August 16

Birthdays: Hugo Gernsback (1884), T.E. Lawrence (1888), Georgette Heyer (1902), Wallace Thurman (1902), William Maxwell, Jr. (1908), Matt Christopher (1917), Charles Bukowski (1920), Diana Wynne Jones (1934), Benjamin Alire Saenz (1954), Jennifer Donnelly (1963), Valeria Luiselli (1983)

Hugo Gernsback’s contributions to science fiction were so great that the prestigious Hugo Award is named for him.

T.E. Lawrence is well known as Lawrence of Arabia. His books include “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” and “Revolt in the Desert”

Georgette Heyer essentially began the Regency romance genre of writing.

William Maxwell, Jr. won the 1982 National Book Award for “So Long, See You Tomorrow”

Benjamin Alire Saenz won the 1992 American Book Award for “Calendar of Dust”

Quote: “A library is a place full of mouth-watering food for thought.” – Diana Wynne Jones

Tip: Passive vs. active voice: active voice (preferred) is when the subject of the sentence is doing something while passive is where the thing is having something done to it. Active: John threw the ball. Passive: the ball was thrown by John. Active voice gives your writing more impact.

Jumpstart: You hate big, fancy parties but must attend one coming up because it’s in your honor. What did you do? What happens?

August 15 Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts

Birthdays: Sir Walter Scott (1771), Thomas de Quincey (1785), Edith Nesbit (1858), Sri Aurobindo (1872), Edna Ferber (1885), Julia Child (1912), Leonard Baskin (1922), Linda Ellerbee (1944), Garry Disher (1949), Stieg Larsson (1954), Mary Jo Salter (1954)

Edna Ferber won the 1924 Pulitzer for Fiction for “So Big”

Quote: “Only amateurs say that they write for their own amusement. Writing is not an amusing occupation. It is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain-climbing, treadmill, and childbirth. Writing may be interesting, absorbing, exhilarating, racking, relieving. But amusing? Never!” – Edna Ferber

Tip: When writing a scene with setting, don’t forget about background noises we hear every day—birds chirping (or not for suspense), traffic, thunder, etc. Also think about background smells and other sensory items.

Jumpstart: The old stairs creaked and groaned under her weight and she was afraid the noise would…

August 14 Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts

Birthdays: Alice Provensen (1918), John Galsworthy (1867), Russell Baker (1925), Alice Adams (1926), William Kittredge (1932), Bryce Courtenay (1933), Danielle Steel (1947), 

John Galsworthy won the 1932 Nobel Prize in Literature

Russell Baker won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize in Autobiography for “Growing Up”

Quote: “I have a good vocabulary, certainly better than most writers I would say, and I will be writing away and I will type, ‘She made a very perspicacious remark.’ (Which, for those of us not au fait with every entry in the…dictionary, means clear and lucid.) I will go back th next day and cut out the word perspicacious because three are five English words that are close enough that readers will understand. I am not trying to impress you or the reader. Keep it simple.” – John Galsworthy 

Tip: Read your dialogue out loud. Does it sound like real people are talking? Or is it stilted and long winded? You should strive to keep dialogue real, but don’t copy real speech. If you listen to real people talking, you’ll find that most conversations are full of inanities.

Jumpstart: You’re on your way to a job interview. You stop at a convenience store for some coffee and a rude person cuts in front of you. Then turns and spills his drink on your new suit. And blames you. You tell him off….and get to the interview a few minutes late only to see him on the other side of the desk. What do you do?

August 13 Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts

Birthdays: Alfred Hitchcock (1899), Kamila Shamsie (1973), Tom Perotta (1961), Sharon Kay Penman (1945), Nikolaus Lenau (1802)

Quote: There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean. 

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!” 

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.” 
― Alfred Hitchcock

Tip: Secondary characters should not take over a scene unless there’s a very good reason. They are there to support the main characters or add color to the story, not to be the main reason for the story. If they start to take over, then maybe you’re telling the story from the wrong point of view.

Jumpstart: Pick a famous piece of art or sculpture and write about the artist as s/he was creating it.

August 12 Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts

Birthdays: Helena Blavatsky (1831), Jacinto Benavente (1866), Edith Hamilton (1867), Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876), Zema Sharp (1889), Ruth Stiles Gannett (1923), Donald Justice (1925), Wallace Markfield (1926), William Goldman (1931), Walter Dean Myers (1937), Gail Parent (1940), Deborah Howe (1946), Sue Monk Kidd (1948), Ann Martin (1955), Katherine Boo (1964), Anthony Swofford (1970)

Zema Sharp is known for creating the “Dick and Jane” readers.

Donald Justice won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for “Selected Poems”

Deborah Howe is known for the “Bunnicula” series written with her husband.

Quote: “It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought—that is to be educated.” [Saturday Evening Post, September 27, 1958]” ― Edith Hamilton

“Everyone thinks that having a talent is a matter of luck; no one thinks that luck could be a matter of talent.” ― Jacinto Benavente

Tip: Get yourself a good dictionary, thesaurus, and grammar book—or know where to look for them online. The Chicago Manual of Style is considered the best for most writing. Also Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. And use them!

