Tag Archives: authors

Well, I thought Spring was here….

Bloodroot in blossom

…and I may have been right, looking at the calendar, but when the temperature drops from a very pleasant 72F to barely 50F overnight and you have to turn the furnace back on, then you start asking if winter is having trouble leaving us.

Yes it was very nice last week. I was happy to be out in the warm weather with no sweater or jacket, even happy to be able to scrape the mud off the soles of my hiking boots, and looking forward to more days like that, and then – WHAM!! Back we went to the low to mid-50s. And I see by looking at the weather map that it’s still snowing in many places.  That’s fine. I like wearing sweaters.

So that brings up attention to detail. It isn’t necessary to overwhelm anyone with details, but if you read detective novels, they are the people who notice the small things. Something out of place. A sweater not neatly folded but thrown on top of a pile of stuff. The dirt marks on a clean floor. Tiny bits of gravel where they shouldn’t be. Pens scattered instead of in a collecting cup.  Basically, show us the unexpected things.

All people have certain habits, things they do that they aren’t aware of but other people are. There are people who will complain if there is no rain and also if there is too much. Never ever happy. Too hot. Too cold. Too bitter. Too sweet.  Too many cars. Buses never on time. These are things that go into building characters, things that can be repeated until they are unconsciously recognized by your readers as habits or characteristics, such as a very sensitive sense of smell, that give your characters a small touch of reality.

There are other things. Butterflies, for instance, will flock to a place that provides salt and other minerals. In a mystery novel, this might be a clue to where the body is buried if there has been a lot of rain and the soil covering the corpse has been leaching away.

It isn’t necessary to cram the details in all at once. Distribute them through the story, and for Pete’s sake, make notes about it! It’s easy to lose track of who is who and what is what.

Have a nice Spring weekend, even if it rains!




Starting Fresh


Here we go. It’s a brand new year. We have all kinds of things to think about. We’re always asked what resolutions we’ve made for the new year.

Well, how about if we don’t make resolutions, but instead, come up with a bunch of things we want to do this year? Why not some goals to work toward, instead of resolutions which will be ignored from Day One and never met? It’s much easier to have a list of goals to meet, tasks to complete, “things to do” this year, and scratch each one off as you go than it is to try to remember some ‘resolution’ you set for yourself and then cast aside.

So here are mine:

Shoot more pictures
Finish current novels – I have three I’m working on.
Write some more poetry – that’s one I let go but I still have that on my plate.
Get the confounded clutter out of my house
Cook a lot more new stuff, something like crepes with beef and mushrooms
Try one new dish each month. Just one should be enough. No, I don’t like squid. Tried it. Don’t like it. But I gave it a shot.
Read books by authors who are not in vogue any more. For instance, H.M. Tomlinson, a journalist who covered World War I, is a good reference for that period.

Keeping it simple makes it easier to get these things done, and when you’re done with one, you can scratch it off that list on the fridge door.

The bird in the photo is a white-throated sparrow. It’s not a rare bird, but it is rare in my area, because its habitat area is mostly the eastern side of the Appalachians. Glad I had the camera handy, charged and ready.

Happy New Year!!!

A Gift for the Coming Year

A long trail ahead of me...

A long trail ahead of me…

Well, by golly, I’ve been slipping again! My bad. No Christmas cookies for me!

But this is what happens when you get busy, working on things that do have importance to you, and finishing my current book projects is very important to me. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to take something from start to finish, and then go back and review it.

“Oh, but wait!” you say. “I have all these ideas and they get to a certain point and then nothing happens.”

I know. It happens to me all the time. I’ve spent untold hours coming up with ideas for stories, summaries, blurbs and titles, and wondering if they’d ever be finished. I have starts that stopped, and summaries that cry out for expansion into full-blown stories. Is there enough for a full-length book? Oh, who cares? It’s the thought that counts. The idea that came up on paper sits waiting in a dusty notebook, or an unsearched file on your hard drive, wondering if anyone cares about it enough to finish what you started. I knew somebody way back when who had a storage box full of notes and ideas and did nothing with them. In fact, she was so certain they weren’t worth the bother that she threw them away.

