Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ring in the New Year with Writer Resolutions

It's that time again - time to dust off last year's resolutions and come up with goals for 2016. Here are thoughts from a few of the Writers in Residence.  How about you? What are your goals for the next twelve months? We'd love to hear from you! 











Miko Johnston

My resolution - to be a little better and do a little better - is always the same even if the intent behind it varies throughout the years.


Bonnie Schroeder

I have two writing goals for 2016: (1) find a publisher for my latest novel, which should be ready to go out into the world by the end of this year, and (2) complete a draft, however clumsy, of my next novel, which currently lives on multiple scraps of paper strewn across on my writing table.

G.B. Pool


I have never made a New Year’s Resolution so I won’t 
now. I know myself well enough after all these years to say I will do the best I can in whatever I take on because that is the way I was raised. My dad told me once that no matter how good I thought I was at something, he thought I was better. He had that much faith in me. So I would never do anything by half measures. That isn’t to say that I am better than anyone else. Far from it. I can’t sing and I can’t dance and I’m not Rembrandt. But I always do the best I am capable of and I keep learning new things and next year will be no exception. God gave us all talents. Find yours and share it with the world.



M.M. Gornell


I'm remembering my 2015 resolution to Do it now, tomorrow is not guaranteed. Several people and critters I've known and loved have moved on this year, so my 2016 resolution, once again, but with more emotion and intensity, is -- Do it now, tomorrow is not guaranteed. In my writing life, that means, "Finish the gal-darned book!"


Rosemary Lord


2016 has to be the year I get myself organized! Well, mostly I resolve to organize my time better, so I can focus my time on my writing – instead of on putting out other people’s fires!

I have so many short stories, books, articles to write and share - And most of all, I resolve that this is the year that Lottie Topaz will be launched. Phew! I’m exhausted already! So I want to wish our readers a wonderful, healthy year ahead. Let’s make 2016 the best writing-and-reading year yet!


Jacqueline Vick


It sometimes seems my resolutions repeat themselves every year. Like Rosemary, getting organized it top on my list, but it never seems to happen!  So, maybe this year, I will try to make sense of my disorganization and work within my own sloppy system. I have three books in various stages that I want to get out, including Civility Rules, which should be out in January. 

Of course, as I talk about things I'd like to accomplish, my nemesis is staring me down. Marketing. Will this be the year I final figure it out and have a working strategy? Fingers are crossed!


Jackie Houchin

I resolve to repeat a resolution I made years ago (and mostly fulfilled), to visit a museum (any kind) or place of interest (Presidential Library, Mission) or learning place (manufacturer, local wilderness park, etc) at least once per month. Because of my recent posts on Writers in Residence "Where Do Writers Get Ideas" and Marilyn's Musings "Field Trips for Writers," I think this is a great way to stir up my thoughts towards new stories, ways of writing, or to simply gather research. 




"The Red That colored the World" exhibit at The Bowers Museum in Orange County is my first stop, then maybe the nearby Mission at San Juan Capistrano for a little history or crafts time. (Oh, gosh, there's also a local ceramics place where I can paint and fire beautiful creations!)

How will I be inspired? What stories will I write? I'll check back with you later this year.

Kate Thornton

It's easy to come up with pie-in-the-sky resolutions; we are probably all guilty of this. It's likewise easy to trot out the tried-and-trues: weight loss, health and world peace. But we are writers. Let us resolve to meet reachable goals of the writerly kind.

I resolve the following:

To use the semi colon more often and properly
To gently but firmly correct public misspelling wherever I find it
To guide new writers with kindness
To try harder to meet deadlines, realizing that a deadline is a reader's way of wanting more of your work. Really, what can be more flattering than a deadline? And what more gracious response can there be than to meet it?
To honor my fellow writers by buying and reviewing their work
And finally, to finish that half-written manuscript

Well, maybe that last one is unrealistic, but I will give it a try. I have a feeling that this will be our best year ever. Be kind to youselves and others. Good things will always follow.
 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Best and Worst of Christmas Presents

All the way back to childhood, this is the season when most of us expect to receive gifts, whether wrapped in green and red for Christmas, blue and silver for Hanukkah, or black, red and green for Kwanzaa. Sometimes those gifts are amazing. Sometimes they are...surprising. And sometimes they are intangible items that can't be wrapped in paper and bows. We've pulled out some of our WinR memories to share with you.


One of the best, or most memorable, Christmas presents I have received was my first Christmas after I moved to Los Angeles from London. I was house-sitting on my own in a half-finished house – just basically one unfinished room – no dry wall yet installed - with a camping-cot. I was also working as a waitress and had the Christmas Day shift. Phone calls home to my mum were VERY expensive in those days, but I spoke briefly to her before I went to work. When I got back, there was a parcel from one of my new-found British friends, who clearly understand my situation. The parcel contained a stack of airmail envelopes, writing paper, pens and international postage stamps (expensive for me) – so I could write to my family in England. Plus.... a bottle of vodka and a bottle of tonic!!! I spent the rest of the day writing letters home – and enjoying a plastic cup of vodka-tonic, no ice.

