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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.






  • By Victoria Mixon

    Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again. Time for taking off our shoes and socks, rolling up our pant legs, flexing our fingers, and with blood-curdling yells of terror and glory in our eyes. . .

    running straight into the jaws of NaNoWriMo

    Every year I run a series helping those of you doing NaNoWriMo stay focused on writing the very best novel you have in you.

    Are you doing it this year?

    You’ll have company!





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON: Freelance Independent Editor


    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN: Seeking Publication for Children’s Educational Literature


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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    We’ve been talking about writers conferences here, in particular how to make friends and enemies at them. And as I promised last Monday, here are the other five things that should set off your bullshit alarm at writers conferences:

    1. A presenter who can’t be bothered to research what they teach

      • True story:

        I was at a writers conference once when the presenter sketched a quick triangle on the board.

        “Do you all know the plot triangle?” he said. “I think this is from Aristotle.”

        And he proceeded to “teach” a sort of vague, truncated, misunderstood version of Freytag’s Triangle.

        Now, I’m pretty courteous. I’m not going to raise my hand and say, “Um, excuse me, but don’t you mean you think that’s from Freytag? As in: the nineteenth-century German writer who developed a pyramid structure to describe beginning, middle, and end along the lines of the five-act play of Shakespeare’s era? Because that triangle’s really famous. And I don’t think he’d ever even met Aristotle.”

        No, I’m not.

        I’m going to sit there on my hands, and if necessary I will smile. I will not point out in front of a class full of innocent hopefuls that this presenter hasn’t even looked up this triangle he likes to think he’s teaching, before sailing blasely into this room to try to teach it.

      • Another true story:

        I was at a writers conference once where the workshop presenter added nothing at all to the critiques.

        She simply sat at the front of the room saying, “And what do you think of what we just heard?”

        This presenter had been snickering to me earlier about how she always accepts invitations to present at conferences because it’s freebie food.

        I was an attendee in that particular session, but I wound up carrying the ball whenever the attendees didn’t know how to sort out a fiction dilemma because the presenter just sat there smirking and trying to hide the fact that she didn’t know either.

        One attendee came up to me later and expressed her disappointment that the presenter hadn’t contributed anything to the workshop. At all. Several others came up to me later and thanked me for my help and asked me if I was a professional editor. (At the time I was, but I wasn’t freelancing.)

        Even worse, another presenter came up to me later—a smart, engaging, professional writer—and told me how sorry he was I hadn’t appeared in his session. . .because I’d been in the lame workshop instead.

    2. The presenter who ignores the demographics of their class

      You should know that presenters are told by the conference organizers what to expect in their classes. This is so that everything will go smoothly and the attendees will know they’ve gotten their money’s worth.

      However, once I was in a seminar in which certain attendees were local high school students who had won scholarships to the writing conference.

      And we were all forced to sit there listening to the presenter announce gleefully, “I love teaching adults because then I can talk about sex all I want,” and proceed to describe fiction techniques in terms of sex, tell stories about sex, and even read sex-related blurbs from her own book. She told us all about how she was violently raped when she was a teenager.

      I wound up coping in scribbled notes with a disclosure of traumatic sexual shame from the teen writer I was there to mentor on the craft of fiction.

      Yeah. We missed a lot of that presenter’s talk.

      The thing is that, whether any particular class is made up entirely of adults or not, this presenter had no way of knowing if they were going to trigger PTSD in some of the attendees. Sex is either a painful or quite private topic for many people.

      Writing conference attendees do not pay to have their personal issues messed with by strangers in public.

      They pay to learn the craft of writing.

      Sex, religion, and politics: these are not appropriate topics for lecture at writers conferences without previous warning.

    3. A presenter who can’t be bothered to plan their session so they actually cover everything they promise to cover

      How many times have you seen this happen?

      At the beginning of the session, in accordance with popular advice on public speaking, the presenter lists out loud everything they intend to cover before their time is up.