Come on, now! These are your babies, your brain’s offspring, your source of joy and pride and it does not matter one tiny bit that they’ve been sitting in a bin on a shelf in your coat closet for years or months, or just until you ‘have the time’.
Let me tell you something. The ‘time’ will never arrive on its own. The ‘babies’ will never become full-fledged, completed stories of any length by themselves. The offspring of your overactive imagination will spend eternity in a coffee shop, wondering if you are ever going to show up and get this show on the road.

They can’t live without your interference. This is how it works. If you can spare 20 minutes for a shower, a half hour to an hour at the gym, can’t you spare an hour and a half with one of those crazy ideas you wrote down on a note pad ten years ago?

I spent a good deal of time during my workaday life coming up with ideas for stories. I wrote down as many as I could on a pad of paper, and later typed them up on 3-hole punched paper, and kept everything in notebooks. When I moved twelve years ago, the volume of stuff I had put together as starters was huge and no, I did not throw out any of it. I simply kept it stored and here it is now, in my house, waiting in the storage boxes and notebooks it was stored in so long ago, waiting to be brought into existence. And I have all sorts of distractions to keep my attention off my ideas and stories and keep me from completing these things, but over the past summer, with an enormous distraction that turned into nothing at the end, I persevered and am moving ahead.

Because it’s Christmas, my gift to someone who thinks s/he has no time to do this kind of work is to say the exact opposite: you do have the time. You just think you don’t. The only thing standing in your way is you.

There are all sorts of books on how to do a good job of storytelling, and likewise, all sorts of books with exercises to nudge you along the writer’s path. But reaching the goal at the end of the path, completing the story, is something you have to do yourself.

Here’s how you do this:

1 – complete the story, period. Do not make corrections.
2 – print it out on 3-hole punched paper and store it in physical form in a 3-ring binder.
3 – put it away for several months.

On a cold, rainy day in the spring, when you don’t want to be outside, fix yourself a big pot of hot tea or coffee, get some cookies or other snacks, and reread what you wrote. Ignore the mistakes, just read it. If it still seems worth the time and effort it took, it’s a keeper. This is when you proofread and edit it, polish it, make the ‘mystery’ connections work, and decide whether or not to expand it to a lengthier form, such as a full-length novel, or keep it as a short story or novella. You may see the possibilities for a series of stories in it when you reread it after some time away from it.

I found that to be true for many of the summaries that I created a long time ago: they could be full-length novels as well as short stories.

It was up to me to complete them.

There is always something that will distract you. There is always someone who will be negative about what you’ve done. There is plenty of tremulous self-doubt floating through the air, enough to sink anyone into a Well of Gloom. These are people whose lives are limited by restaurant menus and coffee shop couches.

Writing is not about gaining fame and fortune. It’s about creating something out of whole cloth, floating moonbeams, and squeaky closet monsters. It’s your imagination at work, the part of you that wondered if you’d ever get to go to the Moon or find out that the guy who sells watermelons out of his pickup truck is really a philanthropist with a hobby that lets him meet people.

Now go on: get those ideas down on paper, filed on a jump drive, backed up on a terabyte peripheral drive, and printed and stored in a physically tangible notebook.

And have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, because a year from now, you may have a LOT of stuff done!

A long walk in the woods provides… clues

A hike along the river....

A hike along the river….

I spent about an hour yesterday taking a long hike on a path along
a river not too far from my house. The hike started on a cloudy afternoon, with the very possible prospect of rain. I needed to get out and get some fresh air. There is nothing worse than being cooped up indoors. Even if the promise of rain is likely to be kept, getting out for a walk, however brief it might be, is better than no walk at all. So I went.

