Category Archives: Guest Posts

The Nature of Poetry by Dave Schneider

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Many people have defined poetry in different ways. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as ‘an arrangement of words in verse; especially in rhythmical composition, sometimes rhymed, expressing facts, ideas, or emotions in a style more concentrated, imaginative and powerful than that of ordinary speech; some poems are in meter, some in free verse.’ If I may paraphrase the others, poetry is the projection of emotion and experience to the reader through theme, imagery, rhythm, and form in finely compressed language. The poet uses distinct imagery, both literal and figurative, supplemented by the rhythmic arrangement of words and phrases in a specifically designed form to convey feelings and ideas to the reader. Like a snapshot photograph, a poem captures a moment of experience in words that can be shared with others through eternity.

What is the difference between prose and poetry?

The most important difference is the line structure. In prose, the lines run to the margins of the page and carry over to the next until they form a complete paragraph. In poetry, each line is specifically designed based on the poet’s intended effect. Poetry is also distinguished by vivid imagery, a lyrical rhythm that supports the theme, and compact language to create an intensity that evokes an emotional reaction from the reader.

Why should you write poetry?

First, let’s be clear. If you’re seeking wealth and fame, poetry is probably not the place for you. The market is very limited, and the question of quality is quite subjective, so your chances of selling enough to make a living are very slim. If you would like to express yourself in a community of people who enjoy doing the same thing, the world of poetry is the perfect place for you.

Poetry is an entertaining form of relaxing recreation. Searching for just the right words to craft a line of poetry is akin to an artist mixing pigments on the palette to achieve precisely the right hue of color for a painting.

Poetry can be a therapeutic outlet for pent-up emotions. Expressing those feelings in words on paper will help you deal with them in a manner that will promote better understanding.

Poetry is an effective means of expanding your repertoire of skills by training writers of all persuasions to be more aware of the intricacies of the language they use. The compact nature of poetry forces the writer to trim and compress the language for maximum effect in expressing the very essence of an idea.

You shouldn’t worry about whether or not you ‘are good enough’ or ‘have what it takes.’ Poetry is more about the journey than the end result.

What do you need to write poetry?

As with all kinds of writing, the first and most important thing you need to write poetry is the commitment to sit down and do it. Ideally, that will start with designating a specific place and time for your writing. The place can be as simple as a place to sit and a flat surface to write on. The time will depend upon the demands of your daily routine. If you are truly committed to writing, you will find some space in that routine for your writing, whether it be rising an hour early for a morning session or in the evening after the kids are tucked into bed. Being retired, I usually try to get all my chores and errands done in the morning to free up my afternoon for writing. I also carry a pad and pen with me to capture any random moments that may come available, such as in the waiting room of a doctor’s office.

Poet Dave SchneiderAfter many years of writing to the beat of someone else’s drum, Dave Schneider unchained his Muse and started traveling a more creative path. When the ghost of Mr. Poe’s raven whispered in his ear, he stepped through the portal into the realm of phantasmic tales. Pushing his way past the cobwebs in the vestibule of his imagination, he proceeded down a labyrinth of deliciously dark dreamscapes, where he encountered the serpent of writing addiction. The beast sank its fangs into his consciousness, and a ravenous passion for words started coursing through his veins.

Since then, he has been writing and teaching poetry on the Writing.Com website. His poems have been published in several small press publications, and he has written articles and essays for a local magazine. In addition to his professorial duties at The Poet’s Place on Writing.Com, he is the chief instigator for The Writers’ Nest at Sangaree in Summerville, SC.

Dave’s career has progressed through a series of evolutionary phases along a meandering trail of enchanting exploration. These ingredients have produced the concoction of his writing. He plans to continue sampling different cuisines as he ventures down new avenues as well as a few less traveled pathways.

Reprints by D.H. Aire

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Well, reprints have been on my mind lately. You see, once you publish a story in a magazine or anthology, you have sold either your First North American Serial Rights or First World publication rights (based on the contract you sign). If that magazine paid 8 cents a word or even 2 cents a word, or you sold the story for exposure, once the rights to your story have reverted, you can sell your story again; however, that’s only if the next market accepts reprints. If that’s the case, the industry standard is you’ll be paid a penny a word for reprints, though, I have started to see some offer 2 cents a word recently (competition in the marketplace in action, I guess).

