Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pennwriters 2013 in Review

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Last weekend I attended my first ever Pennwriters conference (first for me, that is). Sorry, I don't have a lot of pictures. I was too busy having my mind blown.

There were definitely things I was looking forward too. For one, I was going to get to (finally!) meet Twitter friend Jenna Bennett. And I would be able to (finally!) meet one of my remote Sisters in Crime friends and a fabulous editor, Ramona DeFelice Long. And, of course, I'd be able to hang with all of my local SinC friends as well.

And learn stuff. Don't forget learning stuff.

And boy, did I learn stuff! Lots of panels on branding and marketing. A fun session on bladed weapons to start things off (I picked the right sword for my Hero's Sword series - yes!). An in-character panel, where I learned I really do understand Jim Duncan, my PSP trooper hero of the Laurel Highlands series (and yes, pretending to be a 35-year old man is a challenge).

I really wanted to attend the Thursday pre-conference session with Donald Maass. But there's, you know, that money thing. But I did buy his books - and got them autographed. He's a charming, funny guy.

I had a fabulous dinner Saturday, talking to all my SinC sibs and visiting with the always lovely Hank Phillippi Ryan - and Hank, we're all right about that title business.

And I met people - oh boy, did I meet people! I won't even bother to try and list them by name, because I will forget someone and feel horrible. That's just the way it is. But I met two wonderful ladies from the Buffalo area, where I grew up (finally - people who understand that snowfall in "Buffalo" is all too often actually in the suburbs!). Had breakfast on Sunday with some fine folks from eastern PA. Shuttled two agents from the Amtrak station Thursday, before the conference, to the Marriott. I did behave myself - I didn't meet them at the station with manuscript in hand. I do think I scared them a little bit merging from Liberty Ave. onto the Ft. Pitt Bridge. But hey, that's Pittsburgh, right? Talked with Jason Jack Miller and wife, Heidi Ruby Miller, who are funny and friendly. (And, thank you again, Jason for talking me off the ledge when I thought I was going to have to start my digital footprint all over again!)

I learned that writers, of all types and genres, are fabulous people. But you knew that, right?

But I suppose the most powerful moment of the conference was Friday night's keynote by Donald Maass. Two things he said:

  1. In the 21st century, life changing books will be written.
  2. This is our (writers) century - because we're going to write it.
Oh. My.

I suppose Friday and Saturday could have, and maybe should have, been spent mingling and schmoozing. But I couldn't. I went back to my room and finished my current round of revisions on Wedding Bells: Hero's Sword Vol. 3. On Sunday, I finished reading Revision & Self-editing. And then on Tuesday, I plotted a new Laurel Highlands story. I was so fired up and ready to write, I just couldn't do anything else.

Will any of these stories change the world? I don't know. I hope I at least entertain, if nothing else. But you can't change the world with a blank page. You can't entertain unless you tell the story. Learning is important - critical, even - but unless you put pen to paper (or pixel to screen) what's the point?

Will people be inspired, entertained, changed by what I write? I don't know. But doggone it, after last weekend, I'm going to try.

Because if I don't try, really, what's the point?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Kidlit Blog Hop Giveaway!

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Welcome to my first ever KitLit Blog Hop hosted by the fabulous folks at Mother-Daughter-Son Book Reviews and Youth Literature Reviews!

What's the idea of the blog hop? Simple - to find quality literature for kids. The Hop is designed for kids under 18 and there is a great list of participants.

In an age where people are constantly worried about kids reading (will they read, do they read, read paper, ebooks, what about all that screen time?), I think the challenge is to find quality material. At least, that's my challenge as a parent of two tweens (one almost a teenager - yikes!).

Since my husband and I are both bibliophiles, you wouldn't think this is hard. But despite the (literally) hundreds of titles on our shelves, I still hear, "There's nothing to read."

Part of this is taste. My daughter likes dystopian, vampires, and books along the lines of Pretty Little Liars. My son is not a huge reader, but he likes mythology, such as Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series.

The challenge is how to find similar books - similar enough that the kids will give them a chance. Sure, there are bookstores. You can search Amazon. But how do you find recommendations, how do you know which ones are worth the money?

