Category Archives: The Book’s Den Newsletter

Author’s Holiday Give-Away Winner!

The contest began on Monday, August 20, 2007 and expired at midnight on November 20, 2007. Everyone who purchased a copy of my novel “Save Them All,” directly from me at a signing/reading or through the mail via my home office or through PayPal were eligible to enter my “Author’s Holiday Give-Away” drawing. All the eligible names were placed in an Abercrombie and Fitch shopping bag (something my son left behind when he went out into the world) during the three month contest. Upon expiration of the contest, the winning name was drawn. I had all my shipping materials ready (the perfect box, new air packs rather than annoying Styrofoam peanuts) for mailing anywhere; Virgina, South Carolina, Ohio, but the winning name happened to reside in Onslow County, North Carolina, well within driving distance. Since she didn’t have an email address, I called the number on her entry to tell Ms. Belinda “Bee” B. she had won. She sounded thrilled, said she couldn’t believe she had won something and also mentioned she was at work. So . . . my husband and I headed on down the road to her place of employment to deliver Bee’s winnings on Thanksgiving day.
beelindagiveaway.jpg

She gave me three hugs (which were more valuable than the prize basket), and Belinda received an attractive unisex, flat woven and lined basket, two $50.00 Books-a-Million gift cards, a soft green (my favorite color) 50” x 60” plush throw, four wildlife bookmarks, two aquamarine, comfort-grip pens, some sweet treats, a squooshy & friendly Monkey pillow and a signed copy of “Save Them All” to give to her favorite person as a gift. Bee told me she has purchased three of my books for gifts already after reading “Save Them All” last year and was needing another copy. So that worked out very well. The contest was so much fun for me, I’m sure I’ll be looking for another opportunity to fashion another one. Now I know how Oprah feels when she gives all those “Favorite Things” away each year or possibly the ladies on the View, when they pass out a new gift each day for the Twelve Days of Christmas! Not Quite!

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All”

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Talkin’ about the Gold Firebird on the Zookers Radio Program

Last week I was invited on The Zookers Radio Program, one of the latest additions to Blog Talk Radio. Hosts are Eric and Rob, also known as “the Greek gods of Internet radio,” and the subject was Thirty Years of The Rockford Files. It’s always fun to talk about Rockford, Jim Garner, and the Pontiac Firebird, especially with folks as knowledgeable as they are. It was a fun hour that went all too fast, but we’re talking about doing it again soon.

Here’s the link to our conversation:
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/hostpage.aspx?show_id=46867

Ed Robertson
www.edrobertson.com

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Filed under Annoucements, Authors on Tour, Book Promotion Experiences, Entries by Ed Robertson, Events, In the News, Nonficition, The Book's Den Newsletter, The Writing Life

Writing’s hard enough …

… but there are tools you can use to make it easier. I work occasionally on Lulu’s LiveHelp desk, and one of the questions that people are asking more and more is, ‘What software do you recommend for writing?’

Of course this is a tough one because a number of factors come into play: What hardware set-up do you have? How much can you afford to spend? Are you writing fiction or screenplays or stage plays?

I’ve spent a long time trying out various demos of downloadable software and, in doing that, have come to some conclusions about what I need from a writing software package:

1. It has to have a good word processing function. Although I might not use all the bells and whistles, I want italics, bold, word count – for chapter and book total – and spell check.

2. I have to be able to Save As … or export to a recognised word processing format, either Word.doc or rtf. As I’m writing fiction, there’s no need for drawing or image functions to be included. I’ve tried packages in the past that will only allow you to print from the software, with no ability to translate your document into another format. As the formatting functions are often minimal on this kind of package, that’s hopeless.

3. The ability to make character and scene notes, and to jot down ideas where necessary (that is, when they occur to me!) is essential. I used to keep box files full of hand-written notes – nowadays, everything’s in the software, searchable and close to hand.

4. Finally, the function that I took a long time to recognise I needed – the ability to shuffle events on a time line. Some packages enable you to outline your story – with varying degrees of detail – but not all of them allow you to switch them, like shuffling note cards. When I discovered a program that would allow me to do that, I was in heaven.

And the winner is?

Well, typically, I haven’t found one package that does all of these things. But I have discovered two that enable me to work relatively seamlessly.

The first is a suite of software from Anthemion Software, called Writers’ Cafe: www.writerscafe.co.uk/ In particular, I use the Storylines program from within the suite for the outlining process. It has what appears to be a cork-board, on to which you attach your story-threads. On each of these threads (which are like your main and sub-plots) you then attach virtual notecards containing your individual scenes. These can be dragged and dropped at will, and contain as much or as little information as you like. When you’re plotting something complex, it’s great to be able to see the story graphically like this, instead of just having a linear, text-based description.

