Peg Herring's Blog – June 2009 Archive (22)

And When I Die, and When I'm Gone...

I really, really hope CNN, FOX News, and all the rest have no idea. I'd like my friends to remember me the way they want to, not the way some overly-made-up (and fake in every other way too) "personality" summarizes, eulogizes, and characterizes me.

Death of a celebrity in our culture creates a feeding frenzy of pseudo-news about the person, and it makes me sick that everyone who ever spoke to him or her seems unable to resist the urge to talk about it. And the speculation from… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 30, 2009 at 9:54pm — 3 Comments

Me and the White Rabbit

It's more and more Alice-like lately, with me running all the time and muttering to myself, "Oh my stars and whiskers, I'm late!" Or something like that.

So the question is, when am I supposed to do all those wonderful things people keep telling me I can't succeed without? A good business system requires learning the computer processes involved. A good marketing plan involves time spent meeting, communicating, schmoozing. A good writing process involves writing, writing, writing. A… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 29, 2009 at 11:14pm — No Comments

They're Talking to Me Again--the Voices

"You're overworking me!" Character M claims, and I have to admit, she's right.

At the beginning of a project I often have in mind too much "stuff" for a character to bear. Once I'm a way into the story, that character is liable to rear up and berate me. For my own good, of course.

Typically what happens is that I come to a place where it feels wrong. It just isn't going as it should, where it should. If it's possible, I take a walk at that point, because that's where my… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 26, 2009 at 8:00am — No Comments

I've Got a Horse Right Here...

Any gathering of authors ends up reminding me of the old song from GUYS AND DOLLS where three racing aficionados tout their choices for the next winner, each one certain that he's got it figured out. They end up singing over each other, an amusing number that's confusing if you actually want to hear the words.

Passing through crowds, standing in line, and seated at dinner at a writers' conference, what one hears is a succession of loglines, each delivered with the certainty that if… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 25, 2009 at 10:00pm — 1 Comment

The Second-Book Squeeze

A comment from Dana on yesterday's post inspires today's topic: There is usually less time to write Books 2 through infinity than there was for Book 1. Book 1, according to the experts, is going to take an average of six years to get published. In those years we reread, rethink, and rework the thing, trying to get it just right for some agent or editor. Every word is considered, every sentence polished, at least if we're doing as we should.

Book Two starts the day Book One is sold,… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 24, 2009 at 10:33pm — 1 Comment

I Hate to Be Critical, But-

I guess I am. Just put down a book after 70 pages or so, and I'd say it suffers from the sophomore jinx. The author's first book won a prize, so I assume it was good. Maybe I should find it and read it, because #2 was just plain dull.

Does winning a prize work against an author, maybe? This book was so self-consciously pretentious and cloyingly historical that the story was buried in quaint characters and city descriptions. I imagined the author thinking, "They said my attention to… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 23, 2009 at 9:18pm — 3 Comments

"I Need to See Your Writing"

The phrase that makes me doubt every word I've put on paper. It goes like this:

You pitch an idea to an agent. She loves it. She hands you her card like it's the Holy Grail (which it is) and says, "I really like that concept. Send me fifty pages and I'll look at the writing."

As John Madden would say, "Boom!" You made great yardage, but that tackle at the end is going to hurt tomorrow. Now, it isn't the idea that's at issue, but how well you present it. How well you write.… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 22, 2009 at 10:06pm — 3 Comments

The Tone of a Conference

I've been attending cons for some time now, and I've learned that each has a feel to it, rather like the books we all go to talk about. Some are dignified and others comical. Some cater to readers and others to writers. In some the small-time writer feels ignored as the "big guns" waft through the crowds and toss out comments about bidding wars for their next book. In others there's a real feeling that we're all in this together.

What's fun to contemplate for me is the dominant… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 19, 2009 at 10:23pm — 2 Comments

On Writing and Research (R)

I couldn't say which I enjoy more: writing or doing research so I can write. Whether it's silly trivia or serious research for an upcoming book, I jump in with both feet and can spend hours at it without realizing it.

A library pulls me in and keeps me all day, and suddenly I wake up and wonder whether I should have lunch, only to find that it's more like dinner time. I take ten times more notes than I can even use when I'm using a historical setting. There's just so much of… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 18, 2009 at 9:47pm — 3 Comments


Why is it that some days I get so much done and other days I might as well weed petunias as try to write? It has to be mind-set, but I wish I had better control of turning it on and off.

