Saturday, April 30, 2011


Part of my work responsibilities include publishing a newsletter and managing content of a website, thus I receive a lot of submissions from folks promoting an event, sports program, etc. One thing I've noticed quite frequently is people love to use multiple exclamation points to try to make their copy sound extra exciting.

My belief is that one exclamation point is sufficient for anything (except maybe announcing the end of the world or similar), and it is up to the reader to determine if what they are reading is exciting or indeed, extremely exciting. No amount of additional exclamation points is going to make an underwater basket-weaving class exciting to someone who hates both water and basket-weaving.

The other thing that gets overused a lot is all caps. Most people seem to understand that all caps can be interpreted as shouting, so they are sensitive to that. However, it is still used in promotional copy to convey excitement, such as, "ONLY 2 DAYS LEFT TO GET A 2011 NISSAN AT HALF PRICE." Almost every time I receive copy using all caps, it does not stay.

My biggest peeve? The use of all caps and multiple exclamation points together. Really? You'd really have to work hard to prove to me that something is that important and/or exciting.

Now if you are someone who is guilty of this practice, first, slap your own hand, then, understand this is not intended as a put-down, but more of a public service announcement to save the exclamation point. We all go over the top at times. In fact, I probably overuse the "Thanks!" closing in my emails because I really want people to know I appreciate them. I just draw the line at THANKS!!!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Are you really disinterested?

So another common usage issue that I see quite a bit, even in some of the better books I enjoy, is disinterested vs. uninterested. Here's the breakdown:

If you're not interested in something--bored, in fact--then you are uninterested in it, or you have a lack of interest. An example would be, "After hearing the guy's half-hearted pickup line, the refined woman at the door gave him an uninterested look and walked away."

If you're disinterested in something, it means you're impartial, objective, and have no interest (in the "conflict of interest" sense of the word) in a matter. For example, you always want a disinterested judge in court but want the opposite in a lawyer (he is, after all, representing your "interests"). "The arbiter was chosen for his impartiality, since he was disinterested in any matters or ventures involving petroleum or oil products."

Almost always I see the problem happening one way: people use disinterest when they really mean to use uninterest or lack of interest. My advice? If in doubt, use uninterested and lack of interest. Most likely if you're needing the sense of the term disinterest, you can use impartial or objective so you don't confuse those who would misinterpret the correct meaning of the word. In other words, don't use disinterest until you're sure you're using it right. It's safer that way for everyone involved.

I hope I haven't lost your interest as you've been reading this.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Passive Voice agression

While I was preparing to post today, I was stuck by the idea of writing about passive voice. Recently I was able to read several samples of writing. It was fun. It was enlightening and they were full of passive voice. The tone of the works were varied and the content was very different, but the sentences were so often in passive form that I was pulling my hair out over some of the paragraphs.
In fact, while writing this post, I was fighting with the urge to scream.

Not claiming to be an expert on active voice or passive voice, I am merely going to pose a few questions and give some examples from when our group studied passive voice vs active voice.

How many of you noticed that the first paragraph of the post is completely passive? How many of you are bugged by it? When is passive voice a good idea? When is it lazy writing?

Some teacher out there can explain how the verb 'Be' makes a sentence passive etc. I'm just going to say, if you do a word search for "was" in your manuscript and find 8 uses in one paragraph, hopefully you did it on purpose and not by accident. If it was an accident, then changes are easy to make.

It was a dark and stormy night. (passive)
Dark thunderclouds rolled across the sky. (active)

I was alone in the room. (passive)
They left me alone in the room. (active)

Times to use passive according to our guru on grammar:
1) When you are describing ongoing movement or action. (ie: I was curling my hair, when the phone rang.)
2) To break up an intense scene or stream of action: (I can't make up a good example cause I keep trying to fix the passive.)

So when do you think its okay to use passive voice? Is there a difference from 3rd person to 1st person? Does it vary by genre?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Its Wednesday Its Wednesday Its Wednesday

Its Wednesday.

oh wait, I already said that.

ToDay I would like to share with you all my secrets for success.

I, of course, am a NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING author.

Did I mention that my book got on the New York Times list?

Here are my secrets:

Oh, you thought I would actually share?  Ok, well here you go:

Ok, fine.  I don't have any secrets.  Cause I still haven't finished a freakin story.

Here's hoping you have better luck following through than I do.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dictator Girl

First of all, the picture is not of my house, but it's close enough to how my kids keep their bedrooms that I thought I'd post it. Also, the article linked to it is actually moderately fascinating. Now on to my dilemma!

I have a choice before me: Should I beat my kids into submission? Or should I try a more persuasive attitude when trying to get them to clean up their own messes (FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GREEN AND HOLY!!!!!!). Seriously, what's the harm in taking them by the arm and forcing them to pick up every last Easter candy wrapper they dropped and put them in the trash can? On the other hand, I could persuade them that the merits of a clean home far outweigh the small imposition of time it takes to do the actual cleaning.