...continuing along the path

…continuing along the path

I am not sorry I did, that I spent the time on it, that the sun finally came out of hiding or that when I got back to my car I was quite warm, tired and happy to have done a mere 3.5 miles roundtrip in a little under an hour. For me, that’s a slow pace but I took my camera along, as always, and disregarded the distance.
Showy trillium on DP river trail

The point is that we all have a very real need to step away from the short-range, close focus on our creative endeavors and get some fresh air, on a regular basis. We need to put down the electronic stuff occasionally and look around at the real world, the tangible world that we live in if we expect the worlds we create out of whole cloth to be believable. It’s the small things which need to be noticed, not the illuminated screen in front of you.

Showy trilliums on the hiking path

Showy trilliums on the hiking path

Paying attention to those little things, to something as small as a frog on a log in the sunshine, makes your worlds more real to your readers. There are pollinating insects as small as the head of a pin that most people don’t notice, but they inhabit their own tiny world. If a detective in a mystery novel notices these things, shouldn’t you, the person who created the detective, notice those small things, too?

In regard to characters

Geese doing morning yoga

Yes, geese do yoga at the start of the day.

Now I’m going to expand a little more on what I said last time.

This has to do with the characters you create if you are writing fiction. I think it’s a real good idea to spend a little time interviewing them, to see how much depth you can give them. What drives them?

I’ve said before that one of my favorite writers is the late Georgette Heyer. She wrote a long, long list of period romance novels set in the timeframe of the Regency Period in England, before and after the War of Independence. She does refer to specific military actions to set the stage for some of the male characters and why they say and do some of the things they do. I don’t know if she ever did anything like an interview for any of the people whose lives she made so real for her readers, but her perception of those people was bolstered by superb research into the Regency Period itself.

For example, in ‘The Toll Gate’, Captain John Staple gets bored silly if he doesn’t have an adventure on a regular basis. The fights with Napoleon gave him that, and then he was picked up at sea by smugglers and spent a week with them. His mother wants him to find the right girl, all the girls he’s met bore him silly, and he wants to join his friend Babbacombe for hunting, because it’s early fall and the scenting days will give them a few great runs. So he bails out of his cousin’s dinner party, goes off to find his way north, and gets lost in the rain and falls into a wonderful (by his words) mystery. Along the way, he does meet his dream girl. You can almost hear the fanfare when they see other for the first time.

Piled into all of this are Heyer’s skillful inclusions of character assessment for each of the people involved in this adventure. She made tons and tons of notes for her stories. This is the best kind of example to follow.

So how do you do something like that for people who live in a world created out of whole cloth, as in sword-and-sorcery stories, fantasies, and science fiction, or just plain old fiction?

When I said last time ‘make a lot of notes’, this is something that I do. It’s necessary for me, at least, to do this, because I find that these characters which I imagined into existence not only decide what THEY want to do and how the story should be told, but they also are grumpy, happy, angry, excited, quizzical, lost and completely bewildered in the ‘why is this happening?’ sense, and definitely more and more solid.

I don’t mean that I merely ask someone what annoys or excites him or her, or that I create a physical description of someone as a frame of reference. If I have a team of five people who were thrown together and left on their own, I want to find out what their quirks are, what makes them part of this team, what makes them laugh and cry and what their goals and desires are.

All your notes, and if you also want to do the Q&A thing, interviews with your characters to find their speech patterns and how they think, are worth every second of your time and effort. I’ve found in doing this that I’ve compiled many, many pages of information that gives my characters more depth.

I want to know what it is that will cause a character like Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in ‘Breaking Bad’ to go from being just a man who left his job to being a dark, ruthless criminal. And why did he leave Gray Matter Tech in the first place? The depth of that fall into darkness was fascinating, because he could have done just the opposite and become a crusader like Jack Bauer played by Kiefer Sutherland in ’24’

It’s being willing to look at these things and put them into play that gives invented characters depth and makes them more real to people.

