A great tool for research, inspiration and hours of fun

Cover of Roswell Daily Record from 1947

Sadly, I wasn’t able to lift images from Google News Archives. Here’s a pic of the original 1947 report of the Roswell Flying Saucer.

I recently received an email from nanowrimo nudging me to start preparing for this year’s novel. I have had my idea since April and decided to start doing some research. After coming up with very little on the internet, I found myself longing for easy access to world newspapers.

At my local library’s website, in the digital library section, I clicked on magazines and newspapers. In that list I found Google News Archive .  You do not need to be logged into the library to access the archive.

If you type a topic into the search bar at the top of the page, you get a list of related articles from their thousands of scanned newspapers.

This morning, I asked a friend what he wanted to read about and he wanted to see the original article about the flying disc found in Roswell, NM in 1947. I typed in 1947 flying disc and got a bunch of recent articles about debunking the Roswell find, so I tried again.

This time I only typed flying disc which brought up The Independent, St. Petersburg, Florida, Wednesday,  July 9, 1947. The headline read “‘Flying Disc’ in New Mexico Turns Out To Be Army Weather Device.”

After reading the article, my friend said, “After all these years, now I’m finally convinced.” Wink. Wink.

And the fun did not stop there. Just one column over, there was a small article about how UFO fever spread to Iran. Bright lights were seen in the sky that then exploded (secret weapons test?).

A blurb next to that said “Pennsylvanians Here” and went on to give the names of a couple and their children that came into town on the train and included the address where they would be staying. Next to that was another blurb entitled “No General Name” which informed me that the Tunguses of Siberia do not have a word for reindeer, but like the Eskimos and snow, have many words for specific types of reindeer like tame reindeer, wild reindeer and young reindeer.

I continued exploring this one day in 1947 and found:

  • Instructions on how to iron three different kinds of rayon
  • A wedding announcement for a couple married in Seattle
  • Lists of names of people staying at hotels and resorts
  • More announcements with names and addresses of people visiting
  • A picture of two girls at the piano with the headline “Cousins Enjoying Visit Together”
  • A fraternal order I had never heard of: the Knights of Pythias
  • the vitamins in cantaloupe are A and C
  • sauerkraut juice is good with dinner
  • The schedule for radio shows
  • Movie ads

Then I found “Husband Held in Los Angeles Silk Stocking Murder” that after talking about Mrs. Mondragon being strangled with a silk stocking lumps in the fact that she is the eighth woman brutally murdered in six months in LA including The Black Dalia. Honestly, this day in 1947 has everything.

I foraged only one day of one newspaper. Imagine what you can do with thousands of days of tens of thousands of newspapers. I hope you find this resource as exciting as I do.

Happy reading, writing and exploring!

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Tips and Tricks: Creating Revision Goals and Preparing For First Readers.

 Crater Lake July 4th 2015

The hummingbird moth drinking after dark.                                                                             photo by Maria L. Berg

I apologize for my time away. I needed a break and an adventure to fill me up with new energy, so I could return to you with insight.

I can finally see an endpoint to my revisions, at least an endpoint that will allow me to send a draft to my carefully chosen first readers (I chose my first readers for many different reasons. I chose eight people who will give me honest feedback and may see my content from different points of view. I will talk more about first readers in October). Here are the revelations occurring in my writing life that have brought me to this exciting point in the writing of my novel.

Tips:

1. Listen when a good friend asks if you need to be held accountable.

There is nothing better than a fellow writer and good friend wanting to read your book. When my critique group asked how my revision was going and I said I kept writing other things, Sherri stepped up and said, “Do you need me to hold you accountable?”  I am obstinate and rebellious, so having someone else hold me accountable was not an option, but wow did she set a fire under my seat .

As a self-motivator, I interpreted her words as, “you are not doing your work” in a way that I needed. I realized I had to set goals and make deadlines to see my draft become the novel that I want it to be.

2. Make your goals real and tell others.

The first thing I did to become accountable was to choose a date that had meaning to me. I didn’t map out the time I thought it would take and then set a date.That never works for me. Large dates like birthdays, anniversaries of important events, important holidays, are ways that I challenge myself. This time, I have a difficult anniversary (Ten years since evacuation with no return) and I want to turn it into a celebration.  Once I imagined I could achieve my goals by that date, I set personal goals for each day. For the first time ever, I tried to be reasonable and create achievable goals. Believe it or not, I procrastinate and have impressive skills in self-sabotage.

Then I talked to my first readers. I told them the date I chose and asked if they still wanted to be my first readers. This made me accountable, not only to myself, but to eight other people. And now to you.

3. Break your goals into little pieces and attack!

Knowing what I had left to accomplish in a short amount of time, I had to break down the last of my goals into daily work. To do that, I created weekly themes that I could break down into little projects. The first hurdle was typing all of my hand written edits from my last read through and from my critique group into a new draft. The perceived tediousness of the task had been the stop sign that had me wandering into different styles and story ideas. I gave myself two days to only type in edits. However, for every little comma or word choice, I saw larger problems that I either changed or got stuck on.

