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.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Making the Transition From Story to Play

by Tom Mach
©2009 by Tom Mach

I always wondered what it would be like to make the transition from a short story or novel to a stage play (or screenplay). I made that transition and found I had to think differently and write differently when doing a screenplay versus a novel. I wrote and rewrote my play at least a dozen times. My agent loved it and is showing it around the New York playhouses. But the transition from fiction to playwriting wasn’t an easy one. Hence, I am sharing with you a few basic things a fiction writer must face when writing a play, and these include the following:

Difficult, if not impossible, to get into a character’s mind.
In fiction, we have the ability to write omnisciently, which means we are able to communicate to the reader what the character is thinking. Usually, this cannot be done when writing a play. I say “usually” because I’ve used a device in writing a play whereby the character’s thoughts are transmitted to the audience via a loudspeaker. But even with this device, we are limited in not being able to describe the character’s true feelings as we could if we described them in fiction.

Need for some minimum scene and stage directions.
In fiction, we can describe beautiful vistas, wide oceans, a quiet forest, a city landscape—and we can do so with considerable detail so a reader can visualize the background where the story takes place. In plays, we don’t describe the full stage set, we don’t need to because the audience is able to see it for themselves. We, as playwrights, do have to give some minimal description on the set and stage directions. For instance, in my play “Real Characters,” I open it with a bachelor part sign, party streamers, men standing about and chatting, drinks in their hands. I don’t describe the size of the room, the wallpaper, the name of the hotel, etc., which I might have done if I were writing a novel.

Pace and plot depend almost entirely on dialogue.
While dialogue is important in fiction, it is virtually the only major tool you have in playwriting. In plays, as in fiction, dialogue has to describe character and move the plot along. However, in fiction, we can help create a more distinct character by describing the physical and emotional traits that character has—and we can help move the plot along by describing action in very specific terms. We can do flashbacks to get a sense of the past and how it affects the future. We can show several scene changes with no problem.

Very restrictive scenes—often plays take place in one location
That brings to mind another important point. We have considerably fluidity in fiction. We change scenes, we go into different points-of-view, we can focus on a specific object and describe it. But plays are very restrictive and necessarily so. It costs money to design and change sets. The fewer the scene changes the better. Some of the best plays have occurred with only one set design.

You have to format what you type very differently

Script formats are very different from formats used in typing a novel. For instance, you need to type the brief scene description from the center margin, type the name of the character speaking in caps and center it, type in any important motion that character makes (laugh, taking something out of his pocket, etc) directly beneath the character’s name, double-space between speakers but single-space the dialogue of a given character. Here is an example from my copyrighted play “Real Characters.:-- (Please note that the line spacing and indentation in my example below is incorrect as shown since I am unable to make it appear on this blog as it should. ACT ONE is centered, skip two lines. Then, SCENE 1 is centerd and copy below it is single-spaced. There is a double space next, "FIRST MAN" is centered while (shakes his head in disbelief) is also centered on the next line. Then skip a space and the dialogue of the FIRST MAN starts about 1 inch from the left-hand side of the page)



A banquet hall. “Farwell, Bachelor Buddy”

sign and party streamers hand above. Four men

in their 20s, all with cocktails in hand, toast their

friend Troy Hudson, who will marry Lillian

Martin next week.

(shakes his head in disbelief)

Troy Hudson, are you sure we can’t talk you out of it?

(claps Troy on the back)

You can still drop out and keep your freedom, you know.


I could go on, but get the idea. Screenplay writing is different in many respects from fiction writing. But these forms of writing have two things in common: they must tell a captivating story and they must have compelling characters that become very real to the audience. It takes a while to learn how to switch modes of thinking and writing, but it is well worth it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Personal Thoughts as a Writer (Part I)

by Tom Mach

©2009 by Tom Mach

I thought I would take a few minutes to give you what insight I can on writing and marketing. Some of this will reflect my own prejudices, so bear with me if you don’t agree 100% with what I’m about to say. My thoughts are not based on books, on English courses, on the wisdom of a tenure-track literature professor, but it’s based on my personal experience.

