My Greatest Mentor

IMG-20130917-00529The tiny five foot frame of Viola, could not contain her enthusiastic spirit for living. It spilled out in unseen waves and touched anyone she came into contact with. I was blessed to be one of those it touched.

While working together on our Church newsletter we got to know each other. I took in the articles, did the layout on my computer then Viola would edit and get it printed and distributed. During the conversations over proper grammar we also shared our past, dreams and family stories.

We had a lot in common despite the thirty year difference in our ages. Down to earth, fair minded and confident, she had an easy acceptance of her role as a woman. Fiercely independent, she easily raised children, helped her husband in his construction company and faced the inconveniences of living in rural Wyoming.

It was her innocent, fun-loving sense of adventure that drew me most. We traveled together many times to different conventions that held something of interest to us. Through all of this I shared my desire and biggest secret – my passion to write.

Viola was my greatest admirer and critic. She pulled no punches when it came to editing. When I would write an article for the newsletter, she would rave about it yet point out all its flaws.  I invited her to a writer’s convention and in her spritely way, she enthusiastically agreed to go. In her seventies, she still traveled by herself quite often and thought nothing of taking off on adventures such as flying up to Alaska to visit family.

Set in the lush grounds of the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, at first we both were impressed and overwhelmed. Surely these authors had some special talent that we lacked. But Viola wanted to learn to write memoirs and in her modest, humble way helped me to gradually become comfortable in the company of the successful.

During luncheons and dinners agents were seated at the tables so we would have access to talk to them. At one lunch we had an editor from a romance press sitting between us. Viola had outgoing social skills, while I was reserved, so it was no surprise to me when she struck up a conversation with the woman. Once the introductions were over she launched into a brag session about my skills and dreams. I blushed profusely explaining I had an idea, but had not yet put pen to paper. In the end, the agent was so impressed with Viola’s sale skills; she asked for my information and gave me her card telling me to contact her when I had a manuscript ready.

On the way home we threw ideas together and created the outline for what would become “Windswept Hearts” five years later. Every Sunday, every time we got together she encouraged me to write. Eventually, as I saw time erode away her vitality, I knew I had to write the story. I wanted her to see it in print before she went home to the Lord.

Not only did she help edit it, but she was my greatest support and encourager during the process. When I gave her the first signed copy, she beamed through a myriad of wrinkles, and ordered ten more copies for her family.

Last month, as I attended her lively, peaceful memorial, I realized what gifts she had given me. The world was less bright, my dreams of writing a little dimmer as I realized I was now on my own in my journey.

Viola’s impish spirit continues to peer over my shoulder at times when I type and I take the confidence she helped me build to go out and continue to pursue my passion for writing. That same spirit will most likely appear in a character or two, being immortalized forever. I can see her now, giggling and telling me, “Oh, that’s not like me at all and by the way, there are several missing commas!”

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What Freedom of Speech Doesn’t Give You The Right To Do

10207_346359955467304_1634414842_nFreedom of speech is the most demanded of rights, especially in America. I’m not saying that is a bad thing. I’m glad I have this right, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to blog about it.

But there are certain things it does not give us the right to do. First and foremost, it doesn’t give us the right to think we are right. Just because I have the right to voice my opinion, doesn’t mean my opinion is the only one that is ‘right.’ It is simply that, an opinion. And just because it is my opinion, doesn’t mean you have to have the same one or it makes you my enemy.

It does not give me the right to disrespect your opinion, or your choice to believe differently. It doesn’t give me the right to ostracize you, belittle you, hound you, kill you, close you out, make fun of you, or in any other way treat you poorly. It does not give me the right to make others take sides, or claim exclusivity to a group that you are not part of.

I don’t have to embrace your opinion, but we should be able to agree to disagree in a gentlemanly fashion. I should live my life in such a way as to prove my beliefs, but not demand you to live as I do.

For instance, let’s say I believe in a religion and what it stands for. I should live my life according to those beliefs. Hopefully I’ve chosen one that shows respect for my fellow man, and should live it well enough that it should attract others to want to believe the same thing. The fruits of that lifestyle should only better this world, not destroy it.

Government should be separate and about the laws of the land. These should be based on fairness and equality for everyone, not a privileged few. Of course, world peace would be a good thing also, but let’s get real, our opinions get in the way.

So it is just my humble opinion (take it or leave it) that speech in any form, whether spoken or written, should not bully people. Bullying is not a freedom of speech issue, but a social wrong. I’m no better than anyone else, nor should I force my views on anyone else. I am all for sharing opinions and ideas because many times I find another’s view has more clarity than mine but I need to do it in a respectful manner, not bashing, demeaning or being downright vulgar. 

So let’s quit abusing our right to Freedom of Speech and considering listening to each other. We might find we are all on the same page, just on different lines.

