Monday, April 7, 2008

Mike's Writing Newsletter/Issue #3

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An Inside View of the Art, Craft,
and Business of Writing
Vol 1, Issue 3 March 5, 2008

Editor in Chief: Michael P. Geffner
Layout & Design: Bailey-Shropshire Professional Writing Services
Marketing Director: Marie Sultana Robinson
Logo Designer: Jennifer L. Miller
Staff Writers: Jeanne Lyet Gassman, Bev Walton-Porter, Kim McDougall, Marilyn L. Taylor, Barbara Crooker, Patricia Fry, Whitney Lakin, Forman Lauren, Mark Terence Chapman, Angela Wilson, Joshua James
Copy Editor: Melinda Brack

A Word from Mike

People ask me all the time: Is it better to be a freelance or staff writer?
It's such a tough question to answer, since so many variables need to be considered.
How much of a yearly salary would you like to make?
At what stage in your writing career are you?
Are you the breadwinner of the family or a secondary source of income?
Are you single or married?
Where do you live?
How disciplined are you?
Every situation is vastly different.
Before these last three years, in which I've been a staff columnist for a daily newspaper, I had been a freelancer for most of my life and, truth be told, absolutely loved it—or at least most of it.
I didn't have to look over my shoulder to a boss.
I didn't get bored writing for the same place over and over again.
And, best of all, I had the ultimate, glorious freedom to write only when I felt like it, even if it was at three in the morning, as long as I hit my deadlines (which I always did).
I'll admit, though, it wasn't always easy.
The freelance life is a roller coaster of making a lot of money one month and none the next, of paying your own health insurance and devising your own retirement plan, of toughly negotiating your own deals, and, maybe worst of all, making tons of cold calls to editors.
To be among the best at freelancing, you must not only be relentlessly aggressive in amassing work (through time-consuming query letters, phone calls, or, preferably, face-to-face meetings) but sometimes, after the work is finally done, being a relentless bill collector as well.
Double yuk!
At my best, I had two contributing contracts at once (which means I got guaranteed dollars for X amount of stories in a given year, whether I wrote them or not, whether the editors liked them or not) and was paid a per-word rate between $1.50 and $3.00 (in contrast to the late Norman Mailer, who received no less than $5 a word).

In a way, I was a freelance "cheater," since I was something between a staff and freelance writer. But, in retrospect, I'm convinced that that's really the only way to do it if you want to make serious dough and have a decent lifestyle, instead of always being on the hustle and struggling for the next month's rent money.

The bottom line is, despite my utter joy freelancing, I wouldn't suggest it to anyone, especially now, with so many freelance budgets since 9/11 having been reduced significantly, if not in the process of being all but wiped out completely.

So in my humble been-there-done-that opinion: Hands down, unless income isn't a priority, try as best you can to land a staff writing job—and all the great benefits (medical insurance, 401K plans, disability and life insurance, etc.) that come along with it.

If you already freelance, you may want to have the end-goal in mind being that you're merely using it as a stepping stone to something permanent.

That's my two cents.

Good luck, no matter what you choose to pursue!
Best always and stay positive,

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A Successful Writer Reads…
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Inside This Issue
The Spotlight Interview: Bill Minutaglio
Jeanne’s Writing Desk: Character and Conflict
Affirmations to Write By
Publishing to the Power of Dee
The Writer’s Prayer
The Language
On The Writing Business
Writing Quotes of the Month
A Bevy of Writing Knowledge
Writing Promptly
Slice of the Writing Life
The Writing Game
Talk the Talk
Promotion and Marketing
Inside the Writer’s Brain
Tip of the Month
Market Watch
Poetry Tips and Prompts of the Month
The Writing Life: Fingers to the Bone
Mike’s Private Coaching Sessions

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The Spotlight Interview
Bill Minutaglio, Writer, Columnist, Author, Editor, Professor

Beauty, as the saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder, and to my beholding eye, Bill Minutaglio, as a stylist, is one of the most beautiful writers in America. His words are nothing less than dazzling. Currently a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, Minutaglio has been nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize and once for the National Book Award, and, as a longtime staff writer for The Dallas Morning News, won numerous awards for feature and column writing. He's published five books, including “City on Fire,” which has been optioned by Tom Cruise (as well as deemed in the July 2004 issue of Esquire as one the greatest tales of survival ever told), and “First Son,” an acclaimed biography about President George W. Bush. He's written for many elite publications, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Talk, Details, and Outside, been interviewed on both network and cable TV by, among others, Katie Couric, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Chris Matthews, and Bill O'Reilly, and is the former Texas bureau chief for People.

Please visit his Web site at:

The following is my exclusive newsletter interview with Mr. Minutaglio:

Mike: What, in your opinion, are the most common misconceptions writers have about editors?

Minutaglio: Well, most writers are probably like a writer I knew in Texas who once told me: "I hope that just once, before I die, I get to work with one good editor." You should enter the editing process knowing that there are truly very few great editors out there. You shouldn't automatically assume that an editor knows better than you about what constitutes a good story. You shouldn't automatically assume an editor has any clue about how difficult the reporting and writing process can be. YOU SHOULD NEVER BE INTIMIDATED BY AN EDITOR. You should break through the misconception that you can't engage in friendly discussions with an editor about the nature of an assignment, how a story should be put, reported and written, etc. Talk to editors, cajole them, debate with them. Editors will respect you for it--and it will empower you. That said, most writers seem to think that editors simply stop their whole world and focus on a writer when he/she calls or sends in a story. Most editors these days are overworked, hurried, harried. They don't have a lot of time. So, you should be responsive, be on your game, be ready, be smart and be informed.

Mike: What's the best advice you can give inexperienced writers trying to break through?

Minutaglio: I'm a great believer in the "message in the bottle" theory—you float out as many ideas to as many editors, publications, as possible. Putting together a clip package is a hassle—but you have to do it. You have to have a good-looking one ready at all times. Then, you have to screw up your courage and send out letters and make calls and shoot out e-mails to editors. You have to get on their radar. You have to suggest that your work is distinguished and invaluable-you have to, really, flatly state it when you send your query letter. You have to let an editor know that you bring a certain level of expertise, a quality that no one else can bring to a story. If you are starting out, don't be afraid to take on any assignment—I promise you, it won't be held against you later in life, later in your career. Be kind to your colleagues—that sounds trite, but it's gospel: if you develop friendships with other writers, you will be paid back with job tips, recommendations, reporting help, etc.

Mike: What can you tell writers about query letters?

Minutaglio: Most query letters are, well, ill conceived—starting with a basic problem...the story itself does not belong in the particular publication. It might be a good idea for another magazine...but not the one where it is being pitched. Think long and hard about whether your story is being aimed at the right magazine. Would that newspaper or magazine EVER run a story like this? Has it run anything even remotely similar—in content and tone–before?

I believe you should outline the story ASAP, mention your credentials and why you are the ONLY person who can do this, and then suggest you will follow up on the query letter in two weeks. Editors, I've found, seem to have a harder time rejecting letters that come in snail mail. E-mails are often quickly disposed of. They all LOOK the same. The electronic signature looks like all the others. They look uniform. And it makes it easy for an editor to give you a uniform kiss-off. I think snail mail works better for editors you don't know yet, editors you are trying to court. Don't get flashy, twitchy, in your query letter either—somebody in some journalism school is teaching people that they have to write these witty query letters or job applications that sounds like outtakes from SpongeBob Squarepants teleplays—don't get cute and clever in your query letter. Be enthusiastic, be serious, and be clear. Get to the point of the story.

Also, and this is a must, make a nod to the fact that you understand the mission of the publication you are trying to pitch your story to-mention that you think this story will appeal to the demographic, the readership, for X, Y and Z reasons. Suggest, if you can, some familiarity and admiration for the publication. If you saw a story that you liked in a previous issue—one that appeals to the same demographic your story will appeal to—then mention that story. Editors want to be loved and appreciated, and this will show them that you have taken the time to study their publication, their work.

You must read back issues—that's going to be the best way to see what the editors want. Go to a bookstore and read the magazines. Buy 'em if you can. Try to figure out, by studying the magazine, the right editor to pitch your story to—too often great ideas get sent to the wrong editor at the right magazine. The story gets dumped because an editor will not pass it along to the right person. Happens a lot, trust me.

Hottest topics: MONEY. Crime sagas never go out of fashion-maybe it's a commentary on our times, but people love to read stories about how the mighty have fallen. Forget politics. Triumph over tragedy stories, in any field, will almost always work. HEROES.

You must inure yourself to the possibility that you will NEVER hear back from an editor. It's almost a blessed day in paradise these days when you actually get a form letter or form e-mail rejecting your story. Brace yourself for it. But don't be afraid to follow up on it.

Mike: Tell us your most entertaining, and possibly illustrative, story about being an editor and/or writer.

Minutaglio: Well, I wrote a major profile for a major newspaper-updating the life and times of iconic John Connally (former Secretary of Treasury, etc.), who in 1963 was shot while riding in the doomed motorcade the day President John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas. Two editors were going to work on the story. The first one looked at my 4,000-word piece and studied it for a long time and then finally said he had a "radical idea"—"I think we should move your first five paragraphs to the very end of the story and make that your ending." I was pissed, but as a young writer I didn't say much as the editor hit some computer keys and moved the paragraphs from the beginning to the end.

Later that day, the second editor called me into his office and said he was going to do the final editing now that the first editor was through with my piece. He looked at my piece and studied it for a long time and then finally said he had a "novel suggestion"—"I think we should move the last five paragraphs of your story to the very top and make that your lead."

What could I do?

I told the second editor it was one of the most brilliant editing suggestions I had ever heard and that I had to agree with him-he was a genius and we should go ahead and move those paragraphs.

When the story ran, the first editor accosted me: "How the hell did you move those damned paragraphs back to where you had them after I specifically had changed them?"

I simply told him: "I didn't touch 'em at all. An editor did."

The cautionary tale is that many editorial decisions are entirely subjective.

I could, of course, regale you with the tale of a great Wall Street Journal writer—someone widely recognized for his great writing skills—who happens to be one of my best pals. In his first job interview, he went to a newspaper managing editor's office with his clips. He sat in the editor's office and watched the editor actually fall asleep as he read the clips. My buddy sat there for 20 minutes, hoping the editor would wake up. Finally, he tiptoed out of the office—and he sheepishly told the secretary that he was in a job interview, the editor was reading his clips and somehow the editor went to sleep. The secretary laughed and said the editor had narcolepsy. My buddy wanted to believe her. Despite that awkward beginning, he went on to great things.

Mike: What should the relationship between writer and editor be at its best?

Minutaglio: Trusting, trusting, trusting. One of the best editors I ever had—who went to write several best-selling books—told me: "The reason I really like you as a writer, is that I know when you come back from a story it is going to be different than the one we envisioned." That is ultimate trust and ultimate understanding—he was an editor who knew NEVER to bring cemented preconceptions to a story. He TRUSTED me to bring back the right story, the best story—not the story he thought was out there, but the story I KNEW was out there. The best editors are encouraging, understanding, and laudatory. Writing is a lonely, lonely game-and the best editors know that the best writers are often insecure. How could they not be? They operate in an isolated environment, staring at a screen. Editors should be like big, boundlessly encouraging dogs. They should lay it on in terms of encouragement.

When I have done some editing, I am stunned at the reaction I get to some simple praise—praise that, really, is just the same kind of social nicety I might lay on the person giving me my coffee at Starbucks: "Thanks, this is great." Saying those simple four words to a writer—a writer who is usually starved for money and attention—is like manna.

When I worked at the biggest newspaper in Texas, one of my favorite editors said to me: "I don't like to see my writers. I like to know that they are out on the streets, talking to people."

I wound up respecting that editor—she earned my respect by her trust, her intelligence. There is a fine balance with editors—you want one who will give you a long leash, but who also has the ability to pull you back in when you stray too far. It is like finding a doctor with a good bedside manner—you want an editor who will heal your copy, make you feel better, encourage you...and who can do it in as painless a way as possible. But to get to that stage, you have to trust your doctor/editor. You have to really believe they know what they are doing, that what they are recommending is actually good for the story, for your career.

Look at it this simple way: At the end of the day, it is your name that's going on the story. Most readers—99.9 percent—won't have a clue who edited the story. And most of them won't care. You'll be judged, not the editor. Remind yourself of that fact in the editing process—and, if you must, remind the editor.

