Saturday, November 30, 2013

Author Interview - Rick Bettencourt

Let's welcome this month's author, Rick Bettencourt, author of Not Sure Boys, a collection of three intertwined short stories, is now available.

Faith, thank you so much for giving me opportunity to chat with you.

1) What were your favorite books growing up?

Charlotte's Web was one of my all-time favorites. I remember reading it for a book report in elementary school and sobbing at the end when—well, I don't want to spoil it for the two or three of you out there that may not have read it. Anyway, it's really a simple and beautiful tale.

I also really liked Judy Blume books. One summer, I took out nearly every single one of her books from the Salem Public Library. I would stay up past midnight and hid in the bathroom reading them. Why the bathroom? Well, I knew if my mom saw the light on in my bedroom she'd tell me to shut it off and go to sleep. But the bathroom was fair game.

Actually, one of the reasons I love my Kindle so much is that I can read in the middle of the night without bothering my husband.

(Insert sound of screeching brakes.)

Yes, you read that right: "my husband" and yes, I am a man.

I am openly gay. Not that I think you'd have an issue with it—most creative people are unfazed—but it sometimes gets me a double-take.  I just like to get everything out in the open.
2) Now that you have, let’s say—some life experience, what would you tell your younger self?

Buy Apple. Buy Google. And don't wear those Jordache jeans that were so tight you needed a spatula to get into them.

Okay, on a serious note: I think I looked pretty hot in those Jordache jeans.

No, I think one of the biggest lessons I've learned—as I mature—is to believe in myself. I hope to inspire others to do the same. If one day someone tells me that something I wrote has emboldened them to get out of a rut or encourages them to do some good in the world, then I can die a happy man.

When I was younger I was pretty much a twit. I couldn't get myself out of the rain even if the sun was shining. There’d be me holding an umbrella on an 80-degree, sunny day. But I learned along the way to be my own best friend. I learned that you have to tell yourself—every single day—that you can do it and that you are a success! And soon enough the universe gives in and says, “Alright already! You’re a success. Here’s the medal.”

3) Describe your typical day.

Alright, this is a bit difficult for me because, as you may know, my life is in flux. I am in the process of making a huge change to my life! Over this past summer I sold my house in Salem, Massachusetts, just last month quit my day job and by the time this interview is published, my husband and I will be settling into our one-bedroom condo in Florida. You may have heard the expression don't quit your day job. Well, I don't believe it. I am investing 100% of my time (actually 110%, as the axiom goes) to writing. Scared? Yes. But confident.

I can tell you, one thing that won't be changing and that is the beginning of my typical day. I get up around 5 a.m.—even on the weekends. I've always been an early bird. Plus, my dog, Bandit, is like an alarm clock. He wants to be fed and do his stuff at the same time every day—whether it's Monday, Tuesday or the morning after I've pulled an all-nighter with my Kindle. I think he’s going to have the hardest time adjusting to the Florida change. But, he’ll get used to it.

4) Who is your favorite character in your books?

In Not Sure Boys, the character that is probably the least understood is Susan. So, I have to say my heart holds out for her. Susan, for those of you who have not read my book, is developmentally disabled. The biggest reaction I get from my readers is, “How does a straight girl with special needs have a place in gay fiction?” And the answer is, “Why shouldn't she?” Susan is straight and in love with a local country singer who happens to be “not sure” about his sexuality.

I love Susan's innocence. And while she can be vulnerable—aren't we all!—toward the end she really takes a stance and grows. It’s a great coming of age story.

I've always held a soft spot for the developmentally challenged. In the past, I've worked with Downs-Syndrome kids and adults. I find them to be so sweet and pure. Yet in my story, I don't explicit state what Susan’s disability is. I like to leave it up to the reader’s imagination.

5) What do you do when writer’s block shows up, settles in, and makes itself comfortable?

Yell. Scream. Have a hissy fit. All of which never help.

I usually find moving can help me get past it. I might go for a run, talk the dog for a walk, or even get in the car and go for a ride. Music also helps. My writing is greatly influenced by music. In fact, for my WIP novel I can attribute a song or two to nearly every chapter. (Well, being that my protagonist is a singer and actress—I guess that's not all that impressive but it means something to me.)

