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Monday, November 30, 2009

Holiday Blues? Think Green!

Adults usually find themselves overwhelmed by the season’s added obligations, events, and duties, on top of our already overcrowded schedules. When can a serious writer find time to write amid all the chaos?

Aha! I threw you a curve. Serious writers don’t “find” time to write. They write because they must, because writing is their passion, their mission, their vocation, their connection to the world. They make time to write; they don’t find it.

In years past the holiday season overwhelmed me. About five years ago, though, I declared my independence from gifts. All of my friends and family members are old enough that if we want something, we can get it ourselves. If we don’t want something, we don’t want to get it as a gift. With the end of gift giving, I saved days of time and hundreds of dollars, and no one complained; in fact several of my relatives thanked me for relieving them of the chore.

Up until last year, I also wrote a holiday newsletter, complete with photos, and sent it to all my friends, colleagues, and clients. I spent days writing, printing, folding, stuffing, stamping, addressing, and mailing hundreds of holiday newsletters. After a year full of sad and even traumatic losses in 2008, though, I could not think of an upbeat thing to say in my holiday newsletter. I kept postponing the task until I finally said, “I’ll do it next year.”

This year I am seriously thinking of skipping the newsletter process intentionally. No need to postpone writing, printing, folding, stuffing, stamping, and mailing my newsletter. Instead, I give myself permission to stop! I will regain many hours of time, without any guilt. Maybe I’ll point to the environment and say I’m saving trees. Yes, I’ll have a green holiday, and without all those added chores, I will have time to write and still enjoy the holiday.

Consider this fair warning: This may be the only holiday greeting you get from me, and it’s digital, environmentally friendly, time-saving, and yet still heartfelt. Now I’ve got to get back to my writing, because I’m a writer, and I make time to write.

Happy holidays!

By the way, now that Write In Style is officially out of print, it is no longer available directly from Amazon. Several used-book dealers offer used copies of Write In Style, now considered a rare book, for anywhere from $52.99 to $95.94. You can still pay the original $12.95 price, though, if you order one of the few remaining new copies through my Web site, I have a limited quantity, so order today!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Culling Clutter

Thank you for the outpouring of response regarding my flooded office. Although papers, books, notebooks, and other objects that await a new location or new home are still piled high on my tables, chairs, and sofa, I see progress.

Saturday I attended the Atlanta Writers Club meeting and brought with me about thirty books on writing, everything from plotting fiction to writing magazine articles. I put a sign on those books that said FREE. I enjoyed the surprise on the faces of my fellow writers when they found a table filled with free books. Some people stood for a long time, deciding which free book to take, until I said, “I don’t care if you take them all; they need a good home.” Several people then gleefully picked up more than one book.

I also sold a few copies of Write In Style and Ask the Book Doctor, including some copies damaged in the water that seeped into my office. At the end of the day, I came home lighter and with a little extra cash in my pocket, and writers went home with books they can use to make their writing stronger. Everybody won.

To clean up from the flood, I have to pull out all items stored on or near the floor of my office, basement, garage, and two large storage closets. I will have to dry off, examine, consider, relocate, throw away, donate, or sell all those things. I also lost a huge bookcase that collapsed, so hundreds more items need to find new locations, either here or in someone else’s home. With so much less storage space, I must weed out the things I no longer need. When I finish this job, my basement, and probably my life, will be considerably less cluttered; hence the hidden blessing. I look forward to it.

By the way, now that Write In Style is officially out of print, it is no longer available directly from Amazon. Several used-book dealers offer used copies of Write In Style, now considered a rare book, for anywhere from $52.99 to $95.94. You can still pay the original $12.95 price, though, if you order one of the few remaining new copies through my Web site, I have a limited quantity, so order today!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The rest of the story

Here are more photos from the artist's play date mentioned in the previous blog:

The lush green runway of what I've jokingly named The Woodstock International Airport is lined with houses owned by airplane enthusiasts.

Just when you think you've seen all the lawn ornaments in the world, your neighbors can come up with an original like this one:

Vicki managed to catch the bright yellow plane before it fully landed. What a quick draw she has with a digital camera!

The restored and souped up cars fascinated me. Here's an antique Studebaker, and it's for sale, too.

My only regret is that I did not photograph the two huge dogs, both very friendly, but I haven't forgotten you, Jake and Ivan. I'll snap your photos the next time I round the corner and visit the neighborhood landing strip.

The Artist's Play Date

Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way, portrays many ways of staying in touch with your creativity. One of my favorite of her suggestions involves making a play date with yourself and allowing yourself to go somewhere and simply be.

Sometimes my play date involves going to an art supply store and wondering around, pondering all the possibilities involving the various media and materials. I can take myself on a play date to an office supply store in the same way.
Labor Day, however, I went on an artist's play date spontaneously, and I had a blast. My friend Vicki and I were in the front yard of my house watching for chipmunks, enjoying the sun, and letting my dog take a pee break, when we heard a prop plane overhead. I told her, "It's probably from the little airport nearby."

