Look To the Western Sky

A blog about single life as a parent & the dreams of a writer by Margo L. Dill

Tag: writing

The Greatest Gift . . . for Writers (Guest Post by Karen Kulinski)

I’ve known Karen many years, through SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) , and then I was lucky enough that she submitted her wonderful manuscript, Rescuing Ivy, to me when I was working as an editor for High Hill Press. If you need a book for children ages 9 to 12, Rescuing Ivy is amazing–it’s about two kids who attempt to rescue a circus elephant from near death when she is wrongly accused of killing a man. Here is a guest post from Karen and a little more about her book, along with a link to Amazon, where you can order it. Perfect for kids who love to read or teachers for grades 3 through 6. 

The Greatest Gift . . . for Writers

by

Karen Kulinski

During the holidays, people with writer friends buy them things like books, workshops, maybe even a session with a writing coach.  Fine gifts all, but the best gifts a writer gets, to paraphrase the Grinch, “come without ribbons, packages and tags.”

The best gifts are ideas.

Of course, the above-mentioned books, workshops and writing coaches often help our minds produce these ideas. I know because over the years I’ve been gifted with writing ideas, many involving my new middle-grade novel, Rescuing Ivy. 

While searching for information on cabooses 13 years ago for the railroad museum for which I am curator, I came upon a horrific incident where they hung a circus elephant in a railyard in 1916.  I tried writing about it, but couldn’t. Unbeknownst to me, however, my mind was working on it because five years later, I was gifted with the idea for Ivy, which ends much happier for the elephant.

In the two years I did research for the book, I discovered fascinating information that my mind turned into ideas for the book.  Among them, a couple of plot points, a major human character, and a quirky little chicken named Fayree.

Recently, my mind has been working overtime providing ideas.  In March, I had a book contract canceled the day before I did a school visit.  Needless to say, I was pretty down on writing at that point, but at the end of the first presentation, a student asked what book I was working on now. I wanted to say, “I don’t want to think about writing, let alone try to do some right now.”  Instead, I found myself talking about a ghost book I worked on unsuccessfully for years, and the students got really excited about the story’s premise.  I was asked the same question after the second presentation, and mentioning the ghost book got the same results.

As I drove away from that school, I knew I had to work on that novel again.   A couple of weeks later, I got an idea for a new beginning to the story that made a radical difference in my main character that no one liked before.  My friend and beta read said, “It was like the character had an attitude adjustment.”

This past week — in the midst of all the crazy activities preparing for the holidays — I sat down and wrote a picture book that I’ve been trying to write for two decades.  I had consulted with a writing coach about the book earlier in the month, and told her that I wouldn’t be able to get to revising the story until after Christmas. Obviously, my mind had other ideas.  Really good ideas, it turns out, because my agent loves the book, saying, “It’s terrific.”

So when you’re telling people what you’d like for Christmas or your birthday, be sure to whisper, “Please, mind, I’d love a writing idea or two.”

You never know what will come next!

Bio: Karen Kulinski’s life has been filled with family, trains, and writing. A railroad man’s daughter, she is curator of a railroad museum in Northwest Indiana, and is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Karen’s passion for trains and love of history flavors many of her books, including her new middle-grade historical novel, RESCUING IVY, from High Hill Press.  The mother of four sons, Karen lives in Griffith, Indiana, with husband, Alan, and two spoiled dogs.

Rescuing Ivy: Readers will quickly turn the pages of this tautly-plotted, heart-grabbing 1916 adventure story, caught up in young Danna’s plight to save her beloved — and innocent — circus elephant, Ivy, from being hung for killing a man. This book forays into a time when hoboes rode the rails, which add to the action as well as the intrigue. An excellent read-aloud, bolstered by pages of vintage circus photos and an extensive “Author Notes”. You can buy it on Amazon here.

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Creative Visualization for Writers by Nina Amir (Review)

Nina Amir, the author of How to Blog a Book, has a new release out titled, Creative Visualization for Writers: An Interactive Guide for Bringing Your Book Ideas and Your Writing Career to Life . In this interactive book, writers will find over 100 exercises designed to get your creative juices flowing, move beyond writer’s block (if you have it), and stretch your mind. In other words, this is a book that gives you permission to be a little eccentric, weird, over the top and encourages you to be more creative than maybe you have ever been in your life. It’s a book we writers have been looking for because we have already read many of the fantastic books about the writing craft–how to construct sentences, when to begin a novel, and what to use instead of adverbs. 🙂

So how is this book set up? There’s a short foreward from Dinty W. Moore, and then an introduction from Nina, where she exclaims, “Become a visionary,” and explains how the brain works, including a diagram of the left and right brain–most of us know that creative people spend a lot of time in the right side of their brain. Nina says that in this book the exercises help you to use both sides of your brain. Basically she’s encouraging you to get out of the limits we all seem to set for ourselves when we say: I can’t or I’m too busy or I’m stuck. What writer doesn’t need something like this book in their lives?