First, of all I am very suspicious of people who claim they sat down with no training at all, got on a computer, wrote a book, sent it off to a publisher, got it published and made money. I’m sorry, but I think the chances of that happening are slimmer than a herd of elephants running amok in my house.

The truth is: you wouldn’t want to undergo an operation by a person off the street who thought he could do it, with no medical background, training, and degree. You wouldn’t be comfortable being flown in a jet by a lady who wanted to see what it’d be like to fly the darned thing even though she’s never even been in a cockpit. So why in the world do you think you can just crank out a novel, a book of poetry, or a nonfiction work without not only training but extensive experience?

Secondly, I think before you write a novel you ought to get exposure to writing magazine articles. Learn how to write for that particular magazine, study past issues, know the word count, know the reader, query first (don’t write the article beforehand), Then do the things that make the article once you get the “green light” from the editor. Create an interesting beginning paragraph, show some logic of thought while being interesting at the same time, add photographs if necessary to spice up your piece, etc.

Third, write only in the areas of your interest. Some say write only from your personal experience, but I don’t agree with that. Do all the research you need to do before you begin writing. Experience that research, absorb it into your system. I used to write articles on subjects I’ve never personally experienced. I received praise fro my article on river rafting, but I’ve never even been in a raft. I did a great piece on soaring, but I’ve soared in a glider. But I researched. I studied. I imagined. I worked myself to the point where I believe I “experienced” it.

Speaking of writing only in the areas of your interest, at one time in my career I was jealous in seeing how writers were able to write for firms such as Harlequin and other romance publishers and I thought, “Well, I can do that too.” No, I can’t. I attempted to read one of those books and couldn’t even get to the end of the first chapter without feeling a bit nauseous. Don’t get me wrong—I admire the folks who can spin a great romance, but if I can’t read one, how can I write it?

I’ve got more, much more, to say on the subject of my experiences in writing. So I’ll continue from here next time.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Surprising List of Authors
Who Have Self-Published

(source: John Kremer, editor of the Book Marketing Update Newsletter)

I don’t know where people get the idea that if you’re self-published you can’t be any good. I think they believe that if "legitimate” publishers like Random House or Doubleday didn’t break down your door to have the privilege of publishing your book, you must stink as a writer. While it is true there are some writers who need to improve their talent and hire a good editor to proof their work, they are in the minority. Other writers consider self-publishing as a means of making far more money on (and have more control of) your work than you can expect from a commercial “name” publisher

In summary, self-publishing doesn’t deserve this “black eye.” Need proof? Read a partial list below of self-publishers and see if you recognize any names. I think this list will shock you. It did me.

· Margaret Atwood
· L. Frank Baum (author of Wizard of Oz)
· William Blake
· Ken Blanchard
· Robert Bly
· Elizabeth Barrett Browning
· Lord Byron
· Willa Cather
· Pat Conroy
· Stephen Crane (Red Badge of Courage)
· e.e. cummings
· W.E.B. DuBois
· Alexander Dumas
· T.S. Eliot
· Lawrence Ferlinghetti
· Benjamin Franklin
· Zane Grey
· Thomas Hardy
· E. Lynn Harris
· Nathaniel Hawthorne
· Ernest Hemingway (name sound familiar?)
· Robinson Jeffers
· Spencer Johnson
· Stephen King (name sound familiar?)
· Rudyard Kipling
· Louis L'Amour
· D.H. Lawrence
· Rod McKuen
· Marlo Morgan
· John Muir
· Anais Nin
· Thomas Paine
· Tom Peters
· Edgar Allen Poe
· Alexander Pope
· Beatrix Potter
· Ezra Pound
· Marcel Proust
· Irma Rombauer
· Carl Sandburg
· Robert Service
· George Bernard Shaw
· Percy Bysshe Shelley
· Upton Sinclair
· Gertrude Stein
· William Strunk
· Alfred Lord Tennyson
· Henry David Thoreau
· Leo Tolstoy
· Mark Twain
· Walt Whitman
· Virginia Woolf

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Want to write a children's picture book? Read this.

Excerpts from Writing Picture Books
by Ann Whitford Paul

(source: April 14, 2009 issue of Writer's Digest)

Too often...picture book stories appeal to one audience only. As a parent, many books my children loved, I couldn’t abide. I’m sorry to say I often stooped to immature behavior, hiding an offensive book under a bed or tucking it behind other books on the shelf. Sometimes it mysteriously disappeared forever.

