Accent on Character

by G. B. Pool

Talking Mouth

I have mentioned before that “Dialogue is the workhorse of the novel or short story.” It provides plot advancement, character development, and action or movement. In a way, it sings. In other words, it brings the story to life.

A character blurting out information that advances the plot is far more interesting than a long narrative description of same. Through dialogue we discover personality traits about the various people who populate our stories. How a person speaks and acts while talking says a lot more about him or her than words alone. And dialogue provides real time action. You are in the room with the characters as they speak. You’re eavesdropping or right in the middle of the conversation. Or the character might be speaking directly to you.

“There’s someone sneaking up behind you. Watch out!”

Got your attention, didn’t it? That’s what dialogue should do.

In order to know how a character speaks or acts, or even the words he uses, you must get to know your characters… intimately. I suggest that you write a biography of at least your principle characters so you know who they are.

First, make the characters seem real to you as well as to your readers. Let them speak to you and trust them. Most writers will tell you they actually “hear” their characters, and it is that particular “voice” that makes a character unique.

Talking Mouth 2Here is one really cool way to make a character different: Whether he or she is a major or a minor actor in the piece, give him or her an accent. That doesn’t mean you have to write their dialogue all in French or Pig Latin. In fact, too much of a good thing can turn off your readers. But a word or phrase sprinkled in to give the reader a taste of that foreign accent, regional twang, or distinctive way of speaking… speaks volumes.

An accent or even a stutter tells something about the character, at least where he comes from or maybe why she knows so much about French cooking. And it’s fun. It breaks up the monotony of every character sounding alike. A Southern belle would have far more sass that say, a straight-laced New England spinster. And a gal with a lisp can add a little color, especially when she struggles to tell about “a thip thinking in the harbor.” How long will it take for folks to realize there is a ship in distress?

Here are a few examples that might get you in the mood to try an accent:

 

An Accent Enhances the Character:

 In a simple scene where you have a neighbor who makes a guest appearance, why not make her colorful? The first example is a neighbor with no personality. The second example gives her some character.

  1. “Sweetheart, something has happened to your living room. Did you perhaps get another dog?”

vs.

  1. “Honey, somethin’s happened to yer living room. Did ya’ll get another dawg?” (from Hedge Bet)

 

Mexican senoritaHow About a Foreign Accent?

Let’s try Spanish –

The volcano erupted again. “No. No. NO! My Franco no cheat. He best jockey in dee worlds. He no fix dee race. Meester Paul Bradshaw, beeg shot at dee track, pick my Franco to be dee one to give check to Jockey Fund.”            (from Hedge Bet)

 

One thing I do when writing these accents is to put the foreign word or mispronounced (and misspelled) word in italics so the reader gets the hint that the word is supposed to be that way and that I’m not a poor typist or speller. It also makes reading those words a little easier because the reader goes along with the gag.

 

Maybe a Speech Impediment Might Add Character:

Remember, not everyone is Laurence Olivier with a perfect English accent. Take for example a time when your main character encounters someone who is going to give him information. What if she is both colorful in looks as well as speech? This old dear lisps and isn’t exactly a rocket scientist, but boy does she have character.

 

Mouse stopped eating. He must have been rethinking his desire to find the king’s killer. He gazed in the direction Buttons had taken and I think he would have bolted had PJ not spoken.

 

“We never thee what the people in the truckth are doing,” PJ said. “They want uth out on the thtreet or in the front of one of the thtoreth keeping them occupied.”                        (from Only in Hollywood)

 

What about a New England Accent?

Pahk ya cah in the rear so ma customers don’t think we’re bein’ raided,” said the woman.

Harry followed the two women inside. Before Jane looked at the copy of the photo from Evelyn Wright’s passport, she yelled over her shoulder to the L.A. cop, “Shut the doh-wah, honey. Don’t want any vermin gettin’ in the crockery.” (from Closer coming in 2019)

 

Try an accent the next time you want to shake up your dialogue. It brings added interest to your story. And when you “hear” how others speak you just might want to let some of your characters have a go at it. It’s fun and lets you stretch those writing muscles.

Travel

 

 

“I say, ’avin’ an accent is a bit of all right. So ’ave a go at it, guv.”

 

Thanks for dropping by. Write on. G.B. Pool

BREAKDOWN – LOSING THE CULTURAL TIES THAT BIND

Breakdownby Paul D. Marks

As writers we want to convey certain thoughts, emotions and ideas to our readers. To do that we may use literary or historical allusions, scientific and cultural references. And, for the most part, we expect our reader base to have a degree of shared knowledge so that when we mention certain things, anything from Freud and Shakespeare to Billie Holiday or Queen Victoria—who gave her name to a whole era—to the simple phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” they’ll be able to understand what we’re saying and relate to it. And if they don’t know something to hopefully look it up.