Jumpstart: Pretend you’re a doll living in a doll house. What is it like? What do you see from your vantage point? Who plays with you? In what way?

New Reviews

Under Mysteries:

A Trip with Trouble by Diane Kelly – 3 Sparklers for this cute cozy. But adding in the cat’s point of view was what took it down.

Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder by Mary Cunningham – 4 Sparklers for this traveling cozy. No small town here!

Under YA:

Rimrider by L.A. Kelley – 3 Sparklers for this science fiction. First in a series with a cliffhanger ending.

Under Romance:

A Royal Mistake by Jennifer Bonds – 4 Sparklers for this royal romance.

August 10 Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts

Birthdays: Curt Siodmak (1902), Ward Moore (1903), Jorge Amado (1912), Nancy Buckingham (1924), Barry Unsworth (1930), Mark Doty (1953), Susan Lewis (1956), Suzanne Collins (1962)

Mark Doty won the 2008 National Book Award for Poetry for “Fire to Fire”

Suzanne Collins is best known for her trilogy “Hunger Games”

Quote: “Get to know your characters. Don’t be afraid to listen to them. In fact, if they aren’t talking to you, you’ve got a problem.” Susan Lewis

“Have fun with an opening line. You don’t have to use it in the final draft, but it’s a good way to start.” – Susan Lewis

Tip: Plot can take two basic forms, or even a combination of the two. It will usually be either a three-act structure (beginning, middle, end), or, from Joseph Campbell’s writings, be a mythic journey. It can also be a combination of the mythic journey within the three-act structure.

Jumpstart: You’re going to visit a favorite relative you haven’t seen in years. You’ve kept in touch by phone and letter, but not visually. When you see him/her, you’re shocked by their appearance. Why?

August 9 Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts

Birthdays: Izaak Walton (1593), John Dryden (1631), Jean Piaget (1896), Pamela Travers (1899), Tove Jansson (1914), Philip Larkin (1922), Daniel Keyes (1927), Robert Shaw (1927), Seymour Simon (1931), Graeme Gibson (1934), Shirlee Busbee (1941), Pat McKissack (1944), Barbara Delinsky (1945), John Varley (1947), Jonathan Kellerman (1949), Gene Yang (1973)

Pamela (P.L.) Travers is best known for her book “Mary Poppins”

Daniel Keyes is best known for his Hugo and Nebula-winning work “Flowers for Algernon”

Quote: “All good fiction involves an element of mystery – ideally, the reader should be compelled to turn the page in order to find out what happens next. Crime novels use extreme events – matters of life and death – to catalyze the story. That kind of intensity appeals to me.” – Jonathan Kellerman

Tip: Put the book you’ve just finished writing away for at least a week. Watch movies, read other books, take long walks, relax. Or, better yet, start your next book. Do anything other than look at your manuscript. That way, you can come back to it with a fresh eye.

Jumpstart: P.L. Travers was born on August 9, 1899. Never heard of her? I’d be willing to bet you’ve heard of Mary Poppins. Travers wrote several books about everybody’s favorite nanny. Imagine you’re a friend of Mary Poppins. Who would you be and what would your quirk be? No fair picking something from the book or movie. How do you know Mary?

August 7 Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts

Birthdays: Louis Leakey (1903), James Randi (1928), Betsy Byars (1928), Jerry Poumelle (1933), Garrison Keillor (1942), Anne Fadiman (1953), Vladimir Sorokin (1955)

Betsy Byars won the 1971 Newbery Medal for “Summer of the Swans”. She also won a National Book Award for Children’s Fiction and an Edgar Award.

Jerry Poumelle is best known for “The Mote in God’s Eye” and “Lucifer’s Hammer” (in collaboration with Larry Niven).

Quote: “When I type a title page, I hold it and I look at it and I think, I just need four thousand sentences to go with this and I’ll have a book.” – Betsy Byars

Tip: Professional jealousy exists. Try not to let it control you. If a friend gets better contracts, etc. than you, be happy for them. Celebrate their success.

Jumpstart: An asteroid is going to hit Earth and there are only enough ships and room on the moon for a small portion of the population. You’re the person who has to choose. How do you do it and who do you save?

August 6 Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts

Birthdays: Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809), Charles Fort (1874), Norma Farber (1909), Constance Heaven (1911), Richard Hofstadter (1916), Barbara Cooney (1917), John Graves (1920), Elizabeth Beresford (1926), Piers Anthony (1934), Diane di Prima (1934), Conor McPherson (1971), Paolo Bacigalupi (1972)

Richard Hofstadter was a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction.

Barbara Cooney was a two-time winner of the Caldecott Medal

Paolo Bacigalupi won the Hugo and Nebula awards for his book “The Wind-up Girl”

Quote: “A good notion for a novel is far too precious to waste; it must be caught the moment it flashes into mental view, or it will escape to the brain of some other writer who really doesn’t deserve it.”― Piers Anthony, On A Pale Horse

Tip: Don’t forget to give back to the universe. Help other authors where you can. Actually, help anybody. Little kindnesses can come back to you in many ways.

Jumpstart: Your character is in a non-motorized boat in the middle of a large lake when a sudden storm blows up… what now?