After the intro, she gets into the exercises. You will want to buy a print copy of this workbook, in my opinion, because the pages are full of questions and activities; space is provided for you to write down your answers and ideas. There are even writing-themed coloring pages (I know some of you are going to get this book just because of that!) and affirmation pages, where you can write down how you are a successful author or how you promote your work well. She quotes Muhammad  Ali, who said, ““It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

The exercises are grouped into themes: Self-Exploration, Vision, Goals, Creativity, and Focus. Here are a couple snapshots of them:

nina-page-1 nina-page-2 nina-page-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although I read through this book quickly for this review and only did a few of the exercises, I can not wait to start at the very beginning and take my time with every single exercise–it’s one of my New Year’s goals, although I’m beginning it now. My writing life has not been in the forefront for a while, due to all the stuff I’ve written about on this blog, and so I can’t wait to stretch my mind and find my creative self again.

If you want to join me, you can buy the book here.

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The Grueling Process of Submission: Advice to Improve Your Chances of Getting a Publishing Contract

I recently wrote a 3-part series of blog posts for WOW! Women On Writing, about the grueling process of submitting a manuscript to agents, editors, or contest judges. Here it is summarized, with links to each article, in case you find yourself currently submitting to these gatekeepers!

Part one: The Grueling Process of Submission: Hook, Proper Grammar, and To Be Verbs: Recently, I had a friend, David Kirkland, who is an editor of a small press, write and suggest a series of blog posts on mistakes he sees repeated in western, sci fi and fantasy submissions. As I read the list, I thought about the WOW! novel class I teach and the Summer 2016 Flash Fiction contest I will finish judging today and agreed with his points. These mistakes can make readers–who at the submission point are agents and editors–cringe.

I decided in October, before we get to NaNoWriMO and the craziness of writing 50,000 words in a month, I would cover the most important of these in a three-part series about submitting your manuscript. The following post is not just for genre writers, but for any fiction writers, and I would include memoir writers, too. To read more, go here.

qtq80-Q9YqEaPart two:  The Grueling Process of Submission: Backstory and Prologues: Backstory can be that annoying fly on the wall that’s saying you have to deal with me somehow, so how are you going to do it? The thing about backstory is the reader only needs to know enough to understand the story at that point. If it is important that the reader knows the main character went on a hunger strike for 30 days in 1972 in order to understand the story, then you must reveal that fact, even though it happened before the story starts.

But if this same character has had five dogs in his life, all bulldogs–this backstory fact may not be important to understand the story. As the author, you  might think that is interesting and quirky about your character, but you can not bog down the action of the story with the backstory. To read more, visit this page.

Part three:  The Grueling Process of Submission: Main Characters, Adverbs, and Adjectives: Before I give my final tips, I want to reiterate that agents, editors, and contest judges are looking for reasons to reject your manuscript. This is completely different from readers, who are usually willing to give your first several chapters a chance, if you hook them in with an interesting character, great writing, or a plot they can’t resist. Readers want to love every book they pick up. Agents and editors can’t afford to do so, and they don’t have the time. So the tips I’ve been giving you in this series are meant to help you AVOID giving these gatekeepers reasons, besides your plot or characters, to reject your manuscript.

So let’s look at your characters. We all know we don’t want stereotypical characters–no cute, snotty cheerleaders and jock football players who only want one thing; we all write unique and interesting beings. (I won’t say human beings because they could be animals or aliens, right?) David Kirkland, author and editor with High Hill Press, whom I’ve told you gave me the idea for these blog posts, said this about the characters in the beginning pages of your novel, “Ask yourself: Does it [your manuscript] open with important characters? Sometimes the opening pages [I’ve read in submissions] have mostly been about minor characters. That misleads the reader.” To finish this article, go here.

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How I Finally Finished a Book by a Shameful Writer (re-post)

This post originally appeared on WOW! Women On Writing on September 3, 2016 at this link.  WOW! Women On Writing is a great site for writers, full of helpful articles, online classes and a quarterly flash fiction contest.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” 

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Both of those quotes are by the great Stephen King, whether you like him or not, read his books or don’t, he gives practical and sage advice to writers. I’ve had the time to read. I’ve started countless wonderful books by amazing authors, but I haven’t been able to get through them for one reason or another–mostly due to my divorce, maybe due to exhaustion from anemia (which I just discovered I had) and single parenthood. But I hadn’t finished a book in ages. It’s embarrassing. I am a writer after all, and I wasn’t reading.

I had this conversation with my neighbor one day–she loves to read. She handed me the book Me Before You, and said, “This is a great book. You will get through this. It’s a movie right now.” (I’ll admit I’m so out of touch with movies for adults that I didn’t even know this!) That night, I started it. JoJo Moyes is a very good writer. She drew me in with her quirky main character, Louisa Clark, and the surly hero, Will Traynor. But as I started reading along, and got to maybe page 100, my usual pattern took over. I was reading maybe 1 or 2 pages a night before I fell asleep or thought of a reason to check Facebook. I was sure I knew what was going to happen, and I felt disappointed, and didn’t really want to read just another love story.

