WRITERS: LEARN THE ART OF #YO-YO

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In Charles Euchner’s fine new book on writing, KEEP IT SHORT: A Practical Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, he talks about the #yo-yo, a device for moving between physical action to backstory then backstory to action and so on. #Yo-yo back and forth to keep it interesting and surprising for the reader.

“If you don’t give your reader variety, you will get stuck in long and overwhelming passages. So yo-yo from long to short, specific to general, physical to cerebral,” writes Euchner.

Think of a garden. “I hate a style, as I do a garden, that is wholly flat and regular,” said William Shenstone, an English poet and also one of the first landscape architects. “It slides along like an eel, and never rises to what one can call an inequality.”

To understand what he means, go to Central Park. You’ll see hills and fields, a lake, rock outcroppings and copses throughout the land. It varies from high to low, open to forest, dry to wet.

That’s what your writing should do. Sentences should vary in length between powerful subject and verb, one-two punches, and longer, more expository sentences. In short, keep it interesting. #Yo-yo it.

The best writing moves back and forth, from the density of exposition to the openness of narrative. We need the pack of information the exposition gives us. But we also need the journey that stories give us. As Frank Sinatra crooned about love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other.

#yo-yo it. Your writing will soar.

To order, click on the title here: Keep it Short .   You’ll find step by step #yo-yo instructions along with everything else you need to be an enthralling writer in this brave new world.

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Pitching the Undercover Boss

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In a wide ranging series of questions for uber-agent Sandra Martin, author of SNAPSHOTS, comes this hilarious story of following your heart and getting a show on the Discovery Channel. Not bad for a dreamer, Sandra.

1. A part of your career included television. What did you produce?

Early on I realized the power of television. I rarely watched it then, and rarely watch it now. I always had a good book that seemed far more interesting than television. But I’d listen to friends go on and on about a television series they were “caught up in” and worry about characters and what was going to happen next week.

When I had my first television series in Norfolk, Virginia, I always over compensated on research, then I worried about appropriate questions or smart meaningful questions. Sometimes, I knew more about the subject than the person I was interviewing. Generally, they’d written their book years before and I had, most often, read it that very week, so was really up on the subject.

Overcompensating, as usual. I prayed that whatever I said or asked would be enlightening and entertaining to the audience. That first interview, I was nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. We taped on Tuesday and the show aired on Thursday nights at 7. I never watched it. I was already onto the next guest and research. I did get over being nervous. In fact, I totally enjoyed it.

Having my face on television was something that took me a while to get used to-as I guess it does everyone. People would stop me on the street and launch into a discussion about last week’s guest and I’d fumble along. It was strange. I loved the research, I loved the process, I wasn’t all that crazy about everyone knowing who I was.

Dreams had always been super important in my life and after my turn at my own series, I decided I’d rather develop documentaries. My Mom was an excellent dream interpreter and I was surrounded by Edgar Cayce expects on dreams. Dream researchers, Henry Reed and Bob van de Castle often spoke at ARE and I was the sponge gathering dream knowledge.

I started writing up a treatment about dreams while still living in Virginia Beach and once I thought it was ready, I pitched it to the networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC. They all said no.
During this time, I had a long series of dreams about Ted Turner.

I thought, what the heck, I’ll call Turner Broadcasting and see who the head of development is and send in a proposal.

Even though I was dreaming about Ted, I never thought I’d talk with him or even ever meet him. Dreams were about symbols and he was my TV symbol. He’d come out of left field and created an entirely new television channel-mostly Atlanta Braves baseball games and old movies. Not big money documentaries, but who knows, maybe TBS was up for something new. He was very successful-obviously-and I hoped to be the same.

One morning, I got my nerve up and dialed the number, asked for the head of development, and after a few strange exchanges, I was put through. A voice that seemed familiar answered and I jumped in-one of my vices in life, don’t hesitate, and spewed out my idea for a long series on dreams. I told him about how General George Patton dreamed about battles plans and how Abraham Lincoln dreamed about his own death – and on and on.

He said very little, just listened. After I was done and had wound down, and he had a tiny opening to jump in, he said,” That sounds interesting. Come over and show me what you’ve got.”

I asked, “Who do I ask for?” and he said, “Ted Turner, you’re talking to him.”

Our appointment was for the following week and I was an anxiety filled as any one person could be for the entire week. Plus I was going to be staying with my in-laws, who were not all that fond of me. Just one anxiety on top of another.

