuit and sizeable damages.

You can copyright your script, which gives you dated evidence that holds up well in courts. Also register your screenplay with the Writers Guild of America (West or East). The Guild serves many purposes for its members (such as pensions and health plans). For nonmembers, they will hold your material (now electronically, five years, $20). If ownership of the material or primary versus secondary writer position are ever in dispute, the WGA will negotiate based on what and when the claiment has registered.

As protection for both parties, some producer/directors will ask for your WGA registration number when they request your script. It shows you’re a professional if you have one.

Once you’ve protected your script, it will be time to get it evaluated and exposed. I’ll discuss ways to do that in my next post. Meanwhile, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.  ----   from the Inkpot

(First posted on Writing From the Peek February 7, 2011)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Screenwriting: How The Industry Works


In past postings I’ve discussed the technical aspect of writing original scripts as well as adaptations. Once you’ve written a screenplay you’ll want to understand the market. If you’ve adapted someone else’s work (with legal permission) you may already have a contract in place, actors attached, and producers gathering money for the project. Lucky you!

If you are on your own, however, it’s even more important to understand how the industry works. First I suggest that you explore your own desires for your career. Is your goal to write in a particular genre? Are you in L.A.? If not, are you willing and able to travel there for meetings? Having a presence there is important for pitching and rewriting. Remember, film is collaborative. And being in L.A. is essential if your ultimate goal is to write for T.V. series.

There are several ways to market using your script. 1) outright sale 2) a development deal using your script as a lure to pitch your ideas 3) audition in which your sample script secures you an audition for a writing assignment – using one of my comedy scripts, I won a writer-for-hire comedy script contract. 4) option in which the producer or director pays a fee to keep the exclusive right to buy your script for an agreed-upon time (typically 6-12 months and anywhere from $0-$20,000). When the time limit is reached the producer needs to pay the agreed upon purchase price or pass. If it’s a pass, the writer keeps option money and all rights go back to the writer.

Next posting we’ll discuss what’s hot and what’s not and what makes a screenplay “high concept.” Meanwhile, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.   So says Inkpot....

(First posted on Writing From the Peek January 17, 2011)



Friday, October 19, 2012

SCREENWRITING: The Formula: It's Less Intimidating Than You May Think


Aristotle’s Poetics is required reading for students in programs such as the UCLA School of Film, Television and Digital Media. In it you’ll find the formula that has traveled through the centures and still makes for a satisfying story.

THREE ACTS

Though novels allow much more leaway and often get away with meandering plots, screenplays tend to succeed best when they stick to a three act formula.

ACT I is the story set up. It establishes the premise and introduces the main character.

ACT II can be the most challenging to write, as is the murky middle of a novel. It incorporates confrontation, adds complications, develops subplots, and rides a wave of conflict up toward a crisis.

ACT III is the conclusion and resolution of story questions and conflict. For simplicity, let’s assume you are writing a two hour movie. You have 120 minutes to work with. At one manuscript page per minute you have 120 pages (this would be a rather long script, especially for a romantic comedy that often falls closer to 80-90 pages).

Assuming 120 pages, ACT I is the first 30 pages. Near the end of ACT I (page 25-27) comes a plot point. That is an incident that spins the story in another direction. For example Luke’s family is killed by the empire in Star Wars. Another plot point comes between pages 85-90 spinning things toward the end, FADE OUT.

In The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger Cyborg emerges from the fire unexpectedly as the metal robot that he truly is. This spin is also called a reversal. Rick Reichman, author of Formatting Your Screenplay, suggests having an action or psychological reversal in every scene to make the plot really roll along and surprise the viewer.

That brings me to another element of a screenplay, the scene. A sequence is a series of scenes tied together as a unit by a single idea. It may involve changing locations – from a living room out to a car and down the street. A scene is the action at a singe location. A scene is signaled with a primary slug line.

INT. KITCHEN – Day

It tells the director that this is an interior INT. or exterior EXT. shot. It also tells location and what time a day. Dawn and Dusk are hard to capture, so often recommended against.
The character who speaks, a parenthetical (a personal direction to the actor), dialogue and direction are formatted like this.

SPEAKER
(sarcastically)
Speech goes here and needs to be snappy, pithy.
Rarely are long speeches appropriate.

Here the direction tells what’s necessary to know about the surroundings and action in the scene. For scene setting, often no more detail is necessary than simply “typical teen room.” Action would include who’s on scene (first appearance in CAPS) and what they do.

The character cue is all CAPS. The parenthetical involves attitude or instructions to the actor and is frowned upon unless absolutely necessary because it bosses around the actor. The dialogue follows directly and is set inside specific margins. Avoid large chunks of direction. If you need more than four lines of it, break it up into 4-line chunks so that it’s easier to read.

FADE IN: starts your script. FADE OUT. ends it. There are many special slugs. Common ones include: MONTAGE (scene broken to show passing of time), BACK TO SCENE (after coming out of flashback), SPFX (special effects), MOS (German for without sound), SFX (sound effects), MATCH CUT (use of physical object to bridge shots), V.O. (voice over), Fades and Cuts (limit use of these, they step on director), CLOSE UP (only use when it’s absolutely necessary).

