6:00 Writer's Spot on Clubhouse
Only 3 members, you ask? Ya, but we're growing! Join us for virtual conversations each week at 6:00pm CST on Clubhouse. You'll need to download the Clubhouse app on your Android device or iPhone, establish an account, and become a member. Here's the invitation to our room: CLICK ME Each week the topic will vary based on who's in "The Room" with us, but regardless, you're sure to learn something new and add to our group of talented writers and poets. It's a great way to wind down on the drive home from work with some of your closest writer buddies. Feel free to pass this on...the more, the merrier!
A Suitcase and The Kitchen Sink
I have always believed that one’s life events shape the person they become. Each person has a suitcase filled with life’s experiences, memories, successes, and failures that each in some way contribute to his or her personality. When creating my characters, I think about the suitcase the characters have that make them behave the way they do. My personal suitcase contributes to my writing. Namely, in this case, my history as a native Minnesotan and my love of reading adventure and mystery novels all make for a very packed bag. (go to my blog at gailleecowdin.com to read the whole story about the Kitchen Sink.)
A blog with no words.
https://www.combinedmindscreative.com/post/a-blog-with-no-words Well, maybe a couple words: wishing you all full bellies and a warm home on this blustery day. I'm playing with my kaleidoscope.
An Argument for Good Grammar
How many times have you asked your parents a question only to have them respond: "go look it up," "because I said so," or asked them to spell-check a term paper only to have them question why you chose to use an apostrophe in "Bachelor's Degree" and not "Bachelor of Science Degree?" Does the comma go inside or outside of the quotation marks? When do I capitalize a word? When do I use "which" and when do I use "that" in a sentence? Why is any of this important? We moved dozens of times across a dozen states during my childhood, but the most memorable years were spent in Dallas, Texas. My mother was a single parent, working long hours as a secretary for an international freight warehouse. She was proud of her near-perfect typing and shorthand skills; she was especially proud of her writing skills and stressed that if I wanted her to listen to what I had to say, I was to "enunciate" and use good grammar. That comment was usually followed by an eye roll on my part and the back of her hand, but the end result is that I'm a relatively good writer and a stickler for good grammar and punctuation. The point of this essay is that our email communications, blog articles, social media posts, and public communications are sprinkled with hashtags, pointless flying tildes, possessive punctuation that shouldn't be, and random punctuation. We're becoming a generation of lazy writers and speed readers racing to a literary finish line, overlooking the delicious pause of a comma, and the finality of a period. I've recently been asked to act as co-director for our local writer's group (here's the link if you're interested: Village Lake Writers & Poets). I created the website and post frequently on our group's blog. I would encourage any of you who are interested in becoming writers to post on your group's blog site, or share (as I will this article) essays from your own blog site both as a participant, and to perfect your craft. As you write, however, I would ask that you "enunciate" and use good grammar. My mother would be proud. Hopefully, you felt the eye roll. I'll leave you with an answer to the "which versus that" puzzle from Shundalyn Allen on the Grammarly blog: Which vs. That: How to Choose In a defining clause, use that. In non-defining clauses, use which. Remember, which is as disposable as a sandwich bag. If you can remove the clause without destroying the meaning of the sentence, the clause is nonessential and you can use which.
And then what happened?