 

Unfortunately, our cultural ties-that-bind are breaking down, not being passed on to younger generations. Yes, I know, every generation says this regarding the successive generation. But I think it’s gotten worse in the last few decades. Blame the media or social media, blame the internet, video games, teachers, the educational system, parents, the breakdown of the nuclear family. Blame whatever you want, from whichever side you’re on, but it seems to be true regardless of the cause.

 

For a variety of reasons, younger people today seem very uninformed about history, literature, pop culture (except their own pop culture), high culture and most other things that came before them. And sure, in every generation something gets left behind. When I was a kid I might not have known who Catherine the Great or Katharine Hepburn were. W.E.B. Du Bois or Jorge Luis Borges. Or the difference between Benny Goodman and Beethoven. But eventually they came into my consciousness, because I was curious and because I was exposed to them one way or another. But people today don’t know major figures from the recent past or even from the present. They don’t know what major wars were about or even have a clue as to when—or that—they occurred. And they barely know major figures from the past, who they were and what they did, people like George Washington, FDR. Lincoln. Cesar Chavez. And for many of them it doesn’t seem as if this knowledge ever seeps into their consciousness.

 

CasablancaWhen I was going to pitch meetings in Hollywood, I would start off talking “normally,” as if the people I was pitching to had a shared base of knowledge with me. I quickly learned that wasn’t the case, so I dumbed down my pitches to not include anything that might make them feel insecure or ignorant. Hell, they didn’t even know the great movies, so it was hard to reference them as well. Sure, they’d heard of Casablanca, but most had never seen it. So if I was pitching something that was “a modern day Casablanca,” I had to do it by describing the plot in detail and maybe, or maybe not, throwing in a line about it being a modern day Casablanca.

 

And these were not dumb people; many of them came from and still come from Ivy League schools. Even so, they wouldn’t know such basic things as World War II or who fought on which side in Viet Nam or what the Cold War was and who was on which side there. Or that a “black comedy” doesn’t necessarily mean it has African-American characters. They also might not know basic phrases or expressions, like the one about the camel and the straws mentioned above, so you’d have to explain the meaning to them. Once you have to do that you’ve lost.

 

And this doesn’t only apply to Hollywood people, I’ve run across it talking with psychologists and other professionals while doing research, as well as people I meet in everyday life. Basically many under the age of forty or so, and plenty over forty too. What I’m saying here may be anecdotal, but there have also been studies and “quizzes” that prove the same thing. Some years ago, I remember seeing a questionnaire of, I believe, journalism students, showing how little they knew of the world around them, past and present. I was shocked by it, because if anyone should be curious about history, their history, world history, current events, you’d think it would be journalism students.

 

Many of the great works of literature have biblical references, but again, these people are unaware of them. Hemingway uses biblical allusions in The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises and other works. Moby Dick, considered by many to be the greatest American novel, is filled with them. T.S. Eliot uses them in The Wasteland. And Bob Dylan uses biblical allusions in many songs that would go over most people’s heads today. Even the TV show Lost used biblical and literary influences. I wonder how many in the audience knew what they were or bothered to look them up. How can they know what any of these people are talking about or trying to say if we don’t know what they’re referencing?

Old Books

Shakespeare

 

The same goes for Shakespeare, Greek mythology and other references to great works of the past that our society was built on. Even popular author Stephen King uses biblical and Greek mythology references and foreign phrases in some of his writing.

 

I remember looking up foreign phrases all the time when reading various things. So much so that in the pre-internet days I used to keep both a regular dictionary and a dictionary of foreign phrases close by when I was reading. I would look up references I was unfamiliar with. Pre-internet, I’d also look things up in the Britannica and other reference sources. I wanted to learn all of that and I didn’t feel inferior for not knowing it. But today, even though it’s easier with the internet and hyperlinks, it seems that many people lack the curiosity to expand their horizons.

 

On occasion, I like to use various cultural references in my writing. But if we have to think twice about including such references, it dumbs down our work and society too, as well as the cultural ties that bind us together.

 

When working on scripts, for both film and radio, I was actually told to dumb things down. On a radio show another writer and I were called on the carpet and given a condescending lecture by the producer about using words that were too big…like condescending.  I’m sure it was because he didn’t know what they were.

 

All one has to do is recall Jay Leno’s Jaywalking segments to see how little people know, if people today, a few years after he left the Tonight Show, even remember Leno had a show before his cars show. He would show people on the street pictures of Presidents Bush and Obama and many couldn’t recognize them. He would ask simple questions like who is Joe Biden or who crossed the Delaware. And he has said that, contrary to what some believe, they didn’t have to search for “dumb” people. Basically they just went with the first few people they came across, because they didn’t have to search any further. And maybe Jaywalking isn’t scientific, but my own personal experience has borne out those numbers. It’s not that they’re stupid, it’s that they’re apathetic. The why of that is for another article.

