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Keys to Effective Writing

Slang, Dialect, and Proper English

I own a writing business, but for years, I was a secondary school teacher in Mississippi's public school system. I also taught college courses, and yes, I taught English, Literature, and Composition. As an editor, I must make important decisions regarding slang, dialect, and clichés. This is a topic on which most writers and editors have a specific stance. I, however, do not have a specific stance on the topic. I can see both sides of the coin. (See, I even use clichés in my writing).
I'm a writer and an editor, and I'm a damn fine one. I am not, on the other hand, better than anyone else. I have a passion regarding civil rights and equality of all people, no matter a person's race, religion, gender, or occupation. For that reason, I also believe that doctors are not 'better' people that janitors. Are there occupations that are more prestigious than others? You bet, but we are people. We all breathe, bleed, and shit the same way. We have skills in different areas. Some of us make better decisions than others, but in the bigger scheme of things, we are all on the same level.
I make that point because some writers are 'snobbish' regarding their occupations. That may be offensive to field, but I believe it to be true. This is not to say that all writers are snobs. I certainly know a lot of writers who are down-to-earth, funny, and well-rounded.
When I taught school, I came across many teachers who would correct students who used slang or dialect. The word 'Ain't' was a common word used that teachers would correct. I, however, find it a bit snobbish to tell someone how to talk. Here's why.
If Johnny's mama, daddy, grandma, and great grandma talk a certain way, then Johnny certainly will talk that way as well. And just because they don't use 'proper' English, then should I be the one to correct them and tell them that they sound ignorant? I don't think so.
I'm not naive. I know that there is a standard for proper English, and the expectations for proper English should be maintained in business, job interviews, etc. I know what proper English is, and I know how to use it. I also think that all of our youth should be taught proper English. I, although, still say 'yall,' and I've been known to be heard saying, 'She don't know nothing." Do I know that y'all is dialect? You bet. Do I know what a double negative is and how to avoid it? Of course, I do. But when I am comfortable, I speak the way I've always spoken- the way my family and friends speak. And there isn't anything wrong with that.
There is nothing worse than reading a book that contains dialect that's not 'authentic.' In the South, we say 'y'all.' We use clichés and southern sayings, and to read a book set in the South that doesn't incorporate those details would be unappealing at best.
When it comes to writing, my best suggestion to writers is this: write about that which you know, that which you enjoy, hate, or love. Write in authentic manner. If your manuscript, as a whole, is authentic, memorable, and unique, then your editor will handle the small stuff.
And if there are any 'snobby' writers out there reading, please quit correcting everyone's English. We are the melting pot of the world, and our diversity, even in speech, is beautiful. If you're not a teacher, then it isn't your job to teach the world proper English.

How Resume Writing has Changed

If you're old enough to have written multiple resumes over the years, then you know that resume writing can be difficult. Do you remember when all resumes began with the infamous 'Objective' section?
While some resume writers still use the objective section, most resume writers consider that portion of a resume 'dated.' In the past, there was a specific formula to create an 'effective' resume. That is no longer the case.
Presently, an effective resume should be tailored to your specific skills and expertise. What does that mean?
Well, for example, if you have ample education, but have recently graduated, you may not have much professional experience. In this instance, you will want to highlight your education.
However, if you have ten year or more of professional experience, then you certainly want to highlight this experience first.
Then, there are potential employees who have little experience and education. Does this mean that this person cannot write an exceptional resume? Absolutely not. Everyone has skills and talents. Whether you've used your skills in a professional manner or not, it is important to show potential employers that you have a specific set of skills that would be beneficial in a professional setting.
Basically, this means that there are many types of resume formats that you can use. Instead, of the old, traditional resume that followed a strict format, you can now focus on your strengths.
A good resume writer will holistically look at your professional background, education, skill, and other elements that you bring as an employee. That resume writer, will then write a specialized resume that makes you look the best.
If you have specific questions about resume writing, contact me at owner@coghlanwriting.com

