Friday Reads: Benjamin Buchholz

Hi, friends–

When I come across provocative things to read, I like to pass them along.

In this case, I came across this article in HuffPo, by a man named Benjamin Buchholz, who served with the Wisconsin National Guard in Iraq. He’s got a book out called One Hundred and One Nights, told from the perspective of an Iraqi.

source: Paperback Swap

Here’s a quote from the piece Buchholz wrote for HuffPo:

The window of opportunity for me to make a difference in Safwan had passed while I was still learning to navigate the culture. This failure made me realize that our armed forces in general, and myself in particular, must develop greater cultural acuity and must be willing to commit to more than a single year of service in order to truly make a difference. As such, I resolved to obtain this sort of further preparation through the Army’s Foreign Affairs Officer (FAO) program.

Intrigued, I went to check out Buchholz’s blog, “Not Quite Right,” in which he chronicles his experiences with immersion in the Middle East. It’s a travelogue, history, analysis, and examination not only of the Middle East, but also of his own views and ruminations about where he fits in the world.

Happy reading!

Writing and self-awareness

Hi, folks–

Thought I’d chat a bit about writing. That is, the process of writing. The craft, and how we put words to paper.

Many writers will tell you that in order to improve your own writing you need to read. I’ve even said that several times. Writers will also tell aspiring writers (and even other writers) to study the greats, and to study the writers you really love.

Sure, do that. It’s important that you get a feel for what good writing feels like when you read it aloud or to yourself. Here’s the thing, though. When I say “study” the writers you really love, that means you have to have a grasp of what writing craft is all about, so you can put into words what it is you really like about that writer’s work. Is it POV? Characterization? How she ties her subplots up? Dialogue? Plot arc? Twists? The way she uses certain words to describe settings? How he introduces the bad guy? Pacing? What, specifically is it that you like about that writer?

Then, once you have a handle on that, you can translate what that writer does into your own work. That’s where self-awareness about the craft of writing comes in.

In other words, you need to develop a self-editor who tells you when something you’re doing is working or not. I can look at stuff I did back in the day and I know it sucks. There are some good things in the piles of writing poo that I threw onto paper, and I see some glimmers in those early works of things to come, but I’m not going to fool myself or you and say “it’s not that bad.” Because it was. Truly. I can take any of my early stuff and compare it to my later stuff and my later stuff is boocoo tons better. Why?

Because I got a better handle on writing craft. That is, I learned about grammar, narrative infrastructure, the definitions of various elements of a story, how they work together, and what to look for and do to make them better. When you do that, you are developing your self-editor. That’s the yardstick against which you measure not only your own writing, but how your writing stacks up against other writers’ (including your faves).

I practice these things all the time. I’m always looking for ways to write better, tighter, and to change styles in certain ways to reflect different genres.

So yes, analyze your faves. But analyze your own stuff, as well, and take some courses or workshops on the basics of writing craft, because that will help you develop your self-editor and thus give you a baseline against which to measure yourself and the work of others.

In the meantime, here is a SUPER COOL BLOG that will provide some great tips for doing what I’m talking about here, as well as other things writing:

The Other Side of the Story (Janice Hardy’s blog; H/T to writeadvice on Twitter for this link, which goes directly to a post that deals with my topic today)

Janice also gives you the rundown on craft with regard to novel-writing. Check it out.

Happy writing, happy reading!

Cool blogs for writers

Hi, folks–

Just some quickie links for those of you who are chained to the written word and constantly seek ways to make your own work better.

Write Anything
Multi-author blog that includes writing prompts and tips with regard to the craft of writing.

The blog of Toronto-based Debbie Ridpath Ohi, writer and illustrater. She posts writing tips and often includes her own comics; tips on using the Internet as a writer.

This one might interest readers, too. It’s a blog where writers post on where they got the inspiration for what they’ve written.

The Urban Muse
Freelance writer Susan Johnston with handy tips and musings on finding markets, and living a working writing life. She’ll help you navigate finding clients an being your own businesswoman.

Writers Write
This one might interest readers, too. News and info about writers, books, and publishing.

