Betwixt and Between

 

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. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. Visit her website and Amazon Author Page.

The week between Christmas and New Yearsfrom childhood and school breaks through my “working for others life,” has always been a time to think about “stuff.” Daydream, refresh, and kick back (snooze, read, watch TV). Though it certainly is a different electronic world these days—finding it very hard to completely escape into my own little mental world, with email and Facebook calling me…

So my writing and posting thoughts in this betwixt-and-between kind of twilight-zone post are not after Christmas ponderings, or 2018 future thoughts about goals—but more like meanderings (if that’s an actual word) through writing thoughts I’ve collected and remain unresolved. I’m sharing, with the hope there might be something you might find worth thinking further about—or even keeping into the new year as a goal:

  • I love reading and writing murder mysteries. Meaning, there are always dead bodies and murderers inhabiting my stories. One of the things I’m pondering about is—the weighing of nature versus nurture. Especially in today’s world of genome and DNA exploration. Are my murderers compelled by genetics, or willfully evil, or? Or? A great underlying theme, I think, for at least a short story? For sure, a character trait/observation to include? Thinking about how to do that, and still maintain a story that’s FUN to read. The fun part, I also think is very important.
  • As an addicted TV watcher since childhood, I’m finding myself turning off more and more new shows and movies and removing the DVR timer completely. Why? Sometimes language, sometimes too much blood and gore (hubby reminds me I do write murder mysteries!), but most of all—characters I don’t give a darn about. Definitely want to write tales where the reader cares about what life has done to the character, and how they respond. Better ways of my accomplishing that key writing goal are floating around in my betwixt-and-between thoughts.
  • I get in my email “Websters Word of the Day.” Sometimes I know the word already, often I don’t, and occasionally I keep them in an electronic folder with the thought I’ll use sometime. Ha! (usually quickly forgotten) Using just the right word, without turning a FUN tale into a hard to read tome I think is tricky. As a side note on words: used “knackered” for tired the other day when speaking to someone who doesn’t watch as much BBC offerings as I do. They didn’t know what the heck I was talking about.
  • And lastly, do a lot of audio book “reading,” and I’m thinking about how much of my enjoyment is the voice-actor’s talent, or tenor of their voice, or the writing? Or? Think this one might be a post on my 2018 writing road…

I know this is a mish-mash post all over the place, but for me, that’s what this betwixt and between week is for—wading through my mental writing mess. And hopefully, some of this mental-mess (I know, too many “m”s) will get your writing thoughts going.

Sunset

Creating Seasonal Articles*

Christmas sugar plumsby Jackie Houchin

Does reading all those December magazines with their holiday stories, recipes, tips, traditions, and inspirations make visions of sugar plums, er, I mean, ideas for articles to dance on your head?

“Oh dear! I so wanted to write an article about those fun games we play for identifying Grandma’s tag-less gifts under the tree!” (Family Circle Magazine?)

“And how I wished I’d shared my Mom’s Christmas fruitcake recipe from her recipe box (that I inherited this year when she died), and told all who read the article why they really should try fruitcake again.”  (Reminiscence Magazine?)

But, I forgot to write them.

And now it’s too late – WAY too late.

At least for this year.

But not for next year, if I plan ahead.  Many magazines need seasonal articles. But they need them long before the pub date. Articles with a “time-tag” are a good way for new writers to break into print (or seasoned writers to pick up some pocket money).

It’s all in the timing

Start by picking up Chase’s Calendar Of Events and look ahead to see what holidays will be celebrated in six months to a year. Or you can check the guidelines in the new The Writers Market Guide for specific publications you hope to write for.

Send a query letter with your idea ahead of the suggested time. If you get a go-ahead, be sure to deliver your article on time. And be patient. If it isn’t used in 2018, it may be held till 2019.

Low-profile holidays

Brain storm ideas for the less popular holidays, such as Arbor Day, Grandparents’ Day, Flag Day, Patriot Day, Friendship Day, Bastille Day, Poppy Day, or even…. Cookie Baking Day! (December 18)  Also think about back-to-school and summer vacation themes.

Your special “slant”

If those “sugar plum” ideas aren’t already dancing away up there, then:

  • Leaf through old magazines (yours or at the library).
  • Think about experiences you’ve had during holidays.
  • Write a short biography of a person linked to a holiday.
  • Research a holiday custom.
  • Remember anniversaries. (What happened 5, 10, 500 years ago?)
  • Interview a teacher, a parent, a coach, a Macy’s clerk.
  • Write a holiday short story or poem. (Some magazines are still open to them.)

