Monday, March 31, 2008

Writers: Submissions wanted for Leisure Arts' Christmas Traditions volume

Call for submissions: New writers, here's an idea for you from Deb Moore of Leisure Arts, a publisher of how-to and instructional books.

Novice writers looking for your first publication credit? Moore says she's an editor who remembers how intimidating the whole process can seem in the beginning. Please note: working writers who depend on the shekels they make with each word, this won't work for you except on a sentimental basis. Projects like this can sap away valuable time from those who make a living writing.

Here's the call:

"Leisure Arts, one of the world’s largest publishers and distributors of lifestyle and instructional materials, is accepting submissions for the Second Edition of our newest annual holiday publication, Christmas Traditions. Christmas Traditions was created because we at Leisure Arts know that the personal customs of Christmas are what bring the holiday—and our loved ones—nearer to us each year. Bearing this in mind, we took extra care to ensure that every page of the first edition of this beautiful book featured meaningful ways to enrich the holiday experience.

We would like to include your uniquely personal story in the second edition. Describe for us how you create gifts destined to become treasured keepsakes or make decorations to evoke tender memories. Share with us the recipe your family looks forward to every year and tell us the story behind it. Describe the holiday traditions your family observes every year—whether the traditions are new or have been passed down from generation to generation. Tell us the story of your favorite family tradition.

Submissions should be 120-200 words, written in first person, be original and true. We happily accept multiple submissions. If your submission is chosen for inclusion in the book, you will be contacted; however, Leisure Arts cannot acknowledge receipt of individual submissions or report upon each submission's status. Submissions accepted via email only. If we use your submission, you'll receive publication credit and one free copy of the book. No monetary compensation will be made.

By submitting, you certify that you are the creator of the material and that it does not infringe upon any third party's trademark or copyright. You retain ownership and copyright of your contribution, but your submission grants Leisure Arts unencumbered, non-exclusive, perpetual license to reuse the work, in whole or in part, in any of its publications, Web sites, or archives. Leisure Arts reserves the right to make grammatical and editorial corrections, or to edit the work for length or stylistic requirements according to the judgment of the editorial staff. Send submissions to:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Stylebook in Your Head

As writers and editors, we are familiar with using stylebooks. AP Style Guide and Libel Manual, Chicago Manual of Style -- even the University of Minnesota has a stylebook.

It's my observation that the experienced writer and editor has a stylebook in her head. The J. Louise Larson Stylebook kicks in when I write, when I edit. The thing is, it is the sum of the work of a number of writers and editors:

David taught me to write for the ear. Jack rewarded me for finding interesting stuff and strong hooks. Bob told me it was okay to be unique. Paul taught me how to write a headline, how to edit for interest. Ray encouraged me to see the story in everyone. Neal let the creative in my flourish. Jackie G. demonstrated fabulous diplomacy. Char helped me be a stickler for detail.

The list goes on. Too short, too long, too flowery, too many dashes -- I love that one -- and so on. Don't do this. Do that MORE. Most of them let me be myself -- while fixing what needed fixed.

Occasionally, we have to write a certain way to please a certain editor or fit a certain publication -- but our own inner editor tells us that doesn't need to make it into our inner stylebook.

I stand on the shoulders of giants. We all do, to some extent.

The MasterCard commercial asks "What's in your wallet?"

I ask "Who's a contributing editor in your stylebook?"

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What's your writing process?

Recently, a fellow writer experienced a minor case of writer's block asked some other writers about their non-fiction writing process.

This is something I have honed to a fine art (for me!) and I'm happy to share mine with other writers.

I have a friend who frequently struggles with writer's block. She was taught that her story starts with a strong lead -- and all writing flows from that. I couldn't disagree more!

I never do the lead first. I don't know what it will be until I've gotten the research analyzed, which happens as I go through my notes.

First, I type in my byline! No idea why, habit, but it reassures me each time. Perhaps I feel like I'm planting my flag -- staking out the territory -- declaring my intention to do a story that lives up to my own standards.

Or maybe it's just a habit.

Then, I take all my research and I get it "in shape." I type it in, weeding out stuff that's not germane; as I type it in (or retype), I make sure each chunk is print-ready. In paragraphs, no typos, quotes attributed. In fact, if I'm doing whole interviews (if the article has more than one interviewed, especially) I do it like this:

"First, I take all my research and I get it in shape," Schmoe said.
"I type it in, weeding out stuff that's not germane; as I type it in (or retype), I make sure each chunk is print-ready. In paragraphs, no typos, quotes attributed," Schmoe said.
"In fact, if I'm doing whole interviews (if the article has more than one interviewed, especially) I do it like this," Schmoe said.

Once I have the notes typed in, I save a new copy. This way, I don't accidentally eliminate something from a previous incarnation of the story. I put all the copies in the same folder, and label them in order, usually with an abbreviation of the client publication name, the main subject name, and the number of the copy, like this: TIME Schmoe 3.

Sometimes to differentiate speakers in one document, I will highlight the copy from different sources at this stage. Later, the extra names and highlighting comes off.

After this, I cut and paste the research -- facts and quotes etc. and group related research together in clumps. The shortcuts for this in Word are Control+X for cut, Control+C for copy, Control+V for paste. Again, I save a copy and work from that.

Then, I order the clumps -- first, next, last, etc. -- via cut and paste.

By this time, I have a stronger idea of the precise lead, and I develop that.

Then I go through all of it, smooth the transitions, look for stuff that needs weeded out, holes.
If I have questions that need answered, I write them at the top, above my byline, a reminder to do them.

Throughout the process, I frequently read things aloud. This helps catch things that LOOK okay but aren't.