But one night when I read my obligatory pages (to not feel like a total heel), there was a conversation between Lou and her sister Treena that was so well-written, I fell back in love with the book. Then I read some of the back material about why JoJo wrote the book, and I told myself: give it a chance. One day this past week, I was in bed with a cold, and I read 166 pages to finish this book. When I finished, I was so in love with the story and the ending that I rented the movie On Demand, which I have literally never done before in my life.
And I’ll have you know since then, I’ve already started two more books–a self-help book, where the author wants you to read one exercise a week, and the new Harry Potter play–on page 45 already!

So what happened? I found a good writer. I found a good writer that brought me into her story world and made me fall in love with these two characters even though things might not have ended the way I would have written the story. She made me think about life. She made me think about love. She made me think about what is really important, and she gave me back my belief that love is possible even under the worst circumstances. I know that sounds like a lot for one book, but that’s the thing about books–they really do change the world.

So even though I titled this post–by a shameful writer, I’m not as shameful about reading as I was a week ago, and I’m praying this continues because I think I’m on the road to a writing/reading recovery. I feel myself taking baby steps and it feels good.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. You can find out more about her and her books at http://www.margoldill.com and her writing class in the WOW! classroom here. 

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You Do Need a Writing Retreat (re-post)

retreat 1On WOW! Women On Writing’s blog, The Muffin, I posted today about why I made the effort as a single parent of a 5-year-old to go on a writing retreat this past weekend.  Here’s what I said:

You need a writing retreat. Yes, you do. I didn’t know this year when my writing group planned a retreat at the lake, if I would be able to attend. Sometimes, things like this seem overwhelming as a single parent, and I often question, “Is it worth the planning and trouble before I even get there?”

Yes. A thousand times yes.

So why?

I went with four women writers who are a complete and total inspiration to me because all of them are actively working on their novels. And let me tell you, these novels are good! I read the first 40 to 70 pages of all of them this past weekend, and I felt like I was reading published books. My group can write, and that inspires me to get back in the seat and create something they can read!

So that’s one reason why it is worth it–I am feeling the stirrings of getting back to fiction.

To read the rest of the post, please visit WOW!’s blog here.

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An Honest Look at When Life Gets in the Way of Creativity (re-post)

This is an excerpt from a post originally published on WOW! Women On Writing‘s blog at http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/2016/06/an-honest-look-at-when-life-gets-in-way.html on June 16, 2016.

give upWhat’s the problem?

Life is the problem. As I’ve discussed before on this blog, this past year, my husband and I have been going through a divorce, and this is the absolute hardest thing that has ever happened to me. If you are divorced, then at this time you are probably nodding your head. It has completely changed my writing and reading life, and I have been slowly trying to find my way back.

So as I was constructing a “helpful” post on dialogue last night and earlier today, I was thinking: maybe it would be better just to be honest with [WOW!] readers. When I am honest on Facebook about my life and feelings (without oversharing–of course–or being vague–which everyone hates), a lot of people respond.

How do we as creative people, as writers, get through emotional times? Some of you probably write and journal. Journal writing doesn’t work for me. Yes, I write down what I am going through in messages, emails, and texts to my friends. This form of communication actually works quite well for me. It is much easier for me to have an instant message conversation with my best friends than sometimes to have an actual conversation. It’s a form of writing, and I’m sure since I am a writer, this is why I find IM so helpful.

I also have plans to start a blog full of non-fiction, self-help, memoir-type posts, but finding the time and energy to do that has so far eluded me.

I am tired, fellow writers. I am full of anxiety and angst. I feel I have little direction. I thought I was out of “survival mode,” and recently, tried to do some things to work toward a better future, but I’m not there. I am still in survival mode–just getting by day by day as best I can.

I can’t think about finishing my middle-grade novel still. I can barely pick up a book to read. At night, I have all sorts of books on my nightstand calling out to me, and I feel like I don’t even have the energy to invest in someone’s wonderful story.

Don’t get me wrong. I am functioning. Every day is not terrible. I have a beautiful, smart, funny 5-year-old daughter whom I love spending time with. I have amazing friends and parents. I love teaching my WOW! Women On Writing novel classes, and I LOVE helping my editing clients–so I am going to keep doing these things, while I also try with baby steps to get back to what my true passion is–writing and reading. I also like my full-time job, which has to do with proofreading, graphic design, and marketing. So yeah, the left side of my brain is doing all right. It’s the right side that needs some time and TLC, I guess.

So I have no idea if anyone reading this who is also a writer, painter, illustrator, sculptor, musician, etc feels this way or has ever felt this way. But you are not alone. And if you’ve already been through a journey like mine and you are on the other side, I would love to hear about things that helped you.

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