Author Archives: pterlip

Get it done

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People don’t typically ask how you write. They seem more concerned with the content or what drove you to write, but how a writer accomplishes their task is just as interesting. The writing process is so different for each person that I am always interested in learning how others “get it done.” I have found there are a few writing stereotypes that I fall into.

The Procrastinator: I love to write, but sometimes I have to complete everything on my to do list before I can get my creative juices flowing. The dog needs a walk, it’s lunch time, my room is too dirty, the excuses abound. It isn’t until everything is perfect that I can start to craft my stories. It’s difficult to encourage creativity when your brain is going in a million different directions. To fight the procrastination monster I try to keep the distractions to a minimum. So turn off the TV, give the dog a bone, and put on some soothing music… I’ve been enjoying Adele and the new Decemberists’s album. The key is to remove tempting distractions and get down to business. Also, I always make sure I have a drink and a snack near by–just in case.

The Homebody: More often than not I try to write at home. I love the comfort of my bed and a big glass of Diet Dr. Pepper to encourage me, but it seems like whenever I write in my home my characters aren’t as interesting, or my scene ends up flat. As much as I love writing in the comfort of my own bedroom, I know that I do my best work writing in the company of others. I love hitting up a Starbucks or Barnes and Noble and just occupying a chair for a while. The people are great creative fodder and having rows of books surrounding me keeps me focused on my goal. I can just imagine one day having my name grace those shelves.

The Determined: This happens to me a lot. I want to write a scene so badly that I force it. I am determined to finish a chapter so I rush through the details. I am so involved with fitting my writing time into a block of space that I forget to let it happen organically. The need to complete a page or section is a powerful motivator to get things done, but it all happens in good time. I try to carve out a chuck of time for my writing–say an hour everyday– but some days I just need more time. I have a busy schedule, but writing is my passion. It is important to not confine creativity. I struggle with rushing through paragraphs, so to slow myself down I think about all the time I will be spending editing that same page. Knowing I am going to need to fix it later and probably spend more time doing so really drives me to take the time and get it right.

Do you fall into any of these stereotypes? Do you have any others? Speak up! It is always interesting to hear about other writing processes.

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Recreating Holiday Cheer

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Have you noticed that as the fall leaves begin to change, store fronts are looking more and more Christmas-y. It isn’t even Thanksgiving, but that hasn’t stopped Starbucks from decorating their cups with Christmas trees. It hasn’t stopped Macy’s or Barnes and Noble from decking their stores with wreaths and lights. It seems Christmas is coming sooner every year, and with it the old holiday classics.

Holiday favorites like Dickens’s Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, and many more have been remastered time and time again. They’ve been remade in print as well as on the silver screen. It is obviously that some of these remakes are sub-par, so how do you successfully recreate a classic?

The best tip I can give is creativity. Everyone is familiar with the plot and storyline of these classics, but unique characters or settings can really revamp the traditional aspects. If you are re-creating the Grinch, try something outside of the box. Your new Grinch could be a beautiful, wealthy, young heiress or even an alien. You could create a whole new world rather than who-ville. Maybe it takes place 8,000 years into the future or maybe the main characters are animals not humans. The world is your oyster, use your imagination.

Be unique when you are revising a classic, but remember sticking to key points is important. You want the reader to recognize the original story in the frame work of your piece, but you don’t want to plagiarize either. The need for aspects like the three ghosts of Christmas in A Christmas Carol, make the story easily recognized, but it could be something rather than a ghost. Just making a specific nod to past, present, and future portions of your Scrooge’s life will link the two.

Also don’t be afraid to stray as far as you want from the script. You can change anything. It may be fun to alter the ending completely. You can give the readers a twist that they would never expect and in turn maybe make an improvement on all other remakes. Your goal is not to be hidden amongst a slew of awful interpretations, but stand out like a unique gem.

These tips can be useful for any sort of remastering attempt. I recently read a book by Sharon Shinn called Jenna Starborn. This novel was a unique take on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The science fiction novel is set on a foreign planet with creative advancements and interesting side notes. The plot stays true to the original, but the new setting and creations make this a fun, original take on a classic.

All in all writers are always getting inspired from previous work, but it is important to remember that your creative ideas have to be present as well. You can’t just take someone else’s idea and not improve on it. So keep thinking and writing, new spins on classics can be great ways to practice you technique and creativity!

Music and Lyrics

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As a musician that writes the music and the lyrics a question that often arises is what happens first?

