Dina’s Blog: For Writers

Take That Leap

By |2016-02-29T13:57:03-05:00February 29th, 2016|Uncategorized|

From the time I was a child, I thought it would be so cool to celebrate something on February 29. Birthdays, anniversaries — imagine having them roll around every four years or so like the summer or winter Olympics or the presidential election:

I’m 12 leap years old today! (That’s 48 regular years.)

We’ve been married for 10 leap years. (That’s 40 years.)

Alas, it was not meant to be. So, instead, I like to use February 29 as a day to look at my life and ask myself, “Have you taken any leaps in the last four years? In your career? In your personal life?”

My answer to that question is usually yes — or at least I aim for it to be. At the end of December, I took a literal leap when I went ziplining for the first time with my family in Cancun, Mexico, but really when I’m talking about is taking a leap of faith: having the courage to embark on something when you’re not sure how things are going to turn out or how that journey is going to end.

I’ve always believed in challenging myself to do better, be better — a little something I picked up from my mom — and to do that you need to (if I may quote Col. Nathan R. Jessup from A Few Good Men) “roll the dice and take your chances.” If you succeed, your world will have grown and you will have grown right along with it. If you fail, you will have learned a little something from the experience, so that you can try again next time.

A win-win.

A colleague and friend called me this morning to ask my advice about whether or not she should embark on a new project, never having done that particular type of work before. Without hesitation, I answered, “Of course.”

It has been said that every journey begins with a first step. As far as I’m concerned, why not make it a leap?

Have you taken any leaps in the last four years? In your career? In your personal life?

My Writering Hole

By |2016-02-22T17:11:47-05:00February 22nd, 2016|Uncategorized, Writing Process|

I’ve been hammering out the last third of the sequel to Baby Grand for the past few weeks at Panera Bread (which is one of my favorite places to write, not only for the free WiFi, but for the rockin’ Mediterranean Veggie sandwich) and have found myself gravitating toward one particular two-person booth — one that’s close enough to the ice machine for when I’m thirsty and far enough from the front door that I don’t catch pneumonia. I always sit on the same side, so that I can face the restaurant and people-watch. I consider it my spot (God help anyone who sits there!), my home away from home, the place where the words flow as smoothly as the turkey chili. Do you have a writering hole?

Sequel Hell

By |2016-02-03T11:07:13-05:00February 3rd, 2016|Uncategorized|

Where have I been? In sequel hell, that’s where. I’m about two-thirds of the way done with the sequel to Baby Grand, and overall, the writing has come fast and loose (although frequently interrupted by my day job), but with anxiety and trepidation. Writing a sequel is such a delicate balance of satisfying the fans of Baby Grand, who expect bigger and better of their sequels (as they should!), and making sure things are clear and understandable to those readers who choose to bypass the original book and plunge right into the sequel (if you’re like me, you have on occasion picked up the third or fourth book in a series and have been completely lost — it’s not fun). That means I spend most days wondering if I’m explaining too much, or not enough. It’s ugly, and I’ve been eating way too many Dark Chocolate Raisinets. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. And my calorie count.

A #1lineWed Aha Moment

By |2015-05-13T10:14:56-04:00May 13th, 2015|Uncategorized|

So there I was, minding my own business last Wednesday, when I stumbled upon the trending #1lineWed on Twitter. For those who don’t know, #1lineWed is when authors choose one line from their works in progress — the page from which that line is culled is determined that day (or maybe the day before, not really sure how it works) — and post it for the world to see.

Ooh, sounds fun, I thought, and I eagerly opened my current manuscript and scanned the designated pages for a fun line to post.

I scanned.

And scanned.

And scanned.

What the…????

Why couldn’t I find one single line?

I wasn’t looking for anything uber-cool or witty. Just something interesting. Why wasn’t there anything?

I began reading other pages, thinking I’d cheat and pull a line from there. Still, I had nothing.

Turns out, the more I looked, the more I thought the manuscript that I had deemed almost perfectly polished had a looong ways to go. The magic wasn’t quite there or where I wanted it to be.

So I’m going to set that puppy on the back burner for a while and let it simmer, let my creative juices keep flowing, think about what I want this book to be. I know I can make it better. And when I do, I’m hoping #1lineWed will be just one of my book’s triumphs.