6) Do you find yourself pulling details from “real life” or does your imagination rule the roost?

Well, the truth is a little of both. But that’s too easy of an answer. I was telling my best friend the other night about the thrill I had when, as a kid, reading a Hardy Boys book (I should have added those books to question # 1, too) the author mentioned landing at Logan International Airport. You see, I grew up outside of Boston. When I read that, I remember running to my father. “Dad! Dad! Did you know the Hardy Boys flew into Logan?” It just instantly made everything so real for me. I love, love, love instilling and reading about actual places in fiction—the more facts, the better. Now, reading about Logan may not be all that exciting to you but as a ten-year-old boy recognizing, in print, a place he had actual been—well, that was just riveting. I love Robert B. Parker's books for this reason. Plus he was—God rest his soul—just amazing with wit and dialogue. In pretty much all my writing, I intersperse specific details about Boston’s North Shore and New England.

7) What was the first manuscript you wrote (even if it never saw the light of day)?

I don't know if this qualifies for an actual manuscript but as a kid I wrote a fairly detailed story about a family’s struggle with cancer. In real life, my best friend’s father had died from pancreatic cancer and my uncle had lung cancer. That first story was mostly my way of understanding death. It was so melodramatic. I guess that’s not too surprising seeing I loved sentimental movies. The only light of day it saw was from my mother reading it. She said, “It was cute.”

“Cute?” I said. I wasn't impressed. I wanted her to fall down in sobs and claim it to be better than Barbra Streisand's A Star is Born, which was my favorite movie at the time. Go figure. Silly kid.

You can think your stuff is good but you really need the feedback of others. If it doesn't affect your audience, you’re dead in the water. Plus you need a good editor—or editors—to help you along the way.

8) Have you ever pursued traditional publishing? Or did you go straight for indie publishing?

I have pursued traditional publishing with the novel I mentioned earlier—the one about the singer in the music industry. While I got some decent feedback on it, that doesn't mean squat. I'm not under contract. In fact, after discovering indie publishing and the successes of self-published authors, like Jasinda Wilder and Amanda Hocking, I don't know if I want a traditional publishing deal.

I got some good feedback on it. Particularly one from an editor in LA who thought it would work well in film. I’m going to be rewriting it—down in Florida.

9) What Works In Progress are brewing?  Any target dates for publication?

I have a romantic thriller that spawned from a writing exercise I did a few years ago. And thanks to my fantastic editor—kudos, Faith!—I will be coming it out soon. It's about a man who discovers his ex-husband has escaped from prison and may be hiding out in the mansion for which he is the caretaker.

10) How can fans reach you? 

I love hearing from people who have read my writing. You can subscribe to my blog, like my Facebook page, read about me on Amazon and/or tweet me @rbettenc. So, give me a shout!

And Faith, thanks again! This has been a lot of fun.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Cause of the Month, 'Cause You Care

You've all seen it: every month there seems to be some big cause to support.  

We just survived October, the pinkest month of them all, in honor of breast cancer awareness month.  It was also National Down Syndrome Awareness month, Healthy Lung month, and National Dental Hygiene month (no, my dentist didn't pay me for that plug!).  

In November, it's Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month, National Alzheimer's Awareness month, and possibly my son's favorite, Manvember (From the Urban Dictionary: A dedicated month during the year, specifically November, when manliness is at its peak. During this time there will be no shaving, except for the head...because that is manly. Flannel shirts will be worn as frequently as possible, tobacco products will be on hand at all times, and meat will be consumed at least twice a day.).

Now, all of those are great causes (well, except maybe Manvember...that might be taking it too far).  But this is a proofing blog, so perhaps you are wondering what this is all about.  Let me tell you, 'cause I'd like nothing better...

