#writerproblems: Balancing #WritingGoals in #storytelling and #Blogging During These #Uncertaintimes

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Mama Robin calls
as morning’s dew captures light


Never mind writing haiku without coffee is hard.

Anyway.

‘Tis July first! The year is officially halfway over, and with all that’s happened in the world, I know many would prefer to wash their hands of 2020 and be done with it.

But then there are folks like me, who see a half-year of potential rather than a full year wasted. Lamenting opportunities lost only breeds bitterness and anger. Now is the time to grow onward and upward with whatever we have.

Even if all we have is a page of fantastical hopes.

Fellow Young Adult author K.M. Allen posted a couple articles recently about her own struggles with time management during the lockdown life and balancing the writing we do for our platforms vs. the writing we do for, you know, storytelling and whatnot. (Allen used a much better term–“The Art of Authoring.”) Her posts got me thinking about my writing mindset, and how I’ve tended to lump aaaaaaaaall the writing together into this single act. Writing a blogpost? Still writing. Writing notes on history? Still writing. Writing an actual honest-and-true story? Still writing.

Were my extra teaching jobs and graduate school work still a part of my life, this kind of writing would be enough. Heck, I’d be ecstatic if I found time to blog while writing term papers. But these extra factors are not a part of my life right now. Sure, University work still is–I even presented on nonfiction writing at the Lit Fest earlier this month. While researching I stumbled across a Writer’s Digest article called “The 9-Minute Novelist,” and that got me thinking…

Why not me, too?

I know I’ve bemoaned my struggle with time before–when my kids were toddlers, when they attended school but only part-time, when everyone’s home on summer break, etc etc etc. When lockdown life began, I thought for sure I could do do a little, just a little, writing. But too often I allowed blogging, researching, plotting, and those other -ings replace the actual DRAFT-ing that needed to happen.

Some are quite adept at blending one task to create another–history notes get typed up into the blog to help show a writing update, for instance. I know I used my 2019 attempt at NaNoWriMo as a chance to both draft and post all at once. It worked for a little while, just as the notes-turned-blogposts can work for a little while, too.

With the coming school year’s attendance procedures impossible to predict, parents like myself have to be prepared for more of “School at Home” while also working in or out of the home. (And of course, just as I type this, Bash has come into the room. “What is it, dude? I’m trying to work,” I say. “But I wanna be by you,” he says with the smallest possible voice, and moves all my materials to snuggle up by me. Oh, little kiddo.)

Some days the kids are great at occupying themselves, and other days not. Parent-Writers, we know setting aside “hours” to write, even once a week, just isn’t realistic. Heck, I’m amazed when the kids leave me be for twenty minutes in a row.

And that’s the key here: working with the minimum amount of time, not the maximum. Let’s consider what non-kid stuff requires our attention in the day, and where we can find those nine–or ten–minutes to write.

(Yes, I’m back to the old bulletin board. I need my visual schedule!)

One Hour

Risky thing, setting aside an hour. Either a movie better be on that ALL the kids will watch, or someone else needs to be in the house with the kids. My online classes are an hour long in the evenings when Bo is home. If I do a movie during the day, that is my one chance at an hour block. This time’s usually needed for grading, a task that I can safely break from and start back on when kids intervene. Writing-wise? That hour better be had outside of the house.

(Aaaand now Biff is in the room, poking Bash with his toes. “Why don’t you two read something?” *Two pairs of eyes continue staring off into space as toes continue poking legs*)

Thirty Minutes

Done right, half an hour can be a very productive time. One can write proposals for a conference, respond to a few students, or catch up on the late grading. As a writer, thirty minutes is perfect for looking through research, scoping out potential publishers, or drafting.

(Aaaaand now Blondie pokes her head in with a page she just has to read from Dogman: For Whom the Ball Rolls. “Yes, kiddo, thank you. Now go and occupy YOURSELVES. I am not here to entertain you!” Three bodies sluff off, complete with drooping shoulders and groans of “I’m too tired to build Lego.”)

Twenty Minutes

This is probably where one can feel the sprint effect–that is, there’s not a minute to waste. Good! Too often I fall down the social media hole with Twitter or YouTube. We must make every minute of that twenty count, be it drafting, editing, grading, or…gasp…exercising.

Again, being realistic with myself. I know I won’t set aside an hour for it, not even half. Twenty…yeah, I could swing that, if the mood strikes. Plus I can drag the little “what are you doing nooooow?” buckos right along with me. Win-win.

Ten Minutes

Okay, THIS has to be the golden number for one who’s got kids and job AND writing in life. Even my attention-lovers can be occupied by books, drawing, or Snoopy Monopoly for ten minutes.

So many lovely moments can be made in just ten minutes: reading a story aloud to kids. Drafting dialogue. Answering student questions. Editing a scene. Playing catch outside. Prepping for class. Networking on social media. Writing a Goodreads review.

Maybe it hurts a little inside to think I’m only spending ten minutes with my kids/story? I can’t do that! They deserve better! We need to remember this important point.

The day is no mere ten minutes.

I’m usually up from roughly 4:30am to 9:30pm. Want to guess how many minutes there are in seventeen hours? 1,020 minutes. Or, 102 slots of Ten Minutes.

102.

You are not giving your kids 1 slot out of 102 and you know it. You are not giving your writing 1 slot out of 102 and you know it. Don’t beat yourself up over organizing your time. If you don’t organize your time, then you will always feel like something is being set aside for the sake of the other, and that fear will lead to nothing but bitterness, anger, and the Dark Side.

Nothing has to be sacrificed here. Honest and for true. You just need to jigger those expectations over what you want to do and when. Take me, eager to publish the sequel to Fallen Princeborn: Stolen before 2020 ends. If I set aside 10 minutes to edit every day, I can make that goal. I want to expand and re-publish Middler’s Pride, too. 10 minutes a day can get me there. I’d LOVE to get “Hungry Mother” in an online magazine, finish the novella What Happened After Grandmother Failed to Die, work on the OTHER Princeborn novella I’ve sketched out–

And I can do all those things. I will do all those things. And you can, too.

Ten minutes at a time.

STAY TUNED NEXT FORTNIGHT!

Yup, two weeks. Part of this “jiggering” of expectations means blogging can’t overwhelm the story-writing. I’m going to follow K.M. Allen’s idea of blogging every other week, scheduling my own posts for the first and fifteenth of every month. Thank you all so much for your patience, kindness, and encouragement, and I hope you’ll be back when I share the interviews, analyses, music, and doodles waiting in the wings!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Indie #Author #Interview: @Paul_JHBooks shares #favoritereads and #writingtips, plus his new #fantasy #adventure

Hello, everyone! I’m slowly finding my way back to the balance of teaching, parenting, and writing. Let’s start this balancing act right with an interview, shall we? Here’s a fine fellow whose fantasy adventure has recently been published by the small press of the masterful Lady of Wit and Conflict of the Heart, Shehanne Moore. Hello, Paul Andruss!

Jean,

Thank you for having me over. It is a pleasure to be here. I am up for any questions you to care to ask. Fire away.

Let’s start with where the writing life begins for all of us–our reading lives. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

Ted Chiang’s The Story of Your Life is neither a novel, nor under-appreciated. He has written 17 short stories in 30 years and won an embarrassment of awards.

The Story of Your Life tells of first contact. It was made into the film Arrival.  Here’s the elevator pitch: We learn to think in an aliens’ language and see time is simultaneous not sequential. Past, present and future exist together, making us observers in our own lives, unable to change a thing. In other words, imagine being up on a hill looking down at your child on a road. You see the speeding car. Know what will happen. There is nothing you can do.

A great idea, but how do you turn it into a story?

I’ve seen new authors produce stories that are no more than info dumps. We are force fed blocks of imaginative scenarios rather than left to experience the highs and lows, tension and excitement of a story unfolding. Characters are rough sketches whose actions do not move the story along. Plots are loose, falling apart when closely examined. There is too much clutter. Unnecessary characters and background details overwhelm the narrative. Turgid sentences roll endless on. You find yourself counting pages to the end.

Chiang avoids this by telling the story in the first person, non-sequentially which fits with the new time sense developing in the narrator — a linguist learning the alien language. Seeing the story unfold through her eyes we are pulled into her world.

