Category Archives: Newsletters

This is the weekly newsletters for the Noble Pen Writer’s Group.

The Noble Pen for Feb 22, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 22nd, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News/Editorial

Writing has the power to change minds.  But a new factor has entered.  Computational Propaganda is the use of massive collections of personal data (What did you click on today? What organizations do you get email from?) and vast computational power to deliver just the right message (maybe true, biased, or false) to each person to sway their opinion.

An essayist says “no matter what your political inclinations may be, if you value a healthy functioning democracy, then something needs to be done to get ahead of computational propaganda’s curve.”

We all need to take time to seek out a variety of opinions and sort through them to see what makes sense, and not just read what F*cebook offers us or the click-bait from other services.

Victories

Aime’s editorial was published in the Gazette.

Ciuin started editing a pastor’s book.  She made progress on Chessmaster.

Stacie S. is sending Brian Sanderson a thank you (and copy of her book) for his educational series.

Randy was asked to do a signing at a Decorah bookstore.

Education

Devlin Blake offers a list of ways to make your story boring.  If you aren’t writing a bedtime story to help readers fall asleep, then you need to make sure you aren’t doing those things.  Another article is aimed at bloggers, but can be applied to most writing.

Do your characters have an easy time of it?  That’s not very interesting to readers, who usually expect to see tension and conflict before the resolution.  Brian Klems suggests ways to Push Your Characters to Their Limits.  Here are some tools to spice up the tension with conflict.

If you’ve ever found yourself pushed to the limits of your tolerance… you find yourself doing some things that, from the outside, can be seen as quite insane. ~Brandon Lee

February 22
Randy
Ciuin
Aime

March 1
Riley 10-minute educational
Nick
Jeremiah
Riley

March 8
Randy
Stacie S.
Open slot

March 15
Open slots

March 22
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 15, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 15th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

The National Book Awards took a small step to becoming more international with the addition of a prize for books translated into English.

Victories

Aime submitted a column to the newspaper.

Education

How long should a story be?  How long is a piece of string? They should be long enough to do the job without a lot of excess.  Always review your story to see if it contains padding that does not move the story along.  However, a long manuscript may not be publishable by traditional publishers regardless of whether it is the right length for the story it tells.  If your writing is tight and still too long, you may have to modify the events of the story to fit a publishable range.

The Nebula Awards define lengths for short story, novelette, novella, and novel.  Other peoples’ definitions vary.  Other formats include drabble, usually defined as a story of around (sometimes exactly) 100 words, and flash fiction, which is variously defined as less than 300 or 1000 words.

The average book sold through Amazon in 2014 had 64,500 words.  Chuck Sambuchino offers a detailed guide that recommends 80-100 k words for most novels and memoirs, with sci-fi running slightly longer.  Westerns and books for younger readers tend to be shorter.  Here’s another guide , and a third, that mostly agree, and define lengths for other formats.  Wikipedia goes into the details of counting words, which you can digest for details after getting your story into the right length range for your market.  Whatever MS Word reports tends to be used nowadays unless someone has specific counting software.

One always tends to overpraise a long book, [just] because one has got through it. ~E. M. Forster

You know what writers say about their long books: If I had another year, the book would be half as long. ~David Remnick

Upcoming Schedule

February 15
10-minute educational – Stacie S.
Aime
Stacie S (submission carried over)
Ciuin

February 22
Randy
Ciuin
Stacie S.

March 1
Riley 10-minute educational
Nick
Jeremiah
Open slot

March 8
Randy
Open slots

March 15
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 8, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 8th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Cracked Walnut is a traveling literary group based in Minneapolis. They will be doing a prose and p**try reading in Cedar Rapids, 7 pm Saturday Feb 3 at Peoples Church, 4980 Gordon Ave NW (a block west of Jacolyn Park). See link for information.

–//–

Prolific author Ursula K. Le Guin died recently at age 88.  She first submitted to a science fiction magazine in 1940 at age 11 and got her first rejection .  She was published several years later and over a long career turned out over a hundred pieces: short stories, collections, poems, novels in several genres, and non-fiction books.  One of her non-fiction works was recently released.

Victories

Aime wrote two speeches and a draft of an editorial.

Ciuin finshed reading a book.

Education

Word repetition, or “echo word” is a too-common, although not major, flaw in most people’s first drafts.  A little attention to substitutions can quickly make improvements.  This article offers some examples of rephrasing.  Repetition can also be a useful tool  when done carefully.

A search will find many tools to point out repetition, for example this one.

