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Saturday
Mar052011

To share or not to share?

Recently, I learned an acquaintance was writing a book. Excitedly, I asked, "Oh, what's it about?"

Is there a more glorious moment when someone takes an interest in your novel, wanting to know what you're writing about? Not for me. I'm more accustomed to people muttering, "That's great," their eyes glazing over like fasnachts on Fat Tuesday. My experience has been that people only want to hear about your books if you have a track record for publishing them. When someone asks me about my novels, I can't wait to try my pitch out on them. What if I get stuck in an elevator with an editor from Berkley Books, and she says,"What's your book about?" I have to be ready.

So, I practice my pitch. I write it and write it again. As I am wrapping up a book, I revise my logline. I've entered assorted contests--pitch, premise, first page, and novel-in-a-paragraph--seeking feedback on my pitch--my hot idea. You need as much practice as you can get. Not to mention, that sometimes by defining and honing your logline or your premise, you realize your book is getting off track in time to steer it back onto the rails.

"Sharing your pitch is important," said Rick Fellinger, a fellow Wilkes University Creative Writing program alum. "Do you know how many ideas for story content I've gotten when I've told people what I'm writing about?"

"I'd rather not say much about it," the woman said. "I don't want to give it away."

I had asked about her book--in earnest. I was giving her the chance I live for. But she didn't want to talk about it. I asked a follow-up question, and she disclosed a few vague details about her book.

Why didn't she want to talk about her book? Did she think I was going to steal her idea? That's not usually how it works. I can't write her book or anyone else's. Most people can't. Maybe that's why I've experienced very little theft of my intellectual capital despite participating in lots of online writing communities and contests. My god, you're lucky if someone in a position to advance your book sees your book, and its potential. Period.

Hillary didn't get my vote...
and I didn't get a column
Once I submitted an idea for a column to an online magazine with the headline, "Hillary or Bust?" the premise being a sardonic one: Society expected me to vote for another female Democrat because I was a woman, but Hillary wasn't my candidate of choice. The publication didn't accept my column--apparently they were voting for Hillary. However, in the very next issue one of the headlines of their articles was, "Hillary or Bust?" In almost six years of furious writing and submission, that's the worst case of idea theft I've ever experienced. And I never submitted a column idea to them again.

So, what do you think? Are you reluctant to share your writing? Your pitches? Your premises? Do you see the value in sharing them or do you think I'm being too trusting, which I've been known to be? Has anyone ever stolen your writing--premise, pitch, copy?

Friday
Feb182011

Do you 'do' audio books?

"I don't do audio books," the woman said in a tone of voice implying audio books were a scourge on humanity. Even my sainted mother, who has macular degeneration, considers audio books as selling out. She intends to hang in with large-print books as long as she can.

Audio books have been around a lot longer than I've been listening to them.  I used to listen to NPR shows like "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" because it made more sense to listen to news than music or books for my job as the chief information officer at a university. Then I got a new job, one with a longer commute, one that didn't require being up-to-date on current/world events. That's when I decided to listen to audio books instead. Now, I'm not saying the NPR news shows don't have value--they do. But as a writer of fiction, the more books I can know by reading them or listening to them, the better for me.

I didn't say anything to the woman who doesn't do audio books in defense of them. If you knew her, you'd know it was a hopeless cause trying to convince her otherwise. (She doesn't do Harry Potters books either.) Let's hope she doesn't do blogs.

I don't know about you, but there are only 24 hours in my day. I have a full-time job. I have two blogs--this one and an opera blog. I have WIPs and books I'm polishing to shop. I review live opera events on a regular basis--which involves traveling out of town. I can't afford to not to use every means at my disposal to expose myself to other books.

The value of audio books

By listening to audio books during my commute, I'm taking in roughly 25 more books a year than without listening to them. That's a significantly higher level of exposure to other writers' work. I'm hearing how other writers:
  • use exposition, flashback, description
  • develop character through dialogue
  • build arcs for their characters as well as arcs for the book
  • end chapters on hooks
  • sustain suspense and elevate stakes

What novels and story collections have I listened to in the last year?

Here's a few titles off the top of my head:
  • Drama city by George Pelecanos
  • The year of secret assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty
  • Man gone down by Michael Thomas
  • The other Boleyn girl by Philippa Gregory,
  • Ghost a novel by Alan P. Lightman
  • The senator's wife by Sue Miller
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • The beautiful miscellaneous by Dominic Smith
  • Our story begins [new and selected stories] by Tobias Wolff,
  • People of the book by Geraldine Brooks
  • Blasphemy by Douglas Preston
  • Water for elephants by Sara Gruen
  • All we ever wanted was everything by Janelle Brown
  • Walking in circles before lying down by Merrill Markoe
  • True evil by Greg Iles
  • Run the risk by Scott Frost
  • Last night at the Lobster Stewart O'Nan
  • The invention of everything else by Samantha Hunt
  • The time traveler's wife a novel by Audrey Niffenegger
  • Fired up by Jayne Ann Krentz
  • Oh, my stars by Lorna Landvik
  • my current audio book
  • Castle in the Forest by Norman Mailer
Right now I am listening to In the moon of red ponies by James Lee Burke. It's so well done, I don't want to turn off the engine. Instead I linger at my destination a little longer just to hear more. The narrator is gifted--one of the best I've heard--bringing out all the nuances in Burke's writing.

The downside of audio books

The only downside is that I can't say I read the books, strictly speaking. "I heard that book," sounds dumb. So, I say I listened or was exposed to them.

The bottom line? I have the potential to be a richer writer, not to mention, better read, because of audio books. I do them and plan to keep doing them, thank you very much.

Tuesday
Feb152011

When nightmares come...

As I was watching the Westminster Kennel Club show tonight and the night before, a terrible memory gripped me. I didn't know what to do with it, other than write about it.

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Feb132011

'Raven's Bride' marries history and pathos, lore and love

Book: The Raven's Bride Author: Lenore Hart Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (New York: 2011) Reviewed by: Gale Martin As someone who appreciated Edgar Allan Poe's stories from my first reading of them as a teen, I was intrigued by the premise of Lenore Hart's newest book, The Raven's Bride, a fictionalized account of the short life of Poe's young wife, Virginia "Sissy" Clemm.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jan252011

It's not how you start; it's THAT you finish!

I learned something invaluable in the course of my five-year foray into creative writing: the very best thing a writer can do for herself is finish her manuscript.

Click to read more ...