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Writing Tales

An open letter to Hachette

This morning I received an email from Amazon, with details about the dispute with Hachette. It was a call to action, asking readers and authors to write to Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch (Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com) and to CC Amazon (readers-united@amazon.com), asking that Hachette accept one of Amazon's offers to remove authors from the middle of the debate. It also made the case for lowering ebook prices and increasing the royalty paid to authors. I support both of these ideas, for multiple reasons. 

You can find the Amazon letter at www.readersunited.com.

I would encourage all readers and authors to read the letter and write emails of their own. This is a watershed moment in publishing. We can create something new and amazing here. So please, take action.

My email to Michael Pietsch appears below. 


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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Good for YA

Good for YA

Yikes! It's been too long. Do you guys remember me?

If not, I understand. I keep meaning to write. Actually, I do write—but it's almost all in books these days! I'm chalking that up to "a good thing."


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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The Three Reasons to Avoid Being Punched in the Face - Part 2

Read the second installment of "The Three Reasons to Avoid Being Punched in the Face." 

Elle had a thing for red.

“It’s bold,” she said. She’d said this more than once, as we perused the wares of the little clothing shop just a block from the record/comic/hot chocolate shop/post office, where I’d decided it would be a good idea to buy a new wardrobe for a near stranger. She had described nearly every item of clothing she’d picked up as some variation of ‘bold.’ The skirt was “pronounced.” The pants were “adventurous.” The gloves were “distinct.”


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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I have become Revisionist, destroyer of continuity

Citadl Obelisk.jpg

For the past few weeks I've been editing the first two Citadel books, getting them ready for a second edition release. I'm exercising the author/publisher prerogative to change a few things as I go. That's going to irritate some purists, and I'm really, really sorry about that. But it's not like I'm changing the plot or anything, just a few tweaks to dialogue and exposition that really need to happen for things to make more sense. Relax about it.

I have an ulterior motive in this. I needed to refresh my memory, get my head back into the story, so I could write Book 3. I'm taking notes as I go during this edit, cramming Evernote with every relevant bit of info I might need later. I'm breaking down key character traits and plot points, and small details that might get overlooked if I'm not careful. I don't have a big enough following for my stuff to permeate Wikipedia yet, so I can't cheat.  Curse you all.

The edits—there's a part of me, the reader in me, that's screaming about that. I mean, sure, I say  relax about it, but the truth is some of those changes are significant. I'm tweaking little incongruous details that bugged me, and that had painted me into a corner. Subtle things, to be sure, but big enough in the grand play that if I left them as they were I'd have to write something really convoluted to make it all make sense. 

The reader in me hates it. The author in me knows it has to be done. Think of it like a kid going to dentist. Sure, the kid would rather be out playing with his favorite toys, but the dentist has to take care of that rotting tooth that could spoil all the fun. 

The good news in all this—Book 3 is on its way! It's been way too long, and I know that. And again, I'm really, really sorry about it. I had other books to write, and other stories to tell. But it's finally coming, and along with it, Books 1 & 2 will get a tiny tummy tuck to make them a little more fit.

If you've already read Citadel: First Colony and Citadel: Paths in Darkness, I probably owe you an apology, but what I'm going to give you is a huge debt of thanks. The feedback I got from many of you has helped me make some big decisions on the shape and direction of this story. So the edits I'm making are really for you. Thanks for pointing out the typos and flaws and plot holes and character goofs. In particular, my friend Athena pointed out a major  character goof in Book 2 that could have ruined everything. Thanks to her quick reading and ironclad memory, I was able to fix the goof before the book went to print, which is a really, really good argument for releasing to ebook first. 

This is a dicy game, self publishing. And I'm learning as I go. But you folks are making it all worthwhile, so thanks for that! And I'm going to do my best to make sure you have more books to read.  

Look for the second editions to release over the next month!


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____________________________________________________________
Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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White trash in the trailer park of words

Little known fact: Gnomes love Apples.

Little known fact: Gnomes love Apples.

I didn't grow up wanting to be a Copywriter. I did believe that I would write, that was never even a question. If and when I pictured my future, I pictured myself as a writer (and as a teacher, for some reason, which I've done from time to time with mixed results). I didn't always have a clear vision of what being a writer would look like, but I knew that was something I wanted to be. I wanted to have a book with my name on the spine, wearing a groove into its particular library shelf after being repeatedly grabbed, read, and replaced for the next lucky reader.

