Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Obama's Health Care Plan


I don't know the source of this humor, so my apologies to whomever.

Here are the various opinions doctos have on Obama's health care plan.

  • The Allergists voted to scratch it.
  • The Dermatologists advised not to make any rash moves.
  • The Gastroenterologists had a sort of gut feeling about it.
  • The Neurologists thought the Obama administration had a lot of nerve.
  • The Obstetricians felt they were all laboring under a misconception.
  • The Ophtamologists considered the idea shortsighted.
  • The Optometrists demanded a closer look.
  • The Surgeons wanted to wash their hands of the whole thing.
  • The Podiatrists thought it was a step backward.
  • The Orthopedists thought things were being stretched too far.
  • The Orthodontists were eager to straighten out the liberals in Congress
  • The Plastic Surgeons wanted to put a whole new face on the matter.
  • The Psychiatrists thought the whole idea was madness
  • The Pathologists screamed "Oveler my dead body!"
  • The Cardiologists didn't have the heart to say no.
  • But the Urologists felt the plan wouldn't hold water.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Basics of a Novel

by Tom Mach

© 2009

I’ve research different writers about the process of writing a novel, and while they tend to give different perspectives, they also show two things in common: (1) the characters must appear to be flesh-and-blood real to the reader, and (2) there must be a reasonable structure to the novel. Since characterization requires a details discussion by and of itself, let me first talk about structure.

It may be obvious to you if I say that a good novel has a beginning, a middle, and an end. What is less obvious is what do we expect to happen in those three major sections? The beginning of the novel has too do some highly important tasks. It must create an interesting beginning where the character is faced with a significant problem. This character has a goal of some sort—perhaps avoiding getting caught, trying to solve a crime, wanting something someone else has, trying to prevent someone from taking what she has, etc. As that character strives to attain that goal, she begins to run into an obstacle. This beginning part of the novel has to do a good job in making the problem real and in making you either root for the character to succeed or (if the character is a villain) to be deeply interested in learning how the character will eventually be caught.

The middle part of the novel now gets into the failed attempts of the main character to attain his goal or solve his problem. When she tries one thing, something worse happens. When she tries another, something even more challenging happens. She finally comes to what some authors refer to either a “dark moment” or “climax” when things look their darkest and something has to change. She needs to solve that problem or attain that goal somehow. But she might do this by deciding that she doesn’t want that goal or doesn’t want that problem solved. It’s not an instantaneous revelation where she wakes up and decides this. Circumstances evolve that convince her to make a change in direction.

All the while, the character is changing his perspective. The end of the novel shows how the character has changed and how a new course of action is now possible. I like to think of this as the “resolution” of the novel. While some loose things have to be tidied up, the character doesn’t necessarily have a picture-perfect happy ending. In fact, you as a novelist don’t want to give her a picture-perfect ending. But at least give her hope. I’ve done this in my novel All Parts Together where my main character, Jessica, is devastated because she’s lost the true love of her life, her book won’t be published, her hero (Abraham Lincoln) was assassinated, and there doesn’t seem to be much in life that will interest her. But there’s a knock on door. A lady wants to invited her to an important meeting. This will mark a new departure in Jessica’s life, and that departure will be fully revealed in my third novel in the series.

Character development, in my opinion, is as important as plot development. When we think of the great novels of the past that we’ve read, we think of the characters. For instance, anyone who has ever read Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is so familiar with Scarlet O’Hara she has become a real person. You experience her foolish pain in trying to capture Ashley Wilkes’ heart only to find her true love, Rhett Butler, who ultimately leaves her. Creating a character is not simply giving that character a name and adding a few physical descriptions. You need to get into that person’s heart and soul and look through the eyes of that person and experience the things they experience. You need to know this person’s background and ambitions so well that you could predict how they would react in particular situations. Sara Toby’s desperation for money leading her to prostitution in my novel All Parts Together, is not altogether surprising. She had always been inspired to be an actress and felt she could act her way through being a harlot. And while she once loved her husband Roger, she learned of his unfaithfulness so she was able to justify her own unfaithfulness as well. But it wasn’t easy for her as she held a high opinion of herself as a churchgoing woman. The conflict in her soul was almost unbearable.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Acclaimed author Don Coldsmith dies
By Patrick Kelley (Emporia Gazette)
Friday, June 26, 2009

Western author Don Coldsmith of Emporia died Thursday, June 25, at the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan. He had suffered a stroke last week.

Coldsmith, who was 83, parlayed the chance find of a relic on the prairie into a series of 29 novels about the Native Americans of the Great Plains before the coming of the Europeans. The Spanish Bit Saga was popular with American readers and was translated into other languages. He was a past president of the Western Writers of America and in 1990 won the organization’s Golden Spur award for his novel “The Changing Wind.” In 2003, the group named him recipient of its Owen Wister Award.

Jim Hoy, fellow writer, lecturer and teacher at Emporia State University, said Coldsmith had a talent for connecting to his readers, even when writing about unfamiliar cultures.
“As a writer, he was just a really good storyteller,” Hoy said. “He had a real knack for universalizing …”

Coldsmith was born Feb. 28, 1926, in Iola, the son of a Methodist minister. After graduation from high school in Coffeyville, he joined the U.S. Army in 1944 and served as a combat medic in the Pacific Theater. After the war, he was assigned to the occupation troops in Japan, where he provided medical care for accused Japanese war criminals, including Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.
After his discharge from the Army, he attended and graduated from Baker University in Baldwin City, then was hired as youth director at a YMCA in Topeka, where he helped to integrate the YMCA swimming pool, the first in the state to be integrated.

He then went to medical school at the University of Kansas, where he received his medical degree in 1958. He practiced family medicine in Emporia until 1988, when he closed his practice and became a full-time writer, working in longhand for transcription. Besides his many novels, Coldsmith also wrote a weekly newspaper column, “Horsin’ Around,” and many magazine articles. He was a popular lecturer on the subject of the West and its history.

He and his wife, Edna, maintained a small ranch on the outskirts of Emporia, and for a time raised appaloosa horses.

In 1986, Coldsmith established the Tallgrass Writers Workshop at Emporia State University to bring aspiring writers together with experienced writers, editors and agents. The 24th workshop begins at the university on Friday.

Survivors include his wife.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My interpretation of “Love Among the Ruins” (Robert Browning)

by Tom Mach
©2009 by Tom Mach

I’ve always believed that poetry is a very special type of writing that forces readers to throw themselves into the poem and personalize it against their own attitudes, backgrounds, experiences, and prejudices. That’s why it’s not surprising to learn you can hand an identical poem to five poetry “experts” and come back with five different interpretations.

I’ve always enjoyed the poetry of 19th century British writers. One that from time to time has been somewhat enigmatic to me has been Robert Browning. Some of his thoughts are so obscure that it was rumored that even Mr. Browning, when asked about one of his poems, could not recall what it meant. A particular poem that has stayed with me ever since high school (eons ago) was a Browning poem called “Love Among the Ruins.” An artist named Edward Burne-Jones actually did a painting based on this poem, and it’s shown up there on this blog.