I flew down to Atlanta, my in-laws picked me up and I stayed with them overnight and drove their big Mercedes downtown to Turner Broadcasting. In Virginia Beach, my car was a Toyota Starlet: a roller skate on weeks. That Mercedes was big.

Turner Broadcasting was in a big anti-bellum house converted into offices. The entire drive down I was praying, reciting positive affirmations and hoping for the best.

I’m not sure why I was so nervous about meeting Ted, Mr. Turner, since I’d been dreaming about him for months. Or maybe I was nervous because I’d been dreaming about him-in one dream we were sailing, in another we were signing contracts at his desk surrounded by models of sailboats and another dream, we were eating fried chicken, in another we were dancing and I was amazed at how strong he was – very positive dream images.

Finally I was standing at the front desk. I was so nervous that I broke out in a total body sweat. I was dripping water off my chin. I had never and have never since had that happen to me.

The poor receptionist was trying to be helpful. She gave me a tissue, called up to Mr. Turner’s office and an elegant and beautiful woman came down the curved steps with a puzzled, questioning look on her face. She asked my name and asked me why I thought I had an appointment with Mr. Turner. I poured out my story of our conversation.

She and the receptionist looked at each other and then back at me and said, “Mr. Turner let his head of programming go the day before and Mr. Turner thought he’d sit at his desk to see what he’d been doing.”

So, I said, “I happened to call that one day he was sitting there?”

“Yes.”

She said that’d she’d ask “someone” to come and listen to my proposed series and she was very sorry that Mr. Turner had been called away for the day. She said, “Sometimes he is so busy that he forgets to give…”

I told her that was okay, she didn’t need to call anyone to talk with me, but she was determined. About twenty minutes later, two men came down those same steps, and escorted me to a conference room, where I pitched my Dreams series. They were polite, and non-committal.

I gave them my fancy proposal. Then they were determined to take me around and show me the entire office complex, the CNN set, meet people that might be interested in my subject. Throughout I protested that all of this wasn’t necessary because I understood what had happened. On top of everything, these two men, the vice president of TBS and the vice president of CNN took me to lunch.

On the drive back to the in-laws, I heard on the radio that Raquel Welch was in town promoting her yoga video and that Ted Turner was escorting her around.

Oh.

A few weeks later, I received the nicest letter from the VP of TBS saying “Your proposal on dreams is fascinating, but it is not right for Turner Broadcasting.”

I put the dream proposal on a back burner until I moved to New York City and started pitching it again. Eventually Discovery committed to produce it.

Of course, that is a long story, too, but with a happy ending.


To order more of these great stories with some recipes thrown in (stories need to be told with food), click on the title: SNAPSHOTS: Memories and Recipes 

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Sentences Need 2 Words

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In Charles Euchner’s new book on writing, KEEP IT SHORT: A Practical Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, he reminds us that powerful sentences come from a noun and a verb. You can’t make a sentence without these two little guys and with them you can generate quite a boom.

Consider the master of the noun/verb, perhaps its greatest practitioner in recent history.

from Keep It Short:

#SENTENCING

Get right to the point—usually. Sometimes, to orient your reader or provide variety, you can provide background or “setup” information first. But get to the point before you lose your reader.

The classic advice for all writers goes like this: Say who does what to whom. In other words, tell the reader the subject (who or what), the verb (the action), and the object (the person or thing acted upon). Or: Subject- Verb-Object. Or: S-V-O. Not every action has an object, so we might simplify the idea thus: Who does what? That’s S-V, in shorthand.

The subject and verb create the core of your sentences. Athletes know they need strong cores—the abdomen—because they need to transfer power from the legs and butt up to the upper body. If the core is weak, the athlete cannot use his limbs powerfully. The same concept applies to writing sentences. Without a strong core, the rest of the sentence falters.

Take a look at the masters of prose and how often they start sentences with the subject and verb:

You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was
as though a young person died for no reason.

—Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

 


Join us next week for #theparagraph

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A PUBLISHING ICON PUBLISHES

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You may not know her face, but she single-handedly created a genre of books that are now a mainstay of many a publishing company. She finally wrote her own book, Snapshots, (click on title to purchase) a series of tales that revolves around the characters she met in her long and lively career and, of course, the great food they ate. Do not miss Sandra Martin’s Snapshots.

sandra-martin-head-shot-purple-laughingYou are credited with creating a whole new genre of book in your career as a literary agent. Did you do it intentionally or were you following your bliss? 