She opens by telling her daughter how she identified her body after she died, aged of twenty-five in an accident. Two stories run parallel. One is how she learned to think in the language. The other reminisces about her child’s life. At the end we discover she is reviewing her daughter’s whole life on the night of conception — echoing the story’s parallel time theme; the linguistic past and the maternal future.

Chiang gives hints of a bigger story behind the one told. She and her husband are divorced. Perhaps when she told her husband of their daughter’s future death he could not accept his failure to protect his child, nor the guilt that came with it? Perhaps he blamed her for having their daughter, already knowing her fate. Even though every life is pre-destined.

Through his storytelling choices, Chiang turns cold hard science into something exciting, tender and ultimately, uniquely human. A story that stays in your mind long after you finish reading, as you explore the implications.

I’ll have to check Chiang out! I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries lately to get into the feel of finding the best point of view for a story. I’m also tempted to dig into some historical fiction to help me find the voice for another WIP. What kinds of research do you do for your own storytelling, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I normally I don’t do a lot of research beforehand. I just jump in. I do lots while writing though. I fact check endlessly. If a reader spots even a niggling gaffe, it can destroy the illusion.

I recently wrote Ollywoodland, a faux-noir murder mystery set in 1949, the twilight of Hollywood. Not so much a who-dun-it, more a who-the-hell-wouldn’t-want-to.

Every single thing was checked: the history of the Hollywood sign, studios, highways, Las Vegas, the impact of WW2 on Hollywood, armed forces demobilisation, where academy awards were held, what newspapers were popular, local radio stations. Every libellous rumour had to be a quote in public domain. It was hard work, but a huge amount of fun.

Things are different with the new novella Porcelain, set in the UK’s glam rock era. Because of work commitments, I was unable to get on with the story and so ended up researching and writing copious notes. I now have 50 pages of material and almost the entire story in my head. It’s frightening and exhilarating because I have never started this way before.

I know just what you mean about all those notes. When I was working my own fantasy novel, I needed to get a feel of the current animal life of Wisconsin as well as some ancient history from which my shapeshifters could grow. I even wrote up notes on various names to work with, working out origins of names for various groups, even plant names for a certain class of creature. I suppose this is something you wouldn’t want to intimidate your younger writing self with. If you could tell that Young Paul Andruss anything, what would it be?

Nothing. Not because I’m a genius, believe me. I just wouldn’t listen. How do I know? Because I went back in time AND I DIDN’T LISTEN!

Okay, if you want to be pedantic, I didn’t exactly go back in time, but I might as well have. Others told me much the same and I ignored them. What is more, I’m glad I did. If I knew what was in store in terms of the hard graft and knockbacks ahead, I never would have written a word.

I came late to writing. Out of the blue, I thought, write a short story — how hard can it be? The story was what you’d expect. Naturally, I thought it the best story in the whole world and modestly basked in my genius. Are you beginning to see why I would not want to hear anything as inconvenient as the truth?

Drunk on overconfidence, I started a second story. A short Sci-Fi romp inspired by a history book that said the Celts went naked into battle. What if they were biker gangs?

Six years, and 180,000 words later, I had the 2nd draft of Finn Mac Cool. (Let’s not talk about 1st draft, shall we?) To be fair the 2nd draft wasn’t bad, just not good. I spent the next 2 years sending it out, while attempting to write a play (abandoned) and another novel (never to see the light of day). It was rejected by 30 publishers and agents. I then spent another six years rewriting Finn Mac Cool.

When I sat down to write that short story, if someone told me it would take the next 14 years of my life, I wouldn’t have bothered. It is lucky that when we first leap out of the nest and spread our wings, we are too exhilarated to give much thought to the way down.

Noooo kidding. I loved making that first draft of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, but if you would have told me it’d take eight years to actually publish, I’d have worked out some other projects before dedicating that much time to a single story. What would you say are some other common writer’s life traps for aspiring writers?

I can’t speak for others, but for me writing is like peeling an onion.

Because it makes you weep?

Good one. And yes it does. I was thinking more that when you peel one layer you find another underneath. As we see from Ted Chiang, each layer: plot, characters, story twists, even the language we use, contributes to a good story.

There is no trick to writing. It is a result of time, effort and a lot of difficult choices. Because the writing process is long, and solitary, we cannot be blamed for seeking instant reward.

If I did go back to young me, I would say, Don’t be in too much hurry. Remember the old cliché: there is no second chance to make a first impression.

Instead of rushing out your latest piece, put it away for a couple of weeks. When you come back, you’ll see it with fresh eyes. In the old days I thought, “That will do.” These days, I want to write something that will stand the test of time. I know a story is finished when I read it for the fifth or sixth time and do not want to change a word. Like that proverbial onion, the story has developed layer by layer.

Never forget we become authors when read by others. Like literary hookers we ask readers to spend time and money on us. Yet, as readers, how do we feel when a writer doesn’t deliver? New writers often think they are special cases, especially after busting a gut to write a story. But readers don’t see you. They only see what’s on the page. Family and friends might lavish praise, but such praise can be poison. If you think you are as good as they say, where is the impetus to improve?

And yet we struggle on, don’t we? No matter what readers say, we must write our truest, or strongest, our brightest, our darkest, our best…est. We keep on keeping on no matter how difficult the subject matter. What would you say was your hardest scene to write?

A while ago, I’d had enough of people spouting doggerel blank verse. I’m no poet but do appreciate good poetry. When poetry is good, you have no choice but to appreciate it. Firmly on my high horse I wrote According to the Muse – A dialogue. Naturally enough, it started with ‘poem’

There are people who,

Aspiring to be considered poets,

Devise mundane sentences

Usual to any written piece

And arranging them in verse

Claim it is a poem

According to the muse

It’s not

Swiftly followed by a quote from the poet Marianne Moore … ‘Poetry is a matter of skill and honesty in any form whatsoever, while anything written poorly, although in perfect form, cannot be poetry.

The Muse discusses poetry and illustrates points with some of the greats, from Emily Bronte to Alan Ginsberg’s Howl. The argument goes that poetry should intoxicate the senses, leaving us drunk on loquaciousness. As the Muse’s mouthpiece, I needed to conclude with something really special.

I decided the Muse’s closing monologue should be loosely based on Molly Bloom’s 50,000-word stream-of-consciousness soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Molly’s gorgeous monologue is divided into 8 sentences without punctuation. It allows each clause to be constructed differently depending on which word you start. It is also a bugger to read.

The Muse’s monologue took me four weeks to write.

She requires it to be read aloud.

Under gods, man thought me tamed. Then man forgot the gods. But poetry remained. A poet seeking to invoke no longer knows how. He thinks to flatter and seduce and if he succeeds in blind fumbling excuse, believes I allow because he understands a woman’s needs. As if setting a rose in my hair like I were an Andalusian girl kissed breathless against a Moorish wall under a hot Alhambra moon was enough to make me acquiesce to his urgings for my yes, putting hands on me and kissing my neck while I thinking as well him as another draw him down to the perfume of my breasts with his heart drumming like mad in the expectation of my yes. The bloom and the breast is not his to possess or caress until my liberal yes, for this is woman talking and I am sick of love. Yes. I am no more his than a snatch of song heard on the jessamine breeze or a flower of the mountain born to die. So let me be. Yes. Set me free from the inky bars of this prison page to roll off a tongue careless as a lover’s air whistled on Palma Violet scented breath, let loose in an empire of senses where guileless yes is yes. A paradise garden of delight. A sensual world pregnant with life.

Beautifully put, Paul. Thank you so much for taking time to chat with me and all my fellow creative souls! Folks, you can check out Paul’s latest right here.

Paul Andruss’ first novel, the young adult fantasy Jack Hughes & Thomas the Rhymer is published by Black Wolf Books.

When 12-year-old Jack Hughes sees a sinister fairy queen kidnap his bother Dan, he knows his parents will never believe him. Nor will the police. Not when he says Dan vanished into thin air. If Jack wants to see Dan again, he has to save him. And not just him …

If he ever wants to find Dan, first he must save Thomas the Rhymer from a wicked enemy.