 

Meet Chryse Wymer, Editor

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I met Chryse Wymer on a site called “BookRix.”  What caught my attention was a comment she left about grammar. I enjoyed her feisty outspokenness and I realized she was right about the grammar issues being discussedBeing grammar challenged, I found myself seeking her advice.  Slowly I began to know the person behind the comments.  I fondly call her the “Yoda of Grammar.” I’m so excited to host her blog here today.

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Thank you, Robynn Gabel, for allowing me to guest post on what I know to be of particular interest to you: commas. For those of you keeping track, this is part three of my comma series. If you are interested in reading part one, visit A.B Shepherd’s blog at: http://www.abshepherd.net/, and part two can be read on John Abramowitz’s blog at: http://onthebird.blogspot.com/

This month, I’ll be hopping along from blog to blog to share my knowledge on the nuts and bolts of great writing. I am a copy editor, proofreader, and author—published both traditionally and independently. I’m also raffling off Amazon gift cards to get you started on your editing bookshelves. You can contact me at chrysewymer@yahoo.com, or, for more information, visit: http://ocdeditor.weebly.com/ So here goes:

COMMAS – PART THREE

I want to reiterate that the basic function of a comma is to separate.

The fifth function of a comma is to separate adjectives that each qualify a noun in the same way < Next to a few odds and ends, she found a small[,] red leather-bound book.> There are a couple of tricks to help decide if a comma is necessary: one is whether or not you can use and between the adjectives. If you can, you need a comma. My preferred method is the switcheroo. If you can switch the adjectives out, then you need a comma, e.g.: Next to a few odds and ends, she found a red[,] small leather-bound book.

The sixth function of a comma is separate a direct quotation from its attribution <“Blue. I like the color blue,” she said.>

The seventh function of a comma is to separate a participial phrase, a verbless phrase (group of verbless words that make sense but do not form a complete sentence), or a vocative (direct address)—e.g.: “Having had coffee[,] she made her son breakfast.”/ “Anna, you’re so rotten!”

The eighth function of a comma is marking the end of a salutation in an informal letter <Dear Ms. Gabel,> <Dear Chryse,> and the close <Yours sincerely,>

Finally, the comma separates parts of a physical address <258 Monkey Butt Drive, Macon, WV> or a date <October 21, 2013>

Stay tuned as I continue my grammar and style tour 30 Days of Linguistic Love with . . . semicolons, one of the most-often misused punctuation marks. Visit me tomorrow on Dionne Lister’s blog at http://dionnelisterwriter.com/ to find out more about semicolons.

 

How to Mentor a Writer

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Just yesterday morning I found an article I had to return to my best friend and mentor, Viola. We had met long ago when I was in charge of the church newsletter and desperately needed an editor. Being about twenty years older than me, Viola had just lost her husband and had the skill of old school grammar and punctuation.

We immediately clicked. She was the example of the feisty, pioneer type of little old lady I wanted to be. We shared histories. Mine was obviously shorter than hers, but I loved hearing about her past and the obstacles she had overcome in her life.

I invited her to go with me to the first writing conference I ever attended. She had expressed a desire to write her memoirs, I just had the avid desire to write. I was in over my head and on the long ride down there I shared with her my long kept secret desire of wanting to become a writer. Viola fast became my hero. She had always admired my style of writing for the newsletter. At the conference, when we were seated with an agent, she sang my praises to her.  The agent eagerly questioned my goals, story ideas and ended up giving me her card.

So began Viola’s mentoring job.

On the way home from that conference we brain-stormed and the plot platform for Windswept Hearts was created. Through the years she kept asking, prodding and singing my praises. When I finally handed her the manuscript for editing, despite her recent stroke, she faithfully found all my grammar and punctuation problems. When the book was published, she eagerly bought ten copies and gave them out as Christmas presents.

The way Viola lived her life was such an example to me. Despite losing her husband, she continued to live a full life. She loved to travel, visiting family all over, including family in Alaska. Her imagination and creative talents amazed me. She always had a project going such as painting, wood burning, and writing. Her natural curiosity and inquisitiveness led her to learn how to use a computer at the ripe age of eighty. She lived a Christian example of a very fulfilled woman. Even though the era she grew up in demanded she be a housewife, Viola was always a quiet rebel.  Intelligent, witty and bright she filled our time together with stories.

After the church newsletter moved on to become simply a bulletin every Sunday, Viola and I continued to stay in contact, though not as much as I would have liked. Life got in the way, but we continued to make a lunch date every now and then.

It never seems enough though, when someone passes on. Yesterday morning as I was planning on calling her for a lunch date and returning her article, she had a massive stroke. Her family rushed to be at her side and she was not alone as she went home to the husband she missed so much and the Lord she loved so dearly. Her family included me in their calls to inform of her passing, showing me her love and consideration lives on in her children.