Here’s Browning’s “Love Among the Ruins”—

Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles,
Miles and miles
On the solitary pastures where our sheep
Half asleep
Tinkle homeward thor’ the twilight, stray or stop
As they crop—
Was the site once of a city great and gay,
(So they say)
Of our country’s very capital, its prince
Ages since
Held his cour in gathered councils, wielding far
Pear or War.
Oh heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
Earth’s returns
For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
Shut them in,
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
Love is best.

When I first read this poem I fell in love with cadence and the delightful juxtaposition of words, such as “blood that freezes, blood that burns” or “for whole centuries of folly, noise and sin! Shut them in.” But as I read it over and over, pictures flashed through my mind—not necessarily Robert Browning’s pictures, but my own. Let’s take a few examples:

“Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles, Miles and Miles.”
I visualize those evenings on a Hawaiian beach where your can almost see the curvature of the earth as the golden sun’s smile begins to sink into the Pacific.

“Where our sheep half asleep tinkle homeward through the twilight.”
Instead of sheep, I visualize cattle on a Kansas landscape. The cattle have finished grazing and stand still, almost statuesque-like. Perhaps they are already half-asleep.

“Was the site once of a city grat and gay (So they say) of our country’s very capital.”
I’m thinking about Washington, DC Will our nation’s capital someday sit in ruins because of the evil in the world that would like us destroyed?

“Oh heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns! Earth returns”
Freezing blood reminds me of people who have become cold and heartless while blood hat burns reminds me of riots where people will kill each other to force their will on others. Hopefully, though Earth will return to sanity.

--Anyway, those are my thoughts. As I say, everyone interprets poetry differently. That’s why it is such a terrific medium of communication.

Monday, June 15, 2009

It’s not Showing, It’s not Telling, It’s Internalizing

by Tom Mach
© 2009 by Tom Mach

I can’t help but wonder whether television and movies as well as the emphasis of technology-based communications over face-to-face communications made us less sensitive to interpreting the emotions of others. TV, for instance, does all the work for us in terms of letting us actually see an angry criminal or a despondent mother. We don’t have to use our brain to take written words for the true feelings of these characters, have them regenerated into our brains, and internalize those emotions. Our eyes just take in what they see on TV and we are instantly told what the character’s emotions are. No brain-internalizing.

To a small extent, we do a smidgen of “internalizing” when we use technology to communicate. That is, if we send someone an email, or a text message, or “tweet” someone we are send words and expecting the recipient to translate those words into thoughts. However, these are generally short bursts of words (Twitter limits “tweets” to 140 characters), and the sender often makes no effort to show the reader the true scope and flavor of his or her feelings. A tweet might say something like this:

It’s insane the way the government spends our hard-earned tax money on those pork projects. It makes me furious. Something ought to be done.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t “grab” us—unless we can dredge up our own experiences in this topic and superimpose them on that statement. The sentence, though expressed as an opinion, is translated to the brain as “fact” but we don’t get as emotionally involved as if we were presented with a person whom we learn to care about and who had been involved with a similar situation. For instance we can describe a woman released from prison who found a job but because of the high tax burden coupled with her other expenses, was harassed by the IRS and ultimately found guilty of non-payment of taxes. She is sent back to prison, and—no longer able to rejoin her husband who recently filed for divorce—she reads that the government spent a large sum of money studying the sex life of a hamster. The injustice of it all is like a slap in the face If we add more information about this woman—her history, her appearance, her young children, and the injustices she had faced in her past—we find that the simple 40-character comment on Twitter now carries a lot more meaning.

One of the points that writing workshop leaders like to stress in the importance of “showing” and not “telling.” While that’s true, I would go a step further, and make two other points: (1) it is not possible to always “show” in a novel, and (2) when we do “show” we should strive, wherever possible, to influence the reader to internalize a character’s emotions. With regard to the first point, there are times a novelist must “tell” a situation to give the story proper pacing. “Showing” every single situation would dramatically increase the size of the novel and make reading quite ponderous. Take any novel and you’ll find this is true. A character has his shoes shined at the airport and then rushes to the gate. The novelist doesn’t get into a thorough description of the shoeshine person and his emotions (unless these are crucial to the plot). Why would that be necessary? It would bore the reader, lose continuity of the story, and slow down the plot. Concerning the second point, if we’re attempting to show the jealousy a wife has over her husband’s secret lover, we’ll be getting into two powerful emotions—anger and betrayal. We can show these emotions by way of dialogue (a nasty conversation between the wife and his lover), by internal dialogue (the wife bringing into her mind other episodes of her husband infidelity and how she responded to them), or by describing in vivid detail her reactions (the wife throwing all his clothes out the window, flattening the car tires of her husband’s lover, etc.).

Sometimes we have to show but can’t expect the reader to internalize a character’s feelings. For instance, we could show the horror of a cat being cruelly tortured by being fried in a microwave. Or, we can show the majestic beauty of a forest by visualizing the way the redwoods climb through the mist, the dampness of the morning air, and the scampering of squirrels hunting for food—all the while comparing the majesty of the forest with the quiet humility of a country church.

One difficulty I have always had in describing how a person feels is by describing their facial ticks. But since that would require a lengthy discussion, I’ll leave that for next time.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Procrastination and the Writer

by Tom Mach
© 2009 by Tom Mach

Robert Benchley said it best when he said, “Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment. “ While this can be said of any endeavor, I find that it is particularly true of writers. I am one of the greatest time-wasters in the world. Yesterday I must have checked my Twitter at least thirty times, my Facebook twenty times, sent out meaningless tweets about fifteen times, check my email every 15 minutes, bought myself a cell phone and tried playing Sudoku on it, then took a drive to get my car washed and put gas in it.

Box Score: “Other stuff” –110 “Writing”—0

I envy writers who claim they can sit down and type out five pages a day, every day, no matter what. They claim that even if what they type is nonsense, even if it is poorly written, even if it is filled with all sorts of errors, it’s writing. To me, it’s like saying even if you’re pumping air into a tire and no air is going into it, you’re pumping. Or, it’s like composing a symphony using a harmonica. At least you’re attempting to compose.

I use the excuse of having to be “inspired” before I can write. The problem is that I don’t get inspired until I start writing and once I get into the rhythm of my story, then I get inspired.

I think next time I give a workshop on writing a novel, I will write three words on the chalkboard and dismiss the class. The words? JUST DO IT.

