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Friday, January 27, 2012

Debut Novels

Over the past year I made it a point to read a debut or two a month. I wanted to see what's selling; what publishers like; what readers want. Sadly, I didn't finish many of them. If you know me, you know I rarely put a book down; I keep plowing through it, trusting that it will pick up at some point in time like the now famous, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson and it did about 50% of the way through. I focused on debut novels critiqued in "Book Page," "Publisher's Weekly," several publishers I follow online, etc. Granted some of the critiques were selfish promotion, but I figured if the big people thought enough to publish it and/or give a little space to a write-up, it had to have a little credence. I was wrong.

There's several ways to look at my experience: (1) I don't have a clue what a good book is, (2) I should give up writing because I'll never be published, (3) I don't understand the "new" market, (4) My choices were poor, (5) Make up your own to fill in here. I refuse to accept any of those as too many best sellers have been loved by me and millions of others, and I read upwards of five books a week (yes, that is right) so I have a huge database of reading from which to choose. I'm partial to historical fiction, but I also read piles of graphic mysteries, cozy mysteries, action/thrillers, biographies, religious nonfiction, literary masterpieces I missed somewhere in my education, and a smidge of paranormal and sci-fi. I'm as qualified as the next woman - maybe more - to pass judgment on a book, and I'm telling you a lot of debut novels in the past two years aren't worth the paper they're printed on.

I may not be writing masterpieces, but I am not giving up. I do not believe that readers are looking for just any old thing to read (well, maybe if you're stuck in the doctor's office for several hours and bored out of your gourd, you might turn to whatever's at hand.) I've read several self-published books in this same time period, and with the exception of some editing and proofing issues I had with a few of them, they were good reads. Maybe writers are learning important lessons with the changes in our industry. I see in my non-biased but not double-blind study that small publishing houses (more cottages) have figured it out. Hopefully, the big ones will too.

I got this off Jane Friedman's post on Facebook this morning and it reflects some of what I'm saying.

If I can’t get a deal soon, I’m self-publishing.

I just want to get my book published.

Quality is subjective, and I don’t need a professional editor.

I just need someone to really pay attention.

[x] isn’t relevant any more.

Jane Friedman, Editorial Director for Writers Digest

Here's a salute to succinct, well-thought-out written material that hooks our interest, makes us laugh, and scares us silly.


Monday, January 23, 2012

MAC Dear Santa Winner

Please send the authors in the Dear Santa contest your comments. They would like to hear from you and so would I. A little encouragement goes a long way.

Admissions have been making their way to my inbox for the January contest. Check out the guidelines on the left side of this page and get your piece in in. You have nine more days to submit.

Terry Rozum won second place for her humorous piece in my Dear Santa Contest. Terry is a humorist disguised as a social worker. When not writing, she works to become the crazy cat lady that lives in the corner house and scares the neighborhood kids. So far, she has the house and the cat down pat! She is a native South Alabamian who loves to write short stories using the local geography and culture as her canvas. Her latest writing adventure is a short story incorporating whatever she sees on the side of the bayway as she drives the Alabama Autobahn to work daily. Thus far she's seen a back door from a light green small car, several bunches of fresh turnips and a lot of Baldwin County sod. Never fear, she will keep highly vigilant.

Dear Santa,

Regretfully, we find that we can no longer insure your sleigh and reindeer under new guidelines requiring believable transportation and proof of maintenance. Unfortunately, not only does your sleigh not have a Kelly's Blue Book value but your veterinarian documentation shows that you have not kept up with traditional working animal vaccinations and check-ups.

Should you find that your circumstances change in the future, please do not hesitate to resubmit your application for consideration. Until such time, might we suggest you find a more traditional mode of transportation such as a Jetson Pooter Scooter?

Acme Insurance Company

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

hurry up

I have to hurry up and get this posted -- my crack internet provider keeps going down.

I'll probably be absent for a few days; just a few, I hope. The family crises keep on coming and my thoughts are not on writing. I know I am not alone in this kind of thing. Several friends are enduring family crises of their own. I think it's time to ask for a re-start of 2012 on a better note. All in favor, say aye!

I did want to pass along some tidbits of writerly info. The "Chicago Manual of Style" -- THE writers' source for style -- has another update, but there are highlights of the changes on the following website . . .

Purdue University's OWL site also references the 16th edition of "Chicago"

I like the online accessibility because it means I don't have to leave the computer to look up a question.