As I work on my next novel, I find myself bereft of some of the joy. I realized today how much I depended on my one-woman-cheerleading team. I  will miss sharing plot ideas and discussing the creative process. I will miss her chiding me on my dismal misunderstanding of the use of grammar. I will miss so much listening to her own stories and encouraging her to write them. I will dearly miss my friend and mentor over all.

And if Viola were here, she would encourage me to not mourn or complain at her leaving, but to find the joy in having had the time together. To appreciate what we shared and built  and to keep on writing.

Viola would be delighted to find out my next heroine will be sharing her spirit and love of adventure, and embarrassed to find out I based the character on her!  She would shake her head, laugh and again remind me to review the proper usage of commas and punctuation!

Through my work, I will continue to keep our friendship alive, writing the best I can to honor my mentor.

Pet Peeves of an Avid Reader

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Before I took classes, online webinars, writing conferences and other educational pursuits to become an author, I was and still remain an avid reader. The world of Indie writers has been a delightful journey of new and interesting material and with the ability to speed read; I devour daily the written word.

Of course, I would like to selfishly believe this makes me a connoisseur of fine writing. In reality, I’m just an average person who has a few pet peeves about how stories are written.

For instance, never name your primary characters with similar names, like Jack and Jace, or Miranda and Miriam, or Jonathan and John.  It is bad enough if two characters have names that start with the same letter, but when the second letter or the first three are similar, even a slow reader is going to get confused. It interrupts the flow of reading. I have to go back to figure out who is speaking or interacting in the scene, especially if both characters are in the scene together.

For example:

*** “We need to be at the pick-up point by nine,” Jace said.

Jack’s tawny hair swayed as he whipped around to face Jace. “Why did we move up the time?”

Jace shrugged his shoulder. “I don’t know.” Jack’s eyes narrowed, suspicion lurking in the blue depths.***

Confused? Try a whole chapter like that! Another pet peeve is when an author inserts a seemingly innocuous moment or item. As a mystery reader, I’ve learned to look for clues as to what will be important later on in the story. The following is an example of that.

***** Her hands shook as she continued to dig through the moldy cloth. Her fingers hit something cold, small and square. As she pulled it out the burnished gleam of gold caught her eye. The little box was plain, no ornaments or carvings to mar its smooth surface.  Her finger traced over the tiny lock keeping its secrets secure.  Impatient to find the key, she turned back to the ancient cloth covering the contents of the old wood chest. Clawing at it she discovered gold coins, a golden goblet and a few twinkling gems.******

So is it just me or would you go crazy wondering what was in the box? If this was at the very beginning of the story and yet, we never hear about that gold box again, wouldn’t you continue to wonder why it was mentioned? I would keep waiting for it to reappear and make some sense as to why it was even in the story.

It’s like settling down for a long movie. You have wrapped yourself in your favorite blanket with popcorn and soda pop  within reach. You are deeply involved in the story unfolding before you and then you have to go to the bathroom.  Do you put the movie on pause now, or wait until the intense scene is over while your bladder pleads for mercy? It interrupts your enjoyment, your interest and the storyline as you dash for the bathroom. For a second you have to come back to the real world.

It is irritating to be reading a scene you are so engrossed in, only to be jarred into the present by bad grammar, incorrect punctuation, dialogue that is off, a scene that ends too abruptly, or my most unfavorite, a cliff hanger ending with no resolution.  As if the author tired of writing and decided to let you decide how it would end.  Or how about an ending where suddenly you are in the height of action and it ends, leaving a myriad of loose ends begging to be explained or resolved.

I love stories that are like a fine dessert. Where the ingredients are blended so well together it is like heaven on my palate. This makes me eager to order that dessert again and again. Like waiting for a favorite author’s work to be released so I can enjoy another great story.. It is artwork at its best when it all comes together and I can leave this earthly plane for a while to exist in another world.

So when you dezign your word desert please think of you’re rea;ders. It well help you in your search for that aphid reeder.

The Real Writer’s Block

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Staring out the window, you contemplate your next scene and come up blank. Frustrated, you are stumped at what comes next. . A moment lost as the story line goes cold can put a writer into panic. This is called a ‘writer’s block’. 

There are many fixes like taking a walk, a hot shower, listening to your favorite music or just taking a break for a few days. The list of cures is endless.  But the most insidious writer’s block is sometimes not even recognized by a writer.  

Recently someone asked me to read their work.  They were concerned about their grammar. I found the story to be quite different as it was written laced with prose. Unfortunately some of the words used were not in proper context. After some quick emails back and forth, it finally boiled down to the author still only being concerned with grammar. They thought their ‘prose’ style was unique and the reader would figure out what they meant by using words out of context.