I've been lucky enough to take Neil Gaiman's master class on writing this week. Today, I wanted to share a little that has really stuck out to me. Perhaps, I relate to it because I'm a discovery writer. Plotting and planning in detail does not work for me. I go in with broad, vague ideas and ask hundreds of questions along the way. Neil defines a story as something that keeps you turning the page and doesn't leave you feeling cheated at the end. Wondering 'what's going to happen next' is what keeps us turning the page. In order to foster this emotion in our audience, we have to care. If we don't care what happens next, no one else will either, and they'll stop turning the page. So how do we do this? 1. We have to discover, deep down, what the story is really about. Some call this theme, others might call it the story-worthy problem to be solved. You could simply ask yourself, what is it you want to say? Neil also says that a good story tells the truth by using lies. Think about that. Our characters don't exist, essentially making them a lie, but they can share a truth that people will connect to. The fiction around this truth is what leads the reader without spelling it out in lecture or sermon. 2. Create conflict. Early readers may want to create happy peaceful worlds. Sadly, this doesn't make for interesting reading. Don't shy away from the problems that need to be addressed. How do you know what the conflict is? By asking #3. 3. What do your characters want? This is the question that opens the door to what happens next. If you're stuck, ask this question. Make sure you have at least two characters who want something at odds with another character. In the end, only one of them can get what they want. By asking what they want in each scene and chapter, you can decide if they try and fail, try and succeed but make things worse, try and discover it wasn't what they wanted after all, etc. In the end, characters always get what they need, not what they want. Are there places in your current manuscript where you need to dig deeper into what your characters want?
Be Brave, Try Something Different
Sometimes it's easy to get stuck in our routines. We write, we do what we need to publish our writing, and we market the same way we always have. Why? Because it's comfortable. It's what we know. However, thinking outside the box can benefit us in several ways. Introduce us to new audiences Boost sales when they've slowed down Show us people want to support our art Remind us that we're not alone in our efforts to put ourselves out there There are probably others that simply aren't jumping to mind, but you get the idea. This year I did something I said I never would, and so far it has been a wonderful experience. I'm working with five other authors on a shared series of books. We created our own town complete with restaurants, shops, church groups, town gossips, special events all year round, and even a quirky group of older ladies who pretty much make everything happen in town. As we discussed how to generate buzz for our series before the release day this fall, one author suggested we try and sell book boxes through Kickstarter. At first, I didn't want to deal with the hassle, but I'm the only one who has ever successfully run a Kickstarter project in the past. So, you know what that means... Well, it too has been an amazing experience. I took a month to set up all the background information for the project page. The other authors helped by creating images and videos to share, and then we all used social media and our newsletters to let people know what we were going to do. We set a realistic goal, but the overwhelming support of our friends and family blew us away! The project is running for the month of July, but we were fully funded by July 4th. Once we knew the book boxes were a done deal (Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing crowdfunding website), we started setting stretch goals. With each new goal reached, those who supported us get more items in the book box. So often I feel like readers want everything for free. They don't want to pay for ebooks or print books. That's why there are so many pirated sites out there. Readers complain that authors charge too much, completely disregarding how many hours and how much money we put into creating something worth sharing with them. That's why this was so humbling to see how many people were willing to pay what we were asking for our boxes. With our spirits soaring and inner voices yelling, "You like us, you really like us!" We moved to bigger goals. What if we could reach the $5000 mark? If we could do that, we would add another item to the box. We hit that goal today. Halfway through the month and we surpassed our original goal by $1400. How amazing is that? Now the question is, can we keep up that momentum and push to $10,000 by the end of the month? I'm not sure, but we've let our supporters know that if they help us reach that goal by sharing with their friends, family, neighbors, social media followers, etc, then we will add a third book to each box. The scared part of me says, "It'll never happen because pledges are slowing down." However, there is a part of me that has learned to hope again. Whatever the end result, trying something new and scary has me thinking more positively about the possibilities out there. There are ways to reach readers that we haven't considered before now. There are new ways to create excitement about a series and books that haven't been published yet. I can't wait to see where the project ends up, and more importantly, I can't wait to see how it affects sales this fall. I'll keep you posted! If you're interested, this is what we decided to put in our book boxes. (There are three to choose from [or you can get all 3] with 2 authors per box) 2 special edition hardback books Series Swag 3-4 Handpicked gifts from the authors based on their stories A collectible Seasons of Sugar Creek Christmas ornament (a different one for each box) First stretch goal addition: each author now has their own collectible ornament so each box contains 2 If we reach the $10K mark, we will add a paperback of "Just Kisses" short stories set in our town. A 'behind the scenes' book if you will about our town of Sugar Creek. Have you ever tried crowdfunding this way? What did you learn from it? If not, what unique marketing techniques have you tried?
