Why Do You Read?

Why do you read? For pleasure or for instruction?

I read for pleasure and instruction. Because I’m still writing, I read for instruction, books like John MacDonald’s The Deep Blue Good-By. I’m reading this because I’m writing another mystery and I haven’t read that many mysteries. I’m also reading for pleasure and it takes me to a place I’ve never been before.

Reading is important to me. It’s instructional to me as a writer. Without reading, how do I know how to write? Perhaps through watching TV? Never. Or reading books other than those I want to write? That is counter productive, at least for me.

Say a writer reads children’s stories, but the writer writes mysteries. A writer should read the type of story he/she wants to write. Although some writers don’t do this and yet they are successful writers. The reason they are successful writers is that whatever they read, the pattern of writing gets inside of them. And because reading is instructional, whether they know it or not. It may be instructional in an unconscious way, but it’s there, waiting for reader to write. Or not. Obviously, not all readers become writers or we would be inundated with writers and their books.

If I read a mystery, I learn how to write drama, suspense and sometimes humor. Or say the writer reads autobiographies and yet writes humor. Still the writer learns through reading autobiographies how to write successfully.

It’s like learning to read. Did you read cereal boxes? I bet you did. You want to learn things, you want to learn how to read and write. Eventually, reading becomes unconscious. You just sit down and read, forgetting that once you didn’t know how to.

When I teach creative writing I always bring a story to dissect. How does the writer achieve the effect he/she wants? By dissecting the story my students learn how the writer does this. Not that my students go home and write a good story. It takes practice to learn to how to write well.

For the reader, the story may keep the reader in suspense or the reader may laugh (or smile) at the humor in the story or the reader may sit back and think about the story. If the reader finishes the story and wants another: this is evidence of good writing.

Now that we’ve discussed reading, I’d like to know why YOU read? For pleasure? To be carried to a world you never thought about? To see the future? To entertain your child? Or for instruction for yourself?

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Sue Powers’ fictions have appeared in numerous publications. Some were published by Saturday Evening Post, New Millenniums Writings and Blue Earth Review and many others. She was a recipient of a fellowship and grant from the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her mystery, She’s Not There, will be published soon. She’s now writing another mystery.

What It’s Like to be a Writer

There are many kind of writers. Novelists, mystery writers, autobiography writers, just to name a few. I’m a short story writer who has written a mystery and is writing another one. In case you didn’t know, it’s highly unusual for a short story writer to write a mystery.

I once had a friend who said I was lucky to be a writer. Well let me tell you if you enjoy solitude then you will be happy as a writer. It’s just you and your imagination sitting in front of the computer, trying to write. Words don’t always flow. When that happens, I pick up a book and read. Reading for me is inspiration. And of course I read a book that’s similar to what I’m writing.

When I’m writing I’m in the zone. The zone is like none other. You forget to drink, you forget to eat, you forget everything but the document in front of you.

I once wrote a screenplay. Difficult when you are not accustomed to writing a screenplay. It requires a certain format. I spent hours trying to format the screenplay, not hours writing it. Seems to me that I was spending more time formatting than writing. So I gave it up.

Now that I’m writing another mystery, I’m reading mysteries. I’ve read Lee Child and now I’m reading Sue Grafton. Sue Grafton is kind of funny, making her books enjoyable.

As I said, no matter what you write, you need to read that kind of book. I’ve taught creative writing and the people in my class never read the kinds of book that they liked to read. It was frustrating, but it turned out a few of the people in my classes actually had writing talent.

I don’t intend to teach anymore. It infers with my writing. And I plan to someday be a full-time writer.
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Sue Powers is an accomplished writer. She has written a mystery, She’s Not There, that will published soon and is writing another mystery.

How to Write a Scene

First, start in the middle of the story. Then use conversation that moves the story forward. Also, provide details the mean something in the story and move the story forward. Or provide details about a character, or in this case, about the J’s house and their children.

