I have been writing since 1984. I published my first short story in Weird Tales in 1985, while I was stationed on an oiler in the South Pacific. A 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, I have had a chance to observe and know all kinds of persons/personalities, that ended up in my stories. I have over 14 projects that I have been working on since that time. I have been a published journalist, and a professional voice. My teachers through the years have included Dru Scott, Gordon Jump, and Regis Philbin. I consider myself very fortunate to have met them at a point in my life that mattered most.
Now, as a teacher, I have the opportunity to share my professional knowledge, personal knowledge, and stories.
I just received an email from Martin Cavannagh from Reedsy about book covers. It was a simple, concise letter that reminded me how important a book cover is when selling a book.
As a bookseller with over 30 years of experience, I know too well, how books are sold. I cannot count the number of self-published authors who felt that they knew what they were doing when it came to book sales. Many of these are authors who have written many books. These authors consider themselves pioneers or self-made publishers. Yet, their sales numbers speak volumes to me as a bookseller.
The industry has changed in some ways. Old and new authors often feel overwhelmed at the prospect of marketing or continuing to market what they have written. Reedsy brought up an important tool that can be critical to selling or promoting your book: Your book cover. Here is an example provided by Chuck Regan:
Make your own comparison. Which book cover would you feature to sell your book, the cover on the left or the cover on the right?
There is a reason why bestselling authors use a professional artist to sell their book.
One reason why we started 5Artz was to bring artists of like minds together. If you are a writer who is serious about selling your book, find a professional artist or designer to help you. If you are an artist or designer who feels that you are the right fit in developing book covers for authors, let the writing community know that you exist.
We started 5Artz to bring artists of different disciplines together. You can join our community or even join our Meetup community.
The day is here. Our first night of a packed venue, our second Meetup at Barnes & Noble, Summerlin. We may not be on the schedule, but after tonight, I hope that our store managers will place us on the map as a regular occurrence at the store.
Joseph Campbell (1904 – 1987) was a researcher, scholar and teacher who grew up loving mythology. He ate, slept and breathed mythology, to his dying breath. Like Campbell, I studied mythology as a child. I could not read enough fairy tales, fables or myths. I found a hunger I could not sate, bound by an incredible urge to learn more. I started my lessons in mythology, books written by Edith Hamilton. Those first stories were short and palatable. There was something about her use of the English language that felt simple…fast reads that would entertain me for hours. It was Hamilton, who would eventually lead me to “Bulfinch’s Mythology” as a teen, ending with Joseph Campbell’s “Myths to Live By” as an adult.
Tonight’s meeting will be a challenge and discovery. I will be sitting next to a new hero, Bill Guthrie. Ever since I have met Bill, I discovered a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, cultivated by years of hard, unrelenting work as a writer, journalist and editor. I have an opportunity to share what I have found with others, hungry as I am to complete our Hero’s Journey as a writer and an author. Tonight is the opportunity for all of us to talk to a true writing professional, one who has lived by the written word for over 60 years. Tonight I can introduce new writers to Bill Guthrie as we all share our voices and opinions regarding one of the oldest of professions…storytelling.
I checked how long it has been since I made my last post and was appalled.
My last post was made on June 25th of last year. I stopped because the advice I was given was that my writing was not ready. When is your writing…”ready”? I can agonize over punctuation, grammar or content until the moon turns blue (I believe the last time we had a “blue moon” took place sometime in the 1860’s). Wait a moment! We just had one, didn’t we? Well then, I suppose it is time for me to get my ducks in a row.
I am re-opening my blog on the advent of what I hope will be a successful “Meetup“, due to take place on Tuesday, the 6th of February. We titled our monthly meeting “The Writer’s Workshops at Barnes and Noble, Summerlin“. This Meetup is our second public workshop of 2018 and our 5th workshop since we started in September of 2017. As of this writing, we have 163 members in Las Vegas, Nevada. Our workshops are hosted and opened by Bill Guthrie, an author, award-winning writer, sportswriter and columnist for over 40 years. I manage setup, posting and marketing of the workshops.