A few months ago, there was a call from an online SF magazine seeking only reprints. I submitted one of my old stories and they accepted it – at a penny a word. The contract stated there may also be an anthology, and in that case, the story would earn a bit more. Being able to sell a reprint is nice, just not very profitable.

Something else to consider, if you publish a story on the Internet, publicly, that story is considered a reprint. What did he say? You heard me. If it is available publicly on the Internet it is instantly a reprint as far as the next market is concerned.

Okay, so how does that effect what you’re writing on site’s like Writing.com, where writing hone their stories, getting comments from other members? If you limit your stories to members only — it’s not officially already been published publicly. Working on a story which is changing? Selling a story that’s substantially changed will make the final version an original, not a reprint. Perhaps the story you want to submit is a lot longer than what you published on your website or in a blog – that, too, makes it an original never published piece (since the published part is only a small part of the whole).

One author I know has been repackaging stories she’s previously sold, making significant changes to them, and telling the editors that’s precisely what she’s done. They’ve accepted those stories as original and paid accordingly.

So, why have reprints been on my mind lately? I’m concerned about sales (as I’ve found that pretty much every published writer is, too) and I’m going to a convention in six weeks or so. Having a wider variety of stories to sell can help me market to a larger audience, who may not be interested in my epic fantasy novels, but science fiction — and I’ve sf novels, too I’d like to see introduced to potential new fans.

I’ve a number of old stories, whose rights have reverted (to which I’ve never “accidentally” sold my rights – I read my contracts very carefully – and are original works of mine) that I can monetize again, by, at this point, offering them in a collection. (A collection represents work from a single author, while an anthology offers works by multiple authors).

I’ve a short story that people ask me about that was published several years ago. By incorporating a collection of some flash pieces I’d published in on the Internet for blogger book fairs and exposure; stories I’d published in an ezine; and including some articles I’ve written online, I’ve enough to publish a short collection. Thing is, I can offer it at a better price than one of my paperback novels and still catch some more attention by those passing my table in the Dealer’s Room or a book festival, and offer it as an ebook at a great price, too.

My editor’s on board and my cover designer’s excited… Though, I’m concerned that like an anthology, a collection normally won’t sell as well as a novel can. So, I’m doing what I can to keep my costs down on this one. I’ve chosen one original story to include, but it’s part of my epic fantasy series. That story’s a perfect hook for a fan of the series, looking for more – or a good introduction to someone new. Of course, publishing it will make it a reprint. Then again, I’m likely to incorporate it into a future novel, so it’s a good choice to include.

So, there are things you can do with a reprint. Also, if one of your stories ends up in a pro level science fiction or fantasy magazine, you may get requests for it in anthologies soliciting it – at better than the penny a word rate. I know someone that’s happened to a number of times for just one of their stories, which has just kept earning them money without them having to submit it for consideration.

But being forewarned about the meaning of “reprint” is forearmed, which why I’m sharing this with you today. When you sell a story, be sure to read your contract to see when your rights revert or if they never do… It’s important. Being a writer isn’t just about writing, it’s about earning money so you can buy groceries, pay the rent, etc. (Which is why so many writers have day jobs, too). If you’re like me, looking to make a few more dollars isn’t a bad thing and may help you build your brand and sell more books at the same time.


D. H. Aire has walked the ramparts of the Old City of Jerusalem and through an escape tunnel of a Crusader fortress that Richard the Lionheart once called home. He’s toured archeological sites that were hundreds, if not thousands of years old… experiences that have found expression in his epic fantasy series with a science fiction twist, Highmage’s Plight and new Hands of the Highmage Series.  In May 2017, he released a new short story collection called Crossroads of Sin and Other Stories.

An Author of eleven fantasy and science fiction novels, including those in the urban fantasy Dare 2 Believe Series and the space opera Terran Catalyst Series, Aire’s short stories appear in a number of anthologies, including in Street Magick: Tales of Urban Fantasy. A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Aire resides in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.

This article originally appeared at dare2believe.

The Importance of Reading by Lisa Gordier

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Many of us know the quote by Stephen King about what it takes to become a writer and reading – “Read, read, read. You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. If you don’t have time to
read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

What Stephen King is referring to in this quote is the ability to read outside of the genre we write. It’s a very important key in how we shape our own writing. Knowing how other authors write allows us to see different techniques of our trade. From the Young Adult authors to the experienced (and perhaps no longer with us). There are thousands of authors to choose from.