Mike: What's the best way for a novice writer to approach an editor and quickly get his/her attention?

Minutaglio: Don't play games and write some hokey cover letter that reads like bad advertising copy. One of the best ways to approach an editor is through another writer—I can't emphasize that enough. Write a fan letter to a writer who happens to be writing for the editor you want to work for. Most writers are enormously flattered to hear from anyone, and they are enormously flattered when you seek their advice. After praising their work, ask them, directly, about the editor—ask them how to break into the publication. Ask them if they'd like you buy 'em lunch. Ask them to put in a good word for you. Once you know the best way to approach the editor (e-mail, drop by the office, snail mail), do it ASAP, try to invoke the name of the writer who set you up—but only if you are sure that writer didn't get on the dark side of the editor. One of the best things to tell an editor is that you CAN MEET A DEADLINE. YOU WILL NOT SCREW UP THE DEADLINE. YOU ARE DEADLY SERIOUS ABOUT DEADLINES. You also want to convey to the editor that you are the consummate reporter—most editors like to think that they can take care of the writing at some level, that they will massage the prose into brilliant copy. They have, really, very little control over the reporting. So you have to be prepared to tell editors you are a bad-ass reporter. You are, in fact, the only reporter who can accomplish the particular story.

Also, don't adopt a tone of over-familiarity. Editors are sometimes perpetually wary—they serve several masters and they operate under the belief that they have to please the corporate gods above them, and they have to deal with high-maintenance egotistical writers on the other end of the spectrum. Editors sometimes tend to operate with a healthy dose of skepticism about you—until they get to know you. They view each new writer through this prism: What will he/she do for me? Will this new writer improve my standing at the magazine or newspaper? Will I win praise for finding this new writer? What's in it for me? Perhaps this is an unfortunate outgrowth of the media age in which we live, but many editors now simply want to know "what value will this writer bring to me and this publication?" And "value" often means several things—how will this writer boost readership, get my publication some buzz, sell some copies of my publications, etc.

Speaking of that kind of thinking, when you are composing your cover letter to editors, you absolutely should toot your horn now and then -- mention the awards you might have won, the big editors you worked with, the big publications you worked with. Editors need to know that you are "pre-approved"—that someone else out there once took a chance on publishing your work.

Mike: What did you do as bureau chief? And since you've done both writing and editing, what's the difference?

Minutaglio: I didn't do hands-on editing. I was more of an assignments editor, I guess, than anything else...I assigned people to do different bits of work, based on their expertise, etc. I think editing, in many ways, is less about ego-gratification—writers obviously get all the glory. There's greater stability, and often greater money, in editing. Editing, I think, used to be really valued—but these days so many editors are "acquisitions editors"—a term I heard when I began writing books. Editors these days—at newspapers, magazines, publishing houses—are frequently put in the position of, first and foremost, "acquiring" someone to write a piece or a book. They spend more time doing that—finding someone, cutting a deal, imposing deadlines, handling contracts—than actually sitting down and crafting and editing a story. I've been lucky to work with a handful of editors who are good at giving praise (most important ability in an editor, I think) and then really working with the usually, overly sensitive writer to craft and sculpt a story. I've always felt that editors and writers are really going to be 2 different personalities—one is the thoroughbred, the other is the jockey. It's a big ride, a big dance, and they bring different dimensions to the table. Most people remember the great horse—but not too many people remember who was aboard Secretariat. You now know Seabiscuit, but most people still probably can't remember the jockey (or the trainer—another kind of editor).

Mike: What are editors looking for from writers?

Minutaglio: Totally situational question. Depends on who the editor is and, especially, what publication he/she is working for. That said...all editors want someone reliable. No flakes allowed. The days of editors indulging someone's eccentricities, funky demands, etc., are over—nobody gets indulged, a la Hunter Thompson, other than, well, probably Hunter Thompson. YOU HAVE TO MEET YOUR DEADLINE. You have to project a sense of authority, discipline AND creativity all at once. You have to tell them that you are the best reporter, the most responsible reporter, and yet you can bring a new angle, a fresh view, to the story unlike anything ever seen. It's an art form, a tricky balance -- you want to be authoritative but creative. You don't want to seem like a dinosaur from Ye Olde Print Age—you want to be fresh, smart, intelligent. Editors are endlessly worried about what's in store for the future. Virtually every publication is consumed with "editorial meetings" to discuss The Digital Age, online journalism, the Web, etc.—editors, because they are inherently linked to the business-side of most publications, are afraid for their lives. They are moving in uncharted waters—and every day they read some new story about dwindling circulation at various publications. And they worry a lot. And frankly, you might be able to make that work to your advantage -- many editors simply aren't conversant with the New Media, with the Digital Media. And if you can suggest to them that your story will appeal to new readers, to New Media readers/consumers, that you have a handle on how to deliver news to this shifting demographic and readership...then editors will probably be receptive. They don't have the answers to the New Media conundrum—and if you suggest you do, then it should give you some leverage, some cachet, some interest.

Mike: How do you define great writing?

Minutaglio: Some writer friends and I used to operate from a simple premise: Try to think of writing as the sense that there for many jazz musicians, the challenge each time they step up to play is how to do it in a completely original way. Improvisation lends itself to that technique. As writers, we would sit before the blank screen and say: How do I write this story, how do I tell this story, in a way that has never been told before?

In other words, great writing, by definition, is distinguished writing -- it is distinguished from other forms of writing, other stories on the subject you have tackled.


To me, it's very rare to find newspaper and magazine stories that are brilliant from the first word to the last word. I define great writing as a serious of flourishes that add up to some sort of sense of fulfillment—at the end of the story, you feel something. Sadness. Triumph. Tragedy. Some emotional dimension is sated. I happen to like stories that almost sail across a bittersweet sea—and might even end with a few more questions raised than answered. I happen to be wary of writing that is so bold and declarative and intense that it shouts out that the world is best viewed in black-and-white—that this story contains the whole, complete, unfettered truth…that this story answers all the questions. The simple fact is that writers will never capture reality perfectly. We can try to come close to it. Some come closer than others. But great writing is still ultimately going to be an attempt to faithfully describe—as opposed to perfectly depict. It's a subtle but important difference.

I like writing that suggests there is always something you can't quite grasp, that life is bittersweet, that there are eternal mysteries, that life is defined by things we know...and by things we don't know. It's hard to get this across, but I think great writing has an air of mystery in it, an air of humility, a sense that the writer is confident in all of the facts and all of the reporting...but is aware, at the same time, that life takes unexpected twists and turns, that interview subjects sometimes say what they think a reporter wants to hear as opposed to the nitty-gritty, often mundane, reality.

I like writing that can capture the evanescent way life moves, the way life is uncertain, the way you have to constantly have some form of yourself, in your craft, your family. I like a bittersweet ending to a story. Life, despite what some politicians and editors think, is not written in black-and-white—life is lived in the gray zone, filled with ups and down, a damned rollercoaster really. And I think great writing somehow always reflects that in some way. If you find me one person who says he is perfectly, eternally blissful then I will tell you they aren't really truthful—I think great writing reflects a bit of the uncertainty in life.

This reminds me of a scene in a Woody Allen movie where he's walking down the street and being, as usual, a schleppy New York Neurotic...and he's wondering why he can't be happy, why other people seem to be happy, etc. He spots an unbelievably attractive, bright, sunny-looking young couple walking across the street—and he decides to go up to them and say something like:

"Excuse me, I hate to bother you, but you both seem so happy, can you tell me how you do it?"

The happy-smiling couple looks at him and the woman replies:

"I'm very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say."

The guy she's with then says: "And I'm exactly the same way. Well, we have absolutely no opinions on anything."

Mike: How do print magazine editors view online clips and/or self-published book authors?

Minutaglio: I guess my answer is that online clips are now as good as old-fashioned hard-copy clips. I have seen some online clips that, when printed out and put in a clip book, seem to resonate better with editors. If you are in an e-mail exchange with editors, then you can send them links to your stories. Things have changed so fast that this method is pursued all the time. As for self-published books, I think the sense that these are just vanity projects is beginning to wear off. As the publishing world becomes more self-directed and anyone can publish a webzine, a blog, a book—I think younger editors are more at ease with work that has been created AND published by the same person. And, I think that sense of ease is quickly spreading into the upper reaches of mainstream publications.

Mike: What does an editor really do?

Minutaglio: Send out rejection notices.

[He laughs] Just kidding.

More and more, many editors are turning into "acquisition editors"—in other words, they are bound up with budgets, buying stories, etc., as opposed to sitting down with writers and crafting stories to perfection. An editor wears several hats. Some editors are good at finding story ideas. Some editors are "assignments editors"—I used to do this, wherein I would try to find writers around the country that could do particular stories. Some editors are "line editors"—editors who simply go over a story, line by line, and fix the language. Some editors, and I have only worked with a handful of these, have some sort of cosmic, almost intuitive, ability to artfully mold and sculpt your work. They have a big picture sense—they get where you are trying to go. They understand what you are trying to accomplish. They hear your voice—even though the words on the page might not yet reflect what you want to say. They know you well enough to cajole changes out of you—or to generate good work from you.

Having a good editor is like having a good relationship. It takes time. It's completely frustrating and sometimes, when it works, completely exhilarating.

Multi-genre Writers Conference in Eastern PA March 28 & 29

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Jeanne’s Writing Desk

Character and Conflict
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman

When writing fiction, it’s important to remember that a story is based upon the fundamental principles of plot and conflict. Plot is a series of events that occur. Conflict is the trouble that makes those events interesting. Where does that conflict come from? Your characters.

In her groundbreaking book, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, Janet Burroway states: “Conflict is at the core of character as it is of plot. If plot begins with trouble, then character begins with a person in trouble.” To understand how to place a character “in trouble” however, the writer must first understand his character. Many writers attempt to do this by creating biographies for their characters. Unfortunately, a biography is not enough; the writer also needs to identify the sources of conflict contained within the character’s life.

A character biography, or template, can cover everything from birth order to job experience to favorite colors, but there are really only four main elements of character to consider: heredity, environment, experience, and human nature. These four elements—or touchstones, as I prefer to call them—are the keys to creating characters that are in conflict. Each one of these can be the tool for developing a story about interesting trouble with characters in trouble.

Heredity. Your characters can have a genetic predisposition for such physical conditions as deformities, infirmities, or even some chronic and/or terminal illnesses. A character born with a physical disability (deafness) may struggle to compensate for that disability, thus creating conflict. Characters can also inherit emotional and psychological traits that influence their destiny. For example, depression, hyperactivity, and addictive behavior are all believed to carry a genetic link. If you have a character who comes from a family of alcoholics, your character’s conflict may arise from the desire to escape the pressures to drink.

Heredity is more than genetics, however. It can also be viewed in terms of familial roles and cultural traditions. Conflict arises when your character wants to break free of the traditional roles to find a new path. It’s also possible to create conflict when those roles are threatened by outside forces. In the play, A Fiddler on the Roof, the conflict occurs when the father is forced to adapt to a modern world that threatens the family traditions.

Environment. A character’s environment is often an excellent source of conflict. For example, a character that is thrown into an alien or hostile environment is immediately placed in a position of crisis. Civil war, natural disasters, or even losing a job are all examples of environmental changes that create conflict for a character. Sometimes conflict occurs not when the environment changes but when the character struggles to change his existing environment. A woman who seeks a divorce, a child who runs away, or a criminal who escapes imprisonment are all examples of characters that change the status quo. By taking action, they create conflict for themselves and the people around them.

Experience. A character’s previous experience can influence his present choices, often with dramatic consequences. The conflict occurs when the character makes a bad decision based on his personal history. For example, consider the story of Captain Ahab in the book, Moby Dick: After losing his leg to the whale, Ahab becomes obsessed with revenge. That obsession creates conflict and crisis, ultimately leading to a tragic conclusion.

Human nature. It’s important to remember that a reader needs to identify at some level with your characters. All believable characters, whether they are robots, dogs, or humans, carry human traits. Fortunately for the writer, the human condition offers a broad spectrum of emotions, needs, and actions that have the potential for conflict. Does your character fall in love with someone who doesn’t love him back? You have conflict. Does your character need the approval of an indifferent parent? This is a source of conflict. Is your character involved in an activity that could hurt others? Again, you have conflict.