Apocalypse? I think not

The end of Winter, beginning of Spring

The end of Winter, beginning of Spring

Everything seems to be real dicey right now, doesn’t it? Terrible things are being done to innocents, to people who just want to live their lives and raise their families. They’ve done nothing bad to anyone, just led peaceful lives. And then, out of nowhere, everything they took for granted has been torn from them and their families are dead or missing. And then while War gallops through Ukraine and the Middle East, Pestilence in the form of ebola invades our consciousness and offers another form of terror in the form of death that rots you from the inside out.

I’ve been distracted just like everyone else, by events that are literally beyond my control. The hideous slaughter of innocents in the Middle East and the rebellion in Ukraine were suddenly overshadowed by a lethal, horrifying disease caused by an organism which has no other purpose than its own survival, at any cost whatsoever.

We are all distracted by this, but there are so many parallels to these things in history that I spent some time researching them, just to set my own mind at ease.

In the Middle Ages, great armies formed at the behest of Pope Urban II, after a potboiler speech on an auspicious day, armies whose sole purpose was to take control of lands in the Middle East, wresting that control away from the Moors and other Middle Eastern tribes and clans that held it. This was the start of the Crusades, land wars which lasted for several centuries of continuous warfare. Kingdoms and empires rose and fell during this time, and over those many, many centuries the wars continued in one way or another.

Once the Crusades were underway, trade began with the Far East and the unknown country Cathay, which we now call China. The known world began to expand. With foreign trade came the trading ships in the Black Sea loading goods from caravans crossing the Gobi Desert, following the oldest trading route in the world, the Old Silk Road. One item gave that road its name: silk, cloth made from fiber spun by silkworms into cocoons in which they would gestate while they became silk moths. With those trading ships, loaded to the gunwales with cargo, came rats infested with fleas that carried the Plague. The Plague did not kill everyone who got it, but it did empty entire villages in many places. They became ghost towns. It did not differentiate between peasant and potentate. It did not care about anything but finding a host and expanding. Yet other villages and cities survived unscathed.

What do we face now? War in the Middle East which started when some of you reading this were barely in the first grade and are now reaching adulthood, warfare that looks as though it may follow the same pattern as the Crusades as it runs its course; and the ebola virus, a pestilence in the form of an aggressive, lethal disease that has no cure and lives on after its host has died, or is defeated only by the robust immune system of its host.

While it’s easy enough to slip into the mindset of dystopia, which is the setting in which everything has gone bad and survival is chancy at best, as in the “Mad Max’ movies, “The Hunger Games” and “The Children Of Men”, among many, many other stories, books and movies that have followed this ‘end of days’ theme, somehow humans have managed to survive, rebuild and prosper, and then move onward, despite Plagues and apocalyptic events.

We have survived, regrouped, prospered and moved on.

The future is always uncertain. There is no way to avoid surprises like this, but rather to try to be prepared for them. And with this, rather than take the view that we are all doomed to extinction, something I do not believe to be true, I have chosen to use these events as historic parallels in my stories, and to allow us mere humans to find ways to overcome those kinds of threats that say ‘doom on you, doom on you’.

This is partly because, as I said, we mere mortals have somehow survived, rebuilt and moved on over many thousands of years. We aren’t dead yet. A thousand years from now, we will be looking back at this time and wondering how anyone survived it. And we will still look at the stars and wonder if there is someone else out there looking back at us.

Perhaps some day, we’ll find that we are looking back at ourselves.

Ghosties and beasties….

Autumn on the land

Autumn on the land

…and things that go ‘BUMP’ in the night.

Since Hallowe’en is Thursday this week and there will not be a full moon (unfortunately), I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect a little on what I’ve done and how I feel about it.

I started this blog in June, with a photo of my cat Victoria having a wonderful nap with her toys right next to her. I miss her. She loved chasing a bubble of air under the blanket when I made up the bed. Such pure joy over a bubble of air under a blanket….

When I started writing these posts, I thought I’d be discussing the ‘how to’ and the ‘wherefore’ and possibly even the ‘why’ of writing, but I’ve wandered quite far off that path and I rather like it. There are plenty of ‘how to’ books and blogs and some of them are worth your time. Others, not so much. Instead of directing anyone to them, I think it’s better to let people find their own way to them.

