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.

Despite my post-title, I’m not a sailboat person. Know little about them—and the several sailing adventures I did have, made me queasy, both when actually sailing, and even when just sitting there on the water barely rocking back and forth. So why the title? I like the word, both its sound and emotional connotation. And for me, it’s more of an accurate description for those times when I’m not in the “mood” to write, than the often used phrase “writer’s block.” Becalmed feels and sounds for more appropriate for what I feel those periods of time.

But why share my current becalmed circumstance and affinity for the word? Because the trail from thinking about the word led me to a possible value in sharing what I actually do to get my “writing-wind” back a-blowing.  Another tool to consider adding to one’s writing toolbox?

I’m pretty sure I’ve listed somewhere in one of my posts the mistresses of crime I love and rely upon for guidance—what I’ve dubbed, my “oldies but goodies.” In particular, Agatha Christie, Ngaio(Nye-oh) Marsh, Margery Allingham, and more recently, P.D. James. And what I do, is go over what in particular I like about their writing, and what I have learned, or want to continue learning from them. My writing-goals in the sky kind of thing. Usually, by the time I’m midway through my list-of-writing loves, I start moving forward again, e.g., new story ideas, or changes to something I’ve already written pop into my mind. I catch a breeze.

So starting with my most recent influence first, Ngaio Marsh(1), and with homage to her:

  • I’ve allowed myself to ignore recent conventional knowledge on the importance of short sentences, and using more dialogue. Funny thing is, I love reading novels in that style–but for writing them, I’m stuck. It was hard, but allowing myself to ignore focusing on dialogue and continuous action has been very freeing for me. But the nugget here, is not to argue the point of right or wrong styles, or what’s a better or not approach—but that Ngaio showed me it was “okay” to write in a way I like and in line with stories I want to tell.  She did it, why can’t I? I have permission from one of the greats…
  • Also, using long-winded sentences, conveying several layers of meaning and complex thoughts is acceptable. Tedious sometimes, and that’s the trick—long but sustaining interest (and combined with short to the point sentences before and after in a melody to achieve what I’ve in the past called lyricism.)
  • Multitudinous characters—like in our real lives—some important, some seemingly not so much, and at different times viewed from different perspectives, but all layering the fabric of our lives–and for me, my stories. I’m very fond of Ngaio’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn(especially when played by Patrick Malahide on video), but often, the other characters take the lead, set the scene, even tell much of the “what happened” part of the story. Not everyone likes that, I know—but I love that in her writing.
  • Also, Ngaio Marsh showed me you can write (have as a goal) many complex literary like tomes, not just one “great novel.” Diligence and tenacity.
  • And then, when I think about her settings, her scenery descriptions, especially in her New Zealand tales, re-envisioning usually gets me going again. Scenery/location/local color and culture can be integral in bringing a story alive–and to my point here--starting the wind back a-blowing.
Sailing with your writing-wind

Now that I’m at the wrap-up part of this post, my hoped for take-away is–reading well(2) and revisiting what you have read, are not only crucial keys to writing well, but can also get a good wind started when you might need one.

Hoping the writing-wind is at your back right now—and I think I feel a breeze coming my way…

Ngaio Marsh – Public Domain Image


(2) P.D. James is quoted as saying “Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.”

26 thoughts on “Becalmed…”

  1. How perceptive you are, and thank you for sharing your insights. They are good, strong guidelines for all writers to adapt as necessary. I especially appreciate your determination to write “my way.” You can.


    1. Thank you for stopping by, Anonymous! So very nice to start off with your kind thoughts and words of encouragement. Your visiting Writers in Residence and then leaving a comment is much appreciated because it’s so very encouraging to know my words and thoughts are being shared. Another “breeze” ruffling my writing-sails.


  2. I agree that reading our favorites helps. I haven’t read the Inspector Alleyn series, but enjoyed the TV adaptations. The writers I turn to when I need recharging are Agatha Christie, Gillian Roberts, and Joan Smith to name a few. Madeline, you’re so eloquent that it’s hard to believe you could ever be “becalmed.” But it happens to all of us and recharging is probably a necessary part of our process. And I like the “my way” idea.


    1. Oh, Maggie, you’ve made my day with “eloquent.” (Do a lot of rewriting on my posts, but I’ll take every compliment I can get! smile) I really appreciate your stopping by and sharing. I, too, like Gillian Roberts. Not familiar with Joan Smith, but just “Googled” her and she sounds impressive and her work interesting. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Madeline I love this post. It is written in just the same style as your books, so Ms Marsh has definitely inspired you!
    I’m not as literary as you. My kick in the behind author who gets the gray cells moving for ideas every time I read her is Lillian Jackson Braun. Yep, the writer of the “Cat who–” mystery series. Yes, I love cats, yes, I’ve had Siamese in the past, and yes, her stories are formulaic … But they do the job. Mary Stewart’s gothic mysteries also give me a yearning for far away settings.
    So your advice is good. Read more and reread again.