As a creative writing teacher, I like to advise my students to make their characters suffer. If you know your character well, then, as a writer, you need to ask: What is the worst thing that could happen to this character? What does this character need to experience in order to grow and to change? When you have a character engaged in conflict, you have a story filled with “interesting trouble,” the kind of interesting trouble that will take your reader all the way to those very important words: THE END

Happy writing!

Recommended reading:
Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, Janet Burroway

The Kitchen God’s Wife, Amy Tan (conflict between the traditions of an immigrant Chinese mother and her American-born daughter)

At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Peter Matthiessen (conflict arises from characters thrust into a hostile environment)

Sophie’s Choice, William Styron (a character’s secrets and previous experience create conflict in her present-day life)

I, Robot, Isaac Asimov (a collection of stories that explore the differences between humans and machines)

Newsletter contributing columnist Jeanne Lyet Gassman is an award-winning author whose fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry has been published in magazines, newspapers (including The Arizona Republic and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), and anthologies. In 2002, Ms. Gassman was the recipient of an Encouragement Award in Creative Writing from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and in the 2005 Preditors & Editors Reader’s poll her story, '”Healing Arts,'” was ranked among the Top 10 in the nonfiction category. She also teaches writing classes and conducts workshops in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Please visit her Web site at:

Secret Knowledge can be found in the tarot cards

Will your novel be a BEST SELLER? Are you destined for greatness? Do you have the right agent for your project? Should you put your energy into writing project #1 or writing project #2? Let Debby Inkdreamer consult the tarot cards for you. $25 at:


Affirmations to Write By

I study the writing techniques of others that have achieved great things.

I emulate the habits of successful writers, analyzing how they do what they do.

I do my best to practice writing every day, in some way.

I organize my research and keep accurate research notes.

I am a talented writer whose creativity flows easily and effortlessly.

I am my own expert, and not affected by the negative attitudes and opinions of others.

I easily balance the needs of my family with my own need to write.

I have a positive expectancy of big success, and I take temporary setbacks well and keep in perspective.

I approach my writing time with enthusiasm, so charged that I can’t wait to begin typing.

I have a tremendous imagination, bubbling with images and ideas and words.

Publishing to the Power of Dee

What Happens at the Publishing House?
By Dee Power
(Excerpted with permission from The Publishing Primer: A Blueprint for an Author's Success)

As we said, the first step on the path to publication begins with the query letter. The editor reviews the submissions and selects those book projects he or she feels the most excited about, fits the house’s list at the time and will sell well. The editor presents his or her selections at the publishing house’s editorial meeting. And each of the other acquisition editors do the same. The publisher, editorial director, marketing vice president, sales director and the publicity manager attend these meetings and have a direct say in whether a title will be accepted. Questions and answers follow to determine if the book has a market, if it’s well written, what the competition is and what the potential “hook” for publicity might be. All this information should be in the book proposal. Finally a decision is made about which books will receive an offer. And what that offer will be.

Money, Money, Money: Advance$

The agent and editor, or if the author doesn’t have an agent, the author and the editor, negotiate the advance, royalties and other issues of the contract. The advance and royalties are payment to the author in exchange for the publisher to exclusively publish the book. Most publishers these days want all rights including: print, electronic, syndication, audio, foreign, movie and TV rights.

If the publisher sells any of these additional rights the author gets a share of the payment. The payment can be in addition to the advance or can be used to earn out the advance.

The advance is based on how many copies of the title the publisher believes will sell. The royalty is a percentage between 5-15% and can be calculated using the suggested retail price, the net price to the publisher or the profits to the publisher. The royalty can be negotiated.

The suggested retail price is simply the price that is printed on the book and embedded in the bar code on the back. The net publisher price is discounted from the retail price and is the price the publisher receives from the wholesaler, distributor or bookstore. The net publisher price can be 20% to 55% less than the suggested retail price. For example, demands a 55% discount. A book that has a suggested retail price of $20, would generate $9.00 to the publisher. In other words, pays the publisher $9.00 for each copy they buy. The royalty would be paid on the $9.00. The profit price is not used by many legitimate publishers because it can easily be manipulated.

The royalties can escalate based on the numbers of copies sold. For example the first 5000 copies sold have a royalty of 5% of the suggested retail price. The next 10,000 copies sold earn a royalty of 6% of suggested retail price. The next 50,000 earn a 7% royalty.

The advance is “earned out” when the royalties on the total sales equals the paid advance. If a publisher thought that a title would sell 25,000 copies at a retail price of $20 and the royalty rate was 5%, the advance would theoretically be $25,000. In reality the publisher will hedge its bets and only pay an advance of say, $10,000. If the title does sell 25,000 copies, the author will get the remaining $15,000 paid as the books sell.

The advance is usually split into payments, sometimes as many as four or five.

The first payment can be when the contract is signed, the second when the first half of the manuscript is completed, the third when the manuscript is completed, and the fourth when the book is published. The payments don’t have to be equal. The five figure advances we have been paid for our nonfiction books were 50% upon signing the contract and the remaining 50% when the manuscript was accepted by the publisher.

Advances can range from a few thousand dollars to seven figures for bestselling authors. If the author has an agent, the advance is paid to the literary agent who then deducts their commission, and sends a check for the remainder to the author.

The author does not receive any further payment from the publisher until the advance is earned out, (unless of course, additional rights are sold) in other words until the royalties earned from the book exceed the advance previously paid. However the author doesn’t have to repay the advance or any portion of it, if the book doesn’t earn out the advance.

Many small presses can’t afford to pay an advance. That doesn’t mean they aren’t legitimate. Sometimes the advance will be a token, from $100 to $500 to show good faith. The author will still receive royalties.

You can negotiate the number of free books you receive. It can range from 2 to 100. Usually the publisher offers a discount to the author when the author wants to purchase their own book. This discount can be negotiated. Most publishers prohibit their authors from selling books to bookstores for resale. That is the publisher’s sales staff’s job.

In most cases, the copyright for the book remains with the author. The publisher registers the copyright with the Library of Congress in the name of the author.

All of these alternatives are spelled out in the publishing contract.

Newsletter contributing columnist Dee Power is the co-author with Brian Hill of The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories From Authors and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind Them and the novel Over Time.
The Writer's Prayer

Open my mind, Lord. Grant me the talent to write with clarity and style, so my words go down rich and smooth, like fine wine, and leave my reader thirsty for more.

Open my heart, Lord. Grant me the sensitivity to understand my characters—their hopes, their wants, their dreams—and help me to confer that empathy to my reader.

Open my soul, Lord, so I may be a channel to wisdom and creativity from beyond my Self. Stoke my imagination with vivid imagery and vibrant perception.

But most of all, Lord, help me to know the Truth, so my fiction is more honest than actuality and reaches the depths of my reader's soul.

Wrap these gifts with opportunity, perseverance, and the strength to resist those who insist it can't be done.


—Sandy Tritt
(c )copyright 1999, Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved.

The Language

Don’t let these commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases trip you up
By Mark Terence Chapman

I’ve heard an alarming number of aspiring writers express the sentiment that they feel they don’t need to worry about spelling, grammar, and punctuation in their manuscripts because “that’s the editor’s job.” Likewise, if they misuse a word here and there, it’s no big deal. Unfortunately, that’s the wrong attitude. Editors are of the opinion that submitting the cleanest possible manuscript is the writer’s job. And since editors get to decide which stories to print, their opinion prevails. That’s life; adapt or perish.

Why make such a big deal about such trivial-sounding stuff? Simple. Editors tend to be overworked and underpaid. When given the choice between accepting a well-written story that’s full of errors and one that’s relatively clean, they’ll choose the clean one every time because it means less work for them. To put it another way, a story will never be accepted purely because the grammar, spelling, and punctuation are perfect (the story has to be good, too); but stories are rejected all the time because of frequent errors in those areas. This isn’t laziness, but efficiency.

As a writer, I try to make sure I always use words and phrases properly, and I ensure they’re always spelled correctly. I’m constantly amazed at how often I see misspellings and incorrect word usage in other writings. (A good editor should catch them, but an overworked editor might miss some, and what about a blog or newsletter that doesn’t have an editor?)

Working on the assumptions that 1) most people are unaware they’re misspelling or misusing certain words, phrases, abbreviations, and punctuation, and 2) that a conscientious writer would want to know when they’re misusing them, the following are a few I see misused frequently.

Gauntlet vs. gantlet
Wrong: He had to run the gauntlet.
Right: He had to run the gantlet.

This confusion undoubtedly occurred way back when because of the similarity in pronunciation (not to mention the lack of standardization in spelling centuries ago). A gauntlet is a protective glove worn with a suit of armor. It could be made of leather, chain mail, or steel plate. To “throw down the gauntlet” is to challenge someone (akin, in a later era, to slapping someone in the face with a glove). Conversely, to “pick up the gauntlet” is to accept the challenge.

“Running the gantlet” refers to a poor unfortunate who is forced to run through a narrow space lined with people sporting sticks or clubs who beat the victim as he passes. If you really want your heroes to suffer, have them run a gantlet, not a gauntlet.

Wreck vs. wreak
Wrong: If we don’t stop him, he’ll wreck havoc in the village.
Right: If we don’t stop him, he’ll wreak havoc in the village.

This is a simple confusion in pronunciation and spelling. The correct phrase is to “wreak” (meaning inflict) havoc. It rhymes with reek. Godzilla may wreck a town, or wreak havoc there, but not both.

Visa versa
Wrong: Either we’ll stop him or visa versa.
Right: Either we’ll stop him or vice versa.

Simply put, it’s vice (rhymes with dice) versa, not “vice-a” versa—always; no exceptions.

Lay vs. lie
This one is extremely common, and caused by the fact that the past tense of lie is lay. So here’s the breakdown:
You lie down for a nap today. (You don’t lay down.)
You lay (place) a coat on the bed, or you might lay down your life for another.
Yesterday, you lay down for a nap. (Here’s where that confusion came about.)
Yesterday, you laid (placed) the coat on the bed.

It’s perfectly acceptable to have your characters incorrectly use lay instead of lie, simply because many people talk that way. However, in third-person/omniscient narrative, you should use the word correctly. (In first-person narrative, because your narrator/protagonist is speaking to the reader in his/her own “voice,” you can probably get away with misusing lay.)

This is a simple misspelling. The Latin phrase is et cetera, and it is abbreviated as etc. Always include the period at the end of the abbreviation. Here are some examples of etc. in use:
We have to buy milk, eggs, cheese, etc.
We have to buy milk, eggs, cheese, etc., and then make an omelet for breakfast.
We have to buy some dairy products (milk, eggs, cheese, etc.).

In the first example, the period at the end of the sentence serves two purposes, both to end the abbreviation and to end the sentence. In the second example, the period at the end of the abbreviation is followed by a comma. And in the third, there is a sentence-ending period following the closing parenthesis. Both are necessary.

Alternatives you can use include and so on, and so forth, as well as and the like.

Wrong: You were kind to me, moreso than that jerk ever was.
Right: You were kind to me, more so than that jerk ever was.

This is a simple spelling error. More so is two words.

Complement(ary) vs. compliment(ary)
Wrong: That color compliments your blouse.
Right: That color complements your blouse.

Complimentary can mean something nice said about someone, or something that’s free (such as a complimentary breakfast with your hotel room). Complementary refers to something that goes with something else, such as complementary colors, or two things that serve complementary purposes—one thing complements another. (A good wine complements a meal, for example.) Complement can also refer to the full amount of something, such as a ship’s complement (officers and crew).

i.e. vs e.g.
Wrong: I like lots of bands (i.e., The Beatles and The Clash).
Right: I like lots of bands (e.g., The Beatles and The Clash).

Many people use these abbreviations as if they’re synonymous, but they’re not. Without delving into the Latin words from which the abbreviations are derived, it’s easy to keep them straight:
e.g. means “for example.” Use it when you’re going to list items. Think of it as “eg-zample”, and you’ll always know when to use it.
i.e. means “in other words.” Use it when you’re going to rephrase something. Simply tell yourself that the “i” in i.e. stands for “in.” If you can remember “egzample” and “in other words” you shouldn’t have any trouble keeping them straight.