Virginia Patterson Carlisle

In lieu of a professional post, I'm going to post a copy of my personal blog. In it, I describe the legacy my grandmother left to me and all who knew her. Because I inherited my talent as a writer from her, I feel that it is very appropriate to dedicate today's blog to her. I was also honored to write her obituary.
A Lifelong Legacy
How do you summarize a person’s life in words? Though I am struggling with what to say and how to say it, I feel obligated to memorialize my beloved grandmother, despite the inadequacy of words in expressing a lifetime of valuable impressions. I know that my grandmother had a profound effect on numerous people, and to document the extent of her influences, I would have to write volumes. I can, however, share a small portion of how much she meant to me.
My grandmother, Virginia Dare Patterson Carlisle was named after Virginia Dare, the first baby born in the colonies that would become the United States of America. My grandmother was proud of this, as she was proud to be an American. She was also proud to be from Choctaw County. Having lived in Ackerman, French Camp, and Weir, my grandmother loved Choctaw County. If your grandparents were born in Choctaw County, then she could probably tell you a great deal about your heritage, as she enjoyed researching heritage and family lineages. An avid gardener, it seemed as if my grandmother could grow anything. She was a loving wife and mother, and though her husband had died years earlier, she never wanted to remove her wedding rings, even when her fingers were swollen. Wife of Jack Carlisle, she was a proud attorney’s wife and could recall momentous cases tried by her husband that resembled a scene from a movie. She was a grandmother to four grandchildren, and she had one great-grandchild. I can only imagine the depth of her versatility; oh, what change she witnessed in her lifetime. Having survived The Great Depression and numerous wars, she remembers a time before running water, televisions, cell phones, and computers.
For us grandchildren, she touched us in unique and individual ways. My cousin Scott would probably tell you that she provided a haven of shelter, love, warmth, family, and southern hospitality when he decided to go to college in the South. My cousin Leslie might say that my grandmother taught her how to be a strong, independent woman who can stand up for what she believes. My brother would say that my grandmother showed her grandchildren unconditional love, and no matter what mistakes we made, she never loved us any less.
I’ve been told that I have a lot in common with my grandmother. Luckily, I inherited her high cheekbones; when I see pictures of her from days past, I am amazed at her beauty. She was a writer, and though she never wrote professionally, she did self publish books of poems. Her poetry is amazing. My brother also writes poetry. I’ve talked a lot about writing as in inherent talent, and if I do, indeed, have talent as a writer, I attribute that talent to her. My grandmother was independent, and some might even describe her as stubborn. Similarly, I am also very independent, and yes, even stubborn. After she had a stroke, my grandmother was eating on her own within a couple of weeks. Even when her health declined to a point where walking was difficult, she would get up out of the bed and try to walk on her own. She was a fighter. She was strong, and she never gave up on anything. I know how she felt. Though I have limitations due to my scoliosis, in my head, I still think that I can surpass those limitations by attempting it, sometimes to my own detriment.
I think like my grandmother. My grandmother loved life. That, in itself, is an accomplishment. Life is difficult, and despite the difficulties that life presents, she loved life. She viewed the beauty in life, as apparent through flowers, sunsets, and birds. For her, each day was a blessing, a miracle. At Christmas, my husband wheeled her in front of the Christmas tree so she could sit and admire the tree. Unlike so many others, she acknowledged the beautiful things in life, whether large or small. For her, life was a gift, not a punishment. I agree that life is a gift, and each day, I will strive to appreciate it as she did every day.
I have a million memories of my grandmother. From the moment I was first born, she was there, every present in all of my best reminiscences. What legacy does she leave? She leaves an awe-inspiring legacy in her family. Through us, she lives on, forever. Smart, independent, funny, wise, and loving. She was all of these things. She was a resilient woman who never gave up hope, someone who saw the glass as half-full. Always classy and refined, she was the epitome of a Southern Lady. There is no legacy greater than to achieve the love and respect of your family. I can only hope that the legacy I leave will be a fraction of the one that she bequeathed to the ones who loved her the most.
I can see my grandmother embracing her mother and her father. I can see her smiling and telling them about her life, about her children, her grandchildren, and her great grandson. “I told them all about you,” she says. I can almost see her embracing her husband, and giving her a crooked smile and a mischievous wink, he laughs and hugs her. “You have a grandson named Jack Carlisle,” she says. With his head slightly askew, he beams. “I know.” Finally, my grandmother, young and beautiful, sees her daughter. They smile at one another in an unspoken bond, and they grasp hands.
Again, I cannot even begin to summarize the impact that my grandmother made on the world. Those who knew her don’t have to be reminded of that impact.
In the last conversation I had with my grandmother, she told me something that I will never forget. “In my mind,” she said, “I’m still young.” With age, we do acquire wisdom, but we also develop a desire to impart that wisdom on the world. I’ve been described as having an ‘old soul,’ but in my heart, my grandmother will always have a ‘young soul.’
Virginia Patterson Carlisle 1918-2013
Virginia Patterson CarlisleAckerman, MS Virginia P. Carlisle, 94, went to be with the Lord on January 9, 2013. Funeral services will be held at Coleman Funeral Home in Ackerman, MS, on January 12, 2013, at 11:00 AM, with visitation preceding the service at 10:00 AM. Reverend Alex Coblentz will be officiating. Interment will follow the service at Enon Cemetery.
She was born on December 23, 1918, in French Camp, Mississippi, and was received into the Weir Presbyterian Church in August of 1927 by the late L.A. Beckman, Jr. Mrs. Carlisle lived in Ackerman but was a lifelong resident of Choctaw County. She was a member of French Camp Presbyterian Church.A beloved homemaker, Mrs. Carlisle was also a poet and an historian. Mrs. Carlisle privately published poetry books and a historical record of Choctaw County titled Ye Olde Scrapbook: A Portrait of Choctaw County before the World Changed. Mrs. Carlisle was a loving wife, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. She loved nature and was an avid gardener.
Mrs. Carlisle was preceded in death by her parents, William F. Patterson and Snowflake Bowie Patterson; her brother, Wallace Patterson, her husband, Jack B. Carlisle, and her daughter, Virginia Ann Carlisle. She is survived by her sister, Mary Lee Bowen of Jackson, MS, her daughter Jacquelyn (Steve) Evans of Blairsville, GA, her son William T. Carlisle (Vickki) of Ackerman, MS; her grandchildren, Scott (Edie) Evans, Kimberly (Craig) Coghlan, Jack Carlisle, and Leslie Evans; her great grandson, Will Evans, and nieces, nephews, and great nieces and nephews.
Pallbearers will be Scott Evans, Jack Carlisle, Craig Coghlan, Kenny Clark, Billy Prewitt, and Larry Littlejohn. Honorary pallbearers will be Dennis Dobbs, Donald Nunn, Lewis Ward, John Robert Cockrell, T.L. Bowie, and James Neal Henderson.
Though she will be deeply missed by all who knew her, Mrs. Carlisle’s family celebrates her homecoming with the Lord and the family who preceded her into the kingdom of heaven. Her enchanting smile, persistent determination, and loving nature will live on in the many memories her family holds dear.Memorials can be made to French Camp Presbyterian Church.