Then there were the books that appealed to me but not to my children. Because I had control (which comes from being the grown-up reader), they had to accede to my wishes. I knew which books these were because my children never chose to share them. Instead I would foist them on their unwilling ears. They only tolerated this because the bargain was that afterwards I would read one of their favorites. And what child doesn’t want to sit a bit longer in an adult’s arms listening to a story, even one he doesn’t like, when there’s another, better one waiting to be heard?

Obviously the ideal picture book must appeal to both adults and children. The best way to ensure this is to make sure your story depth resonates with both the reader and the listener.
What makes a story have such depth?

Enduring picture books must be about something bigger than a mere incident. The story problem must explore some large theme or issue. It must have a kernel of truth about life and our world.

Writing about a little girl’s walk and the pebble she puts in her pocket, the dog that barks at her, and the neighbor who waves a greeting has no larger truth. It’s merely an incident, a vignette, a description. The writer must have an idea, or theme, in the back of her mind that she’s investigating. She must have something that will turn such a set of incidents into a story that stays with the reader long after the book is closed.

The process of building a story is like building a house. A carpenter cannot put up the walls until he builds a frame. The frame holds up the walls. The frame supports the roof. The frame determines the final shape of the house.

Your story frame determines everything—plot, characters, ending, word usage. To discover your story frame, you don’t need a hammer or a saw. You don’t need tools or expensive gadgets. There’s only one thing you require, and it’s free.

STORY QUESTIONIt behooves writers to think of a general question about the underlying issue they are trying to unravel in each new story.

Remember that little girl’s walk around the block? Let’s add something to it for the writer to investigate. Suppose the little girl is walking to her grandmother’s house at the end of the block and she is supposed to get there in ten minutes. She pauses not only to pick up a pebble, but also to smell a flower and to trace a snail’s trail. Each of those pauses takes on more importance because she must arrive at her grandmother’s within a certain time period. Perhaps the story question now might be: What happens when we pay attention to the everyday wonders of nature?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tom’s Poem from The Uni Verse

The following is one of Tom Mach’s poems from his award-winning poetry book: The Uni Verse, published by Hill Song Press

© 2007 by Tom Mach

Nothing ever rests in this busy universe
All matter is constantly in motion.
Helium fires induce the stars to sparkle,
and comets zing like flaming arrows,
but they return after a long absence
to repeat their endless flight.
Asteroids fly through the blackness of space
and make senseless, eon-long orbits.
So too do galaxies continue on their move,
while the planets within circle about
the nearest star in carousel fashion.

Does Death not even exist in space?
Do objects move because there is nothing
to slow them from the Big Bang?
No friction, no blocks to retard their journey?
or…was there even a Big Bang?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Things to Consider If You’re Writing Historical Fiction

by Tom Mach

© 2009 by Tom Mach

I enjoy both history and fiction; so naturally, my area of intense interest in writing would be historical fiction. Unfortunately, some novels that are called “historical novels” should really be called “period novels.” This is because fictional works such as Gone With the Wind, take place against a Civil War background, but there is very little factual history comingled with the story. The reader knows there’s a battle going on, but she is captivated by the intriguing conflict Scarlett O’Hara has between her desire for Ashley Wilkes and her on-again, off-again feels for Rhett Butler. A book such as The March by E. L. Doctorow is a true historical novel because it intermingles fictional and historical characters and accurately follows General Sherman and his commanders as they march to Atlanta near the close of the Civil War. My two novels, Sissy! and All Parts Together, are also “historical” in nature as they accurately describe the historical events of the times. In All Parts Together, for instance, the reader gets into the mind of John Wilkes Booth as he methodically plans the assassination of President Lincoln.

I’ve outlined below what I think are eleven important things a writer can do to create a true historical novel:

1) Visit the locale where the action takes place. (In my case, I visited Civil War battleground sites and formulated in my mind the terrain, the positions of hills and creeks, the location of camp headquarters, where the tents were located, etc. so I can have a strong image in my mind of the scene before I start writing the book.)

2) Go to museums and study the exhibits carefully.