Friday, May 22, 2009

My Personal Thoughts as a Writer (Part 4)

by Tom Mach
© 2009 by Tom Mach

Today I’d like to discuss two aspects of my writing life—one as a poet and another as a playwright. While I did write some poems in the late 1970s, I never took myself seriously as a poet. I suppose one thing that deterred me was the fact that at the time I saw only two kinds of poems—the classical (Browning, Shakespeare, etc.) and the modern. I’ve always loved the classical poets because there was a certain kind of sophistication, underlying truth, and musical cadence to their works. Who could but wonder about Robert Browning’s idealism when he wrote: “The beauty and the wonder and power. / The shapes of things, their colors, lights, and shades, / Changes, surprises—and God made them all!” Or the immortal Shakespeare sonnet: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate.” But when I get to the modern poet, I tend to get confused. I don’t understand a lot of it. Here would be a “typical” modern poem: “The lantern hangs on a darkened chimney while a mouse struck by the daylight hourglass, dances to the chimes of a carpenter’s saw.” Okay—what does this mean? I have no idea. I think modern poetry is a lot like modern art. There might be a message there somewhere, but I’ll be darned if I’m going to stare at it all day to try to figure it out.

I’ve read a lot of poems and am beginning to have some luck in winning recognition for them. I published a book of poetry called The Uni Verse and won the Nelson Poetry Book Award for it. I was also a winner in two poetry contests that our Kansas Poet Laureate sponsored a month ago, won first place in the narrative category and third place in the classics category of a contest sponsored by the Kansas Authors Club. One of my poems also won 9th place out of 3,000 entries in the July issue of Writers Digest. In addition, I’ve had several of my poems published in the Sunday editions of the Lawrence Journal World newspaper. I love the challenge of poetry because it keeps my writing sharp and helps me think beyond the confines of a story.

I’ve also written several plays, although none of them have been produced—as of yet. I’ve written a musical based on my novel, Sissy! I also wrote a children’s musical based on a first place short story called Priscilla’s New Word. And I also wrote a comedy, the title of which I won’t yet reveal publically. This last one is a two-act play and I have an agent sending it around to off-Broadway locations.

One of my biggest bugaboos is laziness. I work well under pressure. Right now I have no deadlines, so I’m just goofing off. Hopefully, my agent will find me a contract with one of my three books I have written or that play I mentioned. I’ve got to get that old writing brain of my working again!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Inheritance

by Tom Mach
©1981 by Tom Mach

Well, if you insist, then come,
drink in the pleasures of my father’s mansion.
Become intoxicated with his Renoired walls.
Visit the secret prison of his friends:
his Melville, Poe, and sacred bards of old.
What do you expect—the grandeur that would shake
even those who touch the garments of kings?
Think you that the power of his gods
will shine from the power of his gods?
Will Nirvana arise from the ashes of this man?
No. The poisoned air of shame
still smogs the songless rooms,
and the carpet once crushed by heavy boots
is dead, flattened by time.
So come, taste the stillness of my father’s cave,
but after, run hungrily to the meadow
before the shadow of his emptiness enfolds you.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Index of All My Blogs From April 7, 2009 to May 9, 2009

I have posted 28 blogs on this site between 4/7 and 5/9 and I invite all readers to review the past list of my blogs, to the very post I made. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with how to search for all of them you need to scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the green message that says “Older Posts.” This will bring you to a new window. As you continue to scroll down to the bottom and click on “Older Posts” you will eventually get to the last page that represents my first post.

Here is a convenient list of my posts, starting with the latest to the earliest—

May 9………Deepen your stories today
May 8………How should a novel end?
May 7………The music of the sonnet
May 6………A haiku to the universe
May 5………My novel, 52 years later…what did I learn?
May 4………There are different ways for you to read a novel
May 3………A few thoughts about our universe
May 2………My personal thoughts as a writer (part 3)
May 1………My personal thoughts as a writer (part 2)
Apr 30….…..101 Best websites in 2008 for writers
Apr 29………Making the transition from story to play
Apr 28………My personal thoughts as a writer (part 1)
Apr 27………A surprising list of authors who have self-published
Apr 26………Want to writer a children’s picture book? Read this.
Apr 25………Tom’s poem from The Uni Verse
Apr 23………Things to consider if you’re writing historical fiction
Apr 22………What is “poetry”? Why do you want to write it? And in what form?
Apr 21………Why should authors twitter?
Apr 20………The power of words
Apr 19………On being a shameless (& smart) self-promoter
Apr 18………Farewell to James Houston—author and friend
Apr. 17……. Blogs, books and the irony of short
Apr 16………(mis) Quote of the day
Apr 15………The analogy of novel writing to house building
Apr 11………How poetry improves all other writing
Apr 10………Sounds of Lawrence
Apr 8………..Humor
Apr 7………..Poems I’ve written

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Deepen your stories today

(excerpts from an article written by Mary DeMuth for The Writer, Feb. ’09 by permission from the author) For more information on the author’s book mentoring program, click on

William Wordsworth wrote, “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart” Wordsworth’s quote rings true for me as a parenting author. I splay my heart on the pages of my books, exploring my inadequacies, embracing little parenting triumphs. It makes sense. The way to a nonfiction reader’s heart is an author’s vulnerability, her ability to reveal emotional depth. Can the same be said for fiction? A resounding yes.

How do you harness emotional depth? Is it possible to write stories that suck readers in, enamoring them of characters who resonate? Absolutely.

1. Write truth from the inside out
Writing prose that does not have your heart in it becomes mechanically correct but bereft of soul. It becomes outside-in writing. Reveal secrets on the page of a journal, daring to write the truth. Write it to yourself, about yourself, about the world you live in. In the safe haven of a blank notebook, explore your passions.

2. Translate your emotional experiences
It’s one thing to explore your own interior; it’s another to use your emotions to build a character. But it must be done. Pull out the journal where you’ve bled some truth. Then, find a character in your story that lacks depth or verve and begin to connect her flatness to the richness of your current struggle. Free-write the character into a scene until you sense our own emotions surfacing.

3. Get out in the world
Writing is a solitary art. We seldom venture out of the land of people. But too much solitude makes our novels suffer. We need to put down our journal pen, abandon the blinking curser, and rub shoulders with people To hear bantering. To risk ourselves in relationships. To once again be reminded of the astounding beauty of humanity alongside its depravity.

You’ve heard the mantra: Show, don’t tell. Perhaps the secret to showing is actually living your own stories well.
Footnote from Tom Mach:
Ms. DeMuth brings up an important point about the necessity of showing and not telling. Our written words should project a strong mental and emotional image to the reader, getting her involved to the point where she resonates with the character because the character has become a living, breathing human being. I’ve had that experience as a writer myself when I wrote Sissy! and All Parts Together. My character, Jessica Radford, in both of my novels still haunts me today. She’s real.

Friday, May 8, 2009

How should a novel end?

by Tom Mach

© 2009 by Tom Mach

Actually, there’s no single answer to this question. A lot depends on the kind of novel it is, whether the novelist wants to “wrap things up” (as you would in a murder mystery), or if the novelist wants to leave some things undone—either because it would be more realistic or the novelist has another book in mind as a sequel or as a part of a trilogy and wants to hook you for the next book. I recall a lesson I learned from a dear writer friend of mine. She said, “Don’t go for a totally happy ending where everything is resolved and all of your characters now go trudging off into Never-Never-Land.” What she was saying was it’s okay to have a sad ending, as long as there is some hope that you can give the reader.

