Wednesday, June 28, 2006

How to get published, part 2: Self-editing "Re-Vision"

In part 1 of this series (How to get published, part 1: You must write something) I stated what ought to be obvious: you have to write something to get published. What's more, you have to write something that is publishable.

Now and then a discussion comes up on writer's boards about whether one should write for one's own pleasure and damn the consequences, or if one should write for the market. Those who opt for the former category refer to the latter as "hack writing." Those who opt for the latter sometimes refer to those in the former as "idealistic" and "unrealistic."

The truth is that most writers fall somewhere between the two camps, and shift positions with each and every project. One writer may pound out the novel that she's been carefully plotting for twenty years or more, pouring her heart and soul into the project, but the next day dash out a piece for a magazine or take on a work-for-hire project with no other objective than to pay the bills.

Question: Which is better?

Answer: Whichever suits your goals at the moment.

Better answer: Who cares?

Whether you write for your own fulfillment or whether you write solely for filthy lucre, your writing must shine if it is to get published. Those who write for their own spiritual needs but still want their work to be published need to accept the fact that editors will rip and tear their heart's work to pieces in order to whip it into shape for publication. Or, these days, the more likely scenario is that the editor or agent will expect the author to do the bloody deed herself. Editors have far less time to actually edit than they did a generation or so back.

Revising your own work involves a whole lot more than proofreading. It requires re-vision -- that is, seeing your work with fresh eyes. It may mean major surgery, moving one scene several chapters forward or back, eliminating extraneous characters, chopping away the back material in that lovingly constructed preface AND foreword, and simply starting with Gnormious the Barbarian hacking his way through the Imperial Guard, waiting until later to tell how he got there.

Books, books, and more books exist to help authors through the process of revising their work. I have several posted in the sidebar that I think are particularly helpful. In general, though, the process usually works by taking a broad view, then going down on a finer and finer level.

Broad view

For fiction, is the story working? Are the characters realistic? Are there plotholes big enough to drive a coach-and-four and two footmen through, or have all the loose ends been tied up well before "The End"? Does the plot have a solid structure, or does it weave all over the place like a gigantic toddler? Looking at the broad view may require putting the manuscript aside for a few weeks. It may require finding helpful and objective people to read it through and comment on it (critique groups are a good place to turn -- friends and relatives may not have the objectivity you need, unless you've had book discussions with them before and you know they can do the old rip n' tear). Tell your critiquers specifically that you want to know if the plot is working, and ask them to point out parts where they became confused.

For nonfiction, is the organization working? Does one topic lead logically to the next, or are you bouncing between unrelated topics just because they sounded interesting at the time? Even nonfiction needs a storyline to hold it together. We are all storytellers, whether we're writing fiction, nonfiction, a scientific paper for an academic journal, or a recipe for the newspaper. Every bit of writing should have a running theme or storyline that holds it all together.

Narrowing down

Chapter by chapter, scene by scene, topic by topic, whether fiction or nonfiction, the narrative needs to keep moving to keep the reader engaged. That doesn't mean that Gnormious needs to be chopping his way through the Imperial Guard on every other page. The time he spends reflecting on the Barbarian Way or pondering the charms of the lovely Ethelberta the Impaler can be as engaging as his swordplay -- or his swordplay can be as dull as a Farm Products Amalgamated Annual Report if your writing isn't keeping pace.

If you typed your manuscript on 5x7" cards, would there be something interesting and engaging on each card?

That's what you need to hold the reader's attention. In a small-size paperback books, each page should contain something interesting: action, a striking visual image, humor, a smouldering love scene, something. Not pages and pages of description that the reader will flip through. Not a discussion between Gnormious and his advisors that rivals the Council of Elrond in length. Something interesting or striking on every page.