Also, be sure to always follow either of these abbreviations with a comma, for example:
“We need dairy products (e.g., milk, eggs, and cheese).”
“This is the time for action; i.e., we have to make our move now.”

Perhaps the best approach in most cases is simply to say “for example” or “in other words.” Then you won’t have to worry about the abbreviations at all.

Wrong: I use a numonic to help me remember my locker combination.
Right: I use a mnemonic to help me remember my locker combination.

As far as I know, there’s no such word as numonic. But I hear people say it all the time when they mean mnemonic (neh-MON-ik), which is a memory trick used to help remember things. (As an example of a mnemonic, “Roy G. Biv” represents all the colors of the rainbow, in order.)

Advice vs. Advise
Wrong: I need some advise.
Right: I need some advice.

These are opposite sides of the same coin. If someone asks you for help, they’re looking for advice (a noun). If you give them what they’re looking for, you advise them (a verb). A spell-checker won’t catch this for you, because both words are spelled correctly.

Infer vs. Imply
Wrong: He inferred that you need to lose weight.
Right: He implied that you need to lose weight.

Speaking of two sides of the same coin…. When I speak, I might imply something, but when you listen, you infer something from what you heard.

Loose vs. Lose
Wrong: I hate to loose.
Right: I hate to lose.

A nut comes loose from a bolt, but if it falls off you can easily lose or misplace it. This is another one a spell-checker can’t catch for you. You’ll have to be on the watch for it yourself.

Amongst vs. Among, Whilst vs. While, and Amidst vs. Amid
These are easy. If you write in British English, use the versions that end in st. If American English, drop the st. (On the other hand, as an alternative to amid, “in the midst of” is acceptable American English.)

Burned vs. Burnt, Dreamed vs. Dreamt, Spilled vs. Spilt
This may sound like the same scenario as the previous one—one set of words being British English and the other being American English—but that’s not quite true. According to my American dictionaries, burned and burnt are synonymous, as are dreamed and dreamt. So, feel free to use whichever sounds better to you in context. (Dreamt might sound more lyrical in a poem, for example.) On the other hand, burned and burnt can be used as both a verb (“I burned the toast.”) and an adjective (“The toast is burnt.”) I prefer to use burned for the verb and reserve burnt for the adjective, but that’s personal choice. As for spilled vs. spilt, again my dictionaries call them synonyms. In practice, however, I find that Yanks generally use spilled and Brits use spilt.

Among vs. Between
Wrong: The spoils were divided among Three-fingered Pete, Matt, and Lefty.
Right: The spoils were divided between Three-fingered Pete, Matt, and Lefty.

If you’re referring to two people or places use between (as in “It came down to a choice between John and Mary.”). If more than two, use among. (“The revenues have to be shared among the Chicago, London, and Paris branches.”)

Your vs. You’re
Wrong: Your crazy!
Right: You’re crazy!

This one is so simple I’m amazed at how often I see them confused. You’re is short for “you are.” That’s the only time you should use it. Your means “belonging to you.” Perhaps the confusion is more a matter of typing so fast the writer doesn’t notice the mistake, but it still should be caught in editing.

They vs. He or She
Wrong: I couldn’t tell who it was in the dark. They sped off in a hurry.
Right: I couldn’t tell who it was in the dark. The thief sped off in a hurry.

It can be awkward to use “he or she” when the gender of the person referenced is unknown, but it is never correct to refer to one person as they, however tempting. If you must say “he or she” several times in succession, look for other ways to write the sentences. Instead of: “He or she must be apprehended immediately!” try something like: “The (culprit/killer/kidnapper/suspect) must be apprehended immediately!” (In dialog, of course, the speaker can be allowed grammatical indiscretions; but you should be more precise in narrative.)

Comprise(d) vs. Compose(d) or Consist(s) or contain(s)
Wrong: Water is comprised of hydrogen and oxygen.
Right: Water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen.

I frequently read that A “is comprised of” X, Y, and Z. This is incorrect, and in fact exactly backwards. Parts comprise the whole. The whole consists of, or is composed of, or contains the parts. Therefore, X, Y, and Z comprise A, while A consists of X, Y, and Z. There’s a caveat to this: The “is comprised of” form has been misused for so long that many grammar experts are beginning to accept it. So there’s a good chance you can get away with using it. On the other hand, why not use it correctly and be guaranteed that an editor (or grammar teacher) will approve?

Peak vs. Pique
Wrong: You peaked my interest.
Right: You piqued my interest.

Peak, when used as a verb, means to reach the highest point of something. (“The Dow Jones peaked at 11,000 points.”) Pique, in this context, means to excite interest, or arouse an emotion.

Fewer vs. Less
Wrong: There are less than five hours left until the deadline.
Right: There are fewer than five hours left until the deadline.

Use fewer anytime you can count items. (“This jug contains five fewer gallons of water than that one.”) Use less whenever you can’t count items. (“There is less water in the Atlantic Ocean than in the Pacific.”)

Farther vs. Further
Wrong: You have further to walk than I do.
Right: You have farther to walk than I do.

Use farther only when referring to distance (“It’s farther to my house than to yours.”) If no form of distance is involved, use further. (“We’re further along in the process than I expected.)

Mute vs. Moot
Wrong: That’s a mute point.
Right: That’s a moot point.

Unless you’re making the point silently, it’s moot, not mute. Unfortunately, even when many people use the correct phrase, they use it incorrectly, as if it means “no longer important.” A moot point is one that’s debatable, not irrelevant. Law schools typically have a Moot Court, used by students to hone their courtroom debating skills.

It’s vs. Its
Wrong: Its over here.
Right: It’s over here.

It’s means “it is,” while its denotes ownership, as in “The dog? We’re looking for its owner.” They’re easy enough to keep straight. Ask yourself, “Do I mean ‘it is’ here?” If not, use its.

Wrong: I have ton’s of homework to do.
Right: I have tons of homework to do.

People frequently use apostrophes on plurals. This is incorrect. Plurals never require an apostrophe before the trailing s. Say tons of scrap iron, a box full of toasters, ABCs, or the 1920s (‘20s, for short).

Alright vs. all right
Wrong: Are you feeling alright?
Right: Are you feeling all right?

Alright is a nonstandard spelling and shouldn’t be used (The Who song The Kids are Alright notwithstanding).

If you’ve ever been confused about any of these words or phrases, tack this article to the wall by your desk. It’ll help you avoid similar errors in the future.

Mark Terence Chapman writes in various genres: He’s a poet, short story writer, novelist, humorist, and even a nonfiction writer tackling computer topics and nanotechnology. To find out more about Mr. Chapman, please visit his Web site at:, or his blog at:
Writers, Don’t Get Scammed, Defrauded, or Taken Advantage Of

Do yourself a favor and check out this great site to keep you safe in the publishing world:
On the Writing Business

Ten Things That Can Go Wrong For a Freelance Writer
By Patricia L. Fry

You’re doing everything right; you’ve studied under the experts, you’ve been reading, you network with the right people and you’ve put in time in the trenches. You’ve established yourself as a professional freelance writer. What can possibly go wrong? In a word, plenty.

I’ve been writing for publication for over 30 years and have encountered each of the following problems during my career. While some of them are avoidable (I’ll tell you how) and some of them can be remedied, others fall under the tough luck category. When you encounter a “tough luck” occurrence, the best thing to do is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on. Imagine this:

1: A twenty-year-old magazine that you truly enjoy writing for, folds without warning and without having published your latest article. The worst of it is that you sent photographs with your article and now you can’t make contact with anyone who knows anything about your submission.

In the future: Maintain close contact with editors. Don’t allow more than a month to go by without receiving an update on your project. An impromptu phone chat might reveal the information you need to protect your interests. I generally don’t send photos until I know that the article has been received and is scheduled for publication. Then I alert the editor to the fact that the photos are on the way. Always duplicate photos before sending them.

2: You spend hours interviewing a fascinating woman tattoo artist. A local magazine issues you a contract and you write the article. But before the magazine gets around to publishing the piece, the woman closes up shop and moves out of the country.

What to do? Well, the regional magazine editor will no longer want to run the story, but you might be able to sell it to a national general interest, alternative lifestyles, art or trade magazine. Or tweak your article a little to fit a publication in the history category, military, health and fitness or young adult, for example.

3: You meet someone with an interesting story. You query an appropriate magazine and get the go ahead to submit an article. You do the interview, write the article and receive a rejection letter for your trouble. “Oh well,” you sigh. “There are plenty of other magazines that would love this article.” Wrong. You query your little heart out and get nothing but rejections. The subject of the story keeps asking you when the piece will be published. You feel embarrassed each time you have to tell him that you still haven’t found a publisher.

Should you vow never to try to place another profile piece? You can if you want to. But, for the sake of your career, I’d suggest that you move on to something that will sell. When you have pockets of time, reexamine the original article. Compare it to appropriate writer’s guidelines and consider tweaking the piece to fit a particular magazine.

4: You are hired by a graphic designer to create copy for a company brochure he is designing for a client. You complete the job, and weeks later, he comes back with a request from the company for some changes to the text. You finish them right away. The guy who hired you is so close to deadline that he hastily makes the changes and sends the project to the printer. After 5,000 copies of the brochure are printed, the client finds several mistakes in the areas where last minute changes were made and they refuse to pay the graphic designer for the job, which means that you don’t get paid, either.

The next time, insist upon seeing the project each and every time there is a change made to the text. Draw up a simple contract indicating that your payment is not contingent upon the graphic designer getting paid.

5: You are so excited about having one of your stories published that you sign a contract without paying much attention to it. Later, you decide that you want to include that story in an anthology, but realize that you have signed away all rights to it.

This happens more than you might imagine. Never, NEVER sell all rights to your work. All might not be lost, however. Contact the magazine publisher and ask if they will return the rights to you. Or completely rewrite the story.

6: You reject an offer of $2000 for an article by a major magazine because they want all rights even though they will return the rights to you 90 days after the work is published.

If you don’t understand the contract and the ramifications, take it to an intellectual properties attorney.

7: You learn that a particular magazine has a new editor. You neglect to contact him, however, because the former editor never published any of your work.

Always give a new editor a chance because he or she may just adore your style.

8: A magazine editor contacts you with a request to publish—not the article you pitched—but a clip you sent with your article submission. You freak out for fear that you will get in trouble for letting a second magazine use an already published article.

Calm down. Check to see what rights you sold to magazine number one. If you gave them first rights or one-time rights you can still sell reprint rights. Be sure to tell magazine editor number two that this is a reprint.

9: You are an expert on growing winter vegetables. You write an article for a popular gardening magazine featuring how to plant and tend a winter vegetable garden. Then you start looking for other topics to write about.

What should you do? Write more articles on your topic for this and other magazines. How about articles on postage stamp gardening, tips for protecting your garden from frost and greenhouse growing, for example? Approach the large number of regional magazines with custom articles on seasonal gardening for each area. One good idea might be worth a hundred articles.

10: You are hired by a client who wants you to “take a look” at her article, book proposal or a chapter of a book manuscript. You recommend several changes and offer suggestions for making the work read better. You return the work to your client with your editing suggestions. Weeks go by without a word from her.

Yes, she is probably displeased. She thought her work was better than it was and she highly resents receiving it back with all of those awful red marks. Wait a couple of weeks and then contact your client to ask if there is anything else you can help her with. Chances are that she will eventually contact you with high compliments for helping her create a more polished article. A client’s silence is difficult to endure. But sometimes they just need time to get over the sting of critique and recognize the value in your suggestions. I’ve had clients come back months later to thank me for pointing them in the right direction.

Contributing newsletter columnist Patricia Fry is the author of 25 published books, including, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book. She is also the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network,

Visit her publishing blog at:

Ms. Fry’s free guide to writing a Post-Publication Book Proposal can be requested by emailing her at:

Writing Quotes of the Month
“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”—T.S. Eliot

“The writer who cares more about words than about story (characters, action, setting, atmosphere) is unlikely to create a vivid and continuous dream; he gets in his own way too much; in his poetic drunkenness, he can't tell the cart—and its cargo—from the horse.”—John Gardner

“The Artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.”—Emile Zola

“When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”—John Fitzgerald Kennedy

“One nice thing about putting the thing away for a couple of months before looking at it is that you start to appreciate your own wit. Of course, this can be carried too far. But it's kind of cool when you crack up a piece of writing, and then realize you wrote it. I recommend this feeling.”— Steven Brust

“Writing is like hunting. There are brutally cold afternoons with nothing in sight, only the wind and your breaking heart. Then the moment when you bag something big. The entire process is beyond intoxicating.”—Kate Braverman

“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.”—Anaïs Nin

“A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter.... A writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down.”— E. B. White

”Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”—Sylvia Plath

“If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”—Toni Morrison
A Bevy of Writing Knowledge

Care and Feeding of Your Muse
By Bev Walton-Porter

In order to write on a daily basis—which is really what most of us are shooting for—we must constantly try to find ways of renewing our well of ideas and inspiration. It is all fine and good to write every single day, but realize that when we do so, we are depleting our store of creative energy. And just like a fountain, our creativity must have a source from which to draw.