Do you remember Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, where Scarlett’s lover Rhett has left her forever? She’s now on the barren Tara plantation, left with little else. But there’s a glimmer of hope in Scarlett’s soul. Despite her sadness she says, at the end of the book:

“I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” (That last sentence is one of the most important lines of the book.)

In my novel, All Parts Together, I have a protagonist named Jessica Radford who is desolate because her former lover, Matt is marrying another woman, her publisher no longer wants to accept her novels written about slavery, her hero—Abraham Lincoln—had been assassinated, and she feels betrayed by her adopted sister, Nellie. In a fury, she tosses her manuscript across the room. But there is a knock on her door. A stranger asks Jessica to become involved in another, even greater cause than slavery. Here is how I end that story (because I have in mind a forthcoming third novel of the Jessica trilogy)—

Jessica cleared her throat and put her hand to her warm forehead. “I’ll be there But first I need to clean up this awful mess that I’ve made.” (Note the symbolic twist I put at the end—the “mess” of her life versus the “mess” she made in her hotel room)

How should a novel end? I think it should end where the satisfied reader says to herself, “I know this character will survive. She’ll come out the better for it. I wish her well, and I’ll miss her very much.”

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Music of the Sonnet

One of the first poems I memorized as a teenager (and still know over 50 years later) is this poem from Shakespeare:

Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And oft is his gold complexion dimm’d,
And every fair to fair sometime declilnes,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d.
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest.
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest.

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

I think I like this and similiar sonnets for two reasons. One, of course, is the deep meanings they hold for the reader. The poet in the above sonnet makes an interesting comparison between the lady he loves and nature. Even though nature can, at times, be harsh, his lady will always be beautiful him. Even old age and death will not diminish his love for her. Another reason I love this is because of the rhythm of the lines. I can probably put this entire sonnet to music because the words flow so gently. The mystique of the 17th century English language also adds to the beauty of this poem—such as the lady wandering in Death’s shade or the symbolism of “too hot the eye of heaven shines.”

The sonnet form of poetry is one several different poetry forms. Actually, the word “sonnet” means “little song” and it comes from either the Occitan word “sonnet” or the Italian word “sonnetto” Somehow, by the 13th century a sonnet was defined as a poem consisting of 14 lines with a certain kind of rhyme scheme. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets and these consisted of 14-line poems, written in iambic pentameter, which means it consists of a line ten syllables in length and accented on every second beat. For instance, in the above sonnet, we have shall I / compare thee/ to a/ summer’s day The rhyming patter goes like this: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG in which the last two lines are a rhyming couplet. In the above poem, “day” and “May” rhyme, “temperate” and “date” rhyme, “shines” and “declines” rhyme, etc.

There are many different types of sonnets, of course, but I didn’t want to write this blog as a boring lecture series. I just want you to enjoy the rhythm and music of the sonnet itself. Here’s one that I wrote that won a prize in a writing contest:

The Power of Words by Tom Mach

Winds of apathy will not shake me
though I am invisible to this crowd
or seen darkly, blurred and misty.
I shall leave you all, head bowed
so you can play your strident noise
while I open my book of words
to recount the sum of all my joys.
Words take wing like songbirds,
finding minds to touch and arouse,
where characters give love and reveal
imagined souls for me to browse.
Matters not if they be false or real.
Pages press scenes within my heart
and arrange my thoughts, part by part.

I know it’s not Shakespeare, but I love it since I wrote it. So there!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A haiku to the universe

A haiku to the universe
by Tom Mach

planets move
nature spins orbs in circles
we are blind

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My novel, 52 years later …what did I learn?

by Tom Mach

© 2009 by Tom Mach

I thought I would share with you an example how years of experience with life, with reading a wide variety of books, with rubbing shoulders of accomplished writers, and with getting great writing guidance from numerous sources, my writing ability changed for the better. I wrote my first novel when I was 17 years old, and it was my crude, uninformed attempt at writing commercial fiction. Although I certainly know now that it is an example of bad writing, I wanted to show you the beginning of my chapter and then give you my explanation as to why I wrote that way. Below are the beginning three paragraphs of this novel…

The Boss’s Son by Tom Mach

Chapter One

It is on a blistering summer day that one finds people of the finest physical composition, defaming summer and everything connected with it. But there is one great reason, one momentous motive, for ardent summer lovers deserting their nature and becoming strict summer haters. These rash converts become so because most summer days are unbearably warm. To put it more bluntly, people get damn sick of the sticky heat of an average summer. To put it more modestly, once again, it seems that Nature was unreasonably cruel to one place in particular—New York.

The poet would express it this way: There was one advantage of the persecutions of the sun on this city. The city did not possess the aspects of a paved jungle; rather it became a monument of mountains in a prairie of pebbles. The sun, with its kaleidoscope of hues, made those mountains a noble work of art.

The man of the city who lived in the city and knew the city would more accurately describe the mountain skyscrapers as something more than towering objects of steel and stone. He would much more profoundly say that they were symbols of business, of man’s strife toward the industry of the nation, and of this way of making a living.

I need to explain something here. First of all, the novels I read when I was 17 years old were the classics. So you can see, I used author intrusion and spent a lot of time philosophizing, writing in somewhat archaic language, just like many of the 18th and early 19th century authors did. Secondly, I never took a writing class and didn’t have anyone critique this for me, so I suffered under the delusion that what came out of my typewriter was what the finished draft should look like.

Speaking of that, I typed this 353-page novel of a Royal portable typewriter. I used carbon paper between sheets. When it came to correcting an error, I had to erase the error with an eraser on both the original sheet as well as the second page under the carbon paper. Obviously, this discouraged me greatly from doing any rewriting. Writers who are spoiled with the computer, allowing them to easily make changes, insertions, and deletions, don’t know the literal hell writers using typewriters had to go through.

An interesting aside to my experience is that I had sent this entire manuscript to a few major publishers (I didn’t know anything at the time about query letters, synopses, or sample chapters), and the publishers actually responded with personally typed rejection letters signed by either the editor himself or his assistant! That wouldn’t happen in today’s market without an agent.

At one time, I was going to toss out this novel, but I’m glad I didn’t. It’s always good to go back and reflect on why you wrote what you did at that age and how much progress you’ve made over the years.

Monday, May 4, 2009

There are different ways for you to read a novel

by Tom Mach

© 2009 by Tom Mach

Believe it or not, there are different perspectives to reading a good novel. By “good” I mean novels that might stand the test of time. These don’t necessarily have to be classics such as Melville’s Moby Dick or Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. They can be authors such as Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon or David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Good novels offer something more than a basic storyline, they offer a human experience. An example of a novel which is not in the “good” category is one sold in adult bookstores where the sole purpose of the novel is to provide sexual titillation and nothing more. It may even be devoid of any meaningful storyline.

