Writing

Vacation Cruise to Europe

Dream Vacation, New Book, and Good News for Autism Community

It has been over a month since I posted my last blog. I have been very busy with good things. One of them is I took my very first cruise. I never thought I would ever do it (Images of the movie The Poseidon Adventure, which I saw as a child, prevented me from ever considering a cruise), but a family wedding and the chance to see Europe overrode my fears of water. I am so glad because I will always look back on this trip as a truly wonderful experience. The past year and a half have been stressful for me and my family because my father-in-law was very sick. Unfortunately, he passed away in May. But this vacation cruise convinced me that this world is filled with so many wonders and experiences that a person should never give up hope that things can always turn around.

We traveled to Barcelona and Mallorca, Spain; Marseilles, France; and Florence, Rome, and the Amalfi Coast in Italy. It was a trip of a lifetime!

The staff on the cruise were so accommodating and eager to help make the vacation as enjoyable as possible. I felt, “Yes! We deserve to be pampered after all our years of hard work and struggles. Why not enjoy it.”

Another reason to celebrate is my second novel is in the proofreading stage. Like True Mercy, my latest literary effort took about four years to write and edit. Now I have to find a cover designer and decide how to distribute the novel. Unlike the first, my second novel is women’s fiction and the main theme is self-acceptance.

Months ago, I posted a rough draft of my second novel on Wattpad, an online community for writers and readers, and when I returned from my trip, I was pleasantly surprised to find more followers.

Surely, life can turn around!

I am also happy to report that hard-working special-needs advocates are beginning to see progress in their ongoing battle to support the autism community.  Whether you like President Trump or not, you have to give him credit for extending the Autism CARES (Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support) Act for five more years. The President reserved $1.8 billion dollars for this extension. In addition, the Autism  CARES Act will require the Department of Health and Human Services to compile a report for Congress about the health and welfare of individuals in the autism community.     

And that’s not all. Insurance companies in all fifty states are now required to cover on some level the treatment of autism that is deemed medically necessary, including ABA (applied behavior analysis).

I will most likely be only able to blog once a month from now on, but I am determined to write news of interest to my readers on a variety of topics, including the latest on autism, human trafficking prevention, inspirational stories, and book reviews.

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Book Review: Dreyer’s English

I was an unusual kid in school – I loved English grammar. I still remember diagramming sentences to demonstrate my understanding of the different parts of speech. Reading Dreyer’s English brought me back to the days of my high school English classes.

Of course, reading an entire book about straight grammar, style, and punctuation would be dry and boring, even for me. But this book is anything but. Benjamin Dreyer, the copy chief at Random House, gives entertaining and often humorous explanations and comments while writing about proper English usage and style. Dryer writes about words and rules in which people often make mistakes. Some examples include similarly-spelled words like aid and aide, which titles need quotation marks and which require italics, and the frequent mistake of using two words when one is sufficient (For example, the term “free gift” is a redundancy). Dreyer uses famous people, books, TV shows, and songs as examples. Together with his wit, Dreyer’s English a pleasure. While I was reading, I started wishing I became a copy editor myself because he made the rules so fascinating – I would love to work with words on an everyday basis. My only complaint is the footnote symbols are so tiny that I often missed them, so by the time I got to the bottom of the page, I didn’t know which section each footnote was referring to. Overall, it is a handy reference book for everyone.

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Can a Pantser Become a Plotter?

It has been almost a month since my father-in-law passed away. He used to call us all the time and was very outspoken in his opinions. I found in the first few weeks that something in our lives was missing, but now it is sinking in that he is gone and we must return to our everyday lives. What has helped is discussing our memories of him.

I admit I have had trouble concentrating on writing lately with all my reflections. But Thursday is the day to put up my post and so I am putting forth a great deal of effort into getting my blog written.

When it comes to writing novels, I am a pantser—that is, I write from the seat of my pants. I don’t plot scenes, develop characters, or map out the hero’s journey before I begin writing. This method worked for my first novel, True Mercy, but I’ve run into some issues in my second novel.

I began as usual, developing characters and writing the plot as I went along. After editing the story numerous times, I sent it off to my editor. Unlike the first novel which grabbed her interest right away, she had a lot of questions and problems with the story. She wrote comments such as one of my main characters was selfish and she was critical of the dynamics of each family in the novel.  I edited some more and not satisfied with her critique, I decided I needed a second opinion. Mind you, editors are expensive, but I was not satisfied. I also had to face up to the truth that the story needed a great deal more work. In my opinion, which I admit is subjective, I thought this novel has potential and I wanted someone who appreciated the story and help me improve it.  After doing research, I found a second editor. She indicated to me the novel has merits but with a caveat—she said I needed to rewrite the whole story. This editor told me if I was not willing to rewrite, she would understand, there would be no hard feelings, and she would give me a partial refund.

But rightly or wrongly, I couldn’t give up. I rewrote the whole novel. Time will only tell whether all my hours of effort and hard work were worth it.

After all this work, I am exhausted and can’t wait to send it off and get rid of it. I have vowed that if I ever write another novel, I will HAVE TO PLOT IT OUT AND DEVELOP THE CHARACTERS BEFORE I BEGIN THE ACTUAL WRITING PROCESS because I honestly don’t think I could go through rewriting the whole story again.

