Psychic English Space Sharks of Abiding Faith

Before I am a writer, I am a reader. I don’t get to do it enough these days, but I can safely Image result for sharks in spacesay I’ve read more than 40,000 books (220,000 books if you count comic books). I can single out six authors who have shaped my writing and given me hours of enjoyment.

Peter Benchley

Jaws was fun, White Shark was the scariest book I ever read, and Q Clearance was one of the funniest books I’ve ever read; it helps to have a literary bent for that one, though. Benchley can build suspense like nobody’s business. I’ve found every one of his books gripping.

Steven King

I skipped my first day of college to finish reading Salem’s Lot. King has some real clunkers, but most of his voluminous books are easy, fun reads. He doesn’t write horror, he writes Average-Guy in Extraordinary Circumstance stories. And The Stand is a Christian novel whether he thinks so or not.

Robert B. Parker

The Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Sonny Randall series are terse, solid writing. He doesn’t over-share or get bogged down. Now that he’s dead, his series are still coming out (yay! Not all are great, but they try). We see just the steps it takes to solve things, hopping from A to B to C all the way to Z with no skipping or jumping. They aren’t overly emotional stories, but compelling nonetheless.

Dick Francis

A former Queen’s Jockey turned novelist, Dick Francis is the Fred Astaire of writing. His books are effortless, graceful, and impossible to copy. Though dead, he’s still writing (or his son is). Francis books are curl-up-in-front-of-the-fire stories.

Frank Herbert

Nobody word-builds like Herbert. Dune was so convincing you’d think it was out there somewhere. He gave us a rich folklore, unique space navigation, and intra-world infrastructure. Then in Dreamcatcher he gave us depth into an individual’s spiritual beliefs. That’s range, folks!

C.S. Lewis

Most people go to the Narnia books, but for me, his Space trilogy and non-fiction books were the crème-de la-crème. His relentless logic about faith, his understanding, and acceptance of the mysteries beyond us, made me comfortable with my faith.

Clearly, one can see my spiritual path from the authors I relish, some of whom are atheists, others deep-faith Christians and everything in between, all of it great writing.

I could easily list off a spiel of influential books, but I honestly don’t remember the author names. Why? Because they didn’t write many books. This list of authors was prolific, and it speaks to the need of a body of work (or hit movie based on a book) to be successful and gain a following.

So get cracking!





Building an Image with Words

Consider these three sentences:

  1. It was a dark and stormy night.
  2. Great crashing Zeus’s fire split the ink-black sky into razor blades.
  3. Lightning pierced the heavens, banishing night for a heartbeat.

Number 1 was insipid. If it created an image in your mind it was probably Snoopy typing on his doghouse in the comic strip Peanuts. It’s lazy writing.

Image result for it was a dark and stormy night

Number 2 is purple prose, with mixed metaphors and reaching, confusing imagery (Zeus’s fire? You’re counting on your audience instantly knowing the Greek god threw lightning, not flames). The reader must work to form an image.

Number 3 works. You see the lightning brightening the sky for a moment. Maybe “heartbeat” won’t be seen as a unit of time and therefore briefly confuse the reader, or maybe it won’t be an issue at all.

Create Movies in the Reader’s Mind

Readers need to see what your words describe, effortlessly, instantly. The magic of reading is that every reader is their own cinematographer—no two readers imagine the same thing, but we must give just enough for them to build a wondrous scene.

Over-describing bogs down the reader; the writer is trying to take over the cinematography role. Lazy writing doesn’t give enough or doesn’t entice the reader to imagine the scene. Finding balance is an author’s job.

Those Pesky English Rules 

Rules of English allow an image to be built from words.

Active Voice vs. Passive Voice

Passive voice makes the reader wait to build the picture. “The ball was thrown by Scott to the dog.” This passive construction forces the reader to imagine a ball. What kind of ball? Ah, it was thrown, so it’s smallish, oh, Scott threw a ball (revise image), where? To the dog. The image is built in fits and starts.

Now, “Scott threw the ball to his dog.” The image progresses easily. Scott, oh, he’s throwing a ball to his dog.