Cause - noun: a reason or motive for an action or condition 
Cause - transitive verb: to serve as cause or occasion of :  bring into existence or  to effect by command, authority, or force

'Cause - a contraction of because (conjunction).  for the reason that :  on account of the cause that — used to introduce dependent clauses 

The difference, dear reader, is that little punctuation mark - the apostrophe. Such a little thing that wields such power to change a word from a noun to a conjunction - amazing, isn't it? The apostrophe is misunderstood, abused, and ignored...but it still is a powerful weapon. The Chicago Manual of Style tells us in 6.113 that the apostrophe has three main uses: 
  1. to indicate the possessive case
  1. to stand in for missing letters or numerals 
  1. to form the plural of certain expressions    
It's the use of the apostrophe to stand in for missing letters or words that you have to remember when you use words like 'cause for because, 'cept for except, and so on. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Orwell's Questions

Previously, I posted some writing rules.

Here is another selection from that pdf.  This time, it's Orwell's Questions.

What am I trying to say?
What words will express it?
What image or idiom will make it clearer?
Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
Could I put it more shortly?
Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

(When I typed this list, I almost typed What image or idiot will make it clearer?  I guess idiots sometimes make everyone else look better, so maybe that works just as well!)

What questions do you ask yourself when you are writing?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Semicolons: Friend or Foe?

I love the semicolon. 

There, I said it.  I know some don't (ahem, Ms. Tameri) but they serve a purpose. I love the Oatmeal's take on using semicolons. Here's what the Chicago Manual Of Style has to say about semicolons:

CMOS 6.54: 
Use of the semicolon
In regular prose, a semicolon is most commonly used between two independent clauses not joined by a conjunction to signal a closer connection between them than a period would.

She spent much of her free time immersed in the ocean; no mere water-resistant watch would do.
Though a gifted writer, Miqueas has never bothered to master the semicolon; he insists that half a colon is no colon at all.
This is the most common usage I see; the close connection that is needed for some sentences is best served by the semicolon, not a comma or a period.
CMOS 6.55:
Semicolons with “however,” “therefore,” “indeed,” and the like
Certain adverbs, when they are used to join two independent clauses, should be preceded by a semicolon rather than a comma. These transitional adverbs include however, thus, hence, indeed, accordingly, besides, therefore, and sometimes then.  A comma usually follows the adverb but may be omitted if the sentence seems just as effective without it.

The accuracy of Jesse’s watch was never in question; besides, he was an expert at intuiting the time of day from the position of the sun and stars.
Kallista was determined not to miss anything on her voyage; accordingly, she made an appointment with her ophthalmologist.
The trumpet player developed a painful cold sore; therefore plans for a third show were scrapped.
This example is a little less common in most of the manuscripts I see.  But when I do see this, I check for the length of the sentence; sometimes I suggest splitting up the clauses to make it easier for the reader.
CMOS 6.56:
Semicolons with “that is,” “for example,” “namely,” and the like
A semicolon may be used before expressions such as that is, for example, or namely when they introduce an independent clause.

Keesler managed to change the subject; that is, he introduced a tangential issue.

Again, not a very common usage I see, but good to know.

CMOS 6.57: 
Semicolons before a conjunction
Normally, an independent clause introduced by a conjunction is preceded by a comma. In formal prose, a semicolon may be used insteadeither to effect a stronger, more dramatic separation between clauses or when the second independent clause has internal punctuation.

Frobisher had always assured his grandson that the house would be his; yet there was no provision for this bequest in his will.
Garrett had insisted on remixing the track; but the engineer’s demands for overtime pay, together with the band’s reluctance, persuaded him to accept the original mix. 
I really appreciate the semicolon's ability to make a strong, dramatic separation in addition to giving closer connections.  It's so versatile! 

CMOS 6.58: 
Semicolons in a complex series
When items in a series themselves contain internal punctuation, separating the items with semicolons can aid clarity. If ambiguity seems unlikely, commas may be used instead.

The membership of the international commission was as follows: France, 4; Germany, 5; Great Britain, 1; Italy, 3; United States, 7.
The defendant, in an attempt to mitigate his sentence, pleaded that he had recently, on doctor’s orders, gone off his medications; that his carwhich, incidentally, he had won in the late 1970s on Let’s Make a Dealhad spontaneously caught on fire; and that he had not eaten for several days.
She decided to buy three watchesan atomic watch for travel within the United States, a solar-powered, water-resistant quartz for international travel, and an expensive self-winding model for special occasions.
Ah, those complex sentences!  Anything to make the meaning clear is a good thing!

So, don't fear the semicolon.  Don't dismiss it, either!