From an early age as a spiritual seeker I found that the deep understanding that came from my reading, studying, listening to lectures, talking with wise men and women created a deep sense of peace and simple acceptance of life. Understanding the larger picture –why we’re here; to learn and grow through challenges and obstacles and to exhibit the joy of love and life as we become better human beings.

Since I studied so many paths, starting with the Primitive Baptist right on through Edgar Cayce, Theosophy, the Seth Material, the Sufis, and Buddhism I had questions. Is there one true path? I always wondered: was one way better than another?

Many years later, I realized that I used almost the same questions that Genghis Khan asked when he summoned religious leaders to his yurt to discuss their particular religion. I’m sure we aren’t the only ones that questioned religious leaders.

He’d ask how they communicated with their gods. I’d ask “Who is it you’re channeling? How do you know he/she is who they say they are?” He asked, “Do you go to heaven or does God come to you? If you didn’t personally receive this information, then who did your God give it to?”

I’d ask many of the same questions. And the most important question was, for me, how is this affecting your life? Are you a better person for receiving this information; are you more loving, more trusting and more peaceful? Too often the answer was no.

He’d ask were the words spoken, written or through signs? And most importantly, he wanted to know what language God used to communicate and if it wasn’t your language, how did that work? I wondered all those things too. Signs and wonders were big from my childhood religion. So I paid attention.

Well, with Genghis, he was particularly interested in Christianity because he married his sons to Christian woman and he himself took a Christian wife. Not for any meaningful spiritual reason: the Christians permitted meat and alcohol. The Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims and Jews did not. He liked the Christians because they were flexible.

He also found that the Christians were the cruelest. One thing that totally weirded him out was that they collected bits and pieces of the saints that suffered from being thrown to the lions, whipped, skinned alive, etc. and Jesus hung from the cross. They collected these slivers of wood, body parts and prayed to them.

The Mongols believed that the spirit of God or heaven was in everything, was everywhere, from the highest heavens to the deepest seas, and could not be constrained in books or by one person. Shamans were their holy men. But they believed that heaven spoke directly to each person, to anyone that was searching for answers from higher consciousness. The information came to them in many ways, an inner voice or signs and wonders on mountain tops, even the trees and rivers spoke to them. Nature was their overwhelming spiritual force.

For some religious leaders it was a journey of a year or more to arrive at his yurt near Burkhan Khaldun in Mongolia. All were hoping to convert him to their religion since he was leader of the world at the time, which would’ve been a big coup for them. Mostly, it seemed Genghis Khan was just curious. He told each religious leader that, from what he saw, no one was living by the precepts that their God gave them, so it obviously wasn’t all that powerful and thank you but no thank you for the offer of joining their religion.

I guess that connection seems strange – religion, spirituality and Genghis Khan but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for him. Early in my life I read Harold Lamb’s Genghis Khan: The Emperor of all Men and since then I’ve read almost every book written about his life.

With that said, I’ve read many books about every religion and I’ve met many of religious leaders: Pir Vilayat Khan the Sufi leader, The Dalai Lama – George Ritchie, a great spiritual leader, and inspirational Native American teachers. They all had an influence on my thinking and my way of living.

I also read every book ever written about Edgar Cayce and because he was such a Christian man, taught Sunday School at his Presbyterian Church his whole life-and as you probably know, many of his readings are about the early church and are shot through with quotes from the Bible.

All of these things brought out in me a need to share what I’d learned. In those early years I’m pretty certain there were people saying –under their breath-or in their mind- Shut Up Sandra. But I was determined to spread the word.

So, yes, it was intentionally what I wanted to do. By the time I was in my mid-30s I was working at a television station and realized the power of mass media. I started with my own little television series-low, low, low budget, and moved on to creating, writing, and producing documentaries on these subjects. Always thinking about what was most acceptable to mainstream America at that time – so dreams was first since everyone dreams and dreams are always a mystery. Then I produced a pilot on Ancient Mysteries because there is nothing new under the sun (I forget who said that) and later produced a series on Intuition. It seemed to me that all successful people depended on that inner voice, that piece of consciousness that is in touch with all minds, the universal source of wisdom and guidance.

The serendipity of becoming a literary agent was the key to decimating information though. New Age Stars were popping up everywhere and they had huge followings. If you weren’t “in the group” you had no idea about the New Age world except for snide remarks from outsiders. But we knew we were changing the world and we were happy in our pursuit.

