Announcing: Jeff Dondero

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Shannon & Elm is pleased to announce the signing of Jeff Dondero.

The Energy Wise Home: Practical Tips for Sustainable Energy—Shannon & Elm’s first nonfiction work—is a timely look at the myriad ways we can conserve energy and live a greener life in and around our own homes. With its wells of well-dispensed information, The Energy Wise Home is a valuable resource for anyone looking to make a difference by living more sustainably—even one small difference at a time.

Jeff Dondero is a long-time resident of the San Francisco Bay area in California. He attended college in San Francisco, where he studied a customized major consisting of journalism, communications, broadcast arts, and English. One of his first gigs was as a stringer for the San Francisco Examiner, and he worked as a reporter for various suburban newspapers before becoming the entertainment editor for the Marin Independent Journal. He has written and edited many newspapers and magazines, and contributed to a local television station. After a stint with a publisher of trade magazines, he and his partner formed a company that furnishes editorial content and publishes a website for sustainable industries. When he is not writing, he enjoys sailing on the San Francisco Bay.

What else should we know about Mr. Dondero?

Why do you write?

Money would be a good answer, but I once told someone that although ditch digging was a lot like writing, the main difference was that ditch diggers made more money, and get better benefits and more recognition. Truth is I’m a masochist that feels compelled, and I can’t really do anything else, and I’m too chicken to write (according to Elmore Leonard) what can really bring in the big bucks—ransom or “this is a stick up” notes.

What do you have the most fun with during the creative process?

I love to do research, but sometimes it can be frustrating. The most fun is when you kind of upchuck all over several pages and you write some good stuff almost by accident—although it really isn’t.

What is a profound memory from the writing process for The Energy Wise Home?

What I learned about the process and the subject, and the monstrous amount of work it took. But I would not call it profound as in traumatic or an epiphany. Enjoyably exhausting, like after good sex.

You can read the rest of Dondero’s interview on his author page—and then check out some of Shannon & Elm’s other great authors!

Keep your eyes peeled for the cover reveal—coming soon—and then mark your calendars for The Energy Wise Home, coming this August from Shannon & Elm.

First Lines, Part One: The Concept

Sometimes a line of literature sticks with you for years. You’ll be going about your life, and a thought will pop into your head that reminds you of a time in your past, and on the heels of that memory a quote that impacted you pops back into the forefront of your mind: one line that so perfectly casts light on the world and humanity and yourself.

And when one such line is the very first sentence of a book, it sets the ground for the entire book to stick with a reader.

Here are a few of our favorite first sentences, and probably some of yours, too:

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
—Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…”
—Allen Ginsberg, “Howl”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
—Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
—C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.”
—James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
—Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

And finally, from [our sister imprint] Shannon & Elm’s own novel:

“Masturbation turned me into a New Yorker.”
—Neal Starkman, Dervishes

So…how does one create a first line that sticks?

  1. The weather is not an acceptable opener. Boycott anything to do with the setting, unless the setting is really important to the story, and the opener is really damn good.
  2. Use small words and short fragments. The first line is the ultimate hook; you have milliseconds to draw the reader in.
  3. It should be short. At least the memorable part of it—see Joyce and the obscenely verbose Dickens above. The sentence can ramble on afterwards, but that first physical line on the page should be all it takes to make the top of your reader’s head come off. (We stole that from Emily Dickinson.) After all, how many people can quote the Dickens line past “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”?
  4. Something about it should be mildly confusing. Something that will make the reader seek an answer in the second line and the rest of the novel. (See the Márquez quote above.)
  5. It should give voice to a universal truth, but not a cliché. Give that truth a personal twist.

A first line without these components can be perfectly acceptable. But will it be remarkable?

Announcing: Dante Zúñiga-West

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Shannon & Elm is thrilled to announce the signing of Dante Zúñiga-West.

Zúñiga-West’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals, both online and in print; his journalism, in alternative newspapers and adventure magazines. He has worked as a high school English teacher, a librarian, a kitchen cook, a graduate teaching assistant, a childcare specialist, a counselor for the developmentally disabled, a bouncer, a Muay Thai kickboxing instructor, a bartender, a cab driver, a writing instructor to homeless youth, a landscaper, a video game salesman, a copy-shop attendant, an SAT tutor, a freelance journalist, a newspaper editor, a private security guard, an at-risk-youth counselor, and a touring musician. He lives off the grid in the coastal mountain range of Oregon.