Bravely embarking on a rollercoaster adventure into the dark fairy realm, Jack and friends face monstrous griffins and brooding tapestries with a life of their own, learn to use magic mirrors and travel on ley lines that whip them off faster than sound.

Jack knows even if he returns Thomas the Rhymer to his selfish fairy queen, she might make Jack her prisoner. With the odds stacked against him, can Jack succeed in finding and freeing Dan? Or will he lose his brother forever?

If you enjoyed reading this, or even if you didn’t, Paul asks you to kindly send him all your money. If you are not quite gullible enough to fall for that one, then visiting his website will please him almost as much. http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/

Explore the book’s story http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/story-of-the-book.php

Download posters http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/art-gallery.php

Read pre-release reviews http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/thomas-the-rhymer.php

Or listen to music written for the book by classical composer Patrick Hartnett http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/music.php

Yes, Patrick loved the book that much.

And who knows?

So might you.

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

I’m excited to get back on track with my writing goals! We’ll take a look at them to make sure I’m not burying myself too deep (as I am oft prone to do). This will include sharing my work on writing book proposals to see if this approach could also help you meet your own writing goals. There’s another swinging interview coming your way, plus I’ve also got some keen ideas on selecting point of view for writing thanks to my summer book binge as well as mellow music for calming the soul.

Oh, and hopefully I can get Blondie off her summer sliding duff to get creating for you, too. 🙂

Ah, it’s good to be back. xxxx

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#writerproblems: #writing awesome #characterdesign in three sentences or less.

Yes, I know that hashtag #characterdesign is more of an art-related thing, but it fits with this little lesson learned, believe you me.

This week started with its usual chaos: calls at 5am for a substitute teacher in 5th grade–no wait, Kindergarten. No wait, art, just art for aaaaaall the grades, can you do that? Bash wakes up with a swollen eye from Lord knows what (don’t worry, it left just as mysteriously as it came), university students re-submit work I had already flagged as inappropriate for the assignment requirements. On top of all this, another university contacts me to schedule an interview for a full-time gig. (insert excitement and anxiety here.)

Meanwhile, I did my best to stay in the writing community loop, reading about the racial controversy over American Dirt and learning from fellow indie author Michael Dellert that The Arcanist is calling for western speculative flash fiction:

Is there another short story inside me for the bounty hunter Sumac? I asked myself as the twelve-year-olds tried to stab each other with colored pencils. 1000 words didn’t feel like a lot of wiggle room. Night’s Tooth was meant to be a short story, after all, but writing a fantasy western inspired by Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name trilogy meant a LOT of slow-but-tense moments. Thus, the novella instead of the short story. (Click here if you’d like to read one of those moments.)

As magical showdowns percolated in my mind, I continued planning my excursion into the “dark, impulsive, whiny villainy” of Disney’s Star Wars. I had my collection of Robert McKee Story quotes at the ready for studying the bizarre mix of Hux and Kylo interactions in The Force Awakens and shift from there into the smothering subversions of The Last Jedi.

That is, until my perusal through Agatha Christie’s short fiction sparked a little something that I just had to share.

So we all know that when it comes to short fiction, you gotta pack a lot into a tiny space. Plot, character, setting–aaaaall that jazz has gotta be played at a heightened, almost truncated speed. There’s no time for meandering interludes or long drum solos.

(RIP Neil Pert. I know he wasn’t a jazz player, but Bo’s a HUGE Rush fan, so he’s been showing concerts to the kids and now I’m stuck in a land of music metaphor that doesn’t jive and we’re just going to move on because I clearly have no sense of what decade I’m in.)

Agatha Christie wrote over a hundred short stories. If ANYone knew the importance of keeping the story elements thrumming along, it was her. This is especially clear when she describes her characters. Like any good musician, Christie’s style moves sweet’n’slick with just the right amount of flourish.

Miss Lemon was forty-eight and of unprepossessing appearance. Her general effect was that of a lot of bones flung together at random. She had a passion for order almost equalling that of Poirot himself; and though capable of thinking, she never thought unless told to do so.

“How Does Your Garden Grow?”

In just three sentences, we’ve got a sense of this character’s physical appearance, interests, and mindset. Christie doesn’t dwell on the minutiae, like what Miss Lemon wears or how she does her hair. That all falls under “unpreposessing appearance.” But some readers whine when they can’t “see” a character without more precise detail. What if we picture different things? What if we don’t see the character the same way the writer did? THAT CHANGES THE READING EXPERIENCE, DOESN’T IT?!

Honestly, folks, does Miss Lemon’s outfit affect the story? No. Does it matter if each of us picture “a lot of bones flung together” (damn, I really like that bit) in different ways? No.

More importantly, a short story doesn’t have space to waste on that kind of detail. When a writer’s looking into contests like The Arcanist‘s, he/she can’t afford to spend a hundred words on description when forty will do the trick. Heck, even twenty’s enough for Christie in some cases. Take these character descriptions of two parents.

Mrs. Waverly’s emotion was obviously genuine, but it assorted strangely with her shrewd, rather hard type of countenance.

Mr. Waverly was a big, florid, jovial-looking man. He stood with his legs straddled wide apart and looked the type of the country squire.

“The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly”

Again, the colorful details are skipped in favor for body language and behavior. We get senses of these people–the hard, heart-broken mother, the upper-class, happy sort of father. We may not know what these two look like, but we know their body language, and in this we get impressions of their attitudes and behaviors, which are far more important than hair color.

Six months ago she had married a fifth time–a commander in the Navy. He it was who came striding down the beach behind her. Silent, dark–with a pugnacious jaw and a sullen manner. A touch of the primeval ape about him.

“Triangle at Rhodes”

Those third and fourth sentences say it ALL. “Silent, dark”–readers can already get a sense of a nasty face, but since this man’s “a commander in the Navy” then we know he’s going to carry himself like a man of authority and power. Words like “pugnacious” and “sullen” tell readers how he’s going to interact with the other characters: always negatively, aggressively, and without any sort of kindness. The fact he’s “primeval” practically forces readers to picture this character as a sort of sub-human, incapable of empathy or feeling.

And aaaaaall that characterization is given in just eighteen words.

When Poirot’s friend Captain Hastings narrates the story, Christie is also able to take advantage of her ever-lovable unreliable narrator, which allows her to misdirect readers when she so chooses.

The sixth Viscount Cronshaw was a man of about fifty, suave in manner, with a handsome, dissolute face. Evidently an elerly roué, with the languid manner of a poseur. I took an instant dislike to him.

Mrs. Davidson came to us almost immediately, a small, fair creature whose fragility would have seemed pathetic and appealing had it not been for the rather shrewd and calculating gleam in her light blue eyes.

“The Affair at the Victory Ball”

Oh, Hastings, you do love a pretty face. Poirot’s partner loves to let readers know when he’s a fan of a woman or not, consistently keen to describe her appearance and whether or not she’s attractive.Once in a while, though, he’ll catch something genuine, such as Mrs. Davidson’s shrewdness. Likewise, if Hastings doesn’t like a man, he’s obvious about that, too, and these opinions from Hastings always alter how he interacts with the characters as well as how he interprets their words and body language. This in turn affects the information readers receive, and so by the end of “The Affair at the Victory Ball” we’re just as surprised as Hastings to discover how wrong we are about these people.

Once in a while, though, Christie does allow a little drum solo when a minor character takes the stage. It seems to happen when it’s a character type Poirot, Hastings, or the omniscient narrator ignores in favor of more interesting goings-on: a mere citizen, a member of the populace where the mystery occurs. Sometimes it’s this common-ness that plays its part in getting Poirot to the mystery, such as in “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding”:

Everything about Mr. Jesmond was discreet. His well-cut but inconspicuous clothes, his pleasant, well-bred voice which rarely soared out of an agreeable monotone, his light-brown hair just thinning a little at the temples, his pale serious face. It seemed to Hercule Poirot that he had known not one Mr. Jesmond but a dozen Mr. Jesmonds in his time, all using sooner or later the same phrase–“a position of the utmost delicacy.”

“The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding”

And this bit from “A Cornish Mystery” is a lovely reminder to readers and writers alike that every setting’s character, no matter how bland and un-unusual, is still a person with problems, fear, and feeling.