Can using an AI tool help you write better blog posts?
Writing great blog posts can be a challenge. Not only do you have to come up with a subject that's informative and worth your reader's time, a good blogger should also focus on structuring their ideas clearly, ensuring the content is accurate, and the piece is free of errors. Thankfully, artificial intelligence (AI) can help expedite this process. Think of AI tools as a combination of a digital thesaurus and a research tool; they're meant to help enhance the work, not a crutch to do the work for us. Some tools sift through data on the internet and return the results in the form of short essays, much like you'd find in online encyclopedias, so remember to quote your source if you copy/paste the results of the search. Let’s take a closer look at some popular AI tools. Grammarly Grammarly is an AI-driven writing assistant that helps you find and correct mistakes in your writing. It quickly scans for typos, punctuation errors, incorrect words, and other common grammar mistakes. Grammarly even suggests alternative word choices to improve your writing style. With its real-time feedback, Grammarly helps you write quickly while maintaining accuracy and clarity in your text. Grammarly also includes an AI-based plagiarism detection feature to help you avoid accidental plagiarism. This is especially useful for bloggers who reference external materials when creating content for their website or blog. Hemingway Editor Hemingway Editor is another AI-based tool that offers helpful advice on how to make your content more engaging and readable. The tool analyzes your writing style by looking for complex sentences, long phrases, passive voice usage, adverbs, and repetitive words, all of which reduce readability and reader comprehension. Hemingway Editor gives you clear recommendations on how to improve the structure of your sentences so that they are concise, yet impactful. Jasper AI Jasper AI uses advanced algorithms to analyze your topic, identify relevant keywords, suggest related topics, and even generate content outlines in seconds. This makes it easy to create blog post ideas from scratch or build on existing ideas to create something truly unique. The real difference between AI content generators and traditional Boolean (yes/no) searches is that current AI generators use Natural Language Processing (NLP) to generate content for any number of topics ranging from sports to technology, and beyond. There are many AI engines on the market. Some are free--Jasper is a subscription-based service. This morning, I decided to give it a test drive. Jasper will generate content for ads, email, marketing, social media, your website...ah, and even a blog post. One of the authors in my critique group is writing a futuristic young adult novel, and the question of solar energy came up. What will that technology look like in the future? Let's see what Jasper AI has to say: Blog Title: What Is the Future of Solar Energy? Blog Introduction: Solar energy is an increasingly popular source of renewable energy, and many people are wondering when we will have the technology to move away from fossil fuels. While there is still a long way to go before solar energy can completely replace traditional sources of energy, advancements in solar technology have made it a viable alternative for powering homes and businesses. Let’s explore how far the technology has come and what the future holds in store. Blog Body: Recent Advances in Solar Technology The past few years have seen rapid advancements in solar technology. One of the most significant developments has been the introduction of more efficient solar panels, which absorb more sunlight and convert more of it into usable electricity. In addition, new technologies such as reciprocating solar engines, or RSEs, are being developed that use solar radiation to drive pistons or turbines for generating electricity. This is much more efficient than traditional photovoltaic systems and could potentially revolutionize the way that we generate power from the sun. What Does The Future Hold? Experts predict that within 10-20 years we will see even greater advances in solar technology that will make it even more cost effective and efficient than it is today. This includes improvements to existing technologies like RSEs as well as entirely new innovations such as nanotechnology based “smart” materials that can capture even more sunlight than current methods. Additionally, research into artificial photosynthesis could allow us to produce fuel directly from sunlight without any need for additional resources or infrastructure. Conclusion: Solar energy is quickly becoming a viable option for powering homes and businesses around the world. Recent advances in solar technology have made it cheaper and more efficient than ever before, with further improvements expected to come over the next decade or two. As these advancements continue to be made, we may eventually reach a point where solar energy can completely replace our dependency on fossil fuels for electricity production - but until then, there is still work left to do! Not bad. Not my voice, but it's definitely a good start. I wouldn't recommend AI content for novels, but for technical writing, like a blog article, it's a beneficial, beautiful, beastly thing (I threw in a little alliteration for David Todd to see if he reads this article to the end.) Just be sure to quote your sources. (Blog article generated by Jasper AI, edited by D.M. Hanson)
Cause and Effect—I.Just.Can't.Do.This.But.I.Must
Looking into the void and facing the darkness. Is there light? It has been dark for so long, it seems. A Pandemic, in the midst of violence, hate, divisiveness, anger, frustration, and feelings of futility.