There you go. Some stuff to peruse (as if you didn’t have enough already!).

Happy writing, happy reading!

Awesomely cool writing tip

This comes from one of my fave bloggers and writer-guys, Chuck Wendig. He can be a little raunchy with the tips, but he’s always right on.

This week, Chuck enlightens us with 25 tips for writing dialogue, and I gotta tell you. I think dialogue can make or break a character, pacing, and a story. Here are some of MY thoughts on that.

What I really like about Chuck’s tips here is that he nails the importance of good dialogue and its role in plot. Here’s a taste:

3. Sweet Minimalism
Let’s get this out of the way: don’t hang a bunch of gaudy ornaments upon your dialogue. In fiction, use the dialogue tags “said” and “asked” 90% of the time. Edge cases you might use “hissed,” “called,” “stammered,” etc. These are strong spices; use minimally. Also, adverbs nuzzled up against dialogue tags are an affront to all things and make Baby Jesus pee out the side of his diaper, and when he does that, people die. In scripts, you don’t have this problem but you can still clog the pipes with crap if you overuse stage directions. Oh, heavy dialect and sland? Just more ornamentation that’ll break the back of your dialogue.

6. Shape Determines Speed
Short, sharp dialogue is a prison shiv: moves fast ’cause it’s gotta, because T-Bone only has three seconds in the lunch line with Johnny the Fish to stitch a shank all up in Johnny’s kidneys. Longer dialogue moves more slowly. Wanting to create tension? Fast, short dialogue. Want to create mystery? Longer, slightly more ponderous dialogue. Want to bog your audience in word treacle? Let one character take a lecturing info-dump all over their heads.

And there are 23 more, just waiting for you to peruse

Happy writing, happy reading!

Tips on writing stronger characters

Hi, all–

Usually on Sundays I provide some reading material or share with you a title of an article or book I’m reading. But since I am a writer, I also like to share tips for those of you who, for whatever reason, thought being a writer was a good idea. Welcome to my circus! I thought it was a good idea, too! LOL

Anyway, since we’re on this journey together, here are a couple of articles from Writer’s Digest that might help you create stronger, more nuanced characters. Plus, there’s another link to a blog that fellow writer Clifford Henderson did on it. And readers, if you ever read something and the writer makes it look easy, I hope you can appreciate the amount of work that went into that tract. Because it’s when everything’s working properly and smoothly that you know it’s the best kind of writing. Most writers work hard to achieve that — I don’t know if I have, yet, but dang it, I keep trying.

Want some more?

Continue reading

Are you self-published? Want to be?

The blog Buzz, Balls, & Hype has been doing a series on self-publishing titled “Tough Love: Things No One is Brave Enough to Tell Self-Published Authors.”

Here’s Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Quote, from Part 1:
Self or traditionally published, you need to produce the very best book that you can. That means being committed enough to rewrite your book three, four or twenty-five times. Even pros who have been at it for years and have dozens of books under their belts don’t have their first drafts published. So far it’s the same for self-published or traditionally published authors. But then the traditionally pubbed author turns his or her book over to professional editors.
If Lee Child, Sara Gruen, Laura Lippman and Jennifer Weiner all get edited, can self-published authors afford not to do the same thing?
Yes, an editor costs money. And yes, an editor might require you to do more rewrites. Yes, you might be tired of writing the book and not even want to work on it anymore.
But if your goal is to sell books, get readers, and build word of mouth – you absolutely need professional help.


There’s great advice and great nuts n’ bolts in this series. Check it out.

Happy writing, happy reading!

Cool blog alert

Hey, kids–

This is a site I use when I’m doing research or just feeling the need to check out criminalistics and forensic methodology. As some of you may or may not know, every other book (even-numbered) in my New Mexico series stars Chris Gutierrez, a detective in Albuquerque who works a lot of homicides. Now, I do have somewhat of a background in criminalistics and forensic anthropology through my graduate work and outside interest — I’ve taken courses outside my fields and workshops, as well and done a community police program — but when I need some help with research, I can go to this blog and probably find the answers I’m looking for or a way to get that answer. That is, if I can’t find any of my friends in the field to help me out in a pinch.