The other program I use is called WriteItNow, from Ravenshead Services. With this package you can store ideas, create characters (it includes a couple of psychological models in its character-creation options), even invent plot events. Best of all, its word processing function allows you to create individual chapters, then export them to rtf format, which opens automatically in Word if you have it installed. Each chapter is formatted according to rules that you determine, so that you have a complete book ready for printing at the point at which you click Export. Also included are the spell check and word count functions that I use all the time, plus a thesaurus and a readibility index.

I liked these two programs so much I actually spent money on buying them and I keep them upgraded. It would be hard for me to write without them now. Demos are available on both sites, so give them a go. (Incidentally, I have no financial relationship to these businesses!)

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Some more kind words about Thirty Years of The Rockford Files

My thanks to Steven Thompson for this review:

http://booksteveslibrary.blogspot.com/2007/04/thirty-years-of-rockford-files.html

and to Blogging Authors for this review, which was picked up by a number of sites, including USA Today:

http://asp.usatoday.com/community/othervoices/default.aspx?bbPostId=CzE1N3e5NZxgPB4vpD0UWd0xxBAkjLcQmP5cTB2Udo9cSpCmO&req=blogburst&tag=news

Ed Robertson
www.edrobertson.com

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Take it like a man

OK, I’m getting the feedback.

I sent out copies of my latest book – The Secret Place – to a number of readers in order to get feedback. That feedback is beginning to come in, together with thoughts and comments from people who weren’t on the list but who have read it anyway.

It’s grit your teeth time. All the advice is to give your manuscript to people who a) read a lot; and b) read in the genre which you’re writing in. That has largely been true of the people to whom I’ve sent the book, but not exclusively. A couple of them don’t read private eye or thriller novels. However, each and every one of them does read extensively, so that’s a bonus.

So my book is the second in the series of thrillers about my PI, Sam Dyke. Most of the beta-readers have read the first book too, which is an advantage. The consensus seems to be that The Secret Place is better than Altered Life, which can only be good. It’s allegedly more pacy and more gripping.

Which doesn’t mean it’s perfect, of course. Criticisms have included, ‘It starts really well but then doesn’t fulfil its promise’; ‘there are inconsistencies in the plot-line’; and ‘It’s obvious you’ve never been to some of the places you write about … ‘.

All of these are true, to a greater or lesser degree. So the fascinating thing is, how do you respond to them? Some people, I know, have the response of, ‘Oh my god, you’re absolutely right, how could I have been so stupid not to have seen that? I should shoot myself right now … ‘ While others shrug their shoulders, say ‘Meh,’ and get on making the corrections.

I’m kind of in the middle. Despite planning to the nth degree, there are still inconsistencies … how could that be? I thought everything through, didn’t I? All the implications of every action of every character. But still character A says this on page 10 and this – completely contradictory thing – on page 20. Doh! This happens when you make things up on the spot. It seems natural and almost ‘inevitable’ at the point at which you write it. But you conveniently forget that you said the opposite thing only 10 pages previously. Because those 10 pages might have been written 5 days apart … so why would you remember something that was created spontaneously, just in order to add ‘depth’ to a given character?

The harder things to cope with are where your readers tell you that the pace slackens, or a scene was unnecessary, or a scene that was actually essential doesn’t appear to have been written … this means more serious re-writing. Not just re-wording, but actually adding scenes and maybe even characters. So more research! More creativity! Just when you thought you’d done the hard stuff, you have to do more of it.

In the end, I guess what you have to do is consider that you’re trying to make the book be the best book it can be. Yes, it’s tedious and hard work to alter and re-write extensive portions of the book. But if you don’t, you’ll always have those voices playing in your head: ‘It could have been fixed. It could have been better.’

And that’s a lot, lot worse, than the trivial pain of rewriting.

Keith Dixon
Altered Life

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How many writers does it take to change a light bulb?

… Two. One to change it, and the other to offer a well-reasoned critique as to how it could have been done better.

Writers are a strange bunch. On the one hand we’re often self-critical, worrisome, uncertain and as apt to cross out a line as to write one.

On the other, we can be very dogmatic about what is right or wrong about any given piece of prose – especially when it’s written by someone working in the same area or genre as ourselves.