                                                                
                                                                                         - Rosemary Lord





The worst Christmas gift I ever received was a cookie jar: a big ceramic thing in the shape of a grinning brown bear, given to me by a family friend, a kindly lady who’d known me most of my life.

What’s so awful about that? Well, here’s what happened: I was a newlywed that year, in a low-rent apartment with the world’s smallest kitchen. No room for cookie jars, so I stashed the gift in a closet. I didn’t bake back then anyway—my culinary specialty was spaghetti.

Fast forward several months: my best friend Susie got engaged, and of course I had to get a gift for her bridal shower. Susie was quite the baker, and I thought of that cookie jar, gathering dust in the dark closet. My husband was still in school so we were subsisting, barely, on my tiny salary as a secretary for a small company. Therefore, I thought, it made sense to “re-gift” that cookie jar, which had never been used. Two problems solved: I had little money for a gift, and it seemed a shame to let the cookie jar go to waste.

It would have gone over just fine, except . . . Susie unwrapped the gift and laughed at the smiling bear. Then she lifted the lid. The well-meaning lady who gave me the jar had also given me a bag full of home-made oatmeal cookies, but I didn’t know it because I’d never looked inside the jar. Those cookies had been sitting there, turning to rocks, all that time.

I saw Susie’s bewildered expression as she held up the bag of cookie-rocks, and before I lost my nerve, I snatched the cookies and muttered something about my husband being a practical joker. I’m sure my face was scarlet, but my remark got a laugh at least.

Susie and I are still friends after all these years, and I’m sometimes tempted to ask her if she believed my fib back then. Most days, though, I’d rather not know.

The morals of this story: (1) if you ever recycle a gift, be sure to look inside first. You never know what you might find. (2) when in doubt, blame the husband.

                                                          - Bonnie Schroeder



I can only think of one gift that I knew instantly I would never use. It was a satiny pink blouse with a huge bow at the neck. Not my style, color, or fabric. It was the type matronly ladies wore at the time. I was 27. It made me look like a clown. My brother’s wife had picked it out. It was actually a designer label. She didn’t know my tastes at all since she lived in Ohio and I was in California. But my elderly landlady looked terrific in it. She got two gifts that year.

                                                                         - G.B. Pool

                                                       

I have a huge extended family, and therefore, we pulled names for Christmas. The first year, my uncle, who was my age, forgot about me. That night, when they pulled names, I was forgotten. He came up to me later and gave me twenty bucks! The next year, my aunt, who was in college at the time, forgot me again. She sent me a pair of Saluki sweats that I lived in for the next few years. I loved those sweats, and the twenty bucks came in handy. Sometimes, being forgotten isn't all that bad.


                                                                        - Jacqueline Vick 

May you all have a wonderful holiday season!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Where Do Writers Get Ideas? 
by Jackie Houchin

In a recent post on Marilyn Meredith's blog titled "Field Trips for Writers," I wrote about exciting trips we "WinRs" have taken and how they tickled (or tricked) our muses into action. I also suggested a bunch more for her readers. Check them out; you may glean a story idea too. (http://bit.ly/1PIYv3o).


Any little sight, sound, or experience can generate ideas for your writing. A few crows pestering my Maine Coon cat in our back yard inspired me to write "The Crows Know" about a planned murder that went awry. 

The glassy-smooth feel on my fingertips as I ran them down the side of a newly polished sports car inspired a story about a murderous duo in "Sweet Ride."  

A longing for a certain left-over item in my fridge after a harried day of shopping the malls, led to my dark flash fiction story "The Perilous Pizza."

A newspaper story about a 1932 dam about to be renovated, inspired fellow WinR writer, Gayle Bartos-Pool, to write "Damning Evidence," the third in her Gin Caulfield mysteries.

Then there's that newspaper clipping about the body of an elderly family member found wedged behind an upright piano months after she went missing. It intrigues me.  How did she get there? Was there no noise of a struggle? No odor? It's mind boggling and "ripe" for a story. Go ahead, be my guest!

Every wonder where the writer came up with a man-eating plant who falls in love with him after reaching gigantic proportions (Little Shop of Horrors), or an astronaut who grows potatoes in outer space (The Martian), or a love story with a woman who lived 50 or 100 years before him (Somewhere in Time/Time after Time), or who lived before AND after him (The Time-Traveler's Wife). 

Something sparked those ideas; I wonder what it was...? (Take a second just now to ponder them. Really. Do it!)