Secrets Tips from an Editor

If you have written a manuscript and had it professionally edited, then you know that editing is expensive. If you're hiring a good and reliable editor, then yes, you are going to have to pay for his/her services, and those services are not cheap. So what is it that you're paying for? Proofreading? Proofreading shouldn't be that expensive, right?
An editor's job is to prepare your manuscript for mainstream publication. What does that mean? That means that your editor is preparing your manuscript for the readers. If your reader is not hooked in the first chapter of your manuscript, then you are done for, and you're not going to sell books. If you can't sell books to readers, then you're definitely not going to sell your manuscript to a publishing company.
So specifically, what will editors change in your manuscript?
1. Passive Voice- Editors will try to eliminate almost ALL passive voice from your manuscript. You might think it sounds beautiful to write in passive voice, and you're right. In some cases, it does sound beautiful. However, readers want to be engaged in your plot. For that to happen, your text has to be written in active voice.
2. Conciseness- You have long, eloquent, gorgeous sentences. That's great, but if you've hired a professional editor, then your editor will shorten your sentences. In general, readers get lost in long sentences. They get bored. A good editor will alter your sentence so that it has the same meaning in a shorter package.
3. Eliminate Wordiness- Is this the same thing as conciseness? No. It's not. Your editor will try to take out as many words like 'that' and 'which' as possible. The point is to make every word count.
4. Eliminate Slang and cliches- A good editor will tell you that cliches are horrible. You might like the way they sound, but a good editor will cut them completely.
5. Alter Dialogue- A good editor will make your dialogue 'reader' friendly. What does that mean? It means that people do not say things like, "I do not understand the concept that you attempted to portray." A normal person would say something like, "I don't understand what you mean." An editor knows how to tailor your dialogue to make it more realistic, easier to read, and ultimately, please your readers.
These are five of the top issues that your editors will be looking for in your manuscript. A good editor knows what publishing companies want, and he/she will prepare your manuscript with that knowledge. Here's a good rule of thumb. ALL manuscripts need editing. Trust me on this. Every famous author you know has an editor. If you get a manuscript back and there is a change on every line of your manuscript, then don't freak out immediately. It does not mean that you are a terrible writer. Instead, it means that you have good editor.

