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The Rule of Ten

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Do you want to sell more articles and stories? Well, the answer’s obvious, of course. The more manuscripts we submit to editors, the greater the chances are that one of them will find publication.

That said, let me share a tip I learned early in my literary career. It’s called “The Rule of Ten.” The idea behind it is this: By constantly keeping at least ten manuscripts circulating to ten different publishers, at least one of them will likely find a home. Every time we sell an article or receive a rejection, submit another one to take its place. Ten, always keep ten in circulation.

This doesn’t mean we write poorly, but it does mean we must keep our creative juices flowing so we’ll have those “extras” to submit when needed. 

When I tried this, I learned it served me well! Another benefit? It softened the blow of rejections. Hey, so what if an editor didn’t like my article or story? I had nine more making the rounds, and another tenth one about to go in the mail. Or as we say nowadays, “about to be e-mailed.” 

Give this principle a try. It may work for you, too.  

Till next week, friends, keep on writing!

Historical Fiction Research: Newspapers

Scan_20170116 (2)These photos were taken by my father, Dr. John M. Cunningham

Many years ago, while four friends and I traveled to Tennessee during a Labor Day break from college, my car struck a huge concrete culvert head-on at sixty miles per hour. My engine erupted into flames like what we often see in the movies, and we were nearly killed.

Upon my father’s arrival at the hospital where we were recovering, he handed me a local newspaper that “told what happened.” I put this in quotes because the reporter got most everything wrong. The major thing he got wrong? He said we were sideswiped by a truck. Though in pain, I chuckled. Ours was a single-car accident due to careless driving. A passing truck driver was the one who rescued us. I learned then not to believe everything I read in a newspaper. Journalists are people; they do make factual errors.

I carry this knowledge into my historical research. Like today’s newspapers, old newspapers’ facts are sometimes either outright wrong or twisted, and they’re also biased just like our modern newspapers. Though studying old newspapers can be helpful, my motto is this: “Researcher, beware.”

What value, then, do we find by using newspapers as a source? Since my specialty is the nineteenth century, let me share some useful things we can glean from them and incorporate into our historical fiction. I’ll be using as my source The Daily Ranchero, a newspaper once published in Brownsville, Texas. I’ll be using various issues of this paper, all from the year 1865, after the Civil War ended.

1. We can learn the prices of goods sold at the time. On one of The Daily Ranchero’s broadsheets, we find a list of items that would be sold at auction along with their prices. Here’s a sample: star candles ($18-$20), quinine ($1.50 per ounce), rip saws ($1.35), etc. The list is way too long to reproduce in its entirety.

2. Weather reports for a particular day are often found in these newspapers. This helps keep our scene’s weather accurate if we’re writing about a specific day in history.

3. Advertisements in these old papers are great! Not only do they tell us which businesses were around in the era we’ve chosen, they often give street names and specific addresses. We can learn the names of restaurants, hotels, and stagecoach lines, such as Arnold & Wheeler’s, in The Daily Ranchero.

4. What kind of medicine did they use in 1865? A drug store advertisement gives us an idea. The Brownsville Drug Store advertised the arrival of new stock: citrate of magnesia, seltzer aperient, etc. It added, “Prices very much reduced in accordance with times and market.”

5. What about standard news articles? We can and should also use them, of course. However, as I mentioned earlier, “Researcher, beware.” Study these articles with a critical eye, watching out for bias and errors of fact and similar things. Always double-check these articles with other sources before using the information in our work.

Well, I hope this has given my readers a few ideas on how to use newspapers in historical research. Till next week, friends, keep on writing!

Let’s Have a Conversation

 

Placeholder ImageHas anyone ever told you that  you write like you talk? That’s a great thing to hear if they did. Indeed, it’s a compliment, because good writing carries with it a conversational, natural-sounding style, whereas poor writing is stilted and sounds forced. Stilted writing bores readers, whereas conversational writing pleases them, thus encouraging them to keep reading.

What is stilted writing?

1. Stilted writing sounds formal. It uses formal words instead of the everyday words most people use.

2. Stilted writing doesn’t use contractions.

   a. Stilted sentence: “I am sorry I was late.”

   b. More natural sentence: “I’m sorry I was late.”

3. Read your prose aloud. Better yet, read it into a voice recorder, then play back what you’ve read. Does it sound like natural conversation? If so, great! If not, more work needs to be done.

As writers, then, let’s aim for a conversational style. It should sound like we’re talking to readers from an easy chair, telling them a story. To achieve this requires lots of work and lots of practice. Here are a few tips that’ll help.

1. Use contractions. Why? Because people use contractions in their everyday speech.

2. Vary sentence lengths but be concise. Good writing makes every word count toward the reader’s understanding of a sentence no matter what the sentence’s length. If a word or phrase doesn’t contribute toward understanding a sentence’s meaning, if it’s just hanging out there serving no purpose, get rid of it.

3. Vary our sentence structures. Since sentence structure is beyond the scope of this post, I recommend finding and studying a good grammar book that discusses it.

Till next time, friends, keep on writing!

