All posts by Gwen Jones

(Try to) Buck up, Bucko

Every writer has been there. At least every writer that’s ever suffered though a project for a considerable amount of time. You spiff and you clean up and you nip and tuck, finally whipping your ms. into shape (or what you think is in shape), and find out it has to be edited and and cut and tweaked some more. You think that when you finally reach the point of being published, multiple times even, that you actually know what you’re doing. That you know how to pluck out the perfect word, how to weave an effective turn of phrase, have the craft of goal, motivation, and conflict down to a science, skilled in creating realistic and interesting characters, that when you’re ready to send something out into the world, the world will be holding open its arms. So what to do when instead of a hearty hello, you’re gifted with a cut direct?

Now, I’m not talking about a rejection from a publisher. That’s a whole different level of angst. What I’m talking about is the next level up, the gatekeepers, so to speak. The ones who stand between you and the ones who cut the royalty checks. Think of them as the filter in your air cleaner, the spaghetti strainers, the iron that flattens the wrinkles from your shirt. We have them in all levels of writing: from the beta reader to the agent to the editor. They’re the ones who hold up the Stop Sign and say, just a minute — you’re not ready. I have questions –comments –notes — suggestions — changes — additions, etc., etc., etc. They’re the pinch to the fuse that keeps you from launching into the world, yanks the keys from your ignition, locking the door just as you grab your coat on the way out. They’re the ones we gnash out teeth at and yell — What are you doing?!

You asked, so I’m going to tell you. As painful as it it to realize, they’re the ones that make us see our better selves. They make us slow down, take another look, consider. They are our third set of eyes. They see things we’re blind to because we’re up too close. In many cases, they know the world (the publishing one, at least) better than we do. They keep us from making fools of ourselves. They make us better writers.

So as frustrating as it is to be told to go back to the keyboard, in the end they are what helps us get published. It’s not easy to have our critiquers that our work needs just a few more tweaks before it’s ready for the world. But it much harder to have it sent out there too soon and be summarily sent back. Truly.

We have rules for these things you know

12744646_1726122334274166_7638752836448943458_nSorry, but I’m a firm believer in not only the Oxford Comma, as well as all forms of grammar rigidity, especially since living among the absence of such is hastening my eventual decline into ridiculousness. Call me petty, but that’s the way it is for someone who spends their days dealing with the open defiance of all rules of written language usage. Then again, who cares as long as we’re communicatin’? I mean, honestly, DILLIGAS?

If you don’t go, you’ll never know

Take that first step to your dream of becoming a published author at the 11th Annual Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference! Already published? Improve your craft, business, or promotional skills with one of our wonderful workshops and information from our keynote speaker Mark Leslie Lefebvre. Mark’s industry experience includes being the President of the Canadian Booksellers Association, Board Member of BookNet Canada, Director of Author Relations and Self-Publishing for Rakuten Kobo, Director of Business Development for Draft2Digital and Professional Advisor for Sheridan College’s Creative Writing and Publishing Honours Program He will be presenting a workshop on why there’s no better time to be a writer. For more information, please visit http://www.libertystatesfictionwriters.com/conference/.

Tips from the MFA Pit, Part 8 – Read to Write

Remember, dear readers, I’m an instructor in an MFA program, so outside of my lovely  college freshmen, I also mentor grad students in the craft of writing. One of the subjects I guide them through is Reading for Writers, where we look at the student’s chosen genre and study its practitioners in depth.

But if one is a writer, do they also need to be a reader? I find Francine Prose’s book, Reading Like a Writer valuable as one of the first things you hear when you attempt writing is you must be a reader. Why is that? Well, if you’re going to be a doctor, don’t you need to see sick people? Observe broken-down cars if you’re going to be a mechanic? Taste food if you want to know how to cook it? In the same vein, if you want to write you need to become familiar with what’ll be the end result of your work, and how others view what it should be.

Because of that, I believe it’s important to read more than what you’re accustomed to. Of course, everyone has their favorite genres (mine being anything political and historical fiction and non-fiction), but like an old sweater it’s important to reach beyond what you’re comfortable with. Stretching outside our genre opens us up to new methods of approaching the craft, and reading the classics shows us why those books have lasted the test of time.