And are you showing what's happening instead of just telling about it? This is a difficult distinction for many beginning writers to make. The "showing" voice is part of the traditional storyteller voice, and it shows up in many fairy tales and folktales: "
Once upon a time, there was an elderly couple who lived alone. They had no children, which made them very sad. The one day...
To show this, one might begin a story thus:
Old Hannah stood by the well, her wrinkled hand hovering over her water jug, as she watched a plump young woman stroll by with five -- five -- children in tow. Hannah turned away, pressing a hand to her eyes, which had grown moist. "Five," she mumured. "Five. Some women have all the luck, while others..." She sighed, piked up her jug, and turned wearily back home, wondering what it must be like to hear a pair of small lips whisper, "Mama!"
Yes, it does take much longer to show than to tell. Sometimes one must do a bit of telling to keep the pace of a story moving, so the rule "show, don't tell," is not a hard and fast one. But whenever possible, show. Showing involves the reader in the story. Telling forces the reader to only observe it from a distance.

Line by line

Only after you've hacked and slashed your way through the larger questions do you finally get down to the line editing. Here is where you get right to to word-by-word examination of your text, looking for:
  • spelling errors: don't expect the spell checker to catch them all.
  • misuse of words: know the difference between "cue" and "queue," between "peaked," "peeked," and "piqued," between "bear" and "bare" (it's "bear with me," not "bare with me," unless you're talking about a game of strip poker), between "affect" and "effect," (the first is usually a verb, the second usually a noun, the exceptions being mostly in academic writing), when to use "few" and when to use "less," and that the proper phrase is "I should have," not "I should of."
  • Misplaced modifiers: "Twinkling in the blue-black sky, I gazed at the far-off stars." Wait -- who is twinkling in the blue-black sky? In this case, the narrator, not the stars.
  • Piling on the adjectives: writing teachers who don't actually write themselves are prone to encouraging their students to pump their prose full of adjectives, resulting in travesties such as, "The small, brunette, adorable, perky, little girl skipped down the long, lumpy, cracked sidewalk," when "A tiny girl with chocolate-brown hair skipped down the sidewalk, heedless of the potholes" would do better. Use specific nouns instead of lists of adjectives. Why say, "The pretty, bright, red flower..." when you can say, "The red geranium..."
  • Weak verbs: as with nouns and adjectives, avoid using adverbs too pump up weak verbs. Don't risk pulling a Tom Swiftie ("Get in the back of the boat," Tom said, sternly). Use strong verbs instead of trying to pump up a weak verb with an adverb.
  • He said, she said: Using "said" is fine, unless it's overused. Don't comb your thesaurus trying to come up with synonyms for "said." You can have Tom whisper, Betty yelp, Che-Hao holler, Honoria command, Sita sigh, but don't overdo it. You can also replace a dialogue tag with an action: Tom pointed toward the boat. "Get in."
  • Purple prose: "Tihn stepped boldly, recklessly, into a miasmic night as menacingly dark and wildly stormy as his pain-wracked memories of that lurid night in the tattered, shabby hovel..." -- yeah. You get the idea. Don't do it. Use style, yes, but also keep your writing clean so that you reader gets lost in the story. Drawing excessive attention to your writing puts a barrier between the reader and the story.
Read it aloud

Read your work aloud to yourself, or have someone else attempt to read it to you. Mac users have a built-in computer voice that will read the words in a synthesized voice (In TextEdit, which comes with the machine, it's the "Speech" item under the Edit menu), and the near monotone is excellent, because the words must work without a reader reading in the excitement of Gnormious' battle scene. By hearing the words read aloud, you'll be able to spot any clunkers that just don't read well.

Put it through the typewriter again

In the old days of writing on typewriters, authors would type out a first draft, mark it up, then retype the whole thing. This was called "putting it through the typewriter again." Invariably, the writer finds on doing so that there are lots of things to touch up. This sentence could really be eliminated, this other one needs a stronger verb, this one really belongs elsewhere. As painful as retyping the whole 100,000+ words sounds, it's an extremely useful exercise.

This only touches on the basics of self-editing. For more ideas, get a good book on editing (such as the selections at the right), or see these articles:
How to get published series

Saturday, June 24, 2006

How to get published, part 1: You must write something

Once people around you know that you're a writer and that you've been published, inevitably the question comes up, "So how do you get published?" Or the variants: "How much does it cost?" (answer: nothing) "Is it hard to get published?" (answer: Depends. Usually it's easier than unicycling across Siberia in the dead of winter, but not always.) "I've always wanted to write a book." (answer: polite smile -- there are dozens of snarky answers to this, but it's best to be civil and refrain).