A New Year, A New You

It's a New Year, Writers. Are you Renewed and Refreshed?
Here we are at the beginning of a new year. As writers, this is the time to renew our energies, refresh our drive, and create a plan for success. I have talked to so many writers who are frustrated with the publishing industry. 'You can't get a book published unless you're already famous.' 'I have only received rejection letters, if I receive a response at all.' 'I cannot find an agent. Why won't they respond to my queries?' 'Maybe I should just self-publish.' I sympathize with your complaints. I really do.
However, as a writer myself, I can tell you that if you have a good manuscript, then you CAN get published with a REAL publishing company. I work as an editor for a publishing company that published books by new authors. It CAN happen.
So with today' blog, I hope to give some encouragement to all the writers out there who have a dream and a kick-ass manuscript. You need a plan. First off, make sure that your manuscript is in order and ready to be published. If you haven't hired a professional editor, then do it. I know it costs money, but if you're serious about you're dream, then you've got to have a manuscript that is damn near perfect.
When you're sure that your manuscript is ready, then start writing and sending out queries. Come up with a specific plan. One of the easiest things to do is to send a query to a publishing company AND an agent each day, 5 days a week. That's 10 letters a week.
Secondly, don't get frustrated and quit sending out your letters. Keep sending them. Hell, send them until January of 2014 if you have to, but don't stop.
Persistence is the key to your success. Don't give up.
I know that there are hundreds of writers who don't know where to begin in this process. Keep in mind that I can and will help you. I can help you write a query letter for $20. In addition, in January and February, I'm going to offer a customized contact list for clients for $40. This will be a list of publishing companies who accept unsolicited manuscripts and agents that accept queries in your particular genre. If you don't know where to start, send me an email at owner@coghlanwriting.com and we will start the journey to getting you published.
If you've already got queries written and have a list of publishing companies to contact, then GET TO IT and DON'T GIVE UP.

Interview with Author Nikki Pannell

I am thrilled to present my interview with Nikki Pannell, author of The Cottage. This book is fantastic! I, like other fans, have been anxiously awaiting a sequel to the book. So, of course, I asked her about a sequel in the interview. Read the interview to see if we can expect a sequel in the near future. And if you haven't read The Cottage, then you should really pick it up today.
1. Tell us about your book. (For those who have not read it). – The Cottage is a ghost story that takes place in England. The main character, Kiley Thompson, is a typical high school senior dealing with the stress of preparing for graduation and falling in love for the first time with her best friend. Unlike most high school students, Kiley has a major problem… ghosts. When her family buys a cottage in England, she finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery. She will have to dig through bitter rivalries, love affairs and betrayals of the past to find the truth or she will be doomed to share the same fate as the ghosts who haunt her.
2. What inspires you to write? – Everything inspires me to write. I see a story in almost everything. I remember one time watching an ant climb up a pole. I remember thinking to myself… Wow, that pole must be an unbelievable sight to that ant… Then my mind immediately started thinking of a story in which the ant was on a mission to get to the top of the pole and the ant bed at the foot was full of his friends cheering him on. My mind will go off in a million different directions about the smallest little thing.
3. Describe your writing process. – I hate to break it to my English teachers, but I could never do the outline process. My mind doesn’t work that way. I usually will dream up a story or have a thought and I will write down the dream or jot down the thought. Then I just start writing. I can’t outline what I want the beginning, middle and end to be because I usually don’t know and I feel like that takes away from the creativity of writing as you go.
4. Your book has supernatural elements. Do you believe in ghosts? I definitely do. I believe in everything though. Maybe it isn’t so much a belief in ghosts than it is a desire for them to be real. I watch and read ghost stories and vampire stories etc and I can’t help thinking, man it would so cool if the world was really like that! But I do feel like I have had some experiences with ghosts so yes, I do believe.
5. What universal message would you like to leave for your audience, through your writing? To not always take life too seriously. To look around at a field of yellow flowers and imagine a magical kingdom with magical creatures. To always encourage your imagination. I think everyone should know that being imaginative and creative isn’t being silly or childish. It is a wonderful expression of yourself and the world around you.
6. Have you personally had any supernatural experiences? – I have had a couple run-ins with ghosts. I seriously believe I have a resident ghost at my house. Weird things happen, like lamps flickering and one time while standing in my bathroom mirror, I saw a woman walk behind me. When I turned around, she was gone.
7. If you could talk to a ‘ghost,’ who would you want to meet? – I have a few. I have actually thought about this question before. I would want to talk to King Henry VIII- Just to ask him if he thinks it was all worth it. I would like to talk to Ann Boleyn to let her set her story straight and I would want to talk to Queen Elizabeth 1 because she was just amazing. But probably if I had to pick one person, I would want to talk to my idol, Jane Austen. I would love to pick her brain!
8. What are your hobbies? – Well I wish I could list off a bunch for you but the truth is, now that I have a baby, I don’t have much time for anything other than work and him. I used to write all the time but now it is hard to find the time. But I do like to write stories and I collect skeleton keys. Anytime I can stop at an antique shop, I go on the hunt for them.
9. What advice do you have for new writers? My advice for new writers would be to write what they know and what they are interested in. For example, don’t write a vampire story just because vampires are hot right now. Also, and this is just my opinion, make sure you are up to date on the age group you are making your characters. So many people told me after reading The Cottage that they loved the dialogue between my characters. They would tell me that they didn’t get bored reading through the conversations. Well that is because I wrote the conversations the way people actually talk!
10. Your readers have been begging for another book. Is that something we can look forward to soon? – I have the sequel already written in my mind. The problem has been finding time in between my full time job as a Paralegal and my family. I am a first time mother. But it is definitely something I hope to do in the future.
The Cottage by Nikki Pannell is available ONLINE everywhere. It is also available for download on Nook and Kindle.
Click Here to pick up The Cottage at Amazon. You can also get The Cottage for your Kindle here.