Well? What would YOU do?

Yeah, as tempting as it is to just MAKE them do the things that I want them to do by virtue of me being bigger and stronger, I'm beginning to realize that this type of leadership is very counterproductive. Not to mention, there's not a lot of love lost. The core problem, come to find out, is that 'leading with love' leaves me (the leader) in a vulnerable position. What if I have company coming and the chores I've doled out aren't completed? Does it make my kids look bad? No. It makes ME look bad. So, the right choice is to go with the heavy-handed rule. Right? It gets the job done and leaves no egg on my face. Only, the problem with this method is that it takes so much MORE work!

I know that the 'leading with love' takes some time and effort from me initially, but in a few years they'll be self-sufficient and I'll be able to give them their chores without wondering if they feel their duties important enough to focus on. (The better option). Ruling my house like a dictator would have me watching my back for the anarchy and chaos that would ensue. Because, eventually they'd rebel.

Wouldn't you?

Somewhere in there is a great writing example. I'm sure you all are smart enough to find it. :)

Soccer Writing

On Saturday I went to a soccer game. For four-year-olds. It was a lot of fun watching some of them follow the ball like it was a magnet, and others getting distracted by the grass, the other kids, or the nearby playground.

In contrast, I also went to a competitive soccer game for older boys (What can I say? We're a soccer family). The older boys played position and strategized. Sometimes, particularly after a goal, you could retrace the movement that led up to the score.

With writing, I used to be a lot like the four-year-old soccer game. Chasing after ideas, getting excited by the shiny swing, and not spending enough time strategizing and working to see the outcome. I'm now almost finished with the first edit of my first completed novel. I just have to say that it's really rewarding to retrace my writing and see plot points fulfilled, characters developed, and promises delivered.

Now I'm not anywhere near a professional soccer player...or a professional writer (I can't keep my metaphors straight), but whether you play magnet ball, or full fledged position soccer, you can't get worse at something you do every day (thank you for the continued use of that quote, Howard Tayler!).

What kind of writer are you, and where are you in your project(s)?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Point of View

An exercise:

Exhausted from a week of traveling, you sink into your seat on the airplane, relieved to be off your feet and excited to be headed home. As passengers continue to board, a parent carrying a writhing toddler appears at the entrance to your row. Checking the seat numbers, they slide in next to you, the parent trying to get the toddler to sit and put his seatbelt on as he screams and wrestles out of arms.

Describe the feelings of the exhausted traveler from their point of view, then the feelings of the parent from their point of view. For fun you could even throw in the toddler's point of view.

And yes, this was inspired by our trip home from Florida this week.

Friday, April 22, 2011


So something to always watch out for is those pesky trademarks that people think should be lowercased but are--as of yet--still uppercase (brand-name). A couple of these I've recently noticed more, and some have been around for a while. The more a trademark is used in printed English, the more chance it has of becoming public domain and the standard term for the item it's referring to. This is so much the case that Xerox has launched huge ad campaigns in the past to try to get the public to say "photocopy" instead of "Xerox."

The following words are trademarked and should be capitalized in manuscripts:

Dumpster (looks weird, right?)
Sheetrock (another one that just looks weird)
World Wide Web (this one is particularly garish, although, thank heavens, Chicago, in its latest iteration has conceded to use "website"; hallelujah!)
Realtor (the third unnatural-looking trademark; feels like it should be lowercase)
Google (although a lot of editors will use "google" lowercase as the verb, while keeping the company/etc. uppercase)
App (Amazon and Apple are in a lawsuit about this very thing right now: whether "app" is an Apple trademark; the more the term is used as a generic abbreviation for "application," the less of a case Apple has)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Writing as punishment...oh no you don't.

My nine year old son announced that he had to write a four page report on animals. While pulling out details of the assignment, I realized that something was a little off. Next came the confession from my dear son:
DS: "Well, its actually a punishment."
Me:"What are you being punished for?"
DS: "Yesterday, when our class went to the carpet, Teacher said if you get your name on the board (for being disruptive)you have to write a report on animals. I asked if I could just write the report and she didn't say anything. So I did just enough bad things to get my name on the board and now I get to write the report!"

He is indeed my child. His love of knowledge and need to share in this case made him get himself in trouble. What does a mother do? I told him to get researching and make sure the report was as good as he could make it.
I plan to call his teacher today and ask her not to encourage his delinquency.

What would you do to be able to write? Would you be disruptive?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Catch That Great Idea

Last week I was camping. :)  And I had tons of amazing ideas come to me for one of my WIP's. (One that's been sitting on a shelf for two years.)