Vicki's eyes bulged with excitement. "Airport? There's an airport nearby?"
I shrugged. "It's about a mile from here as the crow flies, but we have to drive around to get to it. I know it's there because over the years I've seen small planes taking off and coming in for a landing, but I've never bothered to go over there."
She stood up. "You know I used to fly airplanes. I love airports! Let's go check it out Maybe it will have a restaurant where we can have lunch."
I shook my head. "Oh, I don't think it's that kind of airport. I mean ultralights used to fly out of there. I suspect it's just a landing strip or something. I have never been able to see it from the street."

"Let's go anyway," she said. As a last-minute thought, she said, "Let's bring your camera." Within minutes we were driving down my driveway in Woodstock, Georgia, without any idea of what we might find.

Soon we saw a road sign with an airplane on it. "That means the airport sign must be nearby," she said.

I explained the sign was probably to warn motorists about low-flying planes. I had driven down that road many times and had never seen a sign that said "Airport." I had seen a road called Air Acres, however, that made me think it might be the right road to take. We found that road and turned into a dirt road with "No Trespassing" signs posted on the woods on both sides. We passed truly rural houses, old Georgia residences for those accustomed to growing their own food and living the country life. I did not feel certain we were on the right road, until we spotted a derelict airplane, wings missing, surrounded by trees. "Look! There's a plane that crashed in the woods," I told her. We both gasped. I drove on down the dusty bumpy road. We passed a lawn ornament made out of a galvanized wash tub with American flags stuck on top. Hilarious!

The older homes gave way to newer ones. but the road did not get any more inviting. Still, we plowed on, not knowing what lay ahead. Finally I saw what looked like a gate across the road far ahead, but another dirt path took off to the left, so I turned the wheel and drove in the new direction. Soon we crested a hill, and in front of us spread wide, lush, green lawn, neatly mowed. It bore no resemblance to the dirt runway I expected to find. I pulled in and parked near a large hangar where a partially built plane tuck its propeller out into the sunshine. To one side of the building I spotted rusted out trucks and a junk pile loaded with tires, bed springs, and car parts.
We jumped out of the car and a huge dog lumbered toward us, one definitely weighing more than a hundred pounds. It showed no sign of aggression, though, so I let him sniff me, and I buried my fingers deep in the thickest coat I'd ever felt on a dog. He obviously enjoyed the affection, too. He had German shepherd markings, but obviously had some other blood mixed in, possibly Clydesdale horse, I thought with a chuckle, considering his size and bulk.

While I talked to the dog and petted him, Vicki went into the building and found a man who gave his name as Kirk, and Kirk gave us permission to look around and take photos if we wanted. I walked into the hangar where Vicki stood admiring the bright yellow plane under construction, and my knees nearly buckled when I saw about six antique vehicles, all in various stages of restoration and customization. I love old cars and unique cars (which could be why I drive a 1990 zebra-striped car), and Vicki loves planes, so both of us were delighted.
Kirk said the experimental plane under construction was his swan song, the last plane he would build, and he had built several. He said his friend owned the cars and trucks, and they worked on them together, restoring them and souping them up. He gladly answered any questions we asked, and we had plenty of them.
A long-time pilot, Kirk said he had nearly been killed in three separate crashes but added, "I still love to get that adrenaline rush, though." When I asked about the dog, Kirk said, "Oh, that's Jake. He's mostly wolf. He won't hurt you."

"I know; I've already been petting him," I admitted.

Kirk's friend showed up with another huge dog, Ivan, although nothing could match Jake's size.
About that time Vicki said she heard a plane that might be coming in for a landing.

"I don't hear anything," I said.

She said, "When you learn to fly, you learn to listen for other planes."

I still heard nothing. At least a full minute or more passed before I finally heard a plane. It came in low across the field. "It's not landing," I said, disappointed.

"It's in a landing pattern," Vicki said. She explained landing patterns and what planes do to approach a landing.

I realized how little I knew about flying.
After clearing the trees a bright yellow plane appeared as if my magic. Vicki grabbed my camera. The image on its screen becomes almost invisible in sunlight, so I don't know how Vicki managed to snap two photos of the plane as it landed. I watched in awe as the prop plane landed as if it to give us our own private show.

Kirk explained that people lived along the edges of the airstrip and parked their planes in the hangars there. What a neat lifestyle, and all taking place within a mile or so of my suburban subdivision!

After spending about an hour in what seemed like a wonderland, Vicki and I left the airstrip elated at our discoveries and adventure. None of it would have happened, though, if either of us had brushed off the news that there was an airstrip nearby. I have lived in my house for fifteen years and have known for much of that time that planes took off and landed nearby, but I had never given myself and my inner child permission to go out and play, go out and discover what lay just over the trees. I had never given myself the artist's date to explore my own neighborhood for surprises.