Good novels can be read in different ways. One might read it for sheer entertainment value. You read a novel for diversion, as an escape from reality. Stories that are read strictly for this purpose deal primarily with the adventures of the protagonist. People read such novels to “find out what happens” but not to search for deep, hidden meanings. Many standard mystery and romance novels fall into this category.

A person might also read a novel as an artistic accomplishment. It is analyzed from the standpoint of artistic expression just as, say, the Mona Lisa painting. Here we are looking for subtleties in writing, for nuances in the way the author has expressed an idea. In Moby Dick, for instance, we can read it strictly as an adventure of a captain trying to find and kill a certain whale. Or, we can read it as a symbolic epic where evil (Captain Ahab) is struggling against humanity (the crew) to overtake and succumb spiritual goodness (the white whale). In college literature classes, novels are typically read as an artistic accomplishment.

We might also read a novel as a form of history. Novels take place in a certain time period. Science fiction, of course, occurs in the future so there’s no real “history” there. But other novels take place either in the present or the past and both time periods have some history attached to them. When we read a novel for its historical value, we look for certain facts rather than underlying interpretations of the work. We are more concerned about what happened to a given person as opposed to a more universal reality for all mankind. Clues given in the novel will show the reader what time period the story takes place. Mentions of particular songs, certain political events, or social trends (such as the advent of the Charleston dance craze) will tell us when the story takes place. There may be historical characters involved, and a reader may want to study what occurs in that novel concerning these characters and relate them to his or her own understanding of the facts. When I wrote All Parts Together, I took particular care to ensure that everything Abraham Lincoln did or said would stand the test of intense scrutiny so that it would serve as a good source of history.

You may also want to read a novel for any technical information it may contain. Certainly Melville’s Moby Dick tells us a lot about sailing and whales. Grapes of Wrath shows the social prejudice toward migrants at that time. Medical thrillers such as Coma give us a very good idea of medical technology.

Stevens and Musial in Reading, Discussing, and Writing about The Great Books tell us that “fiction may be defined as the truth told or implied about a moral result that follows from thinking certain thoughts, holding certain values, and doing certain kinds of actions in a special kind of world.” Even though a novel springs from a writer’s imagination, it may also spring from certain universal truths. Some readers never read novels because they want to access “truth” that they believe only comes from nonfiction works

But I believe truth can also come from fiction.

--Tom Mach

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Few Thoughts About Our Universe

by Tom Mach

© 2009 by Tom Mach

It is unfortunate that many of us in the evening will sit in our living rooms watching television when just outside our door an incredible event is taking place. Planets suspended on nothing are spinning about; the sun is shining on the other side of the globe; the stars—an enormous number of light years away from us—are blinking back. On a particularly dark night, especially if you live away from the bright lights of the city, you can just lean back in your chair and watch the vastness of the sky. It’s even more incredible if you peer through a telescope and begin to see those celestial objects appear even closer

I know we take such things for granted, and I’m certain guilty of that as well. But as you gaze at the stars, at the bright moon, at the shining white orb of Venus, you have to wonder how did it all get here, and why is it here? And during the day, if you visit a zoo and see a giraffe with its long neck, a monkey flipping from branch to branch, or a hummingbird in rapid-motion flight …or if you walk through a garden and see the different colors and shapes of such flowers as hibiscus, orchids, roses, tulips, dahlias, rhododendrons….or if you gaze across open country and see rolling meadows, a lake flickering with tiny specks from the sun, trees of different kinds, fields, streams—if you experience such a great abundance, such a tremendous variety of beauty, how can you possibly think that this was all the result of a Big Bang and the happenstance of random molecules colliding with each other over billions of years? How can you not think there must have been some thought and design behind all of this?

I know that I’ll probably get angry emails from atheists and agnostics, but I don’t care. I’m not trying to convert anyone into my way of thinking of a Supreme Being or some Creative Intelligence. Believe whatever you want to believe, but for me, there is God who put this together for us. Yes, there are other things that are not as pleasant—children being born deformed or killer hurricanes or catastrophic earthquakes I can’t explain why these things also exist, just as I can’t explain why some people refuse to forgive others for things they’ve done or why some people find no shame in robbing or murdering I would be wiser than anyone who has ever existed if I knew the reason for all those things.

But I choose to look at the wonderment of the universe and I have to ask myself if such creation is so magnificent, so marvelous to behold, then what must the Creator be like? And if He’s created all these wonderful things, and if He’s created us with the ability to appreciate these things and to feel profound emotions like love and joy, then perhaps we ought to put our iPods away for awhile, we ought to stop tweeting our silly message for the time being, we ought to turn off the TV, we ought to take a walk in the park, we ought to look around, and then…

…we ought to thank Him.

A Child's Closing Prayer

(poem taken from Tom Mach's The Uni Verse)

The lake is smooth and as still as death

lbut an occasional cricket shatters the silence.

"Grandpa," I begin, but he shushes me.

I follow his gaze to the evening sky,

all pierced with white dots

while a round white moon

touches the darkness.

"God is here," he whispers.

"Where," I ask, frowning.

But I see his smile.

amd I understand

Saturday, May 2, 2009

My Personal Thoughts as a Writer (Part 3)

by Tom Mach
© 2009 by Tom Mach

If you’re a novelist, you may know what I’m talking about when I say sometimes there’s a character and a story that you absolutely must write about. It happened to me when I moved to Lawrence, Kansas. Although I am a Civil War buff of sorts, I had no knowledge about a man named William Quantrill who, in 1863, rode through this town and killed almost 200 men and boys, innocent civilians. Quantrill’s gang of ruffians looted liquor stores, robbed safes, and killed people who just happened to be there. I imagined it to be a horrible sight. One evening, as I lay in bed, I had a vision of sorts of a woman named Jessica Radford who was a young woman about 19 or 20 who was fiercely independent and survived the Quantrill raid. This woman came alive to me. I could see her face, saw how she carried herself, heard how she talked, felt the emotions she felt. I knew that she had to be a character in my novel. Later, a name popped out at me from nowhere—Sissy. I “heard” a young African American slave girl about 10 years old yelling out the name “Sissy!” It was the slave’s name—it was the name of a Negro angel. And that name became the title of my first published novel: SISSY!

Now I look back at this as a gift, because in novels I had attempted to write before, I struggled with the characters and had to think hard about the plot. Not with SISSY! I told my wife I knew Jessica so well, I almost felt as if I were having an affair. In fact, the highest compliment anyone gave me was from a friend who asked me where Jessica was buried. He was shocked when I told him Jessica was a fictional character.