Sorry to disappoint, but there isn’t a specific answer to that question. The truth is both occurs, and on a regular basis. Often times I write a poem or some couplet of words that I think would make a good song, and then strive to find a melody to match. The whole process is so dependent on the mood I’m in that it’s hard to be consistent, but my advice on the matter stays the same.

First come up with some concept that is close to your heart. Music is all about heart, the same goes for poetry or writing of any kind. (All in all writing music is very similar to writing other forms.) If you aren’t emotionally connected, how can you expect the listener or reader to be? Being emotionally connected doesn’t mean your lyrics have to be sad or depressing. It can be a fun up beat emotion or some happy memory. Just make it something that means something to you!

Next jot down everything that comes to mind. You never know what you’ll want to use. This comes in handy no matter what you’re writing. If you think you will remember it, don’t kid yourself. Trust me I know from personal experience. It will tingle at the back of your mind, rest on the tip of your tongue, but you will most likely never recall that fleeting idea. SO, WRITE IT DOWN!

Now that you’ve written everything down, take the time to rearrange the lines and words until the appropriate flow appears. This is also a good time to start working on simple chords that could be attributed to the lines. Once you have the general rhythm it will help structure your lyrics too.

Also play an instrument that you are the most comfortable with. My personal preference, the guitar, makes it easy to try out notes and sing while you play. If you don’t have experience with an instrument you are going to be focusing more on how you play rather than what you’re playing. Start simply, once you have the general rhythm add a bridge or a solo, you can even over lay your recording with some fancy finger picking or a harmony.

Additional Tip: If you have a computer with a video or a recording device on your phone, record yourself messing around. This way you can play back any genius chord sequences or lyrical riffs that you may have forgotten along the way. 

Finally, play everything over and over again. Tweak it until you love it. Play until you are comfortable with how it sounds, then set it aside. Wait a day or two and play it back again, if it is still as wonderful as you previously thought, you’ve got yourself a song.

Now all you need is a back up band, a recording studio, or an audition for American Idol and you’ll have it made!

Grammar Mistakes Galore

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 Bill Cosby’s first print of Come on People is strangely missing a comma. The book’s original printing sans comma has all sorts of funny innuendos attached. Come on, Bill Cosby’s publishers. Let’s edit correctly.

 

If you can’t read this it says, “Rachael Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog.” This hilarious lack of comma makes the lovable cook a cannibal.

 

 

 

 

I can’t believe I didn’t notice this before, but have you ever wondered why there isn’t a comma after slow? Maybe the children playing are just moving at a glacial pace. Living life in slow motion would be challenging.

So you want to make a documentary…

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As I am currently diving head first into the world of movie making I thought I would offer some words of advice. I am not a pro by any means– I literally started playing with iMovie a two weeks ago– but I do have some ways to avoid mistakes.

1. RECORD ON A SEPARATE DEVICE! Okay maybe you all know this, but in film it is really hard to catch everything you need on just your video camera. Use a recorder so you can over lay the audio if a bus goes by… or in my case a huge stream of protestors for Occupy Denver decide to stroll on by. You may not need it, but  bring it just in case. It is a pain in the butt to have to redo something. Plus you get the best quotes when someone hasn’t been rehearsing the lines.

2. BE SPONTANEOUS. Don’t try to plan everything out. Sometimes stuff happens that you didn’t expect and it makes things better! We interviewed a guy on the side of the road playing the flute. He wasn’t a planned interview, but he gave some of the best one-liners. Also when things are too staged it makes your interview seem stuffy. My original idea was to have the interview indoors, in a chair, very professional looking, but when nothing was available we did the interview outside in a park, and it was better! People are more at ease when it’s a more casual situation.

3. HAVE ALL YOUR QUESTIONS READY… and have extras. Have questions you may not use in the documentary, questions that may not be relevant, questions that will knock their socks off, have anything and everything. You never know what is going to happen so be on your toes. If someone is blowing through your questions at light speed you want to have ways you can coax them to expand. It’s all about leading the interview in a way that will get you the best information. If your interview is bad, you can’t blame it on the person. Your question have to have two roles: making the person comfortable enough to open up, as well as getting all the information you need.

 

As this process continues maybe I’ll have more pearls of wisdom.

Queries about agents

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You’ve written your manuscript. You’ve fine tuned and edited every last word. It’s your best work. Now what?

The publishing world continues to get more and more competitive, but there is still hope. New ideas and authors are always welcomed, but you may need a little help getting noticed by publishers. In fact the majority of publishing houses are now only excepting solicited manuscripts. So now you have one more step before seeing your name in print, finding an agent.