My Shameless Plug To Change Your Vote

With one day until the election, you should know whom you are voting for tomorrow. Facebook and Twitter is on fire with political rants, arguments, and yes, even insults. I, personally, try to stay out of politics on social media other than encouraging people to vote. However, it’s worth a blog post to shamelessly throw in a plug for my candidate, my president.
I’m writing this blog for the undecided voter, if he/she even exists at this point in pre-election terms.
These are the bare-bone reasons why you should vote for PRESIDENT Obama.
  1. We need a change in healthcare. And NO, the president’s healthcare plan has NOT gone through, so if you are complaining about how much your insurance costs or how high your prescription medicines are, then you CANNOT blame that on the President.
  2. Obama wants to regulate health insurance companies and give them RULES. DAMN STRAIGHT we need that. Romney thinks giving rules to insurance companies equals a too-controlling government. What does that mean? No. We will not cover your child with Sickle Cell. No. We will not pay for that CAT scan because you didn’t send a notarized, certified letter to our 2,991st office on the third Monday of the month.
  3. You can still buy a new car in this country, and you can even get one hell of a deal on said car. That’s because our president practically saved the automobile industry
  4. A public option for health insurance is not socialism, you moron. You do NOT have to buy into the public option. You just HAVE to have health insurance. Just like you have to have car insurance. Why is this important? Well, if you don’t have health insurance now, you can go to the ER and get FREE treatment. That sucks for the hospitals. And even if you can be treated FREE at the ER without health insurance, you can’t afford any medical service BEFORE it gets so bad that you go to the ER. With the public option, poor people can get HEALTH care- not ER care, and hospitals can get paid for ALL treatments.
  5. FDR created Medicare. At that time, many people called it a ‘socialism’ plan. That socialist plan has saved millions upon millions of lives.
  6. Obama will NOT reduce your Medicare or Medicaid benefits. He has and will continue to investigate fraudulent Medicare and Medicaid benefits. His administration has fined facilities that are fraudulently charging. And by the way, those fines have ended FRAUD and saved millions of dollars. Yes, even Medical Establishments need rules. Again, that is not socialism. That’s common sense.
  7. Your taxes won’t go up with a public option Health Care Option. Duh, if millions of people pay ten bucks a month for a public-option health insurance, then we have millions of dollars to pay out when people need it.
  8. Obama is VERY educated. Education is important to him.
  9. Job growth has steadily grown. Of course, it has been slow. What did you expect?
  10. In his presidential term, our president made it possible for us to capture and kill Osama bin Laden. NO. He did not kill this terrorist himself. Our military carried out the mission, but our president gave the order to proceed. And by the way, the United States has been looking for this asshole for years, and low and behold, it was President Obama’s administration that found him. Now Obama’s administration cannot talk about or reveal INTEL secrets, but don’t you think his administration must have had some outstanding Intel to accomplish a feat that we’ve been attempting for over 10 years???
  11. Obama is not a Muslim. He is a Christian. Honestly, you shouldn’t be voting on candidate based on his religious standpoint, anyway. However, if you make your case against our president because you claim that he is a Muslim, then you’re an idiot. His father was a Muslim. After 10 years of age, President Obama never saw his father again. Our president’s mother exposed her son to Muslim and Christian values so that he could choose what he wanted to believe as an adult. He chose Christianity. Ask Jeremiah Wright. And Mr. Wright, by the way, said in his infamous sermon that ‘God damns America,’ not ‘goddamn America.’ He said this because he believed that our country was going in the wrong direction, spiritually. And just for extra measure, the Muslim faith is no more violent than the Christian faith. There are religious extremists in every religion. As a Christian, I sure as heck don’t anyone judging me for the actions of a zealot nutball. Nor do I want anyone to judge my religion based on the sometimes confusing and bloody passages of the Old Testament.
  12. Obama does NOT believe in abortion. He believes that abortion, morally, is wrong. He supports abortion in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger. He, however, chooses not to expose his moral values on our country, so he will leave the abortion issue to individual states. This is the same thing that Romney supposedly believes, or that’s the last thing he said he believes. He flip-flopped a few times, so I’m not exactly sure.
  13. Obama believes that marriage is SACRED. For that reason, he doesn’t believe in Gay Marriage. He, however, does not believe that gays are animals who should be treated like shit. That’s why he believes in civil unions. Whether you agree with it or not, if a man has lived, loved, and shared his life with another man for 40 years, then that man has a RIGHT to make medical decisions for his partner, file his taxes with his partner, and leave his partner money after death. You think being gay is wrong? So freaking what? Who are you to tell someone who to love or who to have sex with? Opinions differ, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to force moral standings on other people. Think about the Salem Witch Trials, people.
  14. If you were on unemployment this year, and you don’t vote for Obama, then you are out of your mind. Obama extended unemployment. Republicans didn’t want to extend it.
  15. Obama regulated the housing market. It’s better. You can now refinance your home pretty freaking easily. Also, millions of people got a homeowner tax credit because of, yes, Obama.
  16. If you don’t make 250,000 dollars a year, then you had better hope Obama wins. Yeah, Romney says he won’t increase taxes for the middle class, but he DOES say that he will cut tax deductions. DUH. That’s the same thing. Remember that home-owner tax credit I just mentioned? Romney wants to get rid of stuff like that and give the money to the rich boys so they can ‘put more money back in the economy.’
  17. If you were unaware, after 9/11 our country’s reputation was CRAPPY all over the world. Less people all around the world are holding up signs that say ‘WE HATE AMERICA.’ That’s a big deal.
I’m going to stop here. I could continue, but I think I covered the basics. However, the last, though certainly not the least important reason that you should vote for Obama is this:
  1. Michelle Obama is classy. She is beautiful and intelligent. She is an awesome mother. She believes in helping children be healthy, which will in turn help children to grow up into healthy adults. She is logical. She is caring. She is compassionate. She is a fine specimen of a woman. And women, we all know that the man may be the head of the household, but the woman is the neck that turns the head.