So in the spirit of helpfulness to those who would like to be authors, I am writing a series of articles presenting the basics of getting published. I will keep the discussion general, so as to be applicable to all the various forms of book writing, from literary novels to "How to crochet socks for your cat," and everything in between. I've never delved into Hollywood nor into Broadway, so I cannot speak to screenwriting and playwriting, but books and magazines I do know reasonably well.

Let us begin at the beginning, with the writing itself.

Do you want to write, or do you want to have written?

I am assuming in writing this that my readers enjoy writing and want to see their works published; that is, that the reader wants to write, rather than wants to have written. Do you see the difference? A writer is one who writes, and writes regularly, eventually producing publishable material. Many people I've met who dream of getting published, thinking it must be a very glamorous thing, will never get there because they aren't regular writers. The bulk of their writing is a personal essay or two written during a writing workshop they attend once a year, if that. Though they fancy themselves writers, they do not write except under special circumstances, when there is a charismatic coach to prod them on, and others around to watch them do it. But when they leave, they are untouched by the experience, unable to keep up the momentum, unable to make time at the keyboard or to put pen to paper.

And that's all right, if that is what that they want to do, if that is enough to satisfy.

But if you want to be published, not just once but several times over, to make a career of writing, you must do much more.

Why would-be writers -- don't

I have a brother-in-law who dreams of being a writer. His online screen name and email include the word "writer." He talks about the publishing world, and how he has these great ideas for novels.

"So, BIL," we ask him, "how far have you gotten on your novel? Can we read some of it?"

BIL hedges. Well, he hasn't written much on it as such... he has some ideas... he has some notes... somewhere... if he can find them...

And so it has gone on for a couple of decades. So far as we can tell, BIL has never actually written a paragraph of his novel. The notes, if they exist, vanish, as ephemeral as gum wrappers. BIL is enamored with the glamour of being a writer, but his attention is captured far more by his job, the crisis-du-jour in the ongoing drama of his adult children's lives, television programs, and the pleasures of getting in the car to drive to the nearby convenience store for a giant cup of soda several times a week. Someday, he thinks, someday when things settle down and life is normal, he'll have time to write. He imagines "writing" as having long blocks of uninterrupted time, to sit at the keyboard and let the ideas flow. Prosaic on-the-job problems and crises-du-jour are not part of that fantasy. They take up one's time and drain one's energy. So long as they exist, BIL's imagined writing life never happens, and thus his writing never happens.

You must write something

Despite what you may have heard from someone, somewhere, beginning writers can't simply sell an idea. Never waste an editor's time trying to sell an idea. An editor wants to see actual writing. Nor should you approach an author with the deadly line, "I have this great idea, and if you'll write it, we can split the profits 50-50." First of all, most published authors already have more ideas than they'll ever be able to use. Secondly, an author knows very well that coming up with an idea is the easy part. Executing it into a publishable piece is damned hard. What the author hears when an idea-peddler says, "I have this great idea, you write is..." is, "Look, I want to be published and make a pile of money, but I don't want to do anything like real work. So you do all the hard work and I'll take half of the money that your labor actually earns." Such a deal.

Nope, sorry, you're going to have to do the writing yourself -- assuming you're not famous enough nor notorious enough to be of interest all by yourself so you can hire a ghost writer. That great idea you have is going to have to be told in your own words, by the sweat of your own brow as you strain over the opening line, the dialogue, the charming description. It must be yours from start to finish.

What you write may not be good enough - yet

Writing is an art. It is a craft. It can be learned, but learning to write well takes time. That's something that most people don't understand, which leads people to say things to writers such as, "Oh, I've always wanted to write a novel!" Which is why novelist give them a sort of tight look. Sure, and I've always wanted to be a brain surgeon, doc -- think I could come into your operating room and try it out sometime?

