Sunday, January 31, 2010

Saturday, January 30, 2010

More Kudos: Top 100 Writing Blog List!

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Justin Woo: Poem "Dear Mr. Fritzl"

Justin says of this poem: It was originally written as part of the Spoken Word Almanac Project 09. The article I read that inspired the piece is called
"Guilty Pleas in a Trial On Captivity" by Nicholas Kulish and was
published in the NYT on 3/18/09.

Dear Mr. Fritzl

"There must be some kind of way out of here.
Said the joker to the thief.
There's too much confusion.
I can't get no relief."

Dear Mr. Fritzl,
We cannot escape each other.
My imagination will not stretch
to accommodate the enormity
of your deeds. Their sharp edges
perforate the too small walls
of my mind when I attempt
to envision that tiny room
filled to bursting
with the cruel bulk of suffering
that you've inflicted.

After the third year, Elisabeth stopped screaming.
Your hand, once placed firmly over her mouth
became occupied with new violations.
Now her eyes locked
on the wood paneled ceiling,
hoping that her gaze
could burn its way through
four concrete apartment floors
to reach her memories of the
world outside of your basement.

After you stole her third child,
she stopped crying. Tears
became a language
as dead and foreign
as Sumerian, Babylonian.

She tried to look
on the bright side -
they never have to see
this sick circus,
you, ringleader
me, caged animal.

Your wife always marveled
at how much her supposed
grandchildren looked
so much like you.

She didn't realize
that she could become
adoptive mother, grandmother,
cuckold, and fool
all at once.

I pray that your children
do not inherent your megalomania
your need for control
your grasping, too-busy hands
your probing fingers.

I hope that their eyes
are like their mother's
Pupils that burn through solid stone
to touch the sky.

"I can't get no relief."

I shudder to think
what your reasons must have been
to bring your ill nineteen year old
daughter, granddaughter
to the hospital.
After letting one baby die,
compassion, a language
as dead and foreign
to you as mercy,
could not have whispered
to that rotten lump of muscle
that only the most removed
clinicians could call a heart.

I can only imagine that
when a ringleader grows tired
of one animal, he must breed
a replacement.

"No reason to get excited."

Your basement was discovered
and with it, your depravity.
Hot outrage flowed into my blood
almost as fast as chilly cynicism -
the only thing that keeps this mad world sane.

You swore you didn't know
that that baby was dying.
You swore you didn't know
that those cries meant hunger, fear, pain.
You swore you didn't know
and part of me believes
that might have been the truth.
How could you, of all people
understand human suffering,
a language as dead and foreign
to you as love?

"There are many here among us
who believe that life is but a joke."

And we're still laughing,
trying to transmute shock
into numb indifference.
When they marched you
in front of judge, jury,
too bruised and lacerated
to be astonished by atrocity
you held a binder over your face.

I can't imagine
what you thought you were hiding,
your dissipated jowls
hanging loosely over ancient bone,
framed by hawkish brows
and eyes Hitler's favorite shade of blue.

"So let us not talk falsely now
the hour is getting late."

Maybe you were hiding
something else - that true horror
that could only be caught on film,
in motion (the path of a bullet,
the passage of time in captivity,
the devil's laughter).
I would thank you
if I thought you had actually
saved us from anything.

Mr. Fritzl,
they're called crimes against humanity
because you've killed us all.
In this world, Josef,
your world,
we have all become Elisabeth.
our collective imagination
is forever locked
in your basement,
never again to see the sky,
freedom a language
as dead and foreign to us
as forgiveness.

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Blog Kudos: Made Top 30 List!

We made Top 30 list!

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Creativity & The Third Man

"In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." - from the movie, The Third Man

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The Inspired Word - A New Era Begins Friday Night!