Teaching Writing

Today's post is dedicated to all the primary and secondary education teachers in our country. Teaching is such a difficult job, but it is also one of the most important professions in our country.
With that said, I've been doing some education consultation work recently, and the subject of teaching writing can be quite tricky. As an editor, I can immediately spot a writer who has the 'X factor.' Though writing is a learned skill, it is also a talent. I've covered this issue before on my blog.
However, can the 'X factor' be taught? In my opinion, no it cannot. As most writing teachers will tell you, the safest and most conservative way to teach writing is to employ the 5-paragraph essay method. In this method, teachers instruct students to employ a formula to write a thesis sentence. Then, each body paragraph starts with a topic sentence.
In this method, the formula is strict, which allows students to stick to the given topic and to avoid rambling. This is the tried and true way to write an essay.
Nevertheless,in writing testing, a typical 5-paragraph essay will receive an average(passing) score. Usually this type of essay will not, however, receive the highest score. The highest score is usually reserved for those essays that are creative, written well, and emanates the writer's voice.
The problem with these two separate scores lies in the fact that the structure of the essays vary greatly. A simple, 5-paragraph essay is very structured, but a creative essay may not follow any specific formula.
Not every student can write a creative essay, and that's okay. Teachers know which students have a 'knack' for writing. Teachers also know which students struggle with writing. It is necessary for teachers to individualize instruction based upon a student's skills and capabilities.
Sometimes I come across teachers who want all of their students to write creative, intricate essays, and unfortunately, this confuses students who struggle with writing. If a student does struggle with writing, then it's perfectly fine to teach that student how to write a formulaic essay. After all, an essay with purpose and structure is the basis of technical writing.
In summation, teachers should encourage students who have a talent for writing. Allow those students to use their creativity, let their voices shine through the essay, and break the conventional norms. On the other hand, teachers should also encourage students who struggle with writing. Present those students with the 5-paragraph essay, and allow them to write a structured, simple, essay that sticks to the topic. Once the student masters that formula, then the teacher can improve upon areas like support, voice, and elaboration.

