A Balloon Lady’s Look at 2014 PWC Conference

Barbara Custer improves her writing at Philadelphia Writers' Conference.During the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, I stayed at the Wyndham Hotel and brought balloons along to help me sleep. As everyone knows, I’m a balloon lady and my balloons follow me wherever I go. Therefore, I showed up at the conference alert and ready to learn.

Friday brought two delightful surprises: the lunchtime “Open Mike” and, along with the fiction and poetry raps, the “Apples to Writers.” So during lunch, I got an opportunity to read an excerpt from my book, and during the raps, participated in a contest involving writing after getting a prompt. Everyone who read got a prize, but the winner was nominated Queen of the Apples to Writers.

Many of my “aha” moments came with my “book promotion” classes – Dave Girgio’s Book Trailers and Audio Books, Cecily Kellogg’s Using Search and Social, and Suzanne Kuhn’s Reaching your Audience through Social Media. For starters, I learned just how much a good trailer costs – $3500, according to Dave, because a decent trailer involves hiring actors. If you can’t afford to pay that kind of money, it’s best to not use a trailer at all because the quality of the cheaper ones won’t do anything for you book. So…with my next book, I plan to promote it in different ways, but the book trailer will not be one of them unless I can pony up at least $2500.

Be aware of timing when posting an event or blog, advised Suzanne. You don’t want to announce an event during a Sandy storm or other national tragedy. Midday may not be the best time if people are just straggling home from work. She stressed the importance of platform. In Cecily’s class, I got tidbits about SEO – where to get free images for the website and some HTML to dress up my post.

Alma Katsu’s Upping the Ante gave me useful information on the types of conflict. It made me want to go back to my WIP with new eyes. She stressed the importance of writing “in scene” instead loading my beginning with thoughts and back story. I’ve struggled with beginnings, but I understand better how to fix them.

I also took two classes pertaining to characterization: Judith Schachner’s Strength of Character and Austin Camacho’s Creating Characters That Keeps Fans Reading. Judith gave us a new way of creating characters – pictures. Everyone created a character based on a photo she gave each of us. I have my photos and plan to use them for characters in my books. I was glad to get them as I’m a visual learner.

Okay, I know full well that “show, don’t tell” trumps all, but Austin spelled out just how to do that with characters. It’s not enough to describe what your character’s wearing, for example. How do other people react to his clothes? The ways people react can tell you who to watch and who to ignore.

I enjoyed listening to the keynote speakers, William Lashner and Lu Ann Cahn. All up, the camaraderie was great. This balloon lady would like to thank the Board of Directors for putting together a great conference.

“Discrete” Use of English

Night to Dawn features zombie tales among other horrors.

During my current WOP, I ran into major problems with the word discrete, and my fellow scribes called me on it. My manuscript read: “People so we have to be discrete with our conversation.” Wrongies. “Discrete” pertains to separate or distinct, and the appropriate word for caution is “discreet.” The noun version for discrete is discretion. For “discreet,” you’d write “discreteness,” which causes more confusion.

Example: I bought a discrete number of balloons for my home, but if there’s a zombie invasion, I’d better be discreet.

Here is an oldie but goodie verb, lie versus lay, one that confuses writers. I see it in my NTD tales all the time. Yes, Yours Truly has gotten caught on this one, too. If you’re talking about someone who’s reclining, “lie” is used for the present tense, while “lay” is used for past tense, and “lain” for past participle. If you’re setting something in a given place, choose “lay” for present and “laid” for past and past participle.
Examples of reclining: The zombies are gone, so lie down and rest. He lay in the tree all afternoon. He’d lain in bed all morning.
Examples of placing something: Lay the balloon tree on the table. I laid my watch on the drawer. She’d laid her clothes out on the sofa.

“Lead versus led” can cause confusion and frustration. Lead, rhyming with bead, means to be in charge or in front. The past tense is always “led.” Confusion arises because “lead” when you’re referring to the metal is pronounced “led.” So to make it simpler…lead rhyming with bead means taking charge or being in front. Lead rhyming with bed is a toxic metal element. Led is the past and past participle of the verb “lead” (rhymes with bead).
Examples: He leads the soldiers on a quest to capture the zombies. She led her soldiers to the cemetery. They stole the lead from the church roof to pay for the guns.

Do you find yourself stumbling over words like this? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Killing Your Darlings and other Writerly Issues

I got the edits back on Steel Rose, and was glad I had an editor look over the book. Maura Anderson has done a thorough job on Steel Rose, and Toni Rakestraw has done well by me on the stories for City of Brotherly Death. For me to edit my own work would be like a doctor treating his relatives. In both cases, we’re too close to the relatives (or book, in my case) to make wise choices.

One of my major weaknesses was inconsistency. Example: Laurel is my villain, and her negligence causes a patient’s death. The boss fires her and orders two security officers to walk her to her car. All well and good, but two pages later, when Laurel muttered a plan to kill people and dented a car on her way out of the garage, I failed to mention the guards. “What happened to the guards?” asked my editor in her thought balloon. “Surely, they would be watching Laurel.”

So I revised that scene, and upon further thought, I realized that several chapters later, when the police interview the protagonist Alexis about Laurel, they might mention that Laurel is wanted for fleeing the scene of an accident. So I will revise that section also.

It’s not enough that Laurel got fired. When negligence results in a patient’s death in a hospital, the employer is required to report this to the state license board. I know this full well, being a registered respiratory therapist. Alas, I did not include this in the scene where the boss fires Laurel, and the editor called me on it. I might have called my writers for NTD on similar issues. But like many writers, I find it hard to see my own mistakes.

Another area I struggle with is the need to kill my darlings. No, seriously. I love “cute” expressions, but I had to ditch a lot of them because they confused the reader. Example, I typed, “The essence of Laurel wafted her way.” The editor crossed out “essence of Laurel” and replaced it with “Laurel’s smell.” Toni and other editors have called me on my tendency to use too many metaphors, too. I had Yeron, Alexis’ alien lover, thinking the zombies were “wearing death like an overcoat in February.” Us humans might think that way, but not aliens. Hereafter I will save the “cuteness” for my Mylar balloons.

One thing Maura recommended was a timeline, and this advice ties in with a suggestion that author / agent Marie Lamba gave at the Writer’s Coffeehouse meeting about using a calendar to keep track of seasons and important dates for your protagonist. Hereafter I will consider outlining chapters.

I’d like to hear about your struggles with the writing process? Do you outline, and if you do, how has it worked for you? Do you find it hard to kill your darlings? Any other struggles? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Night to Dawn brings a new take on zombies and vampires


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