Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Bookish Holiday Greeting

Indiana Writers' Consortium wishes you happy holidays and a writing-filled 2014.

* * * * *

In case you have trouble reading the titles of the books in the picture, they are:

  • How Fiction Works, by Oakley Hall
  • Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne
  • Plot versus Character, by Jeff Gerke
  • Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austin
  • You Can Write a Mystery, by Gillian Roberts

  •  Here Lies the Librarian, by Richard Peck
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
  • In the Company of Others, by Jan Karon
  • Decision in Philadelphia, by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier
  • Amazing Grace, by Kenneth W. Osbeck
  • Your God is Too Small, by J.B. Phillips
  • Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life, edited by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Shultz

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

All I Want for Christmas

Judith Lachance-Whitcomb
Have you seen my muse?  “What,” you may be wondering, “prompts such a question at the beginning of a blog?”   Well, I guess I’m going through a phase of writer's block.  I’m just not writing.  I’ve made up my mind that I am going to start writing again.  I’ve always been rather bull-headed, and when I make up my mind to do something, I usually get it done.
Thinking back to all those things I’ve heard writers do to overcome their blocks, I begin my action plan. Even though a fair amount of the advice often seems to conflict, I will pull out those ideas that work with what I know about myself. The first things are to write every day, have a designated place to write, have my writing tools ready, and be comfortable.
Monday:  Go to my office and close the door so my dogs won’t disrupt the flow.  Computer ready – check; notepad and pen for jotting thoughts while writing – check; cup of coffee within reach – check.  Now, write!  An hour later my screen remains blank, my note pad is virgin, and I’m playing with the dogs.  Hmmm, well, maybe tomorrow.
Tuesday: Repeat the set-up routine, but a wiser me is going to look around the web to see what I’m doing wrong. I find many sites that let me know about all of the famous writers who faced the same dilemma: Tolstoy, Woolf, Conrad, Hemingway and on and on. Well, bully for them. Obviously they got over it.  Then I land on something I had forgotten about – free writing.  I didn’t do that yesterday.  I’m encouraged because one article inspires me to just start writing on any topic. If it turns out to be drivel, the article assures me that something will come out of it.  Another suggests,  “If you can't think of anything to say, write ‘blah, blah, blah’ over and over.” I know I can do that. I begin. An hour and a half later, my document has one paragraph that basically carps at me for not getting to the file full of papers to be graded.  This enlightened work is followed by three pages filled with various fonts that creatively script “blah, blah, blah.”  My notepad has some interesting doodles and I’ve had way too much coffee.  Okay, Scarlett, think about it tomorrow.
Wednesday: Same scenario with the exception that my ulcers have begged me to swap my coffee for milk. I will write today.  Wrong…
Thursday:  Kathryn sends an email to remind me that I’m responsible for next week’s blog. Great, what will I write about? Well, why don’t I write about not being able to write?  After all, misery loves company.  Finishing my initial self-serving paragraph forty-five minutes later, I’m done for today. That’s enough.
Friday: I read what I wrote yesterday. I hate it. Delete. I’m going to take off Saturday and Sunday. This writing everyday takes a lot of energy.
Monday: Must get the blog done. Darn it, I remember that grades are due tomorrow. Sorry, writing, I have at least twenty hours of paper critiques to deal with today. Catch you tomorrow.
Tuesday: Today writing time will be devoted to the blog. I pull up my file. What? It’s blank? Oh, right, I deleted it. Now what? Right after I throw my notepad and pen to the floor and am just about to do the same with the computer, I recall a banquet I went to recently. Kate Collins, the prolific writer of the cozy flower shop mystery books, was the speaker. Her talk was a down to earth, engaging, and motivating call to writers to create the writing magic with their fingers. She told us that sometimes she has writer’s block. Her solution is to go to her office (because block or no block you want to continue to write everyday), relax and open herself up to her Muse.  I also remember a Ray Bradbury quote, “I’m not in control of my muse. My muse does all the work.” Okay, Muse, here we go!
Revived, I pick up my note pad and pen, open my laptop, take a sip of coffee (sorry ulcers), lean back in my chair, relax my body, and spread open my arms above my head (Kate did that). Okay, Muse, let’s go…(ten minutes later), Hello?...(five minutes after that)…Hey, Muse! My arms go down. My fingers go to the keyboard. Apparently, my Muse doesn’t want to work on the blog.
That brings us back to the beginning. Have you seen my Muse? If so, please keep in mind that all I want for Christmas is … my Muse.
Merry Holiday Writing!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