I look forward to many more adventures in my zebra car, and I am thankful Vicki was the catalyst that made me let my inner artist come out to play.
I have more photos to show, but the blog limits me to just a few. I may post another blog simply to show the other photos. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Long Arm of the Writer

As a businessperson and author it’s important to keep up with where your name appears and who is publishing your work with or without your permission. In addition, I jump on a magic carpet and take a glorious ego trip every time I research my name and see how many places it appears on the Internet.

I had gotten lazy, though. For years I relied on Google as my search engine. It worked, so despite all the commercials for Bing I kept seeing on TV, why switch? Today, though, I decided to try Bing. Yes, I googled myself on Bing, an oxymoron at its best.

Here’s the interesting part: Bing brought up things I had never seen on Google. It even brought up cached pages that no longer existed, so I could see what was said in the past. Best of all, it brought up the fact that my book, Write In Style, sits on the shelf of the library of the College of Management for Mahidol University. What is Mahidol University? I wondered the same thing, so I looked it up. It’s a college in Thailand, folks! My book is available to college students reading and writing in English in a college of management in Thailand. I cannot even describe the joy I feel at this moment, because when I wrote that book, my hope was to get my tips and techniques into the hands of as many writers as possible. I wanted to teach them my super-fast way to find and destroy artery-clogging phrases in their manuscripts so their writing grew more stylish and direct. I hoped to make a little money, of course, but my mission was to teach and spread the word about how to make writing unique, stylish, and clear.

In addition to America, I’ve found my book mentioned on sites based in India, Australia, Canada, and now Thailand. I feel fulfilled and validated. My arm has reached out around the world, and I have hugged and helped writers all over the globe. What a great life, this life of a writer!

Friday, August 21, 2009

This is Reality?

On a recent reality show a mother and a nanny help a young person with her homework.

The child reads the sentence that says something like this: "We went sightseeing."

The nanny asks, "What is the verb in that sentence?"

The child enthusiastically blurts, "Sightseeing."

"No," the nanny says, "that's not the verb."

The child says, "Yes it is. Verbs are action, and sightseeing is action."

The mother jumps in with, "She's right. Sightseeing is a verb."

My mouth hung open. Hello? Sightseeing is no longer a verb, once you add the -ing. Sightsee is a verb, but sightseeing is either a noun or an adjective, depending on how it is used. In the case of the sentence in question, "We went sightseeing," sightseeing is a noun. Went is the verb.

Let's try to make sightseeing a verb. Hmm. How about these examples: I sightseeing in Paris this year. He sightseeing downtown. Yeah, right, sightseeing is a verb. See how well it works?

Give me a break! What bothers me most is that the nanny knew the right answer, but the mother would not listen to her. Dumbness perpetuates itself once again. No wonder students have so much trouble with creative writing or even writing a simple report.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Don’t Write the Cart First

A close friend started writing a book this past month and has completed the opening pages. She took a moment to think of how she would dedicate the book and sent me her ideas.

Her first chapter is not yet complete, but she is worried about the dedication. If writing her book takes a year or more, many things will change in the interim and many people will help her along the way, some of whom she may not even know yet.

I warned her not to worry about the dedication; finish the book first. I know from personal experience. A few months ago, I found some of my oldest files, dating back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of the files contained the first pages of my first book. The file also contained copious pages of research I had collected for use in the book. I had written less than one chapter in that first book and quit, but I had already written and polished my dedication.

I chuckled at finding that file. How funny writers are! When I started the project, I felt sure I would finish, but I experienced a run-in with reality. Writing is hard work. The research fascinated me, the idea burned in my brain, and the desire to write a book spurred me to begin. Nothing, however, helped me keep up my enthusiasm. I had not yet learned about critique circles. I did not know the value of scheduling time to write. I did not yet have the perseverance required to stick to a project to the end, yet I had dedicated the book to the people who helped me with a project I barely started before I let it drop.

Write! That’s the only way to finish a book. Writing the dedication before you write the book is caving to that old chestnut of putting the cart before the horse. Write first; dedicate last.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Publishing Missteps asked members to write of their publishing missteps, so I wrote the following and decided to share it with my other readers as well. We can all learn from it.

My first book, Write In Style, was very successful, and my publisher's distributor, Simon & Schuster, got my book into libraries across America as well as into bookstores and Web sites around the world. I loved seeing it for sale on sites in India and Australia, and I basked in the glory of having sold a book to a traditional publisher. All that said, the profits on a traditionally published book are so small as to be laughable, so I decided to self-publish my next book, Ask the Book Doctor: How to Sell Your Writing and Beat the Competition, which was an amalgamation of some of my "Ask the Book Doctor" columns that appear in newsletters and Web sites for writers around the globe.

