Category Archives: on writing

Bragging Rights

FAPA-GoldI don’t usually post about myself and my writing, but I won an award. The Janus Code by J.C. Ferguson (that’s me, Judy Loose) is the winner of the Florida Authors & Publishers Association 2014 President’s Award Gold Medal for Adult Fiction: Action/Suspense. It’s exciting to win a prestigious award—first place. Wow! It’s probably silly to be so pleased, but it does feel good to have professional writers and publishers approve of my work.

This is also a credit to the Gulf Coast Writers Association. They have three winners this year. In addition to my award, Alice Oldford won a gold medal in the Home and Garden category for her book, Recipes and Life and Patti Brassard Jefferson won a silver medal in the Children’s Picture Book category for Stu’s Big Party.

Thanks for listening to me sound off.

The Trials of Editing

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could write something – an article, a story, a book – and publish it without any more work?

I don’t know any writers who can safely do that. I imagine there might be some who have grammar and structure so embedded in their brains that it comes naturally. But I don’t think we see our own mistakes. I catch things in others’ writing that I don’t in my own. I’m not exactly sure why. It may be that we are so involved in our own stories that we can’t see the trees for the forest.

I’m planning to publish another book this summer and I’m on my bazillionth edit. After editing it several times myself, I sent it to an agent and she went through it. I sent it to my sister-in-law who is a good editor, sent it chapter by chapter to my critique group where each person found different things to correct, went through it again and found more edits….

Now it’s with my very good editor, The Grammar Granny, and she is finding so much more. Yesterday, she sent me a note telling me to look for “just” in the manuscript and try to get rid of a few. I found 283 occurrences in the book and whittled it down to 66. A replacement wasn’t required for most of them; removing “just” didn’t change the meaning at all. And I wasn’t aware I was doing it. It’s “just” one of those words that “just” disappears in my mind as I read.

Besides using one word too often, another big problem in my writing is commas. I know all the rules but don’t think about them when I write. Going back and finding all the places I added them but shouldn’t, or should have and didn’t, is tedious and difficult. (Did I get them right in that last sentence?)

My last book, The Janus Code, was self-published. It had been edited several time by myself and others. Yet when the first books were printed there were errors. Typos!

I track all my changes in MS Word as I’m editing. After the last edit, I forgot to accept all changes before sending it to CreateSpace. Even though I wasn’t seeing them on my computer or my printed copy because I had it in the “final” view, all the changes showed up as the old AND new versions. If I replaced a word, you could see both the deleted word and the new word. Luckily, I only had 10 copies printed, but I sold some or gave others to friends before someone noticed. The proof was correct, so I never looked at those first copies until a fiend or two pointed out the problem to me.

My advice to all you authors and would-be authors out there: please have another pair of eyes, or several sets of eyes, look over your work before you publish. Read your proof and read your first copies after the proof. You’ll be happy that you did.

Back to my editing….

Quotation Marks (or lack thereof)

I guess it’s supposed to be fashionable to write without quotation marks. But to me it usually marks an author who is trying to be “literary.” I know that I have read and enjoyed some books in the past sans quotation marks, but they were good stories.

Last night I gave up on a book written by an author who according to his credentials has a degree in English and creative writing. The lack of quotation marks drove me crazy. He added way too many “he said” and “she said” (the quotation marks are mine) to guide the reader. This made the writing choppy. A talented writer can add he said and she said without the reader even noticing. This was not the case with this book. Sometimes each quote was a separate line and sometimes he bunched them together in one long paragraph. So there wasn’t even consistency in his style. I might have continued reading if the story didn’t feel jaded and cynical. I wasn’t in the mood for that type of novel. It was supposed to be humorous, but I guess it wasn’t my kind of humor.

This morning I decided to look up the lack of quotation marks in certain novels and found a lot of people who agree with me. There’s a post in Jenny and Kelly Read Books blog that I liked called, “No More Books Without Quotation Marks…EVER! /mommie dearest.” I found an article by Lionel Shriver in the Wall Street Journal of all places called “Missing the Mark.”

The article I found most interesting goes into the history of quotation marks. A post by Richard Lea is in The Gaurdian’s Book Blog, “Don’t be scared: dialogue without quotation marks.”

In case you’re wondering, the book I didn’t finish was The Bend of the World by Jacob Bacharach. I can’t give you a review because I didn’t finish it. Who knows? It might be a great book.

About Writing Reviews, where do they go?

For those of you who don’t know me, I belong to the Gulf Coast Writers Association in Southwest Florida (I’m their webmaster). It’s a large group of around two hundred writers. I like to buy members books from time to time and if I like the book, I write a review on Amazon. As a writer, I know that good reviews help your sales. I always appreciate a review for my book. More is better.

But…where do they go?

I write a review and see it on Amazon. They even send me an email telling me it posted. A week or a month later, when I go back to check on my review, it has disappeared. The same thing happens to reviews people write for my book. Currently I have one review on Amazon. I asked this question, “Where do they go?” and was told that they need to be able to verify purchase. I can almost understand on the books that I buy from the authors at a book signing or a writer’s meeting. Yet even the reviews I’ve added for books I’ve purchased from Amazon have disappeared.