3) Explore old cemeteries to see where you might have your characters buried.

4) Dig into old newspapers. Many libraries have these on microfiche and you can scroll to specific dates to see what was being written about certain events. Even the ads are helpful in giving you a fix on what kinds of merchandise were sold back then and for how much.

5) Talk to historians, teachers, other writers. Historical societies and similar organizations can be quite helpful in giving you a sense of reality of what may have really happened in a given scene.

6) Check out deeds, contracts, letters, wills, or other legal documents that might be related to your story.

7) Read other novels written at the time your story is set. Also read contemporary novels which cover the same time period to get a sense of how these writers wrote about that era.

8) Check out footnotes in any nonfiction books or articles relating to your story. These footnotes may lead you to other helpful sources

9) Invest in some reference books. Don’t rely on a single source for information and try to get to the original source of information if at all possible.

10) Use the internet. Google. Do some social networking on Facebook and Twitter. Get more contacts who might be of help to you.

11) Don’t be afraid to comingle fictional characters with historical ones. But be extremely careful in the language, actions, locale, and time period for your imaginary scenes. If you make a single inaccurate historical mistake—for instance, having a fictional character see Lincoln arrive at Ford’s Theater a half-hour before he actually would have gotten there—this would be fatal flaw that could turn off a reader who knows his history.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What Is “Poetry”? Why Do You Want To Write It? And in What Form?

by Tom Mach

A poem is defined as “a composition in verse, characterized by the imaginative treatment of experience and a condensed use of language that is more vivid and intense than ordinary prose.” A “verse,” on the other hand, is a “metrical composition.” That doesn’t help too much if you just arrived from planet Zorro and wanted to write a poem. Poets may disagree with me, but as far as I’m concerned, poetry is a written expression of one's personal experiences without the constraints of logical, sequenced thought as you might have in an article, essay, or story. The fact that it is so personal makes it difficult for me to judge whether a poem is “great” or “mediocre.” There is much about modern poetry I simply don't understand Even those poems published in literary magazines which have won prizes make me mutter,“What in the world is this s---!” (four-letter obscenity) It’s the same expression I have with much of modern art. Some people will stare in admiration at a canvas that looks as if someone had thrown paint against it and ordered his dog walk across it with painted sponges on its paws. I find a great deal of modern poetry is like modern art. Apparently, it holds a lot of meaning for its creator. A few will admire this “work of art” because it is supposed to be famous so they believe if they stare at it long enough, they’ll "get it." Others might really “get it” and are to be admired for being in tune with the creator’s mind. But then there are still others, like me, who don’t “get it,” and are afraid to say so because they will be thought of as being uncouth and uncivilized.

I think people write poetry for the same reason other people climb mountains: because it’s there. They realize readers won’t be crashing their door demanding to buy their poetry. Readers catching a plane aren’t going to be visiting airport book racks because they’d like nothing better than to entertain themselves with a book of obscure poetry. No, poets write poetry because there is something going off in their minds and they need to express it in words, regardless what others think of it. I am always uneasy when I am in a writers critique group where there is a mixture of prose and poetry writers. Invariably, someone will pass along her poem for us to critique, and invariably, I’m the only one in the group who dares to question what this poem means. The poet gets upset with my question and the others in the group glare at me for asking such a stupid question. I truly believe poets don't want to be honestly critiqued; I think they want to be admired for awaking their muse in some unique way.

Anyway, I did a little research on poetry forms, and came up with a total of 51. Perhaps there are more forms than these. When I was younger, I thought there were only two forms—rhyming and non-rhyming—and I had always assumed that when people talked about poems they were usually referring to the former type. But ever since Whitman came out with his Leaves of Grass, rhyming poetry fell into disfavor. Pick up any book of poetry and I guarantee that the non-rhyming type will vastly outshine the other.