I wrote most of my screenplays using Word. I simply tabbed over as needed. If you are willing to fork out about $80-$150, you can buy Final Draft or Movie Magic, easy to learn programs that format for you. Details change over time so try to get the newest version. www.Zhura.com has free screenwriting software. There are also formatting macros that work with Word programs (about $40). Learning the format is easy. Pick up The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier and you’ll find all you need to know to get started.

Next posting I’ll discuss the industry, marketing, and types of representation. Meanwhile, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.  ----  Inkpot

(This post originally appeared in the Writing From the Peek blog Dec 16, 2010.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Screenwriting: Would You Hesitate?


None of my extensive experience collaborating with writers was as fun and rewarding as when I teamed up with my sister of the quill, Janet.  Folio and I worked on a few screenplays, winning awards and generally having a great creative time.

I never thought of myself as a screenwriter; I happened into it.  I've written over a dozen collaborative and solo scripts.  I've had one short script produced by director Erich Toll and another I worked on behind the scenes produced.   I wrote a series of screenwriting posts for PPW's Writing From the Peak Blog beginning in November 2010.  Over the course of the next several days I'd like to reshare them with our readers. 

I was a novelist and food writer. I never intended to write screenplays. The format and story formula seemed like foreign languages. The industry insiders were untouchable. The prospect of marketing (rent The Player) intimidated me. Why would I, a mere land-locked Coloradan, consider taking a peek into big screen craft and that clicky California world?

FADE IN

I may never have explored screenwriting if it hadn’t been for a pitch practice session at a writer’s conference and a Hollywood producer intrigued by my log line for a novel in progress.
Enter KEN BERK who offered to get my story into the right hands if I would write it as a feature-length script. There’s not enough room in this blog entry for the number of exclamation marks I felt at the offer. Did I hesitate?

Not for one BEAT. I saw dollar signs and my character MATCH CUT with JULIA ROBERTS. I drove home—floated home—and crash-learned the industry expectations. I cut the story down to two hours, one page per minute. I made it more visual with pithier dialogue, vivid action, and grand reversals.

About the time I was doing my fourth polish of ACT I my screenwriting career was punctuated by its first dramatic reversal. I received word that ACT III had ended too soon for the young producer. Not exactly the climax I’d hoped for and not the one expected by any of us who know him. Ken Berk, my “inciting incident,” my connection to the industry, and, at the time, my muse, had died.

I could have let the pursuit take a quiet FADE OUT. But I didn’t. Thanks to the inspiration of Ken, and another screenwriter I met through PPW, Jan Jones, I continued writing in this new and dynamic form. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of writing (and co-writing) eight completed feature-length screenplays in six genres (several more in progress) and five short scripts. I’ve been represented by a Hollywood agent, an entertainment attorney, and NY agents who sell books to Hollywood. I’ve worked on short scripts with an indie producer and an indie director—one script was produced. I’ve been honored with a dozen screenwriting awards and am now using many of the screenwriting skills to power-up my fourth novel.

Have you ever seen one of my stories in a movie theater? No, but I hope you will in the future.
The side-trip took quite a bit of time away from my novels and literary cookbooks. If I had the chance to go back in time, would I hesitate to make the same decision? Not for one BEAT.
There’s power and excitement in learning a new skill.

Would you hesitate?

If not, check in on my future blog entries in which I’ll discuss the basics of screenwriting format, the business, story expectations, representation, and adapting your novel, short story, or memoir into a screenplay. Most importantly, I will encourage you to take a valuable detour, write a screenplay and see how it will improve your storytelling and prose. Until next time, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.

Inky will tell you why you should avoid dusk and dawn in a future post. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

PARADOX OF BEING A WRITER

Each writer is a living paradox.  Emotionally vulnerable, we squeeze our blood onto the page.  And yet we must be thick skinned to face our weaknesses and elbow our way past rejection.

Most of us are introverts.  We spend a lot of time alone.  The keyboard, the cat, and a cup of coffee are company enough.  But we are also expected to taut ourselves, “turn on” to pitch at conferences, stay active on social media, sign books and work our way up to being keynote speakers.

We need to steadily move forward, butt in seat hands on keyboard.  We also need patience.  Some agents take months to respond.  Some don’t at all.  We have to withstand the paradox: hurry up and wait.

Stick to a formula or try something new?  Janet Evanovich’s editor would have screamed had she written two Stephanie Plum mysteries then switched gears to write a western sans humor.  But formula be damned; we grow by trying new genres.  A romance author writes sharp pithy dialogue after trying a screenplay.  A mainstream author absorbs lessons learned from a suspense detour. 

While we want our own goals to be within reach, our characters’ goals should be damn near impossible to reach. 

Our readers force paradox upon us.  They want bigger than life characters, conflicts with impossible goals and story arcs.  Ironically, those same readers expect believable characters, relatable situations, and inevitable resolutions.  They want to hate the antagonists, but also want them to be heroes of their own stories with a soft side.  Readers want bad guys to get their comeuppance.  On the other hand, they relish redemption.

We can't please them all.  Typical readers seek breezy page turners, but Pulitzer Prize judges wallow in complicated, lyrical works.  Readers want to be surprised, appalled, and tickled.  They want to see the world anew through strange eyes.  Paradoxically, they also want to close the book and realize they’ve just read about themselves.

