Why I relate to the person in the book who always says the wrong thing or makes an idiot of herself.
A few weeks ago, FB folks were listing the ten books they feel have greatly influenced how they think or perceive the world around them. Ten is a limiting number, but here are ten I still think about as I muck my way through life. A couple like How to Lie With Statistics and Gulag Archipelago may explain my cynicism when listening to … well … lies passed off as fact.
The Island Stallion Races – Walter Farley
This was my first science fiction novel and I didn’t even realize it. The better known, The Black Stallion, is the first in the series, and I read them all. What I remember the most about The Island Stallion Races is incorporating aliens and space ships into a horse story.
John Brown’s Body – Stephen Vincent Benet
I read this in high school. I don’t know if anybody today has it on their ‘read’ list. It is an epic poem about the Civil War by one of America’s great poets.
How to Lie with Statistics – Darrell Huff
Show me your data! I chose this book to read for one of my upper division archaeology classes. Even today, when I look at percentages, I wonder about how and how much data was collected and how it was interpreted.
QB VII – Leon Uris
An awakening about law, justice and the British half-penny.
Gulag Archipelago – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
During the cold war, many people living in The Soviet Union disappeared. The USSR media were masters at putting a spin on what was happening and pitting neighbors against neighbors. Today, I see the same thing happening in the United States. Read this book and see how it is done.
The Hobbit – You know who.
The Color of Magic – Terry Pratchett
The beginning of the Disc World series. I love them all. Pratchett is my hero. He is so good at presenting all our human foibles, biases, prejudices and making us laugh. And even his second, third, forth tier characters are memorable.
The Cobra Event – Richard Preston
A fictional version of bio-warfare. Preston mostly writes non-fiction like The Hot Zone and The Demon in the Freezer.
Ganja Coast – Paul Mann
In the early 80s, I was in India and spent time on the Ganja Coast. When I read the ending of the book, I froze up. I met the killer, but did not know it at the time. He asked me if I was Catholic and if my folks would have my body sent back to the US if I died. All the bells were ringing, when he asked me that and I told him no, my folks would be so mad at me they’d just let me rot where I died. On instinct alone, I took the next train out of there. Turns out, he was shipping bodies stuffed with drugs back to the US so he could start his own Ashram. I never knew that until I read the book.
Snowcrash – Neil Stephenson
Incredibly intelligent SF with linguistics, the metaverse, biomass, and the Deliverator. This is the best Science Fiction book ever.
The wonderful and talented Kim Kasch is Critique Group Coordinator for the Oregon SCBWI aka Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Recently she interviewed me online regarding critiquing.
10 Questions – Being in a Critique Group
by Kim Kasch
An Interview with Roz Malin from Rose City Writers and a Screenwriting Group
1) Tell us a bit about you:
I write middle-grade fantasy and what I call mocumentaries which are tabloid-like news stories about my mythical creatures, Toves. Plus, I have written 2 feature length screenplays and two short screenplays.
2) What advantages do you see to being a member of a critique group?
I’m in two critique groups – one through SCBWI called The Rose City Writers and the other through a screenwriting group. The people in both groups are extremely supportive. We not only give each other structure critiques – what does and does not work in a story – but we share information on contests, agents, conferences and techniques in writing query letter or pitching.
3) What disadvantages have you seen to being part of a critique group?
It’s important to remember it’s my story and not a story by committee.
4) Tell us a little bit about your group and how you got connected with these writers.
Through the SCBWI. I joined Kim’s and Estela’s group several years ago. When I switched jobs and had different days off, I connected with a Vancouver group through Willamette Writers. A year later, I was able to reconnect with Kim and Estela and rejoined their group.
5) Tell us how often you meet and how you figured out your schedule?
We meet every other Saturday. Each time we get together we pick our next meeting date. However, on occasion, we leave it up in the air and I email everybody and throw some dates out for people to choose from. And sometimes we tie in the critique meeting to a SCBWI event like the Next Level. We’re pretty democratic. During the holiday season . . well, we do the best we can.
6) What is the best thing about being part of a writing group?
Camaraderie, friendship, support and sharing are the emotional perks. Then it’s great to have other people throw out ideas that help move the story along. And I am grateful when someone catches holes in the story, etc. Spelling, grammar, syntax! I never catch all my mistakes. We have some great detail-oriented readers in our group. I have no problem with red ink and appreciate any oops! they catch.
7) How long has your group been together?
I’ve lost track of time. We ebb and flow. Presently, the members in our group have been together for a couple years, but we have new members. We always welcome new members. BTW, we do board books through YA.
8) What “unusual” things have you done as a group?
