Housebreaking Pet Words

Every writer has pet words. Tabitha King’s pets in The Trap are hooked and hauled, as in “She hooked off her socks,” and “He hauled his boots on.” Strong verbs used in unconventional waysare refreshing until they’re overworked and become annoying to readers.

Pronouns, one breed of pets, are especially vague. “I hate and mistrust pronouns, every one of them as slippery as a fly-by-night personal-injury lawyer,” writes Stephen King in ­On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. And in The Book Alan Watts refers to the pronoun it is a spook, as in “It’s raining outside.” What exactly is it?

King, Watts and other successful authors use it when it’s unavoidable or natural sounding. Character dialogue, for example, sounds natural with a sprinkling of the neuter, singular pronoun.

Read the rest of this blog Housebreak Pet Words


ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.





Punch up your writing

Communications students from Wisconsin experimented with avoiding forms of the verb to be in their essays. The to be forms consist of am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been.

For instance, one student rewrote the sentence, “‘Independence Day’ is a great movie,” without the word is. She decided to explain what made the movie great, rather than simply stating her opinion. So, she wrote, “‘Independence Day kept my attention so much that I’ve seen the movie three times.”

Look at this example of another student’s revised sentence.

With to be: “I am a student.”

Without to be: “I study six subjects in high school, play on the soccer team and do homework every night.”

Which sentence tells what the person actually does? Which sentence interests you more? Which sentence provides more specific details? Which sentence includes facts rather than a label?

The Wisconsin students had this to say about writing without to be forms:

“It forced me to pay more attention to what I wanted to say. It’s easy to write, ‘I am a student,’ but what does that really mean?”

“I might develop my writing more if I had to fully explain myself. I know I should do this anyway, but if I write without to be, I can’t get around it.”

“After writing my paper, I think of myself as having more confidence and strength.”

“The most difficult part was getting out of the habit of labeling myself as being something. If I can eliminate some labeling, it will be easier for a reader to understand what I mean.”

“I don’t think I would have sounded as creative if I had used to be verbs.”

Writing without to be verbs encourages writers to pay attention to what they really want to say and explain otherwise unsupported labels, judgements and opinions. Using action verbs in favor of to be verbs punches up flat writing. Eliminating to be forms creates more powerful, crisp communications.

How about deciding for yourself if writing without to be verbs improves your normal style of writing.

Write about one of these topics, or one of your own, without using am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been.

• Write from the point of view of your nose.

• Write a letter to your future self.

• Write about the benefits of boredom.

• Write what you did this week to respect the environment.

• Write about what really makes you sad/jealous/angry/embarrassed.


Ready for a break from stories about vampires, suicide, self-mutilation, and other bleak topics? Teens through adults also want books that entertain while exploring life’s important questions. Ken’s War, slated for publication this May by, does that.

Ken, the protagonist, takes a train trip in Japan. There’s no turning back from the consequences.



(Student comments from Andrea Johnson, “Oh to be a Writer,” More E-Prime: To Be or Not To Be, ISGS, Concord, California)

Eat, Drink, Make Money: Part 1

by Beth Fowler

If you like to dine out and you like to write, then earning money writing restaurant reviews might be your cup of tea. Cracking into this market requires the usual strategies and some specialized tactics for writers ready to dig into the smorgasbord of opportunities.

Look for restaurant reviews in the pages of newspapers, magazines and websites that have already published your work. Editors are more inclined to consider work from writers they know than from unknowns. The newspaper features editor, who knew that his boss had accepted my travel articles, bought my first restaurant article. (Since then I’ve sold a baker’s dozen of restaurant reviews.) If the editors of publications (hard copy and online) in which your byline has appeared haven’t published restaurant reviews, maybe they’d be open to the idea if it’s pitched right.

Let’s say that “The Town Times” doesn’t publish restaurant reviews. The editor might be amenable to publishing a restaurant column if he or she feels confident that you can deliver. Approach the editor with a mouth-watering proposal, samples of your work, that is, a buffet of two or three restaurant reviews with quality photos from eateries within the geographical area the newspapers’ readers live, work and dine. The length of each restaurant review should be about the same length as the newspaper’s other lifestyle pieces, such as those covering gardening, music, art and literature. Don’t bite off more than you can chew – be clear about how often you’re expected to eat out and write a column. Weekly? Monthly?

If a newspaper or magazine currently publishes restaurant reviews, check if the same person always writes the articles. Unless the authors are big names with their own TV shows on the foodie channel and cookbooks to their credit, you could, without stepping on the steady writers’ tacos, offer to be a “guest contributor.” A magazine I frequently wrote business articles for published batches of restaurant reviews in each issue  – all written by the editor, so I continued happily submitting business articles.

If the reviews are under various bylines, this is an indication that freelance submissions are accepted and chances are better for gaining entrée into that publication. Some publications publish reviews without bylines. Compare the
style and tone of the reviews, and you can probably tell if the same person or several people wrote them.