When I first started writing fiction, I was not being able to make my characters truly come to life—i.e., make them as real to the reader as possible. Because Jessica came alive to me, as did Sissy—the angel in my story—I decided to do a trilogy. My second novel ALL PARTS TOGETHER showed what happened to Jessica from the day after that Quantrill raid to the weeks following the Lincoln assassination. In this latter book, I took great pains to make Abraham Lincoln a real character, so I studied everything I could about him. During my research, I uncovered facts about the man I had never known before, such as his quick wit, his interest in photography, the way he loved his son Tad, etc. I also got in touch with an author who thoroughly investigated the assassination and I was able to use that information with his permission to create a very dramatic scene in ALL PARTS TOGETHER.

Since then, I have written the third book of that trilogy and it is still with my agent, looking for a publisher. I’ve also written a children’s chapter book that was test-marketed with three groups of school children (they all loved it), and I rewrote the thriller novel that was originally rejected because it was too long. I’m now rewriting yet an additional novel for which I had an agent years ago but who had not really aggressively tried to find a publisher for it.

I’m also doing workshops on writing, but frankly I don’t find it as fascinating as writing.

By the way, I want to tell you about my poetry writing and playwriting experiences, but that will have to wait until next time. See you later!

---Tom Mach

Friday, May 1, 2009

My Personal Thoughts as a Writer (Part 2)

by Tom Mach
© 2009 by Tom Mach

I think I left last time talking about writing articles for publication. I’d like to relate a true story. When I started writing articles for the Meredith Sun Newspaper Group back in the late 70s, I recall celebrating when my first article was published and I received a check for $25 for it. It was only months earlier that I had decided to write articles. I had gone to a writer’s convention and showed a woman a copy of an article I had written. She told me it wasn’t very good. I was crushed, so I asked her to tell me what kinds of articles SHE had written and published. You know what she told me? None. There she was—the grand “queen” of writing, telling me my piece wouldn’t work and she herself had never published anything! That thought me one thing—people who claim they are writers but don’t write are deceiving themselves and others.

Back to my story, however. After I submitted my first article to the Meredith Sun Group of newspapers (which servicee the entire South Bay surrounding San Jose, CA), the editor asked for an article a week, and I gave it to her. Finally, after having published six months’ worth of articles, the editor asked my not to write for her anymore. Crestfallen, I asked her why. She said that I write too well for the newspapers and I ought to write for magazines. So I did, and I wrote on a variety of topics for a myriad number of magazines. Receiving money in the mail for all those pieces didn’t thrill me as much as seeing my byline. One day I went to a Writers Digest workshop where the editor-in-chief gave a talk. After the meeting, I asked him what he thought about an article on stress that I thought about writing. He told me to send him a query on it, which I did. Another WD editor responded, asking me to expand on my topic and I did that. Then he asked for a draft. I send him that (by the way, this was before the internet or email was invented). He suggested a number of revisions, and I made changes and sent it back to him. Then he returned it to me for further editing. Finally, I received a galley in the mail, and months later, my article on Writing Stress made the cover of the magazine. I felt ten feet tall. I went to our California Writers Convention that year, and people were lined up asking me to autograph copies of the magazine for them. What a rush that was!

During this time, I did attempt to get a book published. (I should preface this by saying that when I was 17 years old I wrote a complete novel, sent it off to publishers, got rejected, although a vanity press gave me a glowing review and urged me to get it published. I didn’t know anything about vanity presses at the time and to this day, I’m grateful my mom denied my request to send in any payment.) Anyway, many years later, I wrote a how-to book on marketing research, secured a literary agent for it. The agent made two or three tries with publishers and told me he won’t be able to sell it because the market demand for the book is probably under 5,000 copies. So I gave up on that one and tried my hand at writing fiction. I discovered that while article writing kept me pumped up with how to spin a phrase, come up with interesting transitions, do my research well, and end up with a readable and informative piece—I had to learn how to write differently for fiction. I did manage to get a short story published in Stamp World magazine. I also wrote three partial novel manuscripts, a complete novel dealing with the clerical abuse situation, and a thriller. While I couldn’t find an agent for those earlier works, I did find one for the thriller. She sent it out to several New York publishers, all of whom returned it but with glowing letters indicating how well it was plotted and the writing style (One publisher said he thought I wrote like Tom Clancy). Their objections were twofold: (1) they weren’t looking for the thriller genre at that time, and (2) my manuscript was way too long (over 800 pages). At that point, I gave up and didn’t write for quite a while.

Along the way of learning my craft, I learned things about fiction writing that served me well. I will share those experiences with you next time.

---Tom Mach

Thursday, April 30, 2009

101 Best Websites in 2008 For Writers

I personally found many of these websites quite useful. They serve different purposes, obviously, so you might want to group them in specific folders for later use, such as a "Query" Folder, a "Fiction" Folder, etc.