      If you know anything at all about teaching fiction, it might sound like kind of a lot to cover in one session, but you figure they’re probably going to skim. Or maybe they’re just way the heck more organized than you would be in their shoes.

      So you jot down the list, making little asterisks next to the items that look most interesting to you. If you’re really organized and really OCD (like me) you even leave big spaces in between in which to fill in what you’re going to learn about each item.

      Then you spend a good, long time listening to the presenter tell stories about their own experiences with the first few items (probably, “How I got my idea for my novel,” and, “What my agent said about how my novel was the fastest sell in publishing history”), until suddenly it’s five minutes until the end of the session, and they still have half-a-dozen points left to make.

      So you and the rest of the class sit and watch them riffle through their notes saying loudly without looking up, “Uh, plot—don’t be boring. Character—ditto. Troubleshooting—come to one of my classes back home, I’ll give you my card. Professionalism—have it. Any questions? Okey-dokey. All out of time. ‘Kay, thanks, bye!”

      And then you’re in line politely waiting with a burning question that you’d hoped this class would answer, while everyone else gets a chance to ask their questions and get their copies of the presenter’s book autographed and make personal friends with the presenter, until the attendees for the next session flood into the room and appropriate the chairs, and the presenter picks up their things and heads out the door, still chatting vivaciously with someone about three people ahead of you in line.

      And the whole class turns out to have been a complete waste of your time. . .and your money.

    4. A presenter who teachers misinformation

      And this is the one that really makes smoke come out my ears.

      Because you guys can’t necessarily tell. If you already knew this stuff, you wouldn’t be here to learn it, now, would you?

      • Did Aristotle invent Freytag’s Triangle?

        No, he did not.

        Aristostle invented the Six Elements of Drama, which any presenter worth their salt can discover in two minutes by googling Aristotle. Or Aristostle’s Triangle.

        Gustav Freytag invented Freytag’s Triangle.

      • Did Syd Field invent three-act structure?

        No, he did not.

        Syd Field wrote a terrific book called Screenplay in which he describes three-act structure and explores the ways and means behind why it works.

        Our current understanding of three-act structure, according to some sources, actually dates back to (are you ready?) Aristotle’s Six Elements of Drama. It has been immortalized in our lifetime in books on screenplay by Syd Field, Robert McKee, and Yves Lavandier. (I talk about it a lot in my books too.)

      • Should aspiring writers plot?

        Hell, yes, they should.

        Otherwise Freytag’s Triangle and three-act structure are of no use to them whatsoever.

      Oh, I could go on and on and on about this one. So many of you innocents come to me asking about the misinformation you’ve been taught, and I’m here banging my head on my desk thinking, Who is doing this to these poor people?

      Then I go to writers conferences, and I find out: academics who earned advanced degrees or inexperienced authors who got lucky with publication without actually learning the craft.

    5. A presenter who indulges in snark, bad manners, or irritability

    6. And this one makes smoke come out of everyone’s ears.

      Or it should.

      However, only too often conference attendees assume that, because they’ve paid to be taught by these pillars of the publishing industry, any snark or bad manners or irritability that falls on their heads they brought on themselves.

      You know what professionalism is?

      Professionalism is being friendly and polite and encouraging to everyone you meet, regardless of how silly or ill-informed you might secretly find their questions and comments. Because they’re human beings. And they’ve paid you to treat them professionally.

      If a presenter has trouble with an attendee who’s sincerely a problem, they go to the conference organizers. That’s what they’re there for.

    7. A presenter who makes no bones about being there solely for the party with the other presenters

      “Oooh, look,” these presenters say to other presenters at the presenter/attendee social mixers. “They have square dancing in this town.”

      “How’s the room they gave you?” these presenters say to other presenters five minutes later, still ignoring the attendees. “Have you been to the beach yet?”

