Today we are interviewing Sandy Tritt of Inspiration for Writers, Inc.
Sandy Tritt, President Inspiration for Writers
Gail: Good morning, Sandy.
Sandy: Good morning, Gail.
Gail: What can you tell us about Inspiration for Writers, Inc.?
Sandy: IFW is my heartbeat. We’ve been in business since 1999, and, at first, “we” consisted of “me.” Now we’ve grown and we have twelve editors and writers onboard. We’re different than most editing companies because we never bid on projects or give projects to the highest bidder. Instead, I handpick the editor best qualified to work on each project.
Gail: What genres do you edit?
Sandy: Just about anything! Our editors have quite the variety of backgrounds. Jimmy Carl is a retired Marine Corps Sergeant Major and university professor. He has an EdD in history. After three tours in Vietnam, he’s a great resource for war scenes. Charlotte Firbank-King is the author of fourteen books, most of which are historical romance. She’s also a world-renowned artist. Rhonda has a background in medicine (as well as a master’s of fine arts in creative writing). Sherry teaches creative writing both online and locally. And on and on. Our editors represent every age group and cover every genre. We live or have lived in five different countries. We all give workshops. We’ve all been published.
Gail: I wanted to interview you because of a blog you posted on the Inspiration for Writers, Inc., site. Is it okay for me to print that here?
Gail: Then we can finish up with the rest of your questions.
Sandy: Thank you.
GRRR . . .
And Sandy frowned. In one page–in approximately 250 words–the characters in this manuscript have smiled seven times, laughed four, grinned twice, and frowned once. Oh, and between all that smiling and laughing, there were four sighs. FOUR SIGHS! (Not counting the ones coming from me).
And, no, these characters were not in the audience of Saturday Night Live, David Letterman, or any other show. They were eating dinner and discussing a recent murder.
Unfortunately, this is one of the most common problems I see in manuscripts. In fact, I’d be willing to say that at least 90% of the fiction manuscripts I see overuse the common actions of smiling (always the worst offender), laughing, frowning, nodding, shaking a head, and grinning.
Most writers are not aware they do this. They’ve been told to use action, use body language. They’ve been told to cut passive verbs like was, were, is, are and so forth. They’ve been told to omit helping verbs like could have, would’ve, beginning to, starting to and so on. They dutifully have scanned their manuscript and cut back on these things.
I challenge you to do a FIND for the word “smiled.” See how many times you’ve used that word. Surprised? Try “laughed.” “Grinned.” “Frowned.” “Shook.” “Nodded.” Oh, oh, oh. One more. “Felt.”
I challenge you to replace as many as you can with more descriptive body language. First, consider the emotion this character is actually feeling. Is he bored? Joyous? Frustrated? Then, figure out a unique way to show your reader this emotion. (Or, cheat. Pick up a great book like The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi or Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Dr. Linda Edelstein). Then, have your characters scratch a mole until it bleeds or drop pieces of steak on the floor when no one is watching or polish the diamond on their rings. Or growl.
“Doing this one thing will bring your writing up to the next level,” Sandy said and smiled. “I promise.”
Gail: Thanks, Sandy.
Sandy: You’re welcome.
Gail: Shall we get to the rest of the questions?
Gail: What do you love about being an editor?
Sandy: Everything! It is my dream job. After more than 15 years in this business, I wake up each morning and think, “Yes! Another day to work!” I can’t wait to get on my computer. This company is my heartbeat. Why? First, the people. I get to work with talented people from all over the globe. So many of our clients—and all our editors—have become personal friends. Second, the work itself. Editing is a combination of everything I love doing—writing, reading, and teaching. Third, I get to hold in my hands the books my clients published. What a thrill! Fourth, did I mention the people?
Gail: What annoys you most about the publishing industry at the moment?
Sandy: I try my best never to be annoyed. So, let me put a spin on this question. What do I love about the publishing industry? That it is changing, that it is evolving, that today, writers have so many choices. Just a few years ago, there was only one way to publishing success, and that was to score a high profile literary agent who could, in turn, unlock the doors to the NYC publishing houses. But today, there are many ways writers can have publishing success. The e-book phenomenon has sprung open the doors for writers. Additionally, mid-level publishers, who were once swept to the corners, have become viable and approachable alternatives to the agent-protected Big Six. Today is a great day to be a writer.
Gail: What do you think new writers should know that they don’t seem to?
