What Happened To The Cat?

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I recently read a James Patterson book named Mistress.  It was one of the best books I’ve read in months.  You know the type of book I mean… the one you snap at your husband over because he’s dared to interrupt you – AGAIN – after you asked him nicely to just let you read!

The kind of book you carry with you everywhere you go, so you can read it in snatches, while the Starbucks guy brews your tea or you stand in line at the checkout.

Mistress is the first James Patterson book I’ve ever read.  Am I the only person who can say that?  He’s written an unbelievable number of books (I looked it up).  Clearly I’ve been missing out, and I intend to remedy that situation soon.

But first, I have to mention the cat.  I have to mention the cat because – great as the book was – I actually laid awake one night, mad as hell… about the cat!

You see, written in amongst the political intrigue and dangerous liaisons, there is a scene where the main character (Ben) slits the yellow tape of a crime scene and enters the apartment of his dead friend, to search for evidence.

Ben doesn’t find evidence.  But he does find his friends cat (Cinnamon), which has been left there, abandoned and terribly hungry.  The poor thing is a nervous wreck, writes Patterson.  Has anyone been feeding her?  So Ben finds some cat food in the pantry and the starving cat ‘goes to town on the food‘.

Ben then leaves, hops on his motorcycle, and we’re off to the next scene… abandoning the cat once again.

Since Ben’s friend has been dead for some time now, we’ve already attended the funeral, met the family, and been engrossed in this novel long enough for the bad guys to score their second murder.  We’re a good quarter of the way through this book when Ben breaks into that apartment and finds the cat.  Friends of the deceased are few, or caught up in the conspiracy.  No landlord or neighbors are mentioned so it seems likely no one is coming to rescue the cat.

Cinnamon’s on her own.

We’re left wondering… did Cinnamon starve to death?  Was the toilet seat left up so she could at least get water?  Did she become too weak to even utter pitiful meows that might be heard by a neighbor if the walls were thin enough?

The apartment had been crawling with cops and the CIA on the night the murder took place.  Any one of them could’ve removed the cat.  Or Cinnamon could’ve run out in all the commotion.  (Better for her to be on the streets where she at least had a fighting chance, than to starve to death alone, locked in an apartment.)

Or one of the family of the deceased could’ve come and picked her up.  A concerned neighbor.  The landlord.  A friend.  Anybody??

There are countless ways that cat could NOT be there when Ben broke in, and the reader would’ve accepted her absence without question, understanding a crime scene left empty.  Patterson didn’t have to write any explanation whatsoever for Cinnamon’s absence.

Discovering and feeding the cat took all of two short paragraphs.  It didn’t change the purpose or meaning of the scene.  Not one bit.  The cat never comes up again in the rest of the book.

So why did Patterson have to mention the cat?  This may seem a silly thing to obsess over, but I have a point here.

As writers, we change the storyline, cut and paste, edit, delete whole sections and start all over again.  So many times we lose count.  It can’t be helped.  It’s part of the process.  Rarely does a book get published from a first draft.  Details get lost in the shuffle and – sometimes – details that worked in a previous draft don’t work in a later version.  If they’re not caught, they leave unanswered questions.  Like abandoned cats.

The authors themselves forget the very words they wrote in a previous chapter.  When you’ve written and revised 30 chapters over a period of many months, it’s easy to get confused.  During a proofread of a book I wrote, I once discovered that I described my main character as having blue eyes in one chapter, and brown eyes several chapters later.  It happens.

That’s a pretty big detail to screw up but I’m not alone in this.  I’ve proofread similar mistakes in other’s manuscripts.  I even remember one book – already published – where the main characters name changed!  Two thirds of the way through the story she went from “Marianne” to “Marilyn”.  (In case you’re wondering, that book was published by a large, well respected traditional publishing house.  Mistakes like that aren’t confined to self-publishing.)

But these details are important.  Like the cat.  I wasn’t mad at Ben for not having the good sense to drop the cat off somewhere on his way to the scene (although it did make him look callous); he was, after all, just a written character.  No, I was mad at Patterson.

It’s doubtful Patterson intended his character to look callous.  He or someone else just forgot to fix that detail.  Yet it’s those details that define your character, reveal their moral attributes, and differentiate the good guys from the bad.

Those details are important.

And we all know (or should know) that you never, ever have the good character hurt, abuse, kill, or abandon a child or a pet.  Only the bad character does that, and even then it’s edgy.  There’s a reason the baby or dog survives the blast in movies, while scores of adults get blown to bits.

