Thank you so very much for announcing my new book on your blog, Sally Cronin! That means a lot to me! I really appreciate all your help and support.
Welcome to the round up of posts you might have missed during the week here on Smorgasbord. Nothing new to report on the home front as we face another month in full lock down. Hopefully by the better weather (usually) appears in May we will be able to get out and about a little more. […]
Bethany Henry published a post about six important rules for retelling classic stories. Thanks for your advice, Bethany!
on Fiction University:
I love retellings of fairy tales and classic stories. They can be filled with adventure, love, and magic that is both familiar and fun. When done well, these retellings can resonate with us deeply and be wildly entertaining—the base of the original story providing extra background that enriches the experience.
However, not all retellings are created equal.
There is a tricky balance in recreating a classic story in a new way. Readers have expectations and high standards for stories they may already love. Too many changes to the story and the reader will feel tricked or confused. Too few changes and the reader is bored.
And of course the story we tell needs to be good.
Whether you’re inspired by Shakespeare, Jane Austin, or Grimm’s fairy tales, here are some simple rules to guide us in writing great retellings.
Roz Morris provides us with an excellent article on how to write a memoir about difficult times. Thank you very much for this great post, Roz!
I’ve had this question from Julia.
I would like to write a nonfictional account of my experience as a caregiver of my 80-year-old mum during lockdown. I’ve never done any creative writing. Where do I start? A diary, a memoir? I’ve been through a lot of struggle and want to put that on paper. Maybe someday I will publish it to share my experience with people facing the same difficulties.
First, Julia, capture the raw material. Start with a diary. Write it as often as possible, before you make any decisions about what to do with it.
How to write the diary
You might be self-conscious to begin with. You might worry about who will read it and what they’ll get from it. Forget that for now.
You won’t publish this diary. It’s notes that you will eventually use to create a book. So for now, it’s you and your thoughts, talking privately to a page or a recording app – whatever is comfortable.
Keep it simple. Just write what you did today. Then write whether that was usual or unusual, and how. If it’s usual, for how long has it been usual? Write how that made you feel, what was difficult and what was a pleasure, and why. Write what you think tomorrow will be like. Or next week. Write your hopes and pleasures and fears.
This is an excellent post with recommendations about writing crime. Thank you so much for your article, Connie.
I recently began reading a murder mystery where the author used a mushroom to kill the first victim. That’s where this book fell apart—the idea was good, but the facts and execution weren’t.
Using a mushroom stroganoff to poison him was a poor choice because fungi is an undependable weapon unless you are an expert. Also, individually, one mushroom may be more or less poisonous than another of the same kind, rather like people are. Judging how many one would need to kill a three-hundred-pound man takes more thought than I am capable of plotting out.
Also, it was stroganoff, which is basically beef and mushrooms in a sour cream sauce. This author danced over the fact that serving the food at this dinner party would have been a tactical nightmare. It would have been nearly impossible to ensure the intended victim got the poison mushrooms and no one else did, which is how this murder was written.
Agatha Christie knew that and regularly poisoned entire dinner parties, literarily speaking. Her murderers made everyone at the table sick but only the intended victim actually died.
This particular mystery was set in Scotland, and I don’t know how poisonous their mushrooms are, but I think that logic would hold true there as well as it does here in the Pacific Northwest.
If I hadn’t been on several nature walks with Ellen King Rice, a wildlife biologist and amateur mycologist who writes well-plotted mushroom thrillers, I would have accepted the slightly contrived fatal dinner as written and focused on the other failings of this novel.
This experience reinforced my belief that readers are often more knowledgeable than we authors are. E-readers can do the research just by highlighting the word and hitting search.
Thank you very much, Janice Hardy, for your recommendations on our characters. We really appreciate it!
on Fiction University:
Sometimes we just need a little help to create a memorable character.
Some writers develop incredibly detailed characters before they ever start a story.
I am not one of those writers.
I do the bare minimum necessary to create a character, then I throw them into my story and see what they do. By the time I’ve written the first draft, I know who they are and can revise accordingly.
Although I’ve written this way for decades, I’m not sure I’d recommend it. It’s an interesting tactic, but it has left me with a lot of revising I wouldn’t have needed if I’d done a bit more character work before I started writing.
Lately, I’ve wondered if I should change my process, or at the very least, add another layer of character creation at the start. Because I’ve always said that characters drive the plot, and I’m a plot-driven writer, so my process is missing a critical aspect when I think about it from that perspective.
Apparently not even traditionally published authors are safe from crooks. Victoria Strauss on her ‘Writer’s Beware’ blog describes one particular case on her blog. Please read it and be careful. Thank you.