Date: Friday, Jan. 29, 2010
Time: 7-10pm
Location: (Le) Poisson Rouge
158 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 505-FISH (3474)
Cover Charge: $10
In our strikingly elegant new home, (Le) Poisson Rouge, right in the heartof
Greenwich Village, The Inspired Word officially kicks off its twice-a-month
series with an extraordinary lineup: Shanelle Gabriel, Caits Meissner, Kelly
Zen-Yie Tsai
, and B. Yung.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Honoring Martin Luther King: Complete Video/Text of "I have a dream" Speech

The following is the exact text of the spoken speech, transcribed from recordings:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pennwriters: UNDERSTANDING DIALOGUE Online Writing Course

INSTRUCTOR: Catherine McLean

February 1-March 5, 2010

$89 ($99 non-Pennwriters)

Discover the 13 functions of story dialogue and common usage mistakes. Write dialogue to show, not tell. Learn the 6 types of internalizations. Give your characters distinct narrative voices.

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Pennwriters: Win $100 In Our New Slogan Contest!

Think you can write a slogan?

Pennwriters is running a contest for a new slogan for its Online Courses service! It’s part of an effort to take the highly-rated service to new heights in 2010 with even more course time & more teaching. Contest entry is easy: just go to

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Quote of the Day: Quentin Crisp

"Artists in any medium are nothing more than a bunch of hooligans who cannot live within their income of admiration." - Quentin Crisp

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Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg - Vomit Express

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Writer Beware

Warnings About Literary Fraud and Other Schemes, Scams, and Pitfalls That Target Writers

Do yourself a favor and check out these great sites to stay safe in the publishing world:

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Poet Diana Garcia on Writing Poetry

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Dear Mike: How do I make more money with my stories?

Mike: First thing you need to know is this: It's absolutely imperative that you at least attempt to increase your pay rate, slowly but surely.

Remember rhat while writing is a passion it’s should also a business. Most writers, unfortunately, are artists first and foremost, if not completely, and have zero business sense.

As a result, they get so caught up in the struggling artist syndrome that they sometimes never escape it, dooming their careers to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mt advice: Hire someone to represent you, which is nearly impossible when you’re starting out, or simply take a class in the art of negotiations or read a book on the subject (Herb Cohen’s “You Can Negotiate Anything" and "Negotiate This" are wonderful).

One time, at a national publication, I broke all kinds of ground and became the highest paid freelancer in its history.

Believe me, it wasn’t easy.

They desperately TRIED to NOT pay me so much.

And by my last contract with them, they played the hardest of hardball, told me they couldn’t afford to pay another dollar more. My answer: Okay, then, I’ll write LESS WORDS but for the SAME MONEY.

Know what happened?

Shock of shocks: They agreed!

Lesson: In negotiations, you always need to have an answer prepared in advance, solid replies waiting to be pulled from your back pock. I predicted their tactic and had a reasonable response.

Understand that you and the editor are at opposite ends. He or she is trying to pay you the least amount of money for the most amount of work; your job is to get paid the most for the least.

One Suggestion: Always ask for more. No matter what’s offered, act mildly disappointed, then ask for SLIGHTLY more. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

Most of the time, you’ll get rewarded with a slightly higher offer.


You must give your editors great work, something irreplaceable. Individual. Unique. Dazzling.

Do all that and you’ll get paid what you're worth - or at least reasonably close.

On the other hand, if an editor can get the same thing from another writer and pay less, believe me, they’ll go to that other writer.

That’s just good business.

So knock ‘em dead with your stuff and ask for the world.

Good luck!

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Writing Prompts of the Day

Write about when you first knew you wanted to write.

Write about your favorite cartoon character.

Write about the smell of your favorite flower.

Write about your first date.

Write about the perfect meal.

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A Word about Words

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

Here are some more words and phrases that are commonly misused or misspelled. A conscientious writer should use these correctly. More importantly, using these words/phrases correctly will reduce the odds of your writing being rejected by an editor due to excessive errors (Editors don’t want to waste time on pieces that require an inordinate amount of their time to clean up.).

Even if you write only business reports and emails, you still wouldn’t want people chuckling over your misuse of the English language, would you? Just as importantly, using the correct word can better convey the nuance you desire. As Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Forego vs. Forgo

Wrong: I decided to forego meat for Lent.
Right: I decided to forgo meat for Lent.

To forgo something is to abstain from, renounce, or do without. Forego means to precede (literally, to go before).