Editing those details is the biggest reason for prejudice against self-published books.  It’s why traditional houses are considered “quality publishing” and the other has a reputation of “poor quality”.  In the past, this reputation was earned by careless self-publishers, who didn’t have access to hiring outside editors.  That’s gradually changing as more and more self-pub’s offer editorial services and the two forms of publishing are meshing together. (Why Self Publishers Are A Traditional Publishers Best Friend)  But as writers, we need to be vigilant in this area.

If you publish the traditional way, don’t sit back and relax and expect the publishing house to carry all the proofreading load.  Remember, they work on reduced budgets now, and they’re not infallible (as Patterson’s book is an example of).

If you self-publish and proofreading is not your forte, then you need to find help… fellow writers, family and friends, or hired professionals.

We’re human.  Our proofreaders are human.  Mistakes will happen.  (If you look close enough, doubtless mine will come to light.)  But do not spend all that time writing your book and then be lax on ‘cleaning it up’.  Especially in today’s environment, more than ever, first impressions can make the difference between a loyal following, catching the interest of a professional pub., or being labeled as a sloppy writer.  Labels, by definition, stick with a person a long time.  They are difficult to change.

Patterson doesn’t have to worry.  He’s made his name.  One lone cat detail isn’t going to break him.  But most of us aren’t Patterson.  We’re (insert your name), and nobody knows who we are yet.

Be sure that when they do, they remember your story, and NOT the cat.

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Now Hear This: Drink Up!

The caffeine in me has me being productive today, so thought I’d share this blog post with all our CAWG readers. Cheers!

DJ Marcussen

I knew there was a reason I loved coffee!  A new report has come to light!  According to an August 7, 2014 report in Clinicalnews.org, caffeine intake is associated with a lower incidence of tinnitus.  (Say what?)  According to this article, “Researchers observe that women with a higher intake of caffeine had a lower incidence of unexplained ear ringing.”

If you know me personally, then you know this is pretty funny coming from me.  But I’m not laughing (as I turn up the volume on my hearing aids to hear the good news).  Uh-uh.  Coffee is serious business.

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Not only is coffee good for your ears, but apparently it’s good for the rest of what ails you too:

“A study tracking the health and coffee consumption of more than 400,000 older adults for 13 years, and published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that…

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How to Tell if Your Story is On Target—What is Your Book About in ONE Sentence?

Do you have trouble telling an agent, IN ONE SENTENCE, what your book is about? Here are some helpful tips and suggestions.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

You missed…. You missed….

This past weekend, I indulged a little and we went to TWO movies. First, date night with Hubby. We saw Maleficient and it was AWESOME. Sunday, we wanted to take The Spawn to X-Men, but there wasn’t a convenient showing so we settled for the new Spiderman movie, or as I like to call it…The Movie That Would NOT END.

No spoiler alerts here other than save your money and go see Maleficient. The Spiderman movie was dreadful. I kept checking my watch.

The only saving grace is that Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey were really likable people. But the movie dragged on…and on…and yes, ON.

Characters are important. I don’t buy into the notion of character-driven or plot-driven stories. We need both. No one cares about the plot if we don’t care about the people. Conversely, we can care about the people, but PLOT is the crucible…

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The Pink Bluebell – A Garden Fable

Plant In The Sun

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Fancy noticed them whispering, and tried to ignore it.  Still, she couldn’t help but overhear some of the comments.

“It just scorches me how she’s bringing down our property values,” said the bluebell behind the windmill.

“She’s the wrong color to be living here.  She must know she doesn’t belong,” said a gangly bluebell by the fence.

Fancy tried to make herself seem as inconspicuous as possible, bending her pastel pink head to one side to reduce her size.

“Stop slouching,” admonished Petal, her best friend who grew right beside her.

“Easy for you to say,” replied Fancy.

Petal sighed a flutter in the breeze, but didn’t answer.  She was tall and strong and had the sweetest scent in town, a fact which made her the envy of all who knew her.

Fancy, on the other leaf, didn’t have much scent.  This wasn’t unusual for her kind, she knew many…

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What Do People Want?

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Several years ago I read a book entitled The Hidden Life Of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.  It asked the question, “what do dogs want most”?  The answer, according to Ms. Thomas, was “other dogs”.