Well, here are the 51 forms of poetry. In the future, I intend to get into some of these with examples of my own:

ABC Acrostic Ballad Ballade
Blank verse Bio Burlesque Canzone
Carpe diem Cinquain Classicism Couplet
Dramatic monologue Elegy Epic Epigram
Epitaph Epithalamium Free verse Ghazal
Haiku Horatian ode Iambic pentameter Idyll
Irregular ode Italian sonnet Lay Limerick
List Lyric Memoriam stanza Name
Narrative Ode Pastoral Petrarchan
Pindaric ode Quatrain Rhyme Rhyme royal
Romanticism Rondeau Senryu Sestina
Shakespearean Shape Sonnet Tanka
Terza Rima Verse Villanelle

Now it’s time for me to turn off my poetry mind and return to my prose mind. (I wonder if that side of my brain has room for both.)

---Tom Mach

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why Should Authors Twitter?

by Tom Mach

©2009 by Tom Mach

I just read an article by Sara Weinman entitled “Are Authors Who Twitter Any Fitter?” it appeared in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers magazine. She made several points that I had also pondered concerning this one question—what good is sending “tweets”, or user updates to strangers if you’re restricted to 140 characters?

Well, I’m an author, and the reason I twitter is twofold: (1) I want to let people know about new and interesting information on my blog ( and (2) I want to read about some of the things people are doing—not just about the writing profession but about non-writing events. For instance, one tweeter told me she was going to the pool but that some people called it an ocean. That statement made me think of a new way of describing the ocean if the beach is part of your real estate and you imagine the ocean is yours as well. Another tweeter told me she couldn’t concentrate on writing because her kids were taking off their clothes. Obviously, you do get some weird tweets from time to time.

Sara goes beyond my two uses of Twitter in her article. She tells us that publishing folks such as authors, book publishers, and agents are using it as a business tool. I was already aware that firms such as Random House and Doubleday are on Twitter. I’m also aware that movie producers such as MGM and Warner Bros are on it as well So too are some literary agents and a long list of novelists and poets. But I’ve wondered how I, as an author, could possibility entice a book publisher about my book or make Oprah want to invite me to her show when I’m a complete unknown and have tell these people about myself in 140 characters? Well, the answer is, you can’t. But, as Ms. Weinman, points out, you have to set up a game plan so that these people have an incentive to follow you on Twitter and perhaps get to know you better.

I did not realize, until Sara pointed it out, that a few authors are tweeting links to influential companies and people, following them with information about their book signing tours, their synopses, and other gems. I know of one author (whose name I won’t mention) who is using Facebook to do similar things. She has actually two Facebooks—one under her name and the other list as “Fans of xxxx” with the xxx being her name. If you are fan, she sends you links about her latest books, tours, etc.

I was particularly impressed with Ms. Weinman’s observations of a novelist named John Wray. Apparently, he is twittering pieces of his novel “one 140-character installment at a time” While I admit that it’s good practice to cut down on unnecessary words, I don’t think it’s possible to reduce every sentence in your novel to 140 characters or less. Mr. Wray, if you can do this, more power to you.

One of my observations about Twitter, which is the same as Sara’s, is that twittering can be a huge waste of time if you’re reading every twitter message. Much of it is irrelevant (“I got up this morning.”…”This coffee tastes terrible.”…”I guess it’s time for me to start writing my novel”…) After I read several of these meaningless twitters, I feel guilty that I’ve wasted my time. But there are always gems among twitters. I’ve seen some very interesting URLs they post that I would have missed had I not seen it on Twitter.

Plus there are those writers, like myself, who enjoy writing blogs that his followers might enjoy as well. While it would be great for me to interest Oprah on appearing on her show, I have to quit believing in Fantasy Land and continue believing in myself. Because in the end, we really are “following” ourselves, aren’t we?

---Tom Mach

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Power of Words

The Power of Words

by Tom Mach

© 2009 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.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