Afterward vs. Afterword

Wrong: He ended his book with an Afterward.
Right: He ended his book with an Afterword.

Afterward means at a later time, or subsequently, while an afterword is a concluding section of a book or treatise, or a closing statement.

Vane vs. Vain vs. Vein

Right: They accidentally uncovered a rich vein of coal.
Right: The rocket engine uses control vanes for steering.
Right: You’re so vain I don’t know how you get that big head of yours through the barn door.

These words are all too often confused. A vane is a blade or plate affixed to a rotating cylinder or drum, as in a pump, turbine, or weather vane. A vein is one part of the system of branching blood vessels in the body, or a defined stratum of ore in a mine, streaks running through wood or marble, and so on. And of course, someone who is overly concerned with his or her appearance may be referred to as vain. It can also mean ineffective, as in “Her efforts were in vain,” or irreverent: “She took God’s name in vain.”


Wrong: This computer comes with standard DVD.
Right: This computer comes standard with DVD.
Right: This computer comes with DVD standard.

This is another case where the position of the word within the sentence can alter the meaning of the sentence. In the first example, it is unclear whether the use of standard is meant to distinguish it from an enhanced form of DVD drive (such as DVD-RW), or if it merely means that a DVD drive is built into the computer. The other two examples are clearer (although specifying DVD-ROM vs. DVD-RW, DVD+RW, or DVD-RAM would be clearer yet).

Tow the line vs. Toe the line

Wrong: You’d better tow the line, mister, if you know what’s good for you!
Right: You’d better toe the line, mister, if you know what’s good for you!

To toe the line is to follow the rules precisely, without deviation, as in putting one foot ahead of the other, along a painted stripe. The expression can also be used similarly to putting one’s nose to the grindstone or shoulder to the wheel, meaning to take responsibility and work hard. Tow the line is simply a misspelling of this expression.

Dual vs. Duel

Wrong: Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a dual.
Right: Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.

Dual means consisting of two, or having a twofold nature. (A dual overhead cam engine.) A duel is a ritualized form of combat, often to the death, fought according to an agreed-upon code of conduct. More generally, it can also refer to any contest between two individuals.

Wont vs. Want

Wrong: I took an afternoon stroll, as I’m want to do.
Right: I took an afternoon stroll, as I’m wont to do.

If you want something, it’s a desire, need, or craving. On the other hand, wont (used as a noun or a verb) means something you are accustomed to doing, a habit or practice. You may occasionally want to take an afternoon stroll, but if you do it on a regular basis, then it’s a wont. (Don’t confuse wont with won’t, a contraction of will not. Wont is pronounced the same as want, hence the confusion.)

Friend(ed) vs. Befriend(ed)

Wrong: She was the new girl in school, so I friended her.
Right: She was the new girl in school, so I befriended her.

To befriend (verb) someone is to become his or her friend (noun) or act as a friend to someone. Unfortunately, social networking websites, such as MySpace and Facebook, have popularized the phrases “Friend me” and “I friended him/her,” such that these expressions are being used in everyday conversation as well. My dictionary does list one definition of friend as a verb, meaning to befriend, but describes this use as “rare.” Thus, it’s best to use befriend as the verb in a sentence and save friend for the noun.

Duffle vs. Duffel

Right: I threw my camping gear in a duffle bag.
Right: I threw my camping gear in a duffel bag.

The duffel bag, a cylindrical bag made of a thick-napped cloth or canvas, is named for the town of Duffel in Belgium, where the cloth was first made. However, today both spellings of the word are considered correct. So spell it however you prefer, but be consistent in which spelling you use. Don’t mix-and-match.

Drier vs. Dryer

Right: After the storm, I was drier than you were.
Right: I threw my damp clothes in the dryer.
Right: I threw my damp clothes in the drier.

Drier means more dry. Dryer most often refers to a machine used to dry clothing. But both spellings are interchangeable. So feel free to spell the machine whichever way you prefer.

If you’ve ever been confused about any of these words or phrases, tack this column 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:

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dear Mike: How do you handle rejection?

Mike: I handle it like most, if not all writers: Not very well.

I despair.