I’m not going to comment on that book (you can read it and make your own judgment), instead I’ve asked myself the question, “What do people want?”  Especially with regards to our blogs?

There are many of us writers that create blogs.  Some of you reading this right now are bloggers.  We use blogs not only to express our myriad of thoughts, but also to develop our writer “brands” and gain a reader following.

Let’s face it.  We want to sell our books!

There’s nothing wrong in this.  Faced with the digital thumbprint (er: “bigfoot” is more like it) of today’s publishing world, we have no other choice.  We have to have an online presence.  The more present, the better.  But there are – literally – millions of blogs and websites out there.  All immediately accessible to the approximately 3 million internet users worldwide.

How can we hope to create even a ripple of attention amid such overwhelming competition?

If we go with Ms. Thomas theory of pack mentality (yeah, we’re pack animals too, which is why we can live together with dogs so easily) what people want most is to be with other people.  In today’s world, that “being with” is in large part online.  A sort of virtual reality socialization.

Or, to put it differently, writers today are like the reality stars we watch on the TV shows, except that our blogs are the show.  This isn’t my idea, by the way, it’s Kristen Lamb’s, and when I first read it I was appalled.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right.  That’s exactly what we are!

The author/reader connection which used to be accomplished in person is now realized through the internet.  Interviews (TV, radio, and written), speaking engagements, and book signings were how we, as authors, made our personalities known to the book buying public… who has always been fascinated with details on how their favorite authors lived.

But this still doesn’t quite answer the question, what do people want?  Because with millions of bloggers, our reality “co-stars” are everywhere, drawing our readers away from us.  What do we do?

Most every so-called expert will tell you that great content is King.  And they’re right.  Nobody takes the time to read a post they don’t like.  I sure don’t.  But what exactly constitutes “great”?  There’s no hard and fast rules.

Do people want deep discussions?  Articles that inform them on specific subjects?  Controversy?  Or do they just want to be entertained with jokes and pictures – to break up the struggles of everyday life?

The same experts that scream “content!  content!”  also disagree on whether you should pick a theme or blog on a variety of subjects – since people are complex creatures and readers want to see the real you in all its glory.

But doesn’t that fracture your readership?

For instance, the real me likes humor, and wants to entertain.  The real me also has a strong spiritual streak, and feels a need to write words of encouragement and include bible quotes.

The real me is in love with plants and poetry.  Botany and soil science.  Dogs, cats, rabbits, and the color green.

The real me is fascinated with science and physics.  Music and art.  And Albert (my hero)!

I enjoy writing fantasy and sci-fi, fables and slice of life stories, and Christian fiction as well. Plus, I love to kill off my characters!

So when I try to draw a readership to my blog, who do I court?  Inspirational readers?  Garden lovers?  Mystery readers, pet fanciers or science geeks?  Can we really be all things to every person?  Won’t the same person that is drawn to your blog by a post on bluebells, find themselves turned off when they then find an article in their email about God, quoting scripture?

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I’ve given a lot of thought about blogging within certain, shall we say, “genre’s” (for lack of a better word).  And I really don’t know if I’m headed in the right direction or foolhardily running towards a cliff.  I do know that I can no more extract the spiritual side of me, than I can the part that extolls evolutionary anthropology.

In the words of Popeye, “I Yam What I Yam”.*

Really, people are the same the world over.  We all have the same needs, the same wants.  If we write about that,  the feelings we have about a subject – not just the subject itself – then even if our interests and experiences differ, we will have tapped into a commonality.  We’ll have a humanity thread going, and that’s attractive.

This is easier said than done, and much as I strive for it I know I have a long way to go to attain that sense of community within my own blogging.  But I think this is what we need to strive for.  Because whether we inform or entertain, the bottom line is, when people are connecting with others it’s through what they have in common, what they can relate to.  Not what is different.

What do people want?  People want to read about themselves.

 

 

* Popeye:  “I Yam What I Yam” (copyright © Turner Entertainment Co.)

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The Tax Angel on new site – Scribd.

NEWS from one of our writers!

DJ Marcussen

Read The Tax Angel for free!

Just found out I was put on this site.  It’s one of the top 20 media sites, a digital library including New York Times bestsellers.  And me!

Currently, you can download my story for free with a 30 day trial.  Web, iPad, iPhone, and Android friendly.

Cool!