Sandy: Writing is a craft. Writing is something we get better at the more we study and the more we practice. If a writer is serious about writing, he/she will invest in his/her career—take classes, attend workshops, read books on the craft of writing, and practice. Writers conferences are a great place to meet other writers, attend workshops, and learn about what is going on in the publishing world.
Gail: What mistakes do you see new writers making?
Sandy: (laughs). When I first started editing, I found myself telling writers the same things, over and over. So, I wrote some “tip sheets” and included these in the package when I returned the manuscript (In the 1990s, editing was done through snail mail. Now, 99.8% of our edits are done through email). Eventually, I put the tip sheets on the Inspiration for Writers website. Later, I combined all the tip sheets, added in some worksheets, and created the Inspiration for Writers Tips and Techniques Workbook. I’m happy to give a free download of our e-workbook to the first ten of your readers who email me at IFWeditors@gmail.com and ask for it.
Gail: Thanks, Sandy. One last question. What kind of plot do you think has been done to death?
Sandy: Since long before Shakespeare, writers have worried about plots. Some academics say there are only three plots: man vs. man, man vs. machine, and man vs. himself. Others say there are seven. The one thing no one argues is that truly, there is a very limited number of plots. They ALL have been overdone. And, yet, at the same time, any one of them can be new all over again. What makes the difference? The writer. A skilled writer can take any plot, no matter how many times it’s been done, and make it fresh all over again by using an intriguing writer’s voice, sharp dialogue, and just plain excellent writing skills.
Gail: Thank you, Sandy. I appreciate our time here today.
Sandy: You’re welcome, Gail. It’s always a pleasure to visit with you. If any of your followers have a question for me, I’m happy to answer. Ask away! And don’t forget to email me to receive a free download of our Tips and Techniques Workbook. Thanks for having me on your site today.
Gail: My pleasure, Sandy. I have your Tips and Techniques Workbook, thank you. If it were a hard copy it would be in tatters from use. Every writer should have one!
The Rod Laver Tennis Stadium has nothing to do with the Sydney Opera House, except while watching the players at this important tennis event this week in Melbourne, I thought about how dedicated Australia is to sports, architecture and the arts. I was reminded of a spectacular edifice in the architectural world 550 miles away in Sydney.
The Sydney Opera House.
Jørn Oberg Utzon, (9 April 1918 – 29 November 2008) was a Danish architect, most notable for designing the Sydney Opera House in Australia.
In 1957, Utzon unexpectedly won the competition to design the Sydney Opera House. His submission was one of 233 designs from 32 countries, many of them from the most famous architects of the day. Although he had won six other architectural competitions previously, the Opera House was his first non-domestic project. One of the judges, Eero Saarinen, described it as “genius” and declared he could not endorse any other choice. When it was declared a World Heritage Site on 28 June 2007, Utzon became only the second person to have received such recognition for one of his works during his lifetime.
The Sydney Opera House Photo by Biarte Sorensen
Looking like wind-filled sails,12 white cement shells up to nearly 200 feet (160 meters) high stand on a deck of natural stone at the tip of a tongue of land extending into Sydney harbor, irrational and without any direct function but to arouse emotion. Yet they have become the symbol not just for Sidney but for the whole fifth continent. They stand in two rows on top of the “experience zone,” the concert hall, opera theatre, stage theatre, two foyers and main restaurant. The horizontally layered building underneath contains several stones of servicing departments for all the “experiences.” Utzon’s 1956 design for the Opera House won him the international competition and the contract to build it. Utzon’s designs puts him in the company of the organic tradition of architects, Wright, Scharoun, Asplund and Aalto.
Opera House interior view
The new Minister for Public Works, Davis Hughes, was not enthusiastic about the project. Elizabeth Farrelly, Australian architecture critic, has written that at an election night dinner party, Hughes’s daughter, Sue Burgoyne, boasted that her father would soon sack Utzon. Hughes had no interest in art, architecture or aesthetics. A fraud, as well as a philistine, he had been exposed before Parliament and dumped as Country Party leader for falsely claiming a university degree. The Opera House gave Hughes a second chance. For him, as for Utzon, it was all about control, about the triumph of homegrown mediocrity over foreign genius.