      “Oh, my god, you’re wearing the orange plaid!” these presenters cry from the podium when another presenter sidles into the room in the middle of their lecture to attendees. “I put the dishes in the dishwasher—your turn next time!”

      “Are you a local?” these presenters say to random attendees without even pretending to be interested in them. “How do I get home from here?”

      Now, when I was the editor of my high school newspaper I once got my butt kicked by our teacher for running a gag front-page article about how to set up a “directions booth” downtown in our lovely vacation town to tell rude tourists right where they could go.

      So what these presenters who ask me for directions don’t know is that. . .I’m a fiction writer because I like to lie.

      Ha.

      Ha.

      Ha.

    Folks, these people are trouble not just for you, the attendees, but also for those presenters who really are prepared, who really have come to make themselves available to aspiring writers, who really do take these conferences and their function in the writing community seriously.

    Those presenters can’t blow the whistle on such shenanigans without sounding petty and competitive. So they walk away smiling politely and shaking hands, while inside seething on behalf of the paying attendees they’ve just spent several days watching being duped.

    But you can.

    You can blow that whistle loud and clear.

    For the sake of everybody involved—both present and future—please do.

    LAST WEEK: 5 BS Indicators for Writers Conferences

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Let’s talk about querying. Because I found a great piece on querying the other day while investigating an agency with which one of my clients is in talks, Folio Literary Management.

    You’ve all read this advice before (although Mr. Kleinman’s is particularly well-written). So why is it that when you send out your own meticulously-researched and -crafted queries, you always wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night immediately afterward, realizing you’ve committed one of these unpardonable sins?

    Why does the universe hate you so?

    1. You addressed your query to the wrong agent.

      Spelled it correctly. Wrote it in your best cursive on the envelope (you should probably get an award for that calligraphy). Made sure they represent your genre. Then stuck the wrong letter in the wrong envelope and—voila!—mailed that sucker off.

      And you can’t dash down and try to get it back out of the mailbox, because you have a friend who did that once and found out (guess what?) it’s illegal. At least that’s what the cop said.

      Hi. I’m not Agent X. I’m Agent Y, X’s worst enemy.

      Just so you know, X hates you. In fact, X is spreading the word in the agent community that you have a communicable disease that travels with your queries. This means agents don’t just reject your queries. They don’t even just throw them away. They carry them into the backyard at the end of long tongs and torch them in an exorcism ceremony.

      I apologize on behalf of X and wish you well in your endeavors. Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!
    2. You misspelled significant words.

      Including the agent’s name, the name of the author to which you would like to be compared, and “representation.”

      Dear Writer: I’m afraid I don’t “repersant” anyone. But I bet you could get a job at Home Despot. All best.

    3. You spent so many hours writing and rewriting the central paragraph about your novel it now reads like some kind of disjointed dystopian fantasy about gnomes and Humphrey Bogart.

      Even YOU would fling this one off you like a bug.

      Dear Whoever-the-Heck-You-Are: Good luck and all that, but you might want to come out of your cave and have a conversation with a real human being at least once before you try to launch yourself into the field of simultaneous communication with thousands of strangers. Regards.

    4. You forgot the SASE.

      It’s okay. I wasn’t going to respond to you, anyway.
    5. You claimed to have been published, not in the New York Times “Letters to the Editor Department,” but in The New Yorker.

      Honest-to-god, it looked like the New York Times “Letters to the Editor Department” every single time you proofed it.

      Dear Anonymous in Albuquerque: Yeah. The New Yorker‘s never heard of you. I guess their records are pretty slip-shod. Ciao, baby.
    6. You forgot to mention either the title or wordcount of your novel.

      How did this get by you? Were you ASLEEP?

      Dear Yoo-hoo: It’s a fascinating idea, and it sounds like you’re capable of writing really amazing, mesmerizing prose. If you ever get around to writing that thing, you know, you should probably query someone with it.

      Not us.
    7. You misspelled your own name.

      Fortunately—this one’s salvageable. Just hie yourself on down to the courthouse and legally change it. No one will ever know.

