Ring in the New Year with Writer Resolutions

It’s that time again – time to dust off last year’s resolutions and come up with goals for 2016. Here are thoughts from a few of the Writers in Residence.  How about you? What are your goals for the next twelve months? We’d love to hear from you! 

 









Miko Johnston

My resolution – to be a little better and do a little better – is always the same even if the intent behind it varies throughout the years.



Bonnie Schroeder

I have two writing goals for 2016: (1) find a publisher for my latest novel, which should be ready to go out into the world by the end of this year, and (2) complete a draft, however clumsy, of my next novel, which currently lives on multiple scraps of paper strewn across on my writing table.


G.B. Pool


I have never made a New Year’s Resolution so I won’t 
now. I know myself well enough after all these years to say I will do the best I can in whatever I take on because that is the way I was raised. My dad told me once that no matter how good I thought I was at something, he thought I was better. He had that much faith in me. So I would never do anything by half measures. That isn’t to say that I am better than anyone else. Far from it. I can’t sing and I can’t dance and I’m not Rembrandt. But I always do the best I am capable of and I keep learning new things and next year will be no exception. God gave us all talents. Find yours and share it with the world.

 

M.M. Gornell

 

I’m remembering my 2015 resolution to Do it now, tomorrow is not guaranteed. Several people and critters I’ve known and loved have moved on this year, so my 2016 resolution, once again, but with more emotion and intensity, is — Do it now, tomorrow is not guaranteed. In my writing life, that means, “Finish the gal-darned book!”


Rosemary Lord

2016 has to be the year I get myself organized! Well, mostly I resolve to organize my time better, so I can focus my time on my writing – instead of on putting out other people’s fires!

 

I have so many short stories, books, articles to write and share – And most of all, I resolve that this is the year that Lottie Topaz will be launched. Phew! I’m exhausted already! So I want to wish our readers a wonderful, healthy year ahead. Let’s make 2016 the best writing-and-reading year yet!

Jacqueline Vick

 
It sometimes seems my resolutions repeat themselves every year. Like Rosemary, getting organized it top on my list, but it never seems to happen!  So, maybe this year, I will try to make sense of my disorganization and work within my own sloppy system. I have three books in various stages that I want to get out, including Civility Rules, which should be out in January. 
 
Of course, as I talk about things I’d like to accomplish, my nemesis is staring me down. Marketing. Will this be the year I final figure it out and have a working strategy? Fingers are crossed!


Jackie Houchin

I resolve to repeat a resolution I made years ago (and mostly fulfilled), to visit a museum (any kind) or place of interest (Presidential Library, Mission) or learning place (manufacturer, local wilderness park, etc) at least once per month. Because of my recent posts on Writers in Residence “Where Do Writers Get Ideas” and Marilyn’s Musings “Field Trips for Writers,” I think this is a great way to stir up my thoughts towards new stories, ways of writing, or to simply gather research. 

 

 

“The Red That colored the World” exhibit at The Bowers Museum in Orange County is my first stop, then maybe the nearby Mission at San Juan Capistrano for a little history or crafts time. (Oh, gosh, there’s also a local ceramics place where I can paint and fire beautiful creations!)

How will I be inspired? What stories will I write? I’ll check back with you later this year.

Kate Thornton

It’s easy to come up with pie-in-the-sky resolutions; we are probably all guilty of this. It’s likewise easy to trot out the tried-and-trues: weight loss, health and world peace. But we are writers. Let us resolve to meet reachable goals of the writerly kind.

I resolve the following:

To use the semi colon more often and properly
To gently but firmly correct public misspelling wherever I find it
To guide new writers with kindness
To try harder to meet deadlines, realizing that a deadline is a reader’s way of wanting more of your work. Really, what can be more flattering than a deadline? And what more gracious response can there be than to meet it?
To honor my fellow writers by buying and reviewing their work
And finally, to finish that half-written manuscript

Well, maybe that last one is unrealistic, but I will give it a try. I have a feeling that this will be our best year ever. Be kind to youselves and others. Good things will always follow.

