Thursday, December 11, 2014

So You Think You Know Your Christmas Carols. Put Your Holiday Savvy to the Test


It’s that time of year again. Christmas carols are on most radio stations, featured in elevator Muzak and played throughout most malls, but do you really know your Christmas carols? Apparently many people mishear the traditional songs. Do you have the holiday expertise sort out these messed up lyrics?

  1. See the grazing mule before us, fa la la la la la la la la…
  2. Later on we’ll perspire, as we drink by the fire…
  3. Olive, the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names.
  4. Yet in thy dark streets China
  5. Dawn we now our day of peril…
  6. Joy to the world! The Lord has gum…
  7. With a corncob pipe and a butt and a nose…
  8. Here we are, as in olden days. Happy golden rays, up yours…
  9. You’ll go drown in Listerine…
  10. O tiny bomb, O tiny bomb…
  11. Good King Wences’car backed out, on the feet of Steven…
  12. He’s making a list of chicken and rice…
  13. Get dressed, ye married gentlemen…

Make your guesses in the comments. You’ll get full marks if you can fix the line and tell me the title of the carol it comes from. Later today or first thing tomorrow, I’ll post the answers.

Happy playing and Happy Holidays.

Sources
abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/10-misheard-holiday-songs/story?id=20867242


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Creepy Christmas Traditions


By Elizabeth MS Flynn w/a Eilis Flynn
In retrospect, a creepy holiday myth from the Germans shouldn’t be that surprising. Bad dreams are inevitable after a heavy meal starring sauerbraten, after all. Seriously, considering the end of the year is so full of good cheer and twinkly eyes and ho-ho-hos, it’s amazing how many dark, disturbing myths can be found. Or maybe it’s because of it. Maybe it’s the overeating.

The Germans? But the American tradition of Christmas trees all sparkly comes from the Germans, you protest. Yes, but there’s more to it. There’s the matter of that dark little demon Krampus, known as the anti-Santa, giving you coal. Or a switch, but depending on where you are in Europe, that could be even if you’re good.

There’s the pan-European version of Santa Claus, who visits children with his assistants—who again are demons. If you’ve been good, no problem, because Santa will give you prezzies. If you haven’t, though, that’s a problem, because then Krampus takes you away to hell. Merry Christmas! Then there’s Santa’s other assistant, Perchta, who appears before Christmas Day to find out if you’ve been naughty or nice and if you haven’t been good, she’s going to soften you up for Krampus by slicing you open. I have to feel sorry for German-speaking children.

But first, St. Nicholas shows up on December 6 (which is, of course, St. Nicholas Day), with his assistant, Knecht Ruprecht, he with the long, red tongue who apparently shows up wearing dark, ominous clothing and has a stick to punish bad children. But at least he’s just there as a warning for the most part.

It’s not just the German speakers, either. Well, it’s part of the German language family. There’s the Dutch version of Santa, better known as Sinterklaas, who also has a sinister assistant. Zwarte Piet also takes bad children, but instead of taking them to hell, he takes them to Spain. (This may say something about the Dutch attitude toward the Spanish, actually.) What is it about the German language family cultures?

If you’re interested in the Slavic traditions, both before and after the Soviets, there’s the story of Ded Moroz (also known as “Grandfather Frost”), which was the seasonal figure that the Communists used as a substitution for Jesus. These days, Santa Claus has made in-roads into the region. Not necessarily St. Nicholas in Central Europe, though he shows up on St. Nicholas Day and leaves gifts and candy for the good kids, while his assistant, Krampusz (now where have we seen that name before?) or just the devil with no name, leaves birch switches. So it’s not just the Germanic cultures. Europe seems to be a scary place for the holidays.

Back to Grandfather Frost. The legend in Eastern Europe has the fellow traveling in a sleigh drawn by reindeer or three white horses with his assistant/granddaughter, the blond Snegurochka (also referred to as the snow maiden). I didn’t find anything that made Sneggy the snow maiden a scary assistant, so that’s a point for her. The Russians also have Ded Moroz and Sneggy. These traditions could have been brought to the country in the 1600s, but not for the first time, I have to ask what was there before. Again similar but not quite is the Georgian version of Santa Claus, tovlis papa (“grandfather snow”).