The plan was good; I did not need an ISBN number or distributor, because the book would not sell in bookstores, it would sell only wherever I spoke, and I would reap all the profits.

Selling a book in person, though, requires that it look good enough to buy. My publishing misstep was that I accepted an offer from a foreign printer who wanted to exchange design and printing services for my consultancy services. I agreed and spent hours consulting with the printer who wanted to learn how to bring its services to America. Although it did not implement my suggestions right away, I wasn't concerned, so long as I gave the company good advice.

When my books arrived, beaten and battered from their trip from overseas, the printed and trimmed book cover looked nothing like the design I had accepted online. The back cover was barely legible, with thin white letters on a red background. On the front cover, the title almost fell off both sides of the page. How could I sell a book in person that had no physical appeal? No matter how good the content, the cover sells the book in the end.

I learned not to scrimp on design and printing when you are self-publishing. I found a local designer and printer and all has gone well. I donated the ugly books to a company that needed giveaways. As a free book, it still had appeal, because the content was very educational, but I could never have sold a single copy of the book with its hideous original cover.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Great Seminar Past; More Planned in Future

My seminar for Write Well University went even better than expected. The organizer said we had more people signed up for the event than any other event they had held so far. Best of all, all the attendees will get an MP3 file of the seminar, so they can listen to it again, if they wish.

It makes me feel fulfilled to give information to writers that they can put to use. It's my way of passing forward the help and information others gave to me while I clawed and scratched my way through the muck and mire of trying to make a living with words. Those who held a flashlight for me or even swept away some of the mud and showed me a path are people I could thank a million times, and the best way to thank them is to give the same help to others. That's my mission.

I have several more events coming up, including a small, private seminar in my home in August. To stay up to date on where I'm speaking, subscribe to my free newsletter for writers at The newsletter is another way I give back and "pay it forward."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Yes, You Can Make a Living with Words!

AuthorSmart and WriteWellUniversity present a teleseminar that could change your life.

When you make a living doing what you love, you never feel that you're working. Do you love to write? Would you like to add to your income or even make a living writing or editing? Would you like that kind of freedom? If so, tune into this class and get started on your path. Whether you want to increase your income, retire to write or edit, or want to work full-time as a writer or editor, this is the class for you.

Take this telephone-based seminar in the comfort of your home. For this seminar you do not need to travel and do not even need access to a computer.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009, 6:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time
Duration: 75 minutes
Instructor: Bobbie Christmas
Cost: $10, includes audio recording and handouts

Join this teleseminar to learn how Bobbie Christmas has made her living with words for more than three decades. Learn avenues and ways you may never have considered, so you can do what you love for a living.

Sign up today, to ensure your place!

To sign up, click on this link or copy and paste it into your browser:

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Writers Network News, July issue, is out!

If you aren't a subscriber, go to and sign up today. It's free, and it's for anyone who writes. You'll get news, tips, answers, markets, and other information for writers.

Monday, June 8, 2009

It's not post mortem yet

Today the UPS truck pulled up to my office and offloaded the final seven cartons of my book, Write In Style. The rights have reverted to me; the book will officially go out of print, according to my publisher, who has taken his company in another direction.

I looked at the stack of boxes in the same way I may have looked at my father when I saw his health rapidly going downhill. I knew our time together was coming to an end, but I was not ready to bid him good-bye. So it is with my book. At least in the case of the book I have a few options to keep the book alive. I could find another publisher, or I could self-publish.

No decision must be made yet. I still have those seven cartons of books, twenty-eight copies in each carton. I'll sell the final copies on my Web site and at conferences where I speak, but when the inventory gets down to one or two cartons, I'll have to make a decision. Do I let Write In Style die a natural death, or do I revive it, and if I decide to revive it, what cure should I administer?

I'm not signing a DNR just yet; the book still lives and breathes, and I don't have to pull the plug and watch it take its final gasp. It's still a sad day, watching that pile of books struggling to live, calling out, "I'm still here; don't give up on me yet!"

Friday, May 15, 2009

Open Your Heart to Possibilities

One year ago on Memorial Day a neighbor who lives across the street knocked on my door and pleaded with me for the third time to please take her dog. She had grown allergic to him, and she knew I had recently lost my dog in a traumatic freak incident.

I was not ready to take on another animal and felt unworthy of the task, but I finally and reluctantly agreed to keep him for two days to see how things went. She left the dog and sent her son scurrying over with a kennel, bedding, food, toys, and snacks, and all you animal lovers out there can guess the rest of the story. The dog never left my house again.

The funny thing was this: I was not ready to take on another dog. I was still traumatized over my loss. I did not want a male dog and knew nothing about grooming and caring for a poodle. It was not love at first sight, although he was a sweet, cute thing of about fifteen pounds. His weight was about the only thing that fit my idea of what a dog should be. He needed a home, though, and in truth I needed another dog to heal my broken heart, and within two days we fell into a rhythm of mutual trust that gradually grew into deep love.