Literary agents are extremely helpful in maneuvering the confusing realm of publishing. The contracts and copyrights are a lot to handle alone, plus your agent will have a vast assortment of connections that will make finding the right publisher for your book easier. To get an agent I recommend buying the Writers Market or the Guide to Literary Agents, it is a little on the expensive side, but totally worth it. The comfort of knowing you are querying an agent that is reputable is important. If you aren’t interested in investing in the Writers Market, definitely go to Publishers Marketplace and browse for an agent that fits your manuscript.

After you have found a slew of agents you feel could adequately represent your book it’s time to query. Every agent has a specific preference about how to receive a query so be sure to check out the agency’s website and follow instructions to the tee. These agents are getting hundreds of queries a week and it is easy to be ignored if you haven’t followed protocol. Now that we are entering the digital realm many accept queries via email, but some still want snail mail so be sure if you are mailing a query to include a stamped self-addressed envelope.

First step, make sure you address the query to a specific person. Agents don’t want the run of the mill, copy and pasted queries. Each query needs to be directed to a specific person. Mentioning how you found the agent is a nice touch. The first paragraph is a good place for this. You should also include the name of your manuscript, word count, and genre.

Next comes the summary. This is the part you have to nail! Give the hook and back story, but don’t give it all away. There is a fine balance between a detailed synopsis and telling the entire story. I’d suggest having a non-friend/family member read the query and see if they then want to read the book.

Finally, give your credentials, and why you think they are the perfect agent for you. Also be sure to thank the agent. It never hurts to be polite. Also if you don’t have too many publishing credentials don’t sweat it. Just explain why you are the right person to write this book. If it is a medical drama, the ten years you’ve spent as a nurse are extremely important to add!

Keep it short, your query shouldn’t be longer than a page!

If you want more information on queries check out Pub Rants, it is run by Kristen Nelson, an agent in Denver. She does a great job of explaining what was great about queries she has excepted.

Remember it all goes back to your ideas. If you have great ideas and feel passionately about your manuscript you will find an agent for you. Don’t be swayed by the rejections, keep at it and someday you’ll see your book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble.

Note: If you find any agents online run them through editors and predators before submitting any work. Also if anyone ever charges to read a manuscript DO NOT SEND IT. Agents are paid by their companies to read manuscripts, it’s their job. You DO NOT have to pay them. 

A Literary Community

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If you live in Denver take the time to check out some of these cool local bookshops.

Park Hill Co-Op Book Shop – Located in the Park Hill suburb of Denver, Park Hill Co-Op Book Shop, is a treat. The store is completely nonprofit and has only one paid employee (the manager). The shop is run by a team of volunteers that know everything about books, some have been volunteering for 20 years. The Park Hill Co-Op is kept a float by members who pay a yearly rate ($10 or $40) the membership includes a 7% discount, 10 credits (good for 10 used paperback or 5 hardbacks), and the opportunity to trade in books for credits. The Co-Op is a community gem. The atmosphere is comfortable and the selection is great. I could have spent hours perusing the shelves. It’s a little on the small side, but it doesn’t stop them from stuffing as many books as they can onto the shelves. It has a wide array of topics and even antique books. I would definitely advise taking a look! There are some great deals hiding on those shelves.

The Tattered Cover Book Store – This store is the megalith of books. This independent store located in two places throughout Denver, one in LoDo, is a great place to spend the day. The central location makes it an easy stop on any trek through downtown. The selection is enormous with used and new books. There are tons of comfy chairs, and even a coffee shop. The staff is really nice and knowledgable. I loved looking through all of the staff recommendations. I found myself loosing track of time in Tattered Cover. You can cuddle up in a chair and spend hours sipping coffee and enjoying a new book. However, it is a tad on the expensive side, but still worth while. You may not find the best deals, but you will enjoy every minute spent looking.

Fahrenheit Books – A used book store that can survive a move to a new location must be a good one. This store while smaller than Tattered Cover has a great selection. It is organized and easy to find what you want. If you are a Sci-fi buff make the time to check Fahrenheit out. There Sci-fi selection is vast and everything is fairly priced. There are tons of vintage books. There’s even a wall dedicated to first editions. It’s new location on Broadway is easy to find and surrounded by other cute shops. You can even browse their titles online and make sure the books you want are in stock. The store has a cool vibe and the staff certainly knows what they’re talking about. If you are interesting in selling books, Fahrenheit will buy them. They typically like unusual or vintage books.

 

These local Denver stores are a great alternative to Amazon or Barnes and Noble. It makes book buying more of an adventure than an errand. Support our local businesses and check them out! I promise you’ll find something you love.