You are the Future of the Writing Community

Julie Demoff-Larson
Close your eyes and imagine what your ideal writing community would look like. What, you have never considered such a thing? I know. I get it. Most of us who write do so after the work day is over or on the weekend in solitary confinement. We etch out poems, stories, and the great American novel while huddled in some nook where no one can see the anguish and torment we put ourselves through. When we think we have something good, we send it out, then wait as we start the writing cycle all over again. It is easy to become a writing miser, hoarding pencils and journals instead of investing in a literary scene. So, why is it so hard to have both?
For me, I foresee a vibrant literary scene in Northwest Indiana. There is a small foundation already set in place by many writing groups and organizations. For example, Indiana Writers’ Consortium members host a variety of independent writing groups that workshop regularly (Highland Writers Group, Write-On Hoosiers, Magic Hour Writers) and there are more and more opportunities for reading at open-mics hosted by coffee shops and art galleries. These events are fantastic, but is this enough to call it a lit scene?
Within the urban literary scene, participants can expect to find numerous venues hosting readings, book signings, oral interpretations, and poetry slams. There are also literary journals, creative writing workshops, book sales, and thriving independent bookstores. Centered in the middle of the urban literary scene is the all-encompassing community writing center from which writers of all ages benefit. When I close my eyes, I imagine Northwest Indiana buzzing with live lit events and writers working together in the community. But what steps can we take to get to this point?
First and foremost, we must all put in time. Yes, time. It only takes a few moments to share an event on Facebook or to retweet a fellow writer’s newly published work. This is a “we are all in this together” mentality, and baby steps will eventually mature into strides. A supportive writing community is essential for IWC to successfully implement new projects in the future. Member participation in local events help foster a relationship between associates and the general public. As public involvement increases, the IWC will develop new programs that will benefit the community.
Don’t underestimate the value of what you have to offer as a writer. We all have dreams and most of us want to play a part in something important. Maybe you wish to teach others about poetry or to inspire the next generation of writers. Maybe you hope to provide a space where writers can experiment with words in front of a crowd or to start a small press. Whatever your ideas, send them to Indiana Writers’ Consortium and let’s work together to create a space for us all to thrive creatively.
Close your eyes again. Imagine your ideal writing community. Now make it happen.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Practicing What You Preach as a Writing Instructor

Gordon Stamper, Jr.
A few years ago, a fellow educator told me how she had resented her writing students.  They occupied what could have been her writing time with stacks of essays to grade.  How dare they complete their assignments!
Soon another, more carefully thought-out, realization came to her:  could she complete the writing work she assigned them, let alone achieve high marks?  The instructor felt hypocrisy in her expectations.  She had preoccupied herself with the career necessities of creating curriculum, writing prompts, and commenting on students’ essays, yet did not allocate any other time for her own writing, fiction or nonfiction.
A turning point came when she became a little selfish:  certain times of the week became her writing times, from a few “stolen” minutes to several hours.  From this came multiple creative nonfiction essays, short stories, and two novels.  And a positive byproduct of it was that she enjoyed teaching English and writing again.  By regaining her writing voice, she saw the importance and pleasures of helping her students gain theirs.
I went through a similar “crisis” over a decade ago.  Here I was, a composition and research writing teacher who had not written anything unrelated to school work in at least three years, and I felt burnt out and discouraged.  When I saw there were writers’ groups that met regularly in our region, I gave myself permission to write for them.
Of course, I was mostly writing for myself, but a veil lifted for me as I continued my pursuits.  There is hard work and joy in creation, and it is important to be a part of helping students—at least those willing to listen and work—discover that joy.   Yes, I can still get frustrated and even a bit infuriated with student writing, but my underlying resentment is gone.  I too am a fellow struggler in the writing craft.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Why Do I Write?

Judith Lachance-Whitcomb
Another rejection letter followed closely by another notification deadline passing without any “you’ve won” for me.  I was so sure this one would have gotten some recognition.  The story was one that when I was finished (rewriting for the twelfth time) made me think, “This is really good!” These recent submission results lead to a ‘no good writing news’ Thanksgiving for me.
As I plop down on the couch with my current read, I’m distracted by the question, “Why do I write?”   When working full time, I looked forward to a time that I could be devoted to writing. I engaged in quite a bit of professional writing during my career: a number of co-authored research papers, science education magazine articles, and even a chapter in a book. However, writing creatively was what I wanted to do when I had adequate time to apply to it. In my mind, words would flow freely to create engaging stories that would enchant. It would be easy.
Oh, yeah, easy.  Even as a hobby writer, I find that rarely do I feel something I’ve written is finished. The re-read/re-write cycle seems to go on endlessly. Since I choose to primarily write for children, the constant pressure to utilize appropriate vocabulary to challenge but not frustrate the target audience becomes very difficult.  Additionally, I constantly struggle with editing, both for grammar and content.  My mind works so much more quickly than my fingers.  Regardless of the number of times I re-read, my mind insists on seeing that which it had intended rather than that which appears on the paper. Finally, I’m never quite satisfied with the story line. How can I make it more engaging, exciting, fun? The end project of all of this will be seen only by a few pairs of eyes belonging to my supportive peers in my writing group. So, why do I write for a hobby? Other hobbies require an equivalent amount of “work.”  I knit.  Figuring out patterns or developing patterns of my own challenges me.  The craft requires skill and a significant devotion of time. At least when I finish with those projects I have something that I give away or wear. The artifact will be seen and valued, unlike my writings that languish in stored files on my computer. So, again, why do I write?
I leave my musings to look at the book I’ve chosen to take solace with, I am Malala. This is the story of the young girl who has come to represent the plight of young women who are denied an education. The answer to my query begins to unfold. My love of language – reading and writing – was nurtured as a young student. Through the tedious diagramming sentences to the excitement of sharing weekly writing assignments of essays and stories, a love of language grew. The way words could be manipulated to evoke feelings from sorrow to glee was a wonderment. The excitement of explorations of worlds I would never encounter became accessible to me through the words of others. I wasn’t denied an education that allows me to read and write; I was immersed in one. Why I write becomes clear.
I don’t need to be published or win a contest in order to feel fulfilled from writing.  I write because I want to…and because I can.   Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Self-Publishing: Understanding ISBNs