Fantasy writers are a varied lot (myself among them). When we write we don’t always stick to just your normal, everyday wizards, dragons and elves. There are books in the fantasy section you may not have thought of before. For instance: Ray Bradbury, often known for Science Fiction, his book “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is classified as fantasy. Another book most may have thought of as more Science Fiction than Fantasy is “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson. Even Robert Heinlein wrote Fantasy for a magazine known as “Unknown Worlds”.

At this point, you may be saying to yourself that Science Fiction and Fantasy are two genres that really aren’t that far apart from each other and perhaps you might be right in some ways. Often times both genres take a lot of research into world-building, character development, and sometimes even technical research. But there is one slight difference between the two. With Fantasy you can do almost anything as long as you can make the reader believe it’s possible. Science Fiction you need to make the reader believe there is some kind of Science behind what is happening.
Mystery, Horror, and Suspense writers also come in an array of sizes. I will mention here that I’ve read some of Stephen King’s books (those that don’t scare me while reading during the day) and found them infinitely profound. I think the first of his I read was “Fire-starter” and I realized that though classified Horror, it wasn’t. I’ve also enjoyed several of Dean Koontz novels and a mystery series were written by Shirley Rousseau Murphy (who’s main character is a cat named Joe Grey). Of course, I must confess my favorite mysteries of all time are still “Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I believe the writers of these genres are somewhere between Science Fiction and Fantasy. They must delve into a bit of the unknown and fantastic. Researching things which are very real to us. Sometimes the horror or suspense may be more in the realm of fantasy, or they may have been case files of the police – rewritten to exclude names we might recognize. These authors walk a fine grey line to keep us on the edge of our seats.
I’ve been discussing Fiction but there are Non-Fiction books such as Biographies/Auto-Biographies, Self-Help, Essays and Journalism. Authors of these books or articles all want to either tell a story or help others with their stories. Some you’ll find on the bookshelf and others in magazines. It can be difficult to find an item in these categories that you enjoy, but they’re out there. I’m partial to stuff on space and the universe myself.

And last, don’t cut out Comic Books and Manga (Japanese Comic Books). Both are a large market here in the United States. I’ve found a few I really enjoy, both for the artwork and the story lines. For a comic book produced in the States I’ve started reading one called “Elephantmen”, a postwar science fiction sort of comic book. And with regards to Mangas I have several I enjoy, “Sayuki” being the top runner.

I do also try and read different magazines for articles and essays. I’ve recently subscribed to “The New Yorker” and I also read “Writer’s Life”, “Time”, “Natural Geographic” and occasionally “Life”. Each gives me a different perspective upon the world and how authors write.

In closing, as Stephen King said, don’t be afraid of reading outside of the genre you write in. It expands your horizons as an author, teaches you different techniques as a writer and at the least entertains you as a person. I have found, as I’ve followed this philosophy, that I’ve become far more open-minded in the kinds of books I’m willing to try to read. I no longer am drawn by just artwork or title in one genre. I’ll browse every one, read the synopsis of story lines and take time to see if a book will interest me. So far the only books I can’t seem to get into are Romance novels but even that may change in time.

If you’re interested in knowing about what genres of books are out there, here is a list of them all:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_writing_genres

Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – USA. Lisa Gordier grew up as a Navy Brat, moving across the country with her family. The Navy settled them mostly in San Diego, California.

Her father started Lisa reading books by Piers Anthony and Robert Aspirin when she was around eight years old. From there she found she enjoyed not only reading but writing her own stories and poetry.

When Lisa was Eighteen, she moved from San Diego to Phoenix, Arizona to go to College. she married and joined the Air Force during the Iraq conflict. She served in Italy during her first tour of duty. When she returned to the States, it was to San Antonio, Texas and a divorce. Lisa was honorably discharged from the Air Force and moved to Phoenix once more where she soon remarried and began serving in the Air Force Reserves for ten glorious years. she continued to write and draw as an artist.

After twenty years of marriage, Lisa was divorced once more and moved to Tucson. The author currently works on a fantasy novel, working on artwork for a co-authored
novel and writing poetry.

Read Your Own Work by Loren Rhoads

 

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I love to read from my books in public. I love the silence that descends as the audience grows rapt.  More than that, I love to hear the crowd react to my words, noting when they gasp or if they laugh.  Best of all, I love to gauge the enthusiasm of the applause at the end.