Inkpot wonders: can you think of any job that is more paradoxical?


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Non-Fiction Collaboration

Why collaborate on a manuscript?  Is the sum truly greater than the parts?  In this case it was!

This week I’ll share lessons learned while collaborating with my husband Richard on Fogg in the Cockpit, a military history bestseller released world-wide by Casemate Publishing in 2011.

First I might mention that the book is based on the diary Richard’s father kept while flying Mustangs and Thunderbolts out of England during World War II. When Richard and I disagreed on an issue, because it is his father's diary I felt Richard’s opinion should carry more weight. As I’d recently seen my first novel published, and since I also spent more time on this book than Richard, he often tried to defer to me. Most small issues were resolved in this manner, but we did have periodic debates where one of us had to persuade the other to his or her way of thinking. Unfortunately, there were two issues we discussed a number of times with no resolution. We just didn’t agree, and ultimately, one of us simply acquiesced.

We recommend you discuss how you'll resolve a major difference of opinion before you start writing. Describe that process in a memo or letter agreement, or better yet, include it in your collaboration contract. As a side note, our publisher recently complimented us for “putting together such a clean package of text and photos,” so they didn’t stumble over either of our two problem-children. Whew!

Non-fiction lends itself to collaboration. Tasks can be allocated. Research, writing, tracking down sources and supporting documents or photos, requesting releases, editing, all of it is easy to share, more so than when writing fiction.

I started Fogg in the Cockpit by transcribing Howard Fogg’s 1943/44 diary and immediately realized what a fascinating document we had. Once the transcription was complete, Richard and I decided to create a book around Howard’s words. Richard researched significant events during the War that were concurrent with Howard’s service while I worked with the Historian from the 359th Fighter Group Association, Dartmouth College, and other sources to track down photos, maps, and reports about the 359th. Richard also tended to research technical material, such as compressibility or P-51 engine specifications, while I developed a mission map and verified geographic references. We shared efforts researching other supplementary material, including pilot terminology, military abbreviations, descriptions of the aircraft used by Allied and Axis powers, and so on.

We both drafted text for the supplementary material and we both edited our own work and each others. We were extremely fortunate to have an enormous number of reports and photos available from the Group Historian, and Richard and I spent days studying everything and debating what to include. Since then we’ve discovered that the Historian had a few other reports we were unaware of. While we might not have used them, I do regret not being aware of those documents until very recently. Lesson learned? Keep asking your sources what else they might have!

The week before our submittal deadline Richard double-checked facts we presented in the supplementary text while I edited based on the extremely detailed Author Guidelines from Casemate – both nit-picky, time consuming tasks. I also coordinated the 116 image releases while formatting the images electronically, as Richard drafted and refined the accompanying 15 pages of captions.

I should now mention where collaboration saved us. We had a working draft before sending out queries, but Casemate wanted a bigger book, and they wanted that bigger book submitted two months after we signed the contract.

We brushed up our original draft, verified facts, finalized images, and added 121 pages in a combination of new text and excerpts from the 1944 Group Historian's Reports - all in 53 days.

It’s good to have a partner!

What if you’re the “writer” partner collaborating with an expert in some obscure field? Or you've been asked to ghost-write a story? You need a contract that describes how you'll work together, who's responsible for what, how decisions will be made, how you'll share royalties or be paid, and who gets credit for what. Be clear before you start.

Next month, when I look at collaborating on a novel, I’ll include a list of points for you to discuss with your collaborator, as well as an example of a simple collaboration letter agreement.

By Janet Fogg
Janet is the author of Soliloquy, an award-winning historic romance, and co-author of the military history bestseller Fogg in the Cockpit.

(Originally posted on Chiseled in Rock in 2011)

 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

SoWest: Desert Justice


Evil abounds...

Frustrations mount...

Calls for revenge cry out!

In this volume, Desert Sleuths Sisters in Crime offers twenty tales you won’t forget. Victims fight back, police pursue bad guys, scores are evened...but when all else fails, get a taste for how the desert claims its own!


SoWest: Desert Justice was released on July 21, 2012, and includes the story "Lucky Me" by Shannon Baker!

Here's an excerpt from "Lucky Me."

...The water surged around us, buffeting the rubber floor of the raft, rocketing us forward into a gauntlet of sharp rocks, white, frothy mountains of icy river attacking us. A lone body in this would be like a single sock in the devil’s washing machine. A lone body would disappear. At the very least, it would turn up with holes ripped through it. Poor Julie.

I slid off the side of the raft into the bottom and huddled close to the center loaded with dry bags tied so securely they’d probably come through the Apocalypse intact. As I landed on my knees I reached forward. My fingers closed around Julie’s slim ankle...

Shannon Baker's first book in her Nora Abbott mystery series, Tainted Mountain, will be released in March 2013 by Midnight Ink.

SoWest: Desert Justice, Volume 4, Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths Chapter Anthology, includes stories by Shannon Baker, Susan Budavari, Laurie Fagen, Suzanne Flaig, Arthur Kerns, Deborah J Ledford, Elizabeth R. Marshall, Merle McCann, Margaret Morse, Kris Neri, Nancy Hart Newcomer, Toni Niesen, Virginia Nosky, R. K. Olson, Cathy Ann Rogers, Martin Roselius, Amy Schuster, Judy Starbuck, and Judith Starkston.