The Graveyard Shift

That’s veteran police investigator Lee Lofland’s blog. Here you’ll find tips on proper police procedure, crime scene investigation, proper technique and gear that law enforcement and emergency responders use. For example, the current entry is a guest blog by firefighter Joe Collins, who gives you a breakdown of new bunker gear (comparing it to older gear).

Here’s a taste of that, from Mr. Collins, a 12-year veteran firefighter/paramedic:

Modern bunker gear is constructed of space age materials—some of the same used in space suits. It must meet the requirement of not melting, igniting, dripping or separating when exposed to a heat of 500°F for five-minutes. Considering that in structure fires ceiling temperatures as much as 1000 F have been recorded, it doesn’t provide as much protection as you would think. Those temperatures are also why we do most of our work crawling along the floor.


There are photos, too.

So if you’re a writer of police procedural fiction, or just interested in how this stuff works, check out Lofland’s blog.

Happy reading, happy writing!

Vonnegut interviews people he never met

Okay, so I was totally just going to go on off to bed because the ol’ day job kicked my ass today, but I found this awesome bloglink from Brain Pickings and I just HAD to share.

Here’s Brain Picking’s link, BTW.

So I’ll pimp Brain Pickings while I’m at it–irreverent, esoteric, and just a lot of fun stuff over there, like this post: “Kurt Vonnegut’s Fictional Interviews with Luminaries.”

In 1997, iconic writer Kurt Vonnegut pitched an idea to New York public radio station WNYC: He would conduct fictional interview with dead cultural luminaries and ordinary people through controlled near-death experiences courtesy of real-life physician-assisted suicide proponent Dr. Jack Kevorkian, allowing the author to access heaven, converse with his subjects, and leave before it’s too late. The producers loved the idea and Vonnegut churned out a number of 90-second segments “interviewing” anyone from Jesus to Hitler to Isaac Asimov. The interviews — funny, poignant, illuminating, timeless, profoundly human — are collected in God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian, a fantastic anthology playing on the title of Vonnegut’s 1965 novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, some of the best cultural satire of the past century.

Brain Pickings gives you a link to “Letters of Note,” which tells you a bit more. Here. I’ll be totally pimping that site soon!

Anyway, enjoy!

Zombie-licious tidbit: housing!

Hi, kids! Happy Saturday! So my ever-alert sibling sent me the most awesome link yesterday. It’s the zombie-proof house. OMG.

Here is the link, from All That Is Interesting. (shout-out to ATII!)

And here are a couple of photos, to give you a sense of it all:

When it’s locked down:


Not very appealing, is it? I mean, in terms of zombie-proof-ness, that’s pretty decent. But wouldn’t you love to have a fab living space, too? Well, ta-da!


There’s also a drawbridge between building one and building two (building two houses a swimming pool).

I did a little research, and thanks to ATII, the designers of this “safe house” (probably not intended, necessarily, to fend off zombies but rather warfare or some such) are the firm KWK Promes. This house is located outside Warsaw, Poland. Here’s another link that gives you a ton of info about the house, along with more photos, thumbnail photos, and the plans of the house.

Seriously awes-matic, friends. The house is like a plant. It opens up in the morning and closes up at dusk. CRAZY! I couldn’t find a price for this pup, but at 6100 square feet with all those amenities and fortifications? I’m sure we’re talking serious moolah.

The only drawback to a place like this in a zombie apocalypse is if you don’t have access to food/supply lines. Because sure, the zombies will be gathered outside your giant concrete wall, but who cares? You can pick ’em off at your leisure, I guess (there’s a disgusting, macabre image for you) while your kids are frolicking in the yard or the spouse is taking a few laps in the pool. But again, if you don’t have access to supply lines and no way to get to ’em, the house proves to be a prison as well as a castle.

However, I find myself strangely drawn to this thing. Seriously decorative protection.

There you go! Happy surviving and happy weekend!