Here are a few places you can look to get your "juices" flowing:
1. Pick up a newspaper (any section) and read a tiny story.
2. Glance in the gutter of a busy street (A kid found $600 in a paper bag doing that!).
3. Look at signs and posters in the windows of stores or apartments or the post office.
4. Look at want-ads or items for sale, or personal notices.
5. Peer over your neighbor's fence. 
6. Peruse the items in your fridge... your car's trunk...or your jewelry box.
7. Thumb through an old family album with murder, vice, or a caper in mind. 
8. Thumb through an old family album with...a memoir in mind.
9. Join (or maybe just watch) a protest march.
10. Choose a parable and twist it or "pastiche" it. 
11. Search out writers' prompts from hundreds of websites.
12. Delve into a thesaurus or encyclopedia (use the old "close-your-eyes, open-the-page, and point-to-a-word" technique).
13. Google a random date.
14. Google a prescription medicine that you take.
15. Google your grandmother's maiden name.
15. Drip food coloring into a saucer of milk, then add a touch of dish soap...and be amazed. What comes to mind first?

There are ideas all around us and you can turn them into stories with a little diabolical imagination! 

All it takes is... a character or two, a problem or three, several adversaries or a block wall that can't be scaled, a terrifying time table, a heart-stopping climax, and a shocking, satisfying, humorous, or thought-provoking conclusion. Voila!  You've got a story. (Of course it needs massaged, edited, critiqued, and rewritten! But we're talking ideas here.)

CHALLENGE: Pick one suggestion from anywhere in this post. Let your imagination roam and see if you can come up with a story idea – at least the kernel of one – then throw it into a hot popper and see what happens! 

And please let me know if you find one! (A story idea, that is!)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Time, the Place, and the Story by G.B. Pool

The Time, the Place, and the Story

As a writer, I am often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” I have to tell them ideas fall out of the sky into neat little baskets, neatly typed out… Who believes that? Nobody. But ideas do come out of the blue or sometimes from a newspaper article or maybe while driving to work or maybe right before you fall asleep.
I remember watching a movie once and as I usually do, I was trying to guess where the movie was going. My idea ended up not being anything like the movie, so I wrote my own story. It turned into Eddie Buick’s Last Case.  

One of my fellow Writers-in-Residence members, Jackie Houchin, used to write for our local newspaper. She did an article about the dam near us. Jackie took some great pictures of that eerie place before they retrofitted it. One of those pictures now graces the cover of Damning Evidence, a book about a local dam and murders that happen around it and my private detective, Gin Caulfield, who deals with that problem in the third book in the series.


See, ideas do come from lots of places.
Now it’s the Christmas Season. There are a lot of holiday books out there… and movies, too. I have seen most of the movies and read a lot of the holiday stories. I’m what you call a “holiday-aholic.” I collect Santas. 3500 and counting to be exact. I knew someday I would write a Christmas story, but about what?
I didn’t want to write a children’s story with twenty pages and big drawings. I wanted one that grownups would like. And not a retelling of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s been done and frankly, I like the original versions just the way they are.
Several years ago I was walking through the Glendale Galleria here in California just as the stores had finished decking themselves out in tinsel and holly. I heard someone singing. He was using a microphone. The guy had a great voice. And he was wearing a Santa Claus suit. An idea exploded in my head as I stood there listening to him.
Now for a location. I might not live in Las Vegas, but I went to my 30th high school reunion there. I went to a boarding school in France for children of American military personnel and Vegas was a nice central location for us military brats. And what better place to locate my guy than in a place with one heck of a reputation.
Frankie Madison isn’t a big-time singer, so I put him in an out-of-the-way dive off the Strip. He loses his job, but his agent, who runs an employment agency, not a talent agency, gets him a gig singing Sinatra songs in another dive. It doesn’t go well. Then Frankie gets hit by a taxi. The driver is going to play an important part in the singer’s life.
Then Frankie’s agent calls. The only job left in town during the holidays is at the mall. What kind of singing gig is there in a mall? And he has to wear this suit… a red suit… a Santa Claus suit, but he can sing if he wants. And he does.
Frankie gets noticed by the female clerks in nearby shops and they like his voice. So does a young girl in a wheelchair. She loves Santa. And her father is a BIG TALENT AGENT.
Frankie finally gets another chance to sing, but this time it isn’t what he expects… it’s worse. And there is another problem. As Santa, he makes a promise to the young girl. And he makes another promise to the big talent agent as the struggling singer he really is. But this is his BIG CHANCE. Maybe his last chance. What does a guy do on Christmas Eve? And remember… this isn’t a kid’s fairy tale… or is it?
The Santa Claus Singer was my first Christmas story, but not my only one.
When I first moved to California many years ago, I worked in a miniature store where we sold dollhouses and we also had a holiday room filled with decorations for each season. During Christmas, I was surrounded by Santas and decorations and holiday magic. I came up with an idea for a story about a Polar bear. I drew up plans for a Santa castle where he and Santa live. Years later I wrote the story, Bearnard's Christmas, then I had to build the castle...



   And make all the characters who live there…


You see how this happens? You get an idea and it carries you away. So whenever you wonder where writers get their ideas, just look around. Ideas are everywhere. A very Merry Christmas to you all.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Writing Short Stories: A Mini Course by Kate Thornton Part I

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.