..

Friday, August 10, 2012

Why Collaborate?

Is the sum truly greater than the parts? It could be!

When considering this topic I was reminded of an analogy used by one of my partners at OZ Architecture. He described several of our designers as cheetahs – sprinting ahead of the pack to try to land a project and then dragging the kill away to gorge on all by themselves. But then, if they needed help, guess what happened? Suddenly the cheetahs became interested in team work and learned to share. What does that have to do with collaborating on a manuscript? It’s analogous. An award-winning project can be designed by a team and a contract-winning manuscript can be written. It’s fun, often more efficient, you have a partner to back you up when you’re failing, tired, or just plain sick of the project, and yes, sometimes it can be a pain in the ass. But the pain can be circumvented if communication is clear and egos are (mostly) checked at the door.

I’ve collaborated on award-winning screenplays, a military history bestseller, a narrative non-fiction, and a novel. I used to do quite a bit of ghost-writing. I love writing solo and have been published, yet I also enjoy collaborating. It’s nothing to fear, especially if you’re a good communicator and plan ahead.

First up? Collaborating on a screenplay.

What if you have a great concept, start drafting a manuscript, and your wheels won’t stop spinning? Yes, this happens to most writers at some point, but I mean spinning so fast that the wheels carve out a quicksand-filled sinkhole. Should you abandon thoughts of escape? Perhaps not. I’ve collaborated with Karen Albright Lin on several screenplays, and our first effort, Headhunters, began in exactly that fashion. I had a concept, started to write the book, and then hit quicksand. Why? I’m not exactly sure. The story just didn’t sing to me anymore. I was vigorously and thoroughly kicking myself when Karen suggested my concept would make a great screenplay. Voilà! She remembers that I suggested we write it together and I think she did. See? A great collaboration, where each gives credit to their partner! We had a blast and I believe Headhunters was meant for film.

Karen had already written several screenplays so she generously shared her expertise, and together we brainstormed the characters, developed the plot, shared time on research, and then alternated writing scenes. We both edited every sentence. Since then we’ve co-authored another screenplay based on a concept of Karen’s, and have a third in development. All three are award-winners and we’ve even had a Hollywood agent, though we ultimately severed that unfruitful relationship.

We discovered that I was better at writing action scenes (gimmie a car chase and a bunch of thugs with guns!), while Karen excelled at quiet, introspective moments, so we allocated scene drafts accordingly. I’m an early riser and Karen works late into the night. This worked to our advantage when we had a deadline, as we wrote in shifts, emailing a draft back and forth, morning and night.

Then there’s marketing. Whether pitching a story in person or subscribing to an on-line lead service, sharing that burden is not only attractive, it’s cost effective. Quite frankly, it’s also a hoot pitching with a partner. Playing off each other is effective and far less nerve-wracking.

Be aware that if you’re interested in writing specifically for Hollywood, collaboration will be your middle name. If your screenplay is optioned there will be re-writes, possibly by you and definitely by others. Then a shooting script will be developed and the story may change all over again, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be involved in those revisions. Writing for TV is another tale, as episodes for a series are invariably written by a team. You’ll also need to move to Hollywood to achieve that particular goal.

Back to Headhunters. Did we stumble during this three-legged race?  I don’t think we even stubbed our toes. While we had a tendency to debate whether a character should act or speak in an overt versus subtle fashion, they were respectful debates. Together, we pounded out the plot points, just as we shared the writing, editing, and research, and continue to share marketing efforts.

Screenplays lend themselves to collaboration. Action needs to be described in a consistent, crisp style; characters should be well developed with no superfluous dialogue. Karen and I work and play well together. It helps that we have similar goals and are unafraid of revisions. We both want to write great stories and sell them, so we’ll continue to stride towards Hollywood.

But there are other races to be won! Next month I’ll talk about lessons learned while collaborating with my husband, Richard, on Fogg in the Cockpit, a military history bestseller released by Casemate Publishing. After that I’ll look at co-authoring a novel, and I’ll also share a contract sample and suggest discussion points between collaborators.

By Janet Fogg
Janet is the author of Soliloquy, an award-winning historic romance, and co-author of the military history bestseller Fogg in the Cockpit.

(Originally posted on Chiseled in Rock, January 16, 2011)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

CONTINUING

When all things seem to work against getting your words on the page and you feel like giving up, there are many tricks that may help you refocus on C.O.N.T.I.N.U.I.N.G.

C – Commitment: make one to yourself. Confidence: use affirmations. Characters: play with them. Control yourself: nix TV and internet use, busy work, and other excuse behavior.

O – Overthinking the project? Original reason to write: what was it? Offer to help: judge contests, volunteer at conferences, beta read, mentor, believe in Karma.

N – Next sale: visualize it. NaNoWriMo and other challenges from friends, or simply blackmail yourself.

T – Therapist talk: what’s your block? Time: willing to put in lots of it? Turn off your editor. Toy with new genres. Target hot spots in marketing and sell yourself as well as your book. Treat yourself to a box of favorite pens.

I – Immediately mount the horse if you fall. Inspect your dominant emotion and understand it. Ignite your fire by rearranging your study or trying new rituals. Ignore skepticism around you: if someone asks, “Where can I find your novel?” tell of your successes.