What does a dog story have to do with writing? Sometimes we resist the very thing we need, and we think our reasons are logical and reasonable. We refuse to learn new writing techniques or to comply with convention. We resist attending a workshop because we think we know enough already or we think we can’t afford the fee. We avoid joining a critique circle or asking fellow writers for feedback. We procrastinate sending our work out to a potential agent or publisher. If we’re lucky, though, something keeps knocking on our door and telling us we need to follow through, just as my neighbor kept returning and asking me to take her dog. Yes, if we’re fortunate, we open ourselves up to possibilities, and once we are open, all doors and windows are open, and what we need will come to us.

Last year I was closed to the idea of taking on another dog, but I relented, and now I have the most loving dog in the world, a dog who insists on cuddling with me when I watch TV, who curls up in his bed in my office, and who keeps me company all day. This loving creature looks up at me with large dark eyes that tell me he loves me more than anything in the world. I never thought it possible, and it would not have been, if I had not opened myself up to the possibility. Open your heart to possibilities and see what happens to your writing and your life. A year from now, everything could be different.

One more note: Write In Style, my book on creative writing, is nearly out of print! Don’t hesitate any longer. Get it now, while it’s still available through Amazon. For easy ordering, see

Sunday, May 3, 2009

New Port Richey Do It! Write! Conference

I've been back from the New Port Richey, Florida, conference since April 20, and I would have written about it sooner, but I had to hit the ground running, the moment I returned. Well, forgive the cliche, because it's not even true; I couldn't run. I developed a painful condition in my foot that made walking difficult, so walking through the airport wasn't much fun, but as soon as I returned home, I faced three deadlines, all within a few days of each other.

Now that I have met all the deadlines and cleared a little space on my desk and in my mind, let me tell you about the great conference I attended. It took place in a library that supplied meeting rooms for the whole group as well as small, quiet rooms for one-on-one conferences. The conference bookstore comprised an elevated circular table on which presenters and attendees displayed their books. The setup worked perfectly, because attendees walked around the table, picked the books they wanted, continued around the circle, found the authors to sign the books, and continued in the same arc to the cashier, to pay for their purchases. For such a small space, it worked perfectly.

We have been hearing financial gloom and doom in all forms of the media, and perhaps the news kept some people from spending money on their dream of becoming a published author. As a result registration had been a little lower than the promoters had hoped, but it wasn't down by much. Eager writers and learners filled almost every seat, and no one was short on enthusiasm. In one day some ten or more sessions educated writers on a wide variety of subjects, and no one left feeling short-changed, not even the speakers.

As the keynote speaker, I chose to talk about how how to make a living writing. I have supported myself with words for more than three decades, and I trust that anyone who is willing to be flexible, educated, and open can do it, too. Later one of the other presenters told me I could be a motivational speaker, because my talk was inspiring. Hmm. I hadn't thought of my talk as motivational, only educational, but if I motivated one person in that room to quit a boring or stressful job and enter the world of freelance writing, I succeeded in my mission.

By the time the event drew to a close in the afternoon, many people had met a literary agent face to face for the first time. Most had learned a great deal about how to catch the eye of a publisher or agent. All had learned ways to make their writing stronger, better, and more marketable.

I watched as people trickled out of the library, all with smiles on their faces. We all felt as though we knew each other; we'd been in close quarters, eating lunch, changing rooms, listening to speakers, and wandering around the circular table in the bookstore. I think all of us made new friends. I know I did.

At one time in my life my huge ego made me think I could give every talk offered at any writers conference, but I've grown since then. Now I enjoy having a free period or two when I can slip in and hear at least part of what the other presenters have to say. Even after all these years of writing, editing, freelancing, book doctoring, attending seminars, and giving seminars, I still learn something new, every time I attend a conference.

Good writers never stop learning. I hope you'll find a conference to attend this year. You can never predict what good things may come of it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Writers Network News, May issue, is out!

For news, markets, tips, and information for writers, see the latest issue of The Writers Network News at

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mid-List Woes

Yesterday I got a letter from my publisher, the only correspondence more dreaded than a rejection. It was a notice that Union Square Publishing, an imprint of Cardoza Publishing, is taking my book, Write In Style, out of print, rather than print another edition. Yes, the publisher is running out of books, and rather than reprint, the company will turn the rights to back over to me. I can find another publisher, reprint it myself, or let it die on the vine.

Such is the life of a mid-list author. We write books intended to stay on the market a long time, and in that time, things happen; companies change; and the market changes.

This book stayed on the market since 2004, so I probably shouldn't complain, but I had hoped for a much longer life for it. My publisher, however, has taken its business strongly in the direction of gaming books. The owner even moved his company from New York to Las Vegas.