This meetup will be a challenge for us since we will attempt to host 25 or more people in a very small space. I am hoping that we have enough chairs to handle all the people who have RSVP’d. In today’s climate, you would think that we would have other ways to reach a wider audience. Well, we do…but then there are issues that can arise, such as copyright, privacy, etc. We have taken so much for granted in this day and age of live streaming, Facebook, Instagram and other social media.
Yes, there are all kinds of options available to us, but about 90 percent of those options involve money (which we don’t have). Besides, there is something to say about meeting people face-to-face, and the opportunity for other writers to talk to someone with as much experience and knowledge as Bill Guthrie is often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Facebook live streaming is one thing, but exchanging questions with him in the same room evokes a different feeling than one would have with an exchange of text.
So what can we do? We work with what we have. I’ve got our 5Artz meetings to also consider since we don’t have a venue for this Meetup right now. (The store will not sanction a meetup for 5Artz, because it involves photography, music, performing arts and art, rather than writing). I wish we could hold our 5Artz Meetups in the bookstore as well. Until that day arrives, I will continue my search for a venue that is not too loud (we tried a restaurant – too noisy), too expensive or too far away for everyone to meet.
I refuse to allow another week to transpire without publishing something of significance to this blog. I am still editing past blog posts, to ensure that they reflect a degree of professionalism.
In the interim, I have decided to share short original written work ranging from 500 to 1500 words that deal with my personal experiences over the past 60 years. My decision is based on past conversations I have had with friends over the years. Many felt that my personal life would make an interesting book. Alhtough I do not feel the same way, I feel that this short work will challenge my skills as a descriptive writer.
I plan to write about:
What it is like to be stabbed
Visit numerous countries
Experience near death
Undergo major surgery
Live as a sailor on a ship
Experience a 7.8 earthquake
Witness a volcanic eruption
Lose your children
Experience a beating
Experience racial prejudice
Experience the influence of drugs
Stop a destructive habit (smoking, drinking, etc.)
For my part, I will ensure that each submission is edited prior to each post. I hope that my descriptions help writers who have not had these experiences create lasting and meaningful characters and that they never experience much of what I will describe.
I am certain that some readers and writers have experienced what I will be writing about. Many probably will have experienced worse. My purpose in writing about these experiences is not to achieve any personal therapy. I want to provide information for writers who have not experienced what I will be discussing. My hope is that this endeavor will allow young and old writers to empathize in my shared experiences, so that they can refine their personal writing endeavors.
Today’s Creative Series blog post will be available tomorrow.
My apologies. A number of errors were discovered in many of the initial blogs. Rather than post submissions with errors, I am correcting all punctuation, grammar and style errors, so that they reflect a more professional site.
If we look back to our discussion in Creative Series III, we found that dialogue can not only make or break our story, but allow our characters to tell the story for us. When you create dialogue, there are no perfect words that you can give to your characters. As the creator of your world, you have to allow your characters to interact. The best method in learning how to deliver fantastic dialogue, is to become a good listener.
Your objective is to understand dialogue.
To learn about people, how they interact with each other, you need contact with the world. Go to a “public location”. Any established business can be considered a “public location”. Bring a pad and a pen or pencil. Please notice that I did NOT include recording devices. I am certain that simply installing a voice recording app in your cell phone would make this assignment less painful, but there is a reason I am giving you this advice. Aside from other countries in the world, if you are in the United States, you can be prosecuted in at least 12 states for illegally recording conversations without someone’s knowledge (http://www.rcfp.org/reporters-recording-guide). For my award-winning short story I created my dialogue by listening to conversations that I jotted down on a notepad, snatches of conversations that I overheard from my fellow shipmates.
Even though I knew them well, I took notes of their conversations.
Lessen your risk as a writer.
Learn how to write down snatches of conversations you may hear. A journalist is a person who collects, writes, or distributes news or other current information to the public. Develop these skills. You will find that they can help you in your endeavors to create meaningful dialogue between your characters.
