Author Archives: Eilis Flynn

On Being Edited

By Eilis Flynn

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.–HG Wells

It’s the pain that every writer undergoes sooner or later. No, not rejection (well, yes, rejection, but that’s another topic), but editing. Self-editing is one thing, but being edited by someone else is a new torment entirely. So what is editing? What’s the difference between a line editor and a copy editor, anyway? Wikipedia gives a quick overview of all the different types (and all the types that could have a hand in your copy … sorry to alarm you):

But being edited is part of writing professionally, whether you like the idea or not. Here’s why having someone else edit is necessary:

And for those of us for whom grammar is either a long-forgotten topic from grammar school or the bane of our existence, “Fixing the Top Ten Grammatical Mistakes of Writers”:

And finally, on likening being edited to the stages of death (and incidentally, the pain of having one’s humor edited):

Copyright 2006 Eilis Flynn

Hanging in There: The Art of Persistence

By Eilis Flynn

Everyone’s seen that poster of that cute little kitten clinging desperately to the branch. “Hang in there!” the message goes. Sometimes we’re comforted by the sentiment, sometimes annoyed, depending on how our writing is going. Sometimes all we really want to do is walk away from our current opus and get a nine-to-five job, especially after yet another rejection or a case of writer’s block the size of … well, something really big. Quitting is so very tempting at those times.

This isn’t just for writers, of course. It could be a martial art, something that, unlike writing, awards pretty fabric belts each time you pass a test. “You can’t learn persistence by quitting,” this essay starts, and that’s something that no one can deny:

Sometimes it doesn’t matter, you’re going to quit because there’s no point in trying anymore, you have completely and utterly failed. But you know you have to try again, just one more time, just in case. Think of carrying on as a challenge, even though “carrying on seems to be the last thing you want to do,” according to this piece:

“Quitters never win, and …” you’ve probably heard this one before, too. According to this piece, persistence overshadows talent as one of the most valued attributes we can possess. Here are a few role models for us to remember: Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Harry S Truman … famous names of only some of those who have lost, only to try again, including Winston Churchill, who said: “Never… Never… Never quit.”

Setbacks? Did you say “setbacks”? How do you deal with them? According to Sheila Rabe, that’s going to determine whether you keep writing. You can’t get past the block in the road until you figure out how it got there. Ask a few questions to find out:

It’s frustrating, but you know you have to work your way through it. So how do you get to the final step? Here’s a few suggestions and some very sage advice:

Hang on in there!

Copyright 2006 Eilis Flynn

Creativity and Depression

by Eilis Flynn 

The recent death of actor Heath Ledger prompted discussion on a number of loops, bringing up the topic about the connection between creativity and depression. Is there a link? There’s no firm yea or nay on this controversial subject as of yet. According to Eric Maisel, whose book, THE VAN GOGH BLUES: THE CREATIVE PERSON’S PATH THROUGH DEPRESSION, there may be. Says Maisel, for the creative mind–the “creators,” as he refers to them (us)–“losses of meaning and doubt about life’s meaningfulness are persistent problems—even the root causes of their depression.” Maisel suggests that there are ways for the creative person to work through the down times, principal of which is to make what you do meaningful.

It may also help to know that we are not alone in our struggles. It may help to know that J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series (if she needed any introduction), has herself fought with depression and worked through it, hitting an all-time low when she could not shake the feeling that something was going to happen to her then-two-year-old daughter, explaining that “it was almost a surprise to me every morning that she was still alive. I kept expecting her to die. It was a bad bad time.”

It was at that point, she adds, that she began to write the first of the Harry Potter books, telling herself, “What was the worst that could happen? It could get turned down by every publisher in Britain. Big deal.”

Author Amy Tan also mentioned in a Salon interview that she has had bouts of serious depression, acknowledging that some of that may be biochemical, while some may be hereditary (her grandmother committed suicide). Tan acknowledges that she has had death affect her in her life, and considers how life is influenced by death, how it influences one’s beliefs. She adds that in some way, “I think I was pushed in a way to write this book by certain spirits” in her life. “They’ve always been there, I wouldn’t say to help, but to kick me in the ass to write.”

Author and RWA member Terri Brisbin suggested another work on the subject. Alice Flaherty’s book, THE MIDNIGHT DISEASE: THE DRIVE TO WRITE, WRITER’S BLOCK, AND THE CREATIVE BRAIN, discusses from an organic rather than psychological approach how the brain works, creativity, and other conditions that affect creative people, especially writers.

Ultimately, while we clearly can’t be upbeat and happy all the time, we also can’t be depressed all the time, and this is particularly the case if those happy times and down times are extreme. Acknowledgment is the beginning of working through depression, and according to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is responsive to treatment. According to this website, “There is seldom a quick fix, but, the good news is, there are ways to cope.”

Copyright 2007 Eilis Flynn

When It’s Not The Offer You Want

by Eilis Flynn

Suppose you slave for what feels like decades (and sometimes it IS decades) on your writing, building your novels into magnificent works. And finally, one day, somebody agrees with you, and produces a contract for you to sign. Joy! Do a jig (hey, it’s a special occasion, in public even)! But before you really celebrate, you’ve got to sign that contract … and it’s then that the elation abates. Because that contract isn’t one that you want. In fact, it’s a lousy contract that goes against anything and everything you stand for and all of a sudden, that sense of achievement vanishes. What are you going to do?

This is a situation that applies to novice and veteran writers alike, and even to life beyond our written words (if there is such a thing, of course). What if you’re confronted with something that looks like you’ve gotten what you wanted, but really, it’s not? Do you go ahead and sign, even if you have grave misgivings, or do you step back and say, “You know, I can’t sign this the way it is.” Here’s a look at the situation, the question of if there is a situation in which you would turn down an offer. The answers may surprise you (or not):

Of course, there are other points of view on the subject. What if your agent or other representative has to advise you about it? Here’s agent Jennifer Jackson’s take on the topic:

Who knows best about the contracts and whether you should walk away? Quite possibly car salesmen, they who would know the ins and outs of contracts that get signed everyday, good or bad. Don’t be in a hurry to sign, this particular car salesman says. Keep a clear head. It’s also a matter of personalities: walk away from any deal you don’t like, from a person you don’t like. Whether or not the fit is a good one, having to deal with a person you don’t see eye to eye with will have you always wondering if you’re doing the right thing:

Contracts are a fact of our lives as writers, and learning how to negotiate using them should be an ability we should all work at. 