    (Also check out this excellent piece on writing a synopsis from James Scott Bell.)

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Wow, is it fun to work in fiction!

    In 2009 I launched my editing business and began work with my first fiction clients, my brain literally exploding with everything I wanted to say about fiction.

    acw-fiction-cover-600x900At that time, my husband had already sat through 11 years of animated dinner-table conversation on the subject. He’s the one who suggested that I start a business.

    I wonder why?

    I was still burbling with fiction—constantly, all day and night—so I sat down to write my first book on writing:

    Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    I thought I would cover everything. It would be the ultimate book on writing and being a writer. . .with jokes! We created La Favorita Press, with a logo based upon an old 1899 bullfighting advertisement that my parents found in an hacienda in Ecuador in 1972.

    And in 2010, we published Fiction.

    acw-stories-cover-600x900However, I hadn’t gotten very far into writing Fiction before I’d realized that I would not have room to cover everything. So I went right back to work writing a follow-up:

    Art & Craft of Writing Stories

    There was still so much to say about storytelling! So much to say about plot structure and character design! There was still so much to say about how plot grows out of character through very specific organic steps, like a plant growing leaves or an animal growing organs. So much to say about language.

    There was also—which will be news to none of you—so much to say about those twin occupational hazards: revision and despair. Revision. And despair. So I wrote about those, too. But again. . .I added jokes.

    And a year later, in 2011, we published Stories.

    Then last year, in 2015, I began studying Nick Stephenson’s system for self-publishing serial books. I’d been watching the self-pub industry evolve for six years. It worked decently for nonfiction—such as my own books—but it was an absolute mosh-pit of fiction. And Nick is teaching how all that is now changing.

    His system is simple (although you need to see his three free videos to actually do it properly):

    1. Write and polish the best book you possibly can
    2. Self-publish it
    3. Give it away permafree

    Unfortunately, both Fiction and Stories ring it at close to 400 pages apiece, so I wasn’t going to give away either of those permafree.

    acw-secret-cover-600x900Fortunately, however, I have years’ worth of material about fiction on this blog. Even more fortunately, the posts that have gone (in their own modest way) viral are buried and therefore invisible to loyal readers.

    This meant that I could unearth those posts and make them easily-available. And give them away. Permafree.

    So in 2015, I collected my ten most-viewed posts (plus a bonus that I wrote just for the book) in a new slim volume:

    Art & Craft of Writing: Secret Advice for Writers

    And we published Secret.

    FREE.

    But there’s more!

    Because your permafree book is the portal to your mailing list, where your loyal readers get notifications of everything else that you publish in your series, a list for which they must voluntarily sign-up because—you know—they want that stuff. And for this to work, you need to do the whole process all over again:

    1. Write and polish another of the best books you possibly can
    2. Self-publish it
    3. Give it away free

    The difference is this: it’s not permafree. It’s for sale. But whenever someone voluntarily signs up for your mailing list, they get it.

    FREE.

    acw-favorite-cover-600x900So I also collected another batch of special posts, those that I’ve written for other blogs in the online writing community, into another slim volume:

    Art & Craft of Writing: Favorite Advice for Writers

    And we published Favorite.

    And while there are, this time, fourteen posts, four of them had been posted on a single blog: Writer Unboxed.

    Because I love Therese Walsh, who manages Writer Unboxed. When she had the Writer Inboxed newsletter a few years ago, I wrote a monthly editorial column, Ask Victoria, opposite the agent column, Ask Chuck, by Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest. I was even slated to become a regular contributor to Writer Unboxed after that, although my editing business got too busy and I had to bow out. Therese and I are still friends. She’s a love.

    And this is where you come in: you can get both Secret and Favorite

    FREE.

    Just click to download Secret and sign up for the email list through the link inside to get Favorite.