I think that's what I had in mind. Truthfully, I don't remember the particulars. I just remember discovering that I could  write, that I liked  to write, and it hit me, somehow, that all the books I was reading were  written. I wanted to be the one writing them.

Of course, I fell under the same malady that a lot of writers fall under. It's best summed up with this quote: 

"I hate writing. I love having written."
—Dorothy Parker

Writing can be tough. It's work, after all. Quiet, lonely, isolated, time- and attention-consuming work. Do I relish sitting down to the keyboard or putting pen to paper, knowing how much work I have ahead of me? 

Well ... yes. But not always. Sometimes I'm uninspired, unenthusiastic, unimpressed. It's less of a "writer's block" and more of a "soul block." I want to write, but at those times it's like dragging words out by their hair, like an episode of "Cops," set in a trailer park where words live, where paragraphs may bully and beat sentences until they're too afraid to stand alone, and punctuation hides, screaming and wailing in the corner, mucus dripping from their tiny little noses.  

So when a writer (even Dorothy Parker, I'm sure) says that they hate writing, that's likely the part their talking about. Because sitting down and jotting off a story that flows like fine wine into crystal is the fun  part, but real writing  is what happens when you have to drag those words out and beat them down in front of a camera guy and an audience that watches for the sheer entertainment of seeing folly.

When I became a Copywriter, it was out of necessity. I needed money. I liked eating, had become accustomed to it, and wished to continue in that lifestyle. I needed something that I could point to as proof that I wasn't a damned liar, and in fact I did make a living by jamming words together in meaningful ways thank you very much . I became a Copywriter because it was closer to the mountain, as Neil Gaiman put it.

Do I want to be a Copywriter? Sure. I like the work. It's interesting. 

Do I want to be a Copywriter forever? No, of course not. It's not that interesting. 

And in fact, I'm starting to see the corners peel up on the veneer of this career. Copy is sort of ... repetitive. It's called copy for a reason, after all. It's me, using my writer's brain and skill and passion, over and over again, to come up with clever variations on the things I've already said a thousand times. Sometimes, in the transcription, there are little errors that I can polish to brilliance. Sometimes, though, the paint just looks scratched and dull and maybe a little overdone. 

I was born to write. I don't doubt that at all. I prove it by doing it, every single day, without fail. I don't take a break for birthdays or Christmas. I don't take vacations from it. It is  the vacation, most of the time. And whether it's writing ad copy, writing a book, writing a short story, writing an article, or just writing an email to a friend, it's work I do because I'm driven to do it, and I make it better and better as I go because that's what you do when you're obsessed.  

But books ... being an author of books, writing and polishing and completing and publishing books ... yes. Yes, that's what I do. I'm a writer because I write. I'm an author because I dream.  


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____________________________________________________________
Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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What people think I do - Part 4

#4

"You always write very clever things," she wrote.
"Well, it IS what I do for a living."
"I never would have thought that, knowing you from school."
"Really, I wrote all the time in school. You never saw one of my short stories?"
"Oh yeah, I saw them. They just weren't all that good." 


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____________________________________________________________
Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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What people think I do - Part 1 & Part 2

Two recent conversations about writing for a living:

#1
"So what do you do for a living," she asked.

"I'm a writer."
"Oh! What have you written?"
"I have a few science fiction novels, and I make a living as a copywriter."
(long pause)
"Oh. Is it expensive to get a copyright?"
(shorter pause)
"No."

 #2
"Hey, you're a writer," she said.

"You can't prove that," I replied.
[pause]
"You ARE, aren't you?"

 


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____________________________________________________________
Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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60 brilliant people

Of all the things I do, I think teaching Developmental Writing is the most fun.

That's a bizarre statement to see on the screen, primarily because I would never have thought I'd say (or write) anything like that. First of all, back in 2003 when I was laid off from a high school teaching position, I swore I'd never go back to teaching. The heartache of investing so much of myself in the students and the school, only to be let go because of budget concerns, kind of put a bad taste in my mouth. Plus, I wasn't a fan of the miles of red tape and the ever-shifting politics inherent in the public school system.

Second, of all the classes I ever thought I *might* enjoy teaching, "Developmental Writing" was never on the list. Creative Writing, sure. Survey of 21st Century Literature, OK. Graphic Design or Advertising Essentials, absolutely. But Developmental writing ... no way.