Today, Kate presents the first part of a mini course, in a question and answer format, on writing short fiction.




WRITING SHORT STORIES: A MINI COURSE PART I by Kate Thornton

How long is a short story?

Here are the official lengths from the Short Mystery Fiction Society (the folks who award the Derringer prizes each year)

Flash Story Up to 500 words
Short-short Story 501 to 2000 words
Mid-length Short Story 2001 to 6000 words
Longer Short Story 6001 to 15,000 words

Remember: every venue in which you wish to publish will have their own idea of what lengths they will accept.

What makes it different from a chapter of a novel?

A short story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is limited to one main plot point and the cast of characters is of necessity short. It tells a complete story with a resolution or revelation of some sort at the end.

A written scene without these completing elements is a snapshot or vignette, not a short story.

You may certainly use characters, settings, chapters or scenes from your novel in a short story, but your short story must stand alone as a complete story all by itself. It must have an ending, even if you – or the reader! – do not agree with the denouement or ending.

What's more important, setting, plot or characters?

They are all important. But while you may have the luxury of exploring settings in great detail in a novel, using multiple plot twists and turns, and an array of characters right out of Cecil B. DeMille, in a short story you must narrow your focus. The shorter your story, the more important it is to write concisely and to keep the telling of your tale simple while retaining its color, premise, style and voice.

First person? Third person? Omniscient Narrator?

Whatever works for your story. I have read beautifully-written short stories comprised entirely of dialogue. Beware when using a narration technique that you do not just dump the story on the reader by telling, not showing. Even a very short story must be interesting enough to hold the reader's attention. I like the way first person makes the reader an immediate part of the story. But I like the way third person omniscient can make the reader privy to every secret, every action as it unfolds.

I want to write a short story. Where do I get ideas?

Good – let's try writing a short story. Ideas come from everywhere, but I find that themed contests and exercises ("Write a story based on this picture!" or "Write a story about sheep!" or "Write a story with a lemon, a goat and an alien princess in it!") can be very good jump-starters.

Other ideas can be a childhood incident or other real-life event. Remember you are writing a piece of fiction, not a memoir, so make sure you have that old beginning, middle and end.

One of the best exercises you can do if you want to write short stories is read them. Read in the genres in which you want to write - and the ones you don't. Read the masters: O. Henry, Saki, Sommerset Maugham, Edgar Allen Poe. Read Guy de Maupassant, Ambrose Bierce, Shirley Jackson. Go here for some great classics

You will not only get ideas, you will get a feel for the short story form. You will also see how language has changed over the last hundred years or so.

Now read some contemporary shorts: Ed Hoch, Stephen King, Raymond Carver, (here's a link to one of his, "Vitamins" in Granta) Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Munro, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Michael Chabon, Annie Proulx, Lorrie Moore.

Look at the differences, but more importantly, look at what is the same. Look at the "bones" of the story, the structure as well as the sheer reader's delight of total immersion in a good story.

Now, try to write a short story of your own. Don't hesitate - start writing now. Write until you have all three elements (beginning, middle, end.)

Tinker with that first sentence until it makes you want to read more. This is your "hook" - hook those readers up front. Remember those classic stories?

Help! I wrote a story, but…

Congratulations on writing a story - now let's tighten it up. Every first draft of a story can use some improvement. Take your newly-finished work and put it away for a few days. Write something else in the meantime. Remember - there is no limit to what you can write.

Some time later, take it out and read it aloud. You'll probably find a few things you need to fix right away.

Here's how I tighten a story - I have been known to successfully reduce a rambling 2,000 word story to a succinct 500 word short-short - without losing the essence of the story. I go through it and take out all the -ly words first. Adverbs are not your friends. (Okay, maybe I leave in one or two. But what do they contribute to the story?) Next, I look at the dialogue tags - the "he said, she saids." Do they make sense? Are they monotonous? Too colorful? Confusing?

Next, I read for extraneous phrases which do not advance the story. They may be beautifully-written pieces of deathless prose, but if they do not advance the story, out they go.

Finally, I read for pacing and continuity. Does the story unfold smoothly and at the right pace? Does stuff happen in the right order? Did I forget a name, change a hair color by mistake, forget that it was night in one part and day in the other? Do I need to change a few sentences around to make them clearer, smoother, more readable? Do I need to ditch a sentence or two entirely? And why did I name the heroine Gypsophylla when Lisa is a better fit? (Yippee for find-and-replace!)

With any luck, skill & effort, your story is now a better one.

Tune in on February 10 for the rest of the Mini Course, beginning with Marketing!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What the Writers in Residence are Grateful for this Thanksgiving


Yes, yes, I am grateful for all the usual stuff - all the stuff we should be grateful for. But I am grateful for Pain and Loss, too. When the Bad Stuff is there, the balance is there, and the balance is what keeps us on an even keel in a world that doesn't always make sense. 

I am grateful for Pain.