Interview with Author Carrie Lynn Barker

Today, my blog is featuring a written interview with author Carrie Barker. I’m honored to say that I acted as Carrie’s editor for her most recent book, Exodus, which will be released on November 1, 2012. I am really excited to post this interview for many reasons.
First, Carrie is likeable. Although that may sound strange, it is true. Many writers tend to have an elitist attitude, portraying an air of knowing special knowledge of which the rest of the world is unaware. This does not describe Carrie. She is witty, fun, and approachable, not to mention the fact that she is very humble in the midst of having phenomenal talent.
Secondly, and probably most importantly, Carrie is a talented writer. To me, what makes her so special is that she takes supernatural characters and makes them believable. sometimes I  have a difficult time connecting with characters and plot lines in paranormal-type books. Carrie has a special talent for making her characters real and believable. Though they may have special ‘skills,’ they are much like you and me in the fact that they have dreams, fears, and even insecurities. Carrie has a  great talent for drawing in her readers in a way that we, as readers care about the characters as if they are old friends we’ve known for a long time.
And last, but certainly not least, I am happy to present this interview because Carrie’s 3book in her series will be released on November 1. Because I amCarrie’s editor, I have already read the book, and I’m so excited to hear the feedback from her readers, as the book is filled with turns, surprises, and lots of clean and not-so-clean fun. Of course, if you have not read the first two books in the series, then I recommend you start with those, first. When I get the opportunity to read a book that strikes me, I am haunted by the duty to tell others about the book. There are a lot of choices out there, and sometimes finding a gem can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. This is a gem, folks.
Okay, without any more rambling, here’s my interview with Carrie Barker:
1.      Can you tell us how you got started writing? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been writing since I learned how to spell. The first book I read when I was 5 was Black Beauty(which no one believes but it’s true). That’s when I knew what I wanted to be.After all these years, it’s just a part of who I am.
2.      What is your inspiration for writing?
I’m inspired by life,the universe and everything, including Douglas Adams, who inspired my first published novel, Fractious. Small things can trigger new and major ideas.People in general are pretty inspiring, too.
3.      You are a published author, and you are published by a real publishing company, not a self-published press, nor a POD or Vanity Press. For many hopeful authors,this seems like an unattainable goal. Can you describe how you were published?
Funny story… when I wrote Fractious – my first published novel - I wrote it as a joke and did so really quickly. From start to finish, Fractious took a month. I’d been sending out stuff repeatedly for years with no luck and had a good laugh at myself when I started submitting Fractious. I thought it would be the last thing anyone would want to publish because it was just so corny. But I made sure to do my homework and, as it happens, I specifically had picked a press because they happened to be looking specifically for comedy. They loved it and it fit their desired genre at the time. From page one to acceptance of publication took twomonths’ time and I hadn’t really believed anyone would pick Fractious up.
4.      What advice do you have for struggling writers?
Never quit, first off.Research the publisher, magazine, etc that you want to be publishing by or in.Cater to their wants and make sure you do everything to their specifications. I probably would still have Fractious sitting in a folder on my computer if Ihadn’t really hunted down a publisher looking for that exact type of novel. Having a Writer’s Market on hand can be helpful too. I still buy one of those every year.
5.      Some of your books are a series. I edited the last book in the series, so I’m a little biased when I say that your writing is phenomenal. However, can you give us an overview of your books for those who have read none of the books in the series?
Well, first thanks for calling my writing phenomenal! Makes me giddy when you say that. It’s really an honor to have my editor think so highly of my writing. The series, which should probably have a series title of some kind but I have never been able to think of one, follows government experiment Christiana Fletcher as she, at first,tries to live like a normal person. She soon realizes that nearly everything she does puts those she loves at risk. After a car accident that took her father from her, she finds herself ‘adopted’ by a group of other experiments in the California desert. But death follows her there and pretty soon, due to her own actions, her new home is destroyed and almost everyone she loves is gone once again. Held together only by the love of her significant other, Jonas, she decides it’s time to take on the government that made her, in particular one single man, Arturo Holt, her creator. But Holt is elusive, clever and tormenting and just when he’s in reach, something happens to send Chris nearly back to the beginning again. Revelations began the journey with the second in the series, Genesis taking Chris and friends up to San Francisco, where she again is foiled by her creator. Still, she adds to her little family of experiments along the way. Exodus is Chris’s final attempt at striking down her enemy but Holt sends someone after her that she could never have fathomed.Connection, the fourth volume, is slated for release next year. New surprises are in store for Chris and Jonas but will Chris finally be able to take down the man who made her? Find out in February.
6.      Your books have interesting characters with interesting skills. What drew you to the phenomenal aspect of the characters?
As the novels often mention, I like the X Files. I don’t care how dated it is now, but the show still holds merit. While the basis for these novels came long before the XFiles, that show really brought it home for me. I knew I had to finally writeChris’s story and quit goofing off. I wanted my characters to be believable and interesting. I wanted their powers to be unique to each one so I picked traits that interested me personally in hopes that those same traits would interest others, as well.
7.       In your series of books, Chris embodies the symbolism of Christ, though she hates the allegory. Do you have any religious affiliations? If so, how do those affiliations (or the absence of those affiliations) affect your portrayal of Chris?
Any religious affiliations were actually driven out of me when I was a child. I won’t say how or who did what, but I drift more towards the older religions, like paganism,and modern ones like Wicca. I’m not really a pagan or a Wiccan or anything like that but I like aspects of those religions, as I like aspects of Christianity,among others. Chris, being who she is and doing what she does, seemed to be a logical atheist. Her beliefs were her own and not really based on mine.
8.      Who is your favorite author? What is your favorite book?
My favorite author is Edna Ferber and her novels are perfection. Nobody seems to read her anymore but her characters embody their time periods and settings in a way no other author has been able to do. You live the lives with her characters and get such a sense of what is going on around them; it’s almost impossible to describe the feeling I get from reading her books. Of her novels, So Big is my favorite, but my favorite book of all time is The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas.My copy is literally held together by scotch tape. It is the ultimate perfect novel.
9.      Writers are artists, so many readers are always curious about how an ‘artist’ spends his/her free time. What are your hobbies?
What is free time? I’venever heard that phrase before. J I have very little free time. My job, while fantastic, is pretty much 24/7. I hate telling people what I do because that leads to 2 hour discussions that usually end with, ‘So, how do I apply because I want your job?!’ When I have that fabled ‘free time,’ I write as much as I can . I see a lot of movies and love spending time with my husband, my dogs, and our friends.
10.  Are you working on any future projects?
There’s always something floating around in my head besides dust motes. There might possibly be a moth in there too… Anyway, I never stop writing. Sometimes, while I’m at work, I have scenes playing in my head over and over again and they stay there until I write them out. I recently started trying out short stories again, one of which is featured in the October issue of FoliateOak. There are also a couple novel ideas I’m working on, too.
11.  How can we get your books?
Amazon.com is always a good place to go. Exodus will be released on November 1, through Eternal Press.You can also buy Christiana’s books at the publisher’s website
Then for a good,lighthearted laugh, there is always Fractious, from UncialPress.