Earlier this month, the book industry website Publishers Marketplace announced that Little, Brown would be publishing “Re-Entry,” a novel by James Hannaham about a transgender woman paroled from a men’s prison. The book would be edited by Ben George.
Two days later, Mr. Hannaham got an email from Mr. George, asking him to send the latest draft of his manuscript. The email came to an address on Mr. Hannaham’s website that he rarely uses, so he opened up his usual account, attached the document, typed in Mr. George’s email address and a little note, and hit send.
“Then Ben called me,” Mr. Hannaham said, “to say, ‘That wasn’t me.’”
Mr. Hannaham was just one of countless targets in a mysterious international phishing scam that has been tricking writers, editors, agents and anyone in their orbit into sharing unpublished book manuscripts. It isn’t clear who the thief or thieves are, or even how they might profit from the scheme. High-profile authors like Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan have been targeted, along with celebrities like Ethan Hawke. But short story collections and works by little-known debut writers have been attacked as well, even though they would have no obvious value on the black market.
Lately, while reading, I noticed my thoughts often wandered away, even though the story is thrilling and I love the characters. I considered myself a bit tired and prepared a ‘brain-boost’ in form of a cup of coffee.
Then I started thinking: I think I read somewhere, that the impact of caffeine on our organism is more illusional than physical. Finally, I started to do some research. After all, we writers are mostly working with our brains! And I consider that our ‘most important’ tool for our work – besides the fingers, computers, pen and paper, and a few other things, of course.
I’m not someone who likes to feed myself lab-produced over-the-counter vitamins and supplements. I try to eat balanced and healthy. But I tried to find out, what other nutrients my brain needs to keep focused. That’s what I found:
Coffee indeed has a positive impact on our brain. Caffeine and antioxidants help our brain in several ways:
Caffeine blocks adenosine, a chemical messenger that makes us sleepy and improves our mood. Also, it boosts our concentration, whether drank in the morning or several cups during the day.
I read about a suspicion that drinking coffee over the long term could reduce the risk of neurological diseases, for example, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
It seems science has proven blueberries help protect the brain from oxidative stress and can reduce the effects of age-related conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Also, the study showed that a diet rich in blueberries significantly improved learning capacity and motor skills. Blueberries should be eaten daily.
Broccoli contains strong plant compounds, including antioxidants, and is also high in vitamin K. That vitamin is essential for forming sphingolipids, which can be found in our brain cells.
It was proven that an extra vitamin K intake leads to better memory.
4. Wild salmon.
It seems deep-water fish, such as salmon, are rich in Omega3 essential fatty acids, which are essential for brain function. Other Omega3 rich fish are sardines and herring. It is recommended to include fish in your diet two to three times a week.
5. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are great vitamin E sources. It’s recommended to eat them daily, at least an ounce of a mix of walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews peanuts, sunflower, and sesame seeds. If you’re on a sodium-restricted diet, buy them unsalted. – Also very helpful are pumpkin seeds who contain a high value of Magnesium, Zinc, Copper, and Iron.
Apparently, avocados are almost as good as blueberries when it comes to improving the health of our brains. Of course, avocado is a fatty fruit, but it contains a particular fat that helps to improve a healthy blood flow. A healthy blood flow means, a healthy brain, and it can contribute to lower blood pressure.
7. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate has strong antioxidant properties and contains several natural stimulants, including caffeine, which improves focus and concentration. Also, chocolate stimulates the production of endorphins, which helps to lift our mood. Still, as good as it sounds, this one has to be enjoyed in moderation. Less is more when it comes to dark chocolate. It does come with a few side effects.
Thanks so much Erica Verrillo about once again, informing us about the writing contest in December. We are very grateful for all your hard work.
on Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity:
This December there are more than four dozen writing contests calling for every genre and form, from poetry, to creative nonfiction, to completed novels. Prizes range from $45,000 to publication. None charge entry fees.
Some of these contests have age and geographical restrictions, so read the instructions carefully.
Thank you, David Kudler, for all the information about the Audiobook Return Fiasco. We really appreciate it!
on The Book Designer:
Perhaps you have seen grumbling on social media and across the internet about #Audiblegate and Audible’s return policy. In case you haven’t been following the controversy, let me tell you what it’s about – and why all independent publishers should care.
What’s happening is that Audible, the dominant retailer of audiobooks in the US, has been actively encouraging their customers to return their audiobooks in exchange for newaudiobooks. The reader/listener gets a new book at no cost. No questions asked, regardless of how much of the first book they listened to (even if they finished it), up to a year after they purchased it. Sounds great, right?
The problem is that when the first book gets returned, the royalties earned by the narrator, producer, and author of that book get pulled back as well. So the listener gets to enjoy our work — but we don’t get paid.