 

TelevisionWrapped up in their own little narcissistic worlds, many people don’t know what’s going on in the Ukraine or the Middle East—or across town. They know little about historic figures and literature as well. Of course nobody can know everything, but it seems that a thirst for knowledge has been lost to a great extent and that some people even seem to wear their ignorance as a badge of honor. Well, I guess I do that too. Aside from Kim, I can’t name another Kardashian. Aside from Pookie or Gooby or Snookie (hmm, the spell checker didn’t recognize Snookie’s name, but I guess it won’t be too long until it does), I can’t name another Jersey Shoreite—my badges of honor—assuming they’re even still around spreading their own special brand of sunshine.

 

AristotleWhile we have more options than ever for learning, do you think most people are using the net to look up Madame Curie or Plato? Of course there are some bright lights out there like the Khan Academy website where you can take courses on everything from art history to calculus. And Wikipedia is a great resource, but one that has to be used with caution, as a lot of the internet is filled with misinformation, conspiracy theories, celebrity gossip sites and pseudo news websites that are really thinly veiled advertising sites.

 

The use of computers, cell phones, social media and Twitter, etc., have changed the way we interact with each other and the world, along with the fact that, because everyone is so spread out these days, they don’t have their grandparents nearby to pass on that generation’s knowledge. People today have shorter attention spans, don’t want to read long articles, often don’t read about the past or even watch history shows on TV. And, of course, there’s little about literature and history, besides Nazis, on TV. The Discovery Channel shows BattleBots (a lot to discover there) and the Learning Channel runs OutDaughtered. And when there was a Biography Channel and it was actually running biographies (which was rare) they were generally about movie and TV stars of little significance and only once in a while could you find a biography of some truly important historical figure. And these days the Biography Channel has given way to some other amalgamation. But why is this? Well, one can only surmise it’s because people don’t want to learn about “real” people. They want to learn about vapid celebrities or watch superficial reality shows. So the Discovery Channel shows Naked and Afraid and the Biography Channel becomes a PR flack’s best friend. Hey, I watched some of those too, but it’s not all I watch or read.

Broken Computers

All of that said, it goes both ways. I frequently don’t know who this or that “important” person of the current pop culture is. But I also often look them up to see what I’m missing. There are more options today and more niches catering to smaller groups of people and that’s fine. But we still need a shared knowledge of our past, who we were and what makes us who we are.

 

I don’t like writing down to people. I think writers should challenge their readers to want to learn more, look things up, expand their vocabularies and their worlds. The writer needs to challenge them to pick up an encyclopedia, history book, or surf the web beyond the paparazzi photos and cute cat videos (hey, I like them too!). I love using examples from history and literature, etc., in my writing. And I’d hate to see those get lost in the quicksand of lethargy and jaded narcissism that is our society today. There’s more to life than celebrities and more to know than the latest housewives’ gossip and what’s happened just in the span of someone’s conscious memory. There’s more to life than selfies, in both the literal and figurative sense.

 

***

 

And thank you for hosting me, Gayle and the Writers in Residence. I’ve enjoyed being here.

***

Broken WindowsBIO: Broken Windows, the sequel to Paul D. Marks’ Shamus Award-winning mystery-thriller White Heat hit the shelves 9/10/18. Publishers Weekly called White Heat a “taut crime yarn” and said of Broken Windows: “Fans of downbeat PI fiction will be satisfied…with Shamus Award winner Marks’s solid sequel to… White Heat.” Though thrillers and set in the 1990s, both novels deal with issues that are hot and relevant today: racism and immigration, respectively. Marks says “Broken Windows holds up a prism from which we can view the events burning up today’s headlines, like the passionate immigration debate,

White Heatthrough the lens of the recent past. It all comes down to the saying we know so well, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’.” His short stories appear in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines, among others, and have won or been nominated for many awards, including the Anthony, Derringer and Macavity. His story “Windward,” has been selected for the Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny & Otto Penzler, and has also been nominated for both a 2018 Shamus Award and Macavity Award for Best Short Story. Ghosts of Bunker Hill was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. He is co-editor of the multi-award nominated anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea. www.PaulDMarks.com

 

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Posted for Paul D. Marks by Gayle Bartos-Pool. Thanks for joining us today, Paul, and for your words of wisdom.

Old Ideas–Love ‘Em!

By Linda O. Johnston

Typewriter and desk What do writers do with old ideas?  That depends!

 As I mentioned last time I was here, I have been fortunate enough to be traditionally published a lot.  But that doesn’t mean that every idea I had made it into a book, or even a novella or short story.