Query: Traditional or Quirky?

Today'spost will deal with writing a query letter. I often am asked about the contentof a query letter. While some writers compose a serious, professional queryletter, others add quirky content that is witty, engaging, or even downrightsilly. Which is your best bet?
Well,the answer is a bit complicated, like everything else in our business. Thecontent that you should include in your query really depends on the acquisitioneditor or literary agent who will be reading the letter. Remember when you werein college and you had to figure out what your professors liked- theirparticular niches? When you figured out their idiosyncrasies, then writing yourpapers was a lot easier. The same is true for writing a query letter.
Let me say this. I know that both literary agents andacquisitions editors receive tons of query letters each day. To say thatreading these letters gets boring is an understatement. That’s why a littlequirkiness tends to be interesting. It tends to make your letter stand out fromthe rest. However, depending upon the person reading the letter, you might senda quirky letter to a straight-laced, tight-ass person who believes that anydeviation from ‘professional’ is irreverent and disrespectful.
As for me, personally, I love a quirky query letter. If youwrite me a letter that’s completely bizarre, I’m more inclined to be interestedin your manuscript. I, however, am a little quirky myself, and I doubt that Iam symbolic of most literary agents or acquisition editors.
So what is the solution? I hate to say this, but it’s bestif you can find out a little about the person to whom you’re sending the querybefore you actually send the letter. It’s a well-known fact that you shouldaddress the letter to the specific person who will be reading the letter. So inactuality, you should know who you’re writing the letter to, if you’re doing itthe correct way. I am not condoning stalking, but a little creativeinvestigation never hurts. In my humble opinion, social media was created forthis very reason.
Do a little research. Try to add the person to your networkon LinkedIn. If they have a Facebook or Twitter account, stalk their page. Notethat I said ‘stalk their page.’ Do NOT physically stalk a literary agent or an acquisitionagent. Actual stalking will only instigate an automatic trash toss and maybeeven a restraining order.
And yes, I know. This seems like a lot of work just to writea crappy query letter. It is a lot of work. That is true, but you should trustme when I say this: “Getting published ‘ain’t’ easy.”
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