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.

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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.