It’s good to keep the narrative limited and to provide details about characters, such as I did with J’s son and daughter in my story We’re Not Them.

Here’s an example from that story:

The J’s curly-headed son began to plead, clasping his grubby hands together as if praying; their twelve-year-old daughter, glued to her phone, barely looked up, ensuring her heavily mascaraed eyes did not betray her.

“You guys go, we’re frankly beat,” said Jill and drew a hand through her short blond bob. She looked tired, deep circles under her large hazel eyes.

John nodded. He looked refreshed, his thick hair still arranged just so, his dark, hooded eyes bright and clear.

Elizabeth watched as he sat back and lit a cigar. “Disappointing,” Elizabeth said as the son slogged away unhappily to his room. She imagined his room was as messy as the J’s house, cluttered with papers, shoes, books, computers and cords.
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Sue Powers is now teaching How to Write a Short Story via email. Two of her students have health issues, one dropped out and fourth came to the last class. One of the her students who has health issues is now in the hospital. She says she’ll keep me posted when she’ll come out, and Sue hope she does.

William Faulkner Fiction Contest or Not

Just recently, my story Eleven Jewish Korean Vets, was published by Saturday Evening Post. Then tonight, I got a call from the William Faulkner Contest judge. She told me I won 2nd prize in the contest, which would have paid a huge amount more than the Saturday Evening Post provided ($25.00). But as my daughter Carrie has said, (I’m paraphrasing) two publications thought my story was worth publishing.

I was quite surprised to get this call. I started pacing which is what I do when I’m trying to think, then I sent out emails to some friends and family and posted it on Facebook. But then I remembered. Once you write a story and send it out, you never know who will take it and who will not. So I can only blame myself for signing the Post contract that says I can’t re-submit for the next six months. Not that the Wm. Faulkner would have been published six months from now. Still, if it’s such a good story that two publications wanted it, I could have found a small press magazine that takes reprints and sent it out. Oh well……

Tomorrow I meet a friend and then next day after that I meet another friend. In between I write and work.

Bottom line, today’s call is now in the past. I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I’ll be updating a story I recently wrote. Fingers crossed I can send it out once it’s updated.
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Sue Powers has 21 fictions published. She’s still working on her book of linked stories, A Surprising Measure of Subliminal Sadness. You can find her teaching Writing the Short Story at John Hershey high school on Wednesday nights, room 119, from 7 to 9 p.m.

Saturday Evening Post Results

Having an active imagination, I expected a great deal more then I received. I expected a publisher or an agent to contact me. And of course that never happened.

But before I discuss what didn’t happen, there were some good things. So far (I can’t speak for the future), Janet Krole, Richard Shandross and Bob McGowan Jr. commented. Mr. McGowan also went into some detail on why he liked it. Also many people emailed me and told me they loved it, liked it, enjoyed it, etc.

As for my writing group, they said didn’t know that Saturday Evening Post was still around. Or to be more exact, another writer smiled at me and another congratulated me prior to the meeting.

Now for the things that didn’t happen. They asked for a photo and a bio, which they didn’t use. Also they paid me $25.00. For a such a prominent magazine, one would think the payment should have been a lot more. (Usually small press magazines pay nothing. It’s supposed to be an honor to be published by a small press magazine, which is supposed to be one’s ‘payment.’)

I spent many hours and quite a bit of energy writing and rewriting until Eleven Jewish Korean Vets (http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/) was finalized. Now, divide $25.00 by say 60 hours of writing, I just earned .42 cents!

This story went through several drafts before the final draft. My poor writing group spent countless hours reading and critiquing each draft. Then I had it proof-read. I also spent many hours submitting to various publishers, only to get rejections. Finally the Saturday Evening Post accepted this particular story.

But the biggest news is the editor of the Saturday Evening Post has requested another story. Though I doubt much will happen even if I submit and they accept another story.