When I was in the Army, the Marines used to tell us that pain was weakness leaving the body. Nice idea, but that only applied to exercise and physical endurance. Real pain, the kind you feel in your body when there is something terribly wrong, is a constant reminder that you are alive and need to do something to alleviate that pain. See a doctor, take your medication, do all you can to feel better so you can really live. Do distracting things, like helping others, to get your mind off any pain that your doctor cannot fix.

Real pain of the other kind, the broken-heart kind, also reminds you that you are alive and human. You only feel that kind of pain when you have a depth of feeling which is in itself a gift. Tears can help you through it, but recognize it for what it is: a common experience which binds us together and reinforces our humanity. Pain shared is pain lessened.

I am also grateful for Loss.

Loss teaches us the value of - and fleeting nature of - all things. All things. Our loved ones, ourselves, our world, everything. How many times must loss teach us the same lesson? Every day we learn it over again. Live each day fully, appreciate each moment, live without regret. Know that Loss will touch you as it touches everyone, so be ready. Live with sincere love and caring every day, and don't be afraid to show it.

I am grateful for Inconvenience.

Inconvenience is the niggling teacher of patience. A little patience can go a long way in overcoming Pain and Loss, so embrace it as a way to slow down and see the very real wonder of this world.

Moderation is key to appreciating Pain, Loss and Inconvenience. There is nothing at all to be gained from wallowing in them. But remember their useful qualities the next time you must experience them. And be grateful you are able to feel. It means you are alive and human, which is a very good thing.


                                                          Kate Thornton




I'm grateful for so many things, but to me, the "basics" are very important, and are the foundation that enables me to write. Very thankful I was born in The United States of American during this era, with all it offers on every level, have decent health, and people and animals with whom to share love and experiences. It is with that support I am able to write.        
                             Madeline (M.M.) Gornell






I am grateful that I was taught how to read; reading sparked my interest in writing. I often take it for granted, but there are many places in the world where people don’t have this skill. The work of other writers, in all its variety, is one of the best writing teachers in the world.

Bonnie Schroeder








For me, I truly believe that any talent I have to write, whether seriously or tongue-in-cheek is God-given. I'm also thankful for curiosity and nosiness, which helped me as a newspaper writer, and the love of reading which helped me build a good vocabulary.

Jackie Houchin








I am thankful for the rich inheritance I received from my family which includes: a smattering of my father's witty sarcasm, some of my mother's artistic talent, my grandfather's love of history, my grandmother's stubbornness (when it counts), my Aunt Mollie's love of writing, and a pinch of sewing prowess from Aunt Dottie. I hope everyone has a few people from whom they learned wonderful things.

Gayle Bartos-Pool







I'm grateful for my husband

                       and family,

                                my friends

                                             and good neighbors.

                                                             Miko Johnston




I am grateful for the ability to be grateful. Many people have gifts and blessings, but they are unable to recognize them. That is what makes Kate Thornton's post above so beautiful. It's easy to be grateful for the good stuff, but it takes an open heart to find the redeemable qualities in the poop. Gratitude means getting out from under the weight of entitlement and embracing the fact that I don't deserve anything, but that the Bon Dieu (as Hercule Poirot would say it) has seen fit to grace me. And then saying Thank You. 

                                      Jacqueline Vick


Goodness, I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Where do I start?

Without the friendship and encouragement of my fellow Bloggists (is that a word?) my world would be bleak. We really do laugh together and cry together. They inspire me. Our monthly luncheons are a treasured time to talk of writing, of our home-lives, of cabbages and kings. The time goes by far too fast before we scurry off in our different directions.
I am thankful for the fascinating people and wonderful friends I have made since I found my new life in this 'land of the free and the home of the brave.'

For the amazing adventures life has thrown at me. For the strength and ability to survive.
I am also truly thankful to have my loving family in England. My big sister Annie, my brothers Ted, Phil and Peter, my cousins, nieces and nephews. Although we may be thousands of miles apart, we are very close, speak often and meet up whenever we can - and still giggle together like a bunch of five-year-olds.

I am eternally thankful for the many years I had with my darling Rick, my late husband, who I feel watches over me still. He taught me so much and always helped me to laugh at life's adversities. I think I am most grateful for the gift of laughter: the ability to laugh with others, to laugh at myself and at life's absurdities.

And I am most grateful to have this Blog, that gives me the opportunity to formulate and share my thoughts...
                                                           Rosemary Lord

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


SLASHING AND BURNING (IN OTHER WORDS, EDITING) with 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.




