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The Writing Bug

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  • June 05, 2019 10:08 AM | JC Lynne (Administrator)

    By Brian Kaufman

    Back in the 70s, I played guitar in a couple metal bands. I had fun, but I wasn’t any good. These days, I’m trying to teach myself to play blues guitar again (a goal that aligns with my latest writing project). The 45-year layoff taught me two things. First, old fingers suck. Second, there’s a lot to learn about writing from playing guitar.

    Bob Denver Was So Much More Than Gilligan.

    The best guitarist I ever saw was an unlikely-looking kid (he resembled Bob Denver from the television show, Gilligan’s Island). I won’t mention his name because he still plays bars in northern Colorado. We got together a few times, decades ago, to jam.

    I asked him for the secret to crafting a good guitar solo. He said, “Start simple. Play a few licks they’ve heard and expected before you launch off into your crazy stuff. If you give them something they can wrap their heads around to start with, they’ll stick with you.”

    For non-musicians, a lick is a stock pattern or phrase that catches the ear.

    I think That Advice Crosses over to Writing.

    • Start simple.
    • Don’t use complicated or cluttered sentences. 
    • Don’t be abstract. 
    • Don’t be overly poetic. 
    • Save your adjective and adverb modifiers for later. 
    • Let readers get the rhythm of your prose before you yank them down your dark path. 
    As an editor, I often see story openings that try to impress with complex sentence structures, only to slip back into the author’s natural voice later. A false opening voice is a death knell for a submission.

    I've also seen instant bursts of action that require immediate backstory via a clumsy flashback.

    I can understand why this sort of thing happens. We've all been told to hook the reader with brilliance in the first six sentences. That's a lot of pressure. Perhaps I can mitigate some of it.

    In the hierarchy of imperatives, where you start your story might be more important than how you start. Focus on character and plot. Write the way you speak to ensure your authentic voice is in play.

    But what about terrible openings that don't work? Shouldn't you keep after that first page until it is perfect?

    One of the drawbacks to real life is the absence of a time machine to allow you to correct mistakes after-the-fact. Novel writing comes with a built-in time machine called self-editing. You can go back and change the opening after you finish your book. 

    In fact, your story’s opening may just be the last thing you should write before finishing the novel. And when you revisit that opening, my advice will still hold true. Start simple. 

    Let the story unfold—you have miles of pages to go before the end.

    Need Inspiration? Check Out The Best Opening Lines In Literature.

    Great Opening Lines

    Because breaking the rules is the only certain rule of writing. These classic lines don't follow any of my advice. Which of these openings is your favorite?

  • June 03, 2019 4:04 PM | JC Lynne (Administrator)

    By Jack Matthews 

    What if you had almost a month of undistracted writing time? With a private studio. Physically isolated from family and friends. Limited internet access—nearly off the grid except for stimulating conversations over dinner with artists from all over the country, or even the world.

    Room, board, and studio provided free of charge. No obligations. Heaven or hell? Could you do it? If so, what would you accomplish? If this sounds like heaven, then perhaps a residency is in your future.

    After Hours of Work, Relaxing In The Artist's Lounge.

    After Hours of Work, Relaxing In The Artist's Lounge.

    Last February, I was fortunate to be one of seven resident artists at the Brush Creek Ranch near Saratoga, Wyoming. Funded by the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts (, up to eight artists—musicians, visual artists, and writers—are selected each month for a twenty-two-day residency.

    Brush Creek isn’t the only opportunity of its kind. An internet search yields hundreds of residencies available to writers. The details differ in what they provide and what they expect, but all have a common underlying objective: give the artists undistracted time to focus on their craft.

    A residency of the Brush Creek kind (the limit of my experience) isn’t for everybody. To ensure the artists’ time is undistracted, visitors are discouraged and overnight visitors prohibited.

    As noted, internet access is limited by bandwidth and location within the facility, so if your project is research-heavy, you may not realize the full potential of the opportunity. Family, school, and work obligations can be a problem for many.

    You have to purge your schedule for the duration.

    Brush Creek Artists, February 2019 (L-R) Natalie Obermaier, Johanna Mueller, Ben Erlich, Marsha Goldberg, the author, Suzanne Samuels, Robert Strobel

    Brush Creek Artists, February 2019 (l-r), Natalie Obermaier, Johanna Mueller, Ben Ehrlich, Marsha Goldberg, the author, Suzanne Samuels, Robert Strobel.

    So if you’ve cleared all those hurdles and are still with me here, then you may be asking, how do I get in?

    All residencies have some form of an application process. A typical submission includes a sample of your work, a statement of purpose, character references, and a short bio.