All of that changed after the first time I stepped into the classroom.

I took the gig because it was a way to get a bit more classroom time, and to try out some of the things I have learned and discovered about the way humans learn. It would be my learning laboratory, as it were. I could experiment, compare traditional teaching techniques to some of my fancy new theories. I've mentioned before, I have an interest in education, but I also have an interest in human potential. So I was trying to answer the question, "Can I take even the most basic subject and use it to improve the lives of my students?"

The answer is "Hell yes."

In my Developmental Writing course, I'm going over all those fundamentals you would think were firmly embedded in every kid at around fourth grade. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong. I can draw up a roster of about 60 young adults over a one-year period who would be willing to confirm for you that they did not, in fact, get the essentials of writing early in their academic careers. Forget the complicated stuff, like when or where to use a semicolon (hell, even I have trouble with that one), or whether or not it is OK to end a sentence with a preposition. These folks couldn't define "preposition" to save their lives. In fact, they didn't even have a working definition of "sentence."

Now I'm being a little harsh here, I think. First of all, most people don't have a definition for "sentence" at the ready. We know what a sentence is, when we see it, but if we had to describe it there would be a bit of stumbling as we came up with the right words. Try it. Do you have a definition of your own? Probably not. And if you do, kudos.

But for the purposes of my course, here is the definition I give them:

A sentence is a group of words that expresses a complete thought.

That's it. Simple, right? Elegant, even.

OK, we start there. And believe it or not, that's most of DAY 1 of this course. Defining what a sentence is, and getting that definition stuck in the heads of the students, is a full day's worth of work.

To be fair, I do go a little further than that definition. For example, I will add, "A sentence contains a subject, a verb, and a predicate." At which point, I will have to spend time defining "predicate." And, believe it or not, I will even have to spend some time defining "subject." For some reason, "verb" gives us no trouble.

From subject, verb, and predicate we typically move on to parts of speech. They known "noun," thank God. And, of course, "verb." I give them an "object" lesson, which more or less goes over well. And then we enter Adjective and Adverb country, and the whole thing goes to hell for a day or two.

In fact, by the time we manage our way into adjectives and adverbs, we are already into at least week two of the course. Somehow the mere act of describing nouns or describing adjectives, verbs, or other adverbs is so complex and intimidating, it can't be learned readily.

The first time I came across this roadblock, it really threw me. I couldn't understand what was happening. This was basic stuff, after all. Very basic. Like atomic structure compared to the complexity of the Universe basic. And yet, somehow, these guys not only missed it the first time around they treated it as unfathomable babbling.

I thought about this for a long time, talking it over with my wife, Kara, and some of my friends. And I think I've figured out at least part of the problem here: These people never learned how to learn.

Here's a funny historic note about our education system: It was originally designed by Plato. Well, more or less. Plato put together an education system that consisted of an elementary education, followed by a secondary, and completed with a university education. His position was that students would get the foundations of learning from their elementary education, and then dig deeper into specific subject matter on general subjects during their secondary education. At the university level, they would specialize more, and choose their particular fields of study, in which they would become experts and professionals (as the terms applied in those days). This setup may sound familiar, since it is the basic model of our current education system, and the most logical way to structure that system.

But somewhere along the way, things kind of fell apart.

Suddenly, elementary school became the place where facts were crammed into the brains of young people. Facts, but no system for connecting those facts to each other. Instead of giving students a foundation for later learning, they were suddenly expected to leave foundational schooling with an active and complete education. And then, in secondary school, the process would start all over again. They would get more facts shoved through their ears, nose, and other orifices, and then they were forced to regurgitate those facts (and ONLY those facts) on a test designed to measure how close they could come to the arbitrary "average." In this system, no real attention is paid to exactly how the student learns best. No attempt is made to connect new information to old information in a meaningful and useful way. And absolutely no attempt is made to teach the student how to make up for any gaps in their learning.

So, after 12 years of inadequate education, paid for by our tax dollars, those students with enough gaul and ambition to actually enter the university level will often do so with a woefully inefficient and inadequate educational foundation. They end up having to spend a great deal of money to learn those things that should have been built into their brains before they ever left elementary school.

And that's when I get them.

You're asking yourself, "When is he going to get to the 'life changing' part?"