Many unlikely people came to consult Poirot, but to my mind, the woman who stood nervously just inside the door, fingering her feather neck-piece, was the most unlikely of all. She was so extraordinarily commonplace–a thin, faded woman of about fifty, dressed in a braided coat and skirt, some gold jewellery at her neck, and with her grey hair surmounted by a singularly unbecoming hat. In a country town you pass a hundred Mrs. Pengelleys in the street every day.

“The Cornish Mystery”

It seems Hastings spends an awful long time introducing us to a character that’s just one of a hundred one would pass in the street–81 words, in fact. Why so much time on a single, ordinary character in a short story? Hasting’s description creates an expectation of ordinary-ness, regularity, typicality. But of course, Christie being Christie, this time spent on an ordinary character comes with reason: this ordinary character, this one of one hundred, is murdered. Why would someone murder this one Mrs. Pengelley out of a hundred one would pass on a country town street?

Ah. That is why the reader reads on.

So when you work on your own character designs, writers, always ask yourself what matters more: the character’s appearance, or behavior? The character’s look, or feelings? A character’s choices are often the influence of action and pacing, but there’s no denying that sometimes, a character’s appearance alone may twist the narrative into surprising directions. What matters is that you share character traits important to the story. Picturing a character’s apparel means little when readers cannot see a character’s attitude.

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

Back to The Young and the Restless of Disney’s Star Wars villains!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#AuthorInterview: #indie #writer @ColinGarrow discusses #bookreviews, #SherlockHolmes, #writing #MG and #mysteries, and the importance of following through on the #writingprocess

Hello hello, everyone! Once again, it’s been…oh, it’s been a week at the good ol’ American public schools. Between tweens yelling at me that they don’t have to do their homework because I’m not their mom, to kiddos my sons’ age hitting each other because the other “was going to do something bad”….well, it’s no wonder I have some of the university students I do. Eeesh.

So, let’s focus on something lovely and positive, shall we? Let’s celebrate one another with a delightful indie author interview. Colin Garrow is a FABULOUS writer of mystery and spine-tingling adventures for adults and children alike. His latest for tweens, The Curse of Calico Jack, and his latest for adults, A Tall Cool Glass of Murder, are available now on Amazon and Smashwords. Check’em out! (After the interview, of course.)

Let’s begin with the niceties. Tell us a little about yourself, please!

You might think from some of my previous jobs (taxi driver, antiques dealer, drama facilitator, Santa Claus impersonator, fish processor, etc) that I’m a bit of a Jack of all trades, but let’s just say I like variety. When I left school, I had a vague idea of becoming either a rock star or a novelist. At the time, I was too timid to strut my stuff on a stage, and instead spent many hours churning out short stories and poems. In those days (late seventies), there were hundreds of what were called ‘little press’ magazines on the go, all looking for talented writers.

So, sending my scribblings out to such literary tomes as Stand Magazine, Envoi and Staple, I managed to collect a huge pile of rejection slips, and though I did eventually get a few poems and a short story published, it was studying for a BA in Drama that really made the difference to the quality of my writing. After that, I spent a few years writing plays, some of which were eventually performed by my theatre company in Aberdeen, but I didn’t start trying to write novels seriously until 2013, after a failed relationship left me living alone in a damp, mould-infested hovel, with little money and a lot of spare time. That summer I decided to try and finish a book I’d started a few years earlier. It was called The Devil’s Porridge Gang and was set in a fictionalised version of the town where I grew up.

I suppose I started writing for children because I didn’t think I had the talent to write for adults, so my Terry Bell and Watson Letters books didn’t get under way until a few years later. Now, having recently published my 20th book, I’m feeling a lot more confident about my creative abilities.

TWENTY BOOKS, my goodness! I tip my hat to you, Friend, and admire your years of experience in this publishing jungle. As a book reviewer and writer, what do you see as the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

Aside from Kirkus reviews which, at several hundred dollars a pop, should never be considered by any sane person, I think the practice of paying a reviewer for his or her opinion is dodgy, to say the least. Even if you believe the individual is completely unbiased, you’re never going to know for sure. Readers too, are aware of this practice and if a book has too many five-star reviews on Amazon, it can give the impression someone is taking backhanders, even when that’s not the case. I’ve also seen books with six or seven reviews that sound so similar they could have been written by the same person.

Indie authors often give away free books in the hope of prompting readers to buy some of our other wares, or at least to leave a review. While I don’t have a problem with this, it’s not the same as someone actually handing over hard-earned cash in exchange for a book. My own reviewing practice is to buy a copy of any book I intend to review, which puts money in the author’s pocket, and eans they also get a ‘verified’ review on Amazon. Even so, I do sometimes accept a free copy in return for an honest review, though this is mostly due to my being on Amazon’s Vine programme.

You review SOOOO many books that I’m always humbled whenever you read one of my stories. Plus, you clearly use your growth as a reader to build your own unique stories. What would you consider to be the most difficult part of your artistic process?

It might sound odd, but the hardest part is coming up with a title and a cover for the book. With these in place I then have the motivation to write the book and discover what it’s about. As an example, the cover for the second Terry Bell mystery, A Long Cool Glass of Murder had to fit with the design of the first book, so it took me a while to come up with something that made sense. It also gave me a title that suggested poison, which was a good starting point.

On the other hand, I’m currently working on a horror novel for adults (as opposed to children), which doesn’t have a title or a cover. I do have a working title of Witch Moon (which may end up as the actual title), and a vague idea of what the cover will be, so there’s enough to get started with but I’ll need to finalise both before progressing much further with the plot.

One of the reasons I jive so well with you is because you’re a HUGE Sherlock Holmes fan, just like me! Tell us about The Watson Letters.

I’ve loved Sherlock Holmes for years but not being a particular devotee of ‘fan fiction’ had never thought of writing about him. Several years ago, a friend and I started emailing each other under the guise of a variety of fictional characters, usually centred around toilet humour and fart gags. Our favourite roles were Holmes and Watson, so when I started a website in praise of Arthur Conan Doyle and the associated books and movies etc, I included a spoof blog called The Watson Letters inspired by our musings. Some years later, my friend having taken to producing fewer and fewer emails in response to my attempts to create actual stories, I often found myself writing both parts of whatever adventure we were ensconced in, and when she eventually gave up altogether, it occurred to me I might take selected episodes of the blog and knock them into some sort of book.

The first book, The Watson Letters vol 1: Something Wicker This Way Comes was a bit of a hotchpotch and I didn’t really expect it to catch on, particularly as it jumped around a lot and didn’t exactly have a ‘through line’ in terms of the plot. It’s also very short, at around 23,000 words. But considering a second book, I opted to write three complete adventures and continued with that idea for books three and four. The current book, Murder on Mystery Island is different, in that it’s one complete adventure, and the next book, The Haunting of Roderick Usher will probably be the
same.

By this time, I’d scrapped the original website and started a new Watson Letters Blog, so what hasn’t changed, is that I still write each story on the Blog first, before putting it into book form. I’m aware that this practice limits me to what I’ve already written, but it’s good to have a challenge.

Another challenge in writing new stories with established characters comes in the
expectations of the reader. (Pretty sure Disney’s feeling this challenge with their
attempts at creating Star Wars sequels, but I digress
.) How do you create an original story while also delivering the kind of story readers want in a Sherlock Holmes adventure?

Hmm. This is an interesting one, as obviously there are tons of books written about
Holmes, Watson and several of the other characters created by Conan Doyle. I think
if you’re going to be true to the characters and attempt stories that reflect ACD’s
style and character traits etc, then that’s great, but since the original books are perfect as they are, I wanted to do something different. Taking a bunch of well- known characters, moving them off into a parallel universe, having them swear and do battle with villains like Hannibal Lecter and Bill Sikes, I hoped readers would go along with it, recognising I’m not trying to copy the original, but to create something different, though with a generous nod to the originals. Of course, one or two readers have complained that Holmes doesn’t use the F word, and Watson would never urinate on a pair of ne’er-do-wells, but when you’re in a parallel universe, anything can happen!