Christmas funny poem

Before and After Tips

Start an idea folder with clipped articles from magazines or newspapers. Jot notes about ideas on each. Not all will be usable, but many will work. When you’re looking for a certain seasonal theme, these may trigger an idea.

After the original-rights sale, look for reprint markets for next season. Make a list of potential ones and their lead times, and keep your original article with them.

Open a new bank account!

Christmas bank accountJust kidding!  You won’t get rich from these sales, but you will get “writing clips.”  And when magazine editors discover your timely, well-written articles/stories etc., they will approach YOU with their needs.

Okay… do you need some ideas for NEXT Christmas?  Check out these:

  • Favorite Christmas books, movies, musicals/plays (pastiche or true likes)
  • Christmas mishaps (humorous, or coping skills)
  • Christmas trees: cutting your own, uniquely decorating (we knew friends who lit live candles on their tree!), a special nostalgia ornament
  • Family traditions (oldies, or how to start your own)
  • How to make homemade gifts (food, ornaments, clothes, home decor)
  • Holiday baking (how-to, tastes & smells, shipping)
  • Holiday traditions from other countries (foods, decorations, activities)
  • Or…. interview someone with over 3,500 Santa Claus decorations (Hint: I can give you her name.)

Take away

After all the gifts are opened, the holiday meal is eaten (and cleaned up), the kids are playing with new toys (or the boxes), and the older “boys” are watching football, go grab a piece of crumpled wrapping paper, smooth it out, flick open that new expensive gold-plated pen, and start writing up your holiday impressions, experiences, and ideas while they are still “dancing in your head.”

Christmas garland

Merry Christmas &  Happy New Year !

 

*Inspiration for this post came from Jewell Johnson’s article, Writing Seasonal Articles in the Christian Communicator, Nov-Dec, 2017.

’Tis the Season

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s that time of year when the hustle and bustle of the holidays fills your heart with dread and anticipation… Did I say dread? Yep. The dread of what to get some of those people on your Christmas List.

 

If that significant other or friends or relatives gave you a Wish List, you’re lucky. But a lot of us are left panicking at the last moment about what to give somebody on our gift list.

 

Might I give you a suggestion?

 

How about a book?

books-on-shelf

The Writers-in-Residence ladies have a few new books out this year, but I’m not going to limit this pitch to just our tomes (even though they are listed at the end of this article). There are a lot of other books available. Of course, I recommend the classics. But some good books are from new writers. Some are the next book in a favorite series that you might have enjoyed and now might want to share with friends.

 

But there is another reason for me mentioning BOOKS. People aren’t reading as much anymore. WHY? Some schools think the classics are passe and sometimes their reading list leaves a lot to be desired. Here in the Los Angeles area, many of my favorite bookstores have closed. Amazon might have taken away customers, but those stores were a great place to browse and they will be missed. After all, it’s hard to browse through the “shelves” at Amazon. But you can get a book in a day or two delivered to your door. That’s nice. Or the Kindle version is available instantly. But why aren’t people, adults and children, reading as much anymore?

 

No imagination.

 

Movies with car chases and explosions don’t stimulate the imagination. They just drag you along for the ride. The viewer doesn’t bring anything to the party, as it were. As for video games, maybe you get to blow things up or destroy another dozen zombies or a peasant village, but when the game is finished you can start again and do roughly the same thing over and over and over. Boring. These games without a story or characters behind them actually go nowhere.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That brings me back to BOOKS. They can take you places. They introduce you to new worlds and exciting people. They stimulate your imagination to, dare I say it… dream about things. They can help kids set goals in life. They can help adults get their lives in order in case they are going through a rough patch. Or they can just entertain. Nothing wrong with that.

 

Let me introduce you to a little fellow who turns up in a particular Christmas book that I can highly recommend. His name is Orville. He starts out as an egg left under the seat of Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve. The egg was left by a wizard with a note saying: Take care of this egg. DO NOT EAT. When the egg hatches, Orville, who happens to be a dragon, has come into the world on a mission. Orville is a special dragon. You see, he is what lights the fire of imagination under people when they READ.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Young Orville learns a few lessons as he is growing up. He learns the value of the information in books and also about what the world would be like if there were no books… What a horrible thought.

 

This is why we here at The Writers-in-Residence introduce you to new books, both ours and others, just to stimulate your imagination. If you are a parent or have children on your gift giving list, think about giving them a book this year. Something to light that fire under those growing minds before they forget how to dream. And maybe your friends might like something to sooth them during trying times or spur them on when they need a little push in the right direction.

 

It’s the imagination that created every invention, opened frontiers, and let people realize there are others in this world who matter, too. Books stimulate the imagination. READ ON.

 

Have a very Happy Holiday, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah.

 

These are a few of our most recent books.