The Best and Worst of Christmas Presents

All the way back to childhood, this is the season when most of us expect to receive gifts, whether wrapped in green and red for Christmas, blue and silver for Hanukkah, or black, red and green for Kwanzaa. Sometimes those gifts are amazing. Sometimes they are…surprising. And sometimes they are intangible items that can’t be wrapped in paper and bows. We’ve pulled out some of our WinR memories to share with you.

One of the best, or most memorable, Christmas presents I have received was my first Christmas after I moved to Los Angeles from London. I was house-sitting on my own in a half-finished house – just basically one unfinished room – no dry wall yet installed – with a camping-cot. I was also working as a waitress and had the Christmas Day shift. Phone calls home to my mum were VERY expensive in those days, but I spoke briefly to her before I went to work. When I got back, there was a parcel from one of my new-found British friends, who clearly understand my situation. The parcel contained a stack of airmail envelopes, writing paper, pens and international postage stamps (expensive for me) – so I could write to my family in England. Plus…. a bottle of vodka and a bottle of tonic!!! I spent the rest of the day writing letters home – and enjoying a plastic cup of vodka-tonic, no ice.

                                                                
                                                                                         – Rosemary Lord

The worst Christmas gift I ever received was a cookie jar: a big ceramic thing in the shape of a grinning brown bear, given to me by a family friend, a kindly lady who’d known me most of my life.

What’s so awful about that? Well, here’s what happened: I was a newlywed that year, in a low-rent apartment with the world’s smallest kitchen. No room for cookie jars, so I stashed the gift in a closet. I didn’t bake back then anyway—my culinary specialty was spaghetti.

Fast forward several months: my best friend Susie got engaged, and of course I had to get a gift for her bridal shower. Susie was quite the baker, and I thought of that cookie jar, gathering dust in the dark closet. My husband was still in school so we were subsisting, barely, on my tiny salary as a secretary for a small company. Therefore, I thought, it made sense to “re-gift” that cookie jar, which had never been used. Two problems solved: I had little money for a gift, and it seemed a shame to let the cookie jar go to waste.

It would have gone over just fine, except . . . Susie unwrapped the gift and laughed at the smiling bear. Then she lifted the lid. The well-meaning lady who gave me the jar had also given me a bag full of home-made oatmeal cookies, but I didn’t know it because I’d never looked inside the jar. Those cookies had been sitting there, turning to rocks, all that time.

I saw Susie’s bewildered expression as she held up the bag of cookie-rocks, and before I lost my nerve, I snatched the cookies and muttered something about my husband being a practical joker. I’m sure my face was scarlet, but my remark got a laugh at least.

Susie and I are still friends after all these years, and I’m sometimes tempted to ask her if she believed my fib back then. Most days, though, I’d rather not know.

The morals of this story: (1) if you ever recycle a gift, be sure to look inside first. You never know what you might find. (2) when in doubt, blame the husband.


                                                          – Bonnie Schroeder


I can only think of one gift that I knew instantly I would never use. It was a satiny pink blouse with a huge bow at the neck. Not my style, color, or fabric. It was the type matronly ladies wore at the time. I was 27. It made me look like a clown. My brother’s wife had picked it out. It was actually a designer label. She didn’t know my tastes at all since she lived in Ohio and I was in California. But my elderly landlady looked terrific in it. She got two gifts that year.

                                                                         – G.B. Pool


                                                       
I have a huge extended family, and therefore, we pulled names for Christmas. The first year, my uncle, who was my age, forgot about me. That night, when they pulled names, I was forgotten. He came up to me later and gave me twenty bucks! The next year, my aunt, who was in college at the time, forgot me again. She sent me a pair of Saluki sweats that I lived in for the next few years. I loved those sweats, and the twenty bucks came in handy. Sometimes, being forgotten isn’t all that bad.

                                                                        – Jacqueline Vick 


May you all have a wonderful holiday season!