However, upon reflection, when I wrote True Mercy, I did in fact rewrite the whole story—it took me four years before I published it. But back then, writing a novel was, well, a novel thing for me to do. The whole experience was new and fresh. I couldn’t wait to publish it and have people read my work. Going into my second novel, I hoped the whole process would become a lot easier, but it wasn’t. That’s why I want to try the plotter approach next time. Plotting the novel is supposed to be very demanding in the beginning as the author develops the characters and charts out the events that take place in the story before the actual writing process begins. Other writers have told me it is better to do the hard work in the beginning so the editing process is easier and less frustrating. What’s more, they tell me the book is written more quickly. I plan on giving it a try.

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Meet Writer/Editor Ben Wolf

I am so excited to write about this year’s Write Stuff Writers Conference that I attended on March 21-23. The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (https://greaterlehighvalleywritersgroup.wildapricot.org/) organizes it every year and this was my fifth year going. As always, I learned a lot and enjoyed it immensely. Everyone was so warm and welcoming that I felt I was reuniting with life-long friends.

Author/Editor Ben Wolf was this year’s keynote speaker. He has written and edited over 100 published works. Ben is the founder of Splickety Publishing Group, a magazine that publishes flash fiction. He has written novels and a children’s book. In 2015 he won the Cascade Award (https://oregonchristianwriters.org/2015-cascade-contest-winners/) for his novel, Blood for Blood, and his children’s book, I’d Punch a Lion in His Eye for You, was a Cascade Award winner in 2016 (https://oregonchristianwriters.org/cascade-award-winners-2016/). His concentration is primarily in speculative fiction.

Ben is 33 years old. When I arrived at the conference to find him as the keynote speaker, my first thought was, “How could someone so young teach the attendees, most older than he is, about writing?”

But it turned out he could. He actually taught us quite a lot.

The following are a few pieces of advice from his talk on “The Three Pillars of Storytelling: Your Novel’s High Concept.” He referenced his information from the book Fiction Writing for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson.  In some of the bulleted points, I will be quoting directly from a few of Ben Wolf’s PowerPoint slides.

  • The Goal of Every Story is to deliver a powerful emotional experience.
  • Every story must do at least one of the following: educate, entertain, or persuade.
  1. ) Entertain-writers are required to do research to make sure they are meeting their readers’ expectations, particularly in that genre (e.g. In romance: some combination of love, lust, and conflict).
  2. ) Educate-writers must think of what they want their readers to learn along the way.

3.) Persuade-in the case of “issue” fiction, they must decide what topics they want to change or influence readers’ minds about.

  • There are 5 pillars of writing fiction

1.) Construct a believable setting

2.) Create interesting character

3.) Create a strong plot

4.) Develop a meaningful theme

5.) Do all of it with style

In this blog post, I am going to concentrate on the second pillar-interesting characters.  Ben used examples from the movie Star Wars. For those unfamiliar with the plot, Trance (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076759/plotsummary), a plot author, summed it up as follows: “Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a Wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire’s world-destroying battle station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the mysterious Darth Vader.”

  • The best way to hook a reader is with a compelling character. How does a writer achieve this? By knowing their character’s backstory.

1.) Who are they?

2.) Where did they come from?

3.) What happened that shaped who they are today?

4.) What does the character want?

5.) What is their motivation?

The writer must know the following about each character in their story

  1. ) Values-Those things a character holds most strongly to be true. Nothing is more important than. . .  Writers must convey values through action and behavior and make sure their character’s values have potential for conflict.

As an example, Darth Vader’s values were that nothing is more important than power and his son, Luke Skywalker.

2.) Ambition-The one abstract thing your character wants the most in life.  Give each character one ambition per story. What does your character want to gain? Some examples are wealth, power, peace, destruction, healing, and success.

Luke Skywalker’s ambition was to be a hero.

Story Goals-The one concrete thing your character wants in the story. The character must believe this will help him/her achieve or get closer to achieving their ambition. The more specific the writer can be about the character’s story goals, the better. It is essential the reader believes the story goal matters, the character has a chance to achieve their goal, and there is a chance the character may fail.

3.) Han Solo’s story goal was to obtain the money he needed to pay off the bounty on his life from Jabba the Hutt, a powerful gangster in the galaxy who had great influence in both the criminal and political underworld.

Finally, as demonstrated from Trance’s plot summary stated earlier, the author must formulate

  • A simple, one-sentence idea that describes the main conflict of the book.

Ben has spoken at over 40 writers’ conferences to date. I highly recommend any writer striving to improve their craft sign up and listen to his advice. He may be a youngster, but he gives many valuable pointers to writers of all genres.

Authors interested in getting help with their stories can reach out to Ben through his website, www.benwolf.com/editing-services. He offers coaching and editing services and has helped many authors bring their works to publication.

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller designed to bring awareness to two issues: families coping with a loved one with autism and the human trafficking crisis. True Mercy is for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IngramSpark, and Smashwords.

Need help with blog content? Please contact me through my website, www.idellekursman.com.

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