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The Power Of Words

When we think about the power of words, what comes to mind?  Is it a particular book that made an impression on us?  Harsh words from a loved one?  Frightening words from a physician?  Or words of inspiration from a pastor?

Words affect our lives in a myriad of ways.

Of course, there are the words of a story, written or spoken, that transcend us from our place in time to another.  But words also impact us singly, on their own.  One spoken word can instantly alter the way we feel.

Take these subject/nouns for instance:

Cancer –  that’s a word that instantly sets your body to alert status.

Money – does this word fill you with worry?  Or push you forward to succeed?

Peace –  this word can calm you or fill you with longing (if peace is what you crave).

Love –  who do you conjure up in your mind?  Does this word create warm fuzzies or irritation over relationship difficulties?

What about when you hear the name of someone you know?  Just their name can affect the way you feel… good or bad.  Names can even be a source of frustrated humor  (see Infinity – Junk Mail Is Thy Name ).

A lone adjective or verb applied to the subject can instantly affect us as well.

We say he looks superior, – and immediately we go on the defensive.  We make a negative judgment about him.

She’s angelic – again, we make a value judgment from this one word.

People, in general, tend to use the same words over and over again in their descriptions.  Writers are no different, we tend to have our favorites that we return to repeatedly.  But as writers, we really need to have more descriptive words at hand than the general public.  Try writing 220 pages using only a handful of descriptive phrases.

What we want with our words is for them to create a specific emotion in our readers.

I challenge you today to pick one emotion – say, for instance, Love – and write down 15 different ways to say it (i.e.: affection, adoration, etc.).  Love in its many forms (lust,etc.) is fine.  The object is to expand your vocabulary beyond what you commonly use.

Then, write down 15 adjectives describing emotions. (Such as angry, resentment, wrathful, upset).  No fair using the words I’ve given you either.

Have fun,  and let us know what you come up with.

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A Different Type of Family: The Writer’s Group Family

This is one of our writers with thoughts on our group. This is who we are and what we truely believe in. Please enjoy and don’t forget to join/follow Grace for more wonderful articles.

Grace Rellie

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When you become a member of a Writer’s Group you join a different type of family. Still, there are aspects that remain the same just as they do in most families of blood. We have had one funeral and later this year we will have our first birth. Perhaps someday this little boy will become a great writer like his dad. If not, I’m sure he will be supported in whatever endeavor he goes out for but it is these similarities that make a successful writer’s group strive and thrive for years.

Here in Cary, Illinois we affectionately call ourselves CAWG’s as we are members of the Cary Area Writer’s Group. We, like all families have had our share of changes over the years, yes, years. This year we will be celebrating our forth year in August and we can be proud of ourselves. We have accomplished much as a…

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Writers Etiquette Regarding Things You Must Do vs. Things You Should Do

This post is about our code of conduct.  Our “rules” that we each live by, with regard to our writing.

Reviews are the golden apple of publishing.  Books with bad reviews die faster than books with good reviews, but books with no reviews die fastest of all.  Yet, as any published author doubtless already knows, the only thing harder than getting someone to buy your book is getting them to write you a review.

You can ask everyone you know to read your story and write a review, and what you will get is:

MOST will not read it; MANY actually will read it; SOME will tell you what they thought of it; FEW will actually write you a review;  but they will ALL make promises to do so.

New writers, especially, have to get past this difficult stage in order for their book (and future books) to gain the momentum necessary to garner sales and reviews without having to beg for them.

Why is it so hard to get reviews?

It all comes down to must vs. should.

Everyone has a code of ethics that they live by.  How they see themselves, define themselves.  These codes, or “rules”, are a big part of what we use to make decisions in life.  What we will and will not do.  When we violate our own codes and act out of accordance with how we see ourselves, it causes us pain.

In short, our conscience suffers.

But our codes have a hierarchy, which tends to come down to what we must or must never do, vs. what we should or should never do.

So let’s say you see yourself as someone who (mostly) keeps the promises that they make to others (lot’s of us see ourselves this way).  I interjected that “mostly” in the last sentence, because this is a code that many of us attach lots of “except if” situations to.

We keep our promise if it ends up not being too hard to do, or if we have the time.

There are lots of if’s in this equation.  If we don’t have to make a sign-on and give out our name to a website.  If it takes less than 5 minutes.  If our kids don’t have a baseball game that day.  If we like the story.  If not, we are unwilling to tell our author friend, let alone write a review.

You get the picture.