 When I started writing–well, when I really started writing, as a kid, I had to type things up on a typewriter.  What’s that, some of you ask?  It’s the forerunner of our computers and high tech gadgets of today.  Even when I started writing on a computer, it was easier to keep printed copies of my ideas and how I’d fleshed them out into at least the beginning of stories.  Could I have saved them on disks and other techie devices?  Yes, I did that too, some of the time.  But it seemed easier then to hang on to stuff that I’d sent to my printer. 

Computer files And now, my mind remains full of ideas, and I’m always creating new computer files to keep track of them, even if their only existence remains in idea files that I struggle to ensure are backed up, just in case I turn back to them ready to write.  I organize them in general topics–some for mysteries, some for romances, some combined, and lots involving dogs.  And yes, there are others that don’t fit into those categories.

So why am I thinking about this now?  Well, I was communicating recently with a really nice business associate.  She’d recently gone somewhere and seen some wild dolphins. 

Save the Dolphins Which reminded me of one of my earliest ideas that I’m still highly fond of.  Yes, it involved dolphins.  And I thought back then that it would be one of my most cherished published novels someday.  Only… it didn’t get published.  It didn’t even get fully written.  The good thing was that my story’s concept involved changing the world so that no dolphins got killed in tuna nets, as they did in huge numbers when I started the story.  And lo and behold, some of the laws actually changed while I was writing it.  Did the change save all dolphins?  No.  Sure, more dolphins were saved than before.  But the change wasn’t international, and even in waters near here, in the U.S., the protections weren’t perfect, so not all dolphins were saved from that kind of murder.  But my concept wouldn’t have made sense any longer.

 Even so, that’s still a treasured idea.  I’m delighted, though, that the main reason I walked away from it was a really good one–that dolphins actually were at least somewhat protected.

Storage boxes Could I do something different with it now?  Maybe–and the fact that the idea is now back toward the front of my brain at least means it’s scratching at my skull.  But what about all those other ideas I’ve had over the years–like some involving dogs that I began, then elbowed aside because of other stories I was writing that I received contracts for?

 Okay, that’s really part of the fun of being a writer.  Our minds are always working and coming up with ideas and creating scenarios and… Well, you get it, especially if you’re a writer. 

 So… tell us here about some of your old ideas that never made it into a finished work– and what became of them.

Thanks for dropping by,  Linda O. Johnston

 

Pick and ChewsBad to the Bone

BEGINNINGS and ENDINGS

Beginnings and Endings      by Rosemary Lord

          As writers, we quickly learn that the most important part of writing is the beginning and the ending.

Get ’em hooked – hit the ground running; that, we are told, is how good writing should start. If you can’t reel your reader in with that first page, they probably won’t bother to read further. Especially in today’s short attention-span world.

Stormy Night There is a series of things we are told never to begin a story with: The weather, the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night…,” description of the scenery – and so on. Of course some masterpieces have started with these very things. So we have to know exactly what will work for us and when we can break the rules. That’s something learned along the way.

ThreadsThen, there’s the ending. Always leave ’em wanting more! Of course, you have to tie up the loose ends, especially with mystery novels. Readers feel really cheated if ‘red-herrings’ are scattered throughout, yet never explained. Worst still is to have the culprit introduced at the last minute: ‘Surprise!’  That’s a big no-no, as the readers will not have been allowed to follow along with us, tracing the trail of literary breadcrumbs we leave as we attempt to create another writing masterpiece.  This is another creative challenge, as the wheels of our brain spin from pillar to post sorting through the mystery we are producing. But we need to leave readers wanting more, if we want them to come back for the next book in our series; either unanswered questions about the protagonist, or interest peaked in the settings of the story.

I loved the film of the book, “The Most Excellent Marigold Hotel,” which starred Judy Dench and Maggie Smith as British seniors moving to India to start a better life at the Marigold Hotel. By the end of the first book and the film, all sorts of intriguing things were happening. It was a happy ending as they began this great adventure. We were left wanting to know what happened – how did it work out? Unfortunately, the sequel, “The Second Best Most Excellent Marigold Hotel,” didn’t fare so well because it tied up all the ends too neatly. It told us exactly what happened: all done and dusted. Nothing left for us to ask or wonder about. No ‘what ifs?’  Nothing to look forward to in the next episode.

Life, like books, has beginnings and endings. There seem to have been a lot of these recently. The simplest closing of one door often opens a new door to surprising results.

Los Angeles Then and Now new cover  When I shattered both ankles some years ago I was earning my living as an actress, while writing on the side. That acting door closed because I was in a wheelchair for several months, before I learned to walk again. So my writing career was reborn, starting with my Los Angeles Then and Now book success.

Big doors and little doors.

A while back, on holiday with my family in Greece, our favorite restaurant was closed for remodeling. We were really upset, as we had looked forward to evenings of great food and ambiance there. So, we had to look further afield and instead discovered a charming small harbor just up the coast with rustic tavernas and a community of delightful, friendly people. A new place to vacation. That was a little door opened for us.