SLASHING AND BURNING (IN OTHER WORDS, EDITING)


My current Work in Progress initially weighed in at 121,000 words—waaaay too long unless you’re Marcel Proust or David Foster Wallace.
I am therefore in the midst of that excruciating process known as editing. With the help of my critique group, I’ve carved away over 5,000 words so far without sacrificing storyline or character development. Because I tend to overwrite, some of this was fairly easy. Other parts, not so much.
Here’s an example of an easy fix: “Now how on earth had he remembered that old saying of hers, after all these years?”
Streamlined, it reads, “How had he remembered that old saying of hers?”
Seven words gone, in only one sentence!
I have a lot more darlings to kill, of course, and here are some techniques I’ve found helpful so far:

1.   Eliminate unneeded words and phrases.
In other words, to quote my writing gurus Strunk and White:
“Avoid the use of qualifiers. Rather, very, little, pretty—these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words. The constant use of the adjective little (except to indicate size) is particularly debilitating; we should all try to do a little better; we should all be very watchful of this rule, for it is a rather important one, and we are pretty sure to violate it now and then.”

Here are some egregious examples from my own work:
“It’s basically an open and shut case.”
“The light flickered and blinked.”
“Suddenly, she stood up.”


2.   Don’t have one character tell another something the reader already knows.

For example, if you’ve written a scene where a character is mugged, and she later on tells someone about it, don’t recreate the whole event in dialog. Instead, simply write, “Her voice trembled as she described the mugging.”

3.   Get rid of redundancies, e.g.

“absolute certainty”
“capricious whimsy”
“garish caricature”
“wretched misery”

The above are more embarrassing examples of my very own.

4.   Trim long descriptions. Or, in the words of Elmore Leonard, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Easy to say, and oh so hard to do!

5.   Consider combining two characters, if they both serve the same purpose in the story. I did this with two secondary characters, and the storyline crystallized without the distraction of both people echoing each other’s moves. Another thousand words saved.

6.   A radical suggestion I encountered in another writing blog is to try deleting one paragraph per page, one sentence per paragraph, or even one word per sentence. I was amazed at how well this worked.

You need to take a deep breath and trust your reader, but it can enhance the story in unexpected ways if you allow said reader to fill in the blanks and participate in creating the story.

I obviously still have much to learn about editing, and I’d love to hear about other techniques for managing this phase of the writing process.

Now, back to ruthlessly wielding my red pen/scalpel. Only about 10,000 more words to excise!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Time Out - To Remember by Rosemary Lord

Rosemary wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House! She has been writing ever since.

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now, English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.







Don’t you sometimes wish you could stop the clocks – just for twenty-four hours – so you could catch up?

How do I get it all done?’ Is my constant cry lately. And most of all - when do I have time to write?

Maybe if I had a different schedule… “I write as soon as I get up and keep going until lunch-time…” I have oft heard from successful writers. But despite setting my alarm for an hour earlier, the early morning is so busy: overnight emails to answer, unexpected phone calls - always someone with an urgent question or a problem, another fire to put out – until I have to leave for the office, where my latest quest is saving and restoring a 110-year-old historic Hollywood, charitable organization that was almost felled by a predatory attempted real estate grab.

I’ll write in the lunch hour…. Who gets a lunch hour these days?

How does one make time to write, when the rest of your life is so distracting? I’m clearly not disciplined enough, as I snatch ten minutes here – a stolen fifteen minutes there and, occasionally a whole hour to write. Bliss!

As I drive to appointments or to the market I write in my head, make hurried notes at my destination. Then I question my intentions. Perhaps I am avoiding writing a Blog piece or completing my next novel. What if it’s not perfect? Not exactly the way I want it. If I don’t complete it – I’ll never know. “C’mon,” I tell myself, “writing has to be your priority. It’s what you love to most in the your life. It’s what you are meant to do…”

I look around for clues and for inspiration from other writers for ways to devote more time to write. I think so many of us these days are facing this same challenge in this busy world. Oh, the books I have in me that need to be written.

My best time to write is at the end of the day, when I’ve taken care of everything else, the phone won’t ring and it’s quiet. But lately, as I sit at the computer, I nod off - and come to about forty minutes later, hands poised over the computer keys. Bum! I’ve just lost most of the precious hour I had intended to use to write. 


That is, until last night, when I opened my bleary eyes from another unintended nap over my computer. I noticed the red poppy on my desk. The red poppy that I had brought back from England from the last "Poppy Day."

I felt ashamed. I felt like a spoiled brat, bemoaning that I had no time to write, as I

remembered those brave men and women who had no time to think of anything, except their fight to save their country and our world from tyranny. All those ordinary – yet extraordinary - folk who have stood between us and harm’s way throughout the ages. They sacrificed their lives so that we could have the freedom to live on.

In England we call November 11th Remembrance Day, when we remember all those who lost their lives in various conflicts. The Remembrance Poppy was inspired by the poem “In Flanders Field” written in May 1915 by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, after he noticed all the red poppies that had grown over the graves where so many soldiers, nurses and others were buried in that far off Belgian field in the first World War.

Since 1919, our fallen ones have been commemorated in England with two minutes silence at the 11th hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. This marks the end of World War One, known as The Great War, in 1918.

Since then, time stands still in Britain for these two minutes. In London, as Big Ben rings the last stroke, traffic comes to a stand-still. Red London buses, black taxi-cabs and delivery vans come to a halt in central London and throughout the country. Pedestrians stop, many bow their heads as a sign of respect for all those who have fallen in conflicts since then. So much is said in that two minutes silence.