So…where do they go?

I don’t know how to solve this problem. I’m going to start adding my reviews of these books to other websites, like goodreads, indie bound, aNobii, and LibraryThing. There may be more. The other places I found to leave reviews online seem to be either bookseller sites or sites that have been bought out by publishers/booksellers. So you may have the same problems there that you have with Amazon.

Meanwhile, I’m going to start adding those reviews here on my blog and on one or more of the other places I mentioned. We’ll see how it goes.

On Writing – Writer’s Block

Every writer probably has writer’s block at one time or another, unless they are very disciplined. Even when writing, sometimes we are suffering from writer’s block. We just keep writing words even though we know they are not going anywhere, or at least not where we intend them to go. For me there are several types of writer’s block.

Procrastination: I’ll do it tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…for days, weeks, or even months.
Possible solution: Schedule a time to write every day. At least write something.

Priorities: I need to do “this” first – task, project, work, play, or whatever. For me it’s usually my work. I’m self-employed and always feel guilty when I write for myself before finishing the work piling up for my clients. Which is more important – editing my current book for publication and working on the next one or finishing the website, cover, or book format for someone waiting for their finished product?
Possible solution: Schedule my writing as if I’m a client.

Complete writer’s block: I sit in front of the keyboard and can’t think of a thing to write.
Possible solution: Just write anything to get started. (This blog started as an exercise in writing something, even if it’s not the manuscript I should be working on.)

Writing goes nowhere: Maybe the plot isn’t going where I think it should or I don’t like the way the character is developing or a thousand other excuses. Whatever the reason or non-reason, what I write isn’t doing anything for me.
Possible solution: Stop! Outline the plot or write a backstory for the character. Go back to the beginning and read to see where it went wrong. Try to read it as if it was written by someone else. Organize.

My main “writer’s block” is setting my priorities. If I’m going to get any worthwhile writing into my busy schedule, I need to consider my own writing as important as my clients’ work. Let’s see if I can serialize my last published book for Kindle, finish editing and publish the next one, or complete the draft of the story that’s stuck in the middle.

I’d love to hear other writers’ opinions on this subject. Leave me a comment.

And wish me luck…

Writing in the Zone

For me, writing is a ‘Zen’ kind of thing. It’s almost a form of meditation. If I’m able to get into the zone, the words flow. When the creative juices are sloshing around in my head, the story takes over and all else shuts down – the story almost writes itself.

If not in this zone, my writing sucks. Or worse than that, I don’t write. When I’m creating a new story, if my mind wanders to other things – the day’s events, problems, work, etc. – then my writing becomes stilted or boring. If I were the reader of these poorly written words, I would put down the story and not bother to finish it.

Other activities in my life have that same meditating effect as writing in the zone. Gardening washes all small talk out of my brain. Painting quiets the mind chatter. Painting pictures is what I mean, but routine tasks like painting walls can do the same. I think for some of my friends, house cleaning accomplishes this quieting effect. I know several women (and a couple of men) who clean like crazy when they are stressed. This doesn’t work for me. Probably because my mind is moaning and groaning about doing a job that I don’t like.

I haven’t flown (piloted) a plane in several years, but this was a task that pushed out all other thought. Flying a small plane takes total concentration in order to keep track of all that is happening. Maybe this was because I didn’t fly often enough for it to become routine.

I know that driving a car is so habitual that my mind wanders to all sorts of other places. I’ve even been known to write haiku in my mind as I drive. This is probably not the best way to drive. I should be paying close attention to everything that is happening on the road. Yet, at some level my mind is totally aware of the road, the car, and all the drivers around me, even though my talkative mind is very busy with non-driving related thoughts. I haven’t had an accident from lack of attention since I was sixteen or seventeen and still a novice.

The above random thinking is what happens when I’m not writing in the zone. Sorry if I’ve bored you today.

Settings and Cultures

I love a story with a good setting. One that pulls you in and makes you feel as if you are there. The three books I’ve read this week are in very diverse places, but all made me feel I was in the worlds the authors were describing.

Tamarack County by William Kent Krueger is set in Northern Minnesota in the winter. Even though I’m here in warm, sunny Florida I felt the cold and the snow. I was shivering in my warm bed while reading. Krueger also surrounds you with a local culture – a mixture of small town and the “Rez” as he calls it. Native American culture weaves in and out of the story.

The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home is set on the coast of Scotland. I could smell the salt air and feel the loneliness of a deserted village on a coastal island where fishing had failed and the families had relocated to the mainland.

Both of these books were good mysteries with complex plots and interesting characters. But what sticks with me is the setting and culture of each book.

The third book is entirely different – A True Novel (II) by Minae Mizumura. I picked this up by accident at the library, not realizing it was the second part of the story. (I’ll go back and find the first book.) The story is about a Japanese man who moves to New York and makes his fortune. Apparently the first book is set in New York, but the second book is all in Japan. I could picture it, feel it, (even though I’ve never been there) and sense the changes in the culture as time passes. This is not the type of novel I usually read. I think the setting is what kept me reading even more than the sad story.