And speaking of not leaving the computer: That's probably not a good idea. I know a writer that tells stories full of wonderful, well-developed characters that draw the reader in, and she doesn't vegetate in front of the computer screen. She's a member of several writers' groups, critique groups, is active in her church and does tons of volunteer work. She is a keen observer of human behavior and gets a lot of her writerly inspiration via her lifestyle. So, the lesson is, get out there and mingle. Add personal observation and interaction to your work study and your characters are sure to come alive.

Okay. I need to get this posted while I still have a connection. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.


Friday, January 13, 2012

MAC Winners for Dear Santa

As promised, I'm posting two of the other winners of the MAC contest held in December. Congratulations to Susan and Mary.

1st Prize Historical Fiction went to Susan Beck Cobb. Susan's piece is indicative of the memories that bubble within us at Christmas and slide us back to our childhoods.
Susan was born and raised in Semmes, AL. She is a registered medical assistant who spends her free time studying genealogy and her family's history. Never at a loss for something to do, Susan loves photography, music, and writing. She has two self-published novels, She Walks the Night Winds & Murder in Moffettville. Susan is a member of Mobile Writers Guild and the Greenleaf Writers Group.

Dear Santa,

I went to bed last night thinking about what I wanted for Christmas. I thought of so many things, even made a list, but then threw it away because we really do not have the money to buy them. I awoke to the sounds of Mama in the kitchen, making biscuits and frying bacon. As I lay here listening to Mama, and smelling those wonderful aromas, I realize you have given me the greatest gift of all, a memory from my childhood. Mama has been gone for eleven years, but this morning, she is here.

Thank you,

Second Prize Historical is a poem by Mary Ivy. For those on the other side of 50, Mary's poem rings a poignant note filled with warm memories of a childhood treasure and the hope generations to come. Mary has lived in Mobile, AL most of her life. She has a degree in landscape design and is an avid reader. Mary says, "If you laid all the books I have read end to end they just might circle the globe." She particularly likes the classics with an all time favorite, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. An accomplished artist, she paints portraits and murals. She has three children and has always dreamed of being a published writer. She is a member of the Greenleaf Writers Group.

Dear Santa,

The years have gone by swiftly.
The candle is almost spent.
The past is an echo in my mind
Of laughter, and joyful bent.

Yet my heart still thrills to hear
Voices raised in cheerful measure.
The sound of sleigh bells passing
Fills me with quiet pleasure.

I sit near the fire in silent reverie
Before the storm of kinfolk breaks,
Watching outside my parlor window,
Patterns of falling snowflakes.

While in reflective mood Santa,
I am writing one last letter to send.
I have not forgot, nor will I,
My childhood’s greatest friend.

I hope you are enjoying these submissions as much as I am. Mary's is the first one to come in for January's contest, so get those cards and letters on their way. Mahala

Monday, January 9, 2012

Changing publishing world

I think all of us know that the publishing industry is in a state of flux. Economics has a lot to do with the changes--$26 or more dollars takes a chunk out of a reader's precious disposable income. In this market of shrinking sales, new-to-the-market writers face daunting odds when trying to secure an agent or publishing contract, but so, too, do established writers. Another factor affecting paper/ink publishing is the exponential growth of hand-held electronics. Enter the Ebook and self-publishing.

Gone (pretty much) are the days when publishing houses had a large budget for advertising to support book sales. Today, writers have to hit all these bases on their own. Established writers are their own name-brand, a corporation with multiple products. In addition to hardcovers, paperbacks, and Ebooks, they are heavy into marketing: newsletters, blogging (their own and as guests), websites, TV ads (have you seen James Patterson's?) and even souvenir items. These writers also take their out-of-print books and re-issue them in Amazon's Kindle format and Barnes & Noble's Nook. Granted, downloads range in price from 99 cents to $9.99 and the writer's share can be either 35 or 70 percent, but the Ebook stores are accessible to readers worldwide. Now there's a market!

Not surprising, the Ebook industry has spawned yet another category of how-to--the how to self-publish and how to convert your manuscript to the required E-format. As with paper/ink publishers, there is a definite formatting requirement. All of this requires a commitment of time and some skill. There will be some trial and error, but it is do-able.

Am I the expert on this? Nope. I am, however, actively investigating. There are multiple websites that offer information, some free, some for sale. I have a passion for writing, but I'm not one who'll advance big bucks to see my name in print. Due-Diligence is what is needed here.

Okay, I'm off to continue my research. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.