I curl up on my couch and wolf down a pint of Häagen-Dazs butter pecan ice cream.

And I endlessly go over and over in my head: What did I do wrong? How could I have done the story better? Do I really suck? Should I try another profession

But you should remember that sometimes the rejection has absolutely nothing to do with you the writer.

It’s merely the individual taste of the editor. And, believe me when I tell you this, some editors have NO TASTE. Or talent. Or writing ability. I can count on one hand the great editors I've had over my career.

So do yourself a big favor and try hard not to take rejection personally. Don’t dwell on it.

No matter how crushing it is, move beyond it. Don’t let it paralyze you. Get right back on that horse and begin riding again, even with the same project but maybe with another publication. Or star anew on another project.

Assume the law-of-averages attitude of sales people: They doesn’t get down after a rejection. They simply know they're that much closer to a sale.

Good luck! And keep the faith!

Please check out Debbie Ridpath Ohi's wonderful site:
Click here

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Streamline to Save Time in 2010

Streamline to Save Time in 2010
By Angela Wilson

It is incredibly easy to get lost in the labyrinth of online promotions.

There is so much to do and say and share on the Internet, a writer can easily lose an entire afternoon just "liking" posts on Facebook, or conversing on Twitter.

The best way to tackle online marketing so it doesn't take over your life is by streamlining. Keep it simple, fit it into your current lifestyle and find ways to do more using less.

Here are some top ways to streamline your time in 2010:

Get a timer. When marketing online - or even just emailing friends - you can easily lose an afternoon clicking links, dealing with crashes or submitting posts. Keep a kitchen timer handy to monitor your time. Figure out how much time you can truly spend online - and stick to it!

Eliminate unnecessary social networks. Choose only those with broad appeal to readers in your genre. Remember, writing networks have fellow writers who don't necessarily buy your books, even if they do provide solid feedback or encouragement.
Streamline blogging. Instead of logging in to several different accounts, you can easily manage blogs via one-stop sites like It allows posts to microblogs like Twitter and FriendFeed, as well as posts Wordpress, Blogger and Typepad. Also, many blog platforms - including - give you an e-mail address where you can send posts.

Streamline social network submissions. You can use third-party clients like Tweetdeck, Seesmic or Twhirl to submit updates to Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Facebook - all from one platform. The site allows you easy access to your RSS feeds, as well as email and instant messaging clients.

Update your Web site. Every author needs a Web site. Every author Web site needs a media center that includes a short and long biography, author photographs, book cover photos, book lists and more. If you want to be interviewed, you must have some information to give bloggers and traditional media. If you don't have a Web site, get one - even if it is on a free service like If you already have a site, review all the information there to be sure it is current. Sending reporters and bloggers one link with all the information they need will save you a lot of time - and they will love you for it.

Use editorial calendars. Blogging is a necessity for many authors. Set up an editorial calendar to make it easier to know what to post when. Know the number of posts you can create each week. Be sure to remember that each post must not only be written, but edited, formatted and illustrated with photos whenever possible. Calendars also help you stay organized if you invite guest bloggers to your site. Also, try to stay ahead of the game by posting a week or two in advance. You can use a paper calendar to a program like Google calendar, which will also allow you to share your updates via social networks.

Stay focused. Marketing takes more perseverance than talent. You have to be consistent in your message - and deliver it on a regular basis. Don't just quit after two months because you don't see immediate results. Sometimes, it takes a year before your efforts are rewarded with more hits or more sales.

Be adaptable. If you aren't seeing results, then adjust your marketing plan. Drop items that aren't working and build up venues that are. Add new social networks or traditional marketing tactics that are promising when you can.

Work smart, not hard. Don't try to do everything at once. Sit down and map out your current family and writing obligations, then work marketing in around them. When your book is in print, then you will need to put marketing before writing to promote it. Promotional times vary by author and genre. It could be anywhere from four weeks to three months.

Streamlining your marketing life can make a huge difference in your stress level. Keep it as simple as possible, and have it fit your lifestyle, not the other way around.

Angela Wilson is an author, social media consultant, and online marketing strategist. Visit her blog,, to learn more about cost-effective marketing strategies for fiction and nonfiction authors.

