Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Daughter's wedding

I gave David Piearcy one of the most precious things I have when I gave away my daughter Teri at her wedding. She was absolutely beautiful and I was absolutely proud.

Walking her down the aisle

Saundra and I with the bride and groom flanked by Teri's daughter Mandy and son Jacob.

Saying their vows

Leaving in a flurry of bubbles

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My deadbeat Uncle

My Uncle Jack has a problem with obsessive spending. He owes everybody but he can’t stop. When the bank cuts him off he starts writing hot checks and when that gets too hard he goes down in his basement and starts printing money himself. There’s only one way to make him stop, we lock him up where he can’t do it any more.

My Uncle Sam has a problem too. Like Uncle Jack he too is writing checks he can’t cover and he also has a printing press so he can print his own money. As attractive as it sounds we can’t lock him up where he can’t do it any more because there is one difference; people cover his losses. And what the people don’t give him, he can borrow from the world.

But more and more the world is having trouble too and the time is about to come when they quit loaning Uncle Sam forty cents of every dollar he sends. And if he just keeps running those printing presses after that the money he prints will keep getting more and more diluted until it is worthless. We’ve all heard the stories about how Germany did this after WWII until it took a whole wheelbarrow full of money to buy a loaf of bread.

There is just one thing left to do, the people have to give him more money. The problem is 8.6% of the people don’t have jobs so they are taking money from him, not giving it. No wait, there’s another 10% who have given up looking for work so they aren’t counted in those numbers and neither are the ones that are underemployed and also still getting money as well. That means at least one in five are not putting money in but are taking it out. Our response to the problem is illogical, we increase the credit limit to allow even more borrowing. What? Are you kidding me?

Every time our leaders make a speech it is about spending more money. Every time Congress gets in session they are talking about how to spend more money. Money we don’t have. Money we have to borrow. We don’t hear them saying it because we are distracted since they are not talking about spending money, they are talking about programs. A program is a good thing, right? We all want the things these programs offer, right? When I was a kid and walked into a candy store everything looked good too, but I didn’t have credit to borrow money and didn’t have a printing press so even though the candy was good I couldn’t have it. When did we forget that lesson?

Uncle Jack is under control, he’s locked up where he can’t spend money he doesn’t have. But what do we do about Uncle Sam, put it off until people quit lending him the money he needs to keep up his spending habits and the printing presses have run until money is worthless? Put it off until 30% or 40% of the people are taking money from the government instead of giving it? What will the money they are getting from the government be worth anyway?

We have to make my Uncle Sam quit spending money he doesn’t have, but how?

And when?

Monday, December 12, 2011

An Awkward Situation

It's a lot like getting a divorce.

Over the past few years I have seen some friendships break up over writers working on a book together. I can't say it is something I have enjoyed being involved in. There are a lot of reasons it can happen, but it does happen.

I don't mean to suggest that it ALWAYS happens, there are some terrific books written by teams of writers who work well together and who end up maybe even better friends for the experience. But then there are these other ones...

I saw a two book deal go down the tubes because the writers could no longer work together. I saw not just one but several cases of ladies who had been friends for many years no longer on speaking terms. In one case, the authors weren't communicating and everything was being passed through me. Not fun. I'm dealing right now with a lawyer presiding over another break-up. That's what brought this blog to mind.

In the cases I have been connected with it has always been ladies but I surely don't mean to infer that is always the case. I'm aware of a number of situations where it has happened with male writers as well.

What's the answer? I believe it lies in having a clear understanding up front and getting it down in writing in a letter of understanding or a collaboration agreement. I think this is a really good idea even if the people that are planning the project together are wonderful friends and think it could never happen to them.

In the document there should be agreement on who is taking the lead and what happens if they disagree on changes to be made to the manuscript. There should be agreement on how the copyright will be listed, on who is going to do what in the writing. It should address things like who will arbitrate disagreements, how each will get paid. It should address if they are actually forming a partnership or have a disclaimer that states that is not their intention. There should be a statement that the term of the agreement would coincide with the life of the work.

Who has the say on expenses? Can they be incurred without mutual agreement? In the event that one or more is unwilling or unable to continue or complete the work the others may complete the task and the authors agree to discuss and modify the understanding in regards to the new pro-ration of work. If an understanding cannot be reached there needs to be an agreement to submit to arbitration.

Finally, the legalese:

The terms and conditions of this agreement shall be binding and inure to the benefit of the executors, administrators and successors of each of us. Our respective signatures herein below shall constitute this to be a complete and binding agreement between us. This agreement may not be assigned by any party without prior written consent of the others, except that any party may assign his share of the gross proceeds hereunder to a third person, subject to the terms and conditions of this agreement.