Do not fall into the trap of simply choosing the next word in a thesaurus, because synonyms all have nuances of meaning and using a poor choice will convey the wrong meaning.

If you re-read your work, you can find on re-reading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by re-reading and editing. ~William Safire

Upcoming Schedule

February 8
Randy
Stacie S
Riley

February 15
10-minute educational – anyone?
Aime
Stacie S
Ciuin

February 22
Randy
Ciuin
Open slot

March 1
Riley 10-minute educational
Nick
Jeremiah
Open slot

March 8
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 1, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 1st, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

The authors planning to have a booth at the Cedar Rapids summer Farmers Markets will have a meeting Feb 1 at 6:30 at Scott’s Restaurant (just before the Noble Pen meeting) to discuss planning and fill out the application.

–//–

Cracked Walnut is a traveling literary group based in Minneapolis. They will be doing a prose and p**try reading in Cedar Rapids, 7 pm Saturday Feb 3 at Peoples Church, 4980 Gordon Ave NW (a block west of Jacolyn Park).  See link for information.

Victories

The Farmers Market group has 14 authors involved and are finalizing plans for displays.

Aime edited one third of Scourge.

Jeremiah finished reading a 700 page fantasy book.

Ciuin was recommended by someone she had helped in the past and another author now wants her to work with him.  If she takes the job, it would involve typing a handwritten manuscript and ghostwriting the middle of his novel.

Education

Participial phrases can be tricky to apply correctly.  The participle is a verb form (action word) which most often, but not always, ends in -ing.   Participial phrases are attached to a complete sentence to modify or supply additional information about the subject or object noun (person or thing) of the sentence.  Here a discussion of participial phrases.

For example, “Rowing the heavy boat, John soon tired.”  The participial phrase “Rowing the heavy boat” is not a sentence because there is no subject person to do the rowing.  “John soon tired” is a sentence, but needs the added phrase to explain why John, the subject of the sentence, became tired.

The phrase should be set off with commas from the sentence as above, or in “Pulling into the driveway, the noisy car alerted the occupants of the house.” The noun should always be the nearest one to the phrase that modifies it.  It would be incorrect to write “Pulling into the driveway, the occupants of the house heard the noisy car” because the phrase appears to modify the nearest noun, occupants, not the intended noun, car.

The present participle implies simultaneous actions.  “Walking into the building, John opened the heavy door” obviously violates the order of events, since he can’t walk in until after he has opened the door.  “Chugging her beer, she laughed in his face” can’t happen all at once; pick an order and rewrite accordingly.

Another way to supply additional information is a prepositional phrase.  Taken all together, the phrase acts as an adjective or adverb, but is not a sentence in itself.

A preposition is a relational word (from, in, on, under, behind, before, etc.) and the phrase includes a noun object (or other words operating in place of the noun) to complete the relationship.  For example, “The box sits under the table.”  The basic sentence “The box sits.” is technically complete, but not terribly informative.  The addition of the preposition “under” and its object “table” tell us a lot more.

Here is some further explanation and some examples of prepositional phrases.

Upcoming Schedule

February 1
Stacie S. 10-minute educational
Nick
Stacy H
Riley

February 8
Randy
Stacie S
Open slot

February 15
Aime
Stacie S
Open slot

February 22
Randy
Ciuin
Open slot

March 1
Nick
Jeremiah
Open slot

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Jan 25, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

January 25th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

You may be interested in an event about “Turning Inspiration into Story”, to be held 1-4 pm Saturday Jan 20th in Marion.  See link to register for free.

–//–

The first of this year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication by Mary Shelley of Frankenstein, a strong candidate for the title of First SciFi Book.  This essay takes it as a warning of what technology could do to us.

Victories

Randy now has six reviews on Amazon with an average of 4.5 stars.

Stacie is at 60k words and expects to finish at 80-90k.

Education

Many tools can help with the initial editing of your story by pointing out things a human might miss.  A quick on-line search finds many tool offerings, free or for sale.

MS Word includes a grammar checker.  As with any tool, it isn’t always right but will point out things to consider.

Grammarly is a browser or MS Office add-on that checks whatever you type.  It is context sensitive, which is an advantage over many other tools. Some of our members use the free (nagware) version and find it helpful.

ProWritingAid offers free registration for their on-line proofreading tool that checks many aspects of your writing. They also sell a variety of tools.   You paste a section of your text into the free version window, click submit and analyze, and it reports over-used words, sentences of monotonously same length or excessive length, cliches, repeated phrases, alliteration, and other things you may want to consider changing.  It also highlights dialog tags so you can see at a glance what you used.