The chief thing to keep in mind when you are asked or volunteer to do a reading is that – while the audience comes to be entertained – YOU are there to sell your book.  Whatever you read, make it the best advertisement for your book that you can.

I try to tailor what I read to its intended audience.  If I’m reading in a bar, I choose something sexy. If it’s a bookstore, I read an action scene. If I’m reading to science fiction fans, I pick something that’s undeniably SFnal.  If it’s a horror convention, I read something bloody.  I don’t try to stretch their tastes because I want them to buy the book.

It’s important to find out in advance how long your reading slot will be.  It’s rude to exceed your time limit, because then you’re stealing time from the other readers.

I’m a strong believer in reading a complete scene, whenever possible.  It’s good to end on a cliffhanger or some other place that will leave your listeners wanting more.  In my experience, it’s better to read one long piece, rather than too many short pieces, because it’s easier than most readers realize to overstay the audience’s good will.

I always practice before I perform, not only to time my selection, but also to see how it feels in my mouth.  Are some names tricky to pronounce?  Are there words I’m uncertain of? I’d rather make mistakes at home instead of in front of people.  Also, as I’m practicing, I sometimes add extra commas, so I remember to breathe or leave space for laughter.

Reading to a live audience can teach you a lot about your own work.  Sometimes what looks good on a page doesn’t sound good in performance.  Maybe the sentences are too long or convoluted. Scenes full of dialog can be hard for listeners to follow.  Long descriptions or info dumps can sound awkward out of context.

Another element to consider when you’re preparing for a reading is how you will introduce yourself.  Usually, you will be expected to provide the host, if there is one, with a short bio.  Crafting the perfect bio is a whole ‘nother essay, but briefly, this: Give your name, the title of the book you are selling, and your web address.  If there is more information that your audience will find useful, mention it.  Highlight your authority as an author and what you have in common with your listeners.  Keep it short.  You can be funny if that comes naturally, but don’t bring up your cat or your marital status – or any other personal information, for that matter – unless that’s what you’re reading about.  Otherwise, it’s obvious filler that erodes your audience’s patience.

Once you get up in front of the crowd, think about how well you can be heard.  If there’s a mic, lean toward it.  If there isn’t, pretend you’re talking to someone at the back of the room.  My voice tends to be soft, so I begin my unmiked readings by asking people to wave at me if I grow hard to hear.

Of course, that means that I have to occasionally glance up from my text.  Even after all the readings I’ve done, I’m still self-conscious enough that it’s hard to tear my eyes off the manuscript.  To get around that, I mark places in my scene to look up. I try not to meet anyone’s eyes because that would distract me from what I’m doing, but I want to get a brief glimpse of the audience to see if their eyes are on me, or if they’ve glazed over and I should wrap things up.  The glazing-over has yet to happen, but I always worry.

The (almost) final thing to think about is how to end your reading.  When I reach the end of my text, I let the words run out, take a breath, and then say thank you.  I feel it’s important to thank the audience for their attention.  I try to thank the host and the venue too, if there’s time and it’s appropriate.  Write what you plan to say on your text, so you don’t forget it.

Lastly, stand still a moment to enjoy the applause.  It can be surprisingly difficult to face your audience after you’ve done your bit.  It can feel like you’re hogging the attention, especially if you’re reading as part of a lineup.  I try to stand still long enough to make some eye contact with the crowd before I rush off the stage.  After all, the applause is why we do this.  That, and the book sales.

Loren RhoadsLoren Rhoads is the co-author (with Brian Thomas) of Lost Angels and its upcoming sequel Angelus Rose, about a succubus who becomes possessed by a mortal girl’s soul. Loren has read at bookstores all down the West Coast from Seattle to Los Angeles. She’s read in bars, cafes, theaters, art galleries, an antique store, a Day of the Dead tchotchke shop, a gaming store, and at a Death Salon. She still gets nervous every single time. www.lorenrhoads.com

Using Ideas to Start A Story by Alicia Rasley

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Thanks, Wendy, for inviting me to talk today about “idea” as a way to start a story. Some stories, especially those classified as “speculative fiction,” start not with anything concrete like character or setting, but with an idea to be explored.

As science fiction writer Orson Scott Card explains, “Idea stories are about the process of seeking and discovering new information through the eyes of characters who are driven to make the discoveries.”