When my husband Rick died so unexpectedly, a very big door was slammed in my face, as all the things we had planned together stopped. As time went by, healing didn’t stop the hurt. It just felt different. New doors opened. I have done so many things I never would have done if Rick were still here. Although I still feel him very much with me, watching over me, cheering me on as I begin new adventures. I travel a lot more – spending time with my siblings and family in Europe. Something Rick and I never had the time to do. Now, I make the time. My priorities have changed.

I undertook to save the historic Woman’s Club of Hollywood from being turned into a luxury condo resort.  Working long hours every day filled the void and helped me through the grief. I did not have time to think about my own situation. I found strength in the work I was doing there: managing maintenance, restoration, bookkeeping, putting on events, handling film location rentals – and growing the membership, so we have a bigger army of people to protect the historic club going forward. I was in a world to which I had never aspired. I learned a lot. I was elected President, which increased my responsibilities. But I also learned to delegate – instead of my life-long “I can do it…” practice of attempting to do everything myself. And now, that door is closing.

As I approach the end of my term as President, I relish the time that will be freed up. I will still remain on the Board of Directors, overseeing many of my current responsibilities – proud of what we have accomplished so far. But I am surrounded by a new group of strong women also intent on saving the club. So I can step back, a little, knowing the club is in safe hands. I will now be able to return to serious writing time.

The door that was partially closed after Rick passed away was my extended writing hours. I did not have the heart, or the time, to dedicate my life to writing anymore. I was needed elsewhere.  Now I look forward to a fresh start with my writing. I have a lot of ideas bottled up, waiting to be written.

Open Door Who knows how this new chapter will end or when this door will close and a new door – or window – open. But I know that whatever I write I will start with a great ‘hook’ and at the end endeavor to leave my readers wanting more!

………………………………..

Rosemary Lord. August 2018

THE STORY OF YOU

If you’re reading this, you’re likely a writer. You create memorable characters that breathe with life, wonderful settings readers can vividly picture, riveting stories we follow from page to page. Perhaps you’re ignoring one riveting story that takes place in a wonderful setting, featuring a memorable character – you.

Have you ever thought about writing your own story? Many writers never consider memoir, assuming it would be of no interest to anyone – an ordinary life in an ordinary place. But thousands of people who felt that way became the subject of The Greatest Generation, and I doubt anyone would consider their stories dull.

Even if you assume you never did anything that remarkable, if you’re over fifty you’ve lived through remarkable times. The world you grew up in doesn’t exist anymore. Stories set in the past entice younger readers who can’t picture a world without cellphones, social media and everything on demand. Older readers enjoy reminiscing about simpler times, when you had to get off the couch to change the TV channel. If you had a TV. If you still doubt the interest exists, consider the popularity of DNA tests for ancestry and genealogy research.

Memoirs generally focus on a theme or experience rather than a chronology of events. They differ from autobiography in that they involve memories, so memoirs don’t require the same standard for accuracy as autobiographies. Laura Kalpakian, author of The Memoir Club, says, “The memoir is not and should never be confused with the truth…alteration is inevitable. As a result, truth belongs to the teller.” Walter Zinsser, who wrote Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, adds the importance of “integrity of intention – how we try to make sense of who we are, who we once were, and what values and heritage shaped us.” Once you have the pieces, they need to be assembled, what Zinsser calls “imposing narrative order on a jumble of half-remembered events.”

To better understand the genre, I spoke with three authors who write memoirs. All are in their eighties. I met them in writing groups, but truly got to know them through their writing.

Gordon Labuhn’s book, My Gang, tells the story of a boy growing up in 1940’s Detroit. Gordon wore glasses, making him a target for bullies. To avoid getting beat up he formed a gang, albeit one that resembled the Little Rascals more than the Crips. The rest, as they say, is history – a history filled with hilarious misadventures, a little drama and a few tears.

That history continued when Gordon, deciding he needed to expand on his life story, wrote a sequel. “The writing of Whirlwind: The (Mis)adventures of a Man in Motion, was inspired by concern that My Gang as a standalone memoir would give a distorted view of my life after…my gang-days lifestyle.” Gordon, who brings joy and laughter to everyone he meets, filled his memoirs with his unique sense of humor.

Avis Rector grew up on Whidbey Island, Washington, in the farmhouse she and her husband still call home. Born in 1934, she’s too young to remember the Great Depression, but had heard many stories from her family about what life was like on the Island during that era. Those stories, combined with her memories, grew into her novel Pauline, which is loosely based on her family history. Although fictionalized, she’s enriched the book and its upcoming sequel with actual people, places and events, such as the Civilian Conservation Corp’s building of Deception Pass Bridge, an architectural masterpiece that for the first time linked the island with the mainland.