The list below should help in the search.

As part of the hop, I am giving away copies of Power Play, the first book in the Hero's Sword series to fifteen winners (one entry per person, please). Just leave a comment on this post and answer this question: What's your favorite childhood book memory?

Good luck and have fun checking out all of these awesome sites!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Scrivener Writetip: Using the Cork Board

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Note: I am using Scrivener for Mac. If you are using Windows, please allow for differences.

Okay, okay. So writers are not supposed to write about, um, writing. Or writing tips at least. But my earlier posts on Scrivener continue to get hits and I continue to get asked questions, so perhaps it's time for a little "Scrivener writing tip" post.

At a retreat last fall, the presenter talked about a storyboard as a great tool for plotting a story. And I could see that. A storyboard allows you to visually lay out scenes in each chapter/section, move things around, make lists of possibilities, etc. You might get the same results from an outline, but a storyboard strikes me as slightly easier to use regarding lists of possibilities (e.g., "in this scene, I might...). A storyboard is also slightly more visual, if you use something like note cards - and it's easier to move a note card than constantly copy/paste in an outline (and fight Word's "helpful" outline reformatting - but I digress).

But what if the thought of transcribing scene synopses to index cards gives your fingers cramps? And the thought of changing those synopses as the plot evolves makes you think you might need to take stock in an company that makes 3x5 cards? Well, enter Scrivener.

The Scrivener cork board view
The cork board is one of those features that, when I did the tutorial, I didn't see a use for. However, as I explored the concept of a storyboard, I realized that by doing just a few things, I could build a virtual storyboard relatively quickly.

The first step, is to create your chapters and scenes. It will be particularly helpful if you can put a brief description of the chapter/scene in the Synopsis field. For example: Chapter 1 - upon coming home, Jenny Smith discovers the dead body of a stranger in her bedroom. You would then write similar scene descriptions. The idea here is not to jam in all of the information that is in the chapter/scene. You just want something descriptive enough to jog your memory ("oh, that's the scene where I introduce the love interest").

By the way, at this point, it is also helpful to use labels so you know if something on the cork board is a chapter or a scene.

Once all of those chapter/scene cards are laid out, select the Manuscript node in the tree view (this will be the top-most node in the tree). Choose View - Cork board or press CMD+2 (CTRL+2 in Windows, I believe). Voila! You'll see a picture of a cork board with all of your cards.

The cork board for a single chapter
You can drill down the cork board to see the storyboard for individual chapters, too. Just select that chapter in the tree view.

Now, from here you can do all sorts of things. Realize that the third scene in chapter 3 needs to be the second scene in Chapter 1? No problem. Just drag and drop that scene - either on the cork board or in the tree view (or in outline view - whichever works best for you, but I like working on the cork board).

You'll have to fix transitions, of course (rarely is it true that you can move scenes around without adjusting the transition in and/or out of the scene), but this drag-and-drop is so much easier, for me at least, than "find selection in Word, cut, find new insertion point, paste, rewrite."

Decide that the contents of a scene need to change? Instead of writing out a new note card, you can edit the synopsis of the virtual card - either by viewing the scene or right there from the cork board.

You can also use the cork board to measure progress. For example, can't remember how many scenes still require editing in Chapter 5? Use the cork board. First, make sure you are using Status labels for all of your scenes. Next, choose View - Cork board Options - Show Stamps. Each "card" on your cork board will display the appropriate status label. This allows you to view the storyboard for a chapter and instantly see which scenes are finalized, which have been edited, and which are still in first draft stage.

Okay, now, I'll admit - if you like big pieces of poster board with note cards, translating what you see in Scrivener to physical cards is going to be a bit of work. I haven't yet tried to print the contents of the cork board, so I'm not sure how it can be done, or even if it's possible. However, I'm not that big on having pieces of paper lying around. Too easy to get ripped, have something spilled on it (by me or one of my kids), and my house simply isn't big enough to keep lots of big posters. Plus, the adhesive on Post-it notes wears off after a while, and it's not always possible to cleanly move index cards adhered with tape.