Where Do Writers Get Ideas? 
by Jackie Houchin
In a recent post on Marilyn Meredith’s blog titled “Field Trips for Writers,” I wrote about exciting trips we “WinRs” have taken and how they tickled (or tricked) our muses into action. I also suggested a bunch more for her readers. Check them out; you may glean a story idea too. (http://bit.ly/1PIYv3o).

Any little sight, sound, or experience can generate ideas for your writing. A few crows pestering my Maine Coon cat in our back yard inspired me to write “The Crows Know” about a planned murder that went awry. 
The glassy-smooth feel on my fingertips as I ran them down the side of a newly polished sports car inspired a story about a murderous duo in “Sweet Ride.”  
A longing for a certain left-over item in my fridge after a harried day of shopping the malls, led to my dark flash fiction story “The Perilous Pizza.”
A newspaper story about a 1932 dam about to be renovated, inspired fellow WinR writer, Gayle Bartos-Pool, to write “Damning Evidence,” the third in her Gin Caulfield mysteries.
Then there’s that newspaper clipping about the body of an elderly family member found wedged behind an upright piano months after she went missing. It intrigues me.  How did she get there? Was there no noise of a struggle? No odor? It’s mind boggling and “ripe” for a story. Go ahead, be my guest!
Every wonder where the writer came up with a man-eating plant who falls in love with him after reaching gigantic proportions (Little Shop of Horrors), or an astronaut who grows potatoes in outer space (The Martian), or a love story with a woman who lived 50 or 100 years before him (Somewhere in Time/Time after Time), or who lived before AND after him (The Time-Traveler’s Wife). 

Something sparked those ideas; I wonder what it was…? (Take a second just now to ponder them. Really. Do it!)
Here are a few places you can look to get your “juices” flowing:
1. Pick up a newspaper (any section) and read a tiny story.
2. Glance in the gutter of a busy street (A kid found $600 in a paper bag doing that!).
3. Look at signs and posters in the windows of stores or apartments or the post office.
4. Look at want-ads or items for sale, or personal notices.
5. Peer over your neighbor’s fence. 
6. Peruse the items in your fridge… your car’s trunk…or your jewelry box.
7. Thumb through an old family album with murder, vice, or a caper in mind. 
8. Thumb through an old family album with…a memoir in mind.
9. Join (or maybe just watch) a protest march.
10. Choose a parable and twist it or “pastiche” it. 
11. Search out writers’ prompts from hundreds of websites.
12. Delve into a thesaurus or encyclopedia (use the old “close-your-eyes, open-the-page, and point-to-a-word” technique).
13. Google a random date.
14. Google a prescription medicine that you take.
15. Google your grandmother’s maiden name.
15. Drip food coloring into a saucer of milk, then add a touch of dish soap…and be amazed. What comes to mind first?
There are ideas all around us and you can turn them into stories with a little diabolical imagination! 
All it takes is… a character or two, a problem or three, several adversaries or a block wall that can’t be scaled, a terrifying time table, a heart-stopping climax, and a shocking, satisfying, humorous, or thought-provoking conclusion. Voila!  You’ve got a story. (Of course it needs massaged, edited, critiqued, and rewritten! But we’re talking ideas here.)
CHALLENGE: Pick one suggestion from anywhere in this post. Let your imagination roam and see if you can come up with a story idea – at least the kernel of one – then throw it into a hot popper and see what happens! 

And please let me know if you find one! (A story idea, that is!)

The Time, the Place, and the Story by G.B. Pool

The Time, the Place, and the Story
As a writer, I am often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” I have to tell them ideas fall out of the sky into neat little baskets, neatly typed out… Who believes that? Nobody. But ideas do come out of the blue or sometimes from a newspaper article or maybe while driving to work or maybe right before you fall asleep.
I remember watching a movie once and as I usually do, I was trying to guess where the movie was going. My idea ended up not being anything like the movie, so I wrote my own story. It turned into Eddie Buick’s Last Case.  