Her series began with a desire to write. “I had already written my autobiography for my three daughters. They wanted more stories about the family.” She took a creative writing class and wrote a piece based on a story her father had told her about a couple who became the featured characters in her novel. “When I reached 5000 words my instructor told me I had to (edit) it down to be a short story or turn it into a novel.” She credits her heroine Pauline as her inspiration. “She pushed me to invent situations, expand on the family stories by bringing in made-up characters.”

Barb Bland has always been athletic, creative, an animal lover, and intellectually curious. When I asked what inspired her to write her memoirs, she told me, “since I have no two-legged children, these stories are my ‘offspring’ and my only claim to immortality.” Barb left her home and family in the early sixties to study in France, where she became an au pair for a French family. “I was anticipating a return to France after having lived there fifty years earlier and wanted to remember and record ‘how it was,’ knowing that it had vastly changed.” This led to her work in progress, French Lessons, which chronicles her time abroad. Barb can write about the most ordinary incident and make it interesting, so you can imagine how fascinating her memoir will be when it’s completed.

Her first publication, Running Free, recounts her experience with a “throw-away” dog whom she rescued from a shelter. “I had a great dog, wanted to ‘keep him with me’ long after he passed from this world…(I) wanted to encourage others to attempt the ‘impossible’ and show them how I did it.” She donates the proceeds of the book to WAIF, the local animal shelter, one of the first minimal-kill shelters in North America.

Perhaps the most challenging issue with memoir is recalling incidents or experiences that would be unflattering or racist. Barb says she tries to observe political correctness “unless I’m using a direct quotation from one of my characters.” Gordon, a white man who lived in an interracial neighborhood during the tumultuous sixties, relates an incident with a black gang member with fairness and balance. One must be honest when dealing with these memories, but they can provide insight not only into how it was, but how it is now. “I don’t think one can write after-the-fact and still be ‘who she was at the time’,” said Barb. “As years pass, we realize past experiences in a different light.”

If this convinces you to write a memoir, Barb advises, “Above all, enjoy the writing process. Write to please yourself.” When you publish your story, consider all the places that might be interested in having a copy beyond your family and friends. Many libraries have local history collections, and historical societies or museums, schools, chambers of commerce, and even hospitals could be interested in adding your book to their collection or selling it in their gift shop. Did you have an unusual job or a career that overlapped a unique period of development or history? Does your story include the challenge of dealing with a physical or medical issue? A special child or animal? Any related organization with a website, newsletter, or annual conference/convention might consider carrying or at least advertising a book based on their mission statement.

Even if you’ve never written a book before, Gordon recommends beginning with your own story. “The memoir is ideal – you know the subject and creativity isn’t necessary…write for fun and if you become rich, share some green with me.”

On the other hand, Avis suggests a more creative approach. “Unless the author can be amusing, poke fun at one’s own self in their memoir, or has led an exemplarily interesting life, they would enjoy fictionalizing it.”

Two earlier posts, Dedication and Holiday Memories, are my first attempts at memoir, but may not be my last. One of Gordon’s comments really stuck with me. “Wouldn’t you like to have a book written by your great, great, great grandfather or grandmother? A book that tells what it was like and what he/she did at that time and location in history?” What a wonderful legacy to leave for your family, friends and community.

 

Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal in the Wind series as well as several short stories. Miko is currently working on the fourth Petal novel as well as a mystery set in a library. Contact her at: mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

“Step on the Gas” by Jill Amadio

Racing 1

Here’s a life lesson from our very own Jill Amadio. Whether you’re a writer and need to make that deadline or a racecar driver in your first race… just put your foot down and get on with it.

 

As I’ve noted before, newspaper reporters often find themselves with unexpected assignments. One of my editors when I was living in Connecticut assumed that being a Brit I was brilliant at anything I tackled. It’s the accent, of course. Wonderfully misleading. Besides, no one else in the newsroom wanted to take this assignment on. I’ve never refused a project because whether one is aware of it at the time or not any experience can become grist for the mill when turning to write crime novels. As did this story, which has already spawned a main fictional character in my mystery series.

Although most journalists who cover auto racing itch to get behind the wheel at a race track, even if it’s only while the race car is in the pits, I never, ever aspired to be a race car driver, However, the only job on a newspaper I could get when I first arrived in America was as a novice automotive reporter because I once covered the Macau Grand Prix when working for the Bangkok Post in Thailand.

To tell the truth, I knew very little about cars in general, especially race cars. But all that changed when this editor sent me to cover a Can-Am Grand Prix during a steamy October weekend at Watkins Glen, New York. Volkswagen Worldwide Corporation was staging its Stingy Driving race, sort of a crowd warm-up before the big event whereby each participating member of the press was loaned a VW Rabbit with a ration of fuel, a precisely-measured 32 ounces, and let loose on the track. The winner would be the driver who squeezed the most mileage from this meager ration of liquid gold. That meant a very light foot on the gas pedal.