Copyright 2007 Eilis Flynn

In The Good Ol’ (July) Summertime, Holidays

By Eilis Flynn

On this side of the equator, in our neck of the woods, July means summer. In the US of A, July 4 means Independence Day, celebrating our independence from England, in 1776. Also on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, July 1 is Canada Day, observing the day in 1867 that the Canadian government officially became independent, also from England:

Wait, there’s more! July’s also a big month for the French, who also celebrate their own independence in the form of Bastille Day on July 14, noting the day in 1789 when French citizens stormed a jail that the French royals used to lock up anyone who disagreed with them—and also marking the beginning of the French Revolution:

I can only assume all this revolution and independence comes about in July because it’s hot and tempers are frayed. (On the other side of the equator I have no clue.) But there are other holidays in July that have nothing to do with independence. Also on July 4 is Tom Sawyer Fence-Painting Day (honest and truly!). Then there’s Flitch Day on July 19, an English custom come to the US dating back to the 12th century, when any “married couple who could prove they had been faithful and loving to one another for one year was awarded half a pig, known as a flitch of bacon”:

And if that’s not enough, there’s All of Nothing Day on July 26, with the motto to “live life like it’s your last day of Earth”:

Then there’s World UFO Day on July 2, Chocolate Day on July 7 (hooray!), Different Colored Eyes Day on July 12, National Nude Day on July 14, National Junk Food Day on July 21, and Take Your Pants for a Walk Day on July 27 (and more!):

Copyright 2007 Eilis Flynn

Feng Shui For Writers

By Eilis Flynn

When Seattle author Theresa Meyers got The Call from Triskelion, she was understandably delighted — and it occurred to her that maybe, just maybe it had something to do with the fact that she had recently rearranged her work space according to the principles of feng shui, the Chinese study of the effects of one’s own environment. She had adjusted her writing area “to maximize the flow of positive energy, abundance, and harmony,” she explained. She became interested in the subject after Christina Skye, who is a feng shui enthusiast, suggested she make certain changes in her writing space:

So would a subtle change in your workspace break that writer’s block, influence productivity, help your writing in general? (Sometimes it’s also known as “cleaning up” and “organizing.”) At this website, Lisa Logan decided to determine what would make her writing area more “inviting” and how she should set up the right working environment for herself. She found feng shui and decided to adjust its precepts for writers. But start small, Logan advises:

If you’re interested in the subject but tend to be linear and want lists to help you, here’s one that may give you a start on the study of feng shui. First of all, never sit with your back to the door (card players may benefit from a glance at feng shui, perhaps) — if you can’t see what’s going on, your work will suffer. Second, create a clean environment (the slobs among us may be sensing a theme) to clear your head and enhance efficiency. Third, add a small plant, aquarium, or fountain … there’s more. Check out the website for details:–6-Tips-for-More-Successful-Publishing&id=100424

One thing about feng shui: It not only helps you organize, it helps you set goals, also useful in our line of business. Take a look over here to use feng shui to set goals for specific life areas. An interesting piece of advice points out that “for a goal to be realized, you need to make it physical via pictures and words.” Once more, lists and pictures come in handy here, even a collage, displayed in a prominent place.

The writing space according to feng shui doesn’t have to be complex or even mystical — as you may have noticed, there’s a lot of practical advice involved (and cleaning, unfortunately). Here’s a few simple tips from Feng Shui Dos & Taboos by Angi Ma Wong:

  • Sit in the corner farthest from the entrance to the room to have a “command” position.
  • Keep your back toward a corner or a wall for support. If a post protrudes from the corner or wall, correct it by covering it with a hanging plant’s draping foliage.
  • Face the door if you are conducting business from home. Business will symbolically come to you through the door, so don’t turn your back on it.
  • Have a balance of light and dark colors, soft and hard surfaces, and smooth and rough textures in your choice of window treatments, furniture, and flooring.
  • Treat the files in your office with respect. They represent your past, present, and future business.

It’s time for a late spring cleaning, isn’t it? Let feng shui lead the way!

Copyright 2006 Eilis Flynn

Where We Get Our Ideas

By Eilis Flynn

In honor of April Fools’ Day, let’s look at that question each and every one of us has heard and some of us dread, and some of us like to make jokes about: “Where do you get your ideas?”

Where indeed. From novelist Neil Gaiman is an essay on this very topic, calling the question one of the pitfalls of the profession. Tired of the less than amusing answers, Gaiman now tells the truth, which may be more far-fetched than any answer you may come up with (this IS Neil Gaiman, after all):

Of course, when we’re stumped, we search around for new ways of coming up with new ideas. New ideas for new ideas, if you will. At this website, we are told that when we focus on a task like writing, we forget to do some things, like breathe. Without sufficient oxygen to the brain, we come up with all sorts of ideas, whether they’re rational or not:

Then there’s marketing, a profession known for taking an idea (most likely not original) and giving it a twist. Here, it’s all about ideas and how to execute them. And making them pay, of course. Music. Radio. Desperation. They all work for somebody:

And then there’s the old-fashioned way of getting a new idea, by staring off into space:

Copyright 2007 Eilis Flynn

Saints Of All Cultures

By Eilis Flynn

March may be best-known for St. Patrick and his special day and February for St. Valentine and his special day, but there are so many more saints, and not necessarily of the Christian variety. A glance of any list of saints, Christian and otherwise, may give you pause – and who knows? Doing so may even inspire your writing. 

Here’s a database of Catholic saints, which of course includes patron saints, saints’ fun facts, popular saints, and (nummy!) feast days:

Saints aren’t limited to the Catholic variety. For instance, the Buddhists have their own saints – not quite the same as the ones you may be used to, but they are miracle workers and holy persons equally devoted to their faiths. How are they recognized, you may wonder. You can find out here:

According to Wikipedia, “A saint is a holy person. The term comes from the New Testament, where it is used to refer to all Christian believers. Over the years the term has grown to be used and accepted in other Christian, religious, and even secular contexts, to refer to those who are considered to be exceptionally virtuous or glorified in heaven. Hence, a ‘saint’ (cont. with sinner) is a (usually deceased) person whose life is regarded by a community as a good example, and their life story is remembered for sake of inspiring others.”