We had one of our meetings at the DoubleTree Lloyd Center when last year’s local Fantasy and SF convention, Orycon was happening. Since we met in the public lounge, no one had to buy a membership, but watching the attendees wearing costumes was fun.
9) Where do you see your group going in the future?
I see everybody in our group published and we still gather and critique and support each other.
10) Any other comments, suggestions, ideas that I forgot to ask you about?
At the beginning I mention I was in a scriptwriting critique group. We’re nice people, but can be to the point and detailed when we critique scripts. It takes a thick skin. However, I have learned heaps of writing skills from scripting, especially story arc, character arc, beats, symbolism, 1st/2nd/3rd tier characters and on and on. And this is where I learned to pitch. Everything I learned form my scripting folks, I bring back to my KidLit folks.
And one last thought. If you are being critiqued and don’t agree with what is said, you don’t have to take the advise – especially if it’s just one person. It’s your story. However, if three of four people say the same thing, give it some consideration.
I received a first round honorable mention on my short script, Guns of War. I thought I would share the feedback.
“Dear Rosalind Malin,
The judges’ feedback on your Screenwriting Challenge 2013 1st Round screenplay is below. Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns. We hope you find the feedback helpful and you enjoyed the competition!
”The Guns of War” by Rosalind Malin – WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR SCRIPT – ……………Some really good craft on offer here, including plotting, characterisation and dialogue. It also has a strong message, anchoring it with a theme…………………………….Visually and imaginatively stunning short screenplay. I love how a (popular in this competition) pro and against guns political-type opening soon blends into a really spooky, artistic and symbolic story of the battle between war and peace. Some fab horror elements, too – feels like a nightmare with all the shape-shifting!……A very magical and intriguing story filled with great imagery. Very imaginative – this is would visually stunning to see………………… WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – ……………The script doesn’t really feel eerie enough to be a ‘true’ horror film – it actually feels more like a drama. Though there is a message present, with the potential for a strong theme, the story kind of loses itself and strays away from the theme – from what it’s about………………………….…This script might be difficult to understand upon first reading and is the sort of script that would need to be read a few times to fully appreciate it, but it’s very unique and has great integrity; therefore it’s hard to criticise it. ……The dialogue comes across a little redundant at times. Warren sounds like he’s saying the same thing, but just in a different way. Work on making Warren and Elpis more personal. ………………
Not too bad considering the time limit – 8 days for a 12 page script. Doesn’t give much time for the idea to gel.
The Willamette Writers Conference is the first weekend in August and some of us SCBWIers are planning to pitch our wares to the Pros. By Pro, I mean editors/agents/managers/producers/faculty and publishers. Otherwise known as, The People To Whom You Are Pitching.
If you have never pitched before, you may wonder what a pitch is. A pitch is a face-to-face walking, talking query letter. And most pitching is prep work followed by a few minutes of intense interaction with a complete stranger. Intimidating? It can be. BUT, it can also be fun.
The first time I was asked to pitch was at my very, very first professional critique. My Pro was Elizabeth Law and she looked at me as asked, “How would you pitch this?”
I not only didn’t have the vaguest idea what a pitch was, but I had mentally prepared myself to keep my mouth shut and not talk back during the critique. So I fumbled through a wimpy pitch and both Elizabeth and I seemed happy to end the session.
But for me it wasn’t a disaster. As I walked away, without crying by-the-way, I was asking myself, “What is this pitch thing she is talking about?” And so I set out to learn about pitching. Thank-you, Elizabeth.
Here is what I have learned and how to approach pitching as a Kid-Lit fiction writer. If you write non-fiction or scripts, most of this will apply to your field.
Pitching can be divided into:
- What to pitch
- Who you are pitching to
- The Pitch
And when done correctly it is like a song sung in four part harmony.
What to Pitch
Finished work. Finished in that you are good to go/ready to hit send/doing a happy dance.
1st rights/1st printing. I.e., not yet published. If you self-published a book and have sold 10,000 copies, you may want to give it a try. But agents and editors want new, original unpublished work.
On the outside
Casual business attire. Consider this a job interview. Be neat and clean. You do not have to wear a suit and tie, but if you walk up wearing shorts and flip-flops, you will be dismissed as not-respectful/an embarrassment/not serious. The Pros want to work with creative people they can introduce to their bosses, publishers and the public.
No perfumes and after shaves. You never know who is allergic to wild lilac or forest pine.
You will be pitching in a room with many large round tables. A Pro will be sitting at each table. Spot your Pro. Walk up. Introduce yourself. If it is a 1-on-1 pitch, sit in a chair near the Pro, but give him some breathing space.
Speak clearly. Do not ramble. If you know your work and your pitch, you won’t need to ramble. But do not read it! No crib notes.
Keep to your time limit as best you can.
