Monday, September 22, 2008

Battling the Baptist Disease

An aside in my last post reminded me of a funny story.

I was discussing writing with my brother-in-law a few months back and mentioned to him my propensity to overuse the word "just."

"So you have the Baptist disease?" he asked.


"The Baptist disease. You, know: 'Dear Lord, we just thank you for this meal and just pray that you'll just, just bless this food, Lord, and just be with us as we enjoy this time together. Lord, just please, watch over us....'"

Hee! Baptists are good folks, but I sure don't want to write like them!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Do Not, I Repeat, Do Not, Repeat!

Writers are often advised to avoid repeating the same words and phrases. And that’s great advice for words such as “looked,” “seemed,” “felt,” “very” and my personal Achilles’ heel, “just.”

But sometimes repetition is used to great effect. At a recent Northern Virginia Writers First Friday event, author Kate Blackwell spoke on “Playing with Voice” and examined how authors can use repetition to establish a distinctive rhythm and voice.

Case in point: Observatory Mansions: A Novel by Edward Carey, published by Crown in 2001. Check out this first paragraph:

I wore white gloves. I lived with my mother and father. I was not a child. I was thirty-seven years old. My bottom lip was swollen. I wore white gloves though I was not a servant. I did not play in a brass band. I was not a waiter. I was not a magician. I was the attendant of a museum. A museum of significant objects. I wore white gloves so that I would not damage any of the nine hundred and eighty-six objects in the museum. I wore white gloves so that I would not have to touch anything with my bare hands. I wore white gloves so that I would not have to look at my own hands.

Gives you chills, no? And as Kate points out, it not only establishes a voice, it tells you quite a lot about the main character. OCD much?

BTW, our next First Friday event is going to be a blast, with three literary agents on hand to critique queries, with fabulous prizes for the Idol winners. If you live in the D.C. area, you’ll want to check it out. Here’s the promo and instructions should you wish to throw your manuscript into the ring:

Northern Virginia Writers First Friday: Leesburg Idol
October 3, 2008; 7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Leesburg Town Hall, 25 West Market St., Leesburg, VA 20176

Similar to the pop culture TV show, this will be an opportunity to have your work judged by industry professionals: literary agents Deborah Grosvenor of Kneerim and Williams Agency; and Paige Wheeler and Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Management.

To participate, please STAPLE together your entry in the following order: (1) a cover sheet with your project’s name, genre, and “tag line” (a one-to three-sentence description of your story), (2) one-page query letter addressed to "Dear Agent," and (3) the first three pages of your book. DO NOT include identifying information on any page of your submission. All genres are welcome. Prizes include free tuition to a multi-session Writer’s Center workshop (up to a $340 value), free one-year membership to the Writer’s Center, and free admission to all NVW 2009 First Friday events.

For more information on how to write a query letter, please go to

We anticipate a packed house. Advanced reservations strongly recommended. Go to

Admission: $4 for Writer's Center members and Leesburg residents; $6 general public.

Hope to see some of you there!