Proper Modifier Placement

“Scott fed his dog because he was drooling.” Who was drooling? “Scott fed his drooling dog.” Ah, there’s the picture (what kind of dog did you see?).

Adjectives, as my English teacher bleated, means you’re using the wrong word. Adjectives modify a word. “I’m very tired.” Does this describe you as well as, “I’m exhausted” or “I’m out-on-my-feet” or “I’m on my lips” … each example is a tad more out there, but they are better than “I’m very tired.”

Punctuation is Always a Clarifier

“A good breakfast includes two of the following bread fries bacon ham and eggs.” Ugg. Do you see the difference between the following two sentences?

  • A good breakfast includes two of the following: bread, fries, bacon, ham and eggs.
  • A good breakfast includes two of the following: bread, fries, bacon, ham, and eggs.

The Oxford comma makes it clear that ham and eggs are separate items, not a singular ham and eggs. (And yes, “or” would have made that clear, too).

I admit it. I can be a lazy writer despite my efforts to the contrary. Thank the dear Lord for editors!

Everybody Needs an Editor!

Maybe your blog post doesn’t, but if you’re working on a document of any size, like a short story, novel, or non-fiction book, you’re going to need an editor.

The human mind is a miraculous thing. If you’re the author, you can read a sentence and never see the typo because you aren’t reading what’s there, you’re reading what you meant to put there.

See the source image
That’s why my cheeks look like that!

If you’re a grammarian, English wizard, or savant in language, you may need just the lightest of editors, but there are three levels of editing, and three strata of editing. We’ll go from the most expensive to the least:

Ghostwriter: Written language isn’t your friend, you’re dyslexic, skipped that day in school, or just not practiced enough, but you have a great idea for a book. You can talk about it, just not write it well. You need a ghostwriter, who isn’t really an editor, but close enough. This is expensive, expect to pay up front, and DO NOT suggest to a ghost you split the royalties.

Book Doctor: The person who could have used a Ghost writes it anyway. Badly. The prose is on life support, so you need a Book Doctor to rewrite your book. Cheaper than a ghost, but still pricey.

Editor: There are three levels of editing:

  1. Story editing: This is an editor who looks at the story structure, unifies genre, clarifies character arcs, and helps identify holes and logic fallacies. You’ll want a professional for this, but you may not need this if you know what you’re doing. Story editing can come at the outline stage or later.
  2. Copy editor: Confirms the story is tied up with a bow.
  3. Proof editor: This is word by word, line by line editing. They catch the typos.

That can all be very expensive, but there are some short cuts:

Beta Readers: These are friends who love books and will read a draft, giving you input on clarity and shortcomings. Each reader will bring something different to the table. Figure out your pool of beta readers, send the first draft to half and then after you implement their changes, send that draft to the other half.

Word Checker: This comes with MS Word and can be set to check grammar and spelling. It’s pretty weak though.

Grammarly Basic and Pro: The free version is enough for me. It’s better than Word Checker. The paid version catches even more “premium” errors.

Never just “accept all changes.” This is machine checking and you should look at each error. Some aren’t errors at all.

Finally, we all have that friend who is a member of the Grammar Military. These folks can’t help but mark up text. I check out books at the library, and a Five-Star Grammar General with similar taste in books has pencil-marked the typos in almost every book I read. Only once have I seen a book with her penciled checkmark that meant there were no typos.

EVERYTHING has typos. Get over it. A handful of typos in a book length project is a success. A boatload, not so much.

Always go with the free stuff first, but PLEASE embolden your beta readers to rip it up if necessary. Feedback is good; critique is good; editing is not shameful or mean anything about your writing. Everyone needs an editor. Sometimes you’ll need to pay, but not always.

Why I Do What I Do

I blame Bonnie. And a whole lot of other people I care about.Prevail Press

Writing should never be a singular pursuit. Oh, sure, the actual writing part is man-to-machine, but zeitgeist of writing should, for the sanity of all, be a group endeavor. For this reason, I have founded several writing groups. A writing group is a bunch of writers encouraging and possibly critiquing one another, not everyone working on the same project.

Currently, I’m a member of the Writing Block (so named because several of the founding members lived on the same block and who doesn’t like a play on words?). We’ve been together for—ready?—15 YEARS! That’s longer than primary school.