In their honor we wear artificial red poppies in the days leading up to Remembrance or Armistice Day – known as Veterans Day in America – as we all unite in paying our respects to those who sacrificed so much to give us our freedom.

And I am truly humbled and embarrassed that I was moaning about not having enough time to write. Those we remember on this day would love to have lived long enough to have such simple problems. We remember and honor the fallen today, as the tradition says, LEST WE FORGET.


Rosemary Lord 2015



Wednesday, November 4, 2015

FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 2 with Miko Johnston

Miko Johnston is the author of Petals in the Wind.  

She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no 'help wanted' ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.





FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 2

 Today I continue our discussion about the basic rules of screenplays that would benefit fiction writers. In my last blog post (September 9), we looked at the four story questions writers must be able to answer. Today we discuss the second rule:

 ΓΌ  At least one key character has to undergo a transformation.

 Often referred to as the character arc, this concept has been underscored by notables such as Joseph Campbell, Christopher Vogler, and Syd Field. If plot is the external story, then the character’s arc is the internal version of events.

 The arc can be as intimate as a widow coming to terms with her loss, or as monumental as an everyman summoning his courage to save the universe. One of Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Eight Tips on Writing a Great Short Story’ is: “Every character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water.” The character we meet at Once upon a time is (or becomes) driven by this want. He’s shaped and formed, or reformed, by the conflict he endures, usually with the help of the supporting characters, but ultimately he must face the final challenge alone. Who he is by happily ever after depends on how he’s changed through the course of the story, and what has occurred to cause those changes. Whether she’s a factory worker who takes up a cause (Silkwood, Norma Rae), a dutiful son who reluctantly shoulders a crime family (The Godfather), or a hardened cynic who sacrifices love for a nobler cause (Casablanca), watching the characters transform before our eyes, on screen or throughout the pages of a book, transforms us as well.

 That change almost always occurs in the protagonist, but there are exceptions - if a 
narrator is telling your story about someone, or if the protagonist is steadfast, but inspires change in another character. We’ve come to learn (with regret) that Harper Lee’s novels are examples of the former, while High Noon is an example of the latter. Stories featuring animal protagonists, like Marley and Me, can be examples of both exceptions.

 If you outline or use another form of story organization, you should plan the character arcs before you begin writing. If not, a technique I’ve found very helpful is to complete my novel or story and then read through it several times, searching for individual components of the manuscript with each pass. One read-through is dedicated to character arc, first for my protagonist, and then for each key character. I look for a pattern, for inconsistencies, for triggers and reactions - for ways to smooth the transition into something natural and realistic. I also identify the characters who shouldn’t change and check to insure they stay the same throughout the pages.

 In the final part of this series, we’ll exit the movie theater and examine a screenwriting concept adapted from live theater – the three-act structure.

 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Ghosts, Spirits, and Things That Go Bump in the Night with Marilyn Meredith

 Marilyn Meredith, who is also known as F.M. Meredith, is the author of nearly forty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, published by Mundania Press. Writing as F. M. Meredith, Oak Tree Press publishes her Rocky Bluff P.D. series. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra in a place similar to Bear Creek, the setting of most of her Tempe Crabtree series. For over 20 years, she lived in a Beach community with many similarities to Rocky Bluff.

Ghosts, Spirits, and Things That Go Bump in the Night

When I began writing the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, my plan was to incorporate a great deal of Native American legends and mysticism. Tempe, who is part Indian, is the resident deputy of a small mountain community. In early books, Tempe participates in several Indian rituals and ceremonies to help solve a crime. When Tempe calls back someone from the dead to find out the truth about a suicide and a murder in Calling the Dead, a door is opened to the spirit world.

From then on, she has unexpected visits from spirits of murder victims, sometimes offering confusing information that is at first not particularly helpful to solving the crimes. She’s also had many visions of Indians from the past.

In Spirit Shapes a body is found by ghost hunters in a haunted house. When Tempe is called to investigate, she faces an onslaught of spirits and ghosts. Some of the spirits are evil—and the ghosts are victims of crimes from the past.

In the book that follows, River Spirits, a movie company is filming on the nearby Indian reservation and one of the actors is found dead. While hoping to trap the murderer, Tempe is guided by unusual spirits that rise from the river called Bear Creek.

Not as it Seems is the latest in the series. Tempe and her husband go to Morro Bay to attend their son’s wedding and enjoy a much needed vacation. Her son asks her to try to find the missing maid-of-honor, and of course Tempe agrees. When the young woman turns up as a ghost, Tempe knows she’s been murdered and continues the investigation. She has no idea what all of her encounters with Indian spirits from the past could possibly mean.