No matter which branch of writing interests you, you’ll be able to find helpful tips at Absolute Write. Just signing up for its e-newsletter will net you a free list of agents.
Agent Nathan Bransford's
San Francisco agent Nathan Bransford dishes the dirt on being an agent. Also, his series called “The Essentials (Please Read Before You Query)” is, well, an essential read.
Agent Query is a free, searchable database of agents. With just a few clicks you’ll be able to find one who represents your genre.
Do you need to verify the record of an agent? Check with this site first. It searches public records for all reports on the business practices of agencies, so you can find out whether it’s worth pursuing a particular agent or not.
Take off your glasses, kick up your feet, relax and listen to interviews with some debut and bestselling authors. Armchair Interviews also offers an excellent list of resources.
Check out the 20-plus articles provided by Author MBA to improve your writing, marketing and career. Joanne Rock’s “A writer’s guide to managing work & the holidays” is an especially good read.
After a little makeover, Backspace continues to offer feature articles, columns and industry news. The “Your Write Mind” columns are great reads. However, if you want to be a part of its forum, it’ll cost you a small fee.
Book in a
This site’s motto is “butt in chair, hands on keyboard, typing away madly”—and you’ll need to adhere to it if you want to live up to the challenge. You have one week to put all excuses in your sock drawer and write as much as you possibly can. It’s definitely fun—and rewarding.
Need a famous quote for your article? Stop by Brainy Quote and search by topic, author or type to find the words of wisdom (or humor) you desire.
Buried in the Slush
Buried in the Slush Pile covers juvenile writing. You’ll notice a helpful glossary of publishing terms—now even we know what “F&G” means. (ps- This isn't actually an agent blog—it's an author blog—but the information provided is great.)
C. Hope Clark’s Funds for
Freelancers on the prowl for jobs and cash need to look no further. This site offers up the big four—grants, contests, fellowships and markets—that pay. Plus, C. Hope Clark’s free e-newsletter is a must read for all who freelance.
While the bright colors and cluttered design are hard on the eyes, the information is great for Christian writers who are looking for support and networking with other writers. There’s a small fee if you want a personal webpage on the site, though.
Coffee Time Romance &
Love is in the air—for romance writing. Share your thoughts, book blurbs and more on this forum. Also, get your book reviewed and read interviews with a number of romance authors.
This site has always had some of the coolest novelty items, such as writerly T-shirts, drink koozies and squeezable stress relievers. Now it also offers more content by way of interviews and articles.
Crime-Writers Yahoo
This group is listed for those who are interested in writing or are currently writing crime fiction (including police procedurals, noir, hard-boiled, etc.). And with more than 650 members, it’s a must-visit for crime writers.
Critique Groups for
Members of this site can form private groups to workshop their writing. There’s also a section dedicated to publishing news, agents and signings.
Do you have an English phrase that you need translated to Spanish? This site will help bring your characters to life—even if they speak a different language than you do.
To be the best you must read the best. Find your favorite movie and TV scripts for free in this database.
Enjoy a free submissions tracker with this database of more than 2,000 markets for short fiction, poetry and novels/collections. Search functions include medium, payscale, accepts reprints and more.
Take a batch of young magazine editors who want to learn more about the industry, share that info and meet other young editors and you get Ed(2010). Some of the site is still under construction, but what’s finished is can’t-miss material.
Head over to Edit Red for peer critiques, publishing tips and opportunities to promote your writing and connect with publishers. The site offers a free personal webpage, and promotion and marketing tools.
Founded in 2000, this site presents free contests and peer-to-peer reviews. One fairly unique feature offered by the site is the ability to create your own contest and challenge other writers.
This site features tips on writing better fiction, improving your writing, getting published, and promoting and marketing your fiction.
Search through 750 literary agencies and 900 book publishers to find one that suits your work.
The real value in this site, a great source for market and event listings, is its list of writer organizations and groups spanning the world.
Freelance Writing
Deborah Ng’s Freelance Writing Jobs is filled with available freelance gigs. There’s also a special section dedicated to blogging jobs.
Freelance Writing Organization-Int’
With more than 11,000 registered members (membership is free), Freelance Writing Organization-Int’l offers thousands of online resources and job offerings. It also gives members a free blog listing (as long as the blog deals with writing).
Horror Writers
Do you model your writing after Stephen King? If so, the Horror Writers Association is the perfect place for you to get tips, advice and the latest news on this niche.
J.A. Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to
J.A. Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog provides great information for new (and veteran) fiction writers. He also has links to plenty of good resources.
Janet Reid's Literary
Janet Reid, a literary agent with FinePrint Literary Management in New York City, specializes in crime fiction and shares query pitfalls to help you avoid rookie mistakes.
Jennifer Jackson's Et in Arcaedia, Ego
With the motto, “Saving the world, one book sale at a time,” literary agent Jennifer Jackson shares news, notes and opinions on the industry, including a sneak peek at her query round-up.
Everything you need to know is in the Web address (though we’ll add that they have an excellent listing of industry events).
Kid Magazine
Get the latest news, info and tips on writing for kids here. Plus, this site offers a wealth of paying children’s markets.
Literary Law
Get the latest in copyright news from this intellectual property lawyer. “What Every Writer Should Know About Copyright” is a great introductory article that all writers should read.
Long Story
The goal of this e-zine is to take the intimidation out of the querying process by replying personally to every author and by offering suggestions on how to improve your work. This site publishes stories in many different genres, including flash fiction, humor, poetry and even book chapters.
Lori Perkins' Agent in the
Let literary agent Lori Perkins guide you around the NYC agent scene. Plus, she has great insight into horror, social science fiction, dark fantasy, dark literary novels and erotica—her specialties.
Stay on top of the latest Latino/Hispanic literary events, contests and writing opportunities by reading this former Simon & Schuster editor’s site.
Media Job
Looking for a job? This site has searchable classifieds so you can find a writing-related job in your area.
Stay informed on publishing industry news and network with other writers around the globe. This is one of the best spots for journalism and freelance jobs around.
When it comes to word-lover reference material, it’s hard to beat Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary and thesaurus. Besides the basic functions, it provides word games, a spelling quiz, a Word of the Day and the “Word for the Wise” podcast.
Mike’s Writing
Can’t find a local writing group? At Mike’s Writing Workshop, you’ll find a community of nearly 9,000 writers willing to share information and critique your work.
Mom Writer's Literary
This online literary magazine for writer moms features articles on the ups, downs and challenges of motherhood.
Kick off your shoes, curl up under your favorite blanket, grab a virtual latte and cozy up with this site for poets. You’re welcome to post some of your own poetry for feedback—all they ask is that you rate two poems for each poem you post.
Who wouldn’t love to get a script noticed by winning a contest? Well, there’s no better place to find one than in the Movie Bytes contest directory. Of course, if you eventually win an Oscar, you’ll have to thank Writer’s Digest in your acceptance speech.
My Writers
This forum boasts nearly 6,000 members and an active critique section. There’s also a job board, a resource center and a section of writing games.
National Novel Writing
One of the most well-known writing challenges in the writing community, National Novel Writing Month (November) pushes you to write 50,000 words in 30 days.
Starting your writing career can be nerve-racking, but feel at ease on this site, which has fellow newbies. Subscribe to its free e-newsletter and receive an 85-page e-book resource guide.
This site provides links to plenty of writing opportunities for youngsters, including ones that pay.
This site offers a great collection of interviews with authors, editors and freelancers. It’s updated daily.
If you’ve yet to be published or are a newly published author, this site has a lot of goodies for you. From original book reviews and book giveaway contests to writing prompts, this is a good destination for beginners.
Preditors &
Telling the difference between a professional contest and a scam can be hard, but thanks to Preditors & Editors you don’t have to sweat it. Dive into this site to find out which writing-related services, contests, organizations, etc., are worth your time and which aren’t.
Check out this site’s job board, which is filled with gigs from editing to marketing to production. It can be an excellent way to get your foot in the door. Also, there’s a place to announce your book deal.