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Sarky Arts

Sarky Arts an internet relay chat server and a branch of has opened chat rooms for artists. It is a free server, and open haven for artists to discuss their work, and make connections. We have rooms assigned for musicians, writers, and artists. If you enjoy open meetings with authors and book publishers, we hold live interviews periodically so you can ask advice on publishing and writing. In the near future we will be doing the same for recording artists.

Previous interviews

We are easy to connect to and FREE, just go to and click the java link. The java chat will bring you to a room called ExodusNightOOC which is our out of character chat room for our medieval fantasy game on the server. We sometimes just chat there too, if the server is slow.

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Inspiration for Writers

Our compassionate and thorough manuscript edit and critique will give your prose the polish it needs to shine above the others. We offer a detailed line edit, content edit, overview critique, and unlimited follow-up conversations.
Free sample edit of the first 500 words of your book-length work.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dear Mike: How do you deal with writer's block?

Reader Question: Does someone like you ever get “writer's block?” What are some of your tried-and-true ways to get around it? It drives me crazy.

Mike: Listen, every writer has had times where he/she can’t get the words down easily, if at all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared at a blank computer screen for a half-hour at a time and couldn’t think of a thing. It’s natural. And that’s what you should understand. Unless you’re on deadline and need your story in within minutes, don’t panic. In fact, I never use the phrase “writer’s block.” It’s the equal of an epithet to me. I don’t allow others to use it around me. It’s negative and only heightens your anxiety about not producing words. Simply view slow periods as a natural part of the creative process. Unless you have some sort of psychological problem, you either have nothing to say at the moment. Or you’re trying too hard. Or you’re just too tense, in which case I would recommend drinking your favorite beverage (for me, espresso with milk), or putting on your favorite music (for me, it could be anything; depends on my mood), and think positive, peaceful thoughts (I love imagining soft ocean waves). If all else fails, write about the writer’s block, which, of course, is a built-in contradiction. It also HAS to work, right?

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

To Have an Agent or Not to Have an Agent—That is the Question

To Have an Agent or Not to Have an Agent—That is the Question
By Rob Parnell

Probably one of the most frequently asked question I get is how do
I get an agent?

It's like an obsession with new writers—despite the fact that many successful authors don't use agents at all. But still, new writers are convinced that, if only they had an agent, their careers would somehow sky rocket.

First off, the reality is different. Even if you do get an agent, you will still need to do most of the real work—constantly improving as a writer—yourself. Whether having an agent can actually do anything for you is for most writers largely an unknown—even if you're good.

But, but, I hear you cry, I still want to get an agent! Because that's how it's done, right?

Okay, if you're desperate, the easy answer is to buy a copy of
Writers Markets, look up agents relevant to your genre, send off your MSS or query letters to them...and wait.

However, for the novice, this approach rarely leads to success.

Why? Because, simply put, if you don't have publishing credits or a deal in the offing, the agents don't want to know you!

So then, the question becomes how do I get published without an agent?

There are many publishers who say they don't want to see unagented work. So it would seem a Catch 22 situation—you can't get your work seen by the publishers you want and they won't look at anything you write unless you have an agent, and you can't get an agent because, ya di ya di ya, the cycle goes on.

Or so it would seem.

The truth is many authors DO get published without agents—at first in magazines, anthologies, on the Net etc. By winning writing competitions. By networking, self-promotion, self-publishing and,
of course, by sheer luck.

The real reason the big publishers don't want to see new writers work is they don't have the time. They need to know you're a good writer first.

The trick is to keep building your credits - to fatten up your resume. You then use this resume (your reputation for producing quality work) to accompany your submissions to publishers—some of whom will take you seriously if you are unagented if they see that your writing career is solid and looks promising.

Just as in every other profession, you need to show your potential employers (agents and publishers) that you know what you're doing and that you're good at it—BEFORE they'll take a chance on you.

If your work is good, you really don't need an agent when you're starting out. So, the short answer to this oh-so-frequently-asked question is, don't waste your time trying to get one!

Write well and pursue your career persistently and they will come to you.

