Keep Going by Linda O. Johnston

Climbing BooksThere probably aren’t a lot of professions that are easy.  Whatever they might be, writing isn’t one of them.

But as with everything else, things can change, moment by moment–so it’s a good thing to be prepared for everything, or at least as much as you can.

Sick LadyMe?  In addition to having a couple of pending deadlines over the past couple of weeks, I’ve also had the flu.  So what did I do?  I kept going as much as possible, at least when I wasn’t coughing or napping or visiting Urgent Care, although I did miss out on participating on a panel I’d been looking forward to as well as meet-ups with some writer friends.

I’ve mentioned before that one of my publishers, as well as a line I’d written for over a long period of time, were ending.  As a result of the latter, I assumed my last Harlequin Nocturne about Alpha Force, a covert military unit of shapeshifters, was over and done with after its publication last November.  And was I right?  Yes and no.  I just got word this week that the final one, Visionary Wolf, will soon be printed in an anthology with another Nocturne writer’s story.  So–it’s kept going, at least for now.

DeadlineI did turn in the next-to-final edits for my final Barkery & Biscuits Mystery, For a Good Paws and have one more round to completeI’m not sure yet what its publication will be like, which is scheduled for May.  Will it make it into the usual bookstores?  Will it be available at this year’s mystery conferences such as Malice Domestic?  I guess I’ll find out whether, and for how long, it’ll keep going.

BooksSo what’s next?  For one thing, I’ll be writing several more books for Harlequin Romantic Suspense, beyond my most current K-9 Ranch Rescue stories.  So yes, I’ll keep going there.  And I’ve another possibility pending, too.

Will my flu keep going?  I certainly hope not!  But in any event, I will keep going.

And you?  How do you keep going?

 

ON SISYPHUS AND DE-CLUTTERING.… By Rosemary Lord

Trash 2The start of the year always bring out the de-clutterer in people. Especially me.

Although I seem to manage a little clearing-out every weekend, that time between Christmas and the New Year is when I really look around and think “Why am I keeping this?” and “I’d have more room if I got rid of that …” I re-imagine my apartment with fresh new colors to paint and furniture to buy.

As I snatch a quick work-out on my Total Gym, counting repetitions of stomach-reducing exercises, I gaze at the bookshelves in front of me.  “Do I really need to keep all those books?” Hmmm. I pledge to remove those I am not desperately attached to. Someone else might really enjoy them as much as I have.

Total GymRowing back and forth with the pulleys in my pledge to become slim and svelte once more – well I was once, even if it was a long while ago – I turn to the side, to do side-stretches. Aha! What’s that pile of things under the dining table? Oh: more half-hidden things to de-clutter.

Of course, this is the current craze, thanks to a very young, slim Japanese girl called Marie Kondo and her very successful book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Even the kids are following her – clearly parents’ admonishments to “tidy up your room,” fell on deaf ears. Today’s kids think Marie Kono invented that novel idea of tidying up your room.  And if you’re as young as she is, you don’t have a life-time of treasures in your home, or decades of travel souvenirs or years of career-related things. So the task is not nearly as daunting.

IdeasUs writers tend to keep things for inspiration. Shelves of books from our favorite authors, reference books on what it’s really like to hack your way through a jungle, jump out of an airplane and, of course, different ways to murder people. We have folders of song-lyrics, poems, homilies that might be our next book-title. We have copies of every book that our far-more prolific writer friends have produced. And books that we just love to read over and over.

How often have we started to clear a bookshelf, and lost ourselves in reading a passage in a favorite book, only to find the day has gone and we’re in the same spot, eagerly getting towards the end of the story. Even though we know what happens, we relive the journey the author’s taken us on with their carefully chosen words. Bliss!

But where did our allotted de-cluttering time go? Oh, and you can’t get rid of that book.

Ms. Kono says we should ask of every object in our home, “Does it bring me joy?” Well, yes – my books bring me joy. I think that goes for most writers.

Pushing RockAlas, this does little for my de-cluttering attempts. I feel like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the mountain, but on reaching the top, the weight of it pushes him down to the bottom so he has to start again. I keep starting again with my book culling.

I have better luck with my clothes. It’s easier getting rid of skirts or shirts I haven’t worn in ages and scarves and shoes that really are uncomfortable to wear, purses that no longer “bring me joy.”

A young girl I knew only kept things for six months then she’d replace them, including furniture. She had a very minimalist apartment. Besides, her parents were wealthy, so she just kept buying new things.

I even knew someone who de-cluttered her friends: She said that as her husband was signing a big new contract with a major studio, she would be ‘letting go’ of their less successful friends. That is those who didn’t live in the right area or drive the right cars – because their new, very wealthy, successful friends would judge her badly. She wanted to ensure being accepted into this new elite Hollywood circle. I guess keeping less successful friends might have reminded them where they came from – and it might be catching, like the measles or something. Of course Rick and I were part of that group to be ‘let go.’ We didn’t have flashy enough cars or live in the right zip-code. She told me the right zip-code was most important. We never heard from them again – not even a Christmas card! Of course, this was Hollywood! And they weren’t writers…

 

But back to the real world and de-cluttering. It can be a fun adventure. Long forgotten, old favorite things I come across as I open another drawer or cupboard, swiftly take me back to when and where I bought – or was given – items. That is where the writer in me thrives, as a new story starts wandering around my head.

It’s usually after a spell of decluttering that I sit back down at the typewriter – nay, computer – and get back to work, with that satisfied feeling knowing I have an empty shelf or drawer. I write away blissfully with renewed enthusiasm.