Do we dare venture deeper into the void? Should we? Would it be better to sit back, make no effort, simply waste away, allowing worry to blot out all else?
How could one know?
—Unless the fear is faced, the attempt made, the venture taken?
Exploring the unknown is what each of us has done from the moment of birth, isn't it? For we really had no choice then but to continue, did we? Each hesitant breath marked a decision to continue. Each step, though perhaps unsteady and faltering, was a decision made to explore and accept the challenges ahead.
Over time, we've been conditioned to believe in the force of positivity. Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled” tells us that our choice can make all the difference.
We have sighed with satisfaction at George Bailey's decision to return to the living in “It's A Wonderful Life”. But it’s true George Bailey accepted a return to a life filled with worry, anger, and divisiveness. Only to discover in the end that his decision brought joy, unity, and peace. It all worked out, and like Orphan Annie, "We love ya, tomorrow!"
But what new trials will tomorrow bring? What is the cause of our worry? The cause of our fear? The cause of our frustration?...Often all of these things are simply caused by the unknown. The trials of that horrible, unknown, black void.
But…But, there's always that glimmer of hope in the darkness. If we forge into that black hole with the cloak of Annie's hope for Tomorrow and even add the strength of Hamilton's declaration, "I'm not throwing away my shot!” we may indeed find that it makes all the difference.
The causes of uncertainty are many. Our world, our lives today are built upon the perceived experiences of our past. Widening our perspective, we realize the history of these United States of America has been filled with might, determination, and innovation.
But….but, it has also been filled with strife, hate, terror, and domination.
We must recognize that there is an indifference about our history. We’ve been taught about Paul Revere's determined ride to alert Patriots of the arrival of the British ships.— But…but, he wasn't alone. He was just part of that story made heroic by the poet Longfellow. We’ve long heard the words of Patrick Henry, “Give me liberty or give me death.” We weren't taught that he opposed the ratification of the Constitution and a strong central government and that he was a slave holder.
What we learned as children and the reality are often contradictory. Today we know that history ignored the cries of those who were trampled on to secure American freedom; those on whose backs we built our fledgling nation, those others whose cries of “Set us free!” or “Give me liberty” were conveniently forgotten, as well as those First Americans whose lands were torn away leaving only a small pittance of reserved land in token, often broken treaties.
The hope of our future must lie in a determined exploration into the dark void of our past. We fear going there, but this is how we grow. This is how we learn, and hopefully change.
We explore with uncertainty. Acknowledging our past must have a definitive effect on our future. To this, we ask, which of Frost's roads will make all the difference?
Our lives are an endless journey into the dark void. We fill the void with our presence, our discovery, and our determination...and hopefully our learning from past mistakes in the end. Together we must be like Hamilton and take that shot!
We must travel into the void. We must!
And in these troubled times, taking that shot means we must VOTE!
It is our life to live, our future to create, and ultimately, our belief that we can affect the change.