Ha, eeeeexactly! One of the fun things about writing fiction is that you don’t HAVE to follow “how things work.” I recall Colin Dexter saying as much about his Inspector Morse mystery series. Still, writing historical fiction is going to require some sort of research. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

In general terms, I don’t do a lot of research for my books, as I believe it’s a writer’s
job to make stuff up. However, there are some things you just can’t make up and need information or detail to give the writing an authentic feel. Usually, I leave it until the point in the story when I need specific information before I’ll start looking for it. In the case of my middle grade series The Christie McKinnon Adventures, the first book begins in Edinburgh in 1897, so I used an old map of the city to work out Christie’s routes between one place and another. I did the same thing with The Maps of Time series which is set in 1630s London. In that instance I also wanted to use the old street names, like Cheap Syde and Fanchurch Streete.

For the Watson Letters books, which often use dates on letters and telegrams etc, there came a point when I confused myself and had to resort to using an online calendar to work out when things happened. This was particularly noticeable with The Curse of the Baskervilles adventure. The book starts in 1891, but the first story actually goes back to 1884, with the adventure following it beginning in 1889. For other books, there have been times when I’ve needed to know about air rifles, handguns, specific types of period clothing and how to use skeleton keys. Anything that requires lots of research is probably something I’ll avoid writing about.

That’s a great piece of advice. Would you like to close out on any other important writing tips for aspiring writers?

I think the advent of eBooks and the ease with which virtually anyone can become a published author, has also created its own set of problems. It’s not so much of an issue now, but a few years ago there were an awful lot of people churning out books that were nothing short of abysmal—packed with clichés, typos, poor sentence structure and a lot of really bad writing. I’ve had a few people approach me for advice on their own work and overall, they thank me profusely for pointing out their mistakes, realising no-one can produce a perfect novel all by themselves. Of course, there are those who think their immense talent should be obvious and the only motivation for asking my opinion is so I can tell them how wonderful they are. I know it’s hard for newbies to get started and forge relationships with other writers, editors, beta-readers etc, but I do think it’s essential, especially for indie authors, as we all need to know how other people see our work. As well as having two editors, I have several writer pals who proofread my books, while I do the same for them, so even if you can’t afford a professional editor, there are always people who can help out. It’s the same with book covers too—unless you happen to be Stephen King, a rubbishy cover will never sell your books. I have a reasonable ability with Photoshop, so I create my own covers (though I’m aware some of the early ones need updating). If you’re not gifted in that area, there are plenty of generic cover creators who can adapt a cover with your name/title etc for a reasonable price, so your book at least looks professional.

As Smashwords boss Mark Coker says, ‘…it’s the readers…who decide what’s worth buying. Bad books will sink.’

So, essentially, you need to write a good book, get it proofed, edited and pop on a good quality cover that tells us what the book is about, and off you go.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and insights, Colin! Folks, you can find Colin all over the place–go, visit, see, read!

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

Seeing the students I do, I think I’m ready to write about villainy. Dark, impulsive, whiny villainy.

But if my soul’s been sucked too dry by the American education system, then count on Blondie to come to my rescue with her awesome stories–and book reviews, too!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#lessonslearned in #writing #fiction from #RobertMcKee and #StarWars: there are consequences to shoddy #worldbuilding. Part 3: Digging #plotholes with false #mystery.

Miss Parts 1 and/or 2 of my Robert McKee & Star Wars series? Click a number to catch up!

I’m not the only one who loves Robert McKee!

Nothing grinds a writer like plot holes. Hell, I STILL can’t watch the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban without griping at the screen about the absent explanation of how Lupin understands the Marauders’ Map.

No writer tells a story with the intention of digging plot holes (one would hope, anyway). If a writer loves the craft enough, that writer will do their utmost to tell a complete story, avoiding intentional plot holes like Biff avoids broccoli.

The bugger comes when the story sprawls over the course of multiple installments. Now the writer doesn’t have to reveal everything before the end of Act III. Important reveals can be put off until Act VIII, or XI, or even XIV. After all, what else engages audiences like a good mystery?

You do not keep the audience’s interest by giving it information, but by withholding information, except that which is absolutely necessary for comprehension.

Robert McKee

JJ Abrams has never been shy over sharing his love of mystery. To him, storytelling is all about The Mystery Box, as this excerpt from his 2007 TED Talk shows.

On this page, it would seem that Abrams and McKee agree. If one answers aaaaaaall the questions before the story’s even begun, why should readers care about the story? I can only imagine how readers would have felt if Rowling had wedged Voldemort’s backstory into the first book of the Harry Potter series instead of the sixth. Honestly, I know what I’d have done:

Glazed over it.

But after reading five books about this villain, seeing his various reincarnations and the consequences of his ambitions, I’m dying to know who this dark wizard is and what drives him. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has always felt like the least action-oriented book of the series, but readers are still okay with this because a degree of the mystery is being revealed to them. After the monumental battles in the fifth book, the series’ pacing allowed for a slow-down.

Regarding JJ Abrams and Star Wars, he likely felt comfortable building oodles of Mystery Boxes in The Force Awakens because he expected the later movies to open his boxes and reveal the answers. If we learned eeeeverything about the First Order, Rey, Luke Skywalker, etc in The Force Awakens, then we wouldn’t be curious to see what’s coming in the other films.

A certain amount of audience curiosity is essential. Without it, Narrative Drive grinds to a halt…. But you must not abuse this power. If so, the audience, in frustration, will tune out…. No dirty tricks, no Cheap Surprise, no False Mystery. False Mystery is a counterfeit curiosity caused by the artificial concealment of fact.

Robert McKee

Over-telling too early causes people to forget what is important and be confused by what isn’t. Under-telling, however, can be just as dangerous, and on this, Abrams is VERY guilty. Let’s walk through a few plot holes in The Force Awakens and consider whether or not these “conceals” are necessary or artificial. For comparison’s sake, I’ll use two very different trilogies, one of blockbuster scale (Hunger Games), the other not (Southern Reach).

ONE: The Beginning

I already whinged enough about how The Force Awakens simply dictated the universe must have the same stakes as the Original Trilogy without showing how the heck this galaxy far, far away started the vicious cycle all over again. This information, however, didn’t have to come in The Force Awakens. The first Hunger Games book doesn’t dive too much into the world’s history; instead, we get this information in bits and pieces throughout the second and third books. For the films, this storytelling method worked pretty well, as the first film could focus strictly on Katniss’ preparation and battle for survival in The Hunger Games at hand. In Annihilation, we have no idea where Area X came from, let alone the backstory of nearly all the characters. It’s not until Acceptance, the final book of The Southern Reach trilogy, that we learn the true motivations of the antagonist from the first book as well as where Area X came from. Had all that information been dumped on readers in the first 100 pages, they’d be bogged down and ignoring what really was important, focused instead on whatever words relay the current protagonist’s plight.

So as far as these opening stakes go, Abrams, you get a small pass.

TWO: Pilot Poe’s Survival

As I described in Part 2, the character Finn, our Storm Trooper Turned Good, escapes the First Order with Rebel Pilot Poe. They crash the TIE fighter, and when Finn awakes, he finds himself alone with Poe’s jacket. The ship sinks in the sand, and as far as Finn knows, Poe’s died in the sand already. He says as much to the droid BB-8, and the story goes on, treating the pilot as lost…

…until he shows up at the Resistance base, healthy and whole.

How’d he survive the crash?

Dunno.

How’d he get off the planet without the First Order noticing? They were all over the place chasing down Finn, Rey, and BB-8.

Dunno.

And we never find out.

Now if Poe were a tertiary character, one with little presence in the story or impact on the overall plot, we could probably evade this plot hole without much trouble. Easy peasy–Poe woke up first and got away from the ship. He left his jacket because…well it doesn’t matter. He abandoned his new friend Finn because…well, it doesn’t matter. He got off the planet without looking for his droid BB-8 because…well, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that he got back to the Resistance to fight another day.

That sure is a lot of “doesn’t matters” for one character’s choice, isn’t it? A character’s choice that, considering what little we do know of the character, doesn’t make sense. Poe’s the one who wanted to return to this desert planet to find his droid, and yet he vanishes from the story entirely to arrive just in time to wave happily to the droid that, by all accounts, he was determined to find. But we never see him try to find the droid, the sole motivation for his actions in the first half of the movie.