Autumn-Gold, SFB cover photoFBRTMMFront300dpi1200pixFrontCoverOnly300dpi (002)An Almost Perfect MurderHollywood Then and NowBad to the BonePetal in the Wind III

Second Chance Book CoverEvery Castle Needs a Dragon

 

HOLIDAY MEMORIES by Miko Johnston

Miko first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from New York University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. She is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series; Book III – The Great War has just been released and is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington.

 

*   *   *

 

I grew up in 1950s Brooklyn, in an ethnically mixed neighborhood of mostly Irish-Catholic and Jewish households like mine. Living in a community where part of the population celebrated Christmas and part didn’t made the holiday challenging for Jewish families. We may have been religious enough to keep a kosher home, observe the holidays and go to Temple, but we also watched television, listened to the radio, and read the same newspapers and magazines as everyone else. Therefore we couldn’t avoid Christmas, which in this country was beginning to be celebrated less like a religious holiday and more like a national day of celebration. Jesus never drank Coca Cola, but Santa Claus did. He apparently preferred the soft drink to his traditional beverage, milk.

I don’t recall when I first became conscious of Christmas. I knew my family didn’t celebrate the holiday. I figured that was one of the reasons we lived in our apartment. It had no fireplace to hang stockings, not a problem for Jewish tenants. I remember my mother taking me to see Santa at Macy’s Herald Square – yes, the one from the movie – shortly after I turned four. She didn’t prepare me at all for the visit, but as I waited on line, another parent instructed her child, “Don’t pull on Santa’s beard.” I clearly recall sitting on Santa’s lap and seeing tiny cross stitches on the beard along his cheeks. I felt very sorry for him. I thought his beard had been sewn onto his face.

When Santa asked me, “What do you want for Christmas?” the question took me aback. I blurted, “I’m Jewish.” Without missing a beat, he asked, “What do you want for Hanukah?” I recited my wish list.

Jewish parents usually fell into one of two camps: surrender or compensate. The former would succumb to buying a Christmas tree, or the more guilt-inducing Hanukah bush. The latter would remind their kids that at Hanukah, you got eight presents, one for each night of the holiday. Granted, seven of them were usually practical things like socks, or small, inexpensive items, with the big finale – the toy or game – on day eight. But it sounded better than getting only one gift.

My parents were big babies. They lacked the patience to dole out presents one day at a time, which led to an innovative way to counter some of the draw of Christmas. It began in 1957, the year I turned six and my kid brother was old enough to comprehend the joy of receiving. That’s when we learned of the existence of an amazing magical being: The Hanukah Man.

The Hanukah Man would show up every year on the first night of Hanukah, bringing gifts to my brother and me. Hanukah usually began on a school day, so when we arrived home from class we were always thrilled to learn he’d stopped by earlier in the day. Naturally, my curiosity about him grew with each year, until I longed to see him, catch him in the act. Whenever Hanukah fell on a weekend, I would stay home and wait for him to show up. I’d wait and wait. Then my parents would suggest I go downstairs to wish a happy Hanukah to my aunt, uncle and cousins, who lived in the apartment below ours. I’d rush down, not wanting to miss the Hanukah Man’s arrival. But wouldn’t you know it? No matter how little or long I waited to leave, how quickly I dashed to my aunt and uncle’s apartment and back, I’d just miss him. Sometimes by only a minute! Still, how could I stay upset for long when my home was filled with presents?

Now came the fun part. The Hanukah Man never left packages in one spot. He would hide them throughout the apartment, in places we could reach without causing any damage to us or the furnishings. Wasn’t he thoughtful? But I still wanted to see him, although part of me feared that if I ever did, he would stop coming. Maybe that’s why I don’t recall asking my parents what he looked like. Instead I made up his appearance in my imagination. Average height, with brown hair, slender body and lots of agility. He dressed in ordinary clothes so no one would suspect who he really was. Brown corduroy pants, tattersall shirt and a camel cardigan, as I recall. No hat.

As soon as we knew he’d arrived, my brother and I would tear through the house, opening drawers, looking under the bed, crawling beneath tables and chairs, and poking through closets in our search for presents. The Hanukah Man never wrapped them, but that was okay. The surprise wasn’t in the opening, but in the finding. Then we’d compare our loot. One year, months after the holiday, I looked for something in a drawer and found a previously undiscovered gift. It even surprised my mother, who had apparently lost track of what the Hanukah Man had hidden.

I once mentioned the Hanukah Man to some kids in school. Their reaction made me feel embarrassed. I wouldn’t talk about him after that except in the safety of my family.