So don't be surprised if the stuff you write when you start out is less than stellar. But don't be discouraged, either. Hemingway, at some point in his life, had to learn that "apple" starts with "a" and had to learn to scrawl his name legibly. Everyone starts somewhere. You may start with straight A's in English and a finely-tuned ear for dialogue. Or you may not even be able to write a grocery list that others can follow. No matter. If you want to be a writer, begin where you are. Write what's in your head now. It may be good or it may be embarrassing. Keep writing. Native talent is all well and good, but talent without actual production is nothing. Write, and the talent will come.

Read about writing. Some writers fear that if they read other people's work, they'll lose their own voice. Or they get overwhelmed by writing instruction books and say, "But I don't want to think about all this! I want my writing to be natural!" All well and good. Your writing should seem natural, just as the circus performers make three double somersaults and a half-backflip in mid-air while juggling two flaming swords and an elephant seem easy. But it's not easy, and it only looks easy after the circus performers (and, presumably, the elephant) have practiced over and over and over.

So you, too, must practice. If the writing books seem overwhelming, pick one thing to concentrate on for a while. Maybe dialogue. Maybe overused words. Maybe cliche phrases. Pick one thing to improve, and work on it. Then pick another.

Keep writing

Keep at it. Write essay after essay, poem after poem, story after story, even novel after novel. It doesn't matter what you write. It doesn't matter if what you write is laughably bad and will never see the light of print. Just keep at it. Prove to yourself that you can carry an idea through to the end of a novel.

How long this writing apprenticeship lasts depends on you: your level of skill, your dedication, the time you have in your life to devote to your writing. Most published writers report that it took anywhere from two to ten years, from the time they start seriously writing, to finally get published. So give yourself time. Write lots of stuff. Out of that stuff will eventually come some material that you think is pretty good.

Is it good? You may rely on your own tastes to tell you. Or you may find a local writing group where you can share writing and get it critiqued. Or you might find an online writing group where you can do the same. Don't simply paste your piece into a discussion board and demand critiques, especially if that's not common practice on the board. But do get some good feedback if you can on your work. You may find that your work isn't quite as polished as you thought. It may need only a tiny tweak or two. Or it may need some major re-thinking. That's all right. It's all part of the apprenticeship.

Finally, something publishable

If you've stuck with me so far without turning away in disgust, thinking, "Oh, but that sounds like work! I don't want to do that! I just want to get published!" and if you've actually written for a good long time and have a piece that you think is worth publishing, you may think you're ready to ship it out there to agents and editors. Hold on for just a second. We'll run the piece through again, with an eye for the final polish, which is the subject for the next article in the series. Then we'll get to the exciting part, where we actually start looking up publishers and agents.

How to get published series

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The most-used word in the English language...

... is "time." Read all about it here:

BBC NEWS | UK | The popularity of 'time' unveiled

Now, overhearing conversations on public transportation, one might be led to believe that the most-used word in spoken English is an entirely different four-letter word. But the Oxford University Press is referring to printed English.

Even still... some of the blogs I've stumbled into...

"Anything you write may be held against you..."

Ah, poor Edwin Kane. On trial, accused of defrauding the government to the tune of about $700,000, Kane attempted to get himself off the hook by presenting as evidence 35 letters written by friends and family members, all saying what a swell guy he was.

But the power of the pen didn't help, as Kane's own pen was about to betray him. Along came the prosecution with some other writing as evidence. Kane's own published writing, as it turns out. A set of how-to manuals on -- guess what? -- how to commit fraud. Oh, and the tasty bit from a book titled "Mastering the Art of Male Supremacy: Training Techniques for the Home Front," which advocates disciplining your wife by spanking her with a rolled-up newspaper. Arf!