    Right here:

    la-favorita-square

    Subscribe:


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    omg-its-amy3

    I’m very happy to post this guest essay by the curiously refreshing Amy Carey, author of numerous articles on parenting, fitness, travel, and health:

    I used to think writer’s block was a myth. Maybe writers got distracted or felt uninspired, but certainly they weren’t unable to write.

    Then, for several months last spring and summer, I found myself approaching my laptop with every intention of finally producing a sentence, only to spend the next twenty minutes glaring at a blank Google Doc. Every time I attempted to get something down—even a blog post or an idea for an article—I would eventually wander away, having typed nothing. My belief in writer’s block was cemented after only a couple of weeks of drumming my fingers on my desk and yanking my hair out, strand by strand.

    I finally broke through my block one October, when, desperate to get the words flowing, I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (with little intention of completing the challenge; who can average over 1,500 words a day for an entire month?). I wasn’t even going to tell anyone about it.

    Low expectations aside, I immediately found myself writing. And talking about writing. And blogging about writing. By the end of November, I had a lump of 50,000 words. The challenge of NaNoWriMo—I hate to lose—along with the novelty of writing fiction, something I haven’t done much since high school, fueled me through the month and a bit beyond.

    Completing NaNoWriMo built my confidence as a writer; I could power through those nights when I felt less like writing and more like swigging wine while reading blogs. But the experience didn’t cure my writer’s block for life. I continue to struggle—sometimes daily—with putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. When I do, my inner writing coach spurs me on with a few suggestions for working through the block.

    * Write something else

    Whatever it is that you’re trying to write, it obviously isn’t working. Go a different way. Start a new blog, write a sappy scene for a romance novel, document how to cook cashew chicken. After you get some momentum going, if you must go back to whatever it was you were trying to write, maybe the words will flow more easily.

    * Don’t think ahead

    Put aside any thoughts about, “Who is going to read this?” or “Where is this going?” Wondering who will buy the essay you’ve just started or about all the obstacles that stand between you and getting a novel published only encourages writer’s block. For now, focus on getting something written.

    * Change your venue

    If your brain goes into hibernation at the sight of a blank page in Microsoft Word, buy a composition book and write freehand for a while. Or if sitting on the couch with your laptop inspires you to do little more than play Bejeweled and watch American Idol, go to another room or leave the house altogether.

    * Take on a challenge

    Don’t simply promise yourself that you’ll write for 30 minutes every night. Instead, find a writing contest to enter, compete with a friend toward a measurable goal, or at the very least, set a timer and write as many words as you can in a short amount of time.

    * Deny your inner perfectionist

    When every sentence seems to be coming out wrong, just keep going. You can fix it tomorrow. And for the love of god, turn off the spell checker.

    Amy Carey is a full-time writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been selling freelance articles since 2000, inspired by her children, what she reads, and where she goes. Her work has appeared in Women’s Health and Fitness, Baby Years, iParenting.com, and Bay Area Parent. Amy is also an experienced technical writer who specializes in software documentation for end users and developers. She is a survivor of NaNoWriMo 2008. Check out her website at: http://www.amycarey.net/

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    3 Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    I am very pleased to post this essay by my friend Lucia Orth, author of the 2008 critically-acclaimed Baby Jesus Pawn Shop:

    I came across some old notes in the past few weeks from an interview and the follow-up research I did while working on the early stages of my first novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, set in the Philippines during the Marcos regime.

    I had the title of the novel and the main character, Doming, but I didn’t yet have a feel for the other main character, Rue Caldwell. Her name, to her, does not mean “to rue” as in to feel sorrow, but rather—as noted in the novel—the plant “rue,” also known as the “herb of grace.” (Thank you, Oxford English Dictionary, always a source of evocative connections.)

    In thinking about my years in Manila, I remembered an entomologist I’d met there. Insects! But, of course. As a child I loved insects and had no fear of them. In Manila I’d shown my own toddlers the rhinoceros beetle and the giant atlas moth, both found on our lanai.