Then there are the Scandinavians. Let’s start with the Danes, not so melancholy. They have Julemanden, their version of Santa Claus, who also arrives in a sleigh with reindeer. He has helper elves called nisser, but they’re not scary! Finally, a German family language culture that doesn’t threaten scary things!

Iceland has the mischievous Yule lads, the sons of trolls living in the local mountains, who wreak mild havoc, but pretty mild. They wear strangely familiar red and white suits. And there are the Swedes, with their jultomte, house gnomes, who insist on being fed porridge or they’ll spread some bad luck for the coming year. Okay, a little ominous. Those gnomes are basically Santa Claus in red with white beards, and instead of trying to work their way down a fireplace, they are smart enough to knock and inquire if there are good children around. Nothing like the direct route!

Estonia celebrates Christmas on December 24 and Estonians look forward to a visit from jouluvana on Christmas Eve, and while they don’t have to fear that scary demonic assistant, they do have to sing or recite poetry to get their gifts. That’s not bad, unless you have stage fright. Christmas Day is also a day to visit one’s deceased relatives there.

As always, the Finnish march to their own drummer. They have their Declaration of Christmas Peace that is recited throughout the country every year on Christmas Eve; 1939 was the exception, since they were at war with the Soviet Union (known as the Winter War). And there’s also a tradition of a pre-sunset sauna, leaving the sauna available for the ancestral spirits to return and take their own after the sun goes down.

And if we go to Eastern Europe again and take a look at Bosnia-Herzegovina and so forth, we have Santa with his assistant Krampus (familiar?), who steals the gifts of wicked children and the good children as well! The Slovenes also have Santa Claus and Dedek Mraz (“Grandfather Frost”)(note the similarity to other area figures. Ain’t comparative linguistics grand?). In Bulgaria there’s Santa Claus as “Dyado Koleda,” with “Dyado Mraz,” the similar character introduced by the Soviets, now faded away.

When we drop by Greece and Cyprus, with their Orthodox traditions, there’s St. Basil who is basically Father Christmas, as opposed to St. Nicholas. But there are holiday goblins that show up around the Epiphany, thought to be satyrs, the descendants of Pan.

I was an anthropology major, so I enjoy researching cultures. But this thing about sinister demons around Christmas? Freaky!

Elizabeth MS Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a young adult novel, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 35 years, working with academia, technology, and finance nonfiction, and romance fiction. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be found editing at emsflynn.com and reached at emsflynn@aol.com. If you’re curious about her books, check out eilisflynn.com. In any case, she can be reached at eilisflynn@aol.com.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

November--National Novel Writing Month



It’s November, which for many of us means it’s … National Novel Writing Month.

Exactly what is National Novel Writing Month? “It’s a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing at the start of November with the goal of writing a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, Nov. 30.” That’s roughly 1, 667 words daily, about 6 to 7 pages a day.

Writing that many words is challenging, even exhilarating, but, at the same time, for people like me, daunting.

There are lots of reasons not to attempt National Novel Writing Month. I play them in my head even as I type my manuscript, but I also have solutions.


Maybe you’re of the same mind and that little voice of doubt nags in your head. With some helpful advice from Chris Baty’s book No Plot, No Problem let’s tackle those concerns.
Chris, incidentally, is the founder of National Novel Writing Month.




1. I don’t know how to begin. I don’t have it all planned out. That’s OK. Sit down at the keyboard and type. "It’s fine just to start.” Footnote: “Making it up as you go along does NOT require you to be a gifted novelist.”

2. I don’t know what I need to start. “What you need to write a novel, of course, is a deadline.”

3. How will a deadline help? “In the artistic realms, deadlines do much more than just get projects finished. They serve as creative midwives, as enthusiastic shepherds adept at plucking the timid inspirations that lurk in the wings of our imaginations and flinging them bodily into the bright light of day.”

4. Is the arduous journey worth the time and effort? "In the 30 or 31 days you spend under (the deadline’s “taskmastering”  thumb, “you’ll discover wild, wonderful parts of yourself and tap into exciting realms of aptitude and achievement you didn't know existed.”

5. How will people react? “You’ll fly and soar and laugh and sing, and [yes] the people who love you will likely worry you've gone crazy.”

6. Oh, no! “Well, actually, that’s OK. The insanity only lasts a month, just long enough to get ‘Write a Novel’ checked off your to-do list.”