A “hole” is another way to lose credibility. Rather than a lack of motivation, now the story lacks logic, a missing link in the chain of cause and effect….Maybe the audience won’t notice. But maybe it will. Then what? Cowardly writers try to kick sand over such holes and hope the audience doesn’t notice. Other writers face this problem manfully. They expose the hole to the audience, then deny that it is a hole.

Robert McKee

What frustrates a writer like m’self so much over a plot hole like this is that it would not have taken much to fill the hole. Abrams could have kept Poe out of the plot until Finn and Rey arrive at the Resistance base, sure. We could have seen him still recovering from the crash, demanding a ship to fly back for BB-8. We could have seen him on a communicator, checking in with ships on any signs of BB-8.

A character’s absence may be forgivable, but not the absence of motivation. When Katniss and Peeta are separated in the arena, we find out later on what Peeta was doing, and his physical/emotional state show proof of this. When the psychologist separates from the biologist, we don’t know what she’s up to. The biologist shoots her at the end of Annihilation, so we’re left to assume the psychologist was up to something nefarious. It’s at the end of Acceptance that we at last fully understand the psychologist’s motivations–and what the hell she was doing at the lighthouse in the moments before the biologist shoots her.

If Poe needed to be removed from the film to give time for Rey and Finn, then so be it. But that didn’t mean Poe’s arc gets to be fast-forwarded to where it’s convenient. He needed to be off-screen following through on his motivation so that when he’s back on screen, he looks like he was off-screen for a reason.

So as far as Poe goes, Abrams, that ship don’t fly.

THREE: Talking Lightsabers That Just So Happen To Be In A Mysterious Box In A Tavern’s Basement

This is the point where I audibly said “Bullshit” in the theater.

Finn, Rey, and BB-8 travel with Han Solo and Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon to some ancient looking planet’s cantina, where the owner Maz Kanata provides sage advice. While Maz and Han talk, Rey hears something and goes under the cantina into a big storage area, where a faint voice calls from a box. She opens the box to discover what the audience immediate recognizes as Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber. Maz finds Rey and tells her about the force, but Rey refuses the lightsaber and runs off. So, Maz brings the lightsaber to Han.

“A good question, for another time.”

Say WHAT?!

…coincidence is a part of life, often a powerful part, rocking existence, then vanishing as absurdly as it arrived. The solution, therefore, is not to avoid coincidence, but to dramatize how it may enter life meaninglessly, but in time gain meaning, how the antilogic of randomness becomes the logic of life-as-lived.

Robert McKee

When used well, coincidences help tie together plot elements and propel the narrative along. In the first Hunger Games, for instance, it’s a pretty big coincidence that the other candidate chosen to fight for Katniss’ district has also been crushing on her for years. In Authority, the second book of The Southern Reach Trilogy, the new director stumbles upon the psychologist’s old phone and, thinking it might hold useful data, takes it home. This just so happens to be the same phone the psychologist had taken into Area X on a secret expedition, so of course, that phone has changed into something else…a something that is now skulking around the new director’s home.

On Rey’s desert planet Jakku, there just so happens to be a seller of parts scavenged from other ships, and this seller just so happens to keep some junk ships…like the Millennium Falcon.

While I have a hard time imagining Solo losing his ship, I can accept it being considered garbage; after all, in A New Hope Luke takes one look at the Falcon and says, “What a piece of junk!” So that a scavenger has allocated the Falcon on the planet where Rey just so happens to live is an acceptable coincidence.

That Han Solo just so happens to fly Rey to a cantina where a sage-like character just so happens to have a vault with a box that just so happens to have Luke’s lightsaber that just so happens to connect with Rey…

No.

That is not acceptable.

Had Maz mentioned living in Cloud City (where Luke had lost the lightsaber in his duel with Vader in The Empire Strikes Back), okay. Weird, but okay. At least there’s some sort of intent, a trail of motivation: Force-sensitive Maz discovers the lightsaber and feels its importance, so she keeps it safe until finding its owner. Or Lando’s team recovers it and gives it to Han, who entrusts it to Maz for whatever reason. Heck, in Rey’s vision of the Jedi temple burning and Luke crouched low by R2-D2, Maz could have been there ready to give him the lightsaber, but upon seeing the Knights of Ren hides instead.

Instead, we have none of these things. We have only the Mystery Box, and “another time.”

And maybe Abrams did intend to explain this Mystery Box another time. There were two more movies, after all, and he had notes for the other directors to help keep the storyline unified across the trilogy.

Only The Powers That Be in Disney and Lucasfilm didn’t see the importance of paying off those expectations. They had their own agendas, agendas that would take the galaxy far, far away into a new cosmos:

Political and social commentary.

Disney wanted a Star Wars trilogy that would inspire new and old generations alike to buy millions of movie tickets, toys, and theme park passes. Creating a story befitting the lStar Wars universe was never the top priority, not for them. Was JJ Abrams passionate about this project? Let’s just say yes. But loving a story-world and its characters is not the same as creating in that world. Abrams selected bits of the Original Trilogy he wanted to share in his own way; some of it worked, and some of it didn’t. The plot’s true shortcomings, though, can be summed up in two words:

Why? How?

Too often we are wondering how X happened, or why Z did ___. It’s one thing to have a mysterious villain, or an unknown backstory. But when a writer takes time to establish a character’s motivations only to ignore them until the plot makes it convenient for the motivations to come back, or a writer ignores the older characters’ stories so the plot’s MacGuffin can move to the newer characters, then there are serious problems afoot.

And we haven’t even TOUCHED the flippin’ Death Star 3.0 yet.

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

More student assignments are coming my way in a few days, so I think we’ll have a lovely author interview next week. After that, we’ll wrap up The Force Awakens with a discussion of what makes a great villain…and why it’s unwise to go the safe route.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#writerproblems: When Life’s River Changes Course (Or, Transforming #Writing shortfalls into Successful #WritingGoals)

Well, here we are. Thanksgiving came and went before I could even show you Blondie’s lovely art project for November.

I do so love anything that reminds me of stained glass windows. xxxxx

I had hoped to share another 1,000 or so words of What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die with you.

National Novel Writing Month called to my imagination with the promise of storytelling in spite of all life’s commitments. Thousands take up the challenge, so why can’t I? And I was realistic about this, too. I knew 50,000 words was impossible, but surely there could be SOME way to accomplish a meaningful amount of words. I’ve done it before, and dammit, I could do it again!

But if you saw my banner for November, you might already know what changed the course of my plans.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t the motherhood. I managed to turn Biff’s day of fever into a quick morning of writing.

No no–it was the teaching. Yeah, the final projects from my University students were once again a big drain on time, but those at least I knew how to manage. The subbing among six different school districts, however, was constantly unpredictable. A small agreement of a three-hour stint would change into a six-hour haul among several different grades. I’d show up expecting to work with a special needs kid only to find out I’m actually teaching 1st grade math to kids more eager to stab each other in the eye with pencils than to just sit the Godfrey Daniel down. (You can decipher that bold phrase if you channel your inner WC Fields.) This doesn’t even include the 5am phone calls of, “Can you come in today? All day. There are notes here for your duties, I think. We’ll look when you get here.”

It was a busy month. Busy, and rough. I’d be rushing from hours spent with a kid who refused to use kleenex and therefore had a steady stream of mucus running from his nose into his mouth while eating his snack and then coming up to hug every single adult and myself and to give us high fives with those same boogery hands and I had to prevent myself from gagging all over this kid OLD ENOUGH TO USE A FRICKETY FRACKIN’ TISSUE and then get my own kids, NOT let them hug me so I wouldn’t spread whatever germs are smeared in green on my person, and grade finals.

And the typical bits of motherhood don’t vanish,do they? Blondie needed to work on her piano. Biff and Bash needed to do their homework, and they needed to attend their occupational therapy. All three needed to be fed with actual food, not just, you know, dog bowls on the floor. (Though that would be SOOOO much easier.)

At the beginning of November, I was certain I could use the same tactics I had in previous years to write while parenting and teaching. And if my life’s course was still just motherhood and teaching online for the university. it could have worked.