N – Narrow down your goals. Nestle with your significant other or pet (don’t deny the things that matter). Notice and celebrate successes including agent feedback, contest finals, publications (even small venues), and hang awards on the wall.

U – Understand your theme. Utilize rejection: it’s not punishment; it’s a lesson in persistence, patience and packaging. Up the exercise to keep the blood and ideas flowing.

I – Invite the muse. If you see your chapter can be better, that’s a gift. Infuse energy and rhythm into your writing by reading other writers. Improve your skills by listening to feedback without defending your work (don’t stifle the critic).

N – Never give up: the only writers guaranteed not to publish are those who stop trying. Niche: find your place and your voice. Nothing guarantees a good first draft.

G – Gamble: what do you have to lose? Genre: do you love yours? Great ideas for a next book can be set aside in a file for later to prevent distraction. Gather so you don’t have to wander alone: Good critique groups, support groups, reading partners, conferences; be an editor or mentor.

- Inkpot
(First posted on Oct 19, 2011 Writing From the Peak Blog)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Book Trailers


I love browsing for books, and with the never-ending escalation of social media and the on-line experience in our day-to-day lives, book trailers continue to increase in popularity, though there’s debate as to their effectiveness in increasing sales.

Isn't that what it’s all about?  Getting someone interested in reading your book and looking at your website to see what other books you’ve written?  A good book trailer does both and a great book trailer will be shared by viewers with friends.

While photos alone can be used to create an effective trailer, I personally enjoy the combination of live-action and photos and used both when creating the book trailer for Fogg in the Cockpit.  Using Windows Movie Maker software I blended photos with a 1944 gun-camera clip.  I did spend quite a bit of time learning the software and fine-tuning the duration of the images against the music, a process I thoroughly enjoyed.  One decision was whether to include text across multiple photos, and as you can see, for this particular trailer I decided to let the images stand alone, with just the opening screen, closing screens, and the first gun-camera slide providing text.


I want to also mention the “special effects” that I created for Fogg in the Cockpit.  At the end of the video a P-51 taxis across the screen towing a blacked out screen.  This was done with Movie Maker and Photoshop, as I emulated the early days of stop motion by separating the P-51 image from the background, moving the fighter across the background screen a few frames at a time, and then creating a jpg of each specific image.  It took 160 jpgs for those few seconds, plus another 100 or so beforehand as I figured out spacing and timing.  Would I do it again, even though it was tedious and time-consuming?  Yes.  It was a challenge to see if I could pull it off, and I’ll use that clip in the credits on future (non-book) videos related to the 359th Fighter Group.

What about the images you plan to use in your trailer?  You should either own the copyright on those images or have permission to use them.  There are a number of royalty free sites, though some require that you give credit to the original artist.  Read and print-out their terms of use, or request permission if terms are unclear.  There are also sites where you can purchase the rights to use affordable stock photos.  Again, make sure you understand their terms of use.

Oh, and while I’m thinking of it, be aware that video size does matter when posting on some sites, though 100MB is the topset that I’ve seen most often.  My recent non-book related video was about 13MB and it was over two minutes in length, so I suspect it’s unlikely you’ll exceed the max.

For music?  There are royalty-free sites such as musopen.org, or you can purchase music from a site such as freeplaymusic.com.  There’s another choice though, and that’s creating your own, which can be done with software such as GarageBand, which was used by the designer of my Soliloquy book trailers. Yet another option would be to narrate your trailer, which might work best for non-fiction, though it could also work for fiction.

Now let’s compare a teaser trailer to a regular trailer.  I hired my friend Matt of Infinite Improbability Productions to create a trailer for Soliloquy, and he created two.  Before we started Matt read my long synopsis for the book, and then we met to discuss goals and review my preliminary text for the trailer.  He then read the book before creating story boards.  After I reviewed those and fine-tuned the text, he took over.  It was his idea to first release the teaser trailer and then the full trailer.

Soliloquy "teaser" trailer:



Soliloquy full trailer:



Similar yet different, and many shots were used in both though Matt created unique music for each.  The teaser trailer was released several months before the full trailer so I could (hopefully!) create buzz when announcing each.

If you decide to hire a designer to create your trailer, look at samples of their work to make certain they create the type of trailer you’re envisioning, and get a written proposal that includes a schedule for completion and payment.  Think about whether it’s important to you to have live action or special effects, as that will dramatically increase the cost of the trailer.

Where are you going to post your trailer?  Where aren’t you going to post your trailer?  You can post trailers on your author page on Amazon, Goodreads, AuthorsDen, and ManicReaders, on blogs, websites, on Facebook, and in chat rooms.  There’s also YouTube, Veoh, Blazing Trailers, MetaCafe, Dailymotion, Trailerspy, and many other video viewing sites.  Before posting, remember to carefully consider your key words or tags.  Oh, and search for book trailer contests and review sites just for trailers.

To summarize, whether creating your own trailer or hiring a designer, have an idea in mind for your storyline and write it out.  Then find images that capture your vision.  Think about music, sound effects, live-action footage, narration, and whether you want to have text flowing across your images or separate screen shots of text.  Find music or compose original music.  Decide on your opening and closing credits, and there you have it.  Okay, maybe it’s not quite that simple.  But the end-result?  A movie about your book.  A video preview that can be found based on keywords you’ve selected.  A trailer that captures your book’s passion and pain, its guts and glory, ending, of course, with your website and ordering information for all those voracious readers out there.