In our daily quest for creativity, we must seek out frequent refreshers—seek out new exercises and ways of seeing life so that our perceptions may find a home on the page through the written word. One feeling or perception may be expressed in a myriad of ways and through a variety of forms: art, music composition, lyrics, poetry, prose, essays, plays, screenplays and more. But before we pick and choose how to express ourselves, we have to be sure our well is in top working condition.

So how do we accomplish such a task? Bit by bit, by taking baby steps in our daily lives—by choosing to seize the moments which, when strung together, form the tapestry of our lives. In general, life is so hectic, stressful and fast-paced that by the time most of us return home from a hard day's work, our brains are literally overburdened, burned out and fried from useless or negative information. This is the crimp that must be straightened in order to regain the natural flow of imagination. Because without the life of imagination, comes the death of meaningful composition.

I can hear you now: "Yeah, right. Who has time for getting in touch with the Inner Muse? I have to make a living." I understand that—but if you're a writer, you also know your Inner Muse won't slumber forever. She'll nag you and worry you until you answer her beck and call. Once a writer, always a writer. I don't care what people say­—if you have that fire in your soul, you'll never douse it out permanently. So why not try to accommodate it as best you can?

How to do this, you ask? It's quite simple and it doesn't take all day. In fact, the best time for me to replenish my Muse is at night, usually before bed. But whatever works for you, do it. It's impossible for one person's schedule to meld with what everyone else is doing in the world.

In order to keep your creative side active and at the ready with ideas and inspiration, you must take daily doses of what I call "Muse food." These are small, fulfilling mini-breaks which serve as healing salve for the beatings you've taken in the real world during the day.

You hold the key to any world or any character—and those worlds and characters live in your mind. Shift your focus from your worries (save them for tomorrow morning!) and concentrate on daydreaming for a while. I choose to do this at night, just before bed. You must quiet your mind as you find a comfortable position. Be sure to close your eyes! Whether you're prone in bed or sitting in your favorite lounge chair, make sure your body melds into your surroundings. Limit common noise as best you can, and if you prefer, put on your favorite soothing music. Some say Mozart raises the I.Q. —personally I prefer Yanni or Enya. But you listen to whatever draws your attention.

Engage in some active daydreaming by allowing images to flirt and dance in your mind's eye. Don't try to control the story or characters that come out of hiding to play across the landscape of your daydream. And be patient! If you're tense or angry, your "players" might not show themselves immediately. The key is relaxation. Slow your breathing and loosen your muscles. Give yourself a dose of serenity for once!

Generally, in 20 to 30 minutes you'll emerge from this exercise with a host of characters or interesting ideas for stories or poems. Before they whisk away into the ether, jot these ideas down in shorthand form or, better yet, invest in a voice-activated tape recorder and give voice to the imagery. You'll be surprised at the number of ideas you come up with -- seemingly from out of the blue! It sounds New Agey to some people, but it works.

Another version of this creative daydreaming can be done at times when you are simply stuck in a place and bored to death with nothing else to do—like waiting in the doctor's office! First rule of thumb is ALWAYS carry something to write WITH and to write ON. Now, in this daily dose for your Muse, you won't close your eyes—unless you can endure strange looks. Simply slow your breathing, relax yourself and take in your surroundings. Notice the people and things around you. Ask questions (to yourself) about who you think this person is, or where a particular photograph or painting came from. Better yet, who painted the picture, and what kind of person are they?

Human beings are deletion creatures. Writers cannot afford to delete information without first filtering out intriguing details that might serve as building blocks for their next writing project. Notice the colors, texture, expressions, smells and feeling you get from simply sitting in the room you're in. Watch human behavior or subtle nuances in exchanges between other people. In order to write characters for our stories, we should become amateur psychologists and sociologists so our paper characters can live and breathe like the real characters inhabiting this world.

Finally, you must read when you can. If it's only a short while daily, then so be it. But if you can, try to read on a consistent basis. Most writers were readers first, so it's generally not a problem. However, with time constraints being as they are with work, children, and extracurricular activities, sometimes reading takes a back seat. If you watch sitcoms on television at night, steal that as some of your newly gained reading time. It is a must to fill the well before you can drink from it—and in order to fill the well, you must first taste the words of others.

These relatively painless doses of medicine for your Muse, when taken daily, will most assuredly lead you to more imaginative forays in your writing. Even freelance writers can benefit. When you exercise your brain in new and exciting ways, you'll find brand new methods for tackling challenges, both in your daily life and in your writing life.

Newsletter contributing columnist Bev Walton-Porter is a professional writer/author who has publishing hundreds of stories on a wide variety of subjects and written three books: “Sun Signs for Writers,” the contemporary romance “Mending Fences,” and “The Complete Writer: A Guide to Tapping Your Full Potential,” co-authored with three other writers.

She has also worked as a contract editor for NBC Internet and, among others, published in the award-winning e-zine for writers, Scribe & Quill, for the past nine years, and is a member of The Authors Guild as well as the co-founder of the International Order of Horror Professionals.

Please visit her Web site at:
Writing Promptly

Write about…

the sexiest person you know.

your favorite room in the house.

the worst person on TV.

the view outside your back window.

what scares you most.

your favorite writing dream.

what you remember most about your favorite grandparent.

the best advice you’ve ever received—about life or writing or anything else.

your favorite day of the week.

what would happen if you could fly whenever you wanted.


Create an Effective Media Kit
By Angela Wilson

A professional, informative media kit will open doors. Whether you need to position yourself with news outlets, pitch yourself as a conference speaker, or pursue signings with major booksellers, this kit should offer up a wealth of information about you and your work.

There are two ways to present information, a press kit and an online media kit.

A press kit is a nice folder filled with hardcopies of your information. These will be the most expensive option, but you have to have them. To keep costs in check, only send hardcopies to major media outlets in cities where you have scheduled signings at major bookstores, or to conference chairs where you are making a hard push for a speaking engagement. (Be sure to include a copy of your latest book or a sample chapter!)

Here’s a checklist of what to include:
Fast facts sheet (Bullet points only; first item they see)
One page biography
One page of quotes about your work
Q&A or potential interview questions
A published Web or publication column written by you
Up to five recent news releases. (Do not make these more than one page.)
A mini book with the first chapter of your novel.
Upcoming book signings
Contact sheet (include yourself, your publisher and publicist)
Features stories about yourself or your work
A CD with high resolution and low resolution artwork, including your photograph and cover art.
A hardcopy of photographs included on the art disc.
One each bookmarks, postcards, pens and other swag items
An individual introduction letter as to why you are sending this folder.

All of these elements will be part of your online media kit. On your Web site, you should have a tab or prominent link titled Media Center, Press Room, or, simply, Media or Press. Take the elements above and categorize them so they are easy to find. Any documents you have – Word documents like bios, credentials and fact sheets – should be copied and pasted verbatim into a Web page. Each item should also be offered in PDF form. For articles written by or about you, you can either create one Web page with the titles and publication dates, along with direct links to the news Web sites, or separate them into individual Web pages.

Your press area should also include a media-specific blog and an RSS feed so readers can be immediately updated when something new is posted. Have one tab for your portrait shots and one for cover art. Be sure to include different sizes of cover art (high resolution for magazines, low resolution for Web reproduction) and make them easily accessible through downloading.

Did you do a radio interview or have you taped yourself speaking at a conference and posted it on YouTube? These are excellent elements to include in an audio/video tab in your media area.

Your online press area should be the one-stop shop on all things you. You should have links to this site everywhere on the Web, including your Web site, blogs, social networks and forums where appropriate. It should be prominent in all news releases and e-mail correspondence.

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t. You can do this. Chances are, you have much of this information already, it just may be scattered. Pull it together and concentrate on your hardcopy press kit first. Once you have those elements camera-ready, transfer them to the Web. Blogs are a great way to share and organize this information, especially inexpensive services like TypePad, which allows you to blog, host images and documents, and create Web pages.

If you are a member of a critique group, schedule one of your sessions around media kits. Bring what you have, get feedback and borrow ideas from your peers. Don’t hesitate to ask professionals in groups like PRSA to evaluate your kit, and, if you can, find out from someone you know in the media what works for them. This will help you create a kit that is versatile and appealing to a wide audience.

Angela Wilson is an author, marketing/PR specialist, and Web producer for Learfield InterAction in Central Missouri. Find her on the Web at,, or
Slice of the Writing Life
An excerpt of the last interview conducted with Twilight Zone’s brilliant creator/writer Rod Serling.

Interviewer: Linda Brevelle

Place: Franco's La Taverna on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip.

Date: March 4, 1975—just a few months prior to Serling’s sudden death at age 50.

Brevelle: What causes you to write?

Serling: I never really thought about it. If I could really conjure up an answer to that, I suppose I'd be able to answer a lot of questions that bug me.

Why do I write? I guess that's been asked of every writer. I don't know. It isn't any massive compulsion. I don't feel, you know, God dictated that I should write. You know, thunder rents the sky and a bony finger comes down from the clouds and says, "You. You write. You're the anointed." I never felt that. I suppose it's part compulsion, part a channel for what your brain is churning up.

But I don't subscribe to the "Know Thyself" theory. I'm afraid that if I started to ponder who I am and what I am, I might not like what I find. So, I'd rather go along with this sense of illusion that I'm a neutral beast going along through life doing everything that's preordained. I'm out of control anyway, so why fight it. I suppose we think euphemistically that all writers write because they have something to say that is truthful and honest and pointed and important. And I suppose I subscribe to that, too. But God knows when I look back over thirty years of professional writing, I'm hard-pressed to come up with anything that's important. Some things are literate, some things are interesting, some things are classy, but very damn little is important.

Brevelle: Who do you write for?

Serling: Myself. If I enjoy it.

Brevelle: What do you enjoy about writing?

Serling: I don't enjoy any of the process of writing. I enjoy it when it goes on if it zings and it has great warmth and import and it's successful. Yeah, that's when I enjoy it. But during the desperate, tough time of creating it, there's not much I enjoy about it. It tires me and lays me out, which is sort of the way I feel now. Tired.

Brevelle: So it's a suffering process for you...

Serling: It is. Giving birth, you know. Waiting. Should we call the doctor? You know, for the Caesarian. It's obviously not going to come out normally.

Brevelle: What is most difficult for you about writing?

Serling: In terms of screenwriting adaptations it's trying to cut out stuff that's extraneous, without doing damage to the original piece, because you owe a debt of some respect to the original author. That's why it was bought.

That's been the problem with this current project, The Salamander. It's a big book, very heavy with people and complexities and interwoven plotlines. I'm finding it very difficult to decide what can I cut away without doing damage. Or without leaving an audience saying, "Well, wait a minute. How did he come into this? I never saw him before. Who's this person?" That kind of thing.

Brevelle: What's your system for getting writing done? You know, some writers use colored paper, others write in longhand on legal pads...

Serling: I don't have any system. I dictate a lot, through a machine, and I also have a secretary. But I used to type just like everybody else. I find dictating in the mass media particularly good because you're writing for voice anyway; you're writing for people to say a line and, consequently, saying a line through a machine is quite a valid test for the validity of what you're saying. If it sounds good as you say it, likely as not it'll sound good when an actor's saying it. The tendency when you dictate is to overwrite, because you're not counting pages, you don't really know what the hell the page count is. But in terms of standing up when I write, what hour I write, that all relates very specifically to the individual. Writers vary tremendously. Was it Tom Wolfe who stood up or was it Hemingway who had to stand up? I don't know.

Brevelle: Hemingway. He had to space three times between words to slow down.