That’s really the appeal of an idea story. No matter what it turns out to be, it starts as an intellectual puzzle. In the spirit of that sort of intellectual mission, let’s consider some ways an idea can start a story.

Questions. For example, many mysteries start with a scene that presents a question, one of the oldest questions of all, “Whodunnit?” But most authors add some additional complication, like, what could kill a man alone in a locked room? (Edgar Allan Poe’s seminal detective story, “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” was perhaps the first to pose that question.) The point of these “idea-mysteries” is to challenge the intellect of the sleuth (and author and reader) to go beyond the expected and familiar to speculate, innovate, and interrelate clues to come up with possible though unlikely solutions.

What-ifs. This is a specialized question that truly is speculative, as it seeks to imagine something that hasn’t happened (and probably won’t). This is more of an experiment than an exploration. A good recent example is The Martian, which poses the question, “What if an astronaut was left behind on Mars?” A great classic example is Oedipus the King, which asks, “What if the detective learns he’s actually the murderer?”

There’s also a what-if variety that experiments with the past, in alternative histories like Harry Turtledove’s The Great War inspire the author and reader to consider how the present might be changed if an important past event were changed. These alternative histories have a point beyond the mere alteration, however. Philip K. Dick’s “Man in the High Castle” takes the question “What if the Nazis had taken over the United States?” to pose the deeper question, “Would Americans resist?”

Themes. A theme is a message, a “moral to the story,” that can usually be stated in a sentence, but is better developed through story events. The film Chinatown, for example, uses the “water wars” of southern California to explore the theme of “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The difficult task in theme-based stories is to avoid being preachy. I’d suggest having the theme in mind and creating characters who have to discover that truth, but only at the END of the story. That way, the theme evolution will be a more organic process.

Perspective. A perspective-based story requires, you guessed it, an alteration of perspective, demonstrating that what you see is dictated partly by where you’re seeing from. Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities juxtaposes the experience of the French Revolution in Paris with that of London, that of a victim with that of an observer. A variation of this perspective-test is the “fish out of water” plot, where our world is viewed through the eyes of an alien or stranger.

In my opinion, this is one of the most socially important genres, as it forces our notoriously solipsistic species to examine ourselves objectively—something more and more essential in a diverse culture.

Concepts. A concept is the simplest and yet most profound of ideas, often expressed in a single word— Freedom. Dispossession. Exile. The speculative aspect of this comes from recognizing that simple concepts are actually the opposite of simple and that only a story and a character can truly portray the complexities. For example, the film Casablanca explores the concept of “neutrality” through the cynical and detached character of Rick, a symbol of the isolationist United States trying to stay isolated in those dark months before Pearl Harbor.
Starting with the concept but developing it through the complications of a 3-D person within a culture is a good way to avoid the sort of closed system that readers of speculative fiction loathe.

Twists. This story takes something conventional and twists it to produce something both familiar and exotic. You’ll often see this in novels aimed at teens and pre-teens, as connecting the normal with the unusual trains them in the important mental skill of skepticism and imagination.

The trick here is to make the base story perfectly plausible (Harry Potter really is going to boarding school and taking courses, but they’re about incantations and potions), so that the twist is more fun, making the familiar unfamiliar.

All of these idea types pose the risk of becoming just tricks. To avoid that risk, consider that each of these should lead to a deeper question, and that is in the end what we want to explore in the story.

When I read Ender’s Game, for example, I found the deeper question to be, “Why do we sacrifice our children for war?” That deeper question leads to the plot development that the adults deceive the children that this is just a game.

Another way to make an idea into a full-fledged story is to embody the idea inside a character’s journey. Ask yourself who needs to learn this theme or experience this twist? Oedipus, for example, is an arrogant man who will not accept the power of the gods over him. So he has to be forcibly confronted with the fact that they control his fate.

The most successful idea stories start with an idea… but they don’t end there. The idea is more than just a statement or speculation, but rather a process whereby the reader and characters experience the idea and come to understand what it really means.

alicia by dmac croppedAlicia Rasley would rather write about writing than… well, write. Nonetheless, she has written many novels, including a best-selling family saga and a contemporary mystery novel. She teaches writing at a state university and in workshops around the country and online. Her website has articles and posts about the craft of writing. Sign up for a writing newsletter and get 13 Prime Principles of Plot and other free plotting articles!