Too many booksIt seems to be true what they say: when you clear out old things, you freshen the atmosphere; your energy becomes unstuck, making room for more positive energy.

And space for more books.

Has anyone else got the de-cluttering bug? Or been de-cluttered by a supposed friend?

…………end……….

CREATE A ‘BEING THERE’ SETTING FOR YOUR STORY by Miko Johnston

I’m currently writing my fourth Petal in the Wind novel, which takes place in Prague. Having spent a week there ten years ago, it roused happy memories. I felt as if I were back in the city, if only on the page. However, I recently experienced that sensation of “being there” in another way.

In addition to my historical series, I’m also working on a contemporary mystery set in a fictionalized SoCal town. Stratford, where my heroine Iris lives, serves as a stand-in for Thousand Oaks, California.

You may recall the name – it’s where another mass shooting occurred last November in the Borderline Bar and Grill. I suspect you watched the story unfurl on television, shocked, but not surprised that another senseless slaughter had taken place. Maybe you shook your head and said, “Not again.” You felt sadness for the young victims, compassion and sorrow for their families, like every other time this has happened.

For me, this time was different. Very different.

There’s a scene in my novel where Iris abandons her car and runs when she realizes the men chasing her are not reporters, but hitmen. That spot is across the street from the Borderline.

A gut punch of foreboding struck me as I watched the coverage, wondering if I knew any of the victims or their families. I worked in Thousand Oaks for nearly twenty years. Having lived two blocks from the club, walked or driven by it countless times, I recognized every detail of the TV footage – the building where the shooting took place, the street where the ambulances parked, the gas station down the street. My mind became a camera following the action. I could envision every inch of the route as the ambulances raced to the hospital, the layout in the ER where the victims would be taken, the doors separating it from the waiting room where their families would pace, anxiously awaiting news. I can describe that room down to the pattern of the carpet.

The experience gave me a new appreciation of the importance of setting in stories. Writers may create interesting characters and provide a compelling narrative, but they neglect that third part of the trinity. Creating that “being there” sense in writing really draws you into the story.

Last year our blog published Patricia Smiley’s superb post on the importance of setting. But how does a writer create that “boots on the ground” feeling when writing about a present-day location they don’t know well? One option is traveling to the places you’re writing about. Nothing else will compare. However, if that isn’t possible, then consider the next best thing to being there.

Thanks to internet sites like Google Maps, you can take a virtual tour of any neighborhood. Practice on a place you’re familiar with, like the area where you grew up, went to college, or used to work. “Walk” the streets to see what the predominating architecture looks like, what shops line the avenues, how folks are dressed, the types and condition of cars. You might find the field where you used to play hide-and-seek is now a shopping mall, the yeasty aroma that wafted from your favorite bakery has been replaced by the perfume of exotic spices from the Indian restaurant that recently opened.

When you pick your site, visit it often until you have a feel for the neighborhood. If you’re creating a fictitious location, give it an authentic feel by basing it on an existing locale. Need a place with lots of open space and wilderness? Check out areas near national parks in Utah, Washington and Wyoming. For a once grand area that’s fallen on hard times, look at rust belt cities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. One caveat: note the recording date. With a world to document, some of the images may be several years old and potentially inaccurate.

Many cities and towns have travel bureaus or chambers of commerce. Their websites will give you a capsule version of the more positive aspects of the place. Contacting the police department for blotter information will help with the less positive. Local libraries can also provide statistics; reports, ads and calendars in regional newspapers will give a sense of what’s going on.

Be creative. Seek information on local vegetation from area nurseries, botanical societies or hiking groups like the Sierra Club and American Hiking Society. Contact the Wildlife Society and the Audubon Society for information about fauna. A general or special interest travel guide for your locale will provide valuable information (take advantage of your AAA membership). Do a search on a travel website like Tripadvisor. Local lodging, restaurants and activities say a lot about an area. While researching this post, I discovered niche.com, an online rank and review site that evaluates places based on criteria like schools, job prospects, housing and cost of living.

Go beyond geography. Think weather patterns and geology, their potential to add a layer of crisis or provide a much needed respite to your action. Are there any iconic structures, significant history or landmarks associated with your locale?

These tips will help you research locations, but how do you go about finding them? One way is to seek out real estate sections in newspapers or online through realtors. Investigate houses for sale and rental properties. They will give you a baseline of the character and economic health of different neighborhoods, often mentioning if the area is trendy, noted for good schools, or otherwise desirable. Another is to search the internet for legitimate articles (as opposed to paid ads) about topics related to your location. Aside from statistics, any accompanying photographs and interviews with residents will offer a more first-hand perspective.

For example, if I needed to set my story in a struggling West Coast farm community, I might base it on East Porterville, California. The Tulare County town has been seriously impacted by drought, based on a Reuters article I found. Quotes from locals interviewed for the piece would provide great insight into character development as well as plot. Of the five homes I found for sale, three are in foreclosure auctions. Satellite images of the town show modest one story homes, one market, an auto shop, older middle-class cars and pick-ups parked in driveways, and a parched landscape. Although the images are two years old, the article, Zillow and niche.com concur that life has not improved there. Worse, the community abuts Porterville, a suburban city thriving with shopping malls, parks and a medical center. With my research complete, I would weigh the information against its relevance to the plot or characters.

A compelling plot and well-drawn characters are critical to good writing, but the ability to create a realistic setting enhances the experience. Take advantage of the many tools available to help bring that sense of “being there” to your story, and if you have other sites or resources you like, please share them with us.

 

Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com