We have been here before. We will without doubt be here again. It’s time to venture on! I'm gonna take that shot! —Gail 9.9.2022
Changing Two Little Words
Back in 2002, when I was writing poetry regularly, I wrote a sonnet about experiences of childhood/teen year summers at my grandparents' place along the Rhode Island shore. A Petrarchan-style sonnet, I was quite happy with it—except for the last line. I never could get the last line right. Over the years I changed it a dozen times. Well, that may be an exaggeration. Probably not more than a half-dozen times. But it was never right. It's one of my poems I know from memory, and from time to time I would mull it over. Last week I was reading some of C.S. Lewis' collected letters when I switched back to the poem. The change came to me. Two words that made a world of difference fit into the meter and gave significant substance to the poem. Well, at least I think they do. Here's the poem. You can read my longer blog post about it at Two Changed Words Make a Big Difference | David A Todd. It took only 19 years to complete.
Christmas Shopping Made Easy
by Gail Lee Cowdin It’s always been my opinion that every child should receive a book at each holiday, each birthday, or for any celebration! I’m doing my best to make that an easy option for grandparents! Great Sale! 1/3 off. Wonderful Christmas gift for a young reader! A delightful story of the tiniest bell. Find it by Gail Lee Cowdin for $10 on Amazon until Christmas!
From Diana Gabaldon
This blog came across my page this morning. The advice is so good, I thought I’d share it. Use the link from Diana: For those of you who are writing--either with NaNoWriMo or on your own... I was invited to contribute a brief blog to the site Writers in the Storm (which is Really Interesting, if you care to browse it). I wrote about Attitude: how writers regard themselves and their work (and how not to think you are a Bad Person if what you're writing doesn't seem all good right away). If you're interested, you'll find the piece here: https://writersinthestormblog.com/2022/11/the-winning-attitude-of-a-successful-writer/#comment-155800 Best of luck!
So you've published your first work be that a poem, blog article, or your first book. After an afternoon of celebration and chocolate, I don't know about you, but I dove straight into logistics: marketing, distribution channels, networking, and of course, mapping my sales. I had always thought myself a rather patient person, but by the second week post release when I didn't see numbers approaching the need for a comma, I started to panic. Were my SEO description tags adequate? Did I use the best keywords possible? Should I have written more about the book's background on this site? How much is enough to keep an audience? Was the book factual enough to entice my audience into reading it, but colorful enough to reach a broader audience? In the end, I decided to stop worrying and just use this process as a learning experience for my next book. What I hadn't counted on were letters from my readers. Real, postage-stamped, handwritten letters. I received email as well--most were complimentary, a couple made suggestions about plot and genre, but I was happy they all took the time to write. I received several from veterans who had served on landing craft in Korea and Vietnam. And one from a woman who's father served on an LST during WWII. She loved the detail because she could see her father in the faces of the men as they grew into adulthood at war. This past week, I received a letter from the President of the USS LST Ship Memorial inviting me to join the ship at the Meldahl Lock on the Ohio River enroute to Cincinnati. He invited me to join the crew while underway. I have to say that I've toured the LST 325 twice now, but to feel her move under my feet, to feel the vibration from the ship's engines and the smell of diesel oil and stand watch, even briefly, on the signal bridge as my father did seventy years ago is such an honor. I'd like to share a bit of his letter: "I recently read "Heroes All" and want to compliment you on a job very well done! Your ability to capture the camaraderie, badinage, and general zeitgeist of a bunch of young sailors is spot-on. The only thing missing is the ubiquitous and incessant cursing that attends all things Navy and is an art form unto itself...I've taken the liberty of marking errors, omissions, or typos I encountered in the copy enclosed. You may wish to make those corrections in future printings. John M. Tallent, President, The USS LST Ship Memorial, Inc." He's right, you know. I should, and will include an errata sheet in the books I take to my signings with thanks to Commander Tallent for taking the time and having the patience to help me be a better writer, and for the opportunity to be part of the crew for this leg of the trip--the journal of which will certainly be included (along with his corrections) in the second printing. I hope to see you all in Cincinnati, Ohio at the public dock by Red Stadium September 27th through October 3rd where you can tour the LST 325 from 9am to 5pm. I'll be happy to sign a copy of the book for you, the proceeds of which go to the LST Ship Memorial in memory of my father, S2c Donald Richard Hanson, and as thanks for all they do.