Hey!  Where’s the popcorn?

By Janet Fogg
Janet is the author of Soliloquy, an award-winning historical romance, and co-author of the military history bestseller, Fogg in the Cockpit.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

HOW many inches?


I had the very great pleasure of attending World Fantasy Con last year, and fortunately my friend Laura warned me about the bag of books given to attendees. Free books?! How wonderful! But oh my aching shoulders - what a heavy carry-on bag and suitcase! 

While in the midst of unpacking, I realized yet again that our bedroom bookcase was absolutely stuffed, and my bedside table already moaned beneath two piles of books stacked to the edge of the lampshade. I put away my suitcase and wandered into our office. Nope, that bookcase was also full, as was the one in the hallway, and there were even three unread books on the coffee table in the living room. I shrugged and headed back to the bedroom, where I stacked the new books between my dresser and chair.

Then I wondered how many inches of unread books I really had.

For a true picture I would need to include the unread books on my Kindle as well as the ten or twelve books tucked here and there on the bookcase. Oh, and then there’s the thirty-some odd books I have noted on my Goodreads “to-read” list – books I know I want to read but haven’t yet purchased. Could I count those? Should I? My husband has a stack of books that he’ll eventually share with me, and there’s usually at least a few books stashed beneath the Christmas tree as well as those three on the coffee table.

Hmmm. Forty-four inches beside the dresser, approximately twelve inches on the bookcase, seventeen inches on the bedside table, and on my Kindle I’d estimate at least twenty-five inches. My husband has to have more than twenty inches, and…

…books, book, BOOKS!

How many inches do you have?

-- Folio

Originally posted in November 2011

Friday, April 27, 2012

Do you work from home, too?


Why yes, I do work from home,


at my writing table.


Though when under deadline,


any (and all) surfaces will do!


Edit, edit, edit.


All done!  (Whew!)


Do you work from home, too?


~ Folio

Monday, April 2, 2012

Second Ten Tips On Writing and the Writing Life from Karen Lin

“Happy Fiftieth Birthday Karen Lin!” Tribute: Fifty Nifty Tips On Writing and the Writing Life Collected From Our Beloved Inkpot Over Twenty Years

The Second Ten Tips On Writing and the Writing Life From Karen Lin

11. Don’t remove the power from your words or ideas with modifiers such as “a bit” or “a little.” Just say it, without minimizing, for clarity and effortless reading.
12. Avoid using the word “looked,” but don’t go overboard with overly elaborate synonyms.
13. When you comment on a friend’s manuscript, make big smiley faces every time you like something. Then they’re less likely to bang their heads against the wall when you need to make a constructive criticism.
14. If at first you write a novel and it doesn’t get published, write, write, write again.
15. Never, ever stop submitting for publication: the only way you can be sure to fail is if you stop trying to get published. Keep a notebook of submissions and responses.
16. Avoid “was.” Whenever you see it in your writing, use it as a warning and be on the lookout for passive or otherwise dead prose.
17. When you merge scenes or drafts written at different times, read for and correct any distracting style changes.
18. Avoid the construction, “will be arriving [or any other verb].” It clutters and complicates.
19. If you ever write by hand, use yellow legal pads. Yellow stimulates creativity.
20. Then, when you type in your “shirty first draft” (a phrase modified by a Sister of the Quill from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones) from the yellow pad, your draft gets an automatic first edit.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

MY MUSES ARE STALKERS: I’m Not Kidding!



I used to think of stalkers as jealous former boyfriends and girlfriends, disgruntled ex spouses, obsessed co-workers, determined paparazzi, and obnoxious groupies. But I had to add to the list MY MUSES. I have twenty-five of the pesky perpetrators. You won’t feel envious when you hear how they operate.

The more benign stalkers like to hover like morbidly infatuated admirers. These muses tend to be observers who, on occasion, feel compelled to throw their two cents into the money jar. Alexis—in Greek “to help”—butts in when I least need her, like when I’m spending my one hundredth day researching the mating habits of iguanas for that one scene in ACT II of my latest screenplay. Velda is a hangeronnner who throws her weight around even when I’m supposed to be talking to my mother on the phone.

My rejected stalkers are intimacy seekers who’ve devolved into resentful muses. They are pathologically jealous of my time. They forget I have a life to live outside of fiction. They castigate until I’m on my knees, and if I don’t submit to their demands, they become vengeful, turning my characters against each other or taking my stories in directions I hadn’t planned. They can either save my book or mess with my mind so much I delete the damn thing. Oneida is a rock muse who is more like a ball and chain and makes it hard to go for a good long walk. Tanner tans hides. Then there’s the tallest of my muses, Sasquatch. I have no idea how he wheedled his way in there.

Some of my stalkers are kind of cool. One clutch chases after me while quilting the orange and red cloud threads at dawn. It’s quite a trick. They are particularly good with scene setting and choreography. One calls herself Seraphina – “fiery one” in Hebrew—who knew some muses were Jewish? Tara is a Colorado mile-highness, whose moniker is Irish for “an elevated place.” She inspired the bizarre locale of two of my books, the bohemian bastion of Boulder. Then there’s Muse Pearl…The secretions of a mollusk? Guess she’s meant to be atmospheric.