Kane and his allies called these books "humor," but the judge didn't see them that way. Kane then went for a First Amendment plea, stating that his self-expression should be protected under the Constitution and not be used against him (there's a bit of the 5th mixed up in that, but all right). The judge wasn't amused by that, either. While the spanking bit may not have been relevant to the case, the "how to commit fraud" bit was. It seems that mastering the "Art of Male Supremacy" includes such useful testosterone-enhancing techniques as faking financial records to qualify for subsidized housing and running a fraudulent mail order scheme that never delivers services paid for. Oh, and for real he-men, a section on how to display pictures of topless women in the office without getting slapped with a sexual harassment suit. Okay, that last probably wasn't relevant to the case, either. But it certainly didn't help Kane's case a bit, contrasting as it did with the character letters from his doting relatives.

Were Kane's books only humorous parody? Or were his how-to books a bit too practical? Kane and his supporters claim his books are old and don't reflect his character. But when you've got a guy who has defrauded the government out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the same bugger writes how-to fraud manuals, it's hard not to connect the two.

The Washington Post has more on the Kane case here: Court: 1st Amendment Doesn't Shield Author.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father's Day!

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years. ~Mark Twain, "Old Times on the Mississippi" Atlantic Monthly, 1874
To all those who still have dads to talk to, argue with, and get fed up with, please take the time to visit or call today. Wish I could. Give your dad a hug for me.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wouldn't these make great writing prompt pictures?

Check out this blog post: Seamless Pictures. Shades of Escher, but in color and... well, you just have to see.

I've used pictures from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by the amazing illustrator Christopher van Allsburg (of Jumanji and Polar Express fame) with kids as picture writing prompts. In a summer writing session, we challenged kids to come up with captions for the pictures. Young kids, literal as ever, gave them some very straighforward captions such as, "A nun is sitting an a floating chair." After we read the text that goes with the pictures, a few of them started to get the idea that the caption and the picture together can tell a story.

I can see Seamless Pictures being used in the same way, either to come up with interesting captions (which are in themselves one-line stories), or as prompts to create surreal stories. Give them a try and see what you come up with.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Another Vanity Press Gets Sued

Miss Snark pointed out this interesting lawsuit. It seems that one Leon Koziol, candidate for New York state senate, is suing and it's vanity publishing service, Book Surge, claiming that the book was full of typos and other errors.

I'm of two minds on this issue.

Mind 1: What did you expect? It's a vanity press.

As I've written before, vanity publishing isn't self-publishing. Book Surge is the publisher of this book, not Leon Koziol. Nevertheless, vanity publishers give the authors the impression that they are indeed self-publishing because 1) the author pays for it and 2) the vanity press usually offers little or no editing, unless the author wants to pay extra. Even then, it's up to the author to make the text as clean and sparkling as possible. These days that's true even of traditional publishing.

Koziol complains that the publisher is interested in "quantity over quality." That's the hallmark of the vanity press: to crank out as many books as possible, knowing that they'll be purchased primarily by doting relatives and a few sympathetic friends.

If Koizol wanted different results, he should have educated himself beforehand. Reading a book or two on publishing and on self-publishing would have cleared up his misconceptions regarding what Book Surge could and could not do for him.

Mind 2: Exposing the vanities is a good thing.

Every time I open a copy of Writer's Digest, I cringe. Full-page ads for vanity presses have taken a prominent place in the first few pages of the magazines. I renewed my subscription to the magazine only recently, and I'm ready to drop it again for that reason alone.

Because of advertising programs like these, people with any interest in writing at all are more familiar with vanity presses than they are with traditional publishers. When people think of getting published, often the ad for the vanity is the first thing that springs to mind. I get a lot of people asking me, "How much did it cost you to get published?" and they're surprised when I say, "Nothing. Publishers pay me. That's how the industry is supposed to work."

When cases like this reach the public's attention, I see more queries on the writer's boards from people asking, "I want to get published, but I don't want to get ripped off. What should I do?" Lawsuits against the vanities raise public awareness, which in turn gives writers the opportunity to educate the public about the differences between traditional publishing, self-publishing, and vanity publishing.

So let Koizol have his tantrum. If it saves someone else from an expensive publishing mistake, then it has done some good.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

And now can we get back to real issues, congress?

It's over, for the moment, at least until the would-be theocrats bring it up again in a pathetic effort to get their fellow theocrats to the polls by whipping hatred up to a furious lather.