    1. I don’t know why the above listed me as anonymous!! It’s Jackie H. Maybe because I’m writing on my iPad on a train. Haha.


      1. I, too, had anonymous problems, Jackie, had to redo a reply. Hope this comes through okay. LOVED The Cat Who mysteries, read every single one as they came out! Pleasant memories re-visualizing Qwilleran (sp) and Koko and Yum Yum!! I love cozies, too…

        Thank you for your supportive words, never sure if I’m babbling on about something anybody else cares about, or can even identify with. I have a picture of you sitting (by the window in my mind) riding on your train. Trains I like, sailboats, not so much. (smile)


    1. Funny thing, Linda, every reading re-visit I make, I pick up something I missed before. I think that’s part of the winds-blowing-again thing I experience.


  4. Right now I’m also in a “becalmed” state, Madeline, and I’m recharging with Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. I always focus on how they plot their mysteries. It helps a lot.


    1. Evelyn, I forgot Dorothy Sayers and dear Peter Wimsey. Thank you! Yes, all the wonderful plots that have come out of these wonderful writer’s minds…amazing and mind-boggling to me. Hope your wind starts a-blowing soon…

      Thanks for stopping by, much appreciated.


  5. Great post, Mad! I, too, get inspiration from my faves, like Kate Atkinson and Anne Tyler. I’ll ask myself, “How did she do that?” and then savor the knowledge that they sometimes not only bend, but also break the rules. Whatever works, right?


    1. Right!

      And yeah, sometimes finding one’s own path is hard, but then there’s our shining-lights to guide us. And the acceptance of what you said, “what works!

      Thanks for stopping by–guessing from your new digs.


  6. If we aren’t learning from the greats, we aren’t growing. When we see what works and also what we like and then give it our own special twist, we pass on something new to our readers, adding to the culture and the bookshelves. I am so glad you had such marvelous inspiration because you have created some terrific characters and locales that can carry us away. “There is no frigate like a book.” Emily Dickinson

    Liked by 1 person

  7. How appropriate for this post- “There is no frigate like a book.” Emily Dickinson! Thanks for your kind words, Gayle. And I so agree with you about continually learning from the greats. Sometimes when I go back and re-read or re-listen I am truly awe-struck by their talents, and creativity, and perverseness in a time with little of the “writing” helps I have. Can’t help but learn from them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Smiling! Thanks for dropping by Paul. We once (back in the dark ages) had some friends who sailed in San Fran area waters who would take us (hubby and I out sailing)–lived in Bay area then. I’ll never forget hanging onto a sideways tilted boat in San Francisco Bay with huge waves banging at us–they were good sailors and knew what they were doing–I was just a big chicken. Thinking back and shivering–maybe a story there?


  8. Wonderful advice we can all relate to, even if our inspirational sources may differ. I’ve learned so much by reading my favorite authors and studying their techniques, whether it’s how to build tension like Daniel Silva, or balance the professional and personal lives of my characters like Faye Kellerman. Their novels have become much more than pleasurable reads. They’re my sourcebooks.


    1. Yes, Miko–sourcebooks is an apt way of describing what our greats are to us. On several levels. For teaching, inspiring, and rejuvenating! I’ve read your favorites, too, and like them. I guess, writers read, and hopefully as P.D. advises, “…widely…”


    1. Marilyn, thanks so much for stopping by. I know from FB what a BUSY lady you are, so I’m especially pleased you fit Writers in Residence in. I think you know, but I’ll say it again how much I’ve learned from you since my very first book! You led the way in eBooks, presentations, associations, making writing friends, and of course PSWA. You’re the best, dear friend. Often, when I’ve needed a “little-wind, I’ve thought of you and all you’re doing and have done–and I get moving. Thank you!

      See you in July at my favorite PSWA Conference in Vegas. (Plug, plug)


  9. Echoing the others – what a fascinating post, Madeline. I love the sea and the sailing metaphors. I always learn something new from everything you write. And thank you for turning me on to Ngaio Marsh – I was already hooked on Aggie Christy (as my mum used to call her!) Avast ye landlubbers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aggie, love it! Especially when I visualize the picture we see all the time of Agatha Christie and combine the picture with the name Aggie. Smiling. Hugh Frasier(sp) does a lot of her short stories and novels on audio books and I love hearing his voice and dramatic renditions of her tales. A lot of her short stories, I think, are really, really good. Alas, not a sailor nor aviator be I!


      1. Yes, how fortuitous! She’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I just love all her different, and sometimes eccentric characters.


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