I understand. I do. It takes a lot of work to create art. We are proud of our creations, but the worse block is not being able to see where the weaknesses are, even when pointed out to us. The refusal to edit is a death knell for our work.

Read any author’s autobiography and you will find again and again the editing process was the hardest part, but necessary for all writers. We are blind when it comes to our own work. The block we put up, using the excuse it is ‘our art’ and should not be changed, puts us in the dark. Readers are educated. Usually they have read oceans of words and demand a smooth flow, proper usage of the English language, a developed story plot, and understandable dialogue.

I’m not saying that you cannot be artistic, but be realistic. If you are just starting out and haven’t developed your ‘brand’ yet, it is better to be safe. Every established author will tell you that their first work is not as polished as what follows.

Listen to your friends, family and readers. If you are not selling, if more than one person has told you something needs to be changed, consider it. Get an editor. I can’t say this enough. Get an editor!

Don’t be blinded by the worst ‘writer’s block’ of all. An over-inflated sense of how great your writing is.

How to Attract Trolls

377989_602137889807226_78032928_nI had a business associate in the author world who wrote some pieces that were controversial. Thain itself was not a problem since I didn’t share his views, and in our business dealings he always treated me well. I knew nothing of him really. He complained one day he was being attacked with one star reviews on Amazon and one attacker even admitted publicly that he had not read the book. Well, I didn’t think that was fair so I made some cutesy, sarcastic remarks and suggested he do the same in return. Idiot move on my part, I suggest you don’t do this, unless you want to attract trolls.

I was then given an education on the world of cyber trolls. I wasn’t the only ‘friend’ of his they attacked. I knew where I had screwed up, but was surprised when they also went after several women he knew who wrote kid’s books for charities. That didn’t seem fair, so I strode into a forum in my shabby battle armor to demand why it was ‘fair’ to pick on people who had nothing to do with it. Five hours later, tattered and bloody, I waved the white flag and retreated.

In all fairness, Badly Behaving Authors was a group created when several authors couldn’t let one star reviews pass and they went after the customers who made them. This was troll-ish behavior on the author’s part. Of course, as authors, we all know this is uncouth. Really, it is just someone’s opinion. So BBA became the self-appointed sheriffs to root out and expose these authors. Like any group, it had an altruistic beginning, then by the pure nature of the human being, it became rigid and judgmental, and the battle of the Hatfields and McCoys began.

I found the BBA group left me alone and waited to see if I meant what I said about not wanting to be part of it. On Goodreads it was another story. I saw my books, as well as those of my friends, start being shelved under hideously named shelves and one star reviews start popping up.

Now I’m all for freedom of speech, and as an author I know I have a target on my back for the possible harsh review. Not everyone is going to like my book. Simple. A real critique is also a gift. I want to improve as a writer and though it stings at first, I know to mine it so I can better improve my writing. In all fairness, again, the first one star review I received at Goodreads was just that, a real critique. But I had seen to many other petty reviews that were just snarky and had nothing to do with the book, but simply trolls battering what to them was a badly behaving author.

I retreated again. Quit blogging. Shut down my account at Goodreads. Oh, and by the way, know too that if you put a book up at Goodreads, even though you close your account, your book is forever linked there. According to Goodreads they cannot sever that link.

Knowing how far this could go, I decided to do more damage control. I removed any links to Goodreads from my blogs or anywhere else I had linked in. I watched my Amazon account and found I was pursued no further. I watched what I said in my remarks and comments, and in essence tried to create a cloak of invisibility. If I had an opinion to share, I did it privately.

It is easy to slip and make a comment here or there, but remember, as an author, we are in the public eye. It doesn’t matter your opinion, you have an image to uphold. Trust me, there are not enough words in the English language, or any other language for that matter, to ever win the word battle with trolls. Your best defense is to not engage, under any circumstance.  If you believe their comments, then you have no self-confidence. Get out of the world of writing. Otherwise, understand, it is their perception only. We are all entitled to our opinions, but it doesn’t make them right.

I have since decided that anonymity on the web is not a good thing. It allows people to put on Halloween masks and become monsters and scamper about the internet and create terror. It would be nice to see more ‘delete, block, ignore, and report’ buttons. Sites like Goodreads should tighten their controls, moderate more. As a business owner I always was responsible for my patron’s safety. What makes these websites any less of a business model?

It is one thing to share an opinion, another to trample over another person in doing it. My mother used to say, when there was conflict, it was six of one and half a dozen of the other. In other words, both sides are at fault. It is easy to develop a ‘victim’ mindset. To holler, “Mom, they aren’t being fair.” Your best bet is to just not put a target on your back to begin with, unless you are having a bad day and need to spar to get it out of your system, or feel the need to sharpen your wits in a word battle. If so, you now know how to go about it.