7. But I’m not sure I can write all that well, especially when I’m just getting my ideas down. “There is no pressure on you to write a brilliant first draft. No one ever writes a brilliant first draft.”

8. What are the special perils? “The first law of exuberant imperfection is essentially this: The quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horribly crappy.”

9. One reason NOT to try National Novel Writing Month is I’m busy and writing a novel takes a lot of time. It does, but what I’m planning is to discover what 1-2 hours a day for a month [can produce]. If I look at my daily routine, I probably can find activities I can forego for a while. And Chris Baty adds, “When I’m writing a novel, I stop Internet surfing entirely, limit my leisure reading, and spend much less weeknight time with (non-noveling) friends. Other writers use the opportunity to pare back conversations with their in-laws and stop doing yard work.” The point: These suggestions should work for you, too.

10. But what about the people I live with? Will they be able to do without me while I’m off creating this masterpiece? “It’s not so much that you’ll be totally absent for one month as it is that you’ll be exceptionally present for the other 11.”

11. But I like to be around others and I want to have some fun even if I’m working on a novel. Answer: If you’re feeling alone, try writing with buddies. “Writing with a partner (or three or four) helps all parties tap into the pool of competitive energy that forms when several people are working toward the same goal.”

12. Does the ‘team approach’ really work? Yes, indeed. “When ‘noveling’ with someone else, you have a pacer, a motivator and a sympathetic ear for sharing the triumphs and tragedies of your novel. It’s more productive and a lot more fun.”

13. But what if I don’t have a plot for my novel? “If you spend enough time with your characters, plot simply happens. This makes your novel writing, in essence, a literary trapeze act, one where you have to blindly trust that your imagination and intuition will catch you and fling you onward at each stage of your high-flying journey.”

Chris’ advice helps me keep turning out pages. It has me thinking about all the others who are taking the 50K challenge. How about you? What thoughts inspire you to keep writing, blogging or taking part in National Novel Writing Month? Please share with us.


Sources

http://nanowrimo.org/

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Taking Apart the Hot Premise


By Elizabeth MS Flynn, w/a Eilis Flynn
We’ve all had that experience of stepping into an elevator or other confined space, realizing you’re in there with an editor or an agent, and en lieu of pointless small talk, he or she asks you what you’re working on. As you stammer out your longwinded answer, the moment ends (i.e., the elevator door opens) and said editor or agent goes on his or her way. Could you have made use of that opportunity by blurting out the hot premise version of your synopsis? You betcha!

This is for everyone who’s been asked to boil down their story idea into one sentence, ten words or less. This is for everyone who’s had a hard time boiling their stories down into the simplest terms, a necessity in today’s short-attention-span era.

First of all, what’s a hot premise, anyway? You’ve heard of the term “high concept.” It’s the term that Hollywood types are known to use to mean a movie or TV show idea that can be summed up in just a few words. It’s a premise (a hot one!) that can impart as much as a paragraph or even a book could, but just hitting the highlights that take people aback and make ‘em blink (Hollywood types not being known for their enjoyment of reading more than a few words at a time. Are they literate? One wonders).

That “what-if” thing is the very essence of fiction, but in the case of the hot premise, it’s everything. In just a few words, it has to intrigue and inspire, and most challenging, no matter how old the idea, it has to be made fresh. The idea could be an old one, but it has to be translated for the modern age. The best way to be able to do this is to know your own plot and story very, very well and give it a twist that rejuvenates it.

Okay, by now you might have gotten the idea about what a hot premise is and how you can go about boiling down your story idea into a few words. One of the most frustrating things you may have learned in school is that too often teachers don’t want short and simple, they want complex and high-falutin’. So instead of the simple answer you were about to give, you find yourself having to make it sound way more complicated than you think it needs to be. This sticks to you through school, through college, through graduate school and your doctoral dissertation…but it doesn’t work when you’re trying to sell your story. Because people who’re going to be buying your story don’t care about how high-falutin’ you can make it, they care about how your story makes them feel. And that’s as basic as you’re going to get.

Now look at your story. Can you tell people what it is in ten words or fewer, using a twist you want your readers to focus on?

I’m breaking this all down into its basic elements for an online workshop for Futuristic Fantasy & Paranormal this December. Cross your fingers I’ll be succinct enough!