The company has never quite known how to promote the books published under the Union Square imprint, anyway. It created that imprint to handle books on writing and publishing, but has historically paid more attention to the books on its gaming side, its original imprint. Since publishing my book, the company began publishing a magazine on gaming. It reaps more revenue from selling advertising in the magazine than it reaps from selling books like mine, so it expends most of its energy on producing the magazine and selling advertising. Readers of books of gambling tend to be wealthy males with a desire for high risks and high stakes. While a great market for advertising expensive cologne and pricey cigars, the magazine is obviously not the market for advertising my book on how to improve the quality of your writing. Writers tend to be gentler, less self-involved souls, I suspect.

What to do, then, when my book is out of print? First, I will be allowed to purchase the last few books available at Simon & Schuster, the distributor for the book. Next, I have the option of selling the book to another publisher.

I'm not sure what I'll do, right now, but I'm thinking about contacting my original agent and asking if she has another publisher she'd like to try. I hope so. I'd like to see my book live on after me, as my legacy.

Wish me success.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lunch with a friend

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, I had lunch with a different friend. The experience gave me an opportunity not only to connect with friends, but also to study dialogue and how each person had unique patterns in her speech. One prattled on in a long monologue about her life, her experiences, her challenges, her hopes, and her plans. One sat quietly and asked questions of me, and I found myself the one prattling for much of the lunch. One had a give-and-take conversational style. She said something about her experiences and then asked about mine. I spoke of mine and then brought up something that reminded her of another subject for discussion. Three friends, all grown women, and all with unique conversational styles.

Do we think of the conversation style of our characters when we write? Do we consider that some of them might sound self-involved, while others appear selfless? Do we ensure that each character chooses unique wording and sentence structure that differs from the other characters? Probably not. In most of the manuscripts I edit, the characters sound (not so surprisingly) like the narrator, who also sounds a great deal like the author, naturally, yet dialogue is an area that should set characters apart and show their differences.

As writers we must stretch and search for new styles of speech so that each of our characters has unique traits, not only physically and mentally, but also conversationally.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Scorching Summer Down Under

Many of my readers know my sister, also a writer, lives in Australia, thirteen time zones away, where their seasons are the opposite of ours. With the wonder of the Internet she and I stay in close contact, and several readers have asked if she’s been okay during the horrendous bushfires going on now. She and her husband live in Canberra, the capital, whereas the fires have been ravaging the state of Victoria, farther to the south, far enough away that she’s safe, this time. A few years back, however, Canberra had fires, and she and her house narrowly escaped harm.

Several of you have asked how you can help the many displaced and grieving Australians, and the Salvation Army in Australia (Salvo) has been the most helpful and fiscally responsible, so here’s the Salvo Web site link, where you can donate online: I hope you will contribute.

Jean’s latest report is sad, hopeful, interesting, and written with her Australian sense of humor and British spelling, so here goes:

“It was so sweet of you to pass on the Salvo address to friends. I told my Salvo friend, and she just got goose bumps to think people so far away are thinking of us. The death toll is 209, but there will be a few more to be discovered. The fires are still burning, and I heard that the fire fighters are working to manage the 1,100 km front before the winds shift for the worse on Friday. Can you imagine a fire over 1,000 km across? They have evacuated one more town, but that seems to be contained now. It’s still wait and see. We had the funeral yesterday of a Canberra fire fighter that died – a tree fell on him. So far he’s the only fire fighter, which is amazing. The people in the three towns that have totally disappeared are still camped at evacuation centres while they wait to get back to their properties or get accommodation elsewhere. It’s summer, so they’re all camped out on the football oval with lots of support. We had a national day of mourning Sunday, and all the churches held memorial services. It was really big everywhere. Lots of politicians and tears, not that they go together. On Monday, the Parliament member from the devastated areas stood up to make a speech in Parliament and just wept. Out of the 209 deaths, 198 were in her electorate. The PM (who’s in the opposite party) held her and promised to work personally with her to get people back on their feet. She has presented a list of ideas, such as helping some of the traders set up Internet stores until they can have a brick one back so there’s some income coming in, and his office is working on it. It’s nice to see the parties playing together when it’s important.”

You may know that Australia is one of the world’s driest continents, and bushfires are common and even normal there. Some seeds in Australia cannot germinate until they have been exposed to fire, but all that knowledge doesn’t make it any less devastating when the fires hit populated areas.

I want to thank all your folks who inquired about my sister and especially thank those who donated money to help displaced Australians. The world truly is one.

Yours in writing,
Bobbie Christmas ( or )
Author of triple-award-winning _Write In Style_ (Union Square Publishing), owner of Zebra Communications, and director of The Writers Network

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Concrete descriptions cement your writing future

The Arctic chill that settled over Georgia finally cleared a little, and temperatures rose well above freezing. I was able to take a stroll in a light jacket, without a cumbersome coat, gloves, muffler, and hat. A sense of spring hung in the air. Daffodils pushed through the soil, and trees sported green bundles at the tips of branches, ready to explode into fresh leaves.