Rob Parnell is a prolific writer who’s published novels, short stories, and articles in the U.S., U.K., and Australia, and a teacher who’s conducted writing workshops, critique groups, and seminars.

Please visit Mr. Parnell’s Web site at:

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Writing Prompts of the Day

Write about…

Your favorite and least favorite news show.

Vice President Biden.

The best meal you’ve ever had.

The biggest risk you ever took.

Your favorite single line of movie dialogue.

Your best and worst indulgences.

The best gift you ever received.

The funniest joke you’ve heard recently.

What bothers you most about the world of politics.

Your favorite time of the day.

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NaNoWriMo Promises and How to Keep Them

NaNoWriMo Promises and How to Keep Them
By Elizabeth K. Barone
Written on Nov. 23, 2009

We're almost to the end of November. Where did this month go? I mean, really? Because it feels like just yesterday I sat down and wrote the first sentence of my novel. And now it's November??

Are you panicking? I am. I'm panicking because my real goal looms ahead. See, it isn't about the word count for me, though that did spur me on for a while. I raced in a mad dash to get to 50,000, sprinting against my good friend Jess. We cheered each other on. We bragged when we got ahead. We lamented over writers' block, wayward characters, and boring plots. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking, "Just get to 50k. Just do it, and finishing the book will be easy."

You see, dear NaNo-accomplice, my goal wasn't just to write 50,000 words. No, that would be too easy. I've done it before. I wanted to do something harder: FINISH THE DARN THING. My problem is that I never finish what I start. I have one complete novel that will never get edited. I have another that is about 3/4 finished. Another is almost at the halfway point. Yet another book begs to be written, because I already know the beginning, middle, end, and everything in between. It just has to be written. And all of my short stories? Well, some of them are finished, and others are in limbo, screaming as the plasma below them lashes up and threatens to suck them into the abyss forever!

Oh. Right. Back to Earth.

So my goal this month was not only to get to 50k, but also to finish the novel. There have been days when I didn't feel like writing, but for the most part, I spent the last two weeks completely focused on my book. I was enamored by it. Every time I did something other than write, all I thought about was writing. My boyfriend forgot what I looked like (but he did ask me several times a day what my word count was).

And suddenly, I'm at over 50,000 words and the sky is falling on me. Clients need websites done like yesterday, Thanksgiving looms around the corner, and some bad news has left me completely incapable of forming a coherent sentence if I think about it too much. In the back of my mind I wonder, "Can I actually finish this book right now? Will I finish it by the end of November or will it carry into December and be forgotten, doomed to forever wait in that limbo with all the plasma?"
You might be in a similar situation. Maybe your word count is kind of low, or you haven’t even started yet. You might be doubting yourself. I know I’m doubting myself!

BUT. At the beginning of this month, we made ourselves promises. Yours might have been to get anything down, or maybe to get to 50,000 words. Maybe you wanted to just write a novel, and didn’t give a hoot about the word count. Whatever that promise—that goal—might have been, we made a commitment. And darn it, we’re going to see it through! So take some time to remind yourself of that commitment, and remind yourself why you made it. We can get back on track—all we need is a little reminder.

Elizabeth K. Barone spends all of her earnings from building websites on books, McDonald's fries (with sweet 'n sour sauce for dipping, please), nerdy gadgets, and other necessities such as chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. In her free time, she can be found writing, sleeping, and working some more.

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How (and Why) to Make a Book Trailer

How (and Why) to Make a Book Trailer
By Melissa Hart

Last summer, I complained on my Facebook fan page about my struggles to make a book trailer promoting my new memoir Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood.

A friend e-mailed back, “Wouldn’t it be easier if you just searched on Craigslist for a used Library Bookmobile and called it good?”

I think she had her trailers confused.