Kathryn Page Camp
Even a self-published book needs an ISBN. But do you know what that is?
ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s a thirteen-digit number (ten digits before 2007) that functions as a social security number for books. Every book should have a unique ISBN to help bookstores, libraries, and other purchasers locate it and to distinguish it from other books with the same name.
The ISBN identifies the title, the publisher, the edition, and the format (binding) for a work. This means that you may need multiple numbers for a single book. For example, a paperback and an electronic version should have separate ISBNs. (The specific rules for e-books are beyond the scope of this post, but you can find information at Significant changes to the content of the work are considered a new edition and require a different ISBN. Fixing typos and making other minor changes make it a reprint rather than a new edition, but adding a foreword or appendix or reorganizing the book are significant changes that require a new ISBN.
As noted, the ISBN identifies the publisher. If you use CreateSpace and allow it to assign the ISBN, that makes CreateSpace the publisher as well as the printer and distributor. If you purchase your own ISBN, you are the publisher and CreateSpace is just the printer and distributor. So if you want to be the publisher, make sure the contract with the printer allows it, then buy your own ISBNs.
Why does it matter? If you want to use a different service to print your book and the printer has assigned the ISBN, the reprint will need a new one. If you are the publisher, a change in printers is irrelevant. Having more than one ISBN for the same version of a book can also be confusing to buyers.
Then there is the question of transparency. Do you care how easy it is to discover that the book is “self-published”? Those in the know can look up the ISBN and discover that it belongs to CreateSpace or that you purchased a single number, either of which can be a hallmark of a self-published book.
There is nothing wrong with letting the printer provide the ISBN and become the technical publisher. In fact, it may be your only option if you are on a tight budget. But you can’t make the decision that is best for you unless you understand how ISBNs work.
For those buying their own ISBNs, even one is expensive—$125 at the time of this post. But for twice that much, you can buy a block of ten. And if you plan on publishing your book in other formats or are considering a sequel, you will need additional numbers, anyway. Since ISBNs have an indefinite shelf life, you might as well buy a block of ten and keep the others in reserve.
U.S. publishers purchase their ISBNs from R.R. Bowker LLC at Once you have bought the ISBN and assigned it to a book, you register it to that book (or format or edition) at the same website.
The ISBN goes on the copyright page and the outside back cover of a print book. For an e-book, display it on the title or copyright page.
You can find more information on ISBNs at
* * * * *
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her new book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013) is available from and other retailers. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Self-Publishing: Should You Hire an Editor?

Kathryn Page Camp
What do you think of when you hear the word, “self-published”? I think of substandard work. While there are many great self-published books, they aren’t the ones I remember. As a self-published author myself, I’m ashamed of anything that gives the category a bad name.
I like to support my fellow authors, and I’ve bought my share of self-published books. I also download those “free” Kindle books when the description sounds interesting. And some have been a pleasant surprise.
But most are riddled with typos, inconsistencies, and just plain bad writing.
That’s why every self-published author should hire a freelance editor.
Yes, I know it’s expensive, ranging anywhere from $500 to $10,000 for a 60,000 word manuscript. The actual price is based on a number of factors, including the type of edit and the experience of the editor. And the poorer the manuscript, the more it will cost to edit. But if your goal is to produce a professional-quality book you won’t be ashamed of five years from now, it’s well worth the money.
What types of services do editors provide? For our purposes, we will concentrate on three.
Proofreading is the cheapest and most basic service that editors provide. A proofreader looks for typos, misspellings, and grammar errors. If your book has been typeset or reformatted, a proofreader can also check the final copy against your original manuscript to make sure they match. The cost to proofread a 60,000 word manuscript may average from $500 to $950.
Copyediting is probably the most common. I always pay for a copyedit before finalizing a book manuscript, even when I am submitting to a traditional publisher. After all, why wouldn’t I want to submit my best work?
Like proofreading, copyediting looks for typos, misspellings, and grammar errors. But it also looks for inconsistencies and for words and sentences and paragraphs that are confusing or awkward. I own a self-published non-fiction book that is easy to read and gives me interesting information, but it mentions that a woman was 12 in 1817 and 76 in 1871. That means I can’t trust the facts without double-checking them with another source.
That error is evident on the face of the manuscript, and a good copyeditor would have caught it. If you request it, a copyeditor will also check other sources to verify facts and references. Obviously, however, the more you ask a copyeditor to do, the more it will cost. For that 60,000 word manuscript, a copyedit may average anywhere from $750 to $2,500. 
Substantive editing—sometimes called line editing—is the most expensive, but it is also the most comprehensive. Although it includes some of the elements of a good copyedit, a substantive edit also looks at the contents and tells you what works and what doesn't on both a macro and a micro level. The editor may go so far as to recommend that you reorder your chapters to make the plot more suspenseful or eliminate your favorite passage because it’s irrelevant. For a 60,000 word manuscript, a substantive edit will average between $2,000 and $10,000.
What type of edit you need depends on your human resources. Do you belong to a writers’ critique group that includes knowledgeable members and provides honest feedback on both craft and clarity? Do you have someone (preferably not a family member or good friend) from your target audience who will give you candid comments from a reader’s perspective? And do you take full advantage of these resources? If so, you may not need a substantive edit.
I’m a grammar geek and, given time to do a careful read, am also good at catching typos and confusing words and phrases. Even so, it’s hard for me to edit my own work. I know what I wanted to say, and my mind reads it that way. And I’m not alone. Very few people can edit their own work and end up with an acceptable product.
Of course, not everyone has the financial resources to hire an editor. Still, there may be a way. What about giving up that cappuccino you always buy on the way to work? Or do you have skills you can barter?
Start by asking yourself why you are writing and publishing. Because if you want to produce your best work, you will find a way to polish it before releasing it to the public.
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her new book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013) is available from and other retailers. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Book to Movie: A Cautionary Tale

