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


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.


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.


 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.” 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!