These things can be handled so much better before things happen than after there is stress and hard feelings involved, and having it spelled out in advance can avoid some of the situations. That's my take on it anyway.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Is age a factor in writing?

People come up to me at conferences, programs and workshops and say "Am I too (old/young) to start writing? That depends, do we have something to say? Are we willing to spend the time necessary to learn our craft? Some tell me they are XXX age and don't have time to spend years trying to get a writing career established. If that's the case, publish it yourself, give a few copies to your friends and relatives and you'll feel better.

But if we are serious about wanting to write and write well, people aren't born knowing how to do that. Someone who can cook a good hot dog is not qualified to open a restaurant, and someone who can tell a good story is not qualified to write it in a manner that deserves publication. Not without learning some skills. With age comes experiences that can fuel delightful stories but if it means we are set in our ways and not open to learning these skills and not open to revision, then yes, we can be too old to get started. 

Too young to get started? In a recent discussion in a big writing group I was struck by the number of writers who said they had started trying at a very young age and had remained determined. I first published in the Jr High newspaper and in a state-wide poetry anthology, so I can relate.

I had a great experience a couple of years back doing a workshop for the Groom Texas school district. There were kids from the fifth grade through high school. It was a delightful experience and they asked great questions and showed a lot of interest. Well, the older high school kids were far too "cool" to show open interest, but the rest did. The following year the writing group in this area, the Panhandle Professional Writers, sponsored a writing contest for young people. In blind competition where the judges knew nothing of the identity of the person submitting, the Groom kids practically swept the field. One teacher in the district is an active writer and I'm sure had a lot to do with that. I hope I had a little to do with it as well.

There are some writing opportunities specifically open to younger writers. A number of them are writing more than they realize with the advent of blogs, chat rooms and online opportunities such as Facebook and Twitter. You would think perhaps young people don't have the patience to develop skills and to endure the rejections that are an integral part of getting published, but I find just the opposite is true. Because of their age they expect more of this, and the ones that are committed expect to have to build experience and skills and calmly go about doing so.

I don't think age works against them, but it is true that lack of experience can. I recently had a book proposal from a teenager wanting to publish a book that contained deep philosophical insights. The writing wasn't too bad, but I'd never be able to convince an editor that someone of his age had the experience base to form all of these "deep philosophical insights."  We may be missing the boat, but I know what the odds are and need to spend my time where I've got a better shot.

Can we be too young or too old to get started? Yes, but do you see what they have in common? One has a wealth of experience but maybe is an age where undertaking a substantial learning effort to get the skills they need is more of an investment than they want to make. The opposite pole is young people who are used to learning but lack the life experiences that they need. This makes me believe it isn't about age at all, but about learning what they need to know to be successful and being willing to do it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

What's your 'voice'?

How did you find your unique writing voice? Did you struggle to find it or did it come easily to you?

Let me put my writing hat on for a minute, the one in the picture, I don't get to wear it much these days. In my opinion if somebody is struggling to find "their writing voice" they're trying to force it. My writing voice is not the way I talk, my West Texas Drawl, it is who I am.

It's the sum total of my education, my upbringing, my faith, my family, my experiences and it comes through in the way I write, even when I am trying to craft dialogue where the character speaks far differently than how I would speak myself. Some of my characters would speak much as I do, others speak far differently, but always no matter what is going on in the dialogue there are ways I would phrase things and ways that I wouldn't. There are things I would allow in my writing and things I wouldn't. The way I craft sentences, the pacing of my writing, these are the things that make up voice, not the way I speak or make my characters speak. I think far too many writers mistake dialogue for "voice."

--How would you describe your unique writing voice? What is it that you do to make sure your writing "sounds like" you?

My writing style is simple, because that's what I am, a simple old cowboy. If I tried to write complicated literary fiction it wouldn't work because then I would be outside my voice. I write simple, fast-moving stories and even if I'm not trying to do so, my faith is still evident. As long as I stay true to my upbringing I don't have to worry about my voice, it'll be there.

--When reviewing submissions, what do you as an agent look for in others' writing? How do you identify a writer's voice?

I look for the same thing, is the writing natural? I don't try to identify a writer's voice and style but I can tell when it is contrived, when it is not natural. When it is forced it can seem pompous, the story doesn't seem to flow easily, it sounds like the writer is using words and phrasing they are not comfortable with. It feels very much as if they are trying to be something they aren't.

--What advice would you give to beginning/intermediate writers to help them find and develop their unique writing voice?

Don't over-think it. Tell your story, then look at what you've written and see if it sounds like you or if it sounds like you are trying to be someone else. Not the dialogue, we all try to be someone else in the dialogue and sound the way we feel that character should sound, but in the general tone and style of the writing. Does it feel natural, or does it feel like you are trying to write like somebody else? If someone were sitting there with you, is this the way you'd tell them a story?

That's voice.