Heather Stamper
            We’ve all thought it.  We leave the movie theater and say the book was better.  But what do you do when your work is going to the big screen?
            I have a tradition with my second graders.   I read the novel The Tale of Desperaux by Kate Di Camillo every year.  For most of the students, it is their first foray into complex literature.  The book is a labyrinth of overlapping timelines, multiple character-driven plots, and deep connections with the text.  My students chuckle when the mouse Desperaux tries to be a knight in shining armor for the princess he loves. They sympathize with the rat Roscuro when he accidentally scares the queen to death by landing in her soup.  There’s a palpable sadness at the abuse of the servant girl Mig, and a standing ovation when I read the sweet but realistic ending.
            I was very excited, as were the students, when the film came out in 2008.  That excitement turned to disappointment, as this gorgeously animated movie with its all-star vocal cast had a dumbed-down script.  Very few of the events that developed the characters were included and those that avoided the cutting room floor were made into a farce.  Several times during the showing, the students piped in, with “that wasn’t in the book” and “what happened to (insert character)”.
            What took the students by surprise was the added bit that not only did Desperaux bring peace to the kingdom by saving the princess and returning the outlawed soup to the land, but he also ended a drought.  After the showing, one of my English as a Second Language students said, “Did they really want us to think that soup makes the rain?  The movie people must think we’re not smart.”
            I have prefaced my reading every year since with, “Kids, I’m going to read the best book and the worst movie in the world.”  It sets the stage for an excellent compare, contrast, and critique experience.
            As the author, you or your agent should make sure that you have say in the final screen adaptation.  Some things you can’t prevent, a change in a character’s appearance or cuts or additional dialogue.  The central message of your work should stay the same.  After all, that underdog overcoming insurmountable odds is what brought your work to Hollywood’s attention.  Make sure your story is told correctly.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Triple the Scare and Half the Cheese

Julie Demoff-Larson
Wet popcorn brains, peeled-grape eyeballs, basement haunted houses and black-cloaked teachers reading Poe by candlelight; 1981 horror through the eyes of a nine year old.  Tame by today’s standards if you ask anyone over the age of thirty-five. But let’s face it, the lack of horror preparation I received in early childhood has left me still anticipating mental psychosis when terror pops up unexpectedly. Relieved only when I make it through to the end, because after all, there were no Monsters Inc. or Coraline’s to help bridge the gap between myself and the “other.” But that is what makes horror scary, right? The “other” is supposed to be an unknown entity capable of leaving you damaged psychologically and fearing your physical world. So, why aren’t my kids afraid of monsters, ghosts, or vampires like I was at their age?
The thought of Tim Curry, slashers, and that vampire scratching at the bedroom window in Salem’s Lot sent me far under my blankets at night up until six months ago. So how is it that my teenager can watch a movie triple the scare and half the cheese of what I was offered and walk away unscathed? My children, like so many, have had the convenience of horror genre in a multitude of mediums since birth – well, practically. Horror is capable of working itself into the central nervous system through a series of stages.
Stage 1: Monsters are our friend s– Monsters, Inc.,
  Reality check – It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Stage 2:  Don’t worry, people are creepy and weird in real life too – Coraline,
Stage 3: Scare the pants off of them for two years until they are immune – Goosebumps (books
               and television)
Stage 4: You can look like a monster – Monster High dolls and accessories
              You can love like a Monster, too – Twilight
Why don’t you just act like one while you are at it? – They are teenagers by this point, so pick anything horror and go with it.
The surplus of horror fiction has made today’s youth fearless – this does not include seeing their parents dancing in public. Writers are continuously upping the ante in order to keep their audience interested. That is really hard to do considering the reader/watcher has so many reference points to draw upon. I know, it sounds almost condescending, but actually having to push the limits of horror shows that our youth love that stuff. However, sometimes they are left feeling unsatisfied, not from the writer lacking in craft or originality, but from wanting horror to be steeped in reality. How do we – parents, educators, writers, booksellers – keep them engaged? Keep them reading? How about throwing new titles at them until they find something that has them talking, thinking, and dreaming about the things they fear. Most fear stems from the “other” resembling something familiar, and the reality is kids today are exposed to scary things going on around the world, even more than we were. Media bombards every possible frequency it can occupy with visuals that we fear. There is nothing scarier than what can truly reach out and grab you, affect you, and change you.  If kids can’t seem to find the excitement and fulfillment they crave, then encourage them to write their own. Let’s just hope it isn’t about your dancing.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Horror of Writer's Block