Avoid TMI. Don’t tell your life’s story. If you see the eyes of the Pro glazing over, stop.
Be passionate about your work. If you aren’t, no one else will.
When it is time to leave, thank the Pro for listening. Ask if you could leave your business card. If you receive a no, do not cry or fuss or whine. No whining. Do not act desperate and continue to push your work. Whiny, pushy people are remembered for ever and ever and ever.
Outside the room. Be courteous and friendly. Do not complain to your friends if the Pro turned you down. Remember, it is part of the business to learn to deal with rejection. Be graceful in both success and loss.
On the inside
Practice. Practice. Practice. Know your work. Know your pitch. Be prepared to answer questions. Be prepared to be interrupted and able to get back on track.
Be calm. If you are nervous, before you go into the pitching room go to the bathroom and run warm water over your wrists. I learned to do this when working in a high stress position in a hospital. It works.
If your story was not accepted, be prepared to modify your pitch for your next pitch. Be flexible.
Who You Are Pitching To
Read the bios. Pros have listed what they do or do not want. Go to their blogs. Read about their companies. Read some of the books they have represented.
Choose Pros that are interested in your genre/age group/theme. Look at the markets where their books are sold. Are they foreign markets? Libraries and universities? Niche? Small bookstores or large chains? Does your book fit their markets?
This is a business and your manuscript is your product. The people to whom you are pitching want a product that can be sold. They want to make money. And this is good because so do you
Like a story, a pitch has a beginning, middle and end. During the pitch, it is good to get a dialogue going with your Pro. And keep an eye on the time. Be ready to say good-bye when the proctor tells you it is time to leave
Keep in mind a group pitch is shorter depending on the number of people in the group. For a group pitch, shorten the middle of the pitch.
Introduce yourself with a few tidbits re why you are passionate and qualified to write this story:
“Good morning, I am Rosalind Malin. I have degrees in Anthropology and Psychology and am intensely interested in human mythology and cultures.”
Keep it short. You can add more at the end.
Tell the title of your story, its genre and length. Then in one or two sentences, tell the gist of your story. Think of it as the blurb on the back of the book. In the film industry the one sentence is a logline.
My logline for the short script Guns of War is:
“Elpis, the Spirit of Hope, battles War’s guns and schemes while Pestilence, Famine and Death await the outcome.”
My two sentences for Grandma Rose’s Encyclopedia of Toves and Other Mythical Creatures are:
“My mischievous rascals, Toves, hop like frogs, leap like lemurs and run like the dickens. Lewis Carroll’s Jaberwocky briefly spoke of Toves, but I have created a world spanning time from prehistory to today with intertwining mocumentaries, creation stories, tales of terror and whimsical poems.”
It’s great if you can offer up a comparison: Rock ‘n’ Roll Detective is Nancy Drew meets the Flintstones OR Summon Chanted Evening is Monty Python cozies up to Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Be prepared for questions. Ask questions. Get that dialogue going.
Here is where you tell a couple scenes from your book. Think of scenes that would be good for a movie trailer. Choose scenes that hit plot points/twists/character quirks and arcs or reveals.
Be prepared for questions. Ask questions.
Tell the ending. It does not have to be every detail, but it is necessary to show that you can close the story. Never say to a Pro that she will have to read the story to find out. No she doesn’t. She doesn’t have to read the story at all.
Be prepared for questions. Ask questions.
Wrap it up like you would a query letter. Give some additional information about yourself:
“I am a contributing author to Columbia River Rock Art: The Butte Creek Sites and Echoes of the Ancients: Rock Art of the Dalles-Deschutes Region. Also, I am a member of Willamette Writers, SCBWI and Vice-President of Rose City Lights Production Company.”
Thank your Pro (Did you notice the Pro is now your Pro?). Ask if you can send your story to her and if you may leave your card. If you are pitching film, ask if you can leave your one-sheet.
Leave gracefully. Wait until you are outside the door to high-five your friends if you got a thumbs-up. Go to your room/car/bathroom if you need to cry.
That’s it from my PPOV as in Personal Point of View regarding pitching. There is more information online. Go to the WW conference pages and look at their article on pitching and read PITCHING TIPS by Daniel Manus.
Good luck to everybody pitching. I’ll see you at the Willamette Writers Conference.
There is a new style of poem afoot—the Cleave Poem. Dr. Phuoc-Tan Diep created the Cleave Poem as a way of describing his life. Since the word cleave means both separate and together – to cut and to meld—the poem is designed to be both two separate poems and a third poem which is complete when the lines of the two poems are read across the page.
It is a fun and challenging poem to write. First write two poems, one down the left side of your page, the other down the right side of your page. They sit side by side, independent of each other.