I didn't write any of them down.  And now I can't remember most of them.  I guess I need to go camping again to capture great ideas.

What do you do to make sure you don't loose any of your genius?
Did you notice that I failed to join my crew at the top of the Arch?  Yup, I'm a little nervous around heights.  Good thing I have an adventurous hubby who can take the kids scrambling to their hearts content.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


It is my day to post and I find myself utterly lacking in anything worth while to say, at least pertaining to the realm of writing. So, here are my two cents about things in general and hopefully there will be a little something about writing peppered in.

We went to San Francisco this last week, a city that has continued to grow on me since we first started visiting it in 2006. Oddly, in all the times we've been, we never took the tour of Alcatraz, which we did this last trip. Probably not the best tour for young children, but I found it to have just the right blend of touristy interest and morbidness. I always thought that nobody ever escaped from Alcatraz, but come to find out, three prisoners actually did and it's only the fact that they were never found that they don't really count it. It's widely assumed that they drowned in the Bay, but other prisoners knew that they were learning Spanish and so they think they escaped to South America. Fascinating, right? It made me wonder if they're story is what inspired "The Shawshank Redemption".

Also, I just bought new chairs for my front room and I love them. My heiny is camped out on one of them as I type this. :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pacing Myself

Agent super star Kristin Nelson wrote a blog recently that I found interesting. In the post, she says pacing is the hardest thing to correct when a writer gets it wrong.

Usually I can tell pacing is off in a book when I start skimming. In a movie, if I keep glancing at my watch, then I know something is wrong.

But how do we get the pacing right?

I think conflict is a huge part of it. Think how Harry Potter would read if the only bad guy was Voldemort, or how Twilight would be different if Edward didn't crave Bella's blood. The addition of conflict helps increase the tension and move the pace forward.

I know really great authors who have admitted they struggle with pace. So I want to throw it out...what is your suggestion for keeping a good pace in your novel? Also, what are some examples, good or bad, that show this?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Next Happiest Place on Earth

Since I will be romping around at the Magic Kingdom when you read this I thought it might be fun to see who has the potential of being the next Walt Disney out there. Disney has held the title as king of fantasy for a long time. I think we need to create a new world in theme parks.

For a kid-friendly theme park I've always thought I'd love to visit one that was a cross between the game Candy Land and Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, the perfect blend of tasty fun and creepiness.

Do you have an idea for a cool theme park? What would your ideal theme park be like? Could your current WIP inspire one?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Censure, Censor, Sensor, Censer

One good homophone deserves another. Last week I touched on the palate/palette/palate homophone, and this week it's on to censure/censor/sensor/censer--another one that is seen misused far too often.

Censure: to judge, especially to condemn; the official declaration of condemnation. While not a strict homophone, people mistake it often enough to include here.

Censor: an official or expert who oversees the quality of art, the public morality, and other such things. Also, the act of censoring. In the past couple centuries especially, censoring has been seen in a pejorative sense, partly because "censor" has referred so often to officials who screen material in order to control military or social norms.

Sensor: something that senses and observes its environment, especially an electronic sensor (these days); also biological sensors (in the body, for example).

Censer: vessel in which incense (see the common root?) is burned.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A life well lived!

Once upon a time two young women married brothers and bought land adjacent to each other. They each raised families, cousins running back and forth the 1/4 mile between farmhouses.

Rita and Lil had tea everyday together and often shared apple pie or tuna sandwiches. They borrowed sugar, adopted pets (sometimes reluctantly), and spent Halloween out trick or treating and eating popcorn balls. As their children grew up and moved away they had more time for tea and pie and holding grandkids. Then the grandkids grew up and moved away as well.

Lil and Rita stayed friends through thick and thin and sickness and health. They outlived their husbands and some of the kids and were able to stay in their homes, though new homes cropped up in between. They saw brothers and friends go off to war and return, they saw the first TVs come to town, the farmland turn into suburbs, public water pipes replace their wells, and the modern miracles of computers and cell phones.

Then one day after more than 60 years of tea parties Lil was gone. Hundreds of friends and family said goodbye and mourned. She was there and saw them all, but sometimes it is easier to believe in years of routine rather than one afternoon of ceremony. So Rita is still waiting for her best friend to knock on the door to share another cup of tea.

Farewell, Aunt Lil, we miss you. Hang in there, Grandma, we love you.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What's in your lunch bag?

I am out to lunch.  A nice loooong lunch.

I do have a newly completed WIP to read. (Only the first  half, still waiting for the second half to be edited.)  I may have to throttle the author if I have to wait to long for the second part of this WIP.  I am so excited to read it.

So, enjoy your lunch.   Cause I am enjoying mine. (And I get spaghetti tonight!!  Can I hear a woo hoo?)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cover Fun

I recently went on a shopping expedition and ran across this book in the $1.99 sale bin:
So my question is, what would you put as the subtitle of this book? Mine would read, "Wanna touch my broadsword?"