White rabbit sedan  Assigned identically set-up cars, we stood dutifully at the starting line. Taped to the passenger side window of each Rabbit was a glass vial containing the precious gas. A narrow plastic tube ran from the vial, across the hood, and into the engine much like an I.V. line dripping life-saving fluids into a heart patient.

The start was a la Le Mans whereby drivers queued up very neatly on the tarmac across from their cars like Brits waiting for a bus and sprinted over at the signal. There were supposed to be three of us females reporters competing, along with 21 men. One lady was disqualified for reasons unknown to me. The second never showed up. Thus I found myself unwittingly representing the whole world of women drivers in the Bunny Hop VW Rabbit race.

When I realized the honor that had been bestowed upon me, I decided I really wasn’t worthy. I’ve never been much of a women’s libber and I dreaded the thought of what might happen if I let my side down. Would I be chased through the streets by angry females waving signs reading: “Jill’s a Dumb Bunny?”

I offered to step down. I pleaded to step down. But by this time genial Chris Economaki, the iconic, gravelly-voiced ABC-TV race commentator had already pushed a microphone under my nose as we waited for the starter pistol to pop.

“How will you handle the chicane?” he asked me.

I’d never, ever, heard of a chicane. What the heck was it? How did one spell it?

“Oh,” I replied airily, “That’s going to be a surprise. It’s my secret weapon!”

Chris peered at me, a pitying look on his face, and moved on down the line, interviewing other journalists. Next to me was Ahmad Sadiq, art director for Penthouse magazine. He’d brought along a stable of voluptuous models who draped most of their bare flesh all over the hood of his fire-engine red Rabbit.

Nearby stood a car-less driver, Junius Chambers, who wrote for the New York Amsterdam News. He was unable to participate because the Rabbit he’d been given the night before was stolen from in front of his apartment in Manhattan. Was he going to sprint towards my entry and try to beat me to the door? Or was he here simply to drool at the models?

Time for the race to start.

The popgun popped and we all ran madly towards our cars. We jumped in (no one got in the wrong car; I knew mine was white) and fastened our belts. Or at least, I tried to. I got my elbow caught in the shoulder strap and ended up starting the car with the harness doing a great job of hanging my left arm uselessly in the air as I clumsily changed gears and steered with one hand suspended.

Tortoise and Hare    No matter. I was on my way around the track for the first lap. The only problem was we were supposed to drive as slowly as possible to preserve the fuel and thus achieve high mileage, a great promo for VW. Here we were on one of America’s most famous race tracks and to win we were to dawdle all the way. Well, women never like to follow the crowd, just ask any husband, so I must admit I gave in to temptation and led the rest of the field at first, all 21 of the men behind me as I pressed the pedal to the metal.

The circuit was 3.377 miles and went up hill and down dale in a zig-zaggy fashion, twisting and looping most of the time. Thousands of spectators — most of them still bleary-eyed from a night camping in the track’s infamous Snake Pit swamp — were on the hillsides, a veritable tent city spread out behind them. These fans were obviously not too keen on watching 22 silly Rabbits hopping along at a snail’s pace. They’d traveled here from far and wide to watch Grand Prix champions tear up the track at better than 180 m.p.h.. But they were good sports.

Halfway around my car coughed, choked, bucked a couple of times, and sputtered to an ignominious stop. Nonplussed, I wondered if the car was going to roll over on its back and expire like a real rabbit. What was happening? Was I a victim of the dreaded chicane, whatever it was?

“Hey, lady!” shouted one of the rather rude spectators. “Step on the gas!”

I looked at the transparent hose. Aha! An air bubble was blocking the flow from the vial to the engine. What to do? My Rabbit needed an emergency transfusion. I was soon surrounded by a gaggle of hung-over hippies who’d jumped over the guard rail and were offering to push the car home.

Dodging my competitors who drove sedately past shaking their heads, a track mechanic ran over.

“Get a move on, lady! You can’t stop there!” he yelled. Did he think I’d stopped to do some sightseeing?

“Oh,” he said brightly. “You’ve got an air bubble. Here, I’ll blow it out.”

This “expert” stuck the plastic tube between his lips and took an almighty breath. Instantly, the air bubble disappeared. It had been sucked into his mouth along with half my bottle of gas.

“Hey! You’ve swallowed my ration!”

His face turned green as he spat out some of the liquid he’d stolen from me.

“I knew it was a mistake to let women on this track,” he muttered, stalking off.