    Rue’s occupation would be biologist/botanist, now specializing in rice pests (rice being the basic food of the Philippines). Through common friends, I tracked the entomologist I’d met in Manila down to Washington, D.C., and out of the blue I called him. Why? I just wanted to talk to someone who’d lived in the Philippines, traveled the country—someone who knew its biology and botany.

    “Yes, there’s a lot a biologist might do there. The most important issue right now is a moth, the yellow stem borer, completely undistinguished, that’s the leading cause of blight. It drills into the hollow stem at the egg-laying stage. There’s no damage shown on the outside, but also no yield, as it severs the growing part.”

    “Hmm,” I think, “stem borer, interesting word…cuts off the growth.”

    “So instead of green on the inside, when we cut the stems open we see brown.”

    Beat. Wow, I’m thinking.

    “This damage is called deadheart,” he says.

    He didn’t understand my audible gasp of realization. I had just glimpsed not only Rue’s occupation, but also a sense of who she was, where she came from, and the rest of what the novel might be. I began to understand how she would perceive things, how she would rely on logic, what she would notice, and how, although she could look through her microscope and see the “enemy,” she could not examine her own heart, nor would she look closely at the heart of the country—the Philippines.

    Her work would become both her anchor and her way of seeing the world.

    There have been other times in writing when I’ve found a word—especially from science or nature—that provided a new insight: the transgressive sea (a term from geology) and scotobiology, the biology of darkness. I’ve used both these words in essays. But the word deadheart, and all that it came to mean, stands out as the discovery (other than the title) that gave me the novel Baby Jesus Pawn Shop.

    No reading is useless to the writer—it’s all discovery: science magazines, the dictionary, the newspaper. As Robert Olen Butler said in a workshop I took with him years ago, quoting Henry James, “A writer is one on whom nothing is wasted.”

    From the New World Encyclopedia:

    Entomology is the scientific study of insects. Insects are arthropods (phylum Arthropoda) belonging to the Class Insecta. With around 925,000 described species, insects comprise the most numerous and diverse group of animals, representing more than half (about 57 percent) of all identified animal species, and date back about 400 million years. It is a specialty within the field of biology.

    Lucia Orth-BW-96Lucia Orth worked for a non-profit organization in Manila for five years and now teaches law in the Indigenous and American Indian Studies Department at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. She spent spring semester of 2009 working in Trento, Italy and presented a writing workshop on “Placing Your Story” at the Writers Garret in Dallas, Texas, on June 20, 2009.

    Departure,” an excerpt from her novel-in-progress, was published in the Asia Literary Review, (Winter 2008, Hong Kong). She is also a contributor to the anthology Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond, Andrea N. Richesin, editor (April 2009). Lucia can be reached through her website.

    Subscribe:


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    3 Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    budmancover22I’m happy to post this guest essay by the insightful Mark Budman, author of My Life at First Try:

    English is a second language for me. I learned it as an adult.

    The accident of birth and immigration is both a curse and a blessing, but “blessed is the one who is cursed.”

    For example, I struggled with the first sentence of this paragraph. Should it be “the second language” or “a second language”? My first language, Russian, has no articles.

    On the other hand, my bilingual-ness gives me the ability to come up with an unexpected turn of phrase.  Words that are so familiar to the English speaker take on a new meaning to me. I play with them as a child, savoring every syllable.  I twist them, I may even break them, but most times I assemble them into something original and powerful. The end result of the accident of birth is the power of the unexpected and the originality of an outsider.

    When I step away from the English language, I get a foreigner’s view that helps me to navigate the intricate labyrinth of creative writing. Yet, as I mentioned before, I have a harder time fighting the Minotaur of grammar. And clichés—they might sound fresh to me—therein lies another danger. So no matter how long I have been immersed in the sea of English, I’m still a newbie.

    A newbie who yearns and perceives and perseveres.

