OF CABBAGES AND KINGS….

                  by Rosemary Lord

Walrus“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing wax – and cabbages and kings…” So wrote Lewis Carroll.

And as I have been in Europe, travelling around with my siblings, my mind has been darting all over the place; seeing new and old places, marveling at new sights, meeting new people. A hundred new story ideas, new characters, new snippets of conversations and odd words have been buzzing around my head.

Greece SceneI was recently chatting with my family over coffee in a little taverna in southern Greece – as you do…  “What’s the positive of disgruntled, disheveled and dismayed?” came up. We don’t say “She was gruntled – or “I looked sheveled…” After spilling lots of coffee with our bursts of laughter and giggles, we couldn’t solve that one, but went on to marvel at the intricacies and rather bizarre vocabulary of our amazing language.

Olde English Dictionary Where do these words originate? Most of them we can trace to Latin, Old English or European origins – but there are others that leave us baffled as we delve back into history for a clue. There are so many delicious words for writers to paint a myriad of pictures with. Our language is so rich and colorful when used by good writers and orators.

Not just fiction and non-fiction writers, but poets and song-writers. When you think of the moods created by Henry Mancini’s Moon River lyrics, or Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, the cheery Oklahoma theme, or He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother and Paul McCartney’s poignant Eleanor Rigby – to Y.M.C.A. and Get Me To The Church on Time. All these present such different stories, different moods – using the same English language. Clever writers.  Beautiful language.

I wonder how today’s kids, who rapidly text for seemingly hour after hour, will find the opportunity to explore the wonders of our language if their thumbs are trained to only to write “thx, OMG and LOL.” Thumbs may get a workout but what about their imaginations?

Railway ChildrenSpeaking of imaginations: We went to see the stage version of the children’s classic The Railway Children, by A.E. Nesbitt. I’m clearly still a little kid and absolutely loved it. Such an imaginative way to portray the story of the children who watched the trains go by their house every day, and decided to enlist the help of one of the regular passengers they had spotted (a Rich Old Gentleman) to find out what happened to their father who had disappeared. It turns out their father had wrongly been jailed for embezzlement and the Rich Old Gentleman helps clear his name. The book had long ago been turned into a film starring Jenny Agutter. So the stage production had the challenge of dealing with a real train as the central character. The imaginative designers used a portion of the real, working railway tracks at London’s King’s Cross Station with a real steam engine waiting in the wings.

The story is set over one hundred years ago, and the show starts the minute you walk in from the box office into the old-fashioned station waiting room, instead of a theatre lobby. The theatre staff are all dressed in the railway uniforms of that period. We are ushered through the door onto the station platform. The seats are either side of the real railway tracks, audience facing each other. The cast, all dressed in their Edwardian costumes, wander onto the platform, luggage in hand and greet the audience as if we are all fellow travelers. “Are you travelling far today?” and so on. Then, slowly, the play begins. A small square stage area, with tables and chairs for a dining room scene, is pushed along the rails by costumed railway porters and stops in front of the audience as the actors take their places and begin the scene. The set is moved off at the end and another scene appears. Scenic changes are created with spectacular lighting effects and sleights of hand. The whole thing moves along very quickly and the huge climax at the end when the real engine chuffs into place, whistles blowing and people cheering is very moving for kids and adults alike. Words written over one hundred years ago mixed with 21st century technology, amazing designer talents and wonderful imagination all come together to create a happy, moving experience.

Old BooksOf course I came back from my travels with more books in my suitcases. A nice habit I have noticed in England and Greece is the book-exchange. Charming little cafes have walls lined with used books and signs such as “Take one and leave one…” So people bring in the books they have read and swap them for another. Although writers may not benefit financially, it’s a great way to discover new authors. Then I head for Foyle’s bookstore in Charing Cross Road or the Owl Bookstore in Kentish Town to stock up on new authors.  No wonder my luggage gets heavier and heavier. The English tea and custard powder I bring back doesn’t way much. But I am a happy girl, anticipating all the new books I have to read – and even more happy and inspired at the books I am about to write – about cabbages and kings and all sorts of things.