You mentioned a few of the classic authors, and I can’t tell you how much I learned from them. Austen, with her divine wit, Orwell, with his command of metaphor and symbolism, Warton, with her period mastery of detail. As a student of humor, I’ve learned a lot from the more current authors, such as Carl Hiaasen’s master use of dialogue, and David Sedaris’ hilarious use of the short-form essays. When we vary our reading, when we stretch into other forms that we’re not as familiar with, the lessons from their techniques leach into our writing psyche like osmosis, and we can’t help coming out better writers at the end. The more you expose yourself to, the more cosmopolitan your writing becomes. You just can’t help it.

So, what’s your favorite readers? Are they what you write? Sometimes they are, as I read scads and scads of literary fiction, but never attempted to write it. Then again, what is literary fiction? Charles Dickens in his day was writing for the everyday masses. Hm…could that be what my own writing will be one day? I can only hope!

2020 Housatonic Book Awards are now open for Submissions

If you published a book in 2019, ask your publisher, editor, or publicist to nominate it for the Housatonic Book Award! The Awards are sponsored by Western Connecticut State University’s MFA in Creative and Professional Writing program, and categories for this year’s award include Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Middle Grades/YA.

Past winners include Sean Thomas Dougherty, Leslie Jamison, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Matthea Harvey, Tawni Waters, A.B. Westrick, Jennifer Dubois, John Katzenbach, Brandon Brown, Ann Jacobus, Peter Peter Andrew Selgin, Joel Brouwer, Victoria Chang, Dick Lehr, Shanti Sekharan, Beth Ann Fennelly, and other amazing writers. Authors can also self-nominate.

The awards will be presented at the residencies that the award winner will attend. Each award carries a $1000 honorarium and $500 travel stipend in exchange for appearing at the residency. Entering a title implies the author’s willingness to attend the WCSU MFA residency indicated in the description for the award. The honorarium is awarded in exchange for and after the completion of appearance at the appropriate residency.

Deadline for submission is June 15, 2020. Click here for more information.

New Keynote Speaker at Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference April 4, 2020

Mark Your Calendar for the
11th Anniversary
Liberty States Fiction
Writers Conference
April 4, 2020

Holiday Inn in Clark, NJ


Our 2020 Conference is dedicated to Indie Publishing, but we have something for writers at all stages of their careers and whether traditionally published, small press, hybrid or indie.

Keynote Presentation

Two Hour Presentation

MORE POWER, MORE OPTIONS, MORE CONTROL
OVER YOUR PATH TO SUCCESS
Mark Leslie Lefebvre

Writers have never had more power, more options, and more control over their careers, over carving their own unique pathways to success. The growth of digital publishing opportunities continues to expand, and a combination of technology and creativity are allowing writers to explore brave new worlds of writing that have never existed before.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre, who has been writing since he was thirteen, and first discovered his mother’s Underwood typewriter hidden in the back of her closet, had his first short story published the same year he started his journey through bookselling. Not only is he a former President of the Canadian Booksellers Association, and founder of Kobo Writing Life, but he has more than twenty books published and has embraced hybrid publishing opportunities at all levels.

By exploring a brief history of publishing, the digital revolution, trends within both traditional publishing and indie publishing, and using examples from his own three decades of experience as a writer and with coaching and supporting thousands of authors, Mark will take you on an entertaining, informative and inspiring tour that will demonstrate the power that you have to forge a successful writing and publishing career.

Explore with Mark how there has truly never been a greater time to be a writer.


About Mark Leslie Lefebvre – Mark’s first short story appeared in print in 1992, the same year he started in the book industry. He has published more than twenty books under the name Mark Leslie that include thrillers and fiction (Evasion, A Canadian Werewolf in New York, One Hand Screaming), paranormal non-fiction (Haunted Hospitals, Spooky Sudbury, Macabre Montreal) and anthologies (Campus Chills, Tesseracts Sixteen, Fiction River: Feel the Fear).His industry experience include President of the Canadian Booksellers Association, Board Member of BookNet Canada, Director of Author Relations and Self-Publishing for Rakuten Kobo, Director of Business Development for Draft2Digital and Professional Advisor for Sheridan College’s Creative Writing and Publishing Honours Program. Mark lives in Waterloo, Ontario and can be found online at http://www.markleslie.ca.

It’s not going to write itself, sweetheart

How many of you out there have made New Year’s resolutions? Oh really? Suckers! You know they don’t work. Better, I’ve heard to set goals, as those taskmaster resolutions are like backing you into a wall, making you change or else! Seriously, who can go to bed one night in the old year, and wake up in the next completely changed? You’re still in the same old bed in the same old body. But what you CAN do is set yourself on the right path toward something, as incremental change has a hell of a better change of becoming permanent, that expecting a volia! moment and realistically, no change at all.