The third poem is read across the page, left to right, combing the two poems. This third poem melds the thoughts from poem left and poem right into a new poem—elaborating on the sentiments in the left and right poems—making them one whole poem as if two separate poems never existed.
Here is the left and right attempt at a Cleave Poem. Although punctuation can be used, my ADD kicked in and I said, “A pox on that—No worries—they’ll figure it out.”
Embracing the warmth of the sun I danced with new found friends
Raising our hands in joy We laughed amidst our sorrows
The journey forever continues As we share our youthful adventures
While time caresses our hearts Dreams of the future we told
I dance with the love of my life While embracing our Coming of Age.
Here is the third poem, cleaving the left side and the right side together.
Embracing the warmth of the sun I danced with new found friends
Raising our hands in joy we laughed amidst our sorrows
The journey forever continues as we share our youthful adventures
While time caresses our hearts dreams of the future we told
I danced with the love of my life while embracing our Coming of Age.
Well maybe a couple of commas and periods would be good.
My new holiday, The Ides of March, is almost here and I can’t wait. My new vacuum, a present from my hubby, is arriving just in time for the annual cat hair shedding season. And since Wednesday is payday, there’s plenty of time for me to get last minute presents for family and friends.
Since this is a new holiday, the rules are evolving. I’ve already declared this is a holiday for un-cool functional items that enhance daily and monthly life. No romance. No fru-fru. No gooshy cards. Here are a couple more rules. Keep in mind, I’m just laying the foundation here. The Ides of March is evolving and is subject to interpretation by the givers.
Okay. Considering the casualness of The Ides of March holiday, it’s okay to give early, on time or late. Wrapped or unwrapped. Assembled or to be assembled. Delivered by UPS, etc. That is it for now. See how simple it is?
I’m looking forward to hearing from folks about the jaw-dropping my-spouse-would-kill-me-if-I-got-him/her-that-for-V-day presents.
Prologue is a dirty word – a swear word – to many agents and editors. It will doom your story to the same trash bin as opening with a dream or a mirror image description. But a prologue that is not a prologue presents a way around this dilemma. Tom Robbins, a master storyteller, demonstrates this in Jitterbug Perfume. He doesn’t call his a prologue he calls it:
“THE BEET IS THE MOST INTENSE of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.
Robbins continues to describe the attributes of the beet—both red and white—and ends with:
“An old Ukrainian proverb warns, ‘A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil.’
That is a risk we have to take.”
– Tom Robbins Jitterbug Perfume
(For the whole Today’s Special, Google Books lets you read the first pages of Jitterbug Perfume.)
Now in the middle of his non-prologue, Robbins did start talking about hemorrhoids and I took a step back. I have given birth and hemorrhoids are not an image I want to remember.
It is wonderful introduction to The Beet which is integral to his whole story—beginning to end.
The beet is a main character. And that first sentence—THE BEET IS THE MOST INTENSE of vegetables—is what I believe Hemingway meant as a true sentence. The whole paragraph is brilliant writing and full of images. And Robbins did it with veggies.
What do you all think of Tom Robbin’s solution to the prologue dilemma?
Toves love fruits, vegetables and tubers and eat them raw or cooked. Here is one of their favorite dishes – smoked mushrooms.
Water Smoked Mushrooms
- 3 pounds large mushrooms (Oyster, Portabella or similar. Smaller mushrooms will work if skewered)
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (omit for vegans)
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon marjoram or mild oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco hot sauce – optional
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar or dry red wine
- 1/2 pound (approximately two heaping handfuls) alder chunks, soaked overnight in water.
Heat the water with the sugar and salt until dissolved. Let cool. Place mushrooms in a container with all of the ingredients. Prepare your water smoker and place the 1/2 pound of split alder chunks on the heat source. After the mushrooms have s soaked about 30-45 minutes (but may be overnight in a refrigerator), drain the liquid into the smoker’s water bowl and top up the smoker bowl with hot water. Put the bowl in the smoker.
Place mushrooms on a smoker grill, stalk up. There are usually two grills available, and the upper one is best. Cover and smoke the mushrooms about 60 to 90 minutes. Serve hot or cold, whole or sliced.
These are great as Hors d’Oeuvres or a salad addition.
(A water smoker is just another way of slow cooking with hot moist smoke. A charcoal model costs about $50 and an electric model costs about $70. They can cook up to 50 pounds of food. A good Weber or similar covered cooker that has a small amount of controlled heat can do the job as well but needs closer attention.)
Toves love the smell of fresh cut wood and natural varnishes. Because of this, several Tove families live close to the Morgan Motor Company in Malvern, England. January 2011, young Vigo spoke of his love of riding in the hand-built classic Morgans on their test runs.
“The wind tastes like a song,” he said.