These days, a book trailer functions much like a movie trailer; it's a 3-4 minute multimedia piece that entices people to read your book. Some publicists say that in this age of computers and YouTube obsession, a good book trailer can be a much more effective marketing strategy than touring local bookstores. More and more authors are making book trailers, or having them made. You can see numerous examples at here

A professional trailer can be fearsomely expensive, costing upwards of $2,000. I'm an adjunct journalism teacher, and I didn’t have that kind of money. Plus, as crazy as it sounds–I wanted to learn to make my own book trailer. My colleague at the University of Oregon taught me Photoshop and FinalCut Express. The latter is a film editing program which proved invaluable, if initially daunting. With Rick Young's excellent supplemental text The Focal Easy Guide to Final Cut Pro, I figured how to edit, add photos and music, and synchronize audio and video.

Kirkus Reviews had called my book “quirky,” and I wanted the book trailer to reflect that . . . but how? I thought about the themes in Gringa, as well as the tone of the writing. As the book includes recipes, I structured the trailer like a mock cooking show, teaching viewers how to make one of the key “meals” in the book . . . Frito Boats.

I scanned numerous photos from my junior high and high school years, and shot new photos of the Frito Boat ingredients. I searched for a suitable theme song from Freeplay Music, then borrowed a Flipcam and external microphone from my school and started filming. For twelve hours, I slaved away as director, photographer, actor, editor, soundcrew, and chef.

Twelve hours of work for three minutes of film may seem ridiculous, but the process struck me as really interesting, and so much fun. Intrigued by my trailer, book reviewers have agreed to write about Gringa, and it even ended up getting mentioned on The Huffington Post.

Here it is, for your viewing pleasure, the book trailer for Gringa:

Melissa Hart is a journalism teacher at the University of Oregon, and a memoir writing teacher for U.C. Berkeley's online extension program. Her new memoir, Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood (Seal Press, 2009), is a coming-of-age story about growing up white, heterosexual and boring in multicultural Los Angeles with a lesbian mom, a brother with Down syndrome, and a deep desire to be a Latina.

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Dear Mike: Do you ever procrastinate?

Are you kidding me? I’m the King of Procrastination. Writing is so difficult for me—I’m what they call a bleeder, which means I write painfully slow and at great pain to my psyche—I’ll do almost anything to avoid it. I’ll watch TV, make phone calls, eat, curl into a fetal position in my bed, anything other than sitting down and staring with dread at my computer. It’s mostly, I feel, about the insecurity, the self-doubt, and the utter pain looking at a blank screen trying to create something out of nothing. It can be terrifying at times. But in recent years, I’ve turned this negative into a positive by understanding that my procrastination is merely a part of the creative process and that knowing, in the end, that the insecurity, pain, and self-doubt actually give me something of an edge. I’m so scared to death to be bad that I’m convinced it makes me write better. Which makes procrastination my friend, not my enemy.

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Writing Quotes of the Day

“I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.”—James Joyce

“The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.”—William Faulkner

“To have something to say is a question of sleepless nights and worry and endless ratiocination of a subject - of endless trying to dig out of the essential truth, the essential justice.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I take the reporting side of writing more seriously than the writing side. I think it really is a lot of work to get things right, so I trained myself. I sort of take notes the way photographers take photos. You just sort of scattershot, record everything, because you never know what's going to prove invaluable...”—Jon Krakauer

“What has a writer to be bombastic about? Whatever good a man may write is the consequence of accident, luck, or surprise, and nobody is more surprised than an honest writer when he makes a good phrase or says something truthful.”—Edward Dahlberg

“You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success—but only if you persist.”—Isaac Asimov

“When I face the desolate impossibility of writing 500 pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day's works is all I can permit myself to contemplate.”—John Steinbeck

“The secret of good writing is to say an old thing in a new way or to say a new thing in an old way.”—Richard Harding Davis

“You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”—Jack London

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”—Rudyard Kipling

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Affirmations to Write By

I can write. I know it. And I dare someone to convince me otherwise.

I will know more about the writing craft tonight than I did when I woke up this morning.

My writing voice is powerful and clear and has the ability to touch people.

The right words are all around me and I know I will find them within time.

Reading great writing is research. It’s also inspiration and motivation.

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Do You Have A Writing Voice?