Big Ben

 

FINDING YOUR PLACE

                                       by Jill Amadio

TombstoneThe 17h century English poet Andrew Marvell wrote the line, “The grave’s a fine and private place,” in his poem, Upon Appleton House. To My Lord Fairfax. I wondered if one could write there and discovered that an author actually set herself up in her small village cemetery where ancient gravestones had fallen in a heap to hold her laptop. She sat on a folding chair like a plein air artist in southern Spain in a Cost del Sol hamlet where weather was hardly a factor. I also heard of an author converting a coffin to serve as a desk. Hunters wrote in the jungle while on safari, Mount Everest climbers wrote with frozen fingers in their tents. Charles Darwin wrote aboard ship, and others wrote wherever they happened to be, as evidenced by their diaries-turned-books.

Coffin

I learned to write on the fly as a reporter in different countries, the babble of foreign languages never fazing me. Deadlines were inviolable jill valle bookand the discipline is still embedded in my bones, which helps me with setting up and meeting deadlines today, especially for my column in the UK magazine, Mystery People. When I began to write books after settling in America I discovered I need privacy to write my books. Plus perfect silence, a fine view, classical music, and endless cups of tea. I need my files that are always brimming with notes, press clips, drafts, character bios, settings, maps, and travel guides. When I wrote the Rudy Vallee biography I had close to 86 separate folders, one for each year of his life (he died watching television as President Reagan presided over the centennial in New York harbor.

 

 

Ladies StudyLike many writers, I jot down notes while travelling or dictate into a digital recorder if I’m visiting settings in my books, luckily all local so far. I also love eavesdropping. Restaurants and airport terminals are great places for this.  But for writing crime-ridden scenes no other place beats sitting in front of my laptop at home. My needs are simple and thankfully realized. A desk and chair in front of a window with a view to the horizon. Considering the many times I have moved house this requirement has not always been met but today my writing place faces sliding glass doors to the patio embraced by jacaranda trees through which I glimpse mountains far, far away. I have potted flowers scattered around, an Asian-style bistro set, and in the north nook the perfect lounge chair for reading. My trees are home to many birds and squirrels. The hummingbirds who visit are always thirsty, it seems, probably because I add extra sugar to the water, assuring myself it won’t cause diabetes or whatever. The crows gather late in the day and I always wonder what they are telling each other with their harsh cries.

 

RestaurantLast year I picked up Catriona McPherson at the Orange County airport. She was the main speaker at a conference. When I arrived she was sitting on a bench in baggage claim tapping merrily away upon her computer, oblivious to the crowds coming and going. A few days later we were early for her return flight. I went into the café for some tea. When I brought it over to her, there she was again, still tapping away. She told me she can write anywhere, anytime. What a blessing. No wonder she is so prolific. But what about the research and files? She said she makes a note if research is needed and she can’t find it online but knows it might be in her office files. When she gets back home she makes the additions. How sensible. Why can’t I do that? Perhaps I miss the sturdy, heavy electric typewriter too much anchored to my desk with its keys clattering to reassure me that sentences were being formed, sleuths were on the case, and victims were being murdered. The typewriter eventually died, throttled by its ribbon. Now, my laptop accepts my written words silently, the keyboard flat as a pancake, and no need for paper until printing.

I suppose all writers have their own preferred place for getting the story on the page but surely it doesn’t really matter to readers as long as you keep providing them with their favorite books. Where do YOU write best?

WORD FOR WORD

                         by Miko Johnston

 

Climbing BooksIn the spring of 2018, I organized a volunteer program at a local high school. Together with three other writers, we mentor students in a creative writing class. Every semester we accept up to three pages of writing from the students, which ranges from chapters from novels-in-progress to poems, short stories to essays. We critique the work, make comments and corrections, and return it to the class. Their teacher has mentioned how much her students enjoy the process, how they anxiously await the feedback we provide.

 

Writer GiraffeEach time we begin a new round of submissions, we, too anxiously await the material, hoping to find both familiar names and new ones. Having worked with the class for over a year, including several students who’ve been in the program since it began, I’m delighted to see a steady improvement in their work.

 

Not surprisingly, some of the writing we’ve seen has been what can be called fan fiction, based on existing work. Beginning writers