Monday, February 25, 2008

Hook, Line and Reader

Although I can't remember the exact words, the feeling that sentence evoked stayed with me for years.

"Elaine's life was shrinking around her, like a polyester blouse in a hot dryer."

The article came out years ago, in one of those Sunday supplement papers like Parade or USA Weekend, and it told the story of a woman whose fear of leaving her house became worse and worse until she got help. Funny, I don't really remember how the story ended, because that first image, that hook, was so vivid for me. I'm a very fickle reader, but if you throw a good hook my way, you've got me for at least a few pages just out of respect.

Not just for fiction, a great hook can be used in articles, poems, anywhere you want to command attention. When done well, it grabs your reader by the lapels, yanks them in and gives them no choice; they simply must know what comes next. A great writer can have many hooks in a story, like the incomparable fantasy author Terry Pratchett, who kept me hooked with this line after the first section in his novel Thud:

On this day in 1802, the painter Methodia Rascal woke up in the night because the sounds of warfare were coming from a drawer in his bedside table. Again.

I suppose my penchant for hooks is why I love the contest at That First Line. The deadline is approaching fast, so if you have a talent for gripping first sentences, go for it.

Now that I've shared a couple of my faves, what are some of your favorite hooks?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

*headdesk* Create custom animated gifs at!

This is Cinnamon. He is vividly illustrating my frustration this week. For the last few days, real life has been sticking its sneaky head into my writing time, and work that should take one day is taking two or three. Grrrr. That's when I become especially vulnerable to distraction, like waiting for Cinnamon to fall asleep in a faceplant, then grabbing the camera.

Now that Cinnamon has had his few minutes of fame, I'm going back to work, and perhaps I'll get finished before Daylight Savings Time starts in March. ;)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Sat. Surf & Turf: Crafty Creativity

I make my living with words: writing, researching and reading. When I’m not at the computer, I’m thinking about query ideas, the perfect hook, blog entries. Words buzz through my mind like a psychedelic ant farm. When I’m ‘off the clock,’ I do crossword puzzles and play games like Bookworm to keep my mind sharp. And, no, I don’t do those number games in the newspaper, because I am literally the monkey looking at a math problem. I do one Sudoku a year, referred to euphemistically as ‘my taxes.’

That’s why, when my brain is near overload, I head for something arty or crafty. Nothing in depth, mind you, because I am the person who has stitched numerous mutant skirts to my leg in the pursuit of sewing. But I do enjoy simple crafts, something I can do in a day. I like thinking in colors rather than syllables for a while. That’s why I like Creativity Portal; it’s a great site filled with projects from easy kid stuff (my specialty) to in-depth art ideas. There’s also a lot of writing prompts and wordplay as well, when the muse needs an imagination break, but I mainly go for cute things like the Valentine bug project. It’s adorable, useless, and completely stress-reducing. My bug looks less cute than the professional ones pictured; but, hey, he has character. He’ll be alone on Bug Prom Night, but he has character.

Hobby Lobby is my shrine of arty stuff offline; they have easy projects you can just pick up and do, and just wandering the aisles crams my head with tons of neat ideas for lost afternoons. Throw in a few packages of watercolor markers, some blank note cards, bookmarks, glue and little jewelry bits, and I’m a happy camper. I love creating blocky, abstract designs just for the fun of it, playing with different hues and shapes. None of it will ever see the light of day, although if you know me long enough, you’ll probably get a birthday card in the mail that looks like the proud work of a 10-year-old. Ah, yes, that’s a good day’s play.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Requiem for a writer

As writers, we explore the depths of our light and dark sides, searching for universal truths and hoping for common bonds with our readers. On occasion, it’s hard to pull back from that darkness, which is why studies show so many writers and poets suffer from depression. And sometimes, the light goes out while you’re slogging through the night of your own soul; famously, as with Ernest Hemingway or Sylvia Plath, or quietly, anonymously, as with Lynn VonDemfange. She took her own life last week, and while people mourn and ask why, fellow explorers of the inner sanctum will understand her next-to-last act: she wrote her own obituary, a very writerly thing to do. Really, what writer wouldn’t want control over the final public words summing up their experiences, accomplishments, and legacy?

Looking at the list of professional achievements she left behind, one might hope to gain that much success. She had edited magazines, including a stint at Country Home, worked for Hallmark Cards, and wrote her own column for a while at the local paper.

But sometimes, the bylines aren’t enough. I only knew her by the words she wrote, the honest opinions she gave. I didn’t know her personal story or her pain, but I do know that she was a talented writer, and no matter what anyone says, we can always use more. The world is a little less literate without her.

So, thinking of Lynn, put down your pencils sometime this weekend, hug the ones you love, go out into the sun or the snow or the rain, and enjoy life. If you find that you can’t enjoy life anymore, seek help and find your way back to the brightness. We’re writers, and we should create grand tragedies from our imagination, not become one in reality.

Monday, February 4, 2008


Just a few years ago, I thought successful writers had their work published in hard copy, either in a magazine or by a large, corporate book publisher. I had this strange food chain pushed into my head by other writers and professionals. On top were the bestselling book authors, lots of money but no respect; then the literary book authors, lots of respect but no money; and finally, the writers who churned out articles for magazines and journals. Some money, definitely no respect. Anything else, and you simply weren't a real writer trying to make a real living.

I tried to accept the fact that my dream was to be the low man on this whacked-out totem pole.

Slowly, I started getting involved in online writing communities. They were invaluable resources, and I networked with small fish and big fish. Within the last 18 months, I've jumped into the online writing scene with both feet, and I've learned so much. I've made friends and contacts of people those traditional minds could never accept. There's thousands of talented writers out there, and they write website content, newsletters, press releases, short stories, fanzines, fortune cookies, online magazines, quizzes, e-books, greeting cards, POD books, cell phone novelizations, bumper stickers, blogs, crossword puzzles, cereal boxes, horoscopes, screenplays and so much more. Most of them mix and match from the list, but they all work hard to make a living with words.

Thanks to Absolute Write, Freelance Writing Gigs, Funds for Writers, and so many other great sites, I've discovered that the food chain is actually a straight line packed with wordsmiths of all stripes. (There's always humor writers twisting around at either end, because they can never resist a straight line.)

I realize that I fall somewhere in the middle, and while I enjoy writing for magazines, it's pretty cool to sample from the rest of the list now and again. But my perspective has changed. A writer is someone who gets paid for their words, whether it's an information portal, an erotic newsletter, a television show, or a blogging gig. It's such a relief to tear down the totem pole and share experiences with so many great people. All writers deserve respect. Next time I see one of those people who push the old-school frame on me, I'll remind them of that. Online, my circle has expanded, and I'm loving the stretch marks on my brain.