But this fall, the course of my life changed when I added the substitute jobs. The river no longer flowed in the way I understood it. It went from this…

…to this.

I missed writing so much.

I wanted life to continue its typical course with my writing floating atop. I might row for ten miles one day, just around the bend the next. But at least I’d be writing again.

Yet at least two weeks of November passed with no writing at all.

I had failed.

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”

C.S. Lewis

That failure hung on me like twin boys determined to make me a tree. It hung on me like the face my daughter used to make when I’d say time and time again, “Not now.” It hung on me like the words my husband couldn’t say because I had to work. I had to do more. There was always more to do.

And that, Dear Friends, is when it’s time to stop.

You may think you can walk upon the river’s stones. You may think you can continue on your course your way because you are you.

That’s what I thought. I put on my sensible shoes and figured I could portage my writing across the rapids without *too* much trouble.

I was so bloody determined to carry my writing through these unpredictable waters that I failed to look on what I had done as any sort of accomplishment.

It’s so easy to get caught up in what we fail to do, isn’t it? We get daily notifications of a gazillion new authors all hot’n’fancy with readers we’d LOVE to have for ourselves. We check out the new best-seller brew-ha-ha and wonder what on EARTH inspires people to spend money on such’n’such garbage when there’s *our* stuff ready and waiting. We hear of yet another remake/re-imagining/reboot/re-whatever and wonder why no one notices the bounty of fresh fiction we create.

We look so longingly at the accomplishments of others that we forget what we ourselves have accomplished. No, I didn’t finish my story, but I did work to help keep Blondie in music and Biff and Bash with their therapy. No, I didn’t finish my story, but I did inspire my daughter to start her own. No, I didn’t finish my story, but I did get to split my sides laughing while Biff and Bash shared their favorite quotes from a Captain Underpants read-a-thon (Seriously, Biff sat and read an entire novel out loud with Bash silently listening. It was AMAZING.)

So Friends, please don’t dwell on what wasn’t finished. There will always be a course to travel, and it will always be a mystery beyond the bend. What matters is that you take a step, then another, then another. One day you may take one hundred steps, the next one thousand, the next, just one. Every single step–every single word–is something to be proud of.

~Stay Tuned Next Week!~

I’m going to start posting on Sundays instead of Thursdays, so now you have to wait until next Sunday for some awesome writing music, updates from Blondie, and perhaps some writing craft study on an old holiday favorite. More author interviews are underway as well, so be sure to stop by and see who’s on the hot-seat in the coming weeks!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 7th #chapter

Only a few days of November remain, my friends! Clearly this novella won’t be done by then. For sake of time, then, I think I’d like to jump, just a smidge, to another critical moment. (If you need to catch up, here’s a list of current chapters for What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die.)

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Sal and Chloe flew through the sliding doors. “We have to close these,” Sal called to Thomas, “NOW.”

“What happened?” Thomas was almost lost to the darkness of the room, too far for the firelight’s reach. Only his eyes glowed to Chloe, wide with fear when he saw the blood on her hand, the panic in her face.

The fear locked Chloe’s jaw but she fought it as the men fought time and warped wood to close the doors. “A b-b-body, Dad. They ch-ch-chopped someone up.

Laughter: Reg hopped up, a smile so big on his face you’d think it was Christmas Anywhere-But-Here. “It’s done!” He clapped and leapt over the sofa to hug his sister tight. “It must be done done done! The signs, they worked!”

But Chloe ran to join Sal at the doors. Stuck. So damn stuck. The wood groaned, denying them. “The Sumac guy and the doctor–” 

CRACK. Thomas’ side splintered free above him. He slammed his side to the center and said, “I knew that damn plowman was no good.” He came to help Sal and Chloe, but his strength only made the wood louder, louder, its moans surely echoing throughout the Crow’s Nest. “Get furniture. We’ll block the rest.”

“What about your mom?” Chloe asked Sal as they took the ends of the sofa.

“It’s her bloody curse.” Sal grunted under the load, faltering after only a few steps. “Let her face it.”

Thomas rushed to Sal’s side and shoved him towards Chloe. “Ang, come on!”

But Angela’s shape stayed to the window, her darkness one with Reg’s, her fingers spread out upon the glass.

The caws.

Oh, the caws.

It began as one, lone but strong. Then another. Another. Another. And in a heartbeat it was a chorus of murder ringing through the air. A cloud of black feathers beat the windows as the crows flew by. Their song seemed to wrap around the house, filling its rooms and all their hidden spaces–

THOCK.

The walking shroud of Madame Yana Perdido stood, hands upon her cane, in the last space of the sliding doors. 

Sal dropped the sofa and stood, empty and limp as a scarecrow after a storm. Reg let out a cry and buried himself in Angela’s arms.

Only Angela held her chin high…though she did not move one inch from the window. “Mother.” The word fell, small and hard, into the air.

The grandmother’s head slowly swiveled from adult to adult until at last she stopped with Choe. “Has the sign been made?” That the sofa was but a few inches away from blocking her entry apparently meant nothing.

Chloe pointed at the pile of drawings about the desk. “Reg has made a hundred, all right? You need to get in here before that doctor–”

Thock. “He means nothing. Did you make the sign?”

“We need to call–”

Did you make the sign?!”

“NO I DIDN’T MAKE NO DAMN SIGN!”

Silence.

Not a caw.

Not a groan.

Not a flutter.

Only a single, long, growl. Very deep. And very near.

Word Count: 513 Total Count: 12,324

Gah, I didn’t get to my part yet! Here’s hoping the kids behave well enough tomorrow for me to write before we venture off to another Grandmother’s house… xxxxxx

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 6th #chapter, part 3

I’m still alive! Pretty sure, anyway… Yes, I’m back, if only for a moment, to try and finish this scene. It’s too damn important not to. I’ll share my past week’s misadventures another time. xxxxx

“…no use at all. The medicines did nothing.”

WACK.

Chloe jumped at the sound of the axe on some unseen chopping block. A few fat snowflakes flew in through the crack of the open kitchen door to die upon the woodpile.

Sal held his arm in front of Chloe, ears red as the veins in his eyes. 

“What did you even give her?”

He didn’t have to tell Chloe to be quiet. She clenched her jaw to keep from chattering, and dug her fingernails into her palms. How could she pretend like they didn’t hear? What was she even hearing?

“Who knows? What’s clear to me is that she knows where it is and she is not telling.”

WACK.  “Not telling you, you mean.”

A lone, fat drop of blood broke from the rabbit pelt by the butcher’s block and struck the ground with a sound too loud, too obvious. Sal started pushing his arm against Chloe, his breathing shallow and fast under his plaid shirt.

“Don’t get started with me.” 

Chloe took a step, but…but she couldn’t quite go. What was the big deal, really? Sumac worked for Chloe’s grandmother. The doctor would be here often to treat her.

Not that he sounded pleased about it. “That bitch has cost me too much time already. I want that seed, and I want it now.” 

Sal stopped nudging. “Seed?” he mouthed silently. His lips formed the word, over and over as he hunched his gangly body forward and lurched further into the room. The balls of his feet wobbled as he crept, his fingers outstretched to grab anything, anything that could keep him from falling.

“Hand me the last of that meat, will you? My perimeter’s just about done.” Sumac sounded very much at ease, almost relaxed despite the axe work. “My point, Sir, is that she may have told one of her children.” WACK. “Or maybe she’ll tell the granddaughter. You said she liked her.”

Well. Chloe needed to follow now. She followed Sal’s cue and took to all fours, her knees fastly cold from old snow and blood. They kept close to the butcher’s block, the only real cover in the kitchen. 

The two men’s shapes walked before a window, and stopped.

Chloe and Sal just made it between the butcher’s block and the fridge. They were hidden.

And trapped.

Chloe dared to peer with one eye around the edge, hoping the rabbit pelt would do enough to cover her head. 

A small red something flew into the snow. “Could the girl be bribed, perhaps?” 

WACK. “Damn joint.” A large, crooked something flew like a heavy boomerang before the windows. “Maybe. If the parents don’t get in your way.”