I tremble now as I think about one gang of stalkers who strike fear in my heart, pancreas, and other organs. They’re soul sucking dementors who threaten to bounce me down to hell and back to find my stories. These muses are overly careless with cattle prods and Donald Maass books. You’ve heard of plot reversals? That’s Muse Kylie’s Australian specialty, the boomerang. When I fail to twist my plots around often enough to entertain her, that damned wooden “play toy” becomes a weapon. Muse Melanie’s French name suits her. It means black and dark, and she never fails to show up late and force my protagonist to choose between two devastating courses of action. Frederica, a “peaceful ruler,” specializes in dénouements. Don’t be fooled by her name though. If I don’t leave a reader wanting more by the end of the book, I’m thrown into the torture chamber with Muse Gertrude and her spear, Edger Allen Poe, and Wilber the Wild Boar. How that last muse factors in, I’ve never quite figured out.

Some of my stalking muses are cranky and demanding about character development. Bridget—the exalted one—is an old-school nun who ruler-slaps me until each of my characters is a hero of his own story. Rhianno—the Great Welsh Queen—is the storm in brainstorm when it comes to protagonists. Muse Calvin insists my characters are adequately flawed. His French name means bald. Go figure.

The intimacy seekers believe I’m their soul mate. Their love letters are false starts. Shshshshhhhh. Don’t tell them a few have been recycled or have been critiqued into submission, by human friends no less. Stalkers of this variety are usually torn between reconciliation and revenge. Acacia—Greek for ”point of a thorn”—is a pain in the buttocks and is almost as ornery as Anise and Saffron, who sprinkle themselves all over the page when I’m working on one of my literary cookbooks. Then there are the naked muses, Cherry and Beverly Beaver Stream, who come creeping into my bed when I’m doing hands on research for flash erotica.

My nitpicker muses are irritating little Tinkerbell types who seem to think I need inspiration in the area of punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Courtney insists her name means short nose; but I think it means raised nose. She’s got a problem with peek and peak, bare and bear, and don’t get her started on to, two, and too! Blair lost her wings long ago on the battlefield. Trapezius stubs aside, she still takes up arms over the stupidest little things like periods and commas always belonging inside the quotation marks. Pu-lease! Making things worse, these persnickety muses are in league with the cyberstalkers.

They are a fun bunch of blokes.

I have no idea what the Cyberstalkers look like. They may not even exist. They pretend to be those guys from high school you friended last year then supported by “liking” this and “commenting” on that, when really they are keyboard perverts who have fetishes about fonts and format and pet peeves about passive language, unnecessary dialogue tags and qualifiers. Talk about anal!

Know what’s really scary? These cyber-bullies and gnat flickers have formed an alliance against my favorite muse, What-Will-Be-Will-Be Cassara. The nitpickers only allow her near me during my rushed first drafts. But once she’s done her job, the cyberstalkers kick her to the side, grumbling like hung over puppeteers pulling my strings as if I was their bouncy flouncy editorial marionette. I resent that!

I’ve learned a thing or two about dealing with stalkers. I’ll share my lessons with you. Don’t engage them unless you’re determined to publish your book. Reach out and tell others what’s going on. Others suffer with their own muses and are eager to form stalking muse support groups. See? I told you, muses aren’t always as angelic as they’re made out to be. Or are they? - Inkpot

Friday, March 23, 2012

Farewell, 2008 Writer’s Market

While struggling to tame one of our overfull bookcases, I spotted my three-inch thick 2008 Writer’s Market. Sticky note laden and adorned by multi-colored highlights, folded page corners, and a dozen paperclips, I hate to think how many hours I spent curled around that book, studying which publisher wanted what and how to get it to them.

I used to purchase a revised edition every other year or so, but that stopped in 2008 when I received my first book contract. That contract, coupled with an on-line presence by virtually every publisher, dispelled my desire to purchase a newer version of Writer's Market. So into the recycle bin poor old 2008 will go, along with hours and hours of dreams of publication.

Please don't misunderstand, I’m comfortable saying farewell. New hopes and dreams have usurped the old, though my goals remain quite high. I have to confess though, after flipping through 2008 and contemplating all of the research and effort held within those pages, it is difficult for me to imagine how many publication goals were fulfilled, or how many nightmares of rejection continue to haunt, sustained entirely by all of that tiny print and those somewhat arcane symbols. I pray that the number of dreams put comfortably to bed is as enormous as the book itself, and I hope 2008 will soon rest in peace.

~ Folio

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

PET PEEVES IN EDITING: Use that FIND feature

I imagine we all have pet peeves when it comes to fiction. Those niggling habits writers have that trip us up, waste words, and mince meanings. If enough of them distract, we are tempted to repurpose the book for kindling.


When editing my clients' work, I tend to run into certain bugaboos quite often.


Some of them require an ear for Tense (and manipulating it as needed for backstory), Point of View (the blinders that keep that horse from seeing what’s behind him), underuse of contractions, telling when showing would be more powerful, etc.


Luckily, others are less nuanced and can be addressed easily with our word programs’ search/find features.