Yesterday I did the final edit on a whole novel (the one I had to shorten), did a bunch of correspondence that needed catching up, and got a good start on a short story I'm twisting to fit a particular editor's needs. That involved printing pages, a lot of computer time, and many small decisions that… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 17, 2009 at 9:39pm — No Comments

Dealing with People You Can't Stand

I met a person last weekend who immediately made me angry, which doesn't happen all that often. We all have types we avoid, and for me it's the person who, obviously feeling that he/she knows best about everything and everyone, launches upon first meeting into an analysis of what you are doing that is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. My anger faded quickly once I reminded myself that this person is actually a rather sad sort, trying to make the world fit an outdated idea with pure bombast and… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 17, 2009 at 12:09am — 3 Comments

The Professional Blogger

I met someone this weekend that I didn't even know existed: a professional blogger. I may say more about her in future entries, but she was very interesting to talk to. She studies what subjects people will find you to read about, which is of course the way to build readership and therefore interest in whatever you're presenting, in my case, books.

She suggested cats. I know, I know. It sounds, if I may, fluffy. Still, people love pets, so if you talk about yours, they tend to read… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 15, 2009 at 8:54pm — No Comments

On Liking and Not Liking Books

I'm mostly amused but sometimes bemused by people who can't get over the fact that I didn't like a book they liked. They suggest a book or an author, and before I can stop myself, I say something like, "I tried it (or read it) and didn't care for it." Suddenly it's as if I proclaimed that I really enjoyed the last time I sawed off someone's legs. By the look on the person's face, I know I've been relegated in her mind to idiot. She might say something to indicate that I obviously didn't try… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 12, 2009 at 9:54pm — 3 Comments

On the Road to History

I'm attending the Historical Novel Society Conference this weekend, which should be great fun. When history nerds get together past and present meld, since many of us feel as close to figures of other times as we are to many folks still walking around.

I'm moderating a panel of talented and varied authors: Kate Forsyth from Australia, Mary Sharratt from England, Chris Blevins from Illinois, Nancy Hull from my home state of Michigan, and Margaret George, who calls Wisconsin home but… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 11, 2009 at 10:12pm — No Comments

The Jaded Reader

I learned early on in life that I seldom agree with movie critics' assessments. What they tout as brilliant and ground-breaking, I often find creepy or boring. With a little thought, one can figure out the problem: movie critics see movies for a living and therefore enjoy experimentation and boundary-pushing. I, on the other hand, go to a movie for an evening's entertainment and just want to have a good time. We're looking for vastly different things.

Writers are the movie critics of… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 10, 2009 at 10:21pm — 2 Comments

The Part I Love

It's the moment in a thriller-type book where I as a reader think, "They're never going to get out of this!" One panelist I heard recently called it the "Oh, s*&t! moment."

Sometimes the author can't deliver, and things get solved in an unrealistic way, but when it's well done, it's very pleasing. Maybe the key is something you learned early in the story but didn't pay much attention to. Maybe the characters seize on an opportunity or make one from sheer determination. But the… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 9, 2009 at 9:52pm — 5 Comments

An Author's Sidebar

We're all interested in something, and often it shows in our writing. Sometimes it fascinates the reader to learn what we know about history, technology, philosophy or whatever. Other times we wonder where the editor was when this author got sidetracked. The story-within-a-story is a device that authors seem to like but this reader finds irritating.

I'm reading a really good thriller in which the action frequently stops so that a character can tell a serial-type story. There is no… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 8, 2009 at 10:36pm — No Comments

On Teaching...and Learning...How to Write

In response to my comment yesterday (on voice in writing) that nobody can teach how it happens, Jon made the point that he does, and I have to yield on that one. Otherwise I'd be forced to admit that I spent 30 years wasting time in my English classes. Writing can be taught: the elements, the recognition of good writing, the practices that lead to improvement, and even the terminology that helps us discuss the process intelligently.

However, I contend that writing is a lot like… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 5, 2009 at 10:41pm — 6 Comments

My Voice, Your Voice, His Voice, Her Voice

We hear a lot about voice in writing, and it's one of those hard-to-define things that make a book readable or not. There are some rules, like not switching voice in the middle of a paragraph and such, but the talent for creating voice goes far beyond that. At its best, a character's voice grabs the reader from the first page of a book, making him want to hear that character's story. And nobody can teach you how that happens.

I've been pulled into stories that I never thought I… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 4, 2009 at 10:21pm — 7 Comments

Enjoying the Failures of Others

Well not really. I mean we're nice people, right? We wouldn't actually enjoy hearing someone else's woes.

But it helps. I just read an interview with a multi-published writer (over 100 books) who admitted to a lot of failures over the years: wrong book, wrong time, wrong publisher, etc. She made the point that it isn't always the author who fails, and we have to remember that or we'd all throw the monitor out the window.

I lunch every once in a while with another writer,… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on June 3, 2009 at 9:52pm — No Comments

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