With what was left of my 32 ounces I restarted the Rabbit and continued around the track accompanied by hoots of derision from the fans. I decided to enjoy the scenery, waving to my fans and trying to eke out as many miles as possible from my seriously-denuded fuel supply.

The Watkins Glen circuit was a sweet grid and if you weren’t in a hurry as I certainly wasn’t there’s a lot to see. The first curve is a ninety-degree turn which got you all psyched up for that infamous chicane which, after all my fears, turned out to be merely a split speed bump to slow the field down. So what was the big deal? The chicane was followed by a very nice straightaway from which one may observe the lovely foliage on the surrounding hillsides. Then the track sent you along a tortuously twisting loop that could be hazardous if you’re not paying attention. It was a pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon in upstate New York, I must say, and I was pleased the editor had given me the assignment.

Almost at the finish line my Rabbit slowed to crawl and, with a lurch, stopped dead in its tracks. Out of gas. I had to be towed back to the start/finish line. At the same internationally famous race track where Niki Lauda steered his Ferrari to victory I had completed two and a half laps in the most sensational car race of my rather short racing career. Very short. I never took to the track again.

The winner of our Bunny Hop was Bill Turney of the Hartford Courant who feather-footed his Rabbit gently enough to get 72.8 miles per gallon. Second was Jim Patterson of the Long Island Press, at 64 miles per gallon. My mileage? A paltry 36. I knew Volkswagen wouldn’t be too happy. The two winners were awarded all-expense paid trips to the Bahamas.  Neither invited me along.

I don’t know if the guy who selfishly swallowed my petrol perished (sorry, God) or merely suffered several extremely painful spasms. I never wanted to be a race driver anyway. But I was inspired to create such a character in my series as the daughter of my amateur sleuth.

Racing 2

 

Jill Amadio is from Cornwall, UK, but unlike her amateur sleuth, Tosca Trevant, she is far less grumpy. Jill began her career as a reporter in London (UK), then Madrid (Spain), Bogota (Colombia), Bangkok (Thailand), Hong Kong, and New York. She is the ghostwriter of 14 memoirs, and wrote the Rudy Valle biography, “My Vagabond Lover,” with his wife, Ellie. Jill writes a column for a British mystery magazine, and is an audio book narrator. She is the author of the award-winning mystery, “Digging Too Deep.” The second book in the series, “Digging Up the Dead,” was released this year. The books are based in Newport http://www.jillamadio.com

Books: Digging Too Deep, Digging Up the Dead

Non-Fiction: My Vagabond Lover: An Intimate Biography of Rudy Vallee; Gunther Rall: A Memoire, Luftwaffe Ace and NATO General

Do You Hear Me?

Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of seven award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert in her “Rhodes” series. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also an occasional potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. Visit her website and Amazon Author Page.

 

This is not a “how to post.” No, more like another one of my mental-meandering-around and thinking about writing posts. (Thinking about writing is often easier for me than actually writing.)

Once again, a Vons grocery store customer started me down the path leading to a post topic. A lovely lady I didn’t immediately recognize, and who after first saying Hi!–and without any segue of any kind—added, “I like your voice!” I certainly was at first confused; but after a bit more back and forth, I realized she was talking about my writing. Consequently, besides being really pleased she read my books, I was also sent down an “author’s voice” writing-memory-lane during my drive home.

  • I had an English teacher in school way-back-when who critiqued one of my essays (must have stung because I still remember) that my piece had no voice.
  • A paid editor once said, your writing sounds too much like you. You need to “neutralize.”
  • On the maybe I can learn side, another teacher told me[i], your voice is much stronger than when you started this class.

From my perspective, I’ve closed books because I was not “in tune” with what I’m dubbing here as the “author’s voice.” I’ve also closed books because I’ve felt nothing. No voice coming through maybe? Purely guesswork, but I’m thinking the “magic mixture” of one’s literary voice is sentence structure, choice of word, lyricism, asides… All knowing Google says, “…Voice is the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character…” Indeed, my internet searches didn’t add much to think about.

Guessing again here, I think some of the same “things” that come through in our writing “author voice,” are the written equivalent expressions of a few pieces of our personalities. Likable or not.

I’m still pondering whether thinking about–or even just the acknowledgment of one’s writing personality is important. And sorry to say, I don’t think I’ve come up with any great answers. Yet. I do believe, despite any “hard-evidence,” your author voice is important to whether a reader enjoys your story—and whether they keep reading your book or pass it on. But I remain open on the question—despite what editors or teachers have said—whether “author’ voice” is an aspect of your writing you can improve upon or change. Your thoughts on the topic on “author voice” are greatly appreciated…

Happy writing trails—and may your voice be heard!


[i] This memory trail goes all the way back to Saturday mornings at Bellevue Community College Adult Education creative writing classes in Puget Sound. (circa mid-1980s!)

Beauty in the Mojave