Variations of saints may be found in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, Protestantism, Anglicanism, Latter-day Saints, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Santeria. Find out more at:

Copyright 2007 Eilis Flynn

Literary Couples

By Eilis Flynn

Literary couples. What could be more appropriate in honor of Valentine’s Day, for Romance Writers of America?

Here’s a database of some of literature’s classic couples, ranging from Jane Austen’s Darcy and Elizabeth, Antony and Cleopatra, all the way to Wesley and Buttercup. (You don’t know Wesley and Buttercup? Do we know you?) It’s a good start, at least:

Then there is the other kind of literary couple, the kind who actually do the creating (you know, folk like us!). This blogger comments on the kind of literary couple where one is the author and the other, a “legendary spouse.” Examples used here are Vera and Vladimir Nabokov, Fanny and Ralph Ellison, and Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne, not to mention Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

The Write Marriage: When it comes to literary couples, is two a crowd? Can smart, literary couples–in love and yet trying to steal time from each other to work–be productive and happy? That’s the question that this writer poses.

And finally, for those who may be a tad jaded, the Annoying Literary Lovebirds Poll: Need I say more?

Copyright 2007 Eilis Flynn

Making Time to Write

By Eilis Flynn

Time, not space, is the final frontier if many of us have any say about it. Time is the one thing that we seem to run out of, every single time (so to speak). Well, it’s the new year. We have new goals to work on, new achievements to achieve, new books to write. But – yes, that’s right – we’ve got to make TIME to write them. Here are some suggestions on doing so. Making the commitment, of course, is the first step:

After making that commitment, making plans for the writing is next. It’s important to be realistic about the length of time you have available to write, though. (Warning, those of the male sex: The website is BellaOnline, “the voice of women.” So get in touch with that feminine part of you before you check this out.)

Here are a few more ways to make time every day for your writing. Sometimes it’s not easy, but it can be done:

This self-titled “Queen of Procrastination” gives tips on how to make time to write (although that title probably has a few contenders):

Copyright 2007 Eilis Flynn

Celebrating The Summer Solstice

By Eilis Flynn

The summer solstice transcends culture and religion, known under many different names, meaning different things for different peoples. For ancient cultures, it marked the middle of summer; for astronomers it marks the beginning of summer; and for Christians it marks the birth of John the Baptist. Then again, the date differs too: depending on the calendar you go by, it could be June 24 or June 21. No matter how you look at it, though, there’s a celebration somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere just about then, whether it’s known as the summer solstice, Litha, Ivan Kupala Day, Ukon Juhla, Jaanipäev, Alban Heflin, or St. John’s Feast.

For us, it’s the official first day of summer, when the hours of daylight are the longest. The term “solstice” is derived from the Latin, “sol” meaning “sun,” and “sistere,” meaning to “cause to stand still.” This refers to the phenomenon that on the day of the solstice, the sun does not appear to rise any farther compared to the day before, and so, in that sense, it “stands still.”

When did humankind first recognize the summer solstice and celebrate it as a turning point? It’s impossible to say – although there are as many theories about it as there are civilizations and cultures, both past and present. A remarkable number of ancient cultures built tombs, temples, and sacred observatories so that they aligned with the solstices and the equinoxes; after all, Stonehedge is a perfect marker of both solstices, and even older is Newgrange, a site in Ireland, apparently built to receive a shaft of sunlight into its central chamber on the winter solstice. There are sacred sites celebrating the summer solstice in the Americas and Asia as well.

Overall, the summer solstice is a magical time. It’s not just the ancient cultures, either. One modern-day celebration is the Summer Solstice Parade & Pageant, in a neighborhood of Seattle, WA, which has in recent years included
bodypainted naked cyclists:

Copyright 2007 Eilis Flynn

Seasons and Reasons

By Eilis Flynn

We had joy, we had fun … sorry. It’s a riddle, really: It’s all around us and with us, but we don’t see it. We complain about it but we don’t expect it to conform to our complaints. It just is. Yes, that’s right, it’s the weather, and in particular the seasons. (Before you complain, we don’t SEE the seasons, we see the manifestation of the seasons. Anyway, let me go on.) It influences what we do every day, what we wear, but most of all, it’s something we have to keep in mind for our stories. To keep in mind how the weather is acting makes the atmosphere of your stories distinctive.

So seasons and the weather are important to what you write. And who better to remind you about how important than kids? Here’s a simple reminder about how the seasons affect our daily lives, ranging from our clothing to our food, our activities and how surroundings. And in the same way how the seasons affect our characters.

Then there’s the question of how the weather varies. Let’s face it, winter in Anchorage, Alaska, has nothing in common with winter in Miami, Florida! Here’s a Q&A about the seasons and the weather from USA TODAY, how weather and the four seasons are created and how the solstice and the equinox come into play.

And if all this is making you curious about “seeing” how the seasons change, yes, there’s even a few experiments you can perform so you can see how it all works.

And from Wikipedia we can learn all sorts of details about the seasons around the world. It’s not just spring, summer, winter, and autumn – in some places there’s also monsoon season, the dry season, wildfire season, and unfortunately, even hurricane season. Cultural differences play a large part, of course:

See? The seasons play a big part in what we write and what we do. But of course, nothing’s permanent: If you don’t like the weather you wrote about … well, wait five minutes. 

Copyright 2006 Eilis Flynn

Contests, Pro and Con

By Eilis Flynn

By now, the calls have gone out for the Rita and the Golden Heart contests. Congratulations  and good luck for those of you who got one and better luck next year for those who didn’t.

Now, about contests in general. Are contests all they’re cracked up to be? In the case of the Golden Heart, isn’t publication the goal, not winning a contest?

It’s not the contest in itself, sports psychologists can tell you. It’s the contest as competition that’s important, because there’s evidence that shows that competition pushes competitors — athletes and writers alike — to greater limits. But there is a downside to contests — stress, for example; sports psychologists say that competitors can adversely affect their performance abilities, breaking out into a cold sweat, racing hearts, and decreased concentration. What can you do? Relax, for one. Here’s more on the subject.

