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

Never a “Sense”less Moment – Writing the Big FIVE.

What is your favorite sense to write with?  Use the senses God gave you to SHOW your readers how you feel.  They’ll love you for it.

Jackie Houchin

I just returned home from a two-week trip to Torino (Turin) Italy.  If you want to experience your five senses with GUSTO, this is one of the countries you should visit.

IMG_3496 (Edited)I TASTED the cool creamy sweetness of real Italian Gelato, bit into crusty (salt-free) Tuscan bread piled high with fresh-made tomato Bruschetta and drizzled with first-press virgin olive oil from an orchard that covered the nearby rolling hills.  I sipped a frosty pale green menta (mint) icy that tingled my taste buds and sent shivers of coolness through my mouth and throat…on a baking-hot humid day.

IMG_1367I sampled an vast array of Italian cheeses (said to outshine France’s), from wedges of soft, creamy whites, protected by powdery rinds, to the mellow, medium-soft, large-holed varieties (not Swiss), that were delicious in a salty-sweet way with a dollop of apricot jam on top, to the hard, net-wrapped aged cheeses that take a good strong knife to slice, and a hunk of soft Italian bread to eat it with to even out the sharpness.

An expensive treat reserved for special occasions are the tiny balls of fresh Mozzarella floating in whey and filled with rich sweet cream that oozes into your mouth when you eat them. Magnifico!

What of the pastas (hardly ever spaghetti) in rich tomato sauces with melted cheese (and occasionally chopped hard boiled eggs), or made with basil-green home-made pesto?

Italy18 Hot Choc. Fresh whip cream What about a decadent hot chocolate so thick and rich that it looks like Hershey’s Chocolate Topping, but more delicious, served with a scoop of freshly whipped cream so thick you could eat it with a fork.Italy18 Hot Choc.

Aromas tease your nose when you walk past pizzerias or pastry shops. Sweets and Savories. Or sniff the meaty goodness of rows of whole chickens roasting on a rotisserie, dripping their goodness onto large chunks of peeled potatoes below.

Old Roman style streets of small cobblestones or large rectangle blocks make for uneven walking and leg strain…but offer a “rubbery warbling” from the tires of cars passing by…if you listen.  Horns honk continuously as Italian drivers in tiny cars dart in front of you, whiz by you, or fume impatiently behind you. “Romantic” Italian is spoken everywhere, quickly, rolling from the tongue with unfamiliar consonant and vowel endings, sometimes staccato, sometimes lyrical.

Italy18 Torino fountainMove through wet heat that causes limp hair, sticky skin, and clothes that cling. And then come upon an arched metal fountain in a park or piazza in the shape of a bull’s head (honoring “Torino”) that flows with cool sweet entirely drinkable water from its mouth. Hold out an empty water bottle, or cup your hands to catch the coolness, or even bend your head and drink freely.

Italian greetings surprise you, not with impersonal nods or stodgy handshakes, but with full frontal hugs, kissing (or air-kissing) on each side of the cheeks (always beginning on the right side!), a hearty pat or two on the back and a warm smile and verbal “Ciao.”

Italy18 Sibling hugsKids walk down the streets holding hands and they hug their siblings freely, unembarrassed.

You will see women (entirely “straight”) strolling arm in arm or hand in hand.

Sometimes men too. (Seriously!)

Ah, Italy.

 

Vibrant with the five senses!

What about your writing? Are you taking advantage of the “Big Five?”

SMELL

Exercise: Smell is the only sense that has a direct pathway to the memory center of your brain. What smells brings up unexpected memories for you? (Grandma’s house, your husband’s pajamas, Plumaria flowers, frying bacon, a certain spiced tea, wood polish, month-old laundry, cinnamon rolls warm out of the oven….a dead rat?  Describe a few of these using your sense of smell.

Hint: Read wine or perfume sites to build your smell vocabulary.

SOUND

Exercise: How would you describe the sounds around you right now? Pause and listen! Describe how fire sounds in a fireplace… in a forest fire. What’s the sound of water in a pool, a creek, an ocean? Make up a few new onomatopoeia sounds.

TOUCH

Exercise: Describe something fluffy, icy, pliable, jagged, papery, leathery, or slick. What do things vibrating or painful feel like?

TASTE

Exercise: Describe what something tastes like using a metaphor. (Comedian, Tim Hawkins, compares the taste and texture of a Krispy Kreme donut to “eating a baby angel.”  Think about that!)  What makes your mouth “water?” What makes you gag?  What does blood taste like when you bite the inside of your cheek? Have you tasted tears? Mother’s milk? Can you describe them?