One of the greatest tips I have to give you is when you get stuck, change your text to red, type a note about what you want but can’t get to or why you’re stuck and move on. Typing up all the editing ended up taking five days instead of two, but I discovered how prepared I was to finish. For every sentence that was confusing, I knew how to change it into sense. For every chapter that was weak, I had a plan.

great reflection on Crater Lake

Reflecting on reflection                                                                                    photo by Maria L. Berg

Which leads us to my new (and newly applied) tricks:

1. Character Development through dialog: A personal breakthrough and a lesson in rereading my own blogs – This was my original name for this post because I felt like I had a major epiphany and wanted to share, but realized I had already posted about my use of dialog to get writing to the page in a previous post Getting words on the page. Dialog as a warm-up is the third tip in that post. My epiphany, however, is a little different. My protagonist is a self-proclaimed hermit who has very little interaction with anyone outside of her house. She has a lifetime of reasons for her hermithood and layers of associations as motivations, but I found it hard to get any of this across to the reader because my character didn’t want to think about those bad experiences. Finally, I had a breakthrough. I had already established that she talked to a friend every day on the phone, but I hadn’t written any of their conversations. I started writing their conversations as part of my morning pages and suddenly my protagonist’s world opened up. I found it awe inspiring how a quick phone conversation could let the reader know twenty years of back-story. My critique group found some of conversation unclear, but I think leaving some parts of the conversation up to interpretation leaves space for the reader (to relate to or not, to imagine something different in the space between).

2. Let yourself go through research- After finishing my edits, I created a separate document for each of the seven section I had left in red ink that need further writing. I noticed that the sections I need to really dive into are the areas I have little to no experience with, or contain behaviors that are outside my purview. I needed to get outside of myself.

Even if your novel isn’t historical fiction or science fiction, finding an avenue for research can inspire. In my case, a textbook on criminology and Inside the Criminal Mind by Stanton E. Samenow, Ph.D. (Samenow is a great last name!) inspired pages of notes. Inside the Criminal Mind also showed me that many of the behaviors I had already written were right on track which felt great! It’s not often a writer manages to find her own positive feedback.

3. Names: A new fun technique for me– One of the most important things I have left to do is come up with names for the tertiary characters. Looking through lists of baby names or name engines online did not inspire me. I enjoyed looking through the most recent local candidates and trying to mix lasts with firsts, and talented friends have told me to look online for another country’s white pages, but these techniques were not what I needed either. Today, I found an unlimited fountain of names in my piles of old records. If you don’t have records, CD liners or movie credits will do just as well. Think of all the people that work behind the scenes to make music and film happen, then think about the multitude of combinations you can make by mixing and matching those first and last names.

For my example, I had a sampling of my old records and my parents old records. I had records from Sweden and France. I had a selection of Pop, Rock, Musicals and Classical. I made three columns in my notebook: Last names, Male character and Female character first names. This way my lists created unique randomized combinations as I wrote them down so when I look at it later, I won’t have to worry about using an actual name.

4. Those pages you don’t want numbered – When I send out my draft, I want to make it very clear to my first readers that I wrote a piece of fiction, so I created a page with the well known statement “All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. After typing it into the center of my new page after the title page, I had a major page numbering dilemma. This bugged me. I knew how to not number my cover page in Word, but I hadn’t figured out any extra pages until today. The magic? Section breaks.

How to: Delete your header. Create all the front pages you want: I created a disclaimer, but you might also want a couple quotes and a dedication; like I said this is for my first readers, so I might make a page of my expectations for reading time, editing/commenting expectations and easy directions for making notes inline. Once you know how many pages you do not want topped with a header or page number, make a section break. To do this in Word, leave your cursor at the end of the text that does not want a number, select the page layout tab, click on Page Breaks and scroll down to New Page. That will most likely create a break and a blank page. I recommend clicking on the Home tab and clicking on the paragraph symbol to see the backspaces needed to delete the extra page.

Once you have created a new section, click on the page you want as page one then click on the Insert tab and select Header. Make sure to click (unclick) Link to previous. Once you’ve created the header that you want, click pages and choose your style and placement then select format page numbers and select start at and enter 1. That should do it.

(I had to go back to the beginning of my first section and edit Header and delete it, then recreate the second header in the second section, but that is most likely because I was making changes instead of starting from scratch. Happy news, it worked).

So there you have it. The tips and tricks I am using to finish my revision and prepare for first readers. I hope you found something useful. Happy writing.

How To Make Each Query Letter Personal

tulips on tableYou’ve written a hook to draw in the reader. You’ve summarized your story in a paragraph or two. You’ve ended the letter with a bio that makes it clear you are the only person to write your book. You received great feedback from online forums. Your critique group loves it. So it’s time to send your query letter off to all of the agents you selected, right?

Not quite yet.

First, make sure you know the agent’s name and spell it correctly. From everything I’ve read this is every agent’s pet peeve.

Second, you need to find a way to let each agent know why you would like them to represent you.

As you look through your list of agents you are going to query, think about why you chose them and make some notes (For tips on how to choose agents for your short list type Agent Query in the search bar above for previous posts on the subject). You may have chosen some of the agents on your list over another agent in the same agency. What was the deciding factor?

One important way to learn about agents is to read the books they represent. While researching in this way, you may discover that an agent represents an author you admire. If so, this is a great way to personalize your query letter. If you get really lucky, you may find a book the agent represents that is similar to yours in some way. A one to two sentence compare and contrast is the perfect way to show you’ve done your homework.

Another thing to add to your query is how your book fits with what the agent is looking for. Look at the agent’s blog, look for interviews, look for videos from conferences on youtube.com, look at their page on agentquery.com and publishersmarketplace.com to find the kinds of books they want. Mention their specific requests that pertain to your book and then offer your book for consideration.

Finding the right agent is all about patience. You not only want to sell your book and get it into the hands of readers, but you want to create a long-term business relationship with someone who will champion your work. Once you’ve put in the time to decide on the agents you want to query, let them know why you think they are right for you and your book.

Like the rest of us, an agent doesn’t want a bunch of form letters in the mail (email). Let her know that you’ve chosen her based on her merit and your belief that she will find the right home for your book based on her past sales, and you are much more likely to get a response.