One of my fellow Writers-in-Residence members, Jackie Houchin, used to write for our local newspaper. She did an article about the dam near us. Jackie took some great pictures of that eerie place before they retrofitted it. One of those pictures now graces the cover of Damning Evidence, a book about a local dam and murders that happen around it and my private detective, Gin Caulfield, who deals with that problem in the third book in the series.

See, ideas do come from lots of places.
Now it’s the Christmas Season. There are a lot of holiday books out there… and movies, too. I have seen most of the movies and read a lot of the holiday stories. I’m what you call a “holiday-aholic.” I collect Santas. 3500 and counting to be exact. I knew someday I would write a Christmas story, but about what?
I didn’t want to write a children’s story with twenty pages and big drawings. I wanted one that grownups would like. And not a retelling of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s been done and frankly, I like the original versions just the way they are.
Several years ago I was walking through the Glendale Galleria here in California just as the stores had finished decking themselves out in tinsel and holly. I heard someone singing. He was using a microphone. The guy had a great voice. And he was wearing a Santa Claus suit. An idea exploded in my head as I stood there listening to him.
Now for a location. I might not live in Las Vegas, but I went to my 30th high school reunion there. I went to a boarding school in France for children of American military personnel and Vegas was a nice central location for us military brats. And what better place to locate my guy than in a place with one heck of a reputation.
Frankie Madison isn’t a big-time singer, so I put him in an out-of-the-way dive off the Strip. He loses his job, but his agent, who runs an employment agency, not a talent agency, gets him a gig singing Sinatra songs in another dive. It doesn’t go well. Then Frankie gets hit by a taxi. The driver is going to play an important part in the singer’s life.
Then Frankie’s agent calls. The only job left in town during the holidays is at the mall. What kind of singing gig is there in a mall? And he has to wear this suit… a red suit… a Santa Claus suit, but he can sing if he wants. And he does.
Frankie gets noticed by the female clerks in nearby shops and they like his voice. So does a young girl in a wheelchair. She loves Santa. And her father is a BIG TALENT AGENT.
Frankie finally gets another chance to sing, but this time it isn’t what he expects… it’s worse. And there is another problem. As Santa, he makes a promise to the young girl. And he makes another promise to the big talent agent as the struggling singer he really is. But this is his BIG CHANCE. Maybe his last chance. What does a guy do on Christmas Eve? And remember… this isn’t a kid’s fairy tale… or is it?
The Santa Claus Singer was my first Christmas story, but not my only one.
When I first moved to California many years ago, I worked in a miniature store where we sold dollhouses and we also had a holiday room filled with decorations for each season. During Christmas, I was surrounded by Santas and decorations and holiday magic. I came up with an idea for a story about a Polar bear. I drew up plans for a Santa castle where he and Santa live. Years later I wrote the story, Bearnard’s Christmas, then I had to build the castle…



   And make all the characters who live there…
You see how this happens? You get an idea and it carries you away. So whenever you wonder where writers get their ideas, just look around. Ideas are everywhere. A very Merry Christmas to you all.

Writing Short Stories: A Mini Course by Kate Thornton Part I

Kate Thornton is a retired US Army officer who enjoys writing both mysteries and science fiction. With over 100 short stories in print, she teaches a short story class and is currently working on a series of romantic suspense novels. She divides her time between Southern California and Tucson, Arizona.

Today, Kate presents the first part of a mini course, in a question and answer format, on writing short fiction.




WRITING SHORT STORIES: A MINI COURSE PART I by Kate Thornton

How long is a short story?


Here are the official lengths from the Short Mystery Fiction Society (the folks who award the Derringer prizes each year)

Flash Story Up to 500 words
Short-short Story 501 to 2000 words
Mid-length Short Story 2001 to 6000 words
Longer Short Story 6001 to 15,000 words

Remember: every venue in which you wish to publish will have their own idea of what lengths they will accept.

What makes it different from a chapter of a novel?