His first book for Shannon & Elm will be Rumble Young Man Rumble, a modern coming-of-age tale about love, loss, and prizefighting. By turns gritty and heart-warming, Zúñiga-West’s unique voice and marvelous storytelling transform a tale into a page-turner.

What else should we know about the one-and-only Dante Zúñiga-West?

How do you write?

Like a man held at gunpoint.

What do you write?

Stories that have stories inside them. Straightforward fiction that reflects gritty subculture, damaged people, and marginalized behavior.

Who are your influences?

Many of the people who influence my writing are not writers; they are kids from the homeless shelter where I taught, 100-year-old Benedictine monks I lived around, people who rode in the taxicab I was driving, men I fought in the ring, or musicians whose music was playing in the background of a dark bar. Those are the influences for my stories more so than anything else.

Why this story?

Rumble Young Man Rumble is a modern coming of age story. I wrote it because as a young man I did not identify with any of the iconic coming of age stories people gave me. I don’t think any of my peers did, either.

On a more personal note, I wanted Rumble to be a story about love, loss, and prizefighting, all things I find to be infinitely fascinating and quite similar to each other.

 

You can read the rest of Mr. Zúñiga-West’s fantastic interview on his author page. Afterwards, check out some of our other great authors.

Then mark your calendar for Rumble Young Man Rumble, coming this November from Shannon & Elm.

Invite Us to Come Give Local Book Talks!

Did you know that The Zharmae Publishing Press can come to you to present a talk or panel?

Shannon St. Hillaire composed this write-up after a recent talk for a writing group in Spokane…

A while back, some fellow editors, the publisher, and I had the opportunity to talk with the Inland Northwest Writer’s Guild at their monthly meeting at Auntie’s Bookstore in downtown Spokane. We presented our company, along with its new imprints, to a plethora of writers. We were thrilled with the turnout and met some great writers, some of whom we hope to publish!

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After working from a virtual office all day, it was great to get out and meet the wonderful talent in person. The other editors and I left with a healthy handful of submissions and the glow of having met the kind, earnest, and talented writing community here in Spokane. That is what Zharmae is about: finding talented writers who write for the pure joy of it, without the expectation of being discovered…until we discover them!

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The group had plenty of questions to ask: about marketing, payment, distribution, different forms of publication, and more. If you have any such questions, let the Q&A continue via internet!

Many thanks to Linda Bond, coordinator of the Guild, for welcoming us into the group. We are thrilled to be a part of this wonderful community.

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If you have a writing or book club, we would love to join up with you and your members. Check in with us—we have editors in various cities along the West Coast and dotted across the US who would be happy to make a presentation to your group.

It is a fantastic experience for everyone to meet in person and exchange the energy between writing and business that is essential for this industry. We hope to hear from you!

 

The Depths of Dialogue

“Class, the week before last we were discussing dialogue concerns.” She sniffed, and nudged her glasses back up her nose. “Your homework was to discover some dialogue concerns of your own. Raise your hand if you found at least one.”

A smattering of hands are raised, here and there. More than she expected, really. She walks over to the white board. “All right, then, what did you ascertain?”

*

Well, what did we ascertain?

Another key point to watch out for is what we’ll call—for lack of a better term—over-cussing. Let’s say a regular conversation with a college-age male might go like this:

“I fuckin’ tell ya, man, this is fuckin’ bullshit. I can’t even fuckin’ believe Mary would steal the key to my fuckin’ storage unit and set fire to all my goddamn shit. All my goddamn shit!”

Now, if you say it aloud, it sounds fairly normal, if angry. But in dialogue form, it’s… terrifying. And knocks the reader out of any story you are trying to create. Cuss words in speech—especially with young people in this day and age—are little more than emphatic interjections. But cuss words in writing pack a much, much larger punch. “I tell ya, man, this is bullshit. I can’t fuckin’ believe Mary would steal the key to my storage unit and set fire to all my goddamn stuff” is hardcore enough, in written form.

We think it may be because, historically, cuss words were palabra non grata in written speech, period. So while “fucking” may sound like “gosh-darned” to the trained ear, “fucking” still looks like “fucking” to the eye, because our eyes have not yet been trained to read past these words. Maybe in a hundred years this will be different, but right now, it’s important to choose your cuss words carefully, and make sure to only use them when you really need them.