I never had children, nieces or nephews, so I couldn’t continue the tradition of The Hanukah Man, but he lives on in spirit. I married a grandpa, and when our grandchildren were young, interfamily relations became tricky for a while. My husband and I didn’t want to make their parents’ lives more difficult, so we told them we’d come to celebrate and exchange presents whenever it was convenient, which usually meant days after Christmas. By that time, the grandkids had received gifts from their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and two other sets of grandparents. But no one except Grandma Miriam would come over and hide their presents throughout the house, sending the three youngest to search high and low for every wrapped box and gift bag. They’d bring whatever they’d found back to the living room, and then open their gifts.

I don’t know if any of them will continue that tradition, but hopefully they will at least have some good memories. It brought me joy to share this tradition with them, not as the receiver, but in the way my parents enjoyed it. Which is why the Hanukah Man will always be special to me.

(RE)STARTING YOUR ENGINE

4618c-bonnie

Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

 

 

(RE)STARTING YOUR ENGINE

I was on an author panel recently, and a member of the audience asked us if we wrote every day. The other panelists confirmed that they did, and I had to confess that I do not. I know, call me Slacker.

 
It’s not like I don’t enjoy writing—most of the time. I usually have plenty of ideas of what to write, I know where my work in progress is heading, and I WANT to sit down and write, but there are days when it just doesn’t happen. The phone rings—Caller ID tells me it’s a friend I haven’t heard from in weeks, so of course I must answer. Or the computer goes on the fritz and I spend an hour in Help Desk Hell, listening to a robovoice assure me that my call is very important, so please stay on the line for the next available representative. Or the dog begs me for a walk with an irresistible, pleading expression on her furry face.

 
And there go my good intentions right out the window.

 
Generally, I make up for lost time, sooner or later. I turn off the phone, let the dog amuse herself in the yard for a while, and swear off Facebook until I’ve done at least 1000 words or put in an hour of writing, whichever comes first.

 
Recently, however, everything ground to a screeching halt—not for a day, or even a week.

 
For a month.

 
I had a good excuse: hip surgery. The surgery itself was uncomplicated and successful, and I’m making a rapid recovery. But in the days leading up to it, I had too many things to think about besides my current work in progress, where I was a little over the halfway point.

 
Post-surgery, there were many more distractions: follow-up doctor appointments, physical therapy, and fatigue that demanded frequent naps. Additionally, for a while I needed heavy-duty prescription pain meds—a creativity-killer if ever there was one. The opioid fog began to clear, but I still felt apathetic about writing. I’d abandoned the unfinished novel at a point where I wasn’t sure exactly what should happen next, which was a huge tactical error, but by then it was too late to remedy it.

 
I stared at the pile of pages on my writing table, overwhelmed with hopelessness. The novel reminded me of a car with a dead battery; the parts were all there, but the battery was drained and the vehicle was just a cold, unresponsive lump of metal—or, in this case, paper. Stalled car

At that point, I gave in to despair. Why bother? Who cares? Does the world even need another book from me?

 
Then I remembered that some people did care: my writers’ critique group. I soon would owe them 30 pages of new work. With that deadline looming, I sighed. How could I let them down? I must at least try to produce something for them. So I picked up the pages and re-read what I’d written before I went under the knife, all the while laughing at my foolish assumption that I would “catch up on my writing” while I was recuperating.

 
The pages I’d already written weren’t bad, and I’d gotten some positive feedback from my fellow writers. I started writing down words, reminding myself that if  I simply put them on paper, I’d have something to work on, something to build on and edit. I remembered a valuable saying: You can’t fix what’s not on the page.

 
I knew this approach as surely as I knew my own name, so I gritted my teeth and ground out five pages. They seemed flat and pointless. But at least I had something to show for my time and effort. And as I read over what I’d written, I had an idea for how to make them better. A flicker of hope beckoned. Hey, maybe this wasn’t a lost cause.

 

I wrote a few additional pages, and the more I wrote, the more ideas started to flow. First a trickle, then a stream. I lost track of time as I scribbled the outline of what needed to happen next, and a delicious enthusiasm flowed over me, that feeling I’d begun to fear was lost for good. That poor old dead engine had finally turned over. It sputtered a few times, but then it started chugging along.

 
I still have a long way to go to “The End,” but if I hadn’t sat down and made myself pretend to be a writer again, the muse would not have whispered in my ear. Why try and talk to someone who’s not listening?

 
So you see, magic can still happen. Believe in it. You may think the game is lost, but there’s always the chance it isn’t over yet. There may be a tiny spark of life left in that engine after all, but you won’t know unless you fiddle around with it a while.

Anybody out there who had to abandon a project and then fought to resurrect it after some time had passed? How did you get going again, or did you? Or perhaps now you’re thinking, maybe you will . . .?