I double-check my own facts and names, making sure I have titles and companies correct. If numbers are iffy, I make sure they're accurate.

This is how I get to a polished story that's ready to print. Or to be edited.

I'd love feedback about YOUR writing process.

To see how other writers write, check out this forum on

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Harlequin Romance has me written all over it (literally)

Recently, I got the book I'd been waiting for in the mail from It represents perhaps the oddest thing I've ever written: the back cover blurb for a Harlequin Intrigue romance.

I'd practically forgotten about it, until I was going through emails and found my anxious notes to my editor at Harlequin.

You ask what inspired a "serious" journalist who's contributed to business magazines and major newspapers to write a romance blurb? I saw an ad that they were looking for people to contribute blurbs. And that it paid, of course.

I had to write a sample blurb when I was trying out for the gig. I didn't necessarily need the sample books they sent me, as I had bought an entire boxful at a garage sale years earlier, determined that I could write at least as well as the people in the box.

But it turns out -- there's an art to it. They give you a sheet with a list of things to emphasize -- or not. That sort of thing.

So let me tantalize you with the "back cover blurb" I wrote for Six Gun Investigation by Mallory Kane. (see Mallory's website, or check out her blogs at

Zane McKinney had come home to Justice, Texas, to solve a murder -NOT to fall in love. Investigative reporter Anna Wallace had arrived in Justice to find her long-lost sister murdered ... and herself a prime suspect. Thanks to Texas Ranger Zane McKinney, though, her name was quickly cleared. But then long-buried secrets began to unravel and Anna's own life was threatened.Now, don't miss the suspense as carried out in the ellipsis -- I think that's what dot-dot-dot means, in addition to being part of the signal for SOS, which for some reason makes sense here. Zane had a personal stake in discovering the murderer's real identity. Torn between honor and guilty shame, he was immediately drawn to the woman targeted as the next murder victim. A woman who could hold the key to the truth if she'd let down her guard before she took the answers to her grave ... I'm particularly fond of the "torn between honor and guilty shame" part. Very poetic. That was my idea.

Did It Work?

Okay, so now you want to buy the book, right? My job is done here. No? Okay, open the book and read on and see if that don't melt your butter ... This tidbit from the inside -- is not the tidbit I picked out, but more salacious, perhaps. I thought the idea was to pick out the most literary prose. You be the judge. "How am I supposed to conduct my investigation when I have to spend all my time worrying about you?" His face was mere inches from hers, his blue eyes smoky and intense. "You don't-" she started, but her voice was swallowed up by the pounding of her heart. "You don't have to worry about me." He touched her bruised neck with a surprisingly gentle fingertip. My observation at this point is -- Ouch. Step away from the bruised neck -- ouch. Quit that."Look at this. Of course I have to worry. If something happened to you, I'd-" see the artistry of the half-finished sentences -- just like in the soap operas, where people stop talking so as to leave things unsaid and create more misunderstandings. It helps make the story three times as long. Try this with your husband or the clerk at Wal-Mart. It's fun.

Anna raised her head, meeting his gaze. His eyes lingered on her lips as his fingers slid around the back of her neck. She melted inside, overwhelmed by his gentle touch, his quiet, caring words, the naked yearning in his eyes. More naked yearning -- please, not tonight. I have a bruised neck. Reality tried to break the spell his tenderness had cast. Not him, her brain scolded. Not Texas Ranger Zane McKinney. She had every reason to hate him and no reason at all to trust him. She pulled away from his hypnotic touch. "I'd better get back to my room." You think?? "You're not going anywhere. I can't trust you out of my sight, so you're sleeping here." Oh, right, it's the old "it's safer if you sleep at my place" line, the relational equivalent of oceanfront property in Arizona. Whew. Talk about a cliffhanger! Wonder what will happen next ...

I will also tell you that even though the guy in the book acts like no man you or I have ever met, and if a woman were to meet one who was that intuitive and sweet and sincere, that might take all the fun out of it, the heroine overlooked all when he launched his hours-long line of moves that left her in "a boneless heap" on his chest. Oh dear. Now, what was that age-old debate between wordsmiths? Oh yes -- now, if she were a chicken, would she be "boned" or "deboned"?

And Zane, also known as the hunk on the cover, looks like no North Texas man I've seen. For what it's (Fort) Worth. Maybe Kevin Costner meets Dennis Quaid in a young Schwarzenegger's bod?Anyway, I will include a link to this wonderful book-- okay, so it's not War and Peace or even The Devil Wears Prada (which were both overrated if you ask me) -- in case you have an overwhelming -- perhaps even a naked -- desire to read it. My son pronounced it full of smut, in the way that only a 15-year-old can, so take that under advisement. The book is hardly a bodice-ripper, I should say. And of course, I didn't tell him that that's the very thing some folks enjoy in a little escapist reading in Romanceland ... (notice the ellipse.)

Perhaps the oddest thing is that in the process of reading the book I found a major continuity gaffe and sent dire warnings of this rip in the very fabric of the book -- and they either ignored my warnings or had already printed the inside of the book, because it got left in! Ha! See if you can spot the slip when you read it. Hint: it has to do with the secret the corpse holds that no one knows yet -- and the minister spilling it at the funeral. Before no one knows. And no one notices.

Get your own copy of Harlequin Intrigue's Six-Gun Investigation here: to know what Six-Gun Investigation author Mallory Kane thinks of this blog? Read her response here:'s some advice from eZine's Mayra Calvani on writing book blurbs for your own or someone else's masterpiece: check out Agent Kristin's amusing and informative take on book blurbs at Pub Rants: J. Louise Larson