Point of View & Narrative Voice

By |2015-04-09T14:20:47-04:00April 9th, 2015|Uncategorized, Writing Process|

When I was in grad school, my long fiction professor used to say that she really, really wanted to teach a course on point of view and narrative voice — topics, she said, students seemed to find troublesome. These days, as I work with students and clients, many of them new writers, I find that she is right.

I never found point of view/narrative voice to be particularly confusing, but I’m thinking the uncertainty has to do with the excitement and enthusiasm that comes with telling a story — authors want to tell readers absolutely everything that everyone in the book is thinking every step along the way.

And you CAN do that. Sometimes. Not all the time. There are some decisions that have to be made about how you, as the author, want to tell your story:

  1. Decide which character’s point of view you want the reader to experience your story through. It may be one character. It may be many. In Baby Grand, I have something like 10 main characters, each of them with several chapters devoted to his or her point of view.
  2. Once you decide on a point of view, STICK TO IT. If a serial killer is your narrator, then the reader should only be experiencing the book through that person. Readers will know what he sees, what he feels, hears, smells, and tastes, as well as his or her thoughts, plans of action, etc. That serial killer will take readers on your journey.

I find that writers have the most problems with #2. They often run into the danger of what’s called “head hopping” — they’ll suddenly switch point of view in the middle of a scene in order to write what’s going on in another character’s head. Here’s an example. In this case, “Janet” should be serving as our narrator for the entire book:

There he was again.

Janet saw the tall, dark stranger at the far end of the frozen yogurt counter, filling his overflowing styrofoam cup with Oreo pieces and chocolate sprinkles. This was the third time he had come into the shop this week! Janet was determined to work up the nerve this time to do more than smile at the guy. She was going to speak.


Happy Blogging Anniversary — to Me!

By |2015-03-27T08:14:19-04:00March 27th, 2015|Events, Uncategorized|

Has it really been five years?

I started this blog as a way to chronicle the writing process for my debut novel Baby Grand, particularly since I was in the throes of a massive writer’s block in the spring of 2010. I had this thought that sharing and commiserating with and cheering on other writers would help me write my way out of a hole. And somehow it did.

The blogging community has grown much in the past five years. There was a rush of bloggers around the time I started out, and the number of blogs just keeps getting higher and higher. Those of us who managed to stick around have found value in blogging and have readers who have found value in us.

Thank you for your support these past five years. As long as you continue to come, I’ll keep building. :)

Clean Reader? F-ck That Sh-t.

By |2015-03-25T08:11:26-04:00March 25th, 2015|eBooks, Uncategorized|

Have you guys heard about Clean Reader? It’s a new app that prevents swear words in eBooks from being displayed on screens. The app features three settings:

  • Clean, which will remove words such as the ever-popular “fuck”;
  • Cleaner, and
  • Squeaky clean, which will take out words such as “damn” if they bother you.

The text itself isn’t changed — after all, that would be a violation of copyright. Instead, the offending word is blacked out and the lesser word put in its place.

My first thought when I read about this was that Baby Grand would be a completely different book if read with this app. A mob story with characters who talk like choir boys?

My second thought was: Who would want to read Baby Grand this way?

By taking out the profanity, this app is not only sanitizing the text, but sanitizing the author’s intentions, the grittiness of the story’s texture, and the authenticity of the characters and the way people communicate.

I would challenge those who feel they need Clean Reader to try and open their minds to new ways of communicating and thinking. I know it may not seem that way to some, but every curse word in Baby Grand has been carefully considered. Also, there are oodles of books on the market that cater to all kinds of tastes. If profanity really offends you — and, hey, that’s perfectly fine (although I don’t get it, probably because I’m from New York) — read books that have been written by someone like you for someone like you. In my opinion, if you are dying to read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo because you’ve heard it’s such a great book — and it is — why would you want to delete some of the very elements that help to make it great?

Book Marketing Boot Camp: Press Releases

By |2015-03-19T15:54:38-04:00March 19th, 2015|Marketing Tips, Uncategorized|

We talk a lot about marketing in my Continuing Ed. self-publishing class at Hofstra Unviersity, and one of the best ways to get the word out about your book is to write a press release.

What is a press release?