After all, everyone remembers the one single cuss word in Harry Potter, when Molly Weasley shouts, “You bitch!” Quite the punch that packed.

The above sentence also leads us into another point, which is: stick with standard spelling if at all possible. Just because a person sounds like they’re saying, “Ay assed fur a dubble rume weeth ay beth,” doesn’t mean you should actually write it that way. When the reader has to stop and peer closely at each syllable, it breaks the flow of the story. “I assed for a double room weeth a bath” makes it very clear that there is an accent involved, but is much easier to comprehend in a single read. Especially as “Ay” and “I” are essentially the same sound, as are “dubble” and “double”, and “rume” and “room”. (And yes, that was from an actual published book.)

You see this in Scottish-based novels, especially. “Och aye, me lassie, an’ I shall gev ye a wallopin’ if’n ye donna be doin’ as I ask ye.”

Entirely unnecessary—especially if it comes from a protagonist, who has a large portion of dialogue, instead of a throwaway Nanny character with three lines.

Pirates, as well: “I be feelin’ that thar be somethin’ between us, lubber.”

The whole point of a story—the essential function—is that it allows a reader to escape into a world you’ve created. If the reader keeps being drawn back to the physical page time and again, sounding out syllable after syllable because your malformed words don’t make sense to their eyeballs… somethin’ be wrong, matey.

 

What other dialogue issues have you noticed in the books you read? Or, conversely, are there any awesome dialogue techniques you’ve noticed and appreciated?

An Easter Treat: The Literary Easter Egg

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No Easter tradition is better loved than the egg hunt. Every year, children scurry through the house and yard, searching behind bushes and under chairs for eggs filled with goodies. After all, who doesn’t love a competitive adventure that has chocolate waiting at the end?

Grown-ups can find their own version of Easter egg hunts, although the treat at the end is (perhaps unfortunately) not candy. “Easter eggs” is the term used to refer to hidden content or messages. While Easter eggs originated in computer programs, they have since spread to other forms of media—video games, movies, artwork, and, of course, books.

So, what exactly is a literary Easter egg? Some common examples are inside jokes, secret codes, and subtle references. Any sort of unexpected, veiled surprise could be considered an Easter egg.

Many great stories throughout years have been dotted with Easter eggs, although you might not have noticed them if you didn’t realize you were on the hunt. Here are a few examples.

  1. Through the Looking Glass: Lewis Carroll’s famed work features an acrostic poem that spells out “Alice Pleasance Liddell,” the name of the real girl who inspired the fictional Alice.
  2. A Series of Unfortunate Events: This children’s series by Daniel Handler, pen name Lemony Snicket, is full of twists and intrigue, creating the perfect atmosphere for hidden Easter eggs. For example, in A Hostile Hospital, a list of names features anagrams of both Daniel Handler and Brett Helquist, the book’s illustrator. Another anagram is made from the pen name Lemony Snicket for the name of one of the characters, Monty Kensicle.
  3. Star Wars: In some of the Star Wars books, Han Solo mentions that he uses the name Jenos Idanian as an alias. This is an anagram of Indiana Jones, who is played by Harrison Ford—the same actor who plays Han Solo in the Star Wars movies.
  4. Sarah Dessen’s novels: Popular YA author Sarah Dessen is known for setting her stories in recurring locations, and many of her characters run into each other across their books. Just to name a couple of examples, the protagonists of The Truth About Forever make a cameo appearance in Just Listen, and a character from This Lullaby is seen briefly in Lock and Key.
  5. The Great Gatsby: This literary classic opens with a poetic epigraph that begins, “Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her…” and is attributed to Thomas Parke D’Invilliers. While, generally, readers expect epigraphs to be quotes from other published authors, only true Fitzgerald fans would know that Thomas Parke D’Invilliers is actually a fictional character in Fitzgerald’s third novel, This Side of Paradise!
  6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: When J.K. Rowling received a letter from a young fan named Natalie who had a terminal illness, Rowling wrote the girl a letter detailing the rest of Harry Potter’s storyline. Unfortunately, Natalie died before receiving the letter. Rowling named a minor character in her honor; Natalie is a young student who is sorted into Gryffindor at the beginning of the book.

These are only a few examples of the various forms that Easter eggs may take in writing. Hopefully they provide inspiration for the kind of “treats” you can hide in your writing.