Extra Credit Exercise. Buy a Bean Boozled Spinner Game and play several rounds with a friend. Describe the tastes of the Jelly Belly beans your pointer chooses for you. Flavors include Buttered Popcorn, Peach, Carmel Corn, Chocolate Fudge, and Rotten Egg, Dead Fish, Lawn Clippings and Barf.  I DARE YOU!!  Find a game here: https://amzn.to/2v4snUc

SIGHT

Exercise: Describe places you love. Describes different kinds of light, different shapes, perspective, illusion. Truly see a person passing by and tell what each aspect of his clothing, skin hue, walk, manner, and speed could mean. Use metaphors to describe a few of your favorite colors.

Italy18 checkered hall  Italy18 Castle shapes

Italy18 Lucky clover  IMG_3828 (Edited)

Close your eyes. Imagine one of your favorite places: a local coffee shop, the beach, a small bakery in Paris… anywhere. Take a few minutes to describe this place.

What is your favorite sense to write with?  Use the senses God gave you to SHOW your readers how you feel.  They’ll love you for it.

The Fun of Writing “Retro-Cozies”

Sally Carpenter

An interviewer once referred to my stories as “retro-cozies.” I liked the term and use it to describe my work.

A retro-cozy is an amateur sleuth mystery with no graphic gore, violence, sex, or language, and occurs in the past. What defines “the past” is up for grabs—I’d say any time before the 21st century.  My Sandy Fairfax series is set in 1993. The protagonist, a former teen idol, often refers to his TV show, which was filmed in the 1970s.  My newer series, the Psychedelic Spy, takes place in 1967.

Beatlemaniac_final_ large_2500Why do I use a time machine when I write? For Sandy Fairfax, I had no choice. I wanted to write about a ‘70s teen idol because of the culture of that time when teen idols were promoted through TV shows. I like the melodic songs from the era, the cheesy clothes, and the drama that often took place behind the idols’ innocent façades.  \

Sandy was 18 when his TV show started, so if I set the books in today’s world, he would have aged up to 61 or so. But I wanted to write about a younger man who could still do his own stunts and would be making a comeback, not plans for retirement. The year 1993 places Sandy at age 38, still agile but facing a midlife crises.

For the second series, the ‘60s is a ripe era for storytelling: war protests, civil rights and women’s movements, the generation gap, influence of Eastern religions, and the Cold War.  I love the culture of the age, the bright colors, pop art, rock music, movies, mod clothes and hairstyles. Let’s face it, women’s clothing styles in 2018 are—dare I say it—drab and ugly.

I like the simplicity of past times. I use a computer, but I’m out of touch with today’s technology. I don’t even own a cell phone (gasp!). I gave up trying to figure out streaming services, podcasts, YouTube videos, Twitter, social media and whatnot.

If a contemporary protagonist gets in trouble, all she has to do is whip out her cell phone and call for help. Ho hum. But my protags have to think and fight their way out of their predicaments. If my protags need information, they can’t Google or ask Alexis; they have to put in the legwork. They need hard evidence, not just a DNA sample. With fewer crime fighting tools at their disposal, my heroes work harder.

People who stare at their phones or computers all day bore me. Characters who talk face-to-face are more interesting than those who send texts. Modern technology is helpful in real life, but it’s a story killer.  When I read for pleasure, I want to escape into another world, away from the commotion of modern times. Writing a retro-cozy lets me, at least in my mind, take a break from today.

Flower_Power_Fatality_jpg (1)In “Flower Power Fatality,” Noelle McNabb is an actress at a Christmas-theme park in Yuletide, Indiana. Her drab routine is interrupted when a stranger shows up on her porch with a bullet in his chest. Then, a super-secret spy agency recruits Noelle to find missing microdots along with veteran agent Destiny King. As Noelle goes undercover, she finds herself dancing in sleazy nightclubs and chasing bad guys at night while wondering who is going to feed her pet cat.

My next project is putting my first book, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” back in print. Washed-up pop star Sandy Fairfax, in a desperate move to get his career back on track, takes his only job offer—a guest appearance at a disorganized Beatles fan convention in Evansville, Indiana. What look like an easy gig turns deadly when a member of the tribute band is killed and the police finger Sandy as the prime suspect.

“Beatlemaniac” will include a new cover art, new forward, updated author’s bio, re-edited text and a bonus short story, a brand new Sandy Fairfax adventure, “The Deadly Disco Caper,” in which the 1970s get skewered. Yowzah, yowzah, yowzah!

 

306141_347563052028408_642323995_n(2)Sally Carpenter was born and raised in southwest Indiana but now lives in Moorpark California, leaving the land of rain and snow for wildfires and earthquakes.  She has a master’s degree in theater from Indian State University. She also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do. She’s also “mom” to two black cats.

