Tag Archives: books

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!




Spring? What Spring? Oh, wait! I See It!

Showy trillium on DP river trailWell, whether we like it or not, Old Man Winter is going to be shown the door before too long, and Mother Earth will be sweeping the cobwebs out the door.  That’s fine by me.  This was an easier than usual winter, because December was a blast from Antarctica that would make anyone sit up and take notice,  But after that blast, we got plenty of rain, a week-long Chinook (snow eater) and the best, juiciest oranges I’ve ever had when I went grocery shopping.

It has been a very busy winter for me.  As I’ve said previously, I helped a sick friend with his blog until he was up to the task of handling it himself. At the same time, I chipped away at what were then current (and now finished) chapters in novels that I have under construction.  Once my friend was back in the saddle, it was easy enough to go on with all the other tasks I had lined up. And that is where I am now.

Happy to report that my progress in those two different novels is moving ahead. It is easy enough to keep them separate from each other, because they are two entirely different stories, but keeping the story lines themselves from getting tangled is a different thing altogether. I did waste a little money on getting a new printer because my old printer broke a gear in the paper pickup and that was that. I found that, with unexpected separation from my two novels, the distance from each story gave me a new perspective each time I went back and picked up the track in either of them. I also found it useful to have several other stories going on at the same time, but not necessarily novels. Short stories will do. I also did a lot more research than I had expected to do for my friend’s blog, which gave me a new perspective on how to make a sci-fi story believable, through a better understanding of planetary biology, geology and meteorology. In effect, the planet and its systems have to be user-friendly if the inhabitants are to prosper there. And because stories are more believable if there is a struggle for the good guys to overcome, it makes for a better story if the people aren’t superheroes.

All that research I engaged in is leading to another direction as well.  I’m not real big on doing non-fiction, but there is no reason that what I dug up can’t be put to use in something else.  That’s the unexpected benefit of doing someone else’s work when he can’t.

Expect more to come. Meanwhile, get out in the sunshine and check the sunset at night.



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!!!

New releases Thursday

Lake country

I used to listen to this radio station that had a list of new music releases every Thursday. Well, why not do the same thing here, any time you get something done and published?

So here’s my latest effort, ‘Mayday’, a short sci-fi story involving the only survivor of a decompression accident in space. He hallucinates and can’t tell if he’s been rescued or it’s his imagination. After all, he only wanted a breath of fresh air.

It is now available on Kindle and in the Kindle Lending Library. I have others in the mill, and this one comes out of the Work in Progress section.

Here’s something we may not think about when writing fiction. Sometimes a story may become more complex than we had originally meant it to be, and it develops enough material for a full-length novel as it progresses. Short stories are frequently harder to write than book-length stories. You can become so embedded in the characters and their development that before you know it, you are doing a full-length chronicle of their lives. You might also be providing hints to the reader as you go that point to a longer timeline than you had originally anticipated when you started.

That’s kind of like the Red Queen in ‘Through the Looking Glass’ telling Alice that the faster you run, the further you have to go, because you’re just running in place. The reference to relativity in physics does apply: the faster you go, the more time slows down and the further away is the finish line.

There are exercises that can be used to get into the ‘start to finish’ habit. One of them is using the TV script format from the Screen Writers Guild. A half-hour TV show takes 24 pages of mostly dialogue, which allows two acts with time for commercial breaks. A one-hour TV show takes 48 pages of (mostly) dialogue, which gives you 4 acts of 12 pages per act, with commercial breaks inserted between those acts.

Following these formats will give you the discipline of telling a complete story within a specified page length. This is not about writing scripts, but rather about building the habit of the ‘start to finish’ discipline and the follow-through of continuity. You need to be aware of what each character’s behaviors, speech patterns and motivations are in order to make each of them flesh-and-blood instead of cardboard and window dressing.

I did that a while back. It was fun. It was a tremendous learning experience. I found that a character’s personality is just as much a part of his presence as his costume, his appearance and his name. In fact, if you refer to any of Shakespeare’s plays, nowhere does he physically describe the characters or what they wear. He allows the actors to flush them out through their speech. We know that Petruchio was a soldier of fortune, but why was he really in Venice? And we know that Kate was the older sister, but why was she being kicked out of the only home she had ever known?

The best part about this practice of following a set format is that you are required to write a comprehensive story within a set number of pages or word count. This cuts away unnecessary rambling. If it’s a TV show you know and watch regularly, you already know the characters, how they move, how they speak. That makes it easier, and now you see where I’m going with this.

Go on – give it a shot. What do you have to lose?