Easter eggs are beloved by readers because of the sense of fun and discovery they deliver. Entertain and challenge yourself by weaving hidden surprises through your writing as you create a literary Easter egg hunt of your own.

Happy hunting, and happy Easter!

 

Shannon & Elm will be closed from Friday, April 17 through Monday, April 20. While our offices are closed, we may not respond to inquiries, but please follow us on Twitter and Facebook to receive any news or updates.

Everybody Talks

“Now, class, since we have been perusing and discussing dialogue lately, due to the Male/Female Dialogue experiment, we thought today would be a good day to discuss—”

“Dialogue?” Someone shouted.

“Indeed. Now, if I may continue? …We have talked about dialogue before, in terms of editing, but of course there are numerous other facets to the creation and formation of dialogue.” She turned to the dry-erase board, marker at the ready.

“More like numerous other facets to my ass,” someone mumbled from near the back row. Jack, of course.

She turned and threw the eraser at Jack’s head.

*

The best way to write good dialogue? Read good dialogue.

The end.

Yes, you can tell your boss/mother/lover we said so, when they catch you reading under the desk/dinner table/bedsheets.

(Not that we’re saying the above is particularly good dialogue.)

Actually, this isn’t facetious. Written dialogue is different from written narration, but is also different from simply hearing someone talk. Still, you often don’t understand the problems with your dialogue until you hear someone read it aloud. Writing dialogue is, in some ways, an oxymoron. It’s silent speech. It has a whole different set of conventions from both actual speech and written narration, and the only—ONLY—way to internalize them is to read dialogue that uses those conventions properly. After all, people can’t say “…”, and someone will never indicate quotation marks unless they’re being sarcastic.

But there are many other things to learn besides punctuation. What are other key dialogue points?

Here’s one: make sure your characters are not chuckling and giggling and grinning every other sentence.

As authors it’s okay to want the story and our characters to be funny, but a character’s active “participation” in the funny is something that rarely happens in real life. Even in a scene that makes a reader laugh out loud, characters are more likely to be rolling their eyes or spilling their beer.

For instance, take this Stephanie Plum scene, from Eleven on Top by Janet Evanovich:

…Valerie put five green beans on her big empty plate and angrily stabbed them with her fork. Thunk, thunk, thunk.

“What’s with you?” Grandma said to Valerie.

“I’m on a diet. All I get to eat are these beans. Five boring hideous beans.” The grip on her fork was white-knuckled, her lips were pressed tightly together, and her eyes glittered feverishly as she took in Joe’s plate directly across from her. Joe had a mountain of creamy mashed potatoes and four thick slabs of meatloaf, all drenched in gravy.

“Maybe this isn’t a good time to be on a diet, what with all the stress over the wedding and all,” Grandma said.

“It’s because of the wedding I have to diet,” Valerie said, teeth clenched.

Mary Alice forked up a piece of meatloaf. “Mommy’s a blimp.”

Valerie made a growling sound that had me worrying her head was going to start doing full rotations on her neck.

“Maybe I should check on Albert,” Morelli said to me.

I narrowed my eyes and looked at him sideways. “You’re going to sneak out, aren’t you?”

Not a single smile was cracked within the scene.

But bookending character dialogue with guffaws and grins is something that is incredibly easy to do. We did it in a previous article, and just barely caught it before the article was posted. It’s insidious. Look over your scenes—just because you want a humorous scene, doesn’t mean the characters will find it humorous. People just don’t laugh like that in real life… unless they’re on an awkward first date, maybe.

In contrast, read this:

“What do you think of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?” Zach asked in a joking tone, flashing the cover with a chuckle.

Marian grinned. “Well, it certainly brings back memories.”

“Like when you tried to eat a whole pepperoni pizza in one sitting?” Joey laughed, and wandered over to his movie cabinet. Smiling, he slapped Zach on the back. “Watch out for this one, she uses pizza for health.”

Mark giggled so hard he snorted soda out his nose. The whole room burst into gales of laughter.

Not only does it sound not-quite-right, it just seems like it’s… trying too hard. Like it’s on the previously-mentioned awkward first date.

And you don’t want your story to be like a first date… nobody likes first dates.

 

What other dialogue blunders have you noticed authors making? Let us know, and we’ll add them to the continuation of the list.

In the meantime… just scowl.