It helped me a lot, but became tedious after I changed the major offenses.  My biggest complaint is that it reports too much.  I even tried a better writer’s material with the same result.  The highlighting of repeated common 2-word phrases, 2-word alliterations(like “to town” or “an apple”), etc. results in clutter that hides the things I want to find and change.  The homonym finder is a nice idea but appears to have no context sensitivity so you see ALL of them.

The author of Writer’s Diet book of advice offers a free on-line test of your writing.  While not as extensive as Pro Writing Aid, another view is often useful.

There are also on-line forums where you can post work for critique by others, gain experience in doing critiques, and discuss writing topics.  One is writingforums.org where you have to do some critiques during a waiting period before you can post your own work.  Critiques there can be harsh.  An issue with such forums is that postings may be “publication,” so it is best to only post small samples.

Does anyone have recommendations for other tools?

Upcoming Schedule

January 25
Jeremiah
Randy
Ciuin

February 1
Stacie S. 10-minute educational
Nick
Stacy H
Uriah

February 8
Randy
Stacie S
Riley

February 15
Aime
Stacie S
Open slot

February 22
Randy
Open slots

March 1
Nick
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Jan 18, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

January 18th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Should Noble Pen organize a booth for area writers at CR’s summer farmers’ markets?  The idea was discussed at our meeting.  If you want to get involved in organizing it, let us know.

–//–

The ability to produce meat without killing animals has been demonstrated, using laboratory-grown animal cells, with hope of commercializing it.  Might there be a story in that to be written about the social impact?

Star Trek has always shown concern for the social foundations of society (recall the early episode on white-black versus black-white?) and what makes us human (the Borg?), as well as suggesting technological ideas.  A new book explores how Treknology has influenced and may continue to influence us both technologically and socially.

Victories

Ciuin wrote on Chessmaster.

Education

The “blurb” testimonials usually seen on the back covers of books are a common marketing device, intended to convince the reader that this is a book worth reading.   The word blurb was coined in 1907. A search for the terms blurb request will find many articles about getting people to help you by writing them.

Noelle Sterne has some thoughts about gathering testimonials.  Here’s another view, saying the blurbs are a small factor in readers choices but still worthwhile.  Best-selling authors get too many requests to comply unless you have some  connection to them.  More advice on requesting a blurb.

Upcoming Schedule

January 18
Aime: 10-minute educational
Stacie S.
Aime
Ciuin

January 25
Jeremiah
Randy
Ciuin

February 1
Stacie S.  10-minute educational
Nick
Stacy H
Uriah

February 8
Randy
Stacie S
Riley

February 15
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Jan 11, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

January 11th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

We recently discussed having more educational material at meetings. Ciuin presented a short session on January 4th,  Aime  will do one on January 18 and Stacie in the future. Do we want longer educational times? Let us know your thoughts.

–//–

Authors of works set in “current time” face a challenge to keep from immediately appearing dated.  Brands change.  Technology changes.  Fashions change.  Your newsletter editor found his story was outdated upon completion in 2008 by having such things as pay phones (yes you could still find one then if you searched).  You don’t know what will change next year.  M. T. Anderson’s essay considers the problem.

It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future. ~Yogi Berra

Victories

A ten-minute educational session went well.

Nick finished a chapter.

Randy sold out of his book and has to order more copies.

Ciuin is close to finishing Chessmaster’s Pawn.

Stacy H is having Shannon edit her story.

Education

It is often said we must write what we know, although that is oversimplifying things.  But even when imagining situations and worlds, we start from our experiences.

Do you feel like your life is not bringing you interesting ideas for writing?  Elizabeth Sims suggests doing a few things out of your comfort zone to bring on new ideas and knowledge.  Just think it through and don’t risk more than you can stand to lose.

Whether you get risky or not, make the most of the ordinary experiences around you.  Watch people.  Notice settings.  Sims suggests eavesdropping.  That’s usually pretty low-risk.  But don’t just follow a conversation.  If you can be unobtrusive, notice the actions and expressions that go with that conversation.  Go beyond just watching.  Observe.  Describe the characters, their actions, and their tone of voice in your mind.  Some day those descriptions may appear in your novel.

You can observe a lot by watching. ~Yogi Berra

If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.  ~Jim Rohn

Upcoming Schedule

January 11
Ciuin
Randy
Stacie S.