Why do we really enter contests? Mia Zachary asks that very question, and has some practical insight into it. It’s a shorter wait to hear about a contest than it is to hear from an editor or agent — and placing in a contest means an editor or agent may take notice.

And if you’re willing to brave the contest route, there are many of them out there for you to enter. Charlotte Dillon has a partial list of them for you to start examining, whether the contests are from RWA chapters or not, for members only or for any contestant, unpublished or published:

Then there’s the combination of a contest AND a publisher, with Romantic Times magazine’s joint venture with Dorchester Publishing, the American Title contest:

And again, if you’re going to enter contests, check out some contest tips from Linda Style, who’s been in the Golden Heart finalist arena a few times. Is the Golden Heart for you? It’s not a learning tool, Style reminds us — but again, you’ll get some attention that you’re not likely to get otherwise.

As Linda reminds us, the Golden Heart isn’t for everyone, and it’s not a good idea to spend a huge amount of time doing contests instead of writing. But by entering contests, you can make sure your work is the best it can be.

Copyright 2006 Eilis Flynn

Critique Or Critical?

By Eilis Flynn

Praise is always wonderful, censure not so much. Critiques are a little of both, or so it seems. 

Anyone who’s ever written anything to be read by someone else (and this, of course, includes 99.9% of us) will tell you that there’s a moment in which you hesitate – just a moment – before you hand over the work.

And in that moment is an eternity of doubt and worry: Is it good enough? Does it make sense? Am I entrusting the wrong person to give me an honest assessment that will also be flattering enough for me to confirm my own opinion of my work?

Anyone who’s ever been in a critique group can tell you about the war within, to deny that their baby is anything less than perfect, and a frightening willingness to accept that yes, it not only is less than perfect, it’s the sorriest piece of writing you’ve ever produced. 

Now imagine you’re the other guy, the one clutching his or her baby, her trembling hands offering her latest manuscript for you to critique … do you know exactly what to say?

Here’s a website that might give you a clue about how to give a critique that will help, not harm.  As the author asks, “Ever wonder how some critics can find some weaknesses in your work whereas others gloss right over them?” This might help.

How to critique fiction, by Victory Crayne

And here’s a step-by-step on how to write a critique that can also give you some idea on how to give your opinions – which is what critiques are, after all – in a logical format. Did you enjoy reading it? What kind of an experience was reading this work for you?

Now go out and write something and wait for the praise … and the criticism. And take it for what it’s worth. Remember, it’s your work under scrutiny, not YOU.

Copyright 2006 Eilis Flynn

Handling The Sale – Without Guilt

By Eilis Flynn

At long last, it’s happened! Dancing up and down with joy, startling the kids and the cats (not to mention the neighbors and the meter man), you can’t stop rejoicing: YOU GOT THE CALL! FINALLY, FINALLY, YOU GOT THE CALL! Then you stop dancing. Is it . . . rude to be so happy? But how could you NOT? Will others not yet blessed with The Call think you’re the most obnoxious creature alive? Exulting with happiness is a normal reaction, any worthwhile counselor can tell you, but it’s also a normal reaction to feel guilty about your success. So what can you do? You can check out a few of these websites, that’s what.

In  using academic success as a metaphor for The Sale, here’s an interesting blog to peruse, “31 Flavors of Guilt”:

What if you don’t even realize that you’re suffering from guilt and the fear of success? Understand what you’re doing to yourself and what to do about it.

There are various types of guilt that can pop up in relation to your career, ranging from feeling guilty because you think you’re being selfish, putting your own needs first, all the way to “I’m-not-good-enough” guilt. Guilt can interfere with your career goals if you’re not careful, so here’s how to manage your guilt so you can continue to be productive:

Guilt of this kind can also be viewed as fear of success – what if you get and do everything you want to, and you’re still not happy? Understand it, deal with it, and the steps toward achieving your emotional goal:

And finally, because it is the new year, here are “10 new attitudes for recreating your life this year.” Geared toward women but good for men too, mostly with a financial bent (it starts off with “a man is not a financial plan” – unless, of course, the man is the Hero of your latest work and he helps you in writing the best romance you’ve ever written), this list is a great way to start off a year of nonparalleled success. Good luck!

Copyright 2006 Eilis Flynn

The Writer’s Life — April Foolery

Now, I’m not much of a hoaxer myself, but I enjoy April Fool’s Day. The day is rife with possibility, and I know it’s inspired others to play some memorable tricks — and if that doesn’t inspire us as writers, what can? The day can relieve the tension of writing — and you KNOW those times, when the plot doesn’t twist and turn the way you really, really need it to. The tricks played on this day can turn out to be treats for your writing! It’s also a day that can be likened to Halloween, in that you can’t necessarily trust what you see or hear. In short, it’s an entire day based on fiction. You never know what’s going to happen — and that’s something we would really like to use in our own work.

Intrigued? Take a gander. For starters, here’s a look at the 100 greatest April Fool’s Day tricks of all time. You might have heard of some of these, others not; what you have to admit is that at least some of them will make you laugh. I laughed, and I have no sense of humor! The Swiss spaghetti trees … Sidd Finch … the Taco Liberty Bell … And who knows? Some of these may work very well somewhere in your plotting.

Have I piqued your curiosity? Do you want to find out more about the day of fools? Glad you asked. April Fool’s Day has serious origins … or so we’re told. One source posits that it came about from the adoption of a new calendar. This site has its own file of hoaxes, a history of the Gregorian calendar (vs. the Julian, but some of you may already be familiar with that subject), and more. Kidding … or not? See for yourself. Consider how this can work for you.

Here’s a site that may be a little more trustworthy. What you’ll find is that there are all sorts of different origin stories for April Fool’s Day, and while some may be more credible than others, you have to admit they’re all entertaining — and they’re all food for thought. And don’t forget what Mark Twain said:

The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.’s_Day

Have I whetted your appetite? Want to try a few jokes, tricks, or hoaxes yourself on friends and loved ones (or not-so-loved ones, but make sure you’re nowhere in sight if you execute ‘em on these folks), or your characters, beloved or blackguard? Bless the children, because kids really know the value of a good practical joke. Put food coloring in the victim’s milk! Super-glue coins (or dollar bills) to a sidewalk! Get some friends together and stare and point up at the sky!