As new authors, we are often hurt by the lack of support from family and friends.  Our book is very important to us.  It took a lot of time, sweat, and tears for us to write it, and the least we expect from the people we hold most dear is for them to take the time to read it and review it.

For the record… those are our rules.  Not theirs.

But let’s think about what we’re actually asking them to do.

The friend that has a full or part-time job, kids to drive to soccer, a mother-in-law that’s coming to visit, a spouse that they’re helping to get ready and off on a business trip, housework they are behind on, laundry piled up in the hallway, bills to pay, meetings to attend, dinner to cook, their teenager’s drama’s and crises to handle, and family entertainment to take part in – whew! – and you want them to review your book?

Your code of ethics tells you that they shouldn’t promise to do it if they are just going to let you down.  And I agree with that.  But the reality is, it’s not going to happen that way.

Maybe they are a writer too, in which case you promise to review their book if they review yours.  This could work in your favor if they’ve already published theirs, and maybe you’ve even already reviewed it.  A “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” situation.  (Don’t scoff at this… bartering has been an effective economic system since, oh, forever).

On the other hand, if they haven’t published yet, then your promise to do it for them – if, and when the time comes – may not hold a lot of sway.

Bottom line is this:

Contrary to popular belief, most people don’t regularly go in and leave reviews for things they buy.  They don’t know how to do it, and here we are, asking them to give up one of their most precious commodities – time –  to do something they are not familiar with.

You can tell them how to do it.  Write them out specific instructions.  Assure them it is really simple to do (because it is), but no matter how good their intentions, this is one of those promises that many people will see as a should, not a must.

It’s just too overwhelming for them to think about adding to their already stressed day.

They will feel guilty about not doing it.  Every time they see you, they’re reminded of how they’ve let you down, because they don’t (here’s that mostly word again) define themselves as someone who doesn’t keep their promises.  But they still don’t do it.

The amount of time they spend justifying themselves is ten times more than the amount of time it would take for them to just do it and put their conscience at rest.

They want to support you (they’re your friends and family, after all), but they see it as overwhelming.  Something beyond their capabilities.

And so that must becomes a should becomes an empty promise.

If it’s brought up to them, they might get angry.  Maybe come up with excuses… what you’re asking them to do is just too hard… if it was easy, they would do it.  The fact that it is easy is an incomprehensible concept they don’t believe.  (Note: you just create a sign-on at Amazon.com and then put the book title in the search field, hit enter, click on the book cover and scroll down to write a review.  Unless you’re wordy, it takes all of 5 minutes).

Rest assured it’s not really you they’re angry with.  It’s themselves.  More than letting you down, they’ve let down themselves.

I suppose if I was a more talented, creative writer I would have a solution to this dilemma.  One that I could list here and all of us could use to draw countless “golden egg” reviews.

Yeah.  Don’t we all wish.

I have no magic formula.  Maybe offer to personally show them how to do it, if they don’t live too far away.  Once they are shown how to do it, don’t be surprised if you hear comments like, “I’m sorry I procrastinated.  I didn’t realize how simple it really was to do.”

People really do want to support the one’s they care about.

We need to cut them some slack.  It’s hard not to feel hurt, but our expectations should be tempered with the realization of what we’re asking them to give up for us.  Our time is better spent writing than nursing unrealistic wounds.

Turn that energy into your next book, your next marketing blitz, your next blog post.  Remember, buzz is created by more than just written reviews.  Don’t burn your bridges… you just may get more support from your friend’s word of mouth than anything else.

 

DJ Marcussen

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Writer Victory!—Identify Problem Areas

This woman is like the Tony Robbins for writers. Reblogging this great, inspirational post. Keep writing, friends!

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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Last post we talked about the first letter in our acrostic for VICTORY—voluntarily submit. I feel those of us in Western societies have a hard time with the word submit because we’ve redefined the word in a negative way. If we submit, we’re weak. Untrue! There is tremendous power in the act of submitting.

When we submit, we’re able to let go of what we can’t control. We’re more maneuverable when we encounter resistance, setbacks or criticism. Instead of breaking, we can bend and move and use negative energy in our favor.

Nature clearly demonstrates the strength and resilience submission offers. This is why palm trees thrive in coastal areas hit by hurricanes. They bend in high winds and submit. When the storm passes, they spring back.

Here in North Texas we have a lot of Live Oaks. Though oaks are tough trees, if one looks closer and…

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