While I did consider that some people want to be told what to do and how to do it, they also get ‘bummed out’ if they don’t get an ‘atta-boy’ just for doing it. Unless you’re 2, you should be able to figure out what is good and bad about what you write, what is well-done and what is amateurish.

When you start doing something like this, with the intent of publishing, you may or may not want to find a common ground with other people who are doing the same thing and tackling the same subject that you’ve chosen. For that reason, I took a different route – no instructions.

Yes, I will offer resources that I find useful, but at some point, we must let go of that helpful hand and become self-reliant in this self-imposed adventure, because this is exactly what life is all about. You, my friend, are on your own, as am I.

I have completed two books, both now on Amazon and Kindle, books that I started late last year, and am pursuing more of them. One of them I started a full year ago, the other not long after that. And now I’ve finished a novella – a short novel – which will go up on Kindle in a few days. While that one is percolating away in cyberspace, I will be pursuing the continuing adventures of people whose lives I invented over many years past, along with several other long stories (novellas) and books.

I sometimes feel that I don’t work hard enough, or I simply get stuck. Nothing to say. That may stem from a lack of focus or from being distracted by life. It just happens that way. I’ve learned to not let it bother me, not pace the floor, not snack on wine and cheese and chocolate to compensate. It just happens, and in this universe it’s not a unique thing.

This isn’t ‘pity the poor monster’ time. It’s ‘look how much I brought in from the cold’. Look how many people have come into existence that I didn’t know about until I started pounding the keyboard and scribbling notes with a Pentel mechanical pencil.

I’m working on a spooky story that was supposed to be a short story but took off on its own, like a kid on a bicycle, and has now grown legs and arms and chosen its own path to follow. And spooky stories are not what I usually write.

It’s only one of many in the works. I’ll update that list in a few days.

I’ve just finished a story that I started a very, very long time ago, with no idea how it would end or who else was involved. Until I scanned it from its original copy to Word, I could not figure out where it was going or who else was part of it.

These are not the only things sitting on the wooden bench in my hallway, waiting for attention. I have a backlog of notes, ideas, what ifs, and partially written stories that are waiting for the day when I open the door and say ‘Next’.

I usually post one of my photos at the start of an article, which is what I’ve done again, for this post. It’s a tallgrass prairie savannah not far from where I live. The trees in the distance line the river and others group together in clumps, the way people hang out together, in companionable groups.

I can draw a comparison to characters in a story. You don’t know how many trees there are in that small copse, or what kind they are, any more than you know how many characters there are in a story, and what they have to do with it.

Right in the middle of making notes for my first book, I typed in someone’s name and stopped in my tracks. “Who in the world is he?” I asked, and got no answer. I don’t know if that happens to you, but this guy showed up out of nowhere. So I left him in my notes and spent some time thinking about him, and he turned into a major character. Next time this happens, I’m doing an interview.

A while back, I was half-awake at my desk, making notes on story ideas and I walked right into a Renaissance Faire village. Yes, I did. I saw people I knew and who knew me, all dressed in period costumes, who told me that if I took the path through the woods — the route I usually took to go to work — they would all die. But I took that path, anyway, found a peculiar construction at the end of the wooded pathway, and went across a road to find my way to work. Then I went back to that village and found that it was abandoned and empty and looked as though it had been like that for years. Then I woke up.

It took me a long time to finally realize that it was my subconscious talking to me, telling me that unless I stayed with writing and publishing, all of the stories those familiar people had to tell would die with me if I took that well-trodden path to work.

I chose to stay off that beaten path, to follow a new and sometimes difficult route. No matter where it leads me, I signed on for the long haul on this road.

I have so much material stuffed away in 3-ring notebooks and notes on my hard drive and pads of 3-hole punched paper that I may never see the end of it, but I will be quite busy following my own paper trail to the end.

A year from now, I hope that I’ll be able to say again “Look how much I’ve done. Look how many stories I didn’t know there were to tell.”

And that makes me happy.