Gordon Stamper, Jr.
One of the writing life’s potential horrors is writer’s block.  The departure of the muse, the well running dry, the gaping void of the blank page—all could be used as descriptions for the terrifying affliction.  But this blog entry will leave the land of metaphor and look at two practical reasons for writer’s block, one unavoidable, the other utterly avoidable.
Life can silence your voice as a writer.  Illness, whether it is yourself or someone you love, happens.  If you have a career and/or a family to provide for, and you don’t have the luxury of writing for a living, your writing output can be significantly reduced.  If you have children and there is no trust fund to pay for the nanny, you may not be able to crank out that great idea for a novel.
Tillie Olsen wrote about this in her excellent nonfiction work Silences.  She was an expert on this subject, being a working class mother, wife, and political activist, and when life’s demands allowed her, an award-winning short story writer.  Olsen posited that talented working class people were burdened by demands of life and the need for income when they wanted to write, particularly women until the later 20th century.  In her 50s and 60s, she was able to publish more works and eventually become a respected college instructor, but there were decades of gaps between her published works before the 1970s.
Then there is “I can’t think of anything to write about.”  This faux affliction is illustrated by Joel and Ethan Coen’s film character Barton Fink.  Assigned to write a screenplay for a “wrestling picture,” Fink is stymied and longs for his more sophisticated New York projects as a playwright.  Fink misses out on many potential sources of inspiration, including a hulking and maniacal traveling salesman who loves wrestling and happens to be Fink’s next door neighbor.
When you are a writer, you should be an observer.  Have a dedicated notebook, be it paper or electronic, to jot down bits of inspiration in journal or notation format. How could that nasty exchange between an angry customer and a cashier turn into a potential scene for your story?  As a poet, what kind of impression did the lone crane make on you as it flew over the busy highway? This could serve as that later wellspring of ideas when your imagination is running dry.
And when all else fails, try heuristics, writing prompts, and freewriting.  Reporters’ questions can help generate and expand new ideas.  Books such as the excellent Writer’s Block by Jason Rekulak have invaluable prompts to kick start writing, such as creating your own definition of words and composing an expository essay from what is happening in a photograph.  Even the old standby of freewriting can help, tossing away self-correction in favor of creation.
An old professor of mine who was also a pen-named romance novelist, Richard Hull, told us the writer’s adage that was passed down to him:  sit down on your butt and write.  When life prevents you from sitting on your butt, it cannot be helped.  But any other writer’s block is curable by a world full of ideas, if you take the time to observe and write about them.  Then writer’s block is not a terror anymore, just a paper tiger.
Gordon Stamper, Jr. is an adjunct faculty member of Ivy Tech Gary, limited-term lecturer at Purdue University North Central, a published writer, and moderator of Highland Writers’ Group, which meets in Griffith (Grindhouse Café) and Valparaiso (Blackbird Café) on alternating Saturdays.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Writing History: The 5th Annual IWC Banquet

Do you ever think of your place in history as you write? You should. That was the gist of last Thursday night’s message by Indiana Poet Laureate Karen Kovacik.

Indiana Writers’ Consortium held its fifth annual banquet on October 10 at Avalon Manor in Merrillville, Indiana. The evening began with networking and book sales and ended with an entertaining open mic, and everyone enjoyed the conversation and the food. But the highlight of the evening was Karen Kovacik’s talk titled “Falling Through Time: Writing the Self into History.”

Karen started by telling the audience that our task as writers is to pack as much of history into our work as we can. She challenged us to create an archive of past and current existence for the benefit of our readers. She then gave us ten strategies writers can use to make their works an archive of existence. Here is a brief summary.

  1. Include dates and place names in poems and stories and other works.
  2. Write about family heirlooms and ordinary items that are products of their time.
  3. Explore the origins of our surnames.
  4. Write about the private lives of public figures.
  5. Study new and old maps for what they reveal and what they conceal.
  6. Write about the impact of a historical event on our lives or those of our relatives.
  7. Use pop culture artifacts to evoke a historical moment.
  8. Visit a historical site, paying attention to what remains and what has disappeared.
  9. Study historical photographs, including family ones, for unexpected insights.
  10. Bring together an autobiographical story with a larger historical panorama.

As Karen talked about each strategy, she gave examples from Indiana writers. If you follow her advice, a future talk may mention you.

I’ll close this post with a few more pictures from the banquet.

Karen Kovacik talking to IWC President
Janine Harrison and Michael Poore.
Pre-meal networking.
Learning about each other--starting
the evening with introductions.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Back It Up and Away--Part II

A TV commercial shows three men watching the news on an iPad they got from Dish Network when they signed up for the Hopper. The action starts in the kitchen, where the men listen to a female news anchor announcing that the kitchen may be the most dangerous room in the house. In the next scene, the men have moved to a tree house when the same anchor reports that a tree house is even more dangerous than a kitchen. The final scene has the three men under a bed and the anchorwoman saying, “Think you’re safe under a queen-size bed in the guest room? Well, you’re dead wrong.”

We can never be totally safe, and neither can our manuscripts. Still, documents have an advantage over people because text can be in several different places at the same time.

So what is the best way to back up your manuscripts?

Each solution has its problems. In the long run, the best response is to make sure you have a backup that is likely to survive if the original is lost.