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hungry for the Movie

As I have confessed here many times, I am a major fan of Hunger Games. Here's the latest on the movie.

I'm so glad Suzanne Collins is part of the writing process. I think the Harry Potter movies suffered with J.K. not being involved with the screenplays.

I've decided to withhold judgement on the casting because if S.C. is happy with it, who am I to judge?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Palette, Pallet, Palate

Fun little editorial tip for the week. With so many homophones in the English language, it's hard to keep them straight sometimes, especially with the ones that have three or four different spellings/meanings. Here's one that I keep seeing done consistently wrong across the board:




And just remember, knowing is half the battle. (The other half is getting past how freaky the inside of a human mouth looks.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Title Wave

The title. That dreaded one line that needs to capture the feeling of your entire novel. It's the first thing a reader will see, and the thing used to spread the word.

Have you read "Twilight" yet?

Personally, I have a tendency to struggle with the title. I have a finished manuscript that I still say, "Well, I'm calling it..."

Why is it so hard to come up with a name?

I found an article on ideas for naming your novel. Not sure if it'll help me, but I'll let you know.

What are some titles you love? What are some titles you hate? I'm sure Ms. Valerie Ipson won't mind my commenting that I love the title of the book she pitched on our blog, Ideal High. With a dark looking cover and that title splashed on the front...very intriguing.

Other titles that are my favorites include: The Hunger Games, Fahrenheit 451, I Am Not a Serial Killer, and The Half Blood Prince.

These titles work for me because they really capture the feeling of the book, and they are succinct and catchy.

So tell me, what titles stand out to you? And what would you name my dystopian YA?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What's Your Color?

Is that a more "all-telling" question than what's your sign?

Last night as our writers' group came to a close and we were on the edge of loosing it, we began to discuss the color personality test.  I took it in college, but that was 15 years ago (ish).  Back then I was a blue with a tinge of red mixed in.  Now I don't know.  We searched the web for info and found one that had added the color green to the test.  (That's like changing the rules in the middle of a game.)

So, what is your personality color? 

Do you know of a good, free, reliable test?  I seriously want to test the other Inkers.

It is a good jumping off point on character development if you need a little help. :)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

And the winner is...

Congratulations to every brave participant who entered the contest.

Ali with her pitch of "Become." We all loved this great example of a concise and intriguing pitch. Fabulous job Ali!!
Ali will be invited to join us on April 26th for our practice your pitch writer's group with the Inkers. We look forward to seeing you. Please send your pages for review to me at dmilakovic(at)gmail(dot)com.

2nd place goes to...
Valerie! We liked the clean pitch with just enough detail to get us hooked. Valerie stated her genre, conflict, and hook. Great job. Please send us the 5 pages for review and feedback. You can use the above email.

3rd place goes to...
Jolene for her awesome pitch as well. We really liked the premise of this story. You stayed with the initial conflict and hook. We'd love to read some of this story. Send on over your pages as well.

Now I'm taking a little license here and I'm going to add an honorable mention. Taffy got her share of votes for pure intrigue and facinating idea.

Not every editor or agent is looking for the same thing and we were definitly looking for a few of the things that Kristen Nelson mentions in her workshop. The pitch should be concise and focusssed on the conflict and the characters. We want to care before we open the pages.

Bonnie Mom-We love the concept of hikers being kidnapped because they know too much about a UFO and the falling in love is a great hook. I liked the voice of this pitch as well.

Robbin-intriguing idea as well. Liked it a lot. I'm interested to know if the changes the character faces upon his return are good changes or bad.

For more comprehensive comments, including notes from the group on improving your pitch specifically, please email me at dmilakovic(at)gmail(dot)com to request them.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Contest Update

We are going to postpone our announcement of the pitch contest winners until Tuesday due to some Inkers being out of town this weekend and needing time to get together for a consensus. Sorry for the delay.

I'm impressed with those of you who entered and put your pitch out there for the cyberuniverse to see. I have a confession. Every time someone finds out I am working on a novel and asks me what it is about I feel like a deer in headlights. I've written a pitch, but I get self-conscious rolling it out to co-workers, extended family members, anyone outside of our writing group. I tend to try to deflect questioning with lines like when I recently answered a male co-worker with, "Oh, it's women's fiction, you wouldn't be interested."

I don't know exactly why I react this way, other than this particular story is based on a lot of personal experiences, some fairly emotional for me, and being a somewhat private person I feel like telling this story is a little like letting everyone see me with only my knickers on. I know this is something I need to get over if I really want to try and get the story published, but it can be intimidating.

So, no matter the result of our little contest, you should all be proud of putting that foot forward and giving it a shot. I applaud you.