Some members were novelist, bloggers, a poet for a while, and people with the vague notion they should be writers. Up until a few years ago, several had written books and a couple used a vanity press to publish theirs (and still have boxes of books in their garages), I published mine through my private publishing company, and none had gone the traditional publisher route.

Then Bonnie Manning Anderson finished Always Look for the Magic and began shopping it around. Let me tell you something about this book. It’s fabulous! A middle-grade book, it transported me to Depression Era America into the lives of wonderful kids battling to help one of them be a magician. Adventure abounds. She sent it out and sent it out, and no bites. Heartbreaking.

I attended a church Leadership Meeting and over lunch discussed all the books so many people were writing and found myself frustrated for their future plight. In todays publishing world, you must have a platform or a radical idea that can sell millions of books to secure a contract. There are three options: Traditional publishing (almost impossible to obtain), self-publishing (difficult but not impossible), or vanity press (expensive and not nearly as helpful as they claim to be).

We needed an alternative and I was inspired to create it. My publishing company had been private, for my ghostwriting clients only, but what if I opened it up to anyone? What were the important points?

  • Keep the cost low and recoverable (as a ghostwriter, I never took clients who couldn’t make up the cost with book sales; I’d do the same thing here).
    • Solution: Author only pays for the time of the provider, so book design, cover design, editing, administration, etc. I wouldn’t take a dime of royalty until all costs were recovered.
  • Take only quality books to preserve the brand.
    • Solution: Create an acceptance review board to determine quality.
  • Avoid any appearance of profiteering.
    • Solution: I won’t lock authors into using our services. If they have others who can do the work, as long as I approve, that’s good enough.
  • Make it as attractive to authors as I can.
    • Solution: After cost recovery, Prevail Press gets 10% of the royalty and the author gets the rest (typically 60% of retail cost). No printing minimums, only have printed what you need. Amazon makes this easy. Author owns copyright and can withdraw any time they want to.
  • Ensure Integrity:
    • Solution: Establish a Board of Directors who can oversee finance, advise me on operations and hold me accountable.
  • What about Marketing?
    • Solution: This is a tough one, but by developing a network of authors, we can help promote one another’s books. Much will still be on the author, but we can help get the word out.

Our first book was Bonnie Manning Anderson’s Always Look for the Magic, and several more after that. I hope many more to follow.

That’s your introduction to Prevail Press. The rest of the month I’ll focus on the author journey and writing tips. Your questions are welcome!

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I Write, Therefore I Am… Tired a Lot

Yesterday I told you why I love books. I doubt it’s a big surprise that I became a writer after that.

My first novel was in 5th grade. It was 30 pages long and in the shape of a coffin. Much to my surprise, when I was going through my parent’s things after they passed, I found it. Mom liked to hang onto things. It was just eh but the start of things to come.

My second novel was in 8th grade. We were assigned to write the journal of someone on the Western Movement. Mine was a hundred pages, surprisingly good, and earned me an A. My teacher suggested trying to get it published. I thought he was being nice. Still have it; he wasn’t kidding. Color me amazed.

I became a playwright in college, a screenwriter after that (terrible, terrible movie–so glad we didn’t have Internet back then).

Several dozen plays after that and a marriage later, I began my first real novel. It was supposed to be a 6,000 word dime novel (bet you don’t remember them) but it turned into an epic 150,000 word suspense novel. No traditional publishers bit and I understand why. It was uneven and had voice problems.

I began working as a technical writer but needed more income, so I turned to ghostwriting. Twelve books later, I was inspired by my children to write my own.

Do Angels Still Fall? was the result, a middle-grade novel about a boy and his angel. Because I had established Prevail Press to publish my client’s books (most of whom didn’t need it), I published Angels that way. Soon thereafter, I began Me and the Maniac in Outer Space.

A word about backing up your work. I kept it all on a thumbdrive, which I lost at a play. The fragments I had left on my computer became a different, longer book. It was supposed to be an adventure but became so much more. Redundant backup is the key, but this worked out for me. Thank the Lord for happy accidents.

Throughout much of this process, I was part of a writer’s group… but I’m getting ahead of myself. More tomorrow. 🙂

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