A short story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is limited to one main plot point and the cast of characters is of necessity short. It tells a complete story with a resolution or revelation of some sort at the end.

A written scene without these completing elements is a snapshot or vignette, not a short story.

You may certainly use characters, settings, chapters or scenes from your novel in a short story, but your short story must stand alone as a complete story all by itself. It must have an ending, even if you – or the reader! – do not agree with the denouement or ending.

What’s more important, setting, plot or characters?

They are all important. But while you may have the luxury of exploring settings in great detail in a novel, using multiple plot twists and turns, and an array of characters right out of Cecil B. DeMille, in a short story you must narrow your focus. The shorter your story, the more important it is to write concisely and to keep the telling of your tale simple while retaining its color, premise, style and voice.

First person? Third person? Omniscient Narrator?

Whatever works for your story. I have read beautifully-written short stories comprised entirely of dialogue. Beware when using a narration technique that you do not just dump the story on the reader by telling, not showing. Even a very short story must be interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention. I like the way first person makes the reader an immediate part of the story. But I like the way third person omniscient can make the reader privy to every secret, every action as it unfolds.

I want to write a short story. Where do I get ideas?

Good – let’s try writing a short story. Ideas come from everywhere, but I find that themed contests and exercises (“Write a story based on this picture!” or “Write a story about sheep!” or “Write a story with a lemon, a goat and an alien princess in it!”) can be very good jump-starters.

Other ideas can be a childhood incident or other real-life event. Remember you are writing a piece of fiction, not a memoir, so make sure you have that old beginning, middle and end.

One of the best exercises you can do if you want to write short stories is read them. Read in the genres in which you want to write – and the ones you don’t. Read the masters: O. Henry, Saki, Sommerset Maugham, Edgar Allen Poe. Read Guy de Maupassant, Ambrose Bierce, Shirley Jackson. Go here for some great classics

You will not only get ideas, you will get a feel for the short story form. You will also see how language has changed over the last hundred years or so.

Now read some contemporary shorts: Ed Hoch, Stephen King, Raymond Carver, (here’s a link to one of his, “Vitamins” in Granta) Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Munro, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Michael Chabon, Annie Proulx, Lorrie Moore.

Look at the differences, but more importantly, look at what is the same. Look at the “bones” of the story, the structure as well as the sheer reader’s delight of total immersion in a good story.

Now, try to write a short story of your own. Don’t hesitate – start writing now. Write until you have all three elements (beginning, middle, end.)

Tinker with that first sentence until it makes you want to read more. This is your “hook” – hook those readers up front. Remember those classic stories?

Help! I wrote a story, but…

Congratulations on writing a story – now let’s tighten it up. Every first draft of a story can use some improvement. Take your newly-finished work and put it away for a few days. Write something else in the meantime. Remember – there is no limit to what you can write.

Some time later, take it out and read it aloud. You’ll probably find a few things you need to fix right away.

Here’s how I tighten a story – I have been known to successfully reduce a rambling 2,000 word story to a succinct 500 word short-short – without losing the essence of the story. I go through it and take out all the -ly words first. Adverbs are not your friends. (Okay, maybe I leave in one or two. But what do they contribute to the story?) Next, I look at the dialogue tags – the “he said, she saids.” Do they make sense? Are they monotonous? Too colorful? Confusing?

Next, I read for extraneous phrases which do not advance the story. They may be beautifully-written pieces of deathless prose, but if they do not advance the story, out they go.

Finally, I read for pacing and continuity. Does the story unfold smoothly and at the right pace? Does stuff happen in the right order? Did I forget a name, change a hair color by mistake, forget that it was night in one part and day in the other? Do I need to change a few sentences around to make them clearer, smoother, more readable? Do I need to ditch a sentence or two entirely? And why did I name the heroine Gypsophylla when Lisa is a better fit? (Yippee for find-and-replace!)

With any luck, skill & effort, your story is now a better one.


Tune in on February 10 for the rest of the Mini Course, beginning with Marketing!