When I started driving to Manhattan to pitch book ideas and stars in our field, I was relentless. I talked to every editor who’d listen to me. I’d stop people in the halls of publishing houses, where it seemed so quiet and studious, and get into rousing discussions with these young editors. They were the ones that first saw the fruits of self-help –bringing in the money. I went from one subject (dreams, deep spirituality, intuition, mediumship, alternative health) to another until I’d gotten contracts for my authors/manuscripts.

And, of course, it was my eternal bliss-each and every moment talking about the deeper meaning of life, the magic of every person’s heart, acknowledging the yearning we all have for oneness and connection.


This is a series of Q&As that we will run from time to time with Sandra. Look for our next installment next week.

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CALL FOR WRITER’S COVERAGE

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Few books will resonate with the writer meeting the demands of the 21st Century as this one. Here is an exploration of how to write short in demanding new forms and create compelling storytelling in the process.

Few books will make the writer want to write like Keep it Short. Full of tips, examinations of why certain writing works and other writing does not work, how to conquer that first blank page and the next and the next, creating an arc, choosing detail, and building characters is all covered. And believe it or not, if you have to, you can write a tweet with all those elements in it. This book is here to teach you how.

I am fascinated with this advice:

  1. Write the first paragraph of the book.
  2. Write the last paragraph of the book.
  3. Commence with the middle

Author Charles Euchner is the creator of The Elements of Writing, a brain-based system for mastering writing in all fields. Euchner has taught writing at Yale University and political science at Holy Cross College. He was the founding director of the Rapport Institute at Harvard University.

 

Should you wish to review this book (I can send it as a PDF or a paperback) and mention what it teaches you in your writing journey, I will get a copy to you ASAP, provided you tell me the name of your blog and when you plan to cover the book. My email is Beth@LisaHaganBooks.com.

Lisa Hagan Books is dedicated to supporting writers of all levels everywhere. We believe in the story. We believe in the individual. We want you to be a part of the great journey and deep pleasures of writing. This of this book as a sort of National Novel Writing Month for those who do it every month of the year.

Again, for a review copy, simply email Beth@LisaHaganBooks.com, tell me the name of your blog or organization and and I’ll get you a book in the format you choose. It will make you so excited to write, you will begin testing your own limits and outshining  your previous methods of expression.  I promise.

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2 Dishes, 1 Holiday Evening

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This little table before the fire looks perfect for a one-two punch of French-inspired food and drink that is as easy as it is sophisticated and delicious. Buy a baguette to eat along with the soup. Here goes:

Leek and Potato Soup

4 Leeks, wash and clean well, slice thinly, the white part and a bit of green

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 sprigs thyme

1 bay leaf

Salt to taste

1 pound yellow potatoes, peeled, quartered and sliced thin

6 cups water

1/2 cup heavy cream

  1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy bottomed pot.
  2. Add the leeks and thyme, bay leaf and salt. Stir to mix.
  3. Add the potatoes and cook for 4 – 5 minutes, stirring often.
  4. Add the water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 25 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender.
  5. Stir in cream and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Remove thyme and bay leaf and ladle into warm bowls. Garnish with a little more thyme or some crumbled bacon, if you’d like.

From Snapshots: Memories and Recipes by Sandra Martin (click on title to buy)

51lszmodbkl-_sx326_bo1204203200_  TO DRINK???????? Something French, of course!

FRENCH 75

A classic drink, this takes its name from the French 75mm artillery – since drinking it makes you feel you are in the line of fire. One might be enough.

  1. 1 oz gin
  2. .5 oz fresh lemon juice
  3. 2 oz Champagne or Prosecco

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the gin and lemon juice (some people like a dash of simple syrup as well, but we advise against this, since sparkling wine is sugary in itself). Shake vigorously for at least 30 seconds, then strain into a coupe or a flute. Top the drink with Champagne and garnish with a lemon twist. So very French. So very good.

From Drink Like a Grown-Up by The League of Extraordinary Drinkers (click on title to buy)

 

Drink Like a Grown Up Cover.indd

How to Write a Paragraph: 3 Essentials

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Last night, I was editing. Not so exciting in itself except I was wearing a torn nightgown and eating Skittles. I got so tangled up in the paragraph of this manuscript, I cried out in anger and pain, pulling at my nightgown and sad I’d eaten all the candy.

So, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start….

A paragraph is a building block of a book. Within that paragraph, there are three building blooms that make it a paragraph. Or at least an intelligible paragraph. If you practice, greatness comes.