Elizabeth MS Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a young adult novel, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 35 years, working with academia, technology, and finance nonfiction, and romance fiction. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be found editing at emsflynn.com and reached at emsflynn@aol.com. If you’re curious about her books, check out eilisflynn.com. In any case, she can be reached at eilisflynn@aol.com.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thirteen Plus Photos of the Night of Romance.

On Thursday, October 9 from 6:30-8:30pm
at the West Allis Public Library, I and some of the Wisconsin Romance Writers’ very best authors attended A Night of Romance

The Wisconsin Romance Writer Panel

Here are thirteen pictures of the fun event.

 
S. C. Mitchell talks about writing.

L. J. Kentowski  and her books

A book winner

A. Y. Stratton



Exciting times-Liz Czukas and  S.C. Mitchell share a joke.


Gina Maxwell shares her books


Kat de Falla and Rachel Green


So many wonderful books to choose
Liz and Carla trying to listen while I snap pictures.


Tempste O'Riley

Sarah J.  Bradley talks writing

Tricia Quinnes and Carla Luna Cullen
Kathryn Albright and Cheryl Yeko


Fans


The authors shared their writing experiences and their books.  If you’re looking for a good read, consider trying one of their stories.


Thanks, and as always I appreciate you stopping by. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Talking about Fear: Thirteen Visceral Signals


How is a crime-solving detective like a successful gambler?  They both look for tells, those small physiological responses a human exhibits when he experiences emotion. Avid readers look for these signs, too and as authors it’s our job to make sure they find them. We’re told to show not tell.
Sometimes that’s hard to do, but I’ll help you out.
Since this is October, the month of frights, let’s start with a quick study in fear responses.
Instead of saying a character like Marcia is afraid something might have happened to Haley writers are supposed to give evidence. Here’s how Harlan Coben shows the growing lump Marcia’s fear created in her throat.

“And that was when Marcia started to feel a small rock form in her chest. There were no clothes in the hamper.
The rock in her chest grew when Marcia checked Haley’s toothbrush, then the sink and shower.
All bone-dry.
The rock grew when she called out to Ted, trying to keep the panic out of her voice. It grew when they drove to captain’s practice and found out that Haley had never showed. It grew when she called Haley’s friends while Ted sent out an e-mail blast—and no one knew where Haley was. It grew when they called the local police, who, despite Marcia’s and Ted’s protestations, believed that Haley was a runaway, a kid blowing off some steam. It grew when forty-eight hours later, the FBI was brought in. It grew when there was still no sign of Haley after a week.
It was as if the earth had swallowed her whole. A month passed. Nothing. Then two. Still no word. And then finally, during the third month, word came—and the rock that had grown in Marcia’s chest, the one that wouldn't let her breathe and kept her up nights, stopped growing.”

From Caught, by Harlan Coben

That old lump-in-the-throat feeling is just one of the visceral symptoms of fright. Here are thirteen more.
  1. Heart racing, skipping or beating loudly.
  2. Labored breathing
  3. Eyes widening
  4. Body trembling
  5. Upset stomach
  6. Sweating
  7. Numbness in toes or fingers
  8. Face blushing
  9. Tingling in hands, scalp or feet
  10. Swaying as if dizzy
  11. Tightness in the chest
  12. Cramps-the urge to use the bathroom
  13. Twitches or jerky movements
I’m sure I've left out lots of fear responses that can be shown. Help me out if you’d like and add to my list in the comments. Thanks.


Sources



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Beware the Info Dump, My Child


By Elizabeth MS Flynn, w/a Eilis Flynn

Say you’re starting work on your latest story. You’ve just done a ton of research on it to get all the details right, down to the outer ridge of your heroine’s boot, manufactured in Kokomo, Indiana, having a distinctive triangular pattern as a post-modern variation of a 15th-century Native American design from the Humptulips, WA, region. You are proud of what you’ve done, and who could blame you? Inspired, you want to bring the reader into the story and you want him or her to be as fascinated and intrigued by it as you are. But you make a small tactical error. Just a small one. You dump all this stuff at the beginning of your story so they can get started on the wonderfulness that is your story…

And you are left scratching your head when the readers don’t come, or they read the first couple of pages…and wander away, choosing not to continue. What happened? Why weren’t they fascinated? What’s wrong with them?!