On Being a Shameless (& Smart) Self-Promoter

I frequently hear the following being said at writers' club meetings: "Hey, I know that I'm a shameless self-promoter." Other writers in the group laugh and then listen as a writer begins to brag about her latest book, her successful book signing, a talk she's scheduled to give, a prize she had just won. As she's whipping herself senseless with praise, the writers in the group are smiling politely but they are also strumming their fingers while they're thinking, "Damn, I can't wait until I accomplish something so I can brag about it to the rest of us like she's doing right now!"
There's nothing wrong with any of that. But when we become shameless self-promoters outside of our little circle of writing friends, we get into trouble. I learned this the hard way when I first started bragging about my first novel Sissy! I'd tell people that my book won the J Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award (who cares?) or that this is my first novel (yawn) or that I will personally autograph the book (big deal). The trick is to appeal to them directly with a challenging question (Example: What would you do if a young angel appeared at your bedside tonight? or Ever wonder how many women fought in hand-to-hand combat in the Civil War?) Questions like that tend to stop them and force them to struggle for an answer. And while they're struggling, you give them a one-sentence grabber they can't resist. (Example: People tell me that page 142 of my novel Sissy! made them cry.)
Some writers say they don't like to brag about themselves. But it's not themselves they're bragging about--it's their book. And it's not bragging if they're trying to appeal to the emotions and curiosity of a potential readers. Besides, if you don't talk about your own book, who will?
Yes, we writers are shameless self-promoters and proud of it--especially when you think of folks like John Grisham, Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts, or Ken Follett. We follow a long line of self-promoters!
--Tom Mach

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Farewell to James Houston--author and friend

James Houston, novelist and essayist, died on April 16, 2009 at his home in Santa Cruz. He was 75 when he passed away.
I first met Jim in February, 1980, when he spoke to the Peninsula Branch of the California Writer's Club, of which I was a member. He and his wife, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houson, wrote a book called Farewell to Manzanar, and it was a true story of Jeanne's experience as a seven-year-old when her family was forced to live in an internment camp, as did ten thousand other Japanese Americans. Jim was friendly and approachable to all of us and in the copy of his book that I bought, he inscribed: "For Tom Mach--All the best to a fellow writer" when he signed it.
This book was later made into a movie and helped launch his writing career to new heights Since then he went on to write eight more novels, but I was out of touch with him for several years as my career took me to other places. But I caught up with him again in September of 2006, when he talked at the Steinbeck Center to the California Writers Club about his newest novel at the time entitled Snow Mountain Passage about the ill-fated Donner Party. He told me he remembered me after all those years and this time he inscribed in my copy of his book: "How Great To Meet Again!"
I've always enjoyed meeting authors who, no matter how famous they are, remain approachable and are always eager to help other writers who haven't reached that level.
Goodbye, Mr. Houston. I and the literary world will miss you!
---Tom Mach

Friday, April 17, 2009

Blogs, Books and the Irony of Short

(this was written by Seth Godin in his blog of April 17, 2009)

Blogs have eliminated the reason for most business books to exist. If you can say it in three blog posts and reach more people, then waiting a year and putting in all that effort seems sort of pointless. The chances that your effort will be rewarded with income in proportion to the time you put in are pretty low.

This has raised the bar for what it takes to write a decent business book. I really enjoyed The Peter Principle years ago, but I think we can all agree that today it would be better as a blog.

The best non-fiction books today either deliver a complex message that takes more space and attention than a short series of blog posts can deliver, or they are convenient packages to spread an idea from person to person in a more powerful way than an emailed link can. Books can take their time and build an argument, while blog posts are constantly fighting the reader's ability and desire to click away.

The irony? The market demands that you summarize your book in a blog post. We're hesitant to buy a book (which is a far better value than just about any form of media) if we don't think we're going to like it. I guess that's built in from childhood, cause you get in trouble if you don't finish a book, and who wants to finish a book they don't like?

At least once a week, someone emails me a lousy review someone did of a summary of one of my books. Not the book, but what they thought the book was about based on a blog post summary of the book.

Critics and shoppers are doing the same thing about your spa, mp3 player and insurance company. We now review the blog post version of it, not the actual experience. "I heard the service at this restaurant was lousy." How's that for condensing four years of hard work and training into a sentence?

And then we complain when the long version doesn't pack enough punch, seems too short and isn't transcendent enough for those that persevere.

This is irony (we say we want long and deep and rich but we also insist that it be condensed to a sentence) so it's not clear what you should do about it as a marketer, other than to accept that it's going on.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

(mis)Quote of the Day

"How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring BLOG!"

--Emily Dickinson ?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Analogy of Novel Writing to House Building

(copyright 2009 by Tom Mach)

I've never built a house, but I know the basics needed for doing so. Obviously, one starts with a foundation. This involves ground preparation, being sure you have adequate drainage, etc. Frames must be carefully constructed, wallboard added, then walls, windows, ceilings, and roof--all the while doing the other things that make a building a house, such as putting in the wiring and plumbing and eaves and the exterior and the roof. The point is there is a lot of planning in building a house.