    Mark Budman’s work appears in Weird Tales, Mississippi  Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine, Iowa Review, McSweeney’s, Turnrow, Connecticut Review, and the WW Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward. He is the publisher of the flash fiction magazine Vestal Review and co-editor of both the anthology You Have Time For This from Ooligan Press and a Young Adult flash fiction anthology from Persea Books in 2009. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press in November, 2008. http://markbudman.net

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I used to listen to the radio so much I actually played it all night while I slept when I was a teenager. Then I stopped for about thirty-five years and just started again this past weekend when it occurred to me it’s a really easy way to listen to music without getting up and changing the CD all the time.

    So I was listening one day when I found myself in the middle of the most wonderful interview with Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter responsible for A Few Good Men, Social Network, and West Wing.

    Sorkin was promoting his new television drama called The Newsroom on HBO, starring Sam Waterston and Jeff Daniels.

    And I’ll tell you, although I haven’t watched television in fifteen years, after listening to Sorkin talk about writing and storytelling and the work he does I am ready to watch that darn show.

    Sorkin speaks so intelligently and so beautifully about our craft:

    1. dialog

      “I love the sound of dialog. It’s like music to me. David Mamet is the master of writing two people communicating who don’t know how to communicate. I like to take characters who are hyper-articulate and see what happens when you give them a silence when they can’t think of what to say.”

    2. action

      “In A Few Good Men I had Tom Cruise driving along and pull over to pick up a copy of Sports Illustrated. He pulls over, hops out, buys the magazine, and hops back in again. That’s about as active as my action scenes get.”

    3. complex character

      “Don’t confuse me with my characters. I have never in my life written autobiographical.”

      This isn’t Sorkin speaking about himself below: this is a character he created. Study how much contrast, backstory, and information he’s packed into a single line:

      ‘I’m a registered Republican—I only seem liberal because I believe hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage.’—Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy, protagonist of The Newsroom

    4. reader investment

      “In thinking about writing a show about the news, I didn’t want to invent catastrophes for my characters to cover. It finally hit me I could use recent news events. That way the audience knows more about what’s happening than the characters, and I can use that leverage.

      “The audience wants to yell at the screen, ‘I know how this is going to turn out! Pay attention!‘”

    5. conflict

      “I have people surrounding me who help me find the point of conflict in a scene: the information, be it the BP oil spill or immigrations.”

    6. theme

      “I like to show that it’s okay to be alone in a big city if you can find a workplace family.

      “And I like heroes who don’t wear disguises in the real world.

      “You think, ‘Why can’t that be the real world?'”

    7. reader sympathy

      “We connect to people who are trying. And we connect a lot to people who are failing a lot. Because that’s what we do.”

    Suddenly, I love Aaron Sorkin.

    DISCLAIMER: I’m probably misquoting him like crazy because I listened to this instead of reading it, but you can get the real quotes from the NPR interview transcript.

    2nd DISCLAIMER: When I worked in offices in the old days, maybe it was just us, but we never french-kissed on the public stairs. We took long lunch hours like civilized people.

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Some time ago Sabine asked a fabulous question in the comments on Being Interviewed by Rachel X Russell:

    Thanks for that great interview. Your obvious love of literature is refreshing in an environment where there is too much talk about sales and marketing.

    Speaking of vintage mysteries, I know you have written posts about Hammett and Chandler before, but do you think you might write a post about obscure writers from the 20s to 50s that are worth rediscovering?

    Despite having a TBR pile that’s trying to reach the sky (and well on its way to succeed) I’m always on the lookout for ‘new’ authors and I’m sure your readers would be interested too!

    Thanks for asking, Sabine! The answer to this question is actually enormously long and involved, but I will try to keep it focused.

    Every year my family and I travel to Portland, Oregon, home to the infamous four-story city block of used books, Powell’s Books, which is where I get a lot of my best vintage stuff. I have to cover my eyes and run past the shelves of vintage westerns and Daphne du Mauriers—vintage mystery is my specialty, and as much as I long to, I simply cannot collect everything.