And of course, chances are you won’t be reading this until after April Fool’s Day. In that case, pull a prank anyway — when your victims won’t expect it. Go! Enjoy! And take a few notes on how a twist or prank could work into your latest plot!

Copyright 2005 Eilis Flynn

Writing Implements, Writing Tools

Writing implements — what could be more basic? We’re here because we have stories to tell, stories to make permanent in one form or another. Whether you write ebooks or paper books, you need some way to make it appear. Throughout recorded history, and even before, we have had variations of how to set our heroes and heroines on paper — or even stone.
Here’s the history of writing implements and all the varieties thereof. Whether you’re a pencil gal or a ballpoint babe or a fountain pen Fanny, here’s a look at what you might want to try next. Or maybe not: /Writing_Implements.html

If you write historicals, it might help you to make the words appear the way they used to, before we had typewriters and computers. Try some paper, the way it might have been made only a few hundred years ago! Or try writing with a wooden stylus, and appreciate the invention of the ballpoint pen!

Oh, who am I kidding? We need our computers! We are spoiled. Like it or not, most writers use a computer these days. Here’s a look at the top 10 best desktops for writers. See if yours is on the list: tp/desktops.htm

And finally, for those who want a laptop but don’t need that much power, here’s one alternative, an AlphaSmart.

Now aren’t these better than using a piece of coal on a rock?

Copyright Eilis Flynn 2005

What If?

The World’s Foremost Military Historians
Imagine What Might Have Been
Robert Cowley, Editor
GP Putnam’s Sons

Clearly, this is not a reference book. It is, however, something that you can refer to. The subtitle itself might have already turned some people off, I realize: military historians are not people that everyone finds to be of supreme interest. But the premise you’ll find here is too intriguing not to delve into. What if? What if things hadn’t happened the way they did? So much of history has depended on wars being fought and won, if you think of it.

What if Hitler had won World War II? What if the Spanish Armada had won against the British? What if Napoleon had not been defeated at Waterloo? Most important for us, What if the American Revolution had just turned out to be a minor skirmish that the British had managed to quell without much problem? Those are the more recent what-ifs that these historians theorize about. What about Alexander the Great? The world would have been mighty different if he had died before he had managed to conquer most of the known world. What about the Golden Age of Greece? What if the Persians had managed to beat the Greeks? Would what we’re speaking now have a Persian base instead of a Greek one? (I should point out that we have many words that have a Greek root, but not very many with a Persian root.) Would our stories have a touch of Greek myth, or would we have a touch of, say, Zoroastrianism? (Now THAT’S an interesting thought!) What about those rats that were at the heart of the Black Plague? How different would Europe have been?

And for those who are Civil War fans, there are a few essays on those what-ifs. What if Robert Lee had managed to humble the Union? We still wouldn’t have that glorious age that we read about in “Gone with the Wind,” but it would still be quite different from what we have now.

And the atomic bomb. What if dropping those two bombs in Japan in 1945 didn’t stop World War II? Would Europe have had to rebuild itself not just from a continuous series of battles that it saw, but would it have been able to survive at all if Germany had been bombed instead or in addition?

These are all good questions that should give us all pause. These are all questions that have been posed by military historians in MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, and have been logically answered. We may view what actually happened to be chilling in themselves, and so many of those historical scenarios have found their way into our stories — think of the early 19th-century without Napoleon — but the alternatives are equally intriguing. What would an alternate-reality Regency be like?

Copyright 2002 EMS Flynn

The Issue Of Ideas

Say that you’ve plumb run out of ideas. There ain’t nuthin’ there. The well is dry, the riverbed is … well, you get the idea. So what do you do? You take a break. What you need to do is get down to the basics, like:

School: Using a trick from those days of yore, back when you had to do book reports, here’s a collection of links to lists of book report ideas, including book reports for the bored and 20 ideas for book projects.

Or maybe the problem is you need to refresh yourself on the basics … of nature. And not necessarily the human kind. Check out the animal kind, the endangered kind, like your ideas: At this website, fifth graders were told to learn as much as they could about an endangered animal and write a story about what they had learned … just like us!

Then there are those classic children’s stories. These themes stay with us through the years:

And then there’s the place beyond the here and how, the netherwhere. At this website, we can get ideas from the ghost stories and odd folktales from one of the scariest places around, the American South. Light a lantern, open the gate, and come take a walk down the moonlit road:

And after all this, that basket of ideas might have something rattling in it after all!

Copyright 2005 Eilis Flynn

Ten Hut! Submission Boot Camp By Eilis Flynn, Your Drill Sergeant

Okay, let’s start it simple. (I’m not a cruel drill sergeant. If you want cruelty, try my brother. But he teaches graduate students, so it’s his prerogative to be cruel.) How many of you have ever pitched a story? Out of those, how many got requests for partials or even fulls? If you haven’t pitched before, how many of you have a list of editors or agents you have to query or even submit to? (That sounds kinky, but rest assured, we’re talking WRITING here. Nothing kinky … unless you want it to be!)

Most important, how many of you are faced with the realization that you have to send these people something and you have NO IDEA whether you have what these editors and agents want, what they asked for, or whether you even sound COHERENT?

Okay, now ten-HUT! Pay attention! You, rookie, are going to put together a PROPOSAL. And it is going to be PERFECT. You hear me, rookie? I CAN’T HEAR YOU!

So what’s in the perfect proposal, anyway? The elements of the perfect proposal package are simple yet effective:

  • Query or cover letter
  • Chapters (the first three, consecutive, not three random ones) (yes, that includes your prologue) requested
  • Synopsis
  • Bio sheet
  • SASE

And now, you’re going to put it all together, in just a few easy steps. YOU GOT THAT, ROOKIE? Good. I’m going hoarse typing in upper-case.

First step: Your chapters — what are you going to do to get them ready?

The first step is surprisingly and almost weirdly simple: You’re going to READ OVER YOUR CHAPTERS. And you’re not going to JUST read them. You’re going to read them aloud. You’re going to read them BACKWARD — you can find typoes you’ve overlooked. You’re going to read for specific things – specific words that you can most assuredly live without, like “very,” “just,” “a bit” — if it’s a qualifier, something that’s going to weaken your message, you’re going to delete it. You got that? MAKE SURE YOUR MESSAGE PACKS A PUNCH.

Not only that, next you’re going to check for format. Are you sending your proposal by mail or email? There’s probably a format specific to that method. Check it out, make sure it’s consistent. Make sure your paragraphs are paragraphs (check for style). Make sure the fonts are right — remember, Courier 12-point is a fixed-type font, and that makes it attractive to editors (whose eyes are bleary and tired. Be kind to them, because their eyes are shot), but go for whatever they ask for. I’m used to Courier 12-point because I’m used to sending out proposals on paper, and that used to be the norm. But now, I’m sending out proposals in a different format, because the publisher I write for does everything by email. What else do you need to know or do for your proposal chapters? Are you going to include a map, a poem? Don’t forget those, either.

The second step: Your synopsis awaits you. Make it a pleasure to read

Next, read over your synopsis. The same way: read it aloud. Look for plot and logic holes that might pop out at you (sometimes those things aren’t necessarily apparent in the chapters you just read) .Next, have someone else read it over, and if he or she has questions, make sure you can answer them IN THE SYNOPSIS. Remember, if your reader had a question, the editor definitely will. Make sure you can’t be rejected that way! Read your synopsis for style. It’s a marketing tool. Do you want to buy a product if you can’t make heads or tails of it? Do you like reading it? Then proofread it cold for those last-minute typos you KNOW will pop up. BE WARY OF THOSE SNEAKY LAST-MINUTE TYPOES! THEY’RE OUT TO GET YOU!

Third step: Bio sheet. Be clear, be succinct, don’t brag, but don’t be modest, either

This is being requested more and more. It’s a marketing tool just like the synopsis, designed to give the recipient an idea of whether something in your background might make people willing to take a second look. What goes in one? I don’t know. What have you done in your life? Have you published short stories? Articles? Have you been honored that might intrigue the reader? Do you have any relevant experience? Have you given any workshops? Any relevant? What about contest wins? Modesty is all very well, but it’s not going to be any good for you. Stand up, be proud of your successes, make sure people know you matter.

Fourth step: SASE, in the event of …

Don’t forget that there’s a possibility of success as well as the possibility of failure … but in our business, the possibility of failure looms ever large. What should be done with the proposal if the editor or agent (who will, I assure you, regret having passed on your work someday) decides that your work isn’t what they’re looking for? Recycle the manuscript or send it back? If you want it back, make sure you include the self-addressed stamped envelope. Keep in mind, also, what the editor or agent may want. Would recycling be more convenient? Give instructions if you want it recycled, or make sure your SASE is mentioned in your cover letter.

Fifth step: And speaking of the cover or query letter …

The final step on this submissions bootcamp is to make sure that your query letter, or your cover letter if you’re sending in a partial, covers all the bases. What should a cover or query letter include? Did you meet and she request at a conference? If that’s the case, mention that. Mention the title, length, and genre so it’s clear from the beginning what’s being discussed (and no, it’s not a good thing not to mention these things, so it’s a “surprise.” Trust me, NOBODY wants a surprise when they’re working, and editors and agents are working professionals). Next, why should the editor or agent do more than glance at this proposal? MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SOMETHING THAT STANDS OUT (in a GOOD way). What’s the twist that makes it unique? Can you say what it is in two sentences? Make it high concept, make it sharp, make it pithy. If the editor’s overworked eye glazes over because it’s taking too long for you to get to the point, that’s a strike against you. MAKE SURE YOU DON’T GET ANY STRIKES AGAINST YOU AT ALL.

What else? Make the editor or agent CARE. Why are you writing this? Is there a new line opening, did you attend a workshop in which this agent or editor commented that she or he wanted something along the lines of what you’ve written? You have what they want, and you can give it to them. Why are you the person who can write this particular story? Give your background, give your writing credits. Tell them why you’re special.

Finally, you can do this: You have the work they’re looking for. Now it’s just a matter of giving them the work. It’s a sad statistic that only 10% of all requests ever end up on the requesting editor’s desk. Make sure you’re in that 10%.


Copyright Eilis Flynn 2006

Spring Festivals All Over

Let’s look at spring, which is celebrated by every culture and everyone (especially after a long, hard winter). In some cultures it’s a celebration of the new season, while in others it’s a celebration of the new year, the time that life springs anew (sorry). From the start of the Roman year (the ides of March) to the festival of Nawruz, the Persian new year, the spring equinox is celebrated in a number of ways:

It’s not just the colder climes and countries that observe the end of the winter. One of the most popular festivals celebrated in India, Holi is the season when “physiologically people in India, particularly in the north, rave for more sensuous and sensual pleasures with both sexes longing to mate!” I’m just quoting here:

The spring festival in Japan, “haru matsuri,” is usually centered on the planting of crops, with variations around the country, praying to the gods for a bountiful harvest. One variation is “rissun,” when a male member of the family scatters roasted beans, ceremonially scattering demons out of the home: /holydays/harumatsuri.shtml

Then there’s the full moon festivals of spring, the spiritual high point of the year for the Buddhists:

And finally, there’s Schmeckfest, the festival of tasting, a four-day festival in Freeman, South Dakota, celebrating the heritage and culture of Germans from Russia, specifically Russian Mennonites, from the 19th century:

Copyright Eilis Flynn 2007

Reacting To Rejection

Published or unpublished, sooner or later, you face rejection in one form of another—whether your publisher has just passed on your latest proposal or the editor to whom you submitted a manuscript decided it didn’t fit her publisher’s current needs. Your heart’s broken, you’re dejected, life can be so UNFAIR! Well, yeah, but you’ll get over it—there’s always next time. Take a few minutes to get over it, and here are a number of ways to make yourself feel better, ranging from:

Painting What We See Within: A Look at the Insides of Art Therapy
Visualize your frustration and paint it. Here’s an essay that was written by a Bryn Mawr college student, giving some insight on how, when words fail you (temporarily, of course), painting pictures can be a handy substitute.…

If words don’t fail you, here’s a website that calls itself “the writer’s and artist’s on-line source for misery, commiseration, and inspiration.”

If your eye strays to the kitchen, here are some comfort food recipes that may help assuage the pain.

And when you’re ready to get back on that saddle (or sit in front of your computer), from Georgia author Stephanie Bond’s archive of articles, you can take your revenge for a few seconds with a rejection of your rejection.