Utzon soon found himself in conflict with the new Minister. Attempting to rein in the escalating cost of the project, Hughes began questioning Utzon’s capability, his designs, schedules and cost estimates, refusing to pay running costs. In 1966, after a final request from Utzon that plywood manufacturer Ralph Symonds should be one of the suppliers for the roof structure was refused, he resigned from the job, closed his Sydney office and vowed never to return to Australia. When Utzon left, the shells were almost complete, and costs amounted to only $22.9 million. Following major changes to the original plans for the interiors, costs finally rose to $103 million.However, the Opera House was finally completed, and was opened in 1973 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia. The architect was not invited to the ceremony, nor was his name even mentioned during any of the speeches. He was, however, to be recognized later when he was asked to design updates to the interior of the opera house. The Utzon Room, overlooking Sydney Harbor, was officially dedicated in October 2004. In a statement at the time Utzon wrote: “The fact that I’m mentioned in such a marvellous way, gives me the greatest pleasure and satisfaction. I don’t think you can give me more joy as the architect. It supersedes any medal of any kind that I could get and have gotten.” Furthermore, Frank Gehry, one of the Pritzker Prize judges, commented: “Utzon made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology, and he persevered through extraordinarily malicious publicity and negative criticism to build a building that changed the image of an entire country.”
What do you love most, architecture, the arts, tennis or something else? If you had to pick, which would it be? If something else, what is it?
Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who designed some of the 20th Century’s most famous modernist buildings, died December 5, 2012, ten days before his 105th birthday. A memorial service was held in the presidential palace in Brasilia. Niemeyer’s family was informed of the honor in a phone call from President Dilma Rousseff. “Brazil has lost one of its geniuses.” Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor Eduardo Paes declared three days of mourning in Niemeyer’s home city.
A student of Le Corbusier, Niemeyer developed a distinctive style defined by stark concrete and sweeping curves. He rose to international fame as the architect of the main government buildings in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia, inaugurated in 1960. His bold futuristic designs in Brasilia made the new capital a dramatic statement of confidence in the future of Brazil, and an icon of modern architecture. He also worked with Swiss-born modernist architect Le Corbusier on the UN building in New York. He continued to work on new projects until earlier 2012.
Niemeyer said his stylized swoops were inspired by Brazilian women’s curves.
“Form follows function” has been the credo of designers and architects since the 19th century. The dictum was coined by the American architect Louis Sullivan in his article “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered” that was published in 1896.
The last hundred years of architecture are often described–in grossly simplified language–by a tug-of-war between ornament and functionalism. Niemeyer never saw things in those terms. He was 20 years younger than Le Corbusier and looked up to him. Like Corbu, Niemeyer saw his expressive buildings as “pure forms,” driven by his own brand of rationalism. “When you have a large space to conquer, the curve is the natural solution,” he said. “I once wrote a poem about the curve. The curve I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean and on the body of the beloved woman.” “My work is not about ‘form follows function,'” he famously said, “but ‘form follows beauty’ or, even better, ‘form follows feminine.'”
In 1988, he was awarded the prestigious Pritzker Prize. British architect Lord Norman Foster was inspired by Niemeyer, then a 104 year-old who was still youthful in his energy and creativity. “He told me that architecture is important, but that life is more important. And yet in the end his architecture is his ultimate legacy. Like the man himself, it is eternally youthful – he leaves us with a source of delight and inspiration for many generations to come.”
Oscar Niemeyer portrait by Eduardo Kobra
However, Niemeyer’s style was not to everyone’s taste, and for a communist some people say his work was not very people-friendly – focusing more on the architecture’s form than on its inhabitants or functionality. He went on to create more than 600 buildings around the world. His legacy endures in museums, monuments, schools and churches in Brazil and beyond. Many of the designs were initially sketched on a table overlooking his beloved Rio de Janeiro and its famous Copacabana beach, replete with the women, waves and hills from which he drew such inspiration.
Renzo Piano, fellow architect said, “Architecture is a profession where you need a long period of apprenticeship. You never stop learning, this is something that Niemeyer kept saying. And I think he learned until the end, he was that kind of person. As an architect you have to be a sociologist, builder, scientist, poet. It was about integrity. In some ways he was more of a moral example, an example of life. He was concerned about political life, and architecture is political in some ways. In the sense of doing things that belonged to the civic life of people in the city. Architecture is the art of making cities not just making buildings. He was a good example of how architecture can be a noble, civilized job.”
Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra has graced the entire side of a skyscraper on the bustling street of Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo with a 52 meter tall polychromatic portrait of Oscar Niemeyer. Kobra began work on the mural on the 14th of January, 2013 and since then has solicited the help of four other artists from his team to complete the colossal artwork.
Which is your favorite? Clean curvy contemporary forms or the classics with ornamentation?
New Year’s eve celebration
History of the celebration of the New Year was a curiosity to me. There were several versions, I thought this was the most interesting. It also seems the most reliable coming from U.S. News and World Report.
In 46 B.C.E. the Roman emperor Julius Caesar first established January 1 as New Year’s day. Janus was the Roman god of doors and gates, and had two faces, one looking forward and one back. Caesar felt that the month named after this god (“January”) would be the appropriate “door” to the year. Caesar celebrated the first January 1 New Year by ordering the violent routing of revolutionary Jewish forces in the Galilee. Eyewitnesses say blood flowed in the streets. In later years, Roman pagans observed the New Year by engaging in drunken orgies—a ritual they believed constituted a personal re-enacting of the chaotic world that existed before the cosmos was ordered by the gods.
As Christianity spread, pagan holidays were either incorporated into the Christian calendar or abandoned altogether. By the early medieval period most of Christian Europe regarded Annunciation Day (March 25) as the beginning of the year. (According to Catholic tradition, Annunciation Day commemorates the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would be impregnated by G-d and conceive a son to be called Jesus.)
After William the Conqueror (AKA “William the Bastard” and “William of Normandy”) became King of England on December 25, 1066, he decreed that the English return to the date established by the Roman pagans, January 1. This move ensured that the commemoration of Jesus’ birthday (December 25) would align with William’s coronation, and the commemoration of Jesus’ circumcision (January 1) would start the new year – thus rooting the English and Christian calendars and his own Coronation). William’s innovation was eventually rejected, and England rejoined the rest of the Christian world and returned to celebrating New Years Day on March 25.
About five hundred years later, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII (AKA “Ugo Boncompagni”, 1502-1585) abandoned the traditional Julian calendar. By the Julian reckoning, the solar year comprised 365.25 days, and the intercalation of a “leap day” every four years was intended to maintain correspondence between the calendar and the seasons. Really, however there was a slight inaccuracy in the Julian measurement (the solar year is actually 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds = 365.2422 days). This slight inaccuracy caused the Julian calendar to slip behind the seasons about one day per century. Although this regression had amounted to 14 days by Pope Gregory’s time, he based his reform on restoration of the vernal equinox, then falling on March 11, to the date had 1,257 years earlier when Council of Nicaea was convened (March 21, 325 C.E.). Pope Gregory made the correction by advancing the calendar 10 days. The change was made the day after October 4, 1582, and that following day was established as October 15, 1582. The Gregorian calendar differs from the Julian in three ways: (1) No century year is a leap year unless it is exactly divisible by 400 (e.g., 1600, 2000, etc.); (2) Years divisible by 4000 are common (not leap) years; and (3) once again the New Year would begin with the date set by the early pagans, the first day of the month of Janus – January 1.
On New Years Day 1577 Pope Gregory XIII decreed that all Roman Jews, under pain of death, must listen attentively to the compulsory Catholic conversion sermon given in Roman synagogues after Friday night services. On New Years Day 1578 Gregory signed into law a tax forcing Jews to pay for the support of a “House of Conversion” to convert Jews to Christianity. On New Years 1581 Gregory ordered his troops to confiscate all sacred literature from the Roman Jewish community. Thousands of Jews were murdered in the campaign.
Throughout the medieval and post-medieval periods, January 1 – supposedly the day on which Jesus’ circumcision initiated the reign of Christianity and the death of Judaism – was reserved for anti-Jewish activities: synagogue and book burnings, public tortures, and simple murder.
The Israeli term for New Year’s night celebrations, “Sylvester,” was the name of the “Saint” and Roman Pope who reigned during the Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.). The year before the Council of Nicaea convened, Sylvester convinced Constantine to prohibit Jews from living in Jerusalem. At the Council of Nicaea, Sylvester arranged for the passage of a host of viciously anti-Semitic legislation. All Catholic “Saints” are awarded a day on which Christians celebrate and pay tribute to that Saint’s memory. December 31 is Saint Sylvester Day – hence celebrations on the night of December 31 are dedicated to Sylvester’s memory.
U.S. News and World Report December 23, 1996.
Do you have any historical stories about this event?