So…. should I submit to them again and make another .42 cents?
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Sue Powers is a writer and teacher. She gave up learning how to play the guitar to concentrate on her book of linked stories, A Surprising Measure of Subliminal Sadness.

She’s teaching Writing the Short Story at John Hershey High School, 7-9 p.m., in room 119. You can also follow her blog sj-powers.com and on Facebook: s-j power stories.

How to be a Writer

 

What do you need to be a writer?

No matter what kind writing you want to do, you must read the kind of writing you plan to write. This is the maxim of every writer I know.

You also need an imagination. Now where does your imagination live? I imagine it comes from somewhere inside of you. The gut? The unconscious? Your heart? Your brain? It’s really difficult to say but I do know how to access it.

First you put away your editor. Your editor will always get in your way. Second, put a pen in your hand and piece of paper in front of you. Then start writing. Don’t think, don’t stop, let your imagination run wild. It doesn’t matter if what you write stinks. It’s the accessing of your imagination that counts. If you happen to write something good, go to your computer and enter the text you’ve written then keep on writing. You can edit later. The point is, get it down and keep on writing.

Next is craft. I know many don’t want to take the time or effort it takes to improve their craft. But if you want to be a successful writer, you must improve your craft. One way to do this is to join a writing group. You also must continue to read. Reading provides inspiration and education.

It provides education through the way the writer writes. There are also many books out there that are instructional. One of the books I’d recommend is 1,001 Tips for Writers by William A. Gordon.

If you have to mimic this author’s prose, go ahead. But don’t leave it there. Try to write your own way. A successful writer has his or hers unique style. Mimicking other writers is only a way to begin to craft your own style. This might take weeks or even years, so a writer needs tenacity.

Doesn’t matter what you write, you need to access your brain, your imagination and create your own style. You also need to dig deep inside of you and pull out memories, secrets and things you don’t want to remember.

So start accessing your memories and your imagination, beginning now….

Sue Powers has a dazzling array of publishing credits. Among her favorites are New Millennium Writings, StoryQuarterly, Another Chicago Magazine, Happy, Facets, The Writer’s Place and Samizdada. She’s won some writing awards and been nominated for others. She now has 15 published stories.

It’s the Bomb (worth reposting)

I’m clearly an addict. First it was reading, then cigarettes, then alcohol, then cars, then men, then writing, then fast cars, then fast men, then women, then fast women, then more reading, writing…. Ok, I embellish some. Ok, maybe a lot. Sorry. It’s the fiction writer in me. But I have always been a reader and a writer, in love with words.

Now my addictions have reached new heights: to the FB word game, Lexulous. Which like my other addictions, got me the first time out, now totaling more than 2200 games. I can’t seem to turn away from it, though why I would want to is beyond me.

See, this word game has got a UK dictionary, which is the bomb. Ever hear of Ch? Qi? Qa? Ky? All perfectly wonderful UK words! Which is a big deal to me, because when I was addicted to board games, I was always swearing something like these were words, and the U.S. dictionary was always disagreeing. Now that I’m playing a word game with a UK dictionary, well what can I say but oh joy!

Of course Lex isn’t perfect. First, you can only play this game with your FB friends, so if you don’t join the ‘club,’ you can’t play. Which is very junior high, a place I don’t care to go back to. Second, it’s quite temperamental and changeable (for the simple sake of change, no less), and when it’s totally out of sorts, might be unavailable for the entire day!

But I’ll say this, unlike some of my other addictions, it’s not harmful to me or to others (unless I’m playing Lex while driving – not!), nor is it selfish or jealous. If I want to play a little Wordscraper, Lex or Words with Friends, for instance, it doesn’t get angry and shut down. Plus I have friends who like Lex as much, or nearly as much, as I do. Which makes life a little easier than if they scorned it, ya know?

Plus it’s free. No upkeep. No ashes. No cleaning up after. No arguments. No woozy head. No rejections, proofreading, or revisions— just pure word play!

Best of all, Lex has tiles the cats can’t walk across or place their little butts on. Ah, heaven!