Last week’s post mentioned the problem with storing the hard copy in the same office as the computer. If the computer crashes, the hard copy survives. But if there is a fire, both copies are gone.

One solution is to back up your manuscript to a thumb drive and carry it with you at all times. If you burn up in the fire, you probably won’t care about your unfinished book. But if you get out, your backup copy will, too. Of course, this isn’t always a good solution. Imagine taking a flash drive into the shower.

Or you could keep the thumb drive in your safe deposit box. Practical for completed manuscripts, but less so for your work in progress. Still, as long as you switch out the flash drives often enough, you will have a recent version to start from.

Another solution is to e-mail yourself a copy of the manuscript. Then it will be available on your e-mail server if something happens to your original.

Or you could back it up to a “cloud,” which may be similar to what happens when you e-mail it to yourself. As a non-techie, I don’t understand this concept very well. I have heard people say they don’t even keep a copy on their computer because they can always retrieve it from the cloud. But what if you lose Internet connectivity? And if your “cloud” is located on a remote server, it could crash. I have even heard horror stories about the government “seizing” servers operated by service providers who are suspected of encouraging copyright violations or other illegal behavior.

So what is the best way to back up your manuscripts? Do whatever works for you, but keep these two principles in mind:

(1) make sure you have at least one copy besides the “original,” and

(2) keep them far away from each other so that the same disaster won’t affect both.

Even though our manuscripts can never be totally safe, good planning can minimize the possibility of loss.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Back It Up and Away--Part I

Have you ever lost the only copy of your manuscript? A tragedy, yes, but also a lesson. So now you make a backup copy.


Don’t be so sure.

Imagine that you have a hard copy sitting on your desk next to your computer. If your computer crashes, you still have the hard copy. It may be a pain to retype it, but at least you don’t have to start from scratch.

But what if your house burns down and melts the computer to an unrecognizable mess? The hard copy isn’t likely to survive, either.

Ernest Hemingway understood the value of backing up his manuscripts. In the days before computers, he made a carbon copy of each of his stories. That would have worked if they had been kept in two separate places. Or if his wife had understood the reason for a backup copy.

Hemingway tells the story in his book, A Moveable Feast. It was early in his career, and he and his wife, Hadley, were living in Paris and holidaying in Lausanne, Switzerland. Hadley decided to take Hemingway’s manuscripts along as a surprise so he could work on them during the holidays. She took the originals and the copies and put them all in her suitcase. Then someone stole the suitcase, and Hemingway’s manuscripts were gone.

I assume that both Hadley and Hemingway learned a valuable lesson about keeping the original separate from the backup.

The financial industry learned this same lesson on 9-11. It was already common practice to back up trading records and account documents, but some of the copies were only a few floors or a few blocks away. When the towers disintegrated, it didn’t matter how many floors separated the records. And even those records stored in a building down the street became inaccessible for days or weeks when the entire area was cordoned off.

So don’t keep the backup too close to the original. 

Join us next week for a post on how and where to back up your manuscripts.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Reminiscing About Past Banquets

With our fifth annual banquet coming up on October 10, we decided to reminisce about past IWC banquets.

But first, a gentle reminder. Do you have your tickets yet? You will hear a great guest speaker—Indiana Poet Laureate Karen Kovacik—as well as networking with other writers and having the opportunity to sell or purchase books. Tickets are $27 for members and $30 for non-members through September 30th and $30 for members and $35 for non-members as of October 1st. Book table sales space is available for $10.

RSVP to and send your check to Jackie Huppenthal, Treasurer IWC, 13374 W. 101st Ave., Dyer, Indiana 46311.

The banquet is well worth your time and money. If you have any doubts, just read these comments from people who attended in the past.


Reminiscence by Janine Harrison, who was Vice President of IWC in 2009

As the first to arrive at our Strongbow Inn banquet room, not knowing what to expect and very much wanting our first annual networking dinner for writers to go well, I became a whirling dervish completing setup. After enthusiastic socializing and a succulent dinner, we heard from two preliminary speakers followed by the keynote speaker, Kate Collins, author of the commercially successful Flower Shop Mystery Series. Collins discussed promoting oneself as a writer, including through the use of a professional website and social media, which, in 2009, was not a well-tread topic as it is today. Shortly after she began speaking, a hush befell the room except for the opening and shutting of purses and rustling of jackets as writers frantically searched for pens and flipped over programs. Collins proceeded to give enumerable specific suggestions for self-promotion and the reasoning behind them, which was helpful information that extended beyond creative genre and fulfilled the needs of all writers in the room. No one left the event without having gained knowledge and, hopefully, a sense of fellowship. I drove all the way home smiling—thrilled that the IWC had begun to realize its mission of building and inspiring Indiana’s community of creative writers.


The 2010 banquet produced two reminiscences with different emphases. The first concentrates on the content of the panel presentation, while the second is an update on the success of our wonderful panelists.

Reminiscence by Gordon Stamper, Jr.

My favorite IWC Fall Banquet was in 2010, and not just because I was in the open mic that concluded the evening. The theme was “The Road to Publication,” and the author panel had a wide range of experiences to share that were valuable and encouraging for the writer audience. 