    So I will just first show you what I’m reading right now:
























    What I just read this weekend:
























    And what I intend to read this week:

























    And I’ll give you a list of authors to look up (just so you know, these are all mystery authors):

    1. Ngaio Marsh

    2. Julian Symons

    3. Georges Simenon

    4. Ellery Queen

    5. S.S. Van Dine

    6. Erle Stanley Gardner

    7. Rex Stout

    8. Mary Roberts Rhinehart

    9. And the famous creator of Winnie-the-Pooh wrote a mystery:

    10. A.A. Milne, The Red House Murder

    11. In addition, there are the little-known:

    12. David Alexander

    13. Cleve F. Adams

    14. Dorothy B. Hughes

    15. Leslie Ford

    16. The dreamily-beautiful:

    17. John Franklin Bardin

    18. The heartbreaking:

    19. Derek Raymond

    20. And my favorite mystery title ever:

    21. Eunice Mays Boyd, Murder Wears Mukluks

    22. Edith Wharton also wrote a collection of ghost stories that are totally worth reading.

    I’ve taken these names from the bookshelves over my desk, and there are hundreds up there, so I’m probably missing some excellent authors. Also, many of these authors began in the 1920s and continued to publish into the 1960s, so you’ll find eras all over the board. But these should get you started.

    Pay attention to the quality of the writing, even in what was once considered throwaway pulp.

    You’ll rarely see such attention to detail, pacing, tension, and reader investment in most modern fiction anymore.

    Also, I’ve reviewed something like a hundred of these vintage mysteries on Goodreads.

    Subscribe:


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Ever since we built our house in the woods, we’ve had a momma deer living on our property. And every fall a beautiful young buck has visited her.

    Now, those deer are not exactly an unmixed blessing in our lives. We haven’t been able to put in a vegetable garden because they come right up to the house and eat everything in sight, including the leaves off the grape growing next to the front door.

    Back in the first year we lived here the deer hadn’t discovered us yet, so we put in a garden. But then the buck did discover us, and that freak not only ate the tops off all my huge, healthy tomato plants, when I netted them so he couldn’t eat them he walked on them instead.

    One day that fall I looked out the front door, and there he was standing right smack dab in the middle of the path through my garden.

    I threw open the door and ran at him shrieking in fury, “Get out of my garden! Get out! Get out!”

    He stared at me for a moment, with his huge chest, black eyes, and extraordinary rack of antlers.

    He lowered his head a bit.

    Then, when I was about fifteen feet from him he turned and cantered slowly in to the woods, pausing once to look back as though he simply couldn’t believe his eyes.

    I stood in the middle of my garden path panting in rage, staring him down. Later, when I told our logger about this, he said, “You know it’s rutting season. They get pretty feisty. I don’t think I’d run straight at any more bucks if I were you.”

    So I didn’t (but I was still furious when the bear came through later and tore down our new fence and in the morning the deer had eaten all the leaves off my strawberry plants).

    Then last Sunday morning my husband and I were sitting in our rocking chairs by the living room french doors, and he said suddenly, “Look.”

    And out of the tall grass beyond the new deer fence came hopping a tiny, graceful, carefree little figure with spots all over it.

    My husband got his camera and said, “There’ll be another,” and sure enough, about a minute later here came the other half of the matching pair, bouncing through the tall grass as though on springs. Bounce! Straight in the air. Boing!






















    And in that moment I saw myself perfectly clearly as the protagonist of my own story:

    1. I need my beloved vegetable garden, upon which I lavish such intense work and care.

    2. And I also need to be enchanted. . .by my nemesis.

    Subscribe:


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, tragic and beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I'm working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with her three sci-fi/fantasy series based on her dual careers in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In Casimir Bridge, the first novel of his debut sci-fi series, Beyer uses every bit of his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which "space bridges" allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans' fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez' debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff's abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star, which agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .


In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

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