If you’re looking for a crash course on getting published, look no further. This site provides an abbreviated version of the process.
For those in need of an agent, this site allows writers to upload their query letters and agent experiences, building a database of information. The experiences are then combined to show trends and actions of individual agents so you know what to expect when querying them.
R.A.W. SISTAZ Literary
This group focuses on reading, writing and discussing books primarily by African-American authors. The Writer’s Block section is filled with tips. Plus, according to the site, all books sent to them are reviewed. That’s right, all books.
Rachelle Gardner’s Rants &
Rachelle Gardner’s Rants & Ramblings covers her life as a Christian writing literary agent and includes news, trends and advice on the publishing industry.
If you’re looking for “Of the Day” trivia to get your brain functioning each morning, stop on by this site. It offers tons of tidbits that you probably didn’t know—and may lead you to a story idea.
Resources for Muslim
Hey Muslim writers, you’ll want to bookmark this site. From writing competitions to jobs for writers, editors and journalists, this site houses opportunities and news for those looking for publishing success.
Rob Parnell’s Easy Way to
Rob Parnell’s Easy Way to Write is filled with lots of freebies for writers in several markets, including poetry, flash fiction and e-zine fiction (that actually pays). The forum is relatively small, but the blog is an entertaining read.
Robyn Opie's Writing For
This children’s book author delivers dozens of free articles on constructing, writing, editing and publishing your children’s book. There are also two books available for free download.
What’s not to like about a site whose motto is “unleash your inner diva”? Join the Romance Divas for advice on the craft and business of writing romances, and share stories about your life and career with this fun writing community.
Romance Writing
This site showcases some of the best tips for romance writers. And while this group doesn’t critique, it offers plenty of links to groups that do.
Sharing with Writers and
Looking for cheap ways to promote your book? Carolyn Howard-Johnson shares tips to get your book out to the world at a low cost. Sign up for her free e-newsletter to have most of the information delivered right to your inbox.
Use this database to find a writing conference near you.
Smith Mag Six Word
Can you write your memoir in only six words? This is a thrilling challenge that encourages you to write sharply and concisely.
Social Security Administration Popular Baby
Need character names that suit your 1920s setting? The Social Security website has the most accurate list of popular names from 1879 to the present.
The Eighteen
Also known as 18Q, this site is designed to share the views and experiences of published authors for novice writers in a series of 18 questions. More than 100 authors have taken the quiz.
The Erotica Readers & Writers
If you like the extra randy stuff, check out this site, dedicated to erotica writers and writing. It’s a great place for tips and stories, but definitely not a playground for the youngsters.
The Internet Writing
If you’re not into message boards, The Internet Writing Workshop offers discussions and critiques delivered right to your e-mail inbox. There’s no fee for this service, but there’s a minimum participation time of 30 minutes a week.
The Jewish Writing
This site is for e-mail and correspondence classes, but if you dig a little you’ll find some of the best resources for Jewish writing and publishing. Tamar Wisemon’s article on Jewish magazine and newspaper markets is a must read.
The MuseItUp
Hard to beat a free online writing conference, and that’s exactly what The MuseItUp Club offers. The group acknowledges that writers often have insufficient funds to travel across the country, so they bring a weekend of professional advice to your office (or wherever your computer is set up).
The MuseItUp Club Critique
Critique groups are limited to five people so your work can get more personal attention. They’ve added a workshop forum for members to discuss monthly workshop topics.
The Poetry in
The Poetry in Color forum solicits poets of all backgrounds and encourages quality peer-to-peer feedback on members’ writings. This site isn’t censored, so leave the kids at home.
The Poetry Market
Get your poetry markets, contests, reviews and news from this free monthly e-zine.
The Publicity
Consultant Joan Stewart shares tips on self-promotion and how to get free publicity—a key for any writer living on a tight budget.
The Publishing Law
From fair use of trademarks to electronic rights, attorney Lloyd L. Rich provides dozens of helpful articles on topics important to the writing community.
The Rejecter
This assistant at an NYC literary agency rejects 95 percent of the queries that cross her desk—and blogs about them. She also answers questions about the process and offers up advice on getting your query past her desk.
The Story
If a daily prompt isn’t enough to stuff your writing appetite, check out this site. Get a random story-starter sentence from more than 340 million (yes, you read that correctly) choices. Just one click of a button and you’re on your way.
The Teacher's
Looking for inspiration? These daily writing prompts aren’t only fun, but relate to the date (September 5 is National Cheese Pizza Day—who knew?).
The Urban
The Urban Muse is populated with excellent tips on writing, marketing and staying creative. Don’t miss the “5 Ways to Promote Your Blog” post; great advice.
The Wild Poetry
A poet’s heaven, this extremely active forum welcomes all poetry buffs 13 years old and up. Just be sure to keep your work clean for the children.
The Writer's Resource
Carol Kluz’s site has hundreds of resources for writers. Note that not all of the links work, but most of the ones that do are valuable.
The Writers
If too many people overwhelm you, here’s a small forum that may suit your needs. It’s focused heavily on fiction, but there’s some poetry and nonfiction as well.
The Writing
This private writing workshop is always seeking new members, but you have to be serious about the craft. If you make it through the approval process, you’ll have access to critique forums and creative writing prompts.
The Young Writers
If you’re a young writer (think under 18) and looking for support, look no further. The Young Writers Society offers kids and teens a space to share work, chat, blog and more. This site also discourages “netspeak,” which is good news for grammar buffs.
Today’s Woman has nearly 1,000 members who participate in its forum, online critiques and weekly contests. Women aren’t the only ones taking part (43 percent of the members are men), but they’re highly active in this site.
Trent Steele’s Write
Trent Steele’s Write Street is a good place to find recommended writing books, articles on the writing craft and inspirational quotes.
United States Copyright
Everything you need to know about copyright law is right here, along with the option to register your work for extra protection (for a fee). We recommend bookmarking the FAQ section.
For the public, updated by the public, Wikipedia makes for an excellent starting point when you’re researching a subject. But use it only as a diving board to better sources. (See Questions & Quandaries, p. 65 for a better explanation.)
Gain access to 150 poetry contests by subscribing to its free e-newsletter (and more than 750 if you upgrade to its premium membership). Plus, enter its famous Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest, which searches for the “best humor poem that has been sent to a ‘vanity poetry contest’ as a joke.”
With 4,500 registered users, this site offers a forum to discuss all forms of writing. The extra good news is it’s kid-friendly—there are ratings to let you know if something has explicit content.
Worldwide Freelance
Sign up for this site’s e-newsletter and receive access to a list of more than 500 magazine market listings. There’s also a European market listing available through a subscription.
WOW! Women on
This e-zine caters specifically to women in the writing community, dishing out interviews (and tips) from popular female writers.
One of the most notable watchdogs for the writing community, Writer Beware shares information on writing scams, problematic agents and publishers, and more. New to the site is a blog where writers can share info in the comments section.
In its fourth consecutive year on the list (sixth overall), this site lives up to its tagline: “Bringing you free writer-related articles, paying call for submission and freelance job postings, contests, resources, tips, and more to help induce, improve, and promote your writing career—every week.”
Writer Site
Looking for a Christmas present for yourself? Here you can find free, printable posters and bookmarks showcasing quotes from some of your favorite authors. All you need is a printer.
Through interviews and discussion of craft, Writer Unboxed dissects genre-fiction writing. Its daily updates are a nice way to start your day (if you’re a genre-fiction writer).
Created by writers for writers, this online radio station broadcasts author interviews, writing prompts, music to inspire and mini-mysteries. Most of the material is available for podcast download.
Brazil, Hong Kong, Jamaica—find an agent nearly anywhere in the world.
This site welcomes writers of all levels. Sign up and get a free online portfolio, numerous user tools, e-mail services and a chance to network with other writers.
Here’s another fun site that creates writing prompts on the spot. The site currently has several options—prompts for right-brained people, for left-brained people, for kids—and is working to add prompts on classic literature, music and more.