Kate Collins shared her roundabout career path to the continuing Flower Shop mystery series. The enterprising Katherine Flotz described her promotional experiences, from independent bookstores to academic readings, for A Pebble in My Shoe. Peggy Archer had useful advice for children’s book authors. Michael Poore’s path to publication was told with his usual humor and insight. Cynthia Echterling shared e-publisher and self-publication anecdotes and promotional practices for her work. And Kathryn Page Camp was an exceedingly capable moderator.

All of this was combined with delicious Strongbow Inn food and fellowship (it went beyond just networking) with talented and like-minded writers from Northwest Indiana. And my wife read an eerie short story that freaked people out in the best way at the open mic. Now that’s a great evening.

Reminiscence by Cynthia Echterling,

At the 2010 banquet, the program featured a panel discussion on “The Road to Publication” with published authors Peggy Archer, Kate Collins, Cynthia Echterling, Katherine Flotz, and Mike Poore with Kathryn Page Camp moderating. Since then, our NY time best-selling authors have been busy. Kate has published an impressive six additional books including romance and her Flower Shop Mystery Series. Peggy Archer’s fourth children’s book, Name That Dog, came out that year. She has moved out of the state but is still active in IWC as well as the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators and the Author’s Guild. While living in Indiana, Peggy was Assistant Regional Advisor for Indiana SCBWI.

Michael Poore’s Up Jumps the Devil came out and is doing Hellishly Well. He is currently writing a second delightfully twisted book involving reincarnation. Cynthia Echterling has had two additional books in the Help Wanted Human series published and has self-published two more books. Katherine Flotz continues to have success marketing her memoir. Kathryn Page Camp has added to her publishing credits by self-publishing her very beneficial legal guide for authors, Writers in Wonderland.

During the panel, there was much interest in those new e-books, and we have seen tremendous growth in the sale of e-book readers, tablets and books themselves, presenting new challenges and opportunities for our authors.



Reminiscence by Kathryn Page Camp

As someone who has attended every IWC banquet, I can’t pick a favorite. But 2011 is memorable as the first one held at Avalon Manor in Merrillville. It was also my first banquet while president of IWC. I spent the majority of my time greeting attendees and making sure everyone felt welcome, which left my book table unattended most of the evening. Still, I don’t regret that. It isn’t about book sales (although they don’t hurt), and every IWC banquet has proven profitable in less tangible ways. For me, networking and learning new information are the best part of the annual banquet. Of course, I’m always ready for good food, too. In 2011, the speakers from Dogwood Publishing and the open mic rounded out a rewarding evening.


Reminiscence by Julie Larson

As a newcomer at last year’s IWC Annual Banquet, I was expecting formalities, and possibly some awkwardness, but was pleased by the camaraderie among members. I had not yet grasped my own role in the larger community of writers throughout Indiana. Witnessing interactions between members made me think I was missing out on a support system, an essential for a writer’s sanity. Guest speaker Michael Martone also tapped into the role of community by making his address interactive and relying on the audience for that which he could not accomplish on his own: keeping time. Working together to establish connections (Martone gave his phone number), share information (we texted questions and answers), and involve the community through teaching and support is what IWC offers to our growing community of writers.

So come join us on October 10 for the fifth annual banquet.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Brushing Teeth and Cleaning House

Kathryn Page Camp

People look at a picture of a toddler cleaning a toilet and say, "Cute." Replace the toddler with an adult, and they say, "Who cares." Fiction works that way, too.
Every scene in every novel—or in any type of writing, for that matter—must have a purpose. In fiction, the scene should either develop a character or move the story along. Everyday details that do neither make the story boring.
I don’t want to read about a character’s morning routine. In fact, I assume it’s pretty much like mine. He gets out of bed, uses the toilet, brushes his teeth, takes a shower, gets dressed, and so on. You don’t have to tell me any of this.
As mentioned above, however, there are two exceptions. I’m willing to pay attention to details that show me something interesting about a character or advance the plot. But even then I only want those details that make the point.
The mere fact that a protagonist brushes his teeth every morning doesn’t tell the reader a thing. But if you show him brushing them exactly 100 strokes, we might conclude that he is obsessive. And no, I don’t want to count every single one with him.
As a reader I don’t usually care to intrude on a character while she is getting dressed. But I’m interested if she gets up at two o’clock in the afternoon, rummages through the dirty clothes hamper, and pulls on a pair of rumpled jeans and a stained T-shirt without taking off her pajamas. And if she goes to the store that way, so much the better.
Similarly, I don’t usually like to watch the protagonist clean her house. Still, maybe you want to show that she’s a cleanliness freak who wrestles with every piece of heavy furniture so she can pull it out and clean behind it, a sloppy person who only dusts the furniture that is in direct sunlight, or a bored person who cleans an already clean house because she has nothing else to do. Even those characteristics may not matter to the story. If they do, show us the details. But if they don’t, leave them out.
You can also use otherwise mundane details to move the plot along. Maybe your protagonist cleans house and discovers the murder weapon just before the police knock on her door with a search warrant. Or maybe the antagonist injected the tube of toothpaste with poison and the protagonist is one step closer to death every time he brushes his teeth. One caution in the second situation, however. You probably don’t want the protagonist to know he is being slowly poisoned, but the reader needs at least a clue. Otherwise, you can’t count on the reader staying with you until you reveal all.
Do you have Facebook friends who tell you every routine detail about their day? I hide those people from my news feed, and you probably do, too. Nobody wants to read about mundane things like brushing teeth and cleaning house. Not usually, anyway.
If it doesn’t aid the story, leave it out. If it tells me something I need to know, make it interesting.
Because excessive detail creates a book readers won’t finish.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Power of Mentor Texts