An Early Writing Lesson

Many years ago, make that back in the early 1980s, I started taking my writing seriously after having a small article published in The Upper Room, a United Methodist devotional magazine. One of the early lessons I learned then was this: many folks either shrugged at my desire to become a writer, or thought I was lazy when I decided to launch out on my own and try my hand at it full-time. Fortunately, some of my early writing teachers had taught me to expect this reaction. Had it not been for their warnings, I might have become discouraged and quit. Writing, I discovered very quickly, is a lonely and hard business.

Blog Typewriter 2On the other hand, it had become such a passion that I gave up certain activities in order to pursue it. My biggest activity I gave up was my Saturday golf outings with friends. They didn’t understand. No one did. But that’s all right. The Lord has enabled me through all these years to “roll with the punches.”

I think one reason why the average person doesn’t understand the work involved is because when they see it in print, good writing looks easy. Oh, but quite the opposite is true. The easier a published work is to read, the harder its author worked. We writers can’t write well if we don’t work hard.

Don’t let naysayers discourage you from your calling. Our God is good, and He will bring your literary dreams to pass if you continue to believe Him and persist toward your goal.

Being Professional


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With today’s technology, it’s become easier for wannabe writers to see their work published. Indeed, thousands of books are out there clamoring for readers’ attention. The ease with which publication has become, though, presents its own issues for self-published authors.

We must understand that professional writing requires more of us than just sitting down at our laptops, whipping out a manuscript, and then self-publishing it. It goes well beyond that first draft, second draft, even third draft. It takes long hours of hard work and revision till we see polished prose.

Just as we can’t repair a car if we don’t understand how its engine works, so we can’t engage in effective revision if we don’t understand what makes good writing work. Effective writing entails numerous elements, too many to discuss in one blog. Each element requires constant practice. For serious authors, writing is a daily discipline. Professional writers don’t wait for the inspiration bug to hit them. Professional writers…write! 

Do we want our self-published books to stand out among all the other indie books on the market? Do we want to be taken seriously as authors? Do we want to sell our books? If so, we must approach our craft the same way all serious writers approach it— through disciplined study, practice, and writing every day.

In future posts I’ll discuss different writing techniques and other literary issues that will help us all write more professionally. For most folks, writing at this level doesn’t happen overnight. It didn’t with me. Only after working at my craft for six years did I begin selling my manuscripts on a consistent basis.

Let me encourage you, then—work hard, study the craft, and write every day.

 

 

Till next time, I’ll see y’all at the Cove.

What My Cat Taught Me

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Numbers 13:26-33
And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight (Numbers 13:33, KJV).

Behind my childhood home runs an alley. From this alley, stray cats often wandered onto our property where my mother always fed them. Alley cats they were, in the strictest sense, so it’s no wonder that I adopted a stray who wandered onto my lawn in Kenner, Louisiana.

A beautiful gray kitty with a gentle temperament, she was the perfect pet. I named her Koshka, Russian for female cat, I’d learned in my college’s Russian class. One day, though, a neighbor looked down at her and said to me, “Your cat looks pregnant.”

Pregnant! The word gripped my throat. That was the last thing I needed. I could afford Koshka, but care for a litter of kittens? Oh, no! For several days, I studied Koshka’s swollen belly. Mews and meows of imaginary kittens wreaked havoc on my brain’s “movie screen.” What would happen after she gave birth? Happen? To her? To her kittens? What about me? My bank account? My money?

Every day, visions of dwindling finances dominated my concerns. Anxieties intensified. I wanted to scream: “Koshka, girl, why are you doing this to me?”

Finally, I took her to the veterinarian to verify her pregnancy.

After his examination, he announced the verdict. “She’s not pregnant. She’s been spayed. She’s just fat.”

Whew! All my nervous tension broke at his announcement. Peace swept over and through me like a gurgling stream.

But isn’t this what the enemy does to us if we let him? After Moses’ twelves spies returned from scouting out Canaan, panic seized ten of them. They couldn’t take the land. Giants were there, “and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” First Satan planted doubt in their minds, then faithlessness supplanted faith and finally, an overactive imagination produced an overwhelming terror. Because they believed what they saw and listened to the enemy’s lie, they missed God’s blessing.

Not so, two other spies, Caleb and Joshua. God told them He’d given them the land, and they believed it. They listened to His Word. When the day finally arrived, they marched into the Promised Land, the last survivors of Moses’ generation.

Because I listened to the authority regarding Koshka, I gained peace of mind. Likewise, when we listen to and heed God’s authority, His Word, the Lord will lead us to victory through every battle just as He did Caleb and Joshua.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I believe Your Word, the only authority for how I live my life. Thank You for it, and for the peace You give me when I listen to and obey You. May I continue heeding Your guidance. Help me to ignore the enemy’s lies. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Brief Reflection
When we listen to Satan’s negative thoughts, we allow him to steal our faith. Do we believe God’s promises and walk in faith like Caleb and Joshua?

Passages for Study
John 8:33-47
John 6:34-4

This excerpt is taken from Reflections of a Southern Boy: Devotions from the Deep South. Published by Ashland Park Books, it is available at amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle. To purchase a copy, visit the Books page on this site.
All Rights Reserved.
Copyright 2018 by John “Jack” M. Cunningham, Jr.