I guess I’m writing this in a state of apprehension, because I’ve sent out copies of my latest book to a group of beta-readers (a phrase I found on a Lulu forum) and soon I’ll be getting the feedback. All but one of them writes extensively themselves, and the one who doesn’t keeps a very active and entertaining blog, so is used to putting virtual pen to paper albeit in a different form.

I have mingled with writers a little – after all, I did a degree in Creative Arts, including creative writing, and I’ve been to a few writers’ workshops elsewhere – and my impression is that we can be quite cagey. My sense is that unlike the general impression of writers as larger-than-life Hemingway-esque characters, who grab life in a bear-hug and don’t let go, many of us are quiet, inward-looking folk who use words to explain how we’re feeling. Writing is, after all, a solitary experience for the most part. I’m still haunted by Isaac Asimov’s description of himself sitting in a small room facing a blank wall for most of 40 years – including weekends – while he produced his 400+ books … And I think, is that how I envisage myself? Well, I don’t sit facing a wall. But I am in a small room facing a screen …

Also, we veer between confidence in our belief in what we’re doing, and fear that it’s not up to snuff and other people are doing it much, much better, so why would anyone listen to little ole us … ?

When you’re with a bunch of writers a kind of friendly distance can settle around the table … people assessing and weighing up others. Gore Vidal nailed it, I suppose, with that famous line of his: “Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.” That edge of competition I suspect is there in all of us who are competing for readers.

Which is not to say that writers can’t be enormously generous, too. The Lulu forums – and other writing websites – are full of people generously giving advice and energy – and even free reading-time! – to other writers. There are some folk who are just gregarious, I guess, and want to be part of a group that does well … the illustrious founder of this site is just such a person!

So pardon me while I dip in and out of these two modes: self-imposed solitary confinement, complete with deep-circled eyes and a snappy dismissal of books I dislike; and open-hearted, friendly, concerned and interested fellow traveler down the writing path, willing to critique and offer a helping hand where possible …

Don’t try to work out which one I’ll be at any given time, because I’m damned if I know.

Keith Dixon

Altered Life

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Joe R Lansdale’s East Texas adventures

Do you ever have sudden enthusiasms for writers?

You come across a book – perhaps remaindered, or in a second-hand shop, and therefore cheap – and you buy it because you like the look of it. It hangs around for a while on the bed-side table, untouched … and then you run out of other stuff to read and pick it up. And it blows your socks off. You race through the book and immediately start scouring the bookshops for other masterpieces by the same writer.

This happened to me with Vonnegut, with Gore Vidal, James Lee Burke, George Pelecanos … hell, a lot of my current favourites. And then you discover that these guys have been around for years, and you’d never heard of them before. What happened? How could you have been so dumb not to have known of them?

Well that’s just happened to me again with Joe R. Lansdale. I found a book called Mucho Mojo being recommended in a book shop, and it was reduced in price, so I looked at the back cover blurb and it seemed interesting so I bought it.

Wow, what a revelation! Lansdale has been around for years and written at least 21 novels, 12 collections of short stories, 5 anthologies and two non-fiction books. How could I have been so dumb?

The Lansdale books I’ve come across and am slowly working my way through are in the series of semi-detective stories set in East Texas, and starring Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. Hap is intelligent, knows martial arts, is loyal to his friend Leonard but just has no real ambition. He works at a series of dead-end jobs that barely pay the rent, but do give him the opportunity to get involved in plots that don’t need him to hold down a profession or career.

Leonard is a one-off in crime fiction, so far as I know: a middle-aged, black, gay martial-arts expert who has a series of relationships with guys that are handled sensitively but without being sanctimonious. Between them, Hap and Leonard get involved in stories that are funny, tough, violent and tremendously well-written. Here’s the first paragraph of Bad Chilli:

“It was mid-April when I got home from the offshore rig and discovered my good friend Leonard Pine had lost his job bouncing drunks at the Hot Cat Club because, in a moment of anger, when he had a bad ass on the ground out back of the place, he’d flopped his tool and pissed on the rowdy’s head.”

How could you not carry on reading a book that begins like that? Lansdale writes with verve and insight, giving a real sense of the slightly run-down part of East Texas in which Hap and Leonard live. The relationship between the pair is also handled beautifully – they fight, they argue, they spend days when they’re not talking to each other … but they’ve always got each other’s backs.

And Lansdale also handles the action perfectly as well. The fights are described with panache and real physicality, but without the brutality of some writers in the genre. They remain realistic even in extremis.

I’m on my fourth in the series so far, with at least two more to go afterwards. I’m beginning to regret already that soon I’ll have read all of them. That in itself says something about this fantastic writer.

Joe Lansdale
Altered Life

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