Serling: Was it Hemingway who had to put the thing on the mantel or something? And I think Wolfe wrote in longhand. You know, it depends on the animal, particularly who's doing it. In my case, the only thing I would say was part of the discipline is that I have to start writing quite early. I write much better in the non-confines of the early morning than I do the clutter of the day.

Brevelle: How much time do you spend actually writing?

Serling: I would guess three full hours a day, and in terms of the pre-writing activity, God, that's endless, it's constant, almost constant.

Brevelle: Do you have any encouragement for writers who accumulate a lot of rejection slips?

Serling: Only that somehow, some way, incredibly enough, good writing ultimately gets recognized. I don't know how that happens but it does. If you're really a good writer and deserve that honored position, then by God, you'll write, and you'll be read, and you'll be produced somehow. It just works that way. If you're just a simple ordinary day-to-day craftsman, no different than most, then the likelihood is that you probably won't make it in writing. You're going to wind up either getting married, working for an insurance company, joining the regular army, or what-all. But if you have a spark in you, a cut above the average, I think ultimately you make it.
The Writing Game

The Positive Side of Rejection
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman

In my writing critique group, we applaud when one of our members receives a rejection. We don't applaud because we are cruel or because we celebrate failure, but rather we applaud the courage it takes to risk being rejected. Unfortunately, rejection is all part of the process of getting published. First, you submit your work. Then you wait for a response. Sometimes that response comes in the form of an acceptance and a contract. More often, that response comes in the form of a rejection.

So, how do you put a positive spin on rejection? How do you find hope from what appears to be a sea of indifference about what you have to say? You start by recognizing that not all rejections are equal. Some rejections are better than others. On that note, let's look at the types of rejection slips writers receive, beginning first with the worst and ending with the best:

Form Letter. The form letter is easily recognizable to the experienced writer but not always so easy for the novice to identify. A form letter rejection often reads:

Dear Writer,

Thank you for your submission. Due to the many submissions we receive every week, we are unable to offer individual comments. Unfortunately, your submission does not meet our needs at this time.

The Editors

This is the polite version. There are more succinct versions that just say, "Sorry." What can you learn from this type of rejection? Absolutely nothing. You don't know if the editor thought your work was terrible, if the editor was just having a bad day, or you submitted your work to the wrong market.

Friendly Almost-Form Letter. This is the first step up in the rejection letter tier. This type of rejection tends to be more personal in nature but still not particularly revealing:

Dear Jeanne,

Thank you for your submission of Xyz Story. Although we found the story engaging and well written, we could not find a place for it in our magazine. We wish you success in placing your work elsewhere.


This letter tells you that your submission was read at least once. It also hints that this particular piece may be inappropriate for this market. The editor (someone you don't recognize) has taken the time to let you know that you're a competent writer. If you plan on submitting to this market in the future, you should take more time to study the magazine for their editorial preferences.

Personal Note. This is a good rejection. The editor has read your work and taken the time to give you some helpful feedback. A typical letter may read:

Dear Jeanne,

Thank you for sharing ABC Story with us. You have a strong narrative voice and interesting characters, but I did feel that the beginning was too slow. Although we have decided against publishing your story, you should be able to place this elsewhere.



You can be assured the editor has read your story carefully. He was impressed enough to offer suggestions for improvement. In fact, the weaknesses he's mentioned could be the main reason he rejected this story. So, what should you do here? First, look at his comments. Are they relevant? If so, make the changes, and send the story out again. I would not send the same story to this market, however, unless you've been invited to submit a revised version. You definitely should send this editor another story, taking care to ensure that your next piece doesn't have the same problems he's pointed out. And don't forget to send the most important piece of correspondence of all: A thank you note. When an editor, publisher, or agent offers helpful feedback, you should always say, "Thank you."

Submit again. It's still a rejection, but it's the best of all possible turndowns. The editor wants to see more of your work. Editors and publishers are swamped by submissions. They never ask to see more of your work unless they mean it. Many times, you will find hand-written comments in this version, another clue that the editor took more time to review your work. The "send more" letter reads like this:

Dear Jeanne,

Thank you for sending us 123 Story. Although we could not find a place for it in our upcoming issue, we were impressed by the quality of your work. We particularly enjoyed the building tension you created between the father and son in the story. We would welcome future submissions from you. Please send them attn: Jane.



What should you do? Send Jane that thank you note. Then send Jane something new. Be sure to mention her earlier comments in your cover letter. And don't wait too long. Someone else could step in line ahead of you!

May your rejections always be good ones! Happy writing!

Talk the Talk

Masthead—The page of a publication that gives its staff and editorial information.

Pull quote—A hot-button quotation from an article displayed separately, often in larger type, as a way to highlight it on the story page.

Pitch or Query—Story/Book proposals/ideas of various page lengths sent to an assigning editor or literary agent.

Kill—To cancel or delete a story.

Tearsheet or Clip—A term for a sample of a writer’s published work. It's named for the tearing of the published work out of the newspaper or magazine, and is usually sent to a queried publisher/editor.

Slushpile—A pile (often located in or near the trash bin) for unsolicited manuscripts to a publisher/editor.

Article Slant—Gearing an article to a particular publication's readership (a particular market) is called a slant. By discovering the demographics of the readership, you can isolate stages of life, hobbies, interests and socioeconomic status, angling the article to that readership segment. This is why studying past issues of the publication by reading both the advertisements and articles is advisable.

E-Zine or Zine—A magazine available exclusively on the net.

TK—Shorthand inserted into editorial text indicating that info is coming or being updated.

Spread or Opener—The first two pages of a story that face each other, often with a full-page photo or eye-catching graphics on one side and a stylish-looking beginning of text on the other.
Promotion & Marketing

5 Ways to Promote Your Book Through Your Blog
By Patricia Fry

A blog can be many things and serve many purposes. When you have a book to promote, it makes sense to turn your blog into a promotional tool. Whether your book is a historical novel, a how-to gardening book, a memoir or a book of poetry, let your blog entries spread the word and you will sell more books. Here are five ideas for using your blog to promote your book:

1: Stay focused on your topic. Make sure that you are providing the information your audience wants in a way that makes it palatable. Stay on track when adding to your blog so that you are always addressing your target audience. Sure you can write about something personal if you want, but try to tie it into your primary topic. I write about writing and publishing in my blog ( I might share something about a recent trip I took or a concept that caught my attention, but I always connect it to the subject of writing and/or publishing and I always pitch one of my books in my blog entries.

2: Turn your blog entries into articles. Either submit them as is to appropriate sites and publications or tweak them to fit. Most of my blog entries are suitable for publishing, as I’m mindful to create stand-alone articles. Sometimes, however, a newsletter or magazine editor wants a longer piece or a more condensed version. Not a problem—I just rewrite the blog to fit their submission requirements. Of course, articles sell books. How? In a word: exposure.

When you publish informative articles on the topic of your book, this adds to your professional credibility.
You can usually add a few lines at the end of the article in which to promote your book and your blog.

3: Create handouts. Use specific blog entries as handouts when you promote your book through presentations, workshops or at book festivals. If yours is a local history book and your blog follows suit, your audiences would enjoy receiving those blog entries containing historical information that doesn’t appear in the book. Hand out your blog entries featuring additional tips, resources and information related to your self-help or how-to book. If you are promoting a novel or a book of poetry, delight your audience by handing out some of the short stories or new poems you post at your blog.

4: Compile a booklet of blog entries. If you’re a dedicated blogger, you could actually produce a booklet every six months or once a year and offer them free to anyone who purchases your book. Maybe you’ve written a novel featuring Americans who’ve chosen to live in the Middle East. Your blog, then, might follow some of the innovative things happening in the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Oman and Bahrain, for example. Report on positive accounts of the people, some of the amazing historical and newer architectural sites and interesting tidbits about the culture. Wouldn’t that make an interesting promotional tool?

5: Write a book based on your best blog subjects. Review your blog entries. If you’re like me, you may occasionally hit upon a topic that would make a good book. So start writing. With thought and research, your blog on the feral kitten you rescued over the summer might become a book featuring how to successfully raise a feral cat. If your current book features an aspect of pet care, this new book would make a great spin-off product. Your blog entry on how you created curb appeal that sold your home, could become an entire book for others who want to make an excellent impression when selling their properties. And what a great companion this would be for your book on family financing.

You started blogging because you heard that blogs sell books. Use these five tips and you’ll reach even more people and sell even more books.
Inside the Writer’s Brain

In The Beginning…A Blank Sheet
By Lea Schizas
(Complete first chapter from The Muse On Writing non-fiction reference book.

Everywhere you go, packages of lined paper are sold. These are the toys writers buy. In these modern times, computer papers in various weights have come to the forefront equally important as the stature of paper. So regardless if you use writing paper, computer paper, or a tape recorder, without a storyline, these ‘toys’ are useless.

As with all stories, we need to start from the beginning. For a compelling pull to your story, the following should be included in the story structure:

1-the overall hook
2-a few scattered complications/obstacles
4-the final resolution

In The Muse On Writing, you will find various chapters to help you hone, perfect, and master your craft using all four points above. The Muse writers will guide you in areas such as:

- Setting and moving your plot forward
- Your writing voice
- Hearing and improving your character’s dialogue
- Using outside elements (other cultures, myths, and worlds) to enhance your story
- Using psychological profiles to build around your character
- How the Gaming Industry can help a writer
- The art and descriptive details to form Poetry
- A personal and informative account on Self-Publication and writing Flash Fiction.
- That almighty ‘sweat’ road of Promotion and Marketing
- The art of Non-fiction writing and areas of submissions.

However, all of the above cannot be utilized unless a writer has something to write about. This is where Chapter one, In the Beginning, comes to your aid.

Let’s Begin Our Thinking Process

There is no book without a story idea. A story needs a plot, or a hook to captivate your target audience. But more than that, it needs to pass the acceptance test of a publishing house. A writer needs to sit down and contemplate more than an idea for a story. There are several aspects to a book that need tending:

- Who will be your protagonist and antagonist
- Where will the setting be placed
- What will be their storyline and plot
- What genre will it be written in

What I’ll do throughout this chapter is offer ideas on each point above to start you writing.

Who Will Be the Protagonist and Antagonist?

Your characters are crucial to your book. Although the plot can sustain itself at times, it is through your characters the reader will be able to experience your story. Why? Because readers can relate to characters, whether human or animal, better than a circumstance, such as a high chasing, horn-tooting car chase thrill. It’s the driver’s adrenaline behind the wheel that allows readers to connect, not the event. The more a writer can connect a reader to his protagonist, the more interest in what happens to that character develops in the reader.

But how do you develop a character realistically enough to build a bond with a reader? Some writers allow their character to grow as the story develops, and others make up a character profile before they begin writing. Some of the things on a character profile can be:

- Male or Female?
- Where was he born?
- Who were his parents? Rich/Poor/Divorced/Abusive/Loving?
- What color are his eyes/hair? Wears glasses? Contact lenses? Bleaches his hair? Wears it military short/hippy long?
- Does he have any siblings? Hate relationship? Bickering? Close bond?
- Is he educated? Smart? Mr. Know-It-All? Athletic? Army specialist? A collector of a sort?
- Does he have a nervous twitch? Any visible scars/characteristics which separates him from the other characters?
- Is he mute or physically handicapped in any way? Short tempered? Gay? Sensitive? Mean spirited? Loves to live dangerously?
- Has he been married? Divorced? Have a girlfriend? Hates women? Is a bumbling fool in front of women? Vendetta against men who abuse women? Vendetta against women who are divorced? Prefers prostitutes?

Here are some ideas to help you further build your character.

