A. Victoria Mixon, Editor
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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

    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





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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • 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.





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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    3 Comments
  • 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 article000I 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/





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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Happy New Year, everybody!

    I want to do something a little different this year, and that is share with you the joy of rejection. I know this sounds smart-aleck, but I am absolutely serious. Last fall I queried a top literary agent with a new novel, waited my obligatory six weeks, and received the kindest form rejection I have ever seen.

    And you know the kicker? I actually forgot to include the SASE. I know. I woke up in the middle of the night 72 hours later in a cold sweat when I realized what I’d done. So this top literary agent not only had the great courtesy to send me a kind rejection letter (although it has become the norm these days for agents to simply dispense with rejection letters altogether), but she provided her own envelope and stamp.

    That’s what I call a class act.

    So I want to share my rejection letter with you. I want you to know that this is part of the process of becoming published—not only writing, editing, and revising, but also being rejected. I am probably the world’s laziest querent, as I love the writing, editing, and revising part but almost never bother querying. However, I do do it every once in awhile. And when I do, I generally ignore my own advice about being patient with revision and send out a manuscript that is not yet ready to be accepted. Then I get busy editing and forget about querying it, even after I’ve done another revision.

    It is truly a kindness in agents and publishers to reject a manuscript that is not ready.

    Dear Author,

    Thank you for writing to me about your project. I apologize that it has taken me so long to get back to you! I’m so sorry for the impersonal response, I hate to do this. Our agency used to respond directly to each query, but the letters have now reached a volume that is frankly unmanageable. Writing a good book or proposal is among the hardest things in the world to do; I promise, we’re not unsympathetic! You have our word that we are reading every single query letter that comes our way, but from now on, we’re only responding personally if we’re sufficiently curious and would like to read further. I’ve been focusing on maintaining my current list for the last few years and can only make an exception for the rare book for which I am completely over-the-top enthusiastic.

    I do encourage you to continue developing and submitting until you find the perfect home for your work—it’s out there! Along those lines, I wish you the very best.

    Take care.

    So do not despair, dear writers!

    Rejection comes to us all.





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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Whew!

    We’ve all been through a long year.

    So I’ve dedicated this month this year to the ephemeral, personal concerns: finding Joy and Fulfillment through Writing, finding Gratitude through Writing, finding Community through Writing.

    And now we come to the Big Tamale of them all—the reason we’re all here on this planet in the first place—meaning.

    The meaning of our lives.

    We writers find it through this art and craft we love.

    We really do.

    Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone!





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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    We’re talking about the joy and fullfillment of writing. We’re talking about how to find gratitude through writing.

    And today we’re going to talk about how we find community through writing.

    It’s not only about the words.

    It’s not only about the readers.

    It’s about all of us. . .being writers together.





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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Joy and fullfillment. Yes.

    Are you grateful for your life? I am.

    Are you grateful for just being alive? I am.

    How does writing help me find that gratitude?

    I’ll tell you a secret: it’s whole the reason I do it.

    Gratitude.

    Because we only get this one mortal coil. And we writers know how much that matters.





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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, INDEPENDENT FREELANCE EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    And now that NaNoWriMo is over and the holidays are upon us, along with the ornaments and stockings and the book of Tigger’s Solstice Carols that my son and I made by hand when he was two—I’m bringing back my December series on deeper meaning.

    I know as well as you do how exhausted you are by this time of year. I’m exhausted too. All that writing, all that thinking about our characters and our stories and our language and our readers. All that working, all that struggling.

    All that living.

    Why do we do it?

    Joy and fulfillment, that’s why.





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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    We did it!

    We survived!

    And now we have a few questions to ask ourselves. . .one, two, three, four, five. . .in fact. . .

    Join us for:

    23 Questions for the End of NaNoWriMo.





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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    We’re talking about tackling first drafts this month, for the sake of all you NaNoWriMoers scampering around out there. We’ve looked at Running into the Jaws of NaNoWriMo (doing what into the what?), 3 Essential Guidelines for starting a novel in general (doing it how?), and 3 Vital Steps to creating your protagonist (doing it why?).

    And today we’re going to look at writing individual scenes. Because that’s really the nuts and bolts of what’s going on in your squirrely little head right now.

    Or anyway it had better be!

    1. What you need to accomplish

      We’ve been talking over on Jami Gold’s blog about the Story Climax, which is—it turns out—the Whole Point.

      And this is true of every single scene you write, as well.

      What’s the whole point of this scene? Why are you writing it? Why can your story simply not exist without it? Not because it’s:

      • characterization

        That has to happen as texturing in other scenes, the ones that move the story inevitably forward toward its Climax.

      • atmosphere

        See above.

      • info dump

        See above.

      The only thing that’s fair game for a scene is a simply inescapable step in the progress of your characters’ trajectory from the first moment they jump out of the pan until the instant the land in the fire.

      Whatever that step is—that’s this scene’s climax.

    2. How you need to accomplish it

      This part is fun! This is the part about pitting your characters against themselves and each other and watching the fur fly.

      Since all fiction is about cause-&-effect, it’s a given that your characters’ movement through a scene is all about their desperate grappling with their fates. This grappling is what causes whatever you’ve already decided needs to happen in this scene’s climax. And this grappling is enormously entertaining to readers.

      This is why you’ll hear that every scene must have an aim. That simply means that every scene must have something that makes your characters fight. Nobody wants to see them lying around picking lint out of their navels. We want them to do something! And in order for that something to matter, they must have deep, fundamental motivation to do it, motivation rooted—you saw this coming—in their conflicting internal needs.

      So they spend the grand bulk of this scene wrestling with something with everything they’ve got (sometimes in solitude, sometimes in dialog, sometimes in action, even, um, wrestling).

      I have to have it!

      But you can’t!

      Nooooooooo!

      That’s this scene’s development. It’s the bulk of the scene. And it’s a blast.

    3. Why you can’t avoid accomplishing it

      Because, naturally, if your characters could avoid going through all this hell they certainly would.

      But they can’t. Because of the climax of the previous scene.

      They did something in that last scene, made a decision and sealed their doom, and whatever it was acted as the effect that caused this scene. How does the opening of this scene show that, the immediate and dastardly consequences of those actions they thought—they thought!—in the last scene were the only actions humanly possible?

      That’s this scene’s hook.

    Now, most scenes average 1,000-2,000 words, which is four to eight manuscript pages. Use this information as you write. You can go ahead and write the climax first and park it there at the end where it belongs and then go back and fill in with lots of madhouse antics. I do this a lot. And it’s generally not too hard to figure out what to use as the hook that’s going to demonstrate the soup your characters are in now, because you’ve got the climax to that previous scene sitting there staring you in the face. That’s where they were giving their all trying to avoid this exact situation.

    Just be aware as you write this first draft of how many pages you’re looking to fill.

    And remember what your reader expects to find on every single page.





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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, INDEPENDENT FREELANCE EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    No Comments




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. . .


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 PanMacmillan. 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. . .


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. . .


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. . .


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. . .


TERISA GREEN, represented by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. 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. . .


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, forthcoming from 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. . .


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 her up-coming The Eighth Summer. 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. . .


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. . .


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. . .


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

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