Ah, February, I welcomed the thaw.

I walked past a neighbor’s house where a row of trees defined his property line, and I recalled having a chat when him while he planted the trees about three years ago. I decided that when I next saw that neighbor, I would comment on how well his efforts have paid off. Mentally I planned a conversation and said, “Your trees are doing nicely.” Whoa! What an abstract statement! I stopped and looked at the eighteen plants that had leaped from sticks to grow into bushes almost six feet tall, and I changed my mental dialogue to this: “Your junipers have grown by at least three feet.”

My revision gave distinct descriptions of which trees, what they are doing, and how well they are doing it. Much better. I ambled toward my house and pondered further. How could I improve the statement even more? Maybe this: “The junipers you planted three years ago have doubled in size.” That description gives him credit for having planted the things.

In the sunlight that warmed my heart and the late winter morning, I chuckled to myself. I’m ever the writer, always revising, even while I’m taking a walk with the dog, and I haven’t seen that neighbor in months. I may not see him again until the trees have tripled in size. What will I say to him then? I hope I remember to be concrete in my descriptions, rather than abstract, just as I try to do in my writing.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I Have a Dream

I find it fitting that today's celebration of Martin Luther King Day is being followed by the monumental day that our first black president will be sworn into office. Many of the older civil rights workers have voiced the opinion that they were glad they were able to live long enough to see this day. I am, too.

A product of the segregated South, I recognized the dichotomy between blacks and whites in South Carolina. I was able to drink at the metal water coolers, while blacks had to drink tepid water from ceramic fountains labeled “colored.” I could step into large, clean restrooms labeled “ladies,” while blacks went to the back of the building to a small room labeled “colored,” if such a room was even available. I walked in the front door and sat on the ground level of the movie theaters, while blacks entered through the side and walked up the stairs to the balcony.

Even as a child, I sensed something was wrong. By 1950 I wondered why blacks never ate in restaurants. I did not know they weren’t allowed. I wondered why blacks never swam in the municipal pool, why they didn't go to our state park. I wondered why blacks shopped on Assembly Street in downtown Columbia, which ran parallel to Main Street, where the whites shopped. I wondered why blacks could only stand and eat hot dogs at the Woolworth's hot dog counter, while whites could go to the newer side of the building, sit on stools, and order a variety of dishes. I wondered, but I did nothing about it, because none of it affected me.

Everything changed one summer day in 1961 when my cousin and I sat down at Woolworth’s to have a glass of tea. She had an olive complexion that tanned evenly and quickly within the first sunny days of June. We chatted and waited for the server to take our order. After a while, people sat down on either side of us, while we waited to give our order. Time passed before we noticed that the server had taken orders and delivered food to all the others at the counter, but not us.

“Miss?” my cousin called to the woman behind the counter.

She turned away and did not make eye contact.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Could we please get some service here?”

The woman looked away, busily wiping the counter.

My cousin’s eyebrows shot up and she turned to me. “Why hasn’t she taken our order?” she asked me.

I looked at my cousin, tanned and lovely in her sundress, and I looked at the others all around us, pale and white, and it dawned on me. The clerk thought we were civil rights workers trying to get service where blacks were not allowed. She thought my cousin was black.

My face flushed. I felt discrimination firsthand. There was absolutely no logic in it. Why couldn't we get service? What had we done wrong?

In an instant I became an advocate for civil rights. No more nonchalance for me. The movement finally hit home and made sense to me. Why were our schools segregated, when the black schools were so obviously not equal to our new, fancy ones? Why were blacks required to stay in the back of the bus, even if the only seats available were in the front of the bus? What gave anyone the right to refuse service to anyone else, based on skin color?

I tried to do my part to talk up civil rights, but many of my friends thought I was crazy. My high school and all others in South Carolina stayed segregated until forced to do otherwise, but by then I was in college. In my sophomore year at the University of South Carolina, it finally integrated, with much protest and hoopla, when three quiet and studious blacks were “allowed” to matriculate. I gleefully went to meet and greet the first female black at USC, Henri Monteith, but later my house mother chastised me for bringing Henri into our dorm, where she "was not allowed."

Some fifty years have passed since I was refused service because I was sitting with a person of color, even though her color was the result of a tan. I’ve seen steady but seriously slow progress over those years, and for a while I thought I would never live long enough to see total integration. The election of Barack Obama gave me hope that we are finally becoming the melting pot America has long claimed to be.