So…game on!

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We can be FB friends if you want to play Lex with me. You can also find me at https://www.facebook.com/sjpstories. (Yes, the shameless promoting begins – ugh!)

Your Writing Mind: An exercise

 

Do you need inspiration to write? Here are some ideas.

Write a short story, poem, a blog or novel using these:

  • A person who will do whatever it takes;
  • An eavesdropper;
  • A snob;
  • A person who will do what it takes;
  • The first day of school;
  • The third day without sleep

Here’s another idea. To get to the point where you’re writing without your editorial mind, lay some paper in front of you with a pen or pencil. Don’t open your computer. You’ll want to just write with one of your hands.

Then put your left hand behind your back. The left hand (or right hand if you are a lefty) is your editor for this exercise. You don’t want you editor to rise while your writing. You just want to keep writing without lifting your pen or pencil, even if the result isn’t anything you’d want to share.

Look around you for a moment. Then start writing.

This exercise opens your writing mind. And what you write may not come to anything, but at least you’re writing. Do this daily and eventually something will click and before you know it, you’ve gotten a poem, short story, etc.

If any of these ideas work for you, let me know.

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Sue Powers has had many stories published in zines and magazines. She is also a recipient of a fellowship prize from the Illinois Arts Council in Prose and two of her stories were nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Going for the Jugular

I once had a writing student tell me she wrote for ½ hour straight and when she was done, her writing scared the hell out of her!

Writing can be scary. It can be painful. It can be a lot of things, and good writing can be all of these things. I think because writing is about letting go and going for the jugular – a thing that fiction writers do over and over again, revealing their secret, unfinished business.

Which brings me to wonder? Have you ever written about something you never told anyone before? You know – where you wrote straight through, not stopping to edit, just letting go and going for the jugular?

Try it, and see if you get scared!

Practice, practice!

Red reading small 2

After many drafts, I can finally say I’ve written a mystery book and it’s done. Done, but I dumped it. Hang in with me. I’ll tell you why.

I’ve been a short story writer since the day I could write. Then I suddenly found I had the time to try something longer. Having always wanted to write a mystery, I decided why not write one? I’ve the got time, I’ve got writing skills, what could wrong?

Well just about everything. The first draft was terrible. I forgot to follow the rules of a mystery where one clue leads to another. But the narrator had a voice that some in my writing group actually liked. Good omen, I thought.

So for the following next drafts, I concentrated on the rules of mystery writing, but the narrator’s voice got lost. It was dull, flat, uninteresting. Even I thought so.

Despite my best efforts, the following draft did not improve all that much. I began to feel mystery writing was simply not my genre.

So during a break from it to gain some perspective, I decided not to let my writing group read the final draft. I mean, really: How many times could I ask them to read the same thing over again? I wished to remain in the group, not bore them to death. But they said they were invested in it. So I had to give in and let them read my last draft.

The feedback was this: Neither the characters nor the plot were interesting enough to keep readers reading! Needless to say, they were right. That clinched it. Into the garbage it went. (Not really – I just set it aside.)

So I bought a book on how to write a mystery. Read it cover to cover. And now that I’ve gotten the hang of it and know my characters better, I’m thinking I may start writing a new mystery.

And that’s where I’m at now. It really does take practice to perfect one’s craft if you want to write something worthwhile. So I’m plugging along. Learning the mystery writing craft, i.e. perfecting my plot, my pacing, my characters.

Wish me luck. I get the feeling I’m going to need it.

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S.J. Powers (aka Sue Powers) has a dazzling array of publishing credits and she’s also won a few awards, such an Illinois Arts Council fellowship in Prose.. Despite some very nice rejections, she is still searching for a publisher for her collection of stories, A Surprising Measure of Subliminal Sadness. 

She lives in a Chicago suburb with her partner, two cats, one bird and a snake (the snake is on loan) and can be reached at firegut@sbcglobal.net.