Dr. Artair laughed a jolly laugh. “Ah, but these are parents who want what’s best for their child. I’m sure I can bend that to my advantage.”

A drop of blood fell and splattered atop Chloe’s hand.

WACK. “If you say so.” WACK. “All I know–” WACK. Sumac grunted and stepped, stepped, stepped. “–is I’m not cleaning up any more of your messes tonight.” The kitchen door swung wide, groaning in the cold. He stopped in the doorway, holding a hand up to the light.A bloody, pale stump of a forearm and hand, adorned with a watch and a shredded purple sleeve. Sumac pulled the shredded fabric off and held the watch to his ear.  Always wanted a Van Doren.” With a smile he gave the bloody hand a high five and returned to the doctor, the meat, and the snowy night.

Word Count: 596 Total Count: 11,811

Hmmm. Not quite what I was planning here, but it’ll do for now. 🙂

Click here for a complete list of posts for my novella What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die. And until tomorrow…

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 6th #chapter, part 2

Hello, friends! So, I’m not alone with my writing today–Biff’s getting over a fever. Oh, he seems okay, much more animated and energetic than yesterday. Still, I don’t need a relapse in the midst of my panicking university students and sub teaching gigs, so here we are, home together, him wondering why I won’t let him watch tv all day and me…um…wondering I won’t just let him watch tv so I can get some writing done. 🙂

Where were we, again? Oh yes. Let’s try to bring the family back together.

Writing Music: Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet, Landfall

“Thomas!” Angela clung to the sliding doors as her body hung forward, face as fearful as any caught animal. “Thomas, you let Chloe go up there?” Her feet moved for the stairs, yet her hands would not let go. “Did she talk to you?”

Chloe and her father moved as one to meet her at the base of the stairs. Chloe wrapped her arms tight around her momma, murmuring, “I’m okay, it’s okay. She’s just creepy, is all.” 

Thomas’ long, powerful arms held them both close to his chest. He kissed the tops of their heads, then rested his own on Angela’s. “It’s almost midnight. Doctor said she’s in her last few hours. It’s almost over.”

“Over.” Angela’s face was but a few inches from Chloe’s, and yet Chloe felt like her mother couldn’t see her at all. What could she see? “C-can it really be over with…without…”

Sal knocked on the sliding door to get their attention. “Ang. The crows. Do you hear them?”

Just like that, Angela’s focus sharpened on her daughter, husband, brother. She pulled away from her family and ran into the living room and its windows. Chloe followed, keeping her distance from Reg whose back was to them all. He sat at the small, plain desk not far from the hearth, its surface lit just enough by the fire’s light that he could draw in great, dramatic strokes. Papers littered the floor about his dusty chair.

Papers filled with crows.

No one spoke but the fire. No one moved. From somewhere came a ticking. From somewhere came a thock. Thock. Thock.

“You must make the sign,” the grandmother had said. The crows upon the floor had outspread wings and open beaks, long talons and wide eyes. They stared at Chloe from the paper, stared like those hidden golden eyes on the bookshelf–

From somewhere came voices, beastly and strange.

“Isn’t that plowman supposed to be feeding the crows?” Angela asked. “We can’t lose them, not now.”

Sal nodded. “I’ll go check.”

You must make the sign…

But Reg was already making plenty of signs. What difference would a drawing by Chloe make? And Chloe’s stomach still rumbled, and her father was giving her that “we have to talk” face while touching her mother’s shoulder. Damn, he’s going to bring up the radio job to get Momma’s mind off crows and witch-mothers. She had to separate them…but no. Not when her mother looked ready to jump out of her own skin. And unlike Angela, Chloe’d already seen the bloody kitchen.

“I’ll come with you.” Chloe practically skipped over to Sal’s side. “Uncle Sal.” Anything to put off “that talk” until we’re in the car. Hell, I’ll talk the whole way home about it if it means not doing it while Momma’s like this.

“You sure?” Chloe’s father asked. He sure wasn’t.

But the scribbling noise from Reg and the tappingof Angela’s fingernails on the laced table made the bloody silence of the kitchen sound like a sanctuary to Chloe. That, and the ginger scarecrow that was Sal felt like the least threatening thing in this house. “Mmhmm.”

“We’ll just be a moment,” said Sal, and led Chloe out.

The foyer felt far colder than a moment ago. Little whips of wind lashed the back of Chloe’s stockinged legs. The lights flickered once, twice. But no black laced shapes loitered on the stairs—not that Sal looked up to check. He was all too happy to share a smile with Chloe instead.

“Thanks for this. I hate walking around here by myself. When I saw Reg at the front door, I just…stayed with him by the fire until you came.” They paused by the display of crow skeletons. One skeleton was posed to look outward, right were Sal stood. “It’s always felt…safest, in there.”

Chloe shuddered. “Should I ask where you guys slept?”

Sal swallowed. “No.”

The cold had been coming from the kitchen. The back door stood open, just a sliver. The dead rabbit was gone.

So was the axe.

Word Count: 675 Total Count: 11,215

Consarnit! I can’t wait to share the next moment with you, but I teach all day tomorrow, so there’s a good chance I won’t be posting. Stay tuned!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 6th chapter

Hello, friends! I know I’m slowing down a bit with this scene, but I did so want to give a bit of history and had no idea where else to put it. (If you want some context, check out the complete list of current contents for What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die.)

Writing Music: Philip Glass, Metamorphosis

Chloe’s father blocked her halfway down the stairs. Light from the grandmother’s room faded against the second floor corridor until it was just as dim as the rest of the foyer. The grandmother’s presence, however, hadn’t faded, not at all. Go to the desk near the fireplace downstairs, she’d said. Take ashes from the hearth, and with your own fingers make the sign. She refused to watch Chloe or her father leave, eyes still transfixed upon the window where the owl and clawed its own mark. Do it now, before he finds a way inside.

Not that the owl’s mark made much impression on Chloe’s father. Already he was grumbling about Chloe’s love of music. “Your momma got you that job to help jumpstart your journalism career, not to write songs other people are gonna sing without even mentioning your name.”

Chloe slumped to a seat on the stairs. “I didn’t want it to be like this,” she said, voice hardly above a whisper. She clutched the hem of her skirt, so carefully sewn by her mom to help Chloe to look like someone who was on campus to learn, not serve. “I wanted to surprise you both. Play the radio and tell you, ‘I wrote that. That’s my song Brenda Holloway’s singing.” Through the rails of the bannister Chloe looked down upon the crow bones on display, the hung feathers, the child drawings. How many had been pinned to those places and left, unmoved, for years and years? “Some friends at WNOV, they’re going to set up a meeting with representatives from Motown after New Year’s.”

“Song writing. Jee-sus. Chloe, I…” Thomas Watchman bit his lip, breathed deep. Chloe knew exactly what he was doing: he was looking at her as if she was a clock refusing to wind. “When you reported what happened at the Black Student Strike in Madison to the Milwaukee campus, your momma and I, we were so, so proud of you.” He knelt upon the stair to see her eye to eye, to hold her hands in his calloused palms. “You were in living history. Do you have any idea how powerful that is? How important that is to preserve for your own kids and grandkids?” 

Chloe swallowed back a hard lump of fear. So chilled, these stairs, like the sidewalk Chloe fell upon that day. The car horns, the words hot as acid on Chloe’s ears…Even Gwendolyn Brooks, a Black woman white men awarded, was almost run down while talking to the students. Yes, Chloe wrote a report and shared it on Milwaukee’s Black radio. But the real fire came in the words Chloe wrote after, words for a song, a song to hear with a piano and a microphone in a smoke-filled room, where tables are sticky with booze and old stories and the floor doesn’t care whose shoes walk its boards.

Thomas Watchman gave his daughter a little smile to tug her back into the present. “You’ve got the words and the soul to take on all those white men who think they know what deserves to be recorded and read by our eyes. Well they don’t. You.” He brought their held hands up to Chloe’s chin for a gentle nudge. “You do.”

Word Count: 542 Total Count: 10,540

The Black Student Strike was a real thing at UW Madison, as was Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks nearly being run down by a car. In this age of outrage and vitriol over merely not liking a YA book, let’s just take a moment to remember there are plenty of real battles worth fighting for.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!