Make an attempt to converse with a total stranger in a public place.
You may or may not know what you are going to talk about. You may find yourself interrupting a conversation that is already in progress. The purpose of this exercise is for you to understand your own motivation in a conversation. Work on listening to the other person’s answers. Make a concerted effort to ask questions whenever possible, rather than making your own statements.
Understanding motivation behind dialogue.
External factors can motivate dialogue. In my work as a bookseller, I meet many people. Over seventy percent of my customers were talking about the weather today, because the past week has brought the southwestern United States searing heat. When Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, the entire world was talking about the eruption, because ash was drifting thousands of miles, even reaching the east coast of the United States.
Think about external factors as moments in time, that can be as fleeting as the wind.
Create five characters, defining their motives for living life as they see it should be lived.
Make each character different from the other characters, with the understanding that you will be forcing your five characters to interact with each other in the future.
Work on developing a conversation between at least 4 of your 5 characters.
If you are having problems, try some of these examples:
What kind of conversation could an atheist have with a person who believes in a religion. What could they talk about? Could they find common ground?
What kind of conversation could a person who believes in peace have with a person who believes in war?
What kind of conversation could a person who believes in liberal democracy have with a person who has conservative values?
What kind of conversation could a person who is endowed with a beautiful face and body have with a person who possesses a normal face and body?
What kind of conversation could a person from a city have with a person from a rural town?
Work on developing conversations between people who in “normal” circumstances may not meet each other. Use what you learned from your previous two exercises.
Next week: Creative Series IV: Weaving the Tapestry that is our Story.
This part of our Creative Series will cover characters.
Characters are a very important part of every good story. Characters are the primary colors of your plot. Without characters, a story can become a lifeless, dull, carcass of a plot which loses the reader’s interest. It is the writer’s job to create interesting characters to populate their story.
Look at the world around you.
Our world is filled with trillions of characters. In my eyes, there is no reason why a writer cannot imagine how to fill their stories with rich, colorful characters. Unless we live in a cave, we have a vast treasure trove of people around us to create our characters. A character can be a neighbor down the street. A character can be our best friend. A character can be the clerk who helps us at the grocery store. A character can be a fellow student in a class.
We can create prejudice for our characters before they open their mouths.
What if our character wears clothing that is one color? What if our character wears clothing that is bright and filled with design? What if our character has a large scar on their cheek? What if our character does not smile? What if our character is always smiling? What if our character wears a worn T-shirt, shoes with holes and blue jeans that are tattered? What if our character wears a black suit, sunglasses and a cowboy hat? What if our character wears blouses with only 2 buttons buttoned? What if our character wears dresses that cover almost every inch of her body? Think about how we can dress our characters to cause certain ideas in our readers…a picture of our characters as the reader sees them out on the street?
We can create personal quirks for our characters.
Our character can smoke. Our character may drink alcohol. A lot of alcohol. Our character might drink mint teas. Our character prefers diet sodas. Our character has a twitch. Our character stutters. Our character includes a specific word when they say anything. Our character holds their head down, never meeting anyone’s gaze. Our character shuffles. Our character walks with a limp. Our character has a cast on their arm. Our character winces with pain…constantly. Our character looks up all the time. Our character looks down all the time. Our character talks to themselves. Our character is very quiet and hardly says a word.
We can break rules with our character.
Think of the character who is meek and mild, suddenly becoming assertive and angry. What happens when we have established a character who wears sunglasses throughout our story, suddenly deciding not to wear sunglasses? Imagine a character who is a bully one day, risking their life for someone the next day. Our characters can change or they can remain the same way throughout our book. Characters can change, just like normal people can change in our everyday lives.
Characters within our stories are like suns in a very large universe.
Characters establish the rules and groundwork in our stories. Like a sun in the universe, characters can have friends (like planets) who revolve around them, caught in the gravity of their personality. Our surroundings can become characters in of themselves. We can create gentle surroundings or harsh, rough surroundings. We can create weather as a character. We can create a physical environment as a character. Our environment surrounds us, binds us together to resist or accept it.