Same thing is true with writing a novel. Just as an architect has a vision prior to building a house, so too does a writing in crafting a novel. The builder takes plans from an architect and makes plans for his building This is also true with a novelist, who moves his "vision" into actuality by planning his story, all the while working from his vision--and a vision not just from his plot but also (and especially) from his characters. The basic story line is his foundation, the time and place is his floor, the walls his scenes, the windows the point of view (POV) of each of his characters (if he's writing omnisciently) or one huge window (if he's writing from a single person's POV). The dialgoue is the entire atmosphere and feel of the house (are you comfortable with it? does it change from room to room?) and the entire story culminates in a climax (or roof of the house), so that the ending satisfies the authors (ie., the look of the house pleases the builder) and hopefully, the entire book will satisfy a reader (ie, the house will find a buyer who loves it).

When I'm doing a book signing, someone eventually comes up to me and tells me she has a great idea for a novel and is enthusiastic about it...but has never written it. That's sad because ideas that stay in your head don't make a novelist, just as an idea for a house doesn't make an architect. Write a novel because you absolutely MUST write it. It's the same thing with mountain climbers They climb the mountain because the MUST climb it

I always tell my friends that "writing a novel is the ultimate trip." Vacations are great, but writing novels that spill out the inner workings of your soul are even greater.

Tom Mach

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The following article appeared in the April 9, 2009 issue of Writing Forward

How Poetry Writing Improves All Other Writing
by Melissa Donovan

In the world of writing, one form stands out as different from all the rest: poetry.

Poetry writing is not bound by the chains of sentence and paragraph structures, context, or even grammar.

In the magical world of poetry, you can throw all the rules out the window and create a piece of art, something that is entirely unique.

That doesn’t mean writing poetry is creatively easy. It can be much more difficult to make a poem than it is to write an essay or piece of fiction. There’s so much creative space, and without any limitations whatsoever, it can be overwhelming.

Yet poetry writing brings a great bounty of writerly skills and tools, and many of these will spill over into other writing forms, sprinkling them with just a little of the magic that is poetry. And while poetry might not be your favorite form of writing, reading poetry, working through some basic poetry writing exercises, and engaging in poetry writing, even just a little bit, will improve your overall writing skills.

What sets poetry apart from other types of writing? What is it about poetry, beyond the fact that it has less constraints, that actually makes someone a better writer in all areas, rather than just a better poet?

Mindful Imagery

While other creative writing forms may use vivid imagery to create pictures in the reader’s mind, no other form comes close to what can be achieved with imagery in poetry writing.
Most writing forms attempt to explain something - a scene, a situation, an idea, a set of instructions, an experience. Poetry doesn’t bother to explain. It shows. It paints a picture, takes a snapshot, and then pulls you into it.

In a poetry workshop, you will hear this chant over and over: show, don’t tell. When you master the art of showing readers a scene through imagery, you can easily pull it into your other writing, creating work that is alive in a reader’s mind.

Emotions and Language

Of course, language is essential to all types of writing, but in poetry, words must be plucked carefully and with great consideration. Poetry writing will launch you into the lexicon, headfirst and spinning.

In fiction, readers connect emotionally with characters. We get to know them, understand them, and come to relate to them or even think of them as our own personal friends (or enemies).

In poetry, there are rarely characters, so instead of using the emotional connection forged between people, a writer must harness emotional language and grip the reader’s heart through scenes, ideas, and images that make readers feel. This is achieved by learning how to select emotionally charged language.

Physical Rhythm

A poet must be constantly aware of meter and rhythm. Poems and song lyrics are often compared, confused, and intermingled, and with good reason. Both poetry and music must pay attention to cadence and melody.

Think about how you feel when you hear a particular piece of music. You tap your feet, shake your hips, bang your head. Our bodies respond physically to music.

Through poetry writing comes a natural ability to marry musicality with language. When this musicality, this rhythm, is infused in other forms of writing, readers feel it in their bones and muscles. They will have a physical reaction.