So you want to finally finish that book, right? DEFINITELY a task that isn’t pulled out of a hat. Slow and steady is always going to get the job done, but only if you set your mind in the right place at the onset. Tell yourself right now–no INSIST — that you are a writer — and primarily, writers write. Start to take yourself seriously, and then everyone else will. Set parameters and make sure they’re respected. You write from xx to xx o’clock, then stick to it. A closed door means I’m working, and don’t let anyone open it unless the house is burning down. And then do something for yourself, to keep that ball in motion, to keep those creative fires lit, to keep you going until you finally type THE END.  Let your species seek out your own.

I’m talking a Writers Conference, and I’ve got one for you right here, especially if you live in the Philadelphia/New York metro area. The 11th Annual Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference, located in beautiful Clark, NJ, a skippy tra-la right off the Garden State Parkway. This year we’re having a focus on self-publishing, and even if you’ve never thought about it, come on out anyway. We’re having scad of traditional representation, too. I’ll be having more about it in future posts, but for right now, click here for more info.

Then get that butt in the chair and keep writing!

Merry [your holiday of choice] and a Happy New Year!

Of course, I’m not talking about MY relatives. They’re all perfect! But I thought, in a gesture of holiday benevolence, I’d say what you’ve been thinking for a long time, mainly to lessen all that stress you’re no doubt going through, anticipating seeing them again. In any event, here’s to a wonderful holiday season, no matter how or when or with whom you celebrate it. I’ll be seeing you on the spanky-new side of 2020, wishing you all the best in the new year. Let’s start the new decade with all the success, health, and happiness we can stand.

How much is too much?

I belong to a book discussion group at my local library, which met tonight to discuss a work of historical creative nonfiction, that also happened to be a New York Times bestseller. The book was nearly five hundred pages with exhaustive notes, an index, and bibliography, the setting centering around the road to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The concept was interesting and the writing good, and upon first glance, it looked like it would be a compelling read. But the more I got into it, the more it became a slog, and I thought perhaps it was just me. Which is weird, because I love historical reads, fiction or otherwise. Then I got to my reading group. Seems I wasn’t along.  Of the ten people in the group, only five showed up, and of the five, only two finished it, and only one they really liked it.

“Why?” I asked of the group. “What didn’t do it for you?”

“TMI,” they said. “Just too much information.”

Hmm…. I thought. I’ve heard this complaint before, from other readers, from other writers–from editors who chop away at your darlings. Too much information. Too much detail, too much minutiae. Too much see how much research I did? Aren’t you impressed? And I’m going to cram it all between the pages of this book whether you like it or not! One of the comments was the info was too technical, that it was directed toward a very specialized group of people, who wouldn’t give a damn about it otherwise. For example, like if you were reading a medical thriller about an emergency heart surgery, and the writer decided to toss in the metabolic panel, radiology screening, and post-op report, with a side of pharmacology for good measure.  Sure, if you were a doctor you might, but then again only if you were on a busman’s holiday. Another comment was too much of a build-up, and not enough main event. The book touted itself as one thing, but there was so much surrounding info, there was very little room left for the main event. Like matryoshka, or those Russian nesting dolls, so many to go through before you get to the point. By the time you get to the middle, you run the danger of being worn out.

So what’s a writer to do which the research seems to take over the story? When there’s so much of it, it almost becomes impossible to pare? When you simply can’t decide what to lose so you lose nothing at all? Look, you have to decide what kind of book you’re going to write. In all fiction, you need to remember a basic principle: to disseminate information on a need-to-know basis. Is that factoid absolutely necessary to your narrative? Is it essential to your characterization? Will it move the plot forward? If it doesn’t, lose it, or at least save it for when it will make a difference. If you’re writing a novel, it’s absolutely essential to create a world, a milieu, a setting for your characters to revolve in, so some carefully placed details are absolutely necessary. But don’t overwhelm your reader, or your characters will literally be sucked into the woodwork. If you’re creating the definitive guide to Gimbel’s Department Store in New York City circa 1927, then yes, be as detailed as you like. But if you’re writing about a woman who found her first love among the cloches  in the millinery department, then choose your darlings wisely. You never know when any of them will get the slash.