Our story sample.
5 characters will inhabit a house.
Last week, I created a house as part of a story, based on a photograph. Today, I will create basic character sketches as I begin to populate the house with people. For this exercise, I will describe two of my characters with what they wear. I will follow with 2 more character sketches that focus on their physical appearance as opposed to what they wear. My last character sketch will describe a character based on personal quirks.
Character Number One
Joquan emerged from the kitchen. He was always impeccably dressed. From his black leather cap that hung just over his eyes, to his black shoes. Joquan rarely shaved. He preferred to wear large, ornate cufflinks with a gold Rolex watch that just peeked out of the edges of bone white shirts. He wore the most interesting shoes, always a sharp, metal tip at the end of each shoe.
Character Number Two
Ismeralda walked out of the foyer. She preferred to show off her assets with low-hanging blouses and shorts, sheer wisps of material that seemed to look almost transparent in the bright sunlight. Dark sunglasses hid her eyes, while silver bangles hung from her earlobes, their weight so great that they caused the skin of her lobes to stretch dangerously low. Her hair was long, curled in a coif that ended in a point. Ismeralda wore open-toed shoes that seemed to raise her height by almost a foot, the heels clicked and clacked on the hard stone floor of the house as she made her way from room to room.
Character Number Three
Haram came slowly down the stairs. His skin was a deep brown. His hair unkempt and unruly, his thick eyebrows almost came together as one brow. A ragged scar ran from the top of an ear, all the way down to the edge of his chin, while tattoos covered a bare chest, back and arms. His eyes flashed in the harsh glow of the lamp, one eye steel gray, the other an iridescent green. He smiled a toothy grin, many of his teeth brown and dull, contrasted with several teeth that glinted with gold.
Character Number Four
Theresa seemed to waddle out of the bedroom. Her arms were laden with folds of skin that belied heavy weight and years of eating rich, fatty foods. Her face was pudgy, rosy cheeks gave one the impression that she was once a hamster in another life. Her hips and legs were bared today, vibrating with every step that she took. Theresa’s eyes were almost closed, her mouth set in a permanent scowl that seemed to say, “Stay away from me.”
Character Number Five
George mumbled to himself as he reached for the patio door. His shuffle seemed as incoherent as his tendency to sometimes sing to himself, occasionally waving his arms from side to side as he made his way into the waiting boat on the dock. “Flibberty Flubberty,” he stated to himself as he cautiously made his way into the boat. George mumbled to himself again as he brought his hands together to fiddle with his fingers, reaching down to his zipper and pulling up on its extended tab. The boat rocked a bit as George sat down on a cushioned seat that was set into its very center. He rocked a bit, listening to the splish and splash of water that lapped at the edges of the boat. George stopped rocking. He sat still a moment, then laughed to himself as the boat continued to rock ever slow lightly, its hull responding to the waves that gently rocked it from side to side.
Next week: Allowing our characters to come to life with dialogue.
Today is the day that we begin to create a book, short story, poem or article.
Today is the day that we meet our muse. What I will be doing from this point to the end of the series, is creating a storyline and finished product online. For the next few parts in our series, we will literally create a story from this blog, using all of the tools that we have covered.
First is our idea.
What will we write about? I am going to stick with a work of fiction. To start, I want to find something to write about.
I am R.M. Almeida.
Welcome to Meeting Your Muse. Our series begins and ends with the creation of a story. Let us begin with a rough idea for our story.
Any external event in our lives, can influence our thoughts, our actions or our ideas. As writers, we can use external events to bring out those small introductions to create a story.
A story can be born at the start of a hailstorm, perhaps a harbinger of events to unfold.
What if your story starts in a location that is as innocent as a parking lot?
Your story could be a park or a beautiful lake, surrounded by expensive homes, nestled in palm trees that bake in the hot sun. It can be a dilapidated shack in the slum.