When I first started teaching Developmental Writing, I figured it would be best if I stuck with the basics of writing. My goal was to get the students from choppy, poor sentences and paragraphs to semi-polished prose. When I discovered that I couldn't even start working with sentences and paragraphs, because the students had no concept of parts of speech much less a working definition of a sentence, I had to change tactics. I started giving them the foundation they were missing, from all those years ago.

And then I thought, "I have this wealth of knowledge about how people learn, and how to streamline learning. It's a shame I can't use that here."

Why not? Why couldn't I? After all, these guys were so far behind, they couldn't possibly be worse off if they left my class with more knowledge about how to learn than how to structure a paragraph, right?

But I felt too guilty about it. I couldn't focus on learning foundations when they had paid for Developmental Writing. They needed to know how to write a sentence, a paragraph, and an essay.

So why not combine Developmental Writing with Learning Foundations?

The class I teach is typically two to four hours in length. The two-hour classes are broken up over two days in the week. The four-hour classes happen on a single day. Both give me more than enough time to talk about the basics of writing, with room to spare. So, I broke each class up into two components. For the first half, I would teach Developmental Writing. For the second, Learning Foundations. And I would bridge the two by showing the students how to use the second half to better understand and remember the first.

I started with memory techniques. I taught them about "location memory," and helped them to learn and use "memory palaces" to remember long lists of things in order. I also taught them how to encode abstract information so it would be easier to store. All of this came in handy for remembering terms and definitions that they would need in order to move beyond the developmental level.

I taught them basic logic and reasoning skills for problem analysis and problem solving. I started with basic concepts, such as "If all subjects are nouns, and all adjectives describe nouns, then what do we call these terms that are describing our subject?" It sounds rudimentary, right? That's because it is. It was also completely lacking for these guys up until now.

Slowly but surely, my students were starting to get the hang of these things. I taught them how the brain works when it stores information. I talked to them about working memory versus long-term memory. I taught them about synapses and the physical connections formed in the brain during learning. I taught them about the power of visualization to help you encode and remember facts. And in the end, all of these things led to some pretty interesting results.

There are three types of questions I will ask any given student at any random time. These three questions are based on the memory exercises and the definitions that we have worked on together. For the first memory exercise, I gave them a list of 20 random items that included terms like "goal post" or "cigarettes" or even "voting booth", and taught them to recall all 20 in order (or even out of sequence) even weeks after they first saw the list. For the second memory exercise, I taught them how to remember a list of 10 random items on a "shopping" list (which could include items such as "gorilla fingers" or "flesh-colored body suit," as well as "peanut butter" or "banana peppers"). And finally, I taught them the vocabulary of developmental writing, with terms such as "adjective," "adverb," and "predicate, as well as their definitions.

Then, at random times during class I might ask questions like the following:

"What is number six?" (The answer is "gun")

"What is on the couch?" ("gorilla fingers")

"What describes a noun?" ("adjective")

And the funny thing is, this group of students who couldn't get into English 1301 because of their placement test scores can quote back to me, word for word and in order, every single term, item, and definition without once referring to their notes or their books. They can also tell me how the various parts of speech interact in a sentence, and that a sentence should always be "simple and clear." They can tell me how to determine something as abstract as the "main idea" of a sentence or paragraph. They can reason out that a sentence is logically incorrect, and the best way to fix it.

For many of these students, this is the first time they've been able to do something that made them feel "smart." And I praise the hell out of them for doing it. They feel so accomplished, so brilliant, that when they leave my class they go and use these same techniques in their other classes. They are quoting from memory the bones of the body and the list of U.S. Presidents. They are figuring out how to determine whether X is equal to Y. They are relating new facts to what they already know, and making them memorable through visualization. They are, essentially, building on their foundation.

It's such a small thing. It's a semester's worth of teaching, for four hours per week. And yet, I honestly believe it will take them places in their lives that they might never have suspected they could go.

So, I admit it. This is a fun experience. I may not teach this course forever, but I am really glad I did have the chance to teach it. I learned as much from it as they've learned, I believe. And maybe I can take what I've learned and help shape how our education system works. Or maybe not. Who can really say? The whole thing is a mess. But at least I can be sure of one thing:

There are 60 brilliant people who are preparing to start moving about in the world.


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____________________________________________________________
Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
____________________________________________________________

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