A press release is a “news story” that you write about yourself in third person. Its goal, first and foremost, is to gain editors’ or reporters’ attention, so that your news item will be placed in their publication or on their website. Nowadays, most press releases are sent by email, but you can also use snail mail or fax. As an editor, I get hundreds of press release emails a day, and in order to catch my eye, an email subject line has to:

  • Be unique or clever
  • Convey newsworthiness
  • Convey relevance

Once an editor decides to click on your press release and read it, your release should cover some journalism basics:

  • Who is this news release about?
  • What has happened that is newsworthy?
  • Where did the newsworthy event take place?
  • When did this happen?
  • How is this newsworthy?
  • Why should I (or my readers) care?

That last one is an important one. Make sure the publication or editor to whom you are emailing is the right person or outlet for your news. Do your research beforehand. Think of all the news outlets that would be interested in your news: Local newspaper? Trade journal? Website? Alumni magazine?

In the cover letter to your press release (or in the body of your email), you can detail why this news is of relevance to its intended recipient.There are various acceptable formats for a press release, but all of them include a headline, dateline, paragraph (or more), and contact information.

Once your release is emailed, it’s always a good idea to follow up on a press release in case the editor has missed it or accidentally deleted it (it happens). Give the editor about two weeks before following up (try not to hound her after a day or two), or check the organization’s website for the preferred follow-up etiquette.


By |2015-03-11T07:41:20-04:00March 11th, 2015|Marketing Tips, Publishing, Publishing Process, Uncategorized|

Hey, authors, it’s that time again!

Twitter is having another pitch party! If you’ve got a completed manuscript you would like to pitch to agents and publishers, head on over to Twitter TODAY between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. EST. You’ve got a mere 140 characters to get them interested in your stuff. You are only allowed to pitch the same manuscript two times per hour, and be sure to vary your pitches, because Twitter might not let you tweet the same tweets again and again. Also, be sure to include the #PitMad hashtag as well as the category of your manuscript (Young Adult, Adult, New Adult, Nonfiction, etc.) Good luck, and may the words be with you!

Debut Author Q&A: Meet Rob Dircks

By |2015-03-10T12:02:56-04:00March 10th, 2015|Debut Author Q&A, Uncategorized|

A funny thing happened on my way to an author event at the Seaford Library in Seaford, N.Y…. I got to meet some cool authors! (Imagine that!) One of those authors was Rob Dircks. I had the pleasure of being Rob’s tablemate that day, and we spent most of the time chatting books, publishing, and writing. I’m so happy to announce that Rob’s first novel, a science fiction comedy titled, Where the Hell is Tesla?, is available on Amazon. Below, Rob and I continue our chat about how this novel came to be. I wish him much success!

rob-portrait Name: Rob Dircks
Name of book: Where the Hell is Tesla?
Book genre: Science fiction/comedy
Date published: March 2015
What is your day job? For the past 20 years, my brother Dave and I have owned and operated a Long Island ad agency, Dircks Associates. Probably the most recognizable creative we did is the AOL CD — you know, 250 Hours Free? We did most of them. Now I write and design print and online communications, and do some photography/videography/audio for other national clients, such as AARP.

Your book has such an intriguing title. What is your book about? It’s a combination buddy comedy/fish-out-of-water story/sci-fi romp. A slacker security guard finds the lost journal of Nikola Tesla and talks his best friend into exploring Tesla’s secret invention, the Interdimensional Transfer Apparatus. They bounce from one misadventure to the next trying to get home until the existence of the entire multiverse winds up depending on these two unlikely heroes.

Why did you want to write this book? Ever since elementary school, I’ve been into comics, then sci-fi books and movies, and I’ve got this weird fascination with conspiracy theories. One day, I stumbled across this outrageous conspiracy theory article about Nikola Tesla — how he had secret journals that disappeared after he died, that the FBI took them, and that they contained plans for death rays and god-knows-what else. Maybe an hour later, I was still digging down this Internet rabbit hole, finding little scraps of hints and clues, this wonderful bottomless pit of Tesla intrigue, and I said to myself: What if he had something REALLY crazy in those journals? Like an Interdimensional Transfer Apparatus?

At the same time, I knew I wanted to write a comedy about a normal guy stuck in extreme circumstances. So at some random moment it all came together as “What if a slacker security guard discovers the lost journal of Nikola Tesla?” And boom. There it was.

What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? 1) Carving out time to write. My “real life” is constantly tugging at me, to make sure I get my paid work done and satisfy my clients. 2) Marketing. Ironically, even though I’ve been in advertising for so long, I’m less “marketing-y” than I probably should be. So I find the mechanics of promoting my work very challenging. But I’m learning.