Where was your character born:

-At home -In a cab -In a small/big city
-On a farm -In a military base
-In jail


-Came from a broken home -Came from a loving home
-Parents were abusive -Raised by his grandparents/family
-Only child -Large family
-A happy childhood -Is a loner
-Attended boarding school -Loves to dance
-Hates school -High School dropout
-Went to war -Has a special trade
-Was a problem in elementary -High IQ

Bad and Good Characteristics to give him/her:

-Rude -Swears a lot
-No regard for peoples’ property -Alcoholic
-Drug Addict -No Patience
-Loves to crack his knuckles -Loves to argue
-Smokes -Burps in public
-Whines a lot -Suspicious of everyone
-Loves to start fires -Thief
-Ambitious -Athletic
-Business Oriented -Very cheap
-Loves to spend money -Classy
-Snobby -A dreamer
-Greedy -Show off
-A geek -Shrewd
-Romantic type -A quitter
-Very sick/dying -Jealous type
-Asthmatic -Has some sort of a phobia
-ESP qualities -Pessimist/Optimist

Some Physical Characteristics to give him/her:

-Tall -Short
-Athletic -Anorexic
-Flat/big chested -Lots of hair/bald
-Long-legged/short-legged -Muscular
-Wimpy -Wide-hipped
-Old/Young looking -Scarred features
-Beady eyes -Beard/Moustache/Clean Shaven
-Dimples -Full/Thin lips
-Square jaw -High cheekbones
-Laugh lines -Crow’s feet
-Thin/Thick browed -Wide/slanted eyes
-Wrinkles -Smooth silky skin
-Fat -Lazy

To further add to your character profile, you’ll need to know:

- where does he/she live:
mansion/apartment/farm/boat/nursing home/condo/basement/on the street
- does he/she drive:
a car/truck/race car/expensive car/bicycle/motorcycle/sports car/yacht/scooter/an antique car/a jalopy/

- does he/she have a career:
senator/lawyer/accountant/criminal/spy/musician/mechanic/army specialist/magician/pilot/cook/farmer/fireman/pimp/teacher/editor/priest/nun/a writer/social worker/fortune teller/reporter/psychiatrist/warden

After you build a solid profile, you need to name your protagonist. Give him a name suitable for his/her character. A tough, macho man shouldn’t be named Sally unless your purpose is to show him bullied in youth and transformed into the Hulk later on in life.

Here’s a link to help you generate names for your characters:

How Dare You!!

How dare I? No, how dare you!! Now I’m at conflict. A character needs a reason to pull the reader into the story. What’s his conflict about? Who will play what parts in the book? This is the stage in the game you begin to get a multiple personality and act out all the roles within your book. After all, these are your creative beings, to do what you want with them. They are your puppets on a string.

Let’s go back one step to remind you what each of your characters will need in order to stand on their own two feet; to give the illusion of fully-fleshed out human beings. They need their own profiles to distinguish them apart from each other. Having several characters relating in an almost identical manner to each other will only confuse and bore your reader.

Now let me offer you some suggestions for a purpose your protagonist may be searching for:

Protagonist’s Goal:

-Wants to vindicate his or someone else’s innocence
-In search of a find/treasure/map
-To win a loved one back
-To protect a witness/solve a crime
-To overcome a tragedy
-To reunite his family
-Wants to commit the biggest robbery of the century
-To change the course of history
-To bring down a government
-Seeks revenge
-Needs to pay back a good/bad deed
-To find out who he is/the truth

Throughout your protagonist’s goals, you will need to place obstacles in order to add intrigue and climatic episodes for your reader. This acts like a cliffhanger, prodding them to continue reading in order to find out what happens in the end. Make sure all of the obstacles and the main goal are completely finalized at the end, lest you cheat your reader.

In order to place an obstacle in his way, you need to introduce your antagonist. Here’s a surprise for some of you: your antagonist need not be human.

- The Mummy: the curse could be seen as the antagonist in this story along with the actual being of the mummy to cause havoc.
- Alien: you got it; aliens can be your antagonists
- Towering Inferno: the fire was the obstacle and main focal point.
-an animal -Storm -a curse
-Tornado (Twister) -Flood
-a deadly virus -Killer bees
-Reptile (Godzilla) -Robot (I Robot)
-Hurricane -Volcano -Monster (Dracula/Frankenstein)

Human Antagonist Suggestions:

-A jilted lover -A rapist/robber/thief
-A hounding reporter -Someone with a vendetta
-A relative seeking inheritance -An ex-spouse
-A crooked cop/lawyer/judge -A crazy love-struck student

In order to heighten the read, a lot of writers include a ‘clock/time’ within their storyline, for example:

The protagonist will need:
-to find a treasure/chip/map before the bad side does and all havoc will be unleashed
-to find the killer before he strikes again
-to figure out the clues before the bomb is detonated
-to arrange his affairs before death comes knocking on his door.
-to find the real killer before the innocent one jailed is put to death.

The television series ‘24’ is a perfect example of building tension within a storyline. Each week we are given an hour’s countdown with heart-thumping suspense as we see the clock ticking down. The plot or drama for that night’s episode is revealed, the characters are exploring means and methods to beat the ‘villain’, obstacles are thrust in their paths, and all along the reader can feel the countdown to disaster approaching. They are glued to their seat to find out if the timer will win or the heroes.


You know the protagonist’s goal now, but need to place some obstacles in his way to excite your reader.
-He’s stuck in a cave and has run out of food. Now what?
-He’s barricaded in a hut during a shootout and down to his last bullet.
-All evidence pointing to the killer is destroyed/vanishes.
-Your star witness disappears/dies/changes her story.
-At the point of asking her to marry him, an old flame shows up and causes a stir.
-Your protagonist suddenly realizes one of his friends is ratting him out.

Build your suspense, making sure to overcome each obstacle with a satisfying conclusion. Don’t cheat your reader with a simple solution like he takes another route when they (the reader) just read a massive earthquake took place crumbling the whole city like dominoes. Your character will need to foot it from now on and find other ways of making his way through the city. More on moving your plot in Chapter Six by
Pamela A. Shirkey, The Rhinoceros Theory of Plotting.

Situations and Terminologies To Use

We’re not all doctors/lawyers/spies/policemen/athletes to know the lingo that goes with each job description. So to facilitate this area, I’ve researched several areas and their ‘lingo’ for you to use in your stories.

Crime Does Pay In Writing

In a lot of books, we have stories involved in robbery, rapes, murders, abductions, and this means some detective/police force will be used along with their slang terminology.

Some characters you may find in crime books are:

-the coroner (medical examiner) -the jury
-a mole -the prosecutor
-the defense attorney -accomplices
-the judge -the victim
-a psychic -the criminal
-the investigative reporter -snitches
-prison guards -the witnesses
-a warden -a sketch artist
-and the good old boys -mafia members

Some interesting activities within crime books may be:

-Blackmail -Kidnapping
-Rape -Pornography
-Prostitution -Drug Trafficking
-Smuggling -Terrorism
-Sabotage -and the good old murder theme

Other helpful Crime Info:

- M.O.=modus operandi—meaning in plain English ‘motive’.
- Drug Enforcement Agency
- Private Investigator
- Highway Patrol
- The Secret Service
- U.S. Coast Guard
- Department of Justice
- Department of Defense
- Antiterrorist Unit
- Internal Affairs
- Special Weapons Assault Team=SWAT (a favorite to use when you have a hostage situation).
- Safe House= an unknown location to many in the department where witnesses and prisoners are kept under security for their own protection
- A sleeper is a spy who goes about his normal everyday routine until he is summoned to duty.

Some interesting scenarios as ideas are:

-A worldwide spy organization is after one particular retired agent for information he doesn’t even know he possesses.
-A family’s life is turned upside down when an escaped convict invades their home.
-A police officer is under investigation for something he knows his superiors have pointed the finger at him to take the heat off of them.
-An overly ambitious person climbing the corporate ladder takes on some drastic measures to get a new position. Could be murder/blackmail.
-A trip to the grocery store turns into a nightmare for one housewife when she discovers a man in her backseat.

Don’t be afraid to use your imagination. Some wonderful ideas can be had from your local newspaper, as well. Scan the news, jot down some info interesting enough to use for a future book, then wield that creative mind into building it into something larger than life. In the newspaper, information as to particular organizations, court cases, crimes of passion/kidnappings/ransom can be quite useful to use. You will pick up terminology used in certain circumstances to help you authenticate your story in whatever genre you are writing.

Your World Is Under Attack!

This can only mean the sci-fi genre, naturally. Some helpful items and terms to use in your story are:

-aliens -asteroids -holographic images
-time warps -energy fields -black holes
-scanners -shuttle craft -force fields
-capsules -clones/androids -holographs

Don’t forget about the gravity force in your world.

- Are there new forms of computers? Do they provide a new type of service to your worldly citizens? Are your citizens humanlike? More on this will be covered in Chapter Nine: World Building by Charles Mossop.
-What sort of crafts are they flying? Are they flying at all?

Your plot can be:

-Discovering a new hidden world
-need to locate to another planet before the present one explodes
-an attack from another species or opposing government

Sci-fi themes can also be in the present and now world.
-doctors experimenting on human subjects then murdering them for body parts.
Think of movies such as:
-The Hulk – experiment gone array
-Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde- another experiment plotline mingled with some horror.

Sci-fi books need not be only about other worlds as the two above examples show.

I Can’t Watch!

Ever get those goose bumps that not only stand your hair right up but also go deep into the pit of your stomach, clenching your insides so tight you can actually feel your heart beating? That’s what a good horror/suspense book/movie can do for you.

In a good horror book, there are so many elements you can incorporate into your story:

-elements of terror -suspense -devil worshipping
-occult dealings -violence/killings -dream states

Some past characters that have been used in horror stories have been:

-Dracula/vampires -Bigfoot
-Monsters/werewolf/swamp monster -Aliens
-Birds/Hitchcock’s The Birds -Zombies -witches and warlocks
just to name a few of several characters used throughout time, several times over.

If using any of the above examples, come up with a new twist. And one thing to remember that’s been tried over again and with no real success is a vampire book where Dracula is given a transfusion and he becomes human again. Nope. Don’t even try that one. Come up with something original. Ann Rice is a good author to read. Stephen King is another horror/suspense writer. Although I find his books slow in the beginning because he goes into detail to establish a connection with his reader to his characters, by the middle, King has absorbed you into the plot, prodding you to continue to find out what’s going to happen.

The previous paragraph was all about developing your own writing voice. More on this in Chapter Two: Writer’s Voice – Who’s Got One? By Kathe Gogolewski.

Hauntings/Cults/ESP are just three other areas for story ideas that can be used over and over again, using a different theme for each book. For example:


-A lover returns from the grave to protect his one true love from the one who killed him. (GHOST) This story involves some romance, comedy relief and some suspenseful moments.
-A dead maniac rises to wreak havoc on those who visit the area he died in. (FRIDAY THE 13TH) A lot of knife wielding, shock effect scenarios.

If you’re stuck for an idea, all you need to do is reread an old favorite of yours, or watch one of the old horror flicks then think how you can do it differently. What character can be altered to give them a more terrifying profile? What changes can you write to switch the ending to a more satisfying or horrific conclusion?

A Last Idea Generator

I hope some of my suggestions above have helped you to build a storyline. If not, here’s one more exercise to generate story themes.

Take a look around you. It doesn’t matter where you are. Look straight ahead and spot three solid things.

Let’s pretend you were sitting in your backyard. Items spotted:

1-a tree
2-neighbour raking the lawn
3-a swimming pool

Now we’ll use the ‘what if’ factor:

-what if the tree you were mowing around had a strange marking on it?
1-Where did it come from? Who placed it there? What did it mean?
2-What if the neighbor you’ve known for several years turned around and started to attack you with the rake? What set him off? Does he blame you for something?
3-What if your spouse was swimming in the pool, and a sudden flash of light blinded you for a second? Your spouse has disappeared, where he/she was swimming just a second ago. Where did he/she disappear? What and where did this flash of light come from?

As you can see, ordinary items around us can be used by implementing the ‘what if’ factor. Using this method, there should never be an absence of ideas to come your way.

Putting It All Together

Creating the perfect character is not an easy task. One thing to remember is not to give all of his descriptive details in one shot. Use your imagination. Although it is easier to say “John, with his black eyes and hair, stood amongst the rest in the group. His muscular arms flexed while his five foot ten inches height shook with anger.” In this example, I am doing a lot of telling and not enough showing. A reader needs to envision the surroundings as though he himself were standing in John’s shoes. One way of doing
this is to use all five senses scattered throughout. Don’t forget, in real life we do smell our surroundings, we hear the birds chirping, we see the destruction before us, we taste the burnt food, and we can feel our lover’s embrace.

Writers have the power to cast magical embraces and imagination in their readers. Storytelling has been around as far back as the cavemen. Yes, you read right. What do you think those symbols and hieroglyphics were all about? To tell the reader some sort of a tale, a tale of their time. Nowadays, writers use their imagination and build new worlds to tell their stories from.