Heather Stamper
            You’ve been working on that next “great American book” and you have visions of royalties, movie and television rights, book signings, and interviews.  Little did you know that somewhere, in some classroom, in Anytown, USA, a teacher is using your book as a mentor text.
            I recently went through my childhood notebooks that I had saved.  As I read my heartfelt outpourings, I chuckled and groaned at the different accents I had given my characters.  I had unwittingly used The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett as a mentor text, a piece of literature used to teach writing.  Upon further reflection, I have to thank my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Smith for introducing me to the book.  She gave it to me as a Christmas gift, and we discussed how a writer changes tone and word choice to reflect different speakers.
Using a mentor text is one of the best practices to teach a student writing.  Teachers select text based on whatever skill or genre they are focusing on.  If it is a lesson on ideas, Dr. Seuss’s And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street can give the class springboards using everyday objects.  Voice can be taught with books like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems.  Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes has excellent examples of word choice.
            Children’s books are not the only source for mentor texts.  I had recently participated in the Northwest Indiana Writing Project (NWIWP).  Everyday a different fellow would read a selection of their choosing that could inspire a writing lesson.  These are a few of the ideas I took back to the classroom.  Poetry is a source for sentence fluency and word choice.  Biographies, autobiographies, and informational books can be used to teach organization and how to narrow down ideas.  Science fiction, mysteries, and other genre-specific texts are essential to teach story structure.  Voice can be taught with graphic novels and editorials.
            As students go back to school, they unpack their freshly sharpened pencils and crayons and crack open their books.  As teachers go back to school, they unpack their freshly sharpened lesson plans and crack open their mentor texts.  Your book might be one of them.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Greatest Show on Earth

Kathryn Page Camp

Why could Barnum and Bailey bill their circus as “The Greatest Show on Earth?” Because it was a feast for the eyes. They let the performers show the world what they could do. If Barnum and Bailey had turned it into a radio show, their fame would have been fleeting at best.

That’s also the difference between showing and telling when reading or writing fiction. Although the words are on a page rather than in a ring or on a stage, the reader still wants to “see” the action in his or her mind’s eye, not merely “hear” it with the reader’s inner ears. Or, as writers phrase it, “Show, don’t tell.”

Actually, this is a good technique for all writing. But it’s essential in fiction and creative non-fiction.

In Revision & Self-Editing, James Scott Bell describes the distinction this way.

Showing is like watching a scene in a movie. All you have is what’s on the screen before you. What the characters do or say reveals who they are and what they’re feeling.

Telling, on the other hand, is just like you’re recounting the movie to a friend.

Here’s an example. Let’s assume you are writing a children’s story about two boys who start out as enemies but later become friends. It’s near the beginning of the book, and the two boys get into a fight. You could write it this way:

Brian was mad at Jason and beat him up.

Or you could write it this way:

Brian rushed at Jason, knocked him down, and punched him in the face over and over. By the time a teacher separated the two boys, Jason’s nose was bleeding and his left eye was swollen shut.

In the second example, I didn’t tell you that Brian was mad at Jason. Nor did I tell you that Brian beat Jason up. But you knew it because you saw it.

Which is more interesting? I’m willing to bet that you preferred the second.

Of course, every writer needs to tell at times. Otherwise, novels would be longer than the Great Wall of China.

So how do you know what to show and what to tell?

If a scene is important to either plot or characterization, you should show it. And  to quote James Scott Bell again, “the more intense the moment, the more showing you do.”

Telling usually works better for transitions between scenes. As readers, we may need to know that your protagonist left her office and went home. But you don’t usually need to show her walking out the door, waiting for the bus, climbing into the bus, watching for her street, getting off the bus, and walking in the door. “Jean left the office and went home” is telling, but it gets her from one place to another without boring the reader along the way.

Don’t get fanatical about the distinction, however. Even most showing scenes include some telling. In the example above, why do you know that a teacher separated the boys? Because I told you. Another option would have been to say “a teacher pulled Brian away,” and we could spend years debating whether that phrase is showing or telling. There is nothing wrong with telling something in the middle of your scene if the reader needs to know it but it isn’t otherwise important to the story.

Ron Rozelle’s book Description and Setting explains the purpose of showing as “to let your reader experience things rather than to be told about them, to feel them rather than have them reported to him.”

That’s why Life of Pi is one of my favorite books. As I was reading it, my mind saw the violence of the wind and the waves on stormy days and the brightness of the sun on calm ones. But it went even deeper. The stormy days also had me hearing the roar of the wind, tasting the salt spray as the ocean pummeled the boat, and trembling as the small craft rose to the crest of each towering wave and dropped into the seemingly bottomless trough between them. And the calm days had me sweltering in the heat and smelling fish rotting in the sun. That’s what your writing should do.

Too much telling can make a good story boring, and knowing how and when to show can make a mediocre story great.

So go out and write the greatest show on earth.

* * * * *

The picture at the top of this post is a painting by Italian artist Gaetano Lodi, who was born in 1830 and died in 1886.