Here’s the thing. You gave them too MUCH. You didn’t give them a little of the wonderfulness at a time. You scared them away! How did they not find that triangular pattern on your heroine’s boot to be the most fascinating thing in the world? How in the world could they not want to know how that works into the complex comedy of errors plot? How could they not want to know more with that flood of interesting minutia?

This musing came about when my friend Heather Hiestand and I started to talk about the imparting of information and how too much makes our potential reader wander off, bored, especially in today’s short-attention-span society. That’s the problem with info dumps. It’s too much, too soon, and our eyes, used to tidbits about the Kardashians and the latest about Lindsay Lohan, go blind with actual, useful information.

So how much research is just right? What’s the tidbit to work in, what isn’t? Here are some tricks and tips to keep in mind when it comes to making the best use of your research, along with some examples.

info dumps that work
Gone with the Wind:
Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. In her face were too sharply blended the delicate features of her mother, a Coast aristocrat of French descent, and the heavy ones of her florid Irish father. But it was an arresting face, pointed of chin, square of jaw. Her eyes were pale green without a touch of hazel, starred with bristly black lashes and slightly tilted at the ends. Above them, her thick black brows slanted upward, cutting a startling oblique line in her magnolia-white skin—that skin so prized by Southern women and so carefully guarded with bonnets, veils and mittens against hot Georgia suns.
***

Now you may ask, how the heck did Margaret Mitchell get away with THAT? Talk about a classic info dump!

Why’s it work?
Only with the second paragraph do we find out where the scene is set, in the Georgian country plantation where the family lives. So we learn not only does Scarlett get what she wants, she considers herself beautiful, and she has the world at her fingertips. This opener of Mitchell’s is famous because it is so infamously cumbersome. Whether or not you’re a fan, the introduction shows the reader that the story of Scarlett O’Hara is a story about Americans, a mixture of this and that and resulting in a character who’s flawed and foolish and conniving but strong enough to survive. So this is a case of an info dump that sets up the protagonist.

Then there’s the classic opening for
Rebecca:
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.
***

Does it work?
This is an example of an opener that could work for you, or could not. Aside from the introductory sentence, the details that follow sets the scene, but depending on what you’re expecting to find, it can be considered intriguing or boring. And from what I’ve heard commented, the interest can also be split into forms of fiction you’re interested in, and even gender (behold the modern man, whose interest in classic suspense seems to be at an all-time low unless there’s blood or gore described).

What to describe? Describe the clothing, the surroundings, the setting only as it moves the story. Author Jacquie Rogers, who writes Westerns, has told me from time to time that she tends to skip over details in her stories, to the point that all her characters might as well be naked. Or “nekkid,” her word. That’s the other extreme. Research is lovely, research is glorious, but if it doesn’t further your story, it’s just a lump o’ words. AVOID LUMP O’ WORDS! They stop your story COLD.

Heather and I are presenting this information as a workshop for Emerald City Writers’ Conference in a couple of weeks. Let’s hope that we’re succinct and don’t go into info dumps!

Elizabeth MS Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a young adult novel, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 35 years, working with academia, technology, and finance nonfiction, and romance fiction. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be found editing at emsflynn.com and reached at emsflynn@aol.com. If you’re curious about her books, check out eilisflynn.com. In any case, she can be reached at eilisflynn@aol.com.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

In Celebration of Writing—Thirteen Great Minds Weigh In

Ever think about this writing thing we authors spend our time doing? Ever wonder what others make of this craft? Here are thirteen thoughts to inspire you.



  1. One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.~ Lawrence Block 
  2. There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~ Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  3. Writers live twice.~ Natalie Goldberg
  4. Write while the heat is in you. … The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. ~ Henry David Thoreau
  5. Anyone who is going to be a writer knows enough at 15 to write several novels. ~ May Sarton
  6. Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers. ~ Ray Bradbury
  7. I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it. ~ William Carlos Williams
  8. We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master. ~ Ernest Hemingway
  9. To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard. ~ Allen Ginsberg
  10. The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress. ~ Philip Roth
  11. Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts. ~ Larry L. King
  12. When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done. ~ Stephen King
  13. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. ~ George Orwell

Do you write? Do you have a favorite quote about the process? Please share.

Sources

 
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