Her first book, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” was named by Left Coast Crime as a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel.  She penned chapter three of “Chasing the Codex,” a group mystery written by 34 authors with Cozy Cat Press and has stories in three other anthologies.  She’s a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and blogs monthly at https://ladiesofmystery.com/ .

For more about Sally Carpenter and her books, go to http://sandyfairfaxauthor.com/   Reach her on Facebook or email her at:  scwriter@earthlink.net .

 

 

This blog article is posted for Sally Carpenter by The Writers In Residence member, Jackie Houchin

 

What Lies Beneath the Surface? by G.B. Pool

Discovering Aspects of Your Main Character That Even He Didn’t Know Existed

 

People 3Aristotle said there were five basic parts of a story: Plot, Character, Setting, Dialogue, and the meaning or point behind a story. People have argued for ages which is the more important, plot or character, but even though I agree with Aristotle that plot is the most important, we do like stories brimming with compelling characters.

I personally want the main character to be someone I would invite into my home; after all, we will be spending some quality time together, often in bed early in the morning… What I mean by that is simple. After my husband has left for work and I am curled up with a good book, I want the hero to be someone I can trust or the heroine to be someone I can go to lunch with or maybe to some breaking and entering with, if that’s the caper.

People 4When I came up with Johnny Casino, the character who inhabits the pages of the three books in The Johnny Casino Casebook series, I wanted someone with a past. The opening line from Past Imperfect, number one in the series is this: My name is Johnny Casino. I’m a retired P.I. with a past. I just hope it doesn’t catch up with me.

Of course his past does catch up with him, often. In fact, every “guest star” in each case in the first collection of short stories has a past, whether good or bad. It’s up to Johnny to sort it out. But along the way, he has to come to terms with his own past.

As I delved into his background while I was writing these stories, he explained a lot about himself. It might sound odd that I am giving credit to my character, but any writer will tell you these “people” have a life, if not a voice, of their own and when they whisper or yell in your ear, you listen.

People 2The first story I wrote had Johnny mention that he once worked for the Mob. I was channeling his voice and the words just came. Then I realized I needed to know a little bit about the Mafia. An ex-cop acquaintance with a rather interesting connection to the Mafia told me what books to read and he also shared some insights that you might never find in a book, but if you did, you would think it was fiction.

This revelation made me dig deeper into Johnny’s character. Even the names of the Mafia guys Johnny worked for changed. One was called Eddie Fontaine, but it changed to Big Eddie “Mambo” Fontaine when I knew him better.

People 1Elmore Leonard once mentioned when he gave one of his characters the wrong name, the guy wouldn’t talk, but when he changed the name, he couldn’t shut him up. The man was on to something.

It’s these layers that build up, like a pearl, that allow the writer to “create” a three-dimensional character. The first story I wrote briefly mentioned Johnny’s Mafia history. The second story, a flashback, shows it in somber detail and it also explains why Johnny has a problem with women. He will be a knight-in-shining armor to a lady in distress, even if she is less than virtuous, but he can be tough, too.

HollywoodAs I was on this road of discovery, I realized I had given Johnny the title: Hollywood Detective, but I didn’t have a story with a movie star. I do now, and a few of these legends make a return engagement in subsequent books. I decided not to use actual names of stars, but I did borrow heavily from stars I liked from the past, but mostly it was their stature and the era, since I doubt if any of these luminaries had too many dead bodies in their own past. That would be another story.

But I learned Johnny had a code, and sometimes that meant breaking the law to do the right thing or maybe covering up something illegal for a friend. But one of the coolest things I discovered in writing the first book was that Johnny’s past might not even be what he thinks it is. That question is answered in the next book in the series – Looking for Johnny Nobody. The first book sets the stage and lets you meet a few other characters that inhabit his world. And as I said on the back cover of the book – everybody has a past.

By the time I started book three, Just Shoot Me, I let Johnny take over and write those stories. He had discovered some new things about his own life that changed everything for him and he was going to carry on with this new identity that he had. But there was something else… He was growing. He was becoming a real character.

Open DoorMy newest character in a series is Chance McCoy. I bill him as a third rate P.I. in a secondhand suit who blows half the cases he takes on. Not a great track record. Then Chance is shot… and killed. But Chance gets the opportunity of a lifetime. He gets to come back, alive. Now he can fix some of those old cases and take on some that challenge even the brightest detectives. What does he use? As the guy who sent him back tells him: You use what’s inside. Chance’s discovery process is a trip in book one: Second Chance. Finding different aspects in this character was definitely a trip for this writer as well.

People 5Aren’t memorable characters what writers want to create? And isn’t that what readers want to read. You betcha. Write On.