Poetry Writing

Writing is about connecting with readers. And poetry writing helps you develop skills for connecting with readers mentally (imagery), emotionally (language), and physically (rhythm).
Suddenly, your fiction comes alive with scenes that make people see. Your essays are woven with words that make people feel. And your blog posts make people want to jump out of their seats and start dancing.

It’s this use of imagery, language, and rhythm that keep readers turning pages, anxious to find out what they’ll experience next.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sounds of Lawrence


Tom Mach

(This poem was winner in the
Ad Astra #2 Poetry Contest)

Voices are ghosts too,
still here to haunt us.
Quantrill’s order to
burn the Eldridge
are embedded in stone
and a boy’s scream
from a flying bullet
may be hidden in a
Watkins Museum rifle.
Frazier Hall holds the words
Of Susan Anthony’s speech
While the applause for
Jane Addams and her talk
at the Bowersock Theater
are now buried somewhere
in the mortar of Liberty Hall.
The Pinckney School playground
holds the frustrated tears of a youngster
named Langston Hughes
and somewhere in the soil
of a Lawrence cemetery
are more voices, past and future…
some who have spoken
and some who have yet to speak.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


I don't know the original source of this humor, so my apologies to the person who put these together...

Q. What kind of man was Boaz before he married Ruth?
A. Ruthless.

Q. What do they call pastors in Germany ?
A. German Shepherds.

Q. Who was the greatest financier in the Bible?
A. Noah He was floating his stock while everyone else was in liquidation.

Q. Who was the greatest female financier in the Bible?
A. Pharaoh's daughter. She went down to the bank of the Nile and drew out a Little prophet.

Q. What kind of motor vehicles are in the Bible?
A. Jehovah drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden in a Fury. David's Triumph was heard throughout the land. Also, probably a Honda, because the apostles were all in one Accord.

Q.. Who was the greatest comedian in the Bible?
A. Samson. He brought the house down.

Q. What excuse did Adam give to his children as to why he no longer lived in in Eden ?
A. Your mother ate us out of house and home.

Q. Which servant of God was the most flagrant lawbreaker in the Bible?
A.. Moses. He broke all 10 commandments at once.

Q. Which area of Palestine was especially wealthy? A. The area around Jordan . The banks were always overflowing.

Q. Who is the greatest babysitter mentioned in the Bible?
A. David He rocked Goliath to a very deep sleep.

Q. Which Bible character had no parents?
A. Joshua, son of Nun.

Q. Why didn't they play cards on the Ark ?
A. Because Noah was standing on the deck. ( Groan.)

PS... Did you know it's a sin for a woman to make coffee?
Yup, it's in the Bible. It says . . 'He-brews'

Friends are God's way of taking care of us.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Poems I've written


I thought I'd start things off by showing you a poem I've just created about Kansas towns. If you have any comments to make about it, I would greatly appreciate hearing from you. Here it is:

Kansas Towns As Described by Google Earth

by Tom Mach

The Chevy Cobalt glides
through the innards of Lawrence,
like a stalker as it espies quiet houses
with its 360-degree camera
rotating on the car roof as it moves
along Rhode Island, going past
overhangs of hickories and spruce,
eating visual data for its digital map.
It doesn’t see the Quantrill raiders
hoofing their way toward their prize,
or tired farmers who milked their cows
south of the town’s South Park.
No, the Cobalt travels on, guided
by its quest to see even beyond Lawrence,
to move to Tecumseh on the turnpike,
ignoring the archaic images of dusty roads
ridden by frustrated Free Staters
who left a hostile Lecompton.
The Cobalt hustles past noisy semis
and SUVs pushing past the 70 limit.
Not blazing an Oregon Trail westward,
the Cobalt is trailblazing its way on
concrete pressed by billions of prior wheels,
exploring while ignoring the Topeka capital,
not even stopping to see a John Brown likeness;
not even pausing in Wichita to imagine
its booming aircraft industry;
not even stopping in Dodge City and
smelling the labor of buffalo hunters.
Its mission is to take photos of streets and
avenues and lanes and parks and buildings
so that a young teenager can Google Earth
and tell his mother he’s seen Kansas towns
when he really hasn’t.