    The actual selection process is somewhat opaque, but this is what I know—the jurors change, so a rejection in one application window doesn’t mean you shouldn’t re-apply in the next window.

    The work samples are judged blind. Your writing stands on its own merit. For Brush Creek and many others, you do NOT have to be a published author to be awarded a residency. They actively seek ‘emerging’ writers as well as published authors. Character references focus on your ability to get along with a variety of people in a working/living environment.

    The following advice is based on personal observation and discussion with other residency veterans—

    • The statement of purpose should be specific.

    You probably won't impress with "the space and time to hone my craft." Every artist I spoke to had a specific project—an upcoming gallery opening, a composition to polish, or, as with me, to finish the character arcs and plot development of a second novel.

    • Try to establish a connection between your work and the specific residency.

    Both my first novel and my WIP are set in Wyoming. But perhaps you can find common ground with the Foundation’s statement of purpose or philosophy.

    • Also, if possible, apply for one of the winter months.

    Most residency appointments are highly competitive. I slipped through the cracks because I actually wanted a January or February award. Because of work and school schedules, the summer month awards can be super-competitive and harder to land.

    My View From The Studio.

    My View from The Studio.

    The residency experience was one of the most productive and memorable experiences of my life. If the stars align and it fits with your life goals and objectives, I highly recommend you take a shot at it.

  • May 22, 2019 9:39 AM | Anonymous

    By Ronda Simmons

    We humans like to categorize things: friend or foe, sweet or sour, paper or plastic. When it comes to literature, a book has got to fit into a niche. Not only does it help the library or bookstore know where to shelve the piece, but it also helps the reader, who wants to know just what exactly he or she is getting themselves into.

    What Is Genre?

    A genre is a category of literature characterized by similarities in style, form, or subject matter. In fiction, there are dozens of kinds, but for the purposes of this blog, let's focus on some of the most common:
    • Literary Fiction is all about the inner lives of characters and the human condition. It's hard to write and harder to sell. Literary Fiction writers always have a cat, or several, lurking around. They wear velvet, sigh a lot and look off into the distance in search of their muse.
    • Speculative Fiction is any story set in a world other than the real one. Those superhero movies you can't get enough of? Spec Fic. Writers of speculative fiction tend to be the poorest dressed at any writing conference, but they tell the best jokes.
    • Science Fictionincludes any story featuring scientific ideas and advanced technological concepts. Sci-Fi writers think in terms of entire universes when creating their masterpieces. These writers almost always wear glasses and wanted to be astronauts when they were kids, probably still do.
    • Fantasy stories deal with kingdoms, as opposed to the universes favored by science fiction stories. Myths and magic figure prominently. Fantasy writers wear lots of lavender, are vegetarians, and collect crystals.
    • Suspense/Thriller stories have a character or characters in jeopardy. They include pursuit and escape, and have either physical or psychological threats, or both. The authors of this genre are usually insomniacs, drink whiskey, and prefer their steak rare.
    • Romance stories are about romantic relationships between two people, or animals, or both. They are fraught with sexual tension and desire. Writers who write romance are mostly women who wear scarves, bangle bracelets, and dramatic eye shadow.
    • Action Adventure includes any story that puts the protagonist in physical danger. Lots of near misses and daring feats keep the readers of this genre turning pages well into the night. Action adventure writers wear khaki, know how to tie at least 20 kinds of knots and can drive a stick shift.
    • Mystery/Crime novels are also known as "whodunits" or "whydunits." These stories have an abundance of clues, red herrings, and twisty plots. Mystery writers wear jackets with satin linings and prefer a dry red wine like a cabernet sauvignon or perhaps an amusing pinot noir. 
    • Horror/Paranormal/Ghoststories are the ones that give their readers nightmares. The protagonist is dealing with supernatural or demonic beings. These writers wear black and are always the first to show up at Happy Hour.
    These last two aren't genres, per se, but rather, age categories. I include them here because they are very much in vogue and you need to know what they are.
    • Young Adult, or YA, is written for and about young people, usually ranging in age from 12 to 18. They almost always are coming-of-age stories. YA writers don't have to be teenagers themselves, but they should dress whimsically, know all the latest slang, and name their cars.
    • New Adult, NA, refers to stories in which the protagonist is out of his or her teen years and is facing the challenges of leaving home, starting a career, and making all of the mistakes that their parents warned them about. These books often have romance at their core and can slop over into erotica. NA writers dress in all black, like the writers of Horror, but are less likely to be wearing underwear.
    Figure out what your genre is, write it to the best of your ability, and, for goodness sake, dress the part!

    For more on all genre, here are a couple of websites to check out:

    Do You Know What Your Book Genre Is?

    The 17 Most Popular Genres in Fiction and Why They Matter

    List of Writing Genres

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