Search and destroy:

When you‘ve placed these two words -- and then (side by side). Pick one or the other. You don’t need both.

Qualifiers deflate prose. Examples: began to, begin, started to, start, a bit of, a little of, seemed to, what appeared to be, maybe, almost, decided to, plan to, any (as in: Note any changes you make.), all of (as in: I'm too old for all of this.)

Frequently used throwaway words that weaken the prose such as: just, oh, anyway, well, fairly, seems, though, very, really, many, a lot, so, and of these (as in: several of the boys)

Passive construction: watch for forms of “to be” paired with gerunds. Simple past tense is better, more active, more engaging. “She is holding” versus “She holds”

Vague and less vivid words like:
sit (how about “plop” or “eased down into” or “collapsed into”)
walked (strolled, marched, traipsed, sauntered) and run, went down, went over, moved, laugh, look…

!!!!!! Use exclamation marks only when absolutely necessary. Good dialogue or narrative already conveys the urgency or excitement

Suddenly and immediately. Most of the time they aren’t necessary. Let the thing happen, the context will let us know it happened suddenly.

Unnecessary qualifiers weaken the prose. Let them be or do instead of “start to be” or “begin to do” something: watch for “began” and “started”

Unnecessary wordiness (like redundancies and phrases that can be simplified without changing meaning) Ex: "down below" becomes "below"

Unnecessary attributions of thoughts, beliefs, etc. If we are solidly in POV we assume those thoughts etc. are those of the POV character. Ex: I thought, He felt, I believed

“THAT” can often be eliminated. If a sentence can read just fine without it, take it out.

Fancy dialogue tags. “Said” is typically the best dialogue tag – others like hissed, addressed formally, argued, etc. call attention to themselves and slow the read. Good dialogue doesn’t need description – unless it is unclear in context that something is said sarcastically. Even "said" can be replaced with an action of the character. "Don't you dare." John grabbed his beer can and sqeezed it into a crumple of aluminum.

Make use of the FIND feature and you’ll clean up many editors’ pet peeves and will help your reader continue moving forward.

Inkpot wishes you good editing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sleuths, Bombers and Mystics: In the World of Genre Fiction

February 16, 2012 4:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.


Join writers Carol Berg, Janet Fogg, and Mark Stevens for a panel on writing and publishing genre fiction, which will culminate with a short reading of their works. These writers have been on the Denver Best Seller List and the Military Book Club bestseller list, and won awards such as the HOLT Medallion Award of Merit, Colorado Book Awards, the Prism Award, the Geffen Award, and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. All come to ACC with great accolades from the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. $5 suggested donation for the Writers Studio Scholarship fund. Location: Arapahoe Community College Main Campus, Rm M4750, Denver, CO.


Janet Fogg’s focus on writing began in the 1990s when she was CFO for the coolest architectural firm in Boulder. Fifteen writing awards later, Janet resigned from the firm to write full-time, and ten months after that she signed a contract for Soliloquy, her award-winning WWII historical romance.

In 2011 Casemate Publishing released Fogg in the Cockpit, a Military Book Club bestseller co-authored by Janet and her husband Richard Fogg. Based on the wartime diary of Richard’s father, Fogg in the Cockpit offers a first hand look at Howard Fogg’s fascinating and often unexpected story as a fighter pilot during WWII.

Janet was the 2010 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Published Author Liaison, is a long-time member of RMFW, Pikes Peak Writers, and two fantastic critique groups. In her free time she has fun with cars with Richard. Her website is at www.janetfogg.com.


Former software engineer Carol Berg majored in mathematics at Rice University and computer science at the University of Colorado. But it is her thirteen epic fantasy novels that have won national and international awards, including multiple Colorado Book Awards, the Prism Award, the Geffen Award, and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. They’ve been translated into multiple languages, appeared on bestseller lists, and been read, so readers tell her, on five continents, on a submarine under the Mediterranean, in the war zone of Iraq, and on the slopes of Denali. Her novels of the Collegia Magica have received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, using words like compelling, intelligent, complex, enthralling, and superbly realized. The latest is The Daemon Prism. Her website is at http://www.sff.net/people/carolberg/.


The son of two librarians, Mark Stevens was raised in Lincoln, Massachusetts, graduated from Principia College in Illinois. He worked as a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor in Boston and Los Angeles; worked for The Rocky Mountain News, covering City Hall for three years. He produced television news for The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour in the United States and Latin America. He covered the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, NASA’s space shuttle disaster, a volcano eruption in Colombia, political upheavals in Nicaragua, and mudslides in Puerto Rico. After tending bar for a year on a self-financed sabbatical (and to write fiction), he joined The Denver Post to cover education. Those five years of reporting led to a position as Director of Communications with Denver Public Schools for more 11 years and then with the Greeley school district and the state department of education. He now works in public relations. After two decades of writing fiction, Mark was published in 2007. His first Allison Coil Mystery, Antler Dust, hit the Denver Post best seller list when it was published and again in 2009. The sequel, Buried by the Roan, was published in August, 2011 and is receiving excellent reviews. Both books are set in the Flat Tops Wilderness of Western Colorado and feature hunting guide and amateur sleuth Allison Coil. The third book is on the way and tentatively scheduled for release in 2013. His website is at http://www.antlerdust.com/.