Martin Luther King Jr. and I had a dream, and although we still have a way to go, we are finally seeing some of that dream coming true.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sight Unseen

Dear Readers,

What a eye-opening experience I had last week! Literally! I went to an exhibition called Dialog in the Dark in midtown Atlanta, and although I would have spelled the word dialogue, I quelled the editor in me long enough to appreciate the essence of the program. It allows people to experience total blindness for an hour or so. My group had ten participants; each group is small for reasons that become obvious once the lights go out. We spent the next hour and fifteen minutes guiding ourselves through a maze of scapes using nothing but canes and our senses other than sight. Our canes allowed us to sweep the floor a little and use the sounds and feel of the canes hitting objects, to avoid obstructions and determine where to walk. For the first time in my life I really heard the difference between a wooden boat, a sodded lawn, a rug, a cement floor, and an asphalt street. I understood the embarrassment and frustration of hitting other people's shoes with a cane or even getting turned around and walking in the wrong direction.

Through a park we went, where I knew we were in a park only because I felt tree branches and leaves, low fencing around plants, and uneven grass beneath my feet. Birds twittered in the distance, and I smelled rich soil and greenery. Greenery? The word turned into a description, not a color, in total darkness. We experienced trees, plants, grass, an herb garden, rough ground, and a little bridge, seeing with only our noses, hands, and ears.

A blind guide led the way, using her voice to call us toward her, so we knew where to go next. We stumbled, bumped into each other, stubbed our toes, and touched things that we could not identify, but we still moved through the areas calmly. We walked into another scene, where we were asked to identify our location. I reached out and found round baskets with objects in them. The outside of the objects were a little soft, and the object itself gave, slightly, when I squeezed it. As I felt further, it was not perfectly round, but a little oblong. Could it be a mango? It had no smell, but I think it was a mango. "We're in a vegetable stand," I said. I found another basket, reached in, and pulled out a smaller object that had equal indentations all the way around and a skin that flaked off in my hands. I raised it to my nose. Oh! Definitely garlic! I found a calculator and a counter where, if the scene had been real, I might have paid for my purchases. We felt a cylindrical container, and when we shook it, we all determined it held oatmeal.

We left that scape and walked up a plank and found seats on a wooden boat and took a soft, rocking "cruise" to the sounds of water splashing and seagulls calling. We then left the boat and entered a cityscape, complete with mailboxes, trashcans, cars, and curbs we had to negotiate around without hurting ourselves. We went to a mock cafe where I ordered and paid for apple juice, in trust that I gave my money to the right person, used the right dollar bills, got the right change, and received exactly what I ordered.

First, though, I had to get the money that my friend had carried for me in his pocket. I called out, "Al, where are you?" He called out to my right, "I'm over here." I reached out to find him, but instead I found his hand in the air with my dollar bills in it. We transferred the dollar bills carefully from his hand to mine; dropping the money in the dark could have spelled disaster. I then turned to the counter, where I found the hand that the clerk held out from the other side. In the same hand-to-hand exchange, I gave her the money. She returned, touched my outstretched hand, slipped my change in it, and then, nothing.

A few seconds later, she said, "Who ordered the apple juice?" Oh, she must have left to fill the orders. Whew!

"I did," I said, and again held out my hand. Her hand found mine, and she slid a box into it. A juice box? Thankfully I had seen them before, so I knew a straw would be attached to the side. I felt for it, but at first did not know how to remove it. Once I figured out how to get the straw off the side of the box, I had to open the sleeve it was in and then find the pointed end of the straw as well as the tiny soft spot where the straw would poke a hole into the box. I thought I would never accomplish all those tasks, but I did. Apple juice never tasted so good.

The Dialog in the Dark exhibition changed me. I personally experienced how small your world becomes when you do not have the luxury of sight. The only things that exist for sure are those you can verify with your hands. The bird sounds and car sounds did not seem real, because I could not see the birds or cars. The car sounds would have been vital to me, however, had I been in a true city, with real traffic, and without sight. On a smaller scale, a thing as simple as a lamppost or a trashcan can become a danger when you can't see them. A curb is a serious hazard. A row of cans in a supermarket spell only confusion, and many fruits and vegetables feel alike, and you can tell them apart only by smell, if they have a smell at all.

I am fortunate to have a long-term close friend who was blind from birth. For some twenty-five years I have had only the slightest glimpse into his world, though, and it always fascinated me. My eighty-five minutes of mock blindness could barely equate to his lifetime of genetic blindness, but for those few minutes I did grasp a small part of how he perceives the world. I appreciate him more than ever. He has often told me that the only time he feels handicapped is when he needs to get somewhere and can't find a ride.

As a result of my experience in Dialog in the Dark, I'll be even more helpful to the blind, plus I will be careful to use more than mere visual descriptions when I write. I appreciate my sense of sight more than ever, but I also know that losing it would not end my world, whereas I used to fear that it would. The guide, who lost her sight to retinitus pigmentosa about twenty years ago, answered our questions about blindness and about her life after losing her sight. She never made us feel sad or sorry for her, but instead enlightened us.

The purpose of the exhibit is, of course, to increase our understanding of the world of the blind, and it works. If this exhibit or a similar one comes to your area, please go. It is not scary; it is educational, and chances are it will make you a better, more descriptive writer, as well.