Read the lessons presented to you in each of the chapters that follow. Each writer has weaved his or her own magic to demonstrate how you can hone and improve your own writing.

Your story is your portrait. Brush each stroke one at a time onto your canvass until the finished painting is the one you want to project. Then stand back and allow everyone the pleasure of its meaning.

Will you be the turtle who sticks his head into his shell? Then I’m sorry. Your tales will never be read.

Will you be the turtle who sticks his head up high and slowly crawls to your destination? Then I salute you. Your stories will be enjoyed by many.

Contributing newsletter columnist Lea Schizas is founder and co-founder of The MuseItUp Club ( and Apollo’s Lyre (, both named among Writer’s Digest Best 101 Web Sites for Writers in 2005 & 2006 and which have received several Preditors and Editors awards. Ms. Schizas is the author of the young adult fantasy novel “The Rock of Realm,” and the upcoming paranormal/thriller “Doorman’s Creek.” She is also the editor and co-author of “The Muse On Writing,” a writer’s reference book, and the fantasy novel “Aleatory’s Junction.”

For more information on Ms. Schizas, please check out her site at:
Tip of the Month

Spy conversations—and learn.

Without being conspicuous, spend a couple of weeks listening in on other people’s conversations in public places, such as Starbucks or McDonald’s, and writing them down verbatim in a tote-around notebook. Study hard the rhythms, inflections, words, accompanying body/face movement, and keep them all in memory—to be used later as dialogue or even as the basis for a story.
Market Watch

Market Watch

Flash fiction as Name Branding
By Kim McDougall

“It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.”—Robert Southey

Short-short stories, postcard stories, micro fiction, drabble, nano fiction, ultra-short. By any other name, it’s still flash fiction.

Some might call it a flash in the pan, but really short stories have set the fiction magazine markets on fire. Once considered “filler,” flash fiction has come in to its own. Stories under 1000 words are no longer only prose-poetry. Flash fiction has moved away from this stylized definition and into the mainstream. Bite-sized entertainment is all around us, news flashes, cartoons, music videos, YouTube videos, but perhaps the advent of ezines has been the biggest boon to flash, as the format fits nicely on one screen.

But what is the definition of flash fiction? As with the abundance of names, flash also has varying definitions. Purists might claim it is a story under 500 words. Others would stretch that length to 1500 words. Drabble, micro and nano fiction tighten that down to 100 words or less. Whatever the length of the story, flash fiction is defined by the brevity it takes to tell a complete tale. Unlike prose-poetry or vignettes, flash doesn't hint at a story or simply highlight a mood. Flashes have plots, themes, and characterization. This might seem simplistic, but it’s harder than it sounds. Paring down to the elements, while still maintaining character and flair, is the challenge that entices many writers to this unique genre.

Why bother, you might ask, when I can say the same thing in 3000 words? Well, here are two reasons: abundant markets and good exercise. Let’s look at the latter first. Flash is a great way to hone your writing skills. Most editors would agree that tight writing sells.

Getting rid of those extraneous words such as “that” and “just” and “still” is a start, but writers of flash say this form teaches so much more. For instance, how do you provide characterization without description? Or atmosphere without poetry? Good flash manages both of these and more. Learning to write tight plots and dialogue are also benefits of practicing flash.

Frank Sullivan, a mentor of many flash writers in his Flash Factory on Zoetrope Virtual Studio, says. “(Flash is) fast becoming a form of its own, but it also can be good exercise and a proving ground for longer fiction. (I think we'd all agree that it's easier to flesh-out and expand a piece than it is to edit one down!) Also, it's a good vehicle for getting published quickly, getting some exposure in the industry and building a resume. Even if your personal goal is longer works.”

Which brings up the next reason to write flash: the markets.

Duotrope Digest lists 784 markets for flash fiction. 195 of those pay semi-pro rates or better, but even the non-paying markets offer valuable exposure for authors. The most effective tool in a writer’s promotion arsenal is his own writing. Name branding works for artists as well as products. Every story published is free advertising. Many authors remark on a boost in sales for their first novels when the second is published. This is the click-through effect from a satisfied reader. Multiple Flash publications can provide the same name branding.

Deciding which of those 784 markets to choose can be a daunting task, however. After you’ve narrowed it down by genre, and checked out the guidelines for word length restrictions, consider if the magazine offers a printed bio for its authors. Look at the placement of this bio. Is it placed with the story (where readers will most likely see it) or hidden on a bio page (where readers will have to search for it)? Where is the magazine published? On an obscure webpage? Is it sent by podcast to subscribers' phones? By email? If so, what is magazine’s total circulation?

So turn those writing exercises into name-branding promo opportunities. Next time your novel stalls, write a 1000 word flash about an episode in your main character’s history. Write a 100 word drabble about grandma’s ghost stories or 500 words about that really cool dream that kept you from a good night’s sleep. Keep it tight, focus on plot and characterization and most importantly, get it out there!

Many short fiction markets also accept flash, but here is a sampling of flash only markets:

100 words and under:


Pen Pricks

500 words and under:

Quick Fiction

Vestal Review

1000 Words and under

Locus Novus

Vestal Review

Flash Me Magazine

Everyday Fiction

Kim McDougall is a Canadian-born writer and photographer. Her flash fiction is currently available from Twisted Tongue Magazine, Drabblecast and Flashshot. Check out her Flash fiction Contest at Between the Cracks Digest:
Poetry Tips & Prompts
of the Month

By Marilyn L. Taylor

Prompt 1: Word choices

Take a poem you have written and eliminate all the descriptive adjectives and adverbs. Every single one. Does the poem still hold up? If not, go to the thesaurus and force yourself to replace the nouns and verbs with much stronger ones. You might end up with a much better poem than the one you started out with!

Prompt 2: Bad Poems

Pair up with a partner to write the worst poem imaginable. Then revise it to make it even worse. Be aware of what makes it so awful; clichés? Terrible rhymes? Hideous metaphors? It’s a great way to internalize what to avoid like the plague in your “real” poems! (Optional: when you’re finished (if you have the nerve), think up pen names and submit your bad poem to one of those on-line poetry sites that will publish virtually anything. Does its awfulness stand out? Are the other poems almost as bad? This can turn into a great lesson in critical reading!)

Prompt 3: Three extended metaphors

I. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about sex. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with warfare for the words having to do with sex.

II. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about love. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with government for the words of love.

III. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about god and religion. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with a political figure whose policy you oppose for words referring to faith and god.
The Writing Life
Fingers to the Bone
By Joshua James

I'm considered a prolific writer.

I share this with you not to brag, but because it's what I've been told, many times.

I'm told I'm very prolific (and versatile, too, but that's another discussion for another day) by numerous folk familiar with my work over the years. I've been told this many times, by every agent I've had. In fact, the very first writing group I joined in New York City, way back in the day, that was the first comment given to me by one of the moderators (I had a habit of bringing in new work every week, go figure).

So more people will tell you I'm prolific than not. I accept that's what's thought about me.

Let me share a secret with you. Are you ready? Here we go . . .

I don't consider myself prolific at all.

In fact, I tend to obsess (probably more than I should) over what I HAVEN'T written and the hours I HAVEN'T been working.

I'm not nearly as prolific as I should be or strive to be. Not even close.

In my mind, I'm a Goddamn slacker.

Now, is it true?

Yes and No.

Let's present our case to the jury.

I have written a lot of material. In fact, my best friend (and partner in a number of ventures) is reading this right now and cursing my ass out soundly. He often thinks I push myself too hard and points to the vast amount of work I have done, which include but is not limited to, nine or ten full length plays, eight or nine screenplays, forty or fifty short plays, ten or twelve television treatments, couple of practice novels I don't show to anyone, a personal journal . . . and more stuff that I haven't listed here that my buddy would probably bring up. The fruits of the labor has presented itself in the fifty or so productions of my plays I've had over the past ten, eleven years.

You get the idea - for as young as I am - I've written a lot of stuff thus far. I also tend to do good work fairly quickly (again, this is what I'm told, not what I think - more on what I think below). I guess some writers move at the speed of a glacier. Not that that's wrong or right, just that THAT is what some do. I'm not that way. Which enforces the view toward prolific.

On the PRO slacker side.

On the corner of the street where I live, there's a Chinese restaurant. There's one on almost every corner in New York City, true. But I know this one, I've lived on this street for three years, I've come to know the Chinese family that runs the place, I've eaten their food more times than I can count and I say hello to them every time I walk by the subway.

Let me tell you something. They're open every day of the week. Seven days. Open at eleven in the morning, close at eleven at night, twelve on the weekends. Mom runs the counter, she has the best English. Every day, twelve hours or more, for the past three years. Open on holidays, too, except for possibly Christmas, but to be honest I don't remember EVER seeing the place not open. For real. And the same people running it, every day. They don't take a break.

I work pretty hard, or like to think I do, but I am shamed every day when I walk by because I know in my heart I don't work as hard as they do. I'll do a couple ten hour days when on deadline, I'll write seven days a week when I've got projects hot to go. But I don't do that for that long without taking a break. I don't work as long and continuous as they do.

It's not as though the family running the restaurant is unhappy, far from it. Cheeriest folk you'd ever want to know. Happy because they're glad to be here, working for themselves and family, working toward their dream. They have their dream and work their fingers to the bone to realize it.

I have a dream, too. It's why I write, what I'm working for. How many hours a week do I write? Not enough. Not nearly enough. I don't even want to try and count, because it'll just make me mad at myself. Whatever it is, it's not twelve hours a day, seven days a week.

I've had a regular type day jobs, jobs I'd go to and toil away at whatever I'm told to do for forty hours a week, right? I've done that before with a number of jobs, including but not limited to, construction worker, vet technician, administrative assistant, short order cook, field hand (that's right, I've been an honest to God field hand), direct-care worker for the developmentally disabled and a bouncer at a pool hall. I've done all those jobs, forty hours a week, at some point in my life. I worked hard at those jobs, true. But I didn't work as hard as the folks running the Chinese restaurant on the corner.

I work pretty hard now, as a writer, hard enough that my significant other gets concerned, hard enough that my best buddy wants me to cool it. Hard.

Why do I push myself?

I've been doing this long enough to see that a lot of writers expect fortune to be just simply handed to them. Expect inspiration to visit whenever you need.

The thing is, you cannot really sit around and wait for your dream to come to you.

You have to chase it down. Run after it. Hard.

Having a dream is easy. Realizing your dream is the hard part. Takes work.

Writing is work, whether fortune or inspiration show up or not, there's still work to be done. I've prided myself on being a blue collar word mechanic with dirt under his nails, one that shows up to work when it's time for work, not when I feel like it. That's me.

I'm working for my dream.

I'm not working my fingers to the bone like the folks in the Chinese restaurant are, not yet.

Compared to them, I'm a Goddamn slacker, better off sitting in front of the idiot box playing video games.

But I'll get there someday, I'll make it to that point. I believe, in some part of me, that if I am able to work as hard as those folks, all my dreams will be realized. I believe that.

Now I just got to make it happen.

Now I just have to get back to work.

Time for work.

Joshua James is a New York City playwright/screenwriter.

Please check out his Web site at:
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Credits, Disclaimer, and Copyright

Michael P. Geffner, the founder/editor-in-chief of this newsletter, has been a writer/journalist for nearly 30 years. He's appeared in hundreds of publications, including the New York Times, USA Today, Details, The Sporting News, Men's Health, The Village Voice, FHM, Texas Monthly, and Los Angeles Magazine. He has won two Associated Press Sports Editors awards, been awarded first place for magazine profile writing in 2000 by the Society of Professional Journalists (NJ), voted Best Sportswriter in New York City in 1990 by New York Press, and acknowledged for excellence six times by the annual anthology, The Best American Sports Writing.

Mike’s Writing Newsletter does not guarantee any offers made by any of the advertisers, sponsors, or business opportunities mentioned herein. While every business and persons associated with said businesses are believed to be reputable, this publication cannot and does not accept responsibility for their actions; therefore, readers using this information do so at their own risk.

This newsletter is protected by U.S. and international law. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Unless an article is in the public domain, or not protected by copyright, trademark, service mark, trade name or other legal means of ownership, it may not be used in any manner without consent of Michael P. Geffner.

Copyright ©2008

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