  1. S.V.O. –  This is your sentence, baby: subject, verb, object. Never forget it and it will never let you down.

Let’s write our first sentence for the paragraph together:

Beth shot her husband.

Our subject is “Beth”, our verb is “shot” and our object is “her husband.”

2.  The remaining sentences in the paragraph are about the same subject as the first     sentence of the paragraph:

Beth shot her husband. The blast threw him back against the white wall in front of her desk. The gun’s roar wouldn’t leave her ears as she crossed the room. She leaned in. He was dead. The ringing stopped and her eyes traveled back up the wall. His blood left a wild dynamic spray.

3. The last sentence winds up the paragraph and sets up the next paragraph:

Beth shot her husband. The blast threw him back against the white wall in front of her desk. The gun’s roar wouldn’t leave her ears as she crossed the room. She leaned in. He was dead. The ringing stopped and her eyes traveled back up the wall. His blood left a wild dynamic spray. Finally, she thought, I got my Pollack. 

Now, you’re set up to write the next paragraph and the one after that and the one after that and the one after that and the after…..

And finally, you’ll have a book!

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NOTHING TO DO BUT…….

SHUT UP AND DANCE 

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“No one today can match the limpid elegance and intellectual precision of his style, which recalls the heyday of Virgil Thomson.”   – The New Yorker 

“Holland has a remarkable ability to conjure up the essence of a composer or a piece of music in a few deftly chosen words. He is, I think, an aphorist of unparalleled virtuosity.”                                                – San Francisco Chronicle

“Perhaps the most important of this town’s arbiters.” – The Independent

Available wherever books are sold and here, online.

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AMAZON REVIEWS: On the Haters Trail

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I own a publishing company (with the magnificent Lisa Hagan, write books, edit books, work on film treatments and develop  television shows. It’s a living, sort of.

I find myself in my first role – that of publisher – checking Amazon reviews and rankings frequently. I build author pages for them. When it comes to amazon, I’m around.

So, imagine my delight when I bumped into the one-star review of the above book by one Barry Burek on amazon. One star?  Almost thirty years of criticism, interviews and reporting in the greatest newspaper on Earth gets one star? What is Mr Burek sniffing?

Unfortunately for him, he was like a cat hiding behind the curtain with his tail sticking out. A quick click on his name showed a trail of meticulous, often mentally-disturbed, reviews of an hilarious range of products.

CONSUMER’S GUIDE ACCORDING TO BARRY BUREK

He gives one star to Bernard Holland’s thirty years at The New York Times because Holland was a “professional leech”. This would be news to his employers who received 4600 reviews from him, including several Pulitzer Prize nominations. Sorry, Barry. No go on that one. He calls Mr Holland a bunch more names, which made Mr Holland laugh. As he  said, “haters mean I’m doing my job right.” So, according to Barry, don’t buy that book. According to Mr Holland, get a Barry Burek and feel like you’ve arrived.

Did I tell you Barry Burek creates an alter ego named “Lola” to answer himself? When he dolls out a single star, Lola backs him up. Barry is picky, and kind of a coward, it seems.

An organic sea salt got a whopping 5 stars from Barry because it tasted good and was EASY TO USE. I worry now that Barry has flippers instead of hands.

Intimately aware of his shoe size after reading his shopping history, the Santa Cruz slip-on-loafers were pretty good – 4 stars – but lost that star because, after arriving on May 20, Barry pushed his big toe through one on July 18. His perforated garden clogs lost one of their stars because they were not the originals, they were way cheaper. (And this is the clogs fault because….?) Barry’s Pali Hawaii Classic Jesus Sandals (brown, 12) take a direct hit of a few stars because Barry is really a 10 1/2 D and the 11 he ordered was TOO SMALL. He then ordered the 12 and it was TOO NARROW. What a world, Barry!

On a book about dementia, Barry let loose in the vein of his diatribe against Holland. (Classical music and deteriorating neural pathways are Barry’s hot spot?) His one star was followed with a cascade of name-calling and vitriol. The sane came out of the bushes and said “You need help, Barry. Please get it now. There is no shame in mental illness.” Predictably, Lola showed up to defend Barry.

Remember the next time you read those heaps and piles of unchecked reviews on amazon, most of them are silly. They are about the emotions and prejudices of the writer and not productive criticism. That is a skill and an art in itself that people like Barry Burek can’t imagine.

But he did like the wine stoppers and cat litter he ordered. Take note.

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