January 18
Aime: 10-minute educational
Stacie S.
Aime
Ciuin

January 25
Jeremiah
Randy
Ciuin

February 1
Nick
Stacy H
Uriah

February 8
Randy
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Jan 4, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

January 4th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

At a recent meeting we discussed having more educational material at meetings. Ciuin will present a short session on January 4th, and Aime on January 18.  Do we want longer educational times?  Let us know your thoughts.

–//–

Some publishers are now employing “sensitivity readers” to make sure their books don’t offend anyone.  Some defend it, but it’s a trend that not everyone is happy about, even calling it “thought police.”  Does such scrutiny impede the examination and therefore understanding of differences in our cultures?   While it is a good idea to make sure you get cultural depictions right, some question whether you must remove anything offensive, when that is part of the true background.  Could To Kill a Mockingbird or Huckleberry Finn be published for the first time today?

Victories

Most of us survived Christmas, although a few aren’t finished with family gatherings and some people are still unaccounted for.

Ciuin made progress on Chessmaster and has only three chapters to write.

Education

J. A. Konrath has a been blogging with advice for writers and commentary on what’s happening in publishing for a dozen years.  It has been so popular he published the collection as a 1400-page e-book.

Upcoming Schedule

January 4
Ciuin: 10-minute educational
Nick
Stacy H.
Uriah

January 11
Ciuin
Randy
Laura

January 18
Aime: 10-minute educational
Stacie S.
Aime
Ciuin

January 25
Jeremiah
Randy
Open slot

February 1
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Dec 28, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

December 28th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

At the last meeting we discussed having more educational material at meetings.  Ciuin will present a short session on January 4th, and we held January 18 open for a possible longer educational time.  Let us know your thoughts.

–//–

Here’s an essay on why dystopia is popular with young people.

Ursula K. Le Guin is well known in science fiction and fantasy, but this article also discusses her broader range.

Victories

Ciuin wrote on Chessmaster.  She accepted the job of editing a minister’s daily inspirational message.

Aime read the second book in two weeks.  She got a royalty check for book sales that bought a very good dinner.

Stacie S. watched Terrible Writing Advice videos and was both entertained and educated by them.

Education

We have heard some recommendations for educational videos (Yes, YouTube has some of those, too).

Brandon Sanderson, early in his series, mentions the methods and benefits of writing groups. Some of his videos are rather slow, though.

Ellen Brock was recommended for some good YouTube tutorials.  Her early ones may belabor the obvious (according to one reviewer) but her later ones have more meat.

Trope Talk is another source, described as fast-paced, witty, and pop-culture based. (I wouldn’t know about the pop part.)

And of course, there is the above-mentioned sarcastic Terrible Writing Advice.  You should always try to do the opposite of this source.

Upcoming Schedule

December 28
Stacie S.
Randy
Jeremiah

January 4
Ciuin: 10-minute educational
Nick
Stacy H.
Uriah

January 11
Ciuin
Randy
Laura

January 18
Educational group discussion?
Open slots?

January 25
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Dec 21,2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

December 21st, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

As we approach the end of the year, “Best Books” lists appear.  Here are lists from the NY Times editors and from their critics.

Victories

We survived quite well with nine of us crowded into a corner table for the meeting, and the only casualty was a spilled container of bacon bits.

Randy figured out his genre is mystery, not detective.

Aime read a book in three days.

Ciuin’s beta reader who is a teacher passed her book around in the classes and will put it on the approved list for book reports.

Education

Author self-insertion (wikipedia) occurs when the author puts a lot of their own personality into their characters.  A little of this is natural and good; you write what you know.   The author’s habits, little quirks, favorite foods, drinks, movies, etc. will naturally appear in the characters.  They may put their nightmares into their stories, too.

It can be useful to not only use your good aspects, but to also remember things you aren’t proud of and give them to the characters, perhaps exaggerated.  You once came close to failing the breathalyzer so your character does fail it.  You once were so mad at a teacher you key-scratched his car so a character does it.

Carried to extreme, the character becomes an author surrogate, and can be problematic.  Some make their main character like they would want themselves to be and perhaps too perfect (I’ve been so accused).   This is sometimes known as a Mary Sue character (history link).  Nobody likes a character with no problems.

Some let their characters preach their beliefs to the extent it becomes a distraction from the story (James P. Hogan, I’m looking at you).  Or most of the characters can become too similar because they are all partly like the author.

Here’s a forum discussion of the pros, cons, and methods of putting part of yourself into the story.

Upcoming Schedule

December 21
Ciuin
Uriah
Aime

December 28
Stacie S.
Randy
Jeremiah

January 4
Nick
Stacy H.
Open slot

January 11
Open slots

January 18
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill