Wednesday, May 4, 2016

An Interview with "Rubes" Cartoonist, Leigh Rubin by Jackie Houchin

A cartoon is a mini (micro) short story, often told in a single panel. Astonishingly cartoons tell the "beginning, middle and end" of a story in a single line! How does a cartoonist DO that?  

Okay, okay, I know, a "picture is worth a thousand words," but still, you have to envision the picture, and then create that "line."

Leigh Rubin – a man I met decades ago when I went to his family's print shop for some business cards – has created the now nationally syndicated Rubes® cartoons. Most times his cartoons are tongue-in-cheek, plays-on-words, or puns. Sometimes, you have to think about them for a minute to "get it." But don't good stories and books do that too?

Hi Leigh, thanks for stopping by Writers in Residence.

Take us back to the beginning of your story. Your first paperback collection was published in 1988, how did your signature cartoon series originate?  What gave you the idea for animal (and vegetable) humor? 

I had been walking through a drug store in 1978 and passed by the greeting card section. There were these very simply drawn cards with very fun and silly puns called

"Animal Farm" by Sandra Boynton. They were terrific and much different than your standard Hallmark card. It was at that moment I thought "Why don't I start my own greeting card line?" 

I had been working at my folks print shop since high school so I knew how to run a press, do layout and design, etc. Of course I was majoring in advertising arts in college at the time so everything just sort of clicked. I started the card line in 1979. 



Skip ahead a couple of years….I was getting burned out doing both the card line and working at the print shop. 

I happened to be doodling around and made my signature character into a musical note. Then I started writing silly little puns to go along with the notes and Notable Quotes was born.

Jump ahead a couple more years and I was doing a book signing at a bookstore in Lancaster, California, with my first cartoon collection of Notable Quotes. The entertainment editor at the paper had written a little feature about the event. He and I became friends and it wasn't long after that he asked if I'd like to draw a cartoon for the local paper. I jumped at the chance. 

On November 1,1984 the first Rubes® was published

At first you were self-syndicated. What does that mean? (Leigh is now represented nationally and internationally by Creators Syndicate.)

Self-syndication means that instead of a syndicate, which is a company that markets and hopefully sells your cartoons, that you (the cartoonist) have the pleasure of being rejected first-hand instead of the newspaper or publication telling the sales rep for the syndicate that they are not interested in your cartoon .

It also means that you "get to" make the sales, send out promo material, do the billing, chase down the people who owe you $$ and experience all the pleasure of running your own business.

Readers are always interested in process. Novelists and short story writers use the question, "What if?" to jump start their imagination and get the creative juices flowing. Describe how a cartoon that "delights millions daily" comes into being at your hands. 

My average day starts with a cup or two or three of whatever coffee my wife happens to brew that day. (I'm not all that picky.) It's all downhill from there. If I didn't wake up in the night with an amazing flash of humorous inspiration (yes, it still happens now and then) then it's all just "winging it" with a mixture of doodling and daydreaming with a heapin' helping of erasing thrown in for good measure. 


Call me old-fashioned but I still actually physically draw with a pencil on paper. There is something very satisfying with holding an original piece of art. Equally satisfying is tearing up the paper you struggled with all day because the gag didn't turn out as funny as it was originally envisioned. 

The same cannot be said for drawing on a tablet. If you are unsatisfied, hitting "delete" does not give the same "take that you crappy drawing" sense of satisfaction. (Ah, the sweet sound of paper being torn in half!


Eventually, sometimes sooner than later, a workable concept will magically appear on the paper. An average day is one cartoon. A good day, two. An extraordinary day, three - though honestly, after two I call it a day. After all, there's always tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that, etc.
  
Producing up to seven fresh cartoons weekly could get stressful. Do you ever get "dry?" What do you do to prime the pump?  (This might help "writer's block" sufferers.)

As I mentioned, priming the pump consists mainly of intense mental calisthenics (aka "daydreaming"). If I don't pick up the pencil then "ain't nuthin' gonna happen" so it's best to just START. The sooner that happens the sooner an idea will manifest itself.

"Do I ever get dry?" Well, let's just say that some days are easier than others. But, no. writer's block is never an option for me.

You are also an entertaining motivational speaker for businesses, colleges, etc. I attended one and came away almost believing I could be a cartoonist! 
Describe what you do your demonstrations.


I like to think of myself as a "sit down comic." 

Being in front of a live audience and telling jokes or sharing observational humor, going step by step through the creative process, connecting the dots, and of course some live doodling is great fun. It gives me the opportunity to connect with people from all walks of life with whom I would never have the chance to meet otherwise. 

What I hope that people take away from these live events is to find inspiration in their own lives by seeing from a slightly different and perhaps even humorous perspective, what would otherwise be mundane or unremarkable situations. 

I'll bet you'll never guess how funny flossing could be until you think about a sheep or a spider doing it!


Do you have any advice for newbie and hopeful cartoonists, writers and artists just starting out, or those struggling to get published?  


Advice you say? Well, yes. I do have some for what it's worth. 

If someone you know tells or sends you a letter of rejection don't take it personally. See if you can find out exactly why that person turned you down. Get the specifics if possible. 

One of my earliest letters of rejection came from a syndicate that loved my gags but thought my drawing needed work. I listened to them and really upped my game. That one reject coupled with some valuable constructive criticism made a huge impact on me and on my career.

Thanks, Leigh. And anything else you'd like to say before you leave? 

Say, would this be a suitable place to plug my latest book, which you can actually get for 25% off? It's called Rubes® Twisted Pop Culture, and contains over 30 years of my very favorite pop culture cartoons-from Mickey Mouse to the Beatles to Godzilla and hundreds more! 

It would make a fabulous Father's Day, graduation, belated Mother's Day, birthday or any day gift!   Here's the link and a preview:  Rubes.CartoonistBook.com

Besides creating comic humor for newspapers, Leigh has produced books of cartoons, magnets, greeting cards, e-cards, tee-shirts and box calendars. Be sure to visit also his web site and peruse his witty collections and books.   http://www.rubescartoons.com/  

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Second Chance for a Published Novel


Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of six award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also a potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. For more information, visit her at website or Amazon Author Page.


A couple weeks back, Kate Thornton penned a Writers in Residence post on recycling your work, which started me down the road of maybe sharing an experience I’m going-through/learning-through right now, and it’s recycling of a sort. Wasn’t sure if my experience would be relevant for other authors, but I do continue to believe sharing writing experiences is a good thing. And most assuredly, I’ve learned so much from my fellow authors; in particular, many of your experiences allowed me to move on without recreating the much talked about “wheel.” I call it “fast tracking” the learning curve.

Here’s the back-story. In 2009, Andy Zang at Aberdeen Bay Publishing offered me a publishing contract for Death of a Perfect Man (I call it DPM), my second mystery. If it weren’t for Andy, I’m not sure I would have continued to pursue writing—needless to say I owe him a lot! Alas, fast forward to 2015, my rights for DPM have been returned to me. Low sales.

My initial thought was, sell the remaining copies I have, and move on. Then I thought, recycle maybe? But, I’m not sure it’s a common practice to issue a 2nd Edition, or reprint of a book unless the author is dead? Living authors don’t rewrite an old novel, do they? Next thought was, this is going to be a pain. Finally I came to the conclusion—the publishing world is rapidly changing, with evolving circumstances, so what the heck!

Here’s what happened:
  • First hurdle was converting my final Aberdeen pdf to a MSWord file so I could edit! Ha! Not exactly a perfect conversion process. It was like reformatting the darned book over again. Having your final published pdf is a good thing, but it isn’t a slam-dunk to a fresh manuscript—especially if you want/need to make changes.
  • Secondly, while converting, I couldn’t help but rewrite—and it was the most unique editing experience I’ve ever had. It was like editing someone else’s work, I write somewhat differently now, even my voice is different, while it simultaneously didn’t feel right I should change much. I did take out words, combined sentences, removed redundancies—the stuff you never see until reading again down the road. And the mortification at the errors that ended up in the published work! And that’s despite having wonderful and extremely competent editors at the time.
  • Next, what do I do with the new and improved DPM? Here’s where I got lucky, Kitty Kladstrup at Champlain Avenue Books agreed to publish my second edition! I’m awaiting a proof to look over now.

       As an aside, while I  edited/rewrote, I found I still liked Jada Beaudine’s story, still liked the characters in Red Rock City, and I’m even thinking about a sequel. No matter I’m in the middle of a sequel to Rhodes, no matter I’ve already started a whole new series...I’m flitting on.

On a more personal note, Jada’s experiencing the Red Rock and Ridgecrest area for the first time, the scenic imagery from that area, the pottery studio I created in that book, all took me back along with my character to those days when we first moved to Southern California and I was heavy into pottery. Reminded me how much I still like pottery. Working on cleaning up my studio.

And my take away from this experience, and the nugget I want to pass on writing wise is: Just do “it” if you want to! There will be challenges, curves and forks in the road… But the result is worth it—even if only as a learning experience.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Writing in the Other Place by Kate Thornton


Kate Thornton is a retired US Army officer who enjoys writing both mysteries and science fiction. With over 100 short stories in print, she teaches a short story class and is currently working on a series of romantic suspense novels. She divides her time between Southern California and Tucson, Arizona.











Writing in the Other Place



Writing is a solitary pursuit; when we write, we are alone with just a gazillion characters, situations, what-ifs and possibilities. It is a good time to create, experiment, and procrastinate.

Writing needs its own space, its own time and place. For some, it is the dining room table after the kids are asleep, or the home office complete with bookshelves and cat. For others it is the local Starbuck's or the cluttered desk at work before work starts.

For a few of us, it is a different house in a different state.


I live in Paradise, in Southern California, where it is beautiful every single day of the year. I live in the house of my dreams, a mid-century modern masterpiece of light and space, with lush gardens and a small pool. I have my own office, a light-filled room with bookshelves. I am fortunate to see these dreams realized after a lifetime of hard work.

So what's the problem?

Like a suitor who has been wooing the beautiful sister only to have his heart stolen by the mousy little girl with the great personality, I have been seeing another house on the side for a couple of years. A vacation home to start, it has become The Place and will soon become my permanent home.

I am moving to Tucson, Arizona. 


Photo by Albert Voirin
Yes, the house is smaller, not so beautiful, with a much smaller garden. A garden, I might add, not filled with fruit trees and orchids, but cactus, for crying out loud. There isn't a home office, just a little desk almost big enough for my laptop. Yes, the light alternates between blinding sun and dark clouds. Yes, it is hotter than buried coals in the summer and it actually freezes in the winter. There are monsoons and floods and heat so dry you could juggle your laundry in the air for 10 minutes and everything would be perfectly crisp.

But what can I do? It is the place where I can write. It is the place where I can be happy. When I am there, I don't want to come back. When I am there, I write.

I have friends there now, and enjoy the company of other writers. There is a thriving community of arts and letters in Tucson, and now I am a part of it.

So I am moving there. Moving - especially at my age - is a big pain, but it is necessary. I can't believe how much junk I have accumulated over just the last ten years, but only the necessities are going with us. Yes, my dear husband is on board with this. In fact, he may be even more eager to move than I.

Photo by Albert Voirin



So for now, we make periodic trips across the deserts to take stuff and when I am there, I write. I have dug out trunk novels and unfinished short stories. I spend time at the computer undistracted by television or Facebook or anything. I feel the light and the sun on me, and the gentle whoosh of the air conditioner or the cries of unfamiliar birds through an open door or the crackle of a log in the fireplace. And sometimes, I hear the pounding of rain, relentless, almost frightening in its intensity. But when I get up to look, the sky is already clear and the sun is making steam rise from a hot pavement.

I make a cup of tea and go back to the computer. I dread the night before we leave, when everything gets packed up for the trip back.

I have found my writing place and it is 500 miles from where I am writing this now.

I look forward to this new chapter in my life, although I know I won't have much of an excuse for procrastination there. All the more reason to do it.



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Editing and Outlines by Gayle Bartos-Pool

A former private detective and reporter for a small weekly newspaper, G.B.Pool writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” “How To Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line.”




Editing and Outlines

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

As a writer I have become a fanatical editor… of other people’s work. That’s not to say I don’t edit the heck out of my own work before I send it off for publication, but I can’t watch a TV show or a movie or even the nightly news without thinking of a better line to use or a better plot or a better word to describe what they are talking about. I have ripped apart old television shows when they were so outrageously bad and rewrote the plot before the final credits ran. Even my husband is getting into the act by pouncing on a plot line when it doesn’t fit.
The moral of this post is: Don’t Send Your Work Out if it Doesn’t Make Sense.
The advantage of dissecting other people’s work is to catch the same mistakes in our own writing… and fix them. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve changed in my own work after I saw the same error in someone else’s story. Little things like using the apostrophe in dates. The “1970s” doesn’t have the apostrophe unless it is used as an adjective. Example: He lived in the 1990’s but drove a 1970’s automobile… The first is incorrect; the second is correct. I have seen this mistake in books by big name authors.

But it’s the bigger things like not tying up a loose end or having the heroes show up in a spot where they had absolutely no reason to be just so they can find a clue that drives me nuts. (I saw this recently in an NCIS episode.) It’s like you cut out the linking scene just to shorten the story. But if the connection isn’t there, you have cheated your reader.
We were watching an old episode of Columbo the other evening and the story disintegrated into foolishness when the implausible kept happening. The audience always knows whodunit from the beginning in that show, but that can also play against credibility when we know what happened and Columbo seems to have watched the same opening and spots all the clues before there is a reason to question them as clues.

But there is a remedy.

I discovered this when writing the lesson plan for a course I teach called: The Anatomy of a Short Story. (It works for novels and screenplays as well.) A terrific way to see if your story hangs together during that editing phase is to write down each LOCATION and which CHARACTERS are in that scene IN ORDER. Write it like bullet points. Each location should add something new to the story or ask a question that needs to be answered later. If your characters go someplace and learn nothing, cut that scene.
Next, look at that list and see if the locations and what happens in each are a mix of HIGH and LOW points. If you have too many low points together, move a high point into the list to give your story movement. And vice versa.
Then look at those points and see if all the questions have been answered. If not, add that scene and wrap up that point.

Next, check to see if your opening is a GRABBER. Since readers are becoming scarcer and scarcer, you’ll want to pull them into the story as fast as you can and keep them. You do that by dangling a puzzle in front of them early so they have to finish reading just to find out what happens. This is what TV shows do with that four minute teaser at the beginning of the show. Works in short stories and novels, too.
Now ask yourself: Does the OPENING FIT the ENDING of your story? Any story: mystery, romance, adventure, has to have a satisfying ending. And the ending should answer the big question that is asked at the beginning.

Next, check to see if the story MAKES SENSE. This is tough because you might have a great idea in your head, but it might not have made its way onto the paper. What is your story about: Man against Man? Man against Nature? Man against Himself? Are there good reasons why your characters do what they do? Is there a resolution?
Last of all, see if your TITLE fits what you have learned while going through all those bullet points. Does the over-all meaning of your story fit that title? Sometimes you will discover a different meaning to your story and the title needs to be changed.

As one last pass-through in the editing process, while I am reading each sentence I ask myself THREE QUESTIONS:
Does it advance the story?
Does it enhance the story?
Is it redundant? Is it redundant?


            For those who don’t outline before you write, remember, this outline happens AFTER you have written your story. It is a great EDITING TOOL. It lets you look at your work objectively and see if all the pieces fit. And one more benefit, it provides a TIMELINE so you can see if all the action you are writing fits into any given day. Nothing like finding out you have penciled in 32 hours of action in a 24-hour day.
Give it a try.

I am teaching a four-hour course, How to Open Your Story with a Bang, at the Woman’s Club of Hollywood on May 7th. It will cover this aspect of writing and a lot more. If you would like more information about the class, leave a note on this blog.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Recycling Your Writing by Kate Thornton

Kate Thornton is a retired US Army officer who enjoys writing both mysteries and science fiction. With over 100 short stories in print, she teaches a short story class and is currently working on a series of romantic suspense novels. She divides her time between Southern California and Tucson, Arizona. Check out her website here


I finished a Christmas story last week and sent if off to a magazine that has a tracking application online. Of course, I check it daily. Five days in slush and still not read – I may have to volunteer as a slush reader to get it going.

I always write seasonal stories out of season - that way there is really no looming deadline and magazines really like to get their seasonal stuff lined up ahead of time. Writing short stories is not easy - they must be tight, have impact, be satisfying and, well, short.

But the really tough writing project I am working on is a novel I wrote in 1998. Back then, I thought I was a novelist and knocked out 3 or 4 long works - adventure/mysteries - that I thought were really good. Hah! Shows what little I knew! They needed a lot of work. So I shelved them (one was actually agented and had some interest from St. Martin's Press, only back then I didn't know enough about revisions to do the necessary rewrites.) The event that triggered this effort was lunch a while back with an old friend, a dear friend, who asked about that particular book and remembered it fondly. Bless my beta readers!

So I am re-reading it first (I have a copy printed on my old laser printer) then doing a page-by-page rewrite into my computer. I used to have this work on an ancient five-inch floppy disc, but who knows what happened to that and what I could use to extract the info anyway. Also, I think it was in one of the very first iterations of Word Perfect. Yes, I am old!

I once heard you must write a million words before you learn how to put them into the right order. I am sure this old effort was part of my first million, and therefore should just be counted as practice, not the real deal. But I want to salvage the basic story, change the main character to one I have been developing, and update the technology (both in the storyline and what I use to write with.)

Maybe it will be a successful project. If so, I have at least three more "Trunk Novels" that could get the same treatment, if they're worth it.

So, how about you? Do you save your old stuff and use it - or parts of it - later? I like the idea of doing this, but it sure is a lot of work. An author of my acquaintance recommends just ditching it all and writing something new. There is certainly a lot to be said for that approach. But there is also something about an old friend, a character you have created, coming home to the present and being with you again.

So, for now, I want to revisit this person and see if they can get used to the world as it is now. And I think maybe it will help me to accept the world of today as well.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


DIVERSITY MATTERS

by Bonnie Schroeder




Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.



The recent uproar over the lack of non-white nominees for the Academy Awards got me thinking, because I seldom explicitly depict people of color in my books and stories. I don’t think I’m a racist, so why is that?
First off, although I have many friends who are Black, Asian and Latino, I don’t think of them by that label. I think of them as my friend who was with me during a traumatic purge at our former employer, or my gal pal who shares my love of classical music. And so on.
Therefore, I don’t often assign a racial label to the characters I write about. Many of my characters could be black or green or blue or purple, but it’s not relevant so I don’t go into it.
Should I?
The reason I ask is that our books and stories are often source material for films and television programs, so in a sense, diversity starts with the writers. But is it my job to impose diversity? I’m not sure.
When I was working in the business world, I certainly enjoyed a diverse assortment of co-workers, many of whom became close friends. Then I retired and spent more and more time in my home community, which has a predominantly White population. I didn’t notice the change at first, preoccupied as I was with making the transition from worker bee to independent writer.

Then I joined a Tai Chi class at the local Y, and the first people to welcome me were an Asian couple. The teacher was Black. A graceful Filipina taught me some of the moves. Suddenly, my world grew more colorful again—no pun intended there, or maybe it is. And I realized how I’d missed hanging out with people who didn’t look or talk like me. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.
We need variety and color in our lives; it enriches us and makes the world more interesting. The universe offers a panorama of colors, shapes, sizes, sounds, tastes and smells to experience.
But back to my question: should I be more explicit in my character descriptions to make it clear that the protagonist or her friend or her boss is a particular race or color? Is there a way to denote ethnicity—to make my writing more polychromatic—without being obvious or patronizing?
After all, despite the self-important proclamations of certain performers, Hollywood would be nothing without the written word. So to circle back to my original premise, your book or my short story might be the starting point.
Sometimes the story or the situation demands a character be a certain race, but often he or she could be any race, at least in my stories. Then the reader can decide for himself or herself if the character is Black or Asian (or Martian.)


Weigh in with your opinion on this admittedly tricky subject. Do you consciously include a variety of ethnicities in your writing? Do you think it’s a good thing to do? Or is it better to let the reader fill in the blanks and imagine a character in any color they want?