In-flight magazines feature restaurant reviews and travel articles that include verbiage about restaurants. As always, study “house style” and take note of the photos. In-flight magazines tend to publish high-quality photos. The slicker the magazine, the higher the odds that the editor requires professionally shot images and might even assign a photographer. In-flight magazines need articles about the destinations and popular tourist sites close to the airlines’ normal routes. Articles highlighting restaurants serving regional cuisine are popular with in-flights. You don’t have to live in an exotic locale to write for in-flight magazines – every place is someplace else to someone else.

“Follow” to receive Eat, Drink, Make Money: Part 2 as soon as it’s out of the oven.


(C) Beth Fowler 2014It’s 1965 and Ken Paderson is itchin’ to get his driver’s license, but his world turns upside down when he and his dad are whisked off to a remote army outpost in Japan.  Bento, moshi and udan replace lunch box, rice and spaghetti. The novel, Ken’s War, is slated for publication this May by Melange Books LLC. Please like the brand new site

Turn Interviews into Wow-Worthy Articles

How to Write Interview-based Articles

 We’re picking up the interviewing process at the point where you have all your information together and you’re ready to write the article. Later in this blog, you’ll find a link to a magazine that consists soley of interviews, and a link to a video that reveals a “secret” method to construct wow-worthy personality profiles based on interviews.

In your article, depict body language, gestures, mannerisms and surroundings to portray a person. This example is from an article by Angela Lambert: “In a light-filled, graceful room tumbled with cushions, rugs and sofas, Doris Lessing is talking. Even though her conversation flits and strays there is – as there is in her writing – an immense concentration of energy in every word.”

To prevent articles from becoming impersonal, add personalizing details, even if (especially if) you never met the person face to face. How did the interviewee sound during phone conversation? “Helen’s voice spiraled angrily when she talked about milk-fed veal.” What has the interviewee done, seen, thought? “Dave gazed out his office window toward the capitol, most likely wondering, ‘Can I win the next election?'”

Before composing your article, study your targeted magazine for style preferences. Do published articles use past or present tense (said or says)? Does the magazine present people in a flattering or controversial vein? Do articles cover one view or several sides of an issue? What percent of each article contains quotations versus narrative? Who is the audience and how does that affect your article’s slant? Does the editor require written releases from interviewees? Model releases for photographs?

Read and learn from world-class writers whose articles based on interviews are published in Interview Magazine.

Watch for a winning process to construct the article.


The Novel Ken’s War stands out for its appeal to young adult and adult readers, males and females. With a blend of restrained pathos and quiet humor, the tale follows a boy forced to live in Japan with his stern, pre-occupied father.

The novel by Beth Fowler is slated for publication later this year by Melange Books.

The Art of Interviewing by Cindy Kalinoski

Cindy Kalinoski

Cindy Kalinoski

Guest blogger Cindy Kalinoski edited the non-fiction book Leg Up The Courage to Dream, a 2013 Award-Winning Finalist of the USA Best Book Awards, sponsored by USA Book News. Cindy provides writing, editing, copywriting and proofreading services as The Word Helper. She also created. The English Makeover Cindy has written for National Geographic,  Dale Carnegie, YORK International, Penn State University, and Susquehanna Style magazine, among others.

The Art of Interviewing

Journalism—whether it’s for news or for a company piece—is about getting the real story. The story behind the story. What we writers call “back story”.  That, along with good writing, is what makes reading an article interesting…or not.

Suppose you are writing a profile about someone. How do you know what to ask? How do you find out what really drives him? How do you get her really talking? First, consider that the art of interviewing is about more than just the interview; it’s also about research. It’s about asking questions and listening and recording, but research will take you a long way toward an article people can’t put down.

So research your subject. Google her. Find out everything you can from the person who asked you to write the article. If your subject is less than forthcoming, tell her thank you and that you’ll call her back with more questions in a day or two and maybe a third time. She may become more responsive and will have thought about what she can share with you. Meanwhile, ask for the name of a friend or colleague and get some quotes about your subject from that person, and ask him or her what topics you should raise.

Next, you’ll want to generate questions, some of which will surface from your research. If he has done something extraordinary, like invented an app that made him millions, learn what you can online. If she has volunteered at a homeless shelter, look up the shelter and find out whether their rules make volunteering there challenging. Look at where the shelter is located and check out Google maps’ street view to see if she’s putting herself in danger every time she goes. Come up with some open-ended questions. Ask, for instance, what or who has influenced her. What are his favorite life experiences? What does she do when she gets off work?

This will lead naturally to passion. What really drives a profile article is communicating a person’s passion, and first you have to find out what it is. When you go after this, use different words. We’ve all heard people say, “It’s my passion”. Get creative. Ask if she thinks it’s her calling. Her purpose. Ask why he likes doing it. Prompt him to express it in new ways. That goes for every answer you get; try to encourage the person to say something quotable by rephrasing what they say and asking if that’s what they mean. Ask questions in fresh ways. If you’re lucky, you can feed her a quote and she’ll repeat it.