So, our story can start anywhere, anyplace or at any time. What we do know, is that we are beginning to meet our muse…that part of us that is able to become detached from the real world around us…a part of us that can begin to create a world not of this reality, with its own standards, rules and laws. A world that only exists within the very fabric of our imagination.
We are in our zone…we are ready to begin writing.
Our First Exercise
I have found a place close to home to begin writing my story.
It was a dream.
When I saw my dream home, I salivated as I looked at the huge bay windows that overlooked the swimming pool, garden and lake that sat next to the sprawling structure. A small boat tied to a landing that led to the house, was camped like a tourist on the blue-green lake that shimmered in the bright Nevada sun. Schools of fish lavished themselves on occasional insects that came too close to the surface of the water, their insect lives snuffed out as if they were candles being pinched by a butler as a fish jumped out of the water to engorge themselves.
It was a home that I could live in for the rest of my natural days, my own personal getaway where I could relax on a sofa, so overstuffed that I sank into its soft, velour pillows even before I sat down. A megalithic television screen offered me the delights of technology that only the filthy rich could envision. Each room was more inviting than the most passionate lover I could imagine, a nirvana holiday enervated from the most sensual Feng Shui dreams from a magazine in house design.
Who knew that such a gorgeous home could be one so putrid with the smell of death?
Next in our series: Populating our Landscape with Characters
Creative Series IV: Planning, Outlining and Editing…A Second Set of Eyes
Welcome to the final leg of our journey as writers, authors, poets, scriptwriters, playwrights and authors.
It is time to begin planning what we are going to write.
My topics for this article will cover:
The art of writing
The last part of this article involves the mechanics of preparing for what you are going to write about.
The way we write, edit and publish what we write has changed dramatically.
Word processing software was available almost 40 years ago. Pencil and paper however, are still employed by many writers to begin the writing process. There are other writers who use typewriters, opting to either scan or retype what they have written into a digital media. Many new writers have embraced new forms of software and digital media to express themselves. Digital forms of writing include blogging, word processing or social media. Our world has changed and the media which we use to express ourselves have also metamorphosed into mobile forms of writing. Many writers now use mobile applications, designed for cell phones or tablets to post to blogs housed on the web.
There are technologies which are being evaluated and tested by many writers.
Technologies such as voice-recognition software, often standard with many mobile devices have come a very long way, although there are many users who insist that the hardware still needs a lot of work. The popular Microsoft Windows operating system software included voice recognition software as a complimentary package for years. The Apple operating system also comes with complimentary voice recognition software. The most recognizable voice recognition software (Dragon Naturally Speaking, by Nuance), continues to become more and more accurate. The software company has defeated several transcription barricades…increasing its accuracy in deciphering business terminology, problems understanding speech impediments, different types of accents, noisy environments and lisps have improved dramatically. There are more common forms of modern writing hardware that exist as well.
The Word Processor
Word processing software has been around for a long time.
I remember using Wordstar 1.0™, the predecessor of today’s word processing software.
Wordstar™ software was included as part of a package deal with the Kaypro 2X™ (a computer I purchased in 1985…my decision for the brand, since my hero “Arthur C. Clarke“, had created his novel “2010“, from his home in Sri Lanka). Wordstar™ was a product that relied on a certain level of mastery, an understanding of memorizing key code insertions, which I was bound and determined to conquer within a short amount of time.
Thanks to that technology, I could develop, write and print short stories from isolated locations in the world.
My award-winning story “Shadow Trail”, was written while I was serving my country on a ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I wrote countless poems in South Korea, short stories in the Philippines and wooed a woman in Perth, New South Wales, with a short story that is still unpublished today. My Kaypro 2X™ computer survived power outages in South Korea, brownouts in the Philippines, even devastating power surges onboard my ship (prior to the availability of surge protection equipment), yet kept working effectively, like a Timex watch.
Word processing software has changed a lot since that time.