P.S. Congratulations to Mahala's winners!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

MAC Dear Santa Contest Winners

I quickly realized as I read the contest entries that I should have given sub-categories. Entries covered the age gamut from told-by-a-child to end-of-life memories. Humor was very big and animal tales came in third in overall numbers. Over the next few weeks, I'll post the winning pieces plus a few others that were particularly moving, funny, or touched my heart. I think the thing I was particularly pleased about is the view of our culture that the pieces brought to life.

The Overall Winner is Joe Davis with a piece of prose that captures the essence of childhood innocence and the current financial climate in the U.S. A retired English teacher who lives in Bay Minette, Alabama, Joe researches and writes articles for the Mobile Genealogical Society's Deep South Genealogical Quarterly. He also writes family histories. As with most creative people, Joe’s interests include many areas in the arts: writing music, researching family history, and writing essays and poetry. He is a member of the Jamestowne Society, Clarke County Historical Society, Mobile Genealogical Society, and Greenleaf Writers' Group.

Dear Santa,
I won't be at Granny's house this Christmas. Daddy said we need to start our own Christmas traditions by staying home this year. Don't leave my presents at Granny's house. Bring them to 109 South Georgia Street in Mobile. You have never been there before. You can't come down the chimley cause the fireplace is closed off. Use the front door. The key is under the blue flower pot. I'll tell Buster not to bark at you cause Daddy will get his gun and run downstairs.
And Santa, please bring Daddy a job.

First Prize Humor goes to Chris Cox. Chis is famous among Mobile writers for his dry wit and satirical writing. His dear John letter is an A+ example of both. Chris has a story published in Dreamspell Nightmares II called "Death Takes Another Holiday." A founding member of the Mobile Writers Guild, Chris served on the board for many years. He works for the Mobile Public Library and leads the Classics Revisited book group.

Dear Santa,
It’s Over. You know this has been a long time coming. I have always tried to understand your fanatical need to spread joy throughout the world, but I just wished on occasion you could have left a little ‘ho ho ho’ at the North Pole. I know this may hurt you, but after our divorce is final, I’m marrying Bobo the Elf. I know he’s only three feet tall, but at least he understands my needs. I’m sorry. You’ll hear from my attorney shortly.
Mrs. Jessica Claus
P.S. I hope this doesn’t mean I won’t get that Lady Bic in my stocking this year, I could really use it.

Next week, I'll post two more winners from the contest. I hope you enjoy these pieces and it encourages you to participate in the current and future contests. Since I don't want to tie anyone's thoughts, I'm not breaking the contests into categories up front. Mahala

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I'm baa-ack

Okay, so I'm maybe a day late, but I am back at the site. I am trying to keep my resolutions, though I'm sure the proper word is goals. I've seen several writers use that expression, "goals," and perhaps it does make one more focused. Goals seem to confer on one the need for more determination to succeed.

I haven't written anything in some time, though I still "think" about doing so. I just don't have a "need" to write just yet. My mind is elsewhere. I've done some editing for friends and that is satisfying (it's always easier to edit someone's work than it is to create it--sigh). I did finish the "Jane Eyre" novel and started reading a Robert Parker "Jesse Stone" story, but my son swiped the book off my table the other night. I'll have to choose another out of the stack of now fourteen that I have in my bedroom.

I recently read an essay on the "Savvy Authors" website (December 30 issue) about writers showing versus telling (ie., telling uses linking verbs and adjectives). At one point, author Steve Liskow uses a scene from "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzerald to illustrate the idea. When Fitzgerald describes the Buchanans' house: "the lawn started at the beach and RAN up the hill, JUMPED over sundials and bird baths, and CLIMBED up the side of the house as ivy." The reader is able to imagine the grandeur of the yard. Steve writes that "the active verbs change a static landscape into an event." And I agree. . . . Thus ends the cj mini lesson for today.

The year 2011 did not have a merry ending and the new year 2012 did not have a happy beginning for many in my family -- some in emergency rooms, others being hospitalized, and saddest of all, my dear cousin in Texas did not survive her bouts with cancer. Yes, that was plural. This is one time that words fail me.

You all guys keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Contest

The first MAC is over and the acronym, which no one guessed, comes from my initials, but in this case stands for Mahala's Assorted Contests as in,there will be more to come as in January's MAC starts today. The words January and Hangover must be in your 100 words or less submission which is due on or before January 31, 2012 at midnoc to be exact. As for the prize - a copy of the newly released Collected Words: From Writers of the Southern Coast published by Baldwin Writers Group and a 20% off coupon for editing or writing work done for you by yours truly.

The winners of the inaugural contest in December will be announced by the end of the week. Best of Luck to all of you! You rack up enough of these you'll get a free edit/write job.