Iraq is a mess. Afghanistan is a mess. Osama bin Laden, the fellow who was really in charge of the 9/11 attacks, is still at large. Military personnel are stretched to the breaking point in every sense. Gasoline prices are skyrocketing, with no end in sight. Bird flu is looming on the horizon. Katrina victims are still homeless, hurricane season is back, and the New Orleans levees still aren't sound. The NSA is listening in on only the gods know what, and the crimes of the current administration continue to mount. Millions of Americans are struggling along without insurance, which often means they're getting by without health care at all.

But heavens to Betsy, let all that fall aside for the only issue worthy of debate in Congress, it seems. Ooh, icky poo, icky poo, those GAYS wanna get married! Ew, ew, ew! Who cares about homeless Katrina victims. Who cares about Marine meltdowns? Who cares about wiretapping, torture, or anything else when there are GAYS running around actually wanting to commit to a lifetime of mutual caring? Ew!

Hmph. With all the wives some of the right-wing leaders and pundits have used and discarded, you'd think someone might be happy that anyone at all is still interested in a lifetime committment.

You'd also think that our national leaders, our elected representatives, would be familiar enough with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to understand that the Bill of Rights is about rights, rights for all citizens, not thou-shalt-nots. The last time that Congress attempted to use the Bill of Rights to limit the rights of the people (it was called "Prohibition," for those of you who don't remember U.S. History class), it failed miserably. Use of the Constitution to impose one groups religious beliefs on another just doesn't work, and that's precisely what the gay marriage amendment attempts to do.

Congress, hands off our rights. We're still using them.

Read more at the Washington Post: Gay Amendment Fails in Senate

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Publishing through Vanities is Not Self-Publishing, Says Kansas Court

It's official now. A vanity publisher that stamps its name on someone's book is the publisher of record. Authors who use the services of vanities and "POD publishers" (note: POD is a technology that many publishers use, not just the vanities) are not legally self-publishing, in spite of advertising claims.

Publishers themselves have known this for a long time. He who buys the ISBN number directly from , and whose imprint the book is published under, is indeed the publisher. When authors self-publish, they buy their own ISBN number, file for copyright on their own behalf, and publish under their own imprint, using a book printer (not a company calling itself a publisher) to bring the book into being.

Writers, however, aren't always cognizant of these finer legal points. And no wonder -- look at the colorful, exclamation-point-laden advertisements of the vanity presses. The majority of them refer to the process as "self-publishing." Or they'll confound a printing process with the act of publishing and call themselves "POD publishers," trying to avoid the stink of the "vanity" label, but they will still market themselves as a service to help authors self-publish.

A court in Kansas, however, ruled otherwise. In a libel case against , the jury ruled that AuthorHouse was, indeed, the publisher of a book that libeled the author's ex-wife, and held the company responsible for damages. AuthorHouse, and not the author himself, was determined by the jury to be the publisher of the book. So much for claims of "self-publishing."

More on the story is available from Publisher's Weekly:

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Early Writerious: Pencil, Pen, and Crayon Years

My mother has been cleaning house and getting a lot of old stuff out of the house. Invariably that means I end up going home with a box of stuff that she no longer wants, but doesn't really want to get rid of, just doesn't want to see again. Sometimes it's things I don't want to get rid of, either. In this latest transfer of unwanted goods was a small brown paper sack with a lot of old letters in it -- letters I'd written to my grandmother when we moved to another state. That was back long, long before email, back before cell phones, back when long distance was an extra charge on your bill but it only cost six cents to mail a letter of heartfelt greeings. So now I will bore you all with my precociousness, beginning with the year 1967, when I was but a tot at age five (I can hear you all doing the math). Yes, I was writing on my own by then. I'd been reading since age three. Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization are as they were in the original. Interesting how the spelling degenerates -- perhaps I was relying on others in the earlier epistles.
Dear Grandma
How Are You? I Am fine. I am Building A Ship Out on The Side of Our House. I am Having Fun Playing in my Ship.