Do You Have A Writing Voice?
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman

What is "writer's voice"? It's that indelible stamp, that special quality that identifies your work as written by you. For example, if you were to place an essay by Mark Twain side-by-side with an excerpt from one of his novels, you would notice that the two pieces share many similar characteristics. The concept of "voice" can seem somewhat nebulous or abstract, but there are certain elements that define voice, including: sentence structure, punctuation, tone, vocabulary and/or diction, and subject matter.

Elements of Voice

Sentence Structure. The length of individual sentences, the frequency of long, complex sentences versus the use of simple declarative sentences is one of the first hallmarks of a writer's voice. The sentences of Charles Dickens are elaborate and complex, laden with commas and parallelism. One of the most famous examples is the opening sentence of his novel, Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only." Compare this to a sentence from Hemingway's novel, A Farewell to Arms, in which he uses simple, declarative sentences and repetition rather than parallelism: "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."

Punctuation. Some writers, such as James Joyce, limit the use of punctuation. Joyce preferred to use dashes for dialogue, referring to quotation marks as "perverted commas." In the final eight paragraphs of his novel, Ulysses, he omitted punctuation entirely because he wanted the reader to experience true stream of consciousness prose. If we return to our friend Mr. Dickens and read the quote above, we see that he depended upon the comma and the dash to link a series of ideas.

Tone. Mark Twain's works are laced with irony and wit, filled with observations of the foibles of human nature. When he writes about racism or ignorance, we laugh—albeit sometimes uncomfortably. William Styron touches upon these same topics in his novels, but his approach is more intense, darker. When Styron writes about racism and ignorance in The Confessions of Nat Turner, we shudder or turn away in horror.
Vocabulary/Diction. The very words we choose for our work define our voice. William Safire's sophisticated vocabulary reflects his strong interest in linguistics. He uses such words as "vituperator" (one who abuses another with words) with ease. By comparison, Hemingway's vocabulary seems almost childlike, relying primarily on simple, one-or-two-syllable words. Yet, both writers communicate effectively.

Subject Matter. Almost every writer has his favorite subjects, topics he returns to again and again. Flannery O'Connor's short stories are populated with grotesque characters seeking spiritual or religious understanding. Nearly every one of John Irving's books contains at least one reference to wrestling, bears, disfiguring accidents, or boarding schools. Our topics select us as much as we select them, another means of identifying our voice.

Developing Your Voice

The fully formed writer's voice is not born with the first story or poem but is refined with years of practice, experimentation, and effort. However, there are probably hints of that voice in the first page the writer creates. How do you develop your voice into a distinctive style that reflects you as a writer? Begin with the following techniques:

Write Often. If you want to do anything well, you need to practice. If you want to play a musical instrument, you practice scales and etudes. If you want to develop your writer's voice, then write on a daily basis.

Read and Emulate. I often hear writers say they're reluctant to read works in their genre because they fear reading another author will "destroy or influence" their voice. Not true. You can learn much about your own voice by studying and copying the voice of other writers. In the same way that painters copy works of the masters to learn their secrets of technique, you can discern the tricks of more experienced writers by emulating their style or voice. Your natural voice will emerge in the process.

Build on Your Strengths and Strengthen Your Weaknesses. Do you have an affinity for writing vivid descriptions? Use that skill to effect when you need to build up a scene. Is dialogue your nemesis? Then push yourself to insert a few lines of conversation into as many scenes as possible. It's a matter of balance. Fire the big guns (your strengths) to establish your style or voice; shoot the arrows (your weaknesses) to develop new skills and enhance your existing strengths.

Experiment. Some of the best advice I received in my MFA program was to "take risks." I was encouraged to explore topics that made me uncomfortable, to play with punctuation and sentence structure, to experiment with form, and to stretch my personal boundaries. Michelangelo claimed that he "liberated the statue from the block of marble." If you dig deeper and chip away at the limitations you've set for yourself, you'll liberate your voice.

Happy writing!

Jeanne Lyet Gassman is an award-winning writer whose fiction and nonfiction has been published in numerous magazines, newsletters, and anthologies. The recipient of artistic grants from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Creative Capital Foundation, she is currently studying for her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Phoenix and teaches writing workshops and classes in the metro area.

Visit Ms. Gassman at her Web site:
Click here

Or her blog:
Click here

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