Feeling better? Now get back to work!

Copyright Eilis Flynn 2005

May Mums: Of Spring Flowers And Mothers

What says spring and the merry month of May more than flowers? The lure of the blooming world is enough to make you abandon your computer and your latest work in progress, if only for a while, and take a walk amid the floral frenzy, enjoying the beauty of the season — unless—

Unless you’re allergic, of course. In which case, after you blow your nose, consider what flowers mean to you ’ and to society in general. The language of flowers – known as floriography – is a surprisingly complex one. It also has a rich history throughout the world, with religious and symbolic meaning that has lasted through the centuries and the rise and fall of civilizations. Flowers aren’t just pretty; they’ve also been known for their healing powers. So they’re pretty – they have meaning – and they can heal. Think of how useful all this could be for your writing. Think of the subtle interplay between your hero and your heroine, using your newly earned knowledge of floriography. Could your hero choose just the right flower to express his feelings? Check this out for what else flowers can offer you:

What else does the month of May say to you? Yes, that’s right, it’s sending flowers to your mother. Or having flowers sent to you, for that matter. Celebrating Mater dear has a history as long as flowers (but giving them to her is probably another story involving ungrateful children forgetting, and having to get back into her good graces). One source has the earliest celebrations for moms back to ancient Greece, in honor of Rhea, the mother of the Titans, the earliest Greek gods. The English offered thanks to their maternal units as far back as the 1600s, calling the observance “Mothering Sunday.” In the United States, Julia Ward Howe, who wrote the lyrics to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, is credited as having first suggested the celebration of Mom in 1872, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that Mother’s Day was proclaimed a national holiday by President Woodrow Wilson. Here’s an interesting tidbit of history, for those historical writers out there who may want to work the holiday into their work in progress:

And finally, for all those who have written poems to Mom, “the world’s most noble profession”:


Copyright Eilis Flynn 2006

In Search Of…The World Almanac and Book of Facts

(Reference Books You’ve Gotta Know About!)

The World Almanac and Book of Facts
Funk & Wagnalls Corporation
Virtually any year — you know the drill

I was looking at my bookshelves around the other day, trying to figure out what reference book I could cover for Heartbeat, when I realized that there was one already sitting on my desk. It’s one that most people have, in one edition or another. It may not be the newest edition, but not many people really need the newest edition. It’s one that, with all this Web business, people might have forgotten about. It’s pretty simple. How many people don’t have an almanac?

Back before the Internet, my children, this mysterious thing called the almanac held all sorts of facts that people could look up easily. Its general index is so extensive that it’s almost 30 pages long (27, in this particular version I’m holding — The World Almanac 1994). (I should add here that in my office alone I have three versions: 1993, 1994, 1998. The 1994 version is just the first one I picked up.) There’s a chronology of the year just past, which is handy if you’re dealing with an event that you need to find information about in reference to other events of the same year. If you need to delve into the US government, the almanac can give you all sorts of information about the different branches, the different politicians and bureaucrats. If you need to know about weights and measures and numbers, there’s a section that’ll tell you exactly what you need to know. Education? The best universities, the average salaries of college professors, the most popular subjects? You’ll find it in an almanac. Population? The history of the Academy Awards? You’ll find it here too.

The biographies of US Presidents, the First Ladies, the flags of various nations, world history, historical figures. Disasters of the world. Need to know if there’s an association or society for something? Find out here. What’s the name of the young of various animals? (Did you know that the young eel is referred to as an “elver”? I sure didn’t.) Find out about states, food information, religion (the Ten Commandments and books of the Bible, Jewish High Holy Days, the Muslim calendar). Sports. Overview of nations.

Of course, I had it on my desk because I was looking up the Constitution of the United States. Yes, I found what I needed.

You may be rolling your eyes by now and muttering to yourself, “But I could look up all of this on the Net!” Yes, there’s no denying you could. And in the middle of the night, if you don’t have an almanac on hand, you’d have to. But it’s going to take longer to look it up on the Net (depending on your modem); for me, it’s just easier to flip a few pages and locate what I need in a few seconds.

We’re thoroughly in the Internet age, and while that has opened up a wealth of possibilities, sometimes it’s just good to have a reference book you can hold and not have to log on to use. You can flip these pages much as you can Web pages, and let’s face it — you can get inspiration and information the old-fashioned way too.

Copyright 2006 EMS Flynn

In Search Of…The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines

The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines
Patricia Monaghan, Ph.D.
Llewellyn Publications
St. Paul, MN 55164
ISBN 1-56718-465-0
$19.95 US

If you’ve spent a lot of time flipping through books of mythology, you might notice a funny little thing when it comes to the gods and goddesses that the books describe. Invariably, the gods are always given all the attention and the goddesses are practically an afterthought. (I’ll give you a moment to go dig up one of those books — most of us have at least one around. Go ahead, take a look. See what I mean?) I don’t know about you, but that always drives me crazy.

Sure, I know the reasons, and so do you; most societies extant today are male-driven, and why would they care about the goddesses anyway, when everyone knows it’s the gods who made the world and the people? Everyone knows the goddesses ARE an afterthought. (Okay, so I’m overgeneralizing. But I’ve got a point, don’t I? Not only that, I should point out that there are creation myths in which a female creates the world, but admitting to that would certainly ruin my diatribe. But I digress.)

Well, if you, like me, have keenly felt this unfairness, and even if you haven’t, here’s a book that’s right up your alley. Yes, as the title might indicate, it’s a book about those overlooked females of myth and legend, and although the title doesn’t indicate it, it’s a dictionary. One of the fun aspects of a book like this is the pleasure that comes from flipping through the pages, seeing the familiar name of a goddess or heroine we’ve forgotten about, becoming acquainted with ones we’ve never heard of, and finding out about goddesses and heroines of other societies.

There is, of course, an incidental that I must mention. Looking through this book, and other books like it, can also be handy as a plot-generator. After all, it’s a gimme; stories about goddesses, and even gods, are always based on human nature, and that’s what our stories should be. Here’s an example: “Fand: The greatest of the fairy queens of Ireland, Fand was the daughter of the sea and ruler of the beautiful Land-over-Wave, from which she flew as a seabird to our world, usually to entrap human lovers.” That description made me wonder, as it probably did you too: If she was the greatest of the fairy queens, why the heck would she bother to change into a seabird and come over here to entrap human lovers? One possibility is jealousy — and there you have the start of a story.