The "ship" in question was a vaguely triangular-shaped junction of rock walls beside the house that reminded me vaguely of the prow of a ship. "Building" the ship consisted of moving a few bits of this and that around and sitting there envisioning it all as a ship.

(Envelope dated Nov 1967)
Dear Grandmother
How Are you? We Had a Turkey. And pumpkin Pie. Mark has his room in the Basement. We Get Carnation MiLK.

A scintillating narrative of Thanksgiving day. These are the things that are important to a five-year-old.
(Dated 1968)
Dear Gandma
Thank you for all the Lovely clothes. I like Them all Also Thank you so very much for the record and Book. I listen and read it every Day.
Evidently the obligatory thank-you letter, written a couple of weeks after Christmas.
(this one done painstakingly in cursive - envelope dated Feb 1968)
Dear Grandma
I miss you. come see me again. We will come see you soon.
Grandma must have come for Christmas. Ah, yes -- the infamous Hong Kong Flu year, when we all, every one of us, came down with the vile bug, one at a time. Just as one person would be well, the next would fall ill. Marvelous Christmas, it was.
(typewritten -- envelope dated Aug 1968)
I am Righting to see if you are Happy. We ar getting to go to
go on ar trip. We are going for one week. ar you going for one week/? My bunny is going to. When are you comeing home. ar cat is home ar dog is home just we are going and my bunny ar is going. i have a picture of are car and we are in it.
The bunny was a stuffed bunny, of course. If I'd had a live bunny, it would have stayed with the dog and cat.
Dear Grandma
Guess What! We have some turkeys in the courtyard! There is one male and two females. They are Big and fat. Today we learned a new game called 20 Questions. I have a present for you but do not open it until Christmas.
This was accompanied by a drawing labeled "a male turkey." Evidently a letter written under the direction of my first grade teacher, since the spelling is spot on, though capitalization is still shaky.
(Dated January 3, 1969 -- I would be age 6 1/2)
Dear Grandma
Guess What! We Still have Snow out there. I bet it is about 8 inches deep. I Love the Love Bug that you Gave me. I am Going to take it to School for Show and Tell Next friday. I like the Play food that you Gave me. Played with it friday. You Know What happened friday! Ther was No School! Because ther was to much snow on the road. So the bus's did not come. The Boy's (Mark and Kent) are Clening the Drive Way Now. Well I don't have any more to say. By.
The sign-off was to be my standard schtick for a whole series of letters. The Love Bug was a pink furry cylindrical stuffed toy with a goofy face done in felt at one end. I still have it.
(Envelope dated Feb 1969)
Dear Grandma
Did you have a happy Valentines day? I did. We had a valentines parrty at school. and i got a lot of valentines. Geuss What! wear going to Come to your house! We are going to Come on Kent's Brithday. you know what? Noseles wear liveing the Peach house acrosst the street now Donny a littel boy and his famly are liveing in it!
Well i don't have anymore to say, By!
I haven't a clue who or what "Noslels" is -- probably a phonetic spelling of the name of the family that lived in the house prior to the aforementioned Donny.
(Envelope dated 1969)
Dear Grandmother
Happy Easter! (I hope) Oh boy! am I going to have fun on Easter! Can you guess? Well, Instead of hunting Candy eggs, we are going to hunt plasteck eggs with money and srprizes inside! (That money relly Get's me!) I here that you might come up here for Easter. I hope you do,... and you know why Easter is such a special day? Because, Jeuse Rose on Easter! Well, have a happy Easter! By!
A born money-grubber, despite the theological overtones.
(Dated June 11, 1969)
Dear Grandma
HI! What's going on today?! I just got a set of Beads (Small and Big) and thin wier. it's called "indian rings." I realy sent away for some magck tricks, in the Cappy Dick, But I guess they ran Out But, anyway, I'll have fun. Well, no more to say, By!
Not sure what "Cappy Dick" is -- probably something in the comic section of the newspaper where kids could send away for various kits. I do recall getting a magic kit with Kool-ade labels at one point. I never did figure out why I got the bead kit instead of the magic kit I wanted.

Well i don't have anymore to say, By!