Going back to some other books I’ve recently read and enjoyed, I believe setting is part of the attraction. Deborah Crombie’s The Sound of Broken Glass is apparently a book in a series. I haven’t read the previous books but had no problem jumping in at number fifteen. The setting is in South London’s Crystal Palace, a neighborhood of musicians, a village within the city. The Crystal Palace was a huge glass structure built for the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 in Hyde Park and rebuilt in an even larger version in an upscale neighborhood in South London in 1854. It burned to the ground in 1936, but the neighborhood still goes by that name. I was drawn into the neighborhood and the musical culture.

Lost by S. J. Bolton is more character driven, but the setting in the back streets of London captured me.

Colin Cotterill’s The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die is the latest of his stories set in Laos in the 1970’s. He brings you into this strange place on the other side of the world and he does it with humor.

The Three H’s

Usually when people refer to the three H’s they mean “Hands, Head, and Heart.”

 “He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
~ St. Francis of Assisi

For me the three H’s are head, heart, and humor. In my opinion, the best books, movies, fictional characters, and people in real life have all three. Writing the three H’s is all about knowing your characters. Some of my favorite authors skip the humor (it’s hard to write), but there is usually a scattering of humor in the most serious novels. They need head, heart, plus lots of good character, story, plot, and background detail to keep me interested without humor.

When I think about using your head, it includes logic, creativity, curiosity, planning, digging into your memory, feeding the desire to learn, and on and on and on… Some people are better at some aspects than others, but they all keep life interesting. If you keep your mind active, at least you won’t get bored.

Heart means reaching outside ourselves to others. We need interests in people, animals, the environment, or something that lessens our own problems. We need to pay attention to what’s happening to others. Nothing makes you feel better than working to improve a situation or a life. If we are too self-involved, too busy worrying about our own problems, we don’t have time to see what we can do for the people and world around us.

Humor to me is simple. If you can’t laugh at yourself, the world will get you down. You don’t need to be joking and laughing all the time, just be able to see the humor in everyday life. People said my mother didn’t have a sense of humor, but I thought she had a superior one. She may not have “gotten the joke” or understood what was funny about a silly movie or a TV sitcom, but she had a subtle sense of humor. She could laugh at life and she could induce that ‘roll on the floor out of control’ laughter in her children.

I googled the three H’s and found others. One site talked about creating music and listed honesty, humanity, and hooks. I guess that could apply to writing, too. There are other important ones, health, hope, and happiness. We can work at having good health, but we don’t always have a choice when it leaves us. I’ve known people with serious health problems who are still lively, interested, involved, connected to others, and living fuller lives than some who are perfectly healthy. Hope and happiness are positive attitudes that should follow if we use head, heart, and humor appropriately.

Left Brain/Right Brain

I have a friend who decided to change careers in her forties from computers to teaching children and went back to school to accomplish this goal. She has been teaching fourth and fifth grade and from what I read and hear, she is an awesome teacher. She has completed her Bachelor’s degree and her Masters and is working on a Specialist degree. Along the way, I have edited all of her papers. (I should be earning some sort of degree by osmosis.)

Her latest paper is about brain-based learning. Different people learn in different ways according to their learning preferences. We learn best when all our senses are engaged. If a teacher only stands in front of a classroom and lectures, most of her students won’t get it. If you add visual, movement, music, poetry, games, etc., you will engage more of the brain and more of the students.

This paper talks about right brain/left brain leanings, so of course I went off track and took one of those tests. The test said I was moderately right brained. Apparently, reading and writing are left brain activities, so it doesn’t really fit. On the other hand (or side of the brain) the right brain is supposed be creative. But who’s to say we fit into slots and how accurate are such tests.

Wouldn’t you think that reading and writing come from the same part of the brain? Apparently they don’t. I know a woman who had a stroke, which took away her ability to read. Strangely enough, she could still write and type with no trouble. With time, she is regaining her reading ability, but she had to go back to reading “Dick and Jane” type books to get started. I haven’t asked her, but I wonder if she could read what she wrote.

The paper I was editing for my schoolteacher friend also said we need to engage both sides of the brain to retain what we learn. So, here’s to using your head, your whole head.

On Reading and Writing…

I love a good story. I love to read – I love to write. This blog is about what I like to read and why. Sometimes I’ll write a review of a particular book, but most often I’ll talk about a group of books and what it is that makes them work for me. I’ll also post about writing.

There are many good authors out there. A short list of some of my favorites, without getting into details are: Dennis Lehane (dark), Tim Dorsey (outrageously funny), Ed McBain, Sue Grafton, Ian Rankin, and Shakespeare. I threw Shakespeare in to get your attention. He writes good characters and humor. Then there are the SF writers – Isaac Asimov, Connie Willis, Orson Scott Card, Frank Herbert, Ursala Le Guin, David Brin, Arthur C. Clark, Larry Niven (my favorite) and many more.

I’m always looking for new authors. I go the library every couple of weeks and pick up six to eight books. Most of them are by first-time authors or authors I’ve never read. There is nothing like a good story with interesting characters to keep you entertained.