Of course, not everybody works this way. Some people may not care about storyboards. Some people may really, really be attached to the physical paper. But at least using Scrivener, you can complete (or mostly complete) all the initial writing/rewriting/arranging/rearranging without waste of cards before committing your story to paper.

Have you tried using the cork board? What do you think?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Citizen's Police Academy Wrap-up

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

For the past few months, I have been attending the Citizen's Police Academy hosted by the Pittsburgh
Bureau of Police. When you write police-procedurals, it's kind of important to know how real police work, um, works. And while I'd love to attend the Writer's Police Academy organized by Lee Lofland some day, this one was right here - and free. How do you say no?

I "graduate" in two weeks, so I figured now was as good a time as any to reflect on the experience.

Police are people too
Yeah, conceptually we know this. Police are people and that means they are only human. But somehow, expectations are higher when you see someone in uniform. And my instructors are okay with that. Really. But they are human. Most of these folks are fantastic people. But they make mistakes. They try not to, but it happens.

And if you have a less than stellar experience with the police, don't let it color your perceptions of all police officers everywhere. These are mostly good people trying to do a job they believe in.

Law enforcement is stressful
Every day job has some stress. Are you going to hit the deadline, resolve that conflict with a co-worker, make the client happy. In law enforcement, the stress can be, "Is anybody going to die today? Am I?" I really think only the medical community (and maybe the military in an active conflict) can compare. And literally, in this high stress environment, officers make split second - or faster - decisions.

Never is this more evident than in the case of firearms. We've seen the headlines, "Cop kills kid with pellet gun." How could this happen, you think. Surely they know better.

Last night, the instructor held up a firearm. Sure looked like a 9mm to me. "Real or toy?" he asked each student. After a second hesitation, "Bang, you're dead." And he moved on and repeated the question. All told, six of my fellow students "died" last night. It turns out that the weapon in question was a pellet gun.

I wouldn't want to make that decision, night after night. Would you?

It's not CSI or Law & Order
TV is great and it's entertaining. It's not real. I was surprised at how fast some things happen (a fingerprint search literally took 1.3 seconds to return a hit), but it doesn't go as fast as it does on TV. Police do not spout off the Miranda warning as soon as you are taken into custody - and Miranda isn't always necessary. You can pursue a suspect into a private dwelling (under certain circumstances) and you don't always need a warrant to make an arrest (it depends on the crime).

Oh, and that CSI stuff? You can't identify a fingerprint - or DNA - if there isn't a record of it somewhere. After all, it is called "matching."

They aren't in it for the glory - or the money
My instructors shared something - passion. From SWAT to K-9 to motorcycle traffic, they all believe they have the best job on earth. They aren't doing this for glory. Knowing municipal government spending, they aren't doing it for the fat paycheck or the overtime either. They do it because they love it. The dogs, the job, the cycles - because they believe in protecting others. And dammit, that's worth something. How many of us could say the same?

You have a part to play too
Every instructor ended the same way - thank you for giving up your evening to come learn. Thank you for caring enough to get the real story. Things happen fast, and it's easy for misleading information to leak into the media (for whatever purposes, not trying to slam the media here). But twice a year, about 20 people care enough to pull back the curtain and see what really happens.

And even if you never attend something like a Citizen's Police Academy - keep your eyes open. You live in your neighborhood. See something out of place? Call. Open your mouth. Teach your kids that guns and violence are not "cool." There are more citizens than police officers. On our tour of the 9-1-1 response center, someone asked about non-emergency calls. "If you aren't sure it's an emergency, call us. I'd rather get a non-emergency call than have you not call and something happens." They really don't mind - honest. I mean, don't abuse it, but if you think something is wrong, or might go wrong, make the call. Flag down a patrol officer. Report that bag that smells funny and has been sitting at the bus stop for 30 minutes unattended.

Yeah, I'm a writer. I got a lot of information that is going to make my stories better, and even a few ideas. And that's good. More than that. it's a little glimpse into the working lives of men and women who really are putting it all on the line so I can live my life in relative security.

So the next time you are pulled over for a traffic stop (which, by the way, is statistically incredibly risky for the officer), resist the temptation to be mouthy. Thank the officer for his/her work. Try to be the good guy.

Because you probably don't want their job. Trust me.