Microsoft Word™ is one of the most popular word processing software programs used in the world to date. For writers, the mastery of this software can be critical to success. Much of the editing process has been made simpler, but understanding how each ribbon in Word functions can make a writer’s job very easy. Word’s ability to save a document as a Portable Document Format (pdf) format (Adobe™ popular “universal” document), allowed an entire industry to adapt to changing needs long ago.
As a former trade professional, I feel that it is important for a writer to know how to use Word.
The View tab for example, can be used to “stitch” together word documents, created as chapters to form a complete book, or saved as a .pdf file. Knowing this technique, a writer could easily create a book in small, bite-sized pieces. If you think of your book as a lake, writing your book the old fashioned way would be akin to filling a lake with a garden hose. Word allows you to create small streams around the lake, providing a path for those streams to eventually fill the lake with each successive stream until it is filled. There are many websites and YouTube lessons that offer Word training free of charge. I will be offering Word training for writers, at a small monthly fee soon, from my 5Artz.com website.
Many varieties of software allow writers to adapt to their digital needs.
WordPress, developed in 2003, is an easy-to-use open source content management system (CMS), that is deployed as a part of an internet hosting service or network host. Thanks to WordPress software, developed a few years ago for the computer desktop, writers can create web or weblog content, published direct from their computer to their website, for worldwide dissemination in mere seconds.
Open Source software is now available for writers who desire to create their own EPUBs.
Electronic Publishing (EPUB) formats are for the popular e-book formats, sold from retailers and distribution outlets worldwide. This format has gained popularity as a salable digital format for books, because it can be read on many popular digital devices. Sigil is an open source software, easily downloaded and installed on virtually any personal computer. This software is not easily mastered, but once the writer understands how it works, can create electronic books featuring audio, video or text combinations that can greatly enhance the value and desirability of the writer’s work.
OneNote™ is software that was developed for free form gathering and multi-user collaboration. It is one of Microsoft’s oldest and least used products. OneNote™ is an indispensable tool to collect, organize and plan anything. Book research can be done relatively quickly and easily. I cannot say enough about OneNote™. If you are a writer and you don’t use OneNote™, I feel that you are cheating yourself of a very valuable and flexible commodity in your writing arsenal.
The Art of Writing
We have discussed tools at our disposal, now to planning and preparing to write.
Outlining what we are going to write has been a methodology which writers have adopted as an organizational technique for centuries. The outline has been modified over the years.
These variations can help a writer not only collect one’s thoughts, but also organize how the story or content can best be presented. Many writers find that once they develop a specific outlining technique, that eventually, they can outline creatively in their minds, before they have even started developing their ideas.
Setting ideas to paper can be as daunting as when an artist begins dabbing colors onto blank canvas.
When the writing process begins, it can be a challenge. There can be days when a writer cannot think of what they want to say, or how they want to present what is coming to mind…even if those ideas are soundly ensconced within an outline. A writing professional (a person who is paid to write) has no choice about “not writing”. Deadlines are the norm for a writing professional, something a novice writer should adopt as a mantra. If a writer is having problems coming up with something to write, many of the prior methods and techniques I have discussed in earlier creative writing articles can be used to “get one’s creative juices flowing”.
Taking you through the writing process.
For this final creative writing series, I will be taking you through the process of writing. I will be implementing fresh ideas every week for this final part of the creative writing series, taking each challenge step-by-step, challenging you…the reader…to create your own challenges, develop your own writing style and completing the writing process to start the process all over again.
As we work, I want to impress one important rule.
As you are writing, get a “second set of eyes” on what you are creating. I for example, am very fortunate. I have a mentor, who was a professional writer for over 40 years. What is a “professional writer”? Any writer who is paid to write is a professional writer. A paid, professional writer can be an author, poet, scriptwriter, playwright, journalist, songwriter, marketer, advertiser, technical writer or any person who engages in any form of writing. What sets the successful writers, who earn a living from their art form, from the writers who struggle with their writing is that “second set of eyes”.
Always, always have someone you can share your writing with.
Next in our creative series: Creative Series IV: Meeting Your Muse.