And the entry above “Fand” is “Fama,” Fama was a Roman goddess, according to author Patricia Monaghan, who could hear anything said about anyone, anywhere on Earth. She kept company with other divinities: Credulitas  (error),Laetitia (unfounded joy), Timores (terror), Susuri (rumor). Now that sounds like the makings of a story — one about a Southern family, maybe, with sisters having those characteristics. Boom, you’ve got another story.

You get my drift. This is a book made for plot-hungry romance writers who want to read about goddesses and heroines. Keep it in mind the next time you’re on the lookout for a new story!

Copyright 2009 Eilis Flynn

In Search Of…The Illustrated Dictionary of Mythology

(Reference Books You’ve Gotta Know About!)

The Illustrated Dictionary of Mythology: Heroes, heroines, gods, and goddesses from around the world
By Philip WilkinsonDK Publishing
ISBN 0-7894-3413-X

Originally, I found this book at the library one day, and with five million pressing things I had to get done, of course I checked it out and started to thumb through it. That was a mistake, because I found myself absolutely, positively, wholeheartedly charmed by this book. I thumbed through it, loved the illustrations (it has PICTURES! Really cool PICTURES!), which is really handy if you want to get an idea of how vastly different cultures have similar themes and parallel cultural idioms that come out in art. (It’s one thing to read about similarities, but of course the point is brought home with more force and clarity if you can see it.)

Anyway, after the checkout period was finished, I took the book back to the library, vowing that I would find that book and buy it. I would! I would!

I did! I did! (But you had probably already figured that out. Why else would I mention it? It’s foreshadowing at its most basic.) This is a book that the back-cover blurb touts as “an indispensable family reference that explains who’s who in myth and legend,” and it does so well. The introduction briefly explains creation myths (worthy of entire tomes in itself, as any anthropologist will tell you), gods and goddesses, mythical monsters, and tricksters in their many forms all over the world.

That’s right, it’s not just about European myths and legends; it touches on myths and legends from all over the world, and way back, even. This book starts out with Western Asia, and the myths of Mesopotamia; it delves into ancient Egypt, something most people are more familiar with, but it never hurts to refresh our memories and clarify the mythos we only vaguely remember. India, where much of the Asian myths and legends began, gets its fair share of pages, and if you’re unfamiliar with Indian mythology, this is a good place to start AND a treat to boot. China and Japan, which were both influenced by Indian myths (as in, taking them and reforming them to fittheir own cultures), are covered as well.

The classical world of the Greeks and then the Romans are next, and these are the stories that most of us are truly familiar with. After the classics come the Norse myths, the Finnish myths (which are unique), and the Slavic myths. After those comes in its own section the richly textured story of King Arthur, which perhaps has influenced the Western world beyond all others, and thus deserves its own look.

And we’re not done yet. The Americas come next, and these myths are portioned into those of the Inuit, the Eastern North Americans, the Great Plains, West Coast, Southwest, and farther on south, the Mayans, the Aztecs, and the Incans. This book rounds out the world of mythology with African myths, Australasian myths, and Oceanian myths.

Looking through these pages reminds us that there are universal themes. These are themes of humanity, and they are themes that we as writers should be aware of in all their different incarnations. We write stories about people — and people have had their own stories for thousands of years.

Copyright 2006 EMS Flynn

In Search Of…The Book of Guinevere: Legendary Queen of Camelot

(Reference Books You’ve Gotta Know About!)

The Book of Guinevere: Legendary Queen of Camelot
By Andrea Hopkins
Barnes & Noble Books
ISBN 0-7607-1094-5

Guinevere the Young Queen and Bride. Guinevere the Victim of Abduction.  Guinevere the Courtly and Gracious Queen. Guinevere the Lover. Guinevere Falsely Accused. Guinevere the Jealous Harpy. Guinevere Noble in Adversity.  Epilogue: The Fall of Guinevere.

When I picked up this book, the table of contents  — which is what the above is  — reminded me of the various stages of woman that we run into: the virgin, the wife, the hag. That’s not surprising, of course, because the myth of Guinevere is a personification of those stages, fleshed out into full-blown story, complete with adventure and tragedy and  — naturally  — romance. (Without that last, what would we be? But anyway.) Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur” is the version that became best known, but the story had been told and retold prior, and has been told and retold since. It is a story that has fueled the imagination of writers for a millennium, if not more.

Guinevere is an integral part of the legend of King Arthur, but interestingly enough, it wasn’t until the triangle of Arthur and Guinevere and Lancelot came into play (and got all the media attention, if you think of it that way) that she got much attention. But every mention of the queen prior to that, in all the earlier tellings of Arthur, had her as a distinct person, a ruler in her own right, who came into the marriage as a political entity, with strength of her own. The title of “queen” is not necessarily that of consort to Arthur; she had power in her own right. This book reminds us that no matter how the legend, and tragedy, is interpreted, she is more than simply virgin, wife, hag. She wasn’t, in our own parlance, someone to simply introduce and do one thing and then throw out; she isn’t a simple throw-away character.

Paradoxically, the table of contents reduces her to virgin, wife, hag, but also reminds us that she is more. She is victim; an alarming number of Arthurian stories reminds us that she was abducted numerous times, and at least once Lancelot rescued her. She is ruler, the courtly and gracious queen. The lover, who brought about a tragic end, but with strong passions of her own. The falsely accused, in which she is accused of crimes she did not commit (but of course, justly accused of the one she did, later on).  According to author Andrea Hopkins, this occurred relatively frequently, leading me to wonder about the political dynamics of the Arthurian court. She is also the jealous harpy, when the queen manipulates and schemes to control those around her. This also plays into the queen who finds herself in love with Lancelot, and suffers when she suspects he’s dallying with another. (Sounds like a soap opera, doesn’t it? Well, it is.)

The story of Guinevere, all the variations of it, as ruler, bride, lover, repentant, reminds us of the richness of the legend. Hopkins reminds us that each character has depth, and as writers, we should plumb those depths for all we can.

Copyright 2000 EMS Flynn


What is The Riddle of Ryu? The e-novella is on sale now, so find out at,, or!