A note here about listening. Most of us—at least Americans—spend a lot of our time talking or at least me-too’ing when people talk. Resist this with every cell you have. If you insert your own experience, it can knock your subject off his train of thought and stop him from talking. You can insert little sounds of agreement, but do not steal the narrative.

Hand in hand with listening is recording. Don’t depend on your memory. Have a method of recording—heck, have two if possible. Use your cell phone’s voice recorder app, take notes by hand or bring your laptop (or slap some headphones on for a phone interview) and type like a fiend. Don’t worry about spelling, and throw punctuation out the office door. Just close your eyes and type as fast as your poor fingers can fly. Later you’ll be able to piece together what you typed. One advantage to this method is that you won’t have to transcribe your notes, and you’ll have great word-for-word quotes.

One final hint: don’t put your pen down (or stop typing) until you have actually hung up the phone or gotten in your car to leave. People tend to get more quotable when they think the interview is over. Don’t miss these gems.

You’ll get at the heart of the matter best by researching, listening, and asking compelling questions. Best of all, you’ll find that a good interview—or several—will make writing your profile a whole lot easier.

Write a Winning Query Letter

What about query letters to magazine editors?

Query letters are previews to coming attractions, therefore, I write query letters after I’ve gained adequate knowledge about the topic. This enables me to insert enticing tidbits. I also list my interviewee list so the editor knows whose expertise and experience I will incorporate in my article.

I consult my query letter as I write the article to ensure I deliver the promised goods.

For more sure-fire tips that have helped me convince hundreds of editors to request my articles (and pay for them), listen to Paul Lima of the University of Toronto.

In a future blog, I’ll share the query that landed a deal for my novel, Ken’s War.

The novel highlights Ken’s attempts to find his place in a world turned upside-down. Exquisitely portrayed characters play indelible roles in Ken’s rocky journey from boyhood to manhood.

Cross-Cultural Blunders Have Consequences for Authors (Part 2)

Armed with cultural sensitivity and a global perspective, freelancers who produce informative and interesting articles will make sales in the international marketplace. Here are some tips that have helped me gain credibility with editors across the globe and make international sales.

            Gesture Judiciously – Writers are encouraged to describe gestures in personality profiles and fictional characterizations, but gestures don’t necessarily convey universal meanings. Thrusting the index and middle fingers upward in a V shape signifies an insult, victory, two or peace—the meaning depends on where thrusting occurs! Similarly, in some Asian countries a western-style goodbye wave means, please, come here. My buddies raise one hand and flap it side to side signifying something is so-so. The same wiggle in the East can mean no, no.

When gestures are important to a story, international freelancers include explanations that flow naturally. Illuminate body language using descriptions along the lines of “Making a circle with finger and thumb, the captain indicated that the trip was successful,” and “The driver crossed his forearms to form an X. The gesture meant the bus was broken.”

            Hold the Humor – Comedy, especially puns, double entendres, satire and allusions, can be risky. A Singaporean businessman reading an Australian writer’s editorial remained stone-faced when he came to the journalist’s supposedly humorous reference to Kerry Packer’s weight. Who’s Kerry Packer? What’s his weight got to do with anything? Trans-cultural humor requires intimate knowledge of psychology, zeitgeist, politics, history and language.

Getting laughs in the comedy-writing field is tricky even within one’s own culture. If a joke or amusing anecdote is integral to the manuscript’s purpose, recruit a local from the country whose ribs you hope to tickle (to use a cliché) to review the piece first. Rewrite accordingly.

Cite Specifics – In anticipation of a two-week holiday in England, a Bombay reader scanned a travel article written by a Brit. The reader’s wife, wanting to know what clothes to pack, asked, “How’s the weather this time of year?” Her husband replied, “This writer says England is ‘red hot.'” The woman packed lightweight clothing for the family. They shivered for a fortnight because London temperatures never rose above 20º C.

Like chameleons, adjectives change in relation to the environment. “Cold” to me is balmy to Koreans. “Spicy” to me is bland to Malaysians. “Conservative” for me is offensive to some Saudis.  Internationally published writers avoid relative words (hot, heavy, tiny, expensive, near) in favor of specific words (32º C, five tons, one centimeter, HKD$200,000, 150 meters).

            Learn the Lingo – Do Thais drive trucks or lorries? Do Vietnamese rent flats or apartments? Do Japanese assume a thong is a slipper, an undergarment or something else? Do Chinese diners ask for tomato sauce, catsup or ketchup when eating…um…chips, wedges or French fries? Find out.

In Ken’s War, a YA novel by B.K. Fowler, Ken finds his world is turned upside down when he is whisked off to Japan. Culture shock and teen hormones collide. The novel is slated for publication in 2014 by Melange Books LLC

article by Beth Fowler

article by Beth Fowler