My Rocky Bluff P.D. series is a police procedural and has had nothing to do with ghosts until the last one, Violent Departures. When Detective Doug Milligan and his family move into their new house, it isn’t long before they realize it has another occupant, a ghost. Even though the youngest member of the family has had conversations with the spirit, Doug is reluctant to believe in the phenomena. What happens is a side plot to the main story.

I’ve always been fascinated by ghost stories and haunted houses. Hubby and I have stayed in several haunted hotels, even once in the room that was purported to be haunted. However, I’ve never seen a ghost though my grandkids all think the old house that we live in is haunted.

Oh, I’ve had many eerie experiences over the years, but no ghost sightings. I have lots of fun writing about what I think it might be like.

If you visit my website,  you can read the first chapters of most of my books.

I also have a blog  where I too host authors and write about various subjects.

If you’ve ever had a ghostly encounter, tell us about it here in a comment.









Friday, October 23, 2015

A Nail-Biting New Release From GB Pool, Just in Time for Halloween!

Author GB Pool has come out with a standalone novel, Caverns, which is a perfect winter read and just in time for Halloween!  As someone who worked downtown Chicago, I could imagine this happening. Here is a brief description:



CAVERNS chronicles a nightmare that happens in Chicago in the dead of winter when huge caverns are discovered beneath several expensive condominiums built near Lake Shore Drive. The caves were carved out by enormous rats that have been feeding on the landfill for many decades, but the vermin are running out of food… below ground. The two men who find the caverns are being hunted in order to silence them because they know who own those condos and who authorized the shoddy city utilities project on which they were built. The powers-that-be want to bury their involvement as well as a handful of people who know about it before one of their costly investments falls into the lake. When it comes to a disaster, you have to wonder which is worse: man or beast.


Caverns is available in paperback on Amazon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Hodge Podge – Google, Weather, and Promotions



 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 website or Amazon Author Page.



The original title of this post was “This ‘n That,” then I went for “Hodge Podge” and found out in its definition there’s something called “salmagundi.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/salmagundi. Who knew!

Then of course, I spent half an hour or so wandering around Google following tidbit to tidbit, instead of writing this post, updating my blog, or working on my next novel. Which oddly enough takes me to my cousin Frank, a wonderful song writer among many things, and we were sharing on the phone how much we like books—the look, the feel, the smell of them. We also like reading them (smile)—from there he wandered back to the days way back when he was writing his thesis, and searching though card catalogues, and library shelves. Which finally takes me to the point of this long paragraph. For me, Google (and equivalent search engines) are great for adding details that bring richness, color, and depth to settings and character personalities--without the time and energy needed at the library (though still close to my heart!). An example for me is doing the research for the fancy accouterments for one of my character’s idealized sports car driving experience/fantasy. I.e, Italian driving-shoes, driving-gloves, hat, etc. Was that fun! And I traveled the sports-car road without leaving my desk chair. Downside, for awhile there, a lot of driving-glove ads seemed to appear from nowhere on my various site visits…

We live way out in California’s High-Desert, and coming most recently from Washington’s Puget Sound, one of the attractions for us was sunny dry-heat weather. Well, this last summer dripped with humidity. And I hadn’t really comprehended how my writing was being affected. No energy, slow moving, brain-dullness. Indeed, I was a little worried, then it cooled off and dried up for a few days, and I felt a surge in mental acuity. So, the point of this piece of Hodge Podge is, if you run out of excuses why you haven’t finished your latest—blame the weather. Which takes me to setting (which includes weather) and what a powerful tool the weather can be for taking the reader there, action enabler or inhibitor, and character motivator.

Then there’s the “P” word, promotions. In my last post I cavalierly said I’d talk about my birthday revelations on the topic. I tried to tell myself I really liked doing all the P-word stuff, and for awhile it was definitely fun. Especially the part of meeting, engaging, and connecting with new people, mostly readers and authors. That part was lovely. (And I really enjoy talking to readers and authors on a one to one or small group situation, and even signings and promoting their books.) But talking about myself, saying what a great book I just published, all of that remains distasteful—but necessary sometimes--I’ve slowly learned. And I kept telling myself, I would gradually embrace, and get better. However, to this day, I haven’t embraced, nor gotten better. Bottom line that I finally accepted and internalized this last birthday was--I still do not like doing promotions—regardless of the necessity of doing them. So what does that leave me with? Books that aren’t best sellers, and a name only known by a few.

So can I say, so be it? I don’t know that answer yet. I do think though, that finally embracing the truth, has made me feel a lot better. And no, I do not have a marketing plan for my next title (smile). And my point in this last post segment is: The truth about your writing-self is sometimes not easy to figure out or accept, and once you do, what do you do then?

And my super bottom line point to this Hodge Podge rambling is, the writing life has all kind of paths, with crooks, and turns, and switch backs. And determining if you want to go to a certain place, then figuring out the best route, “ain’t”[i] easy.


[i] Reading Elizabeth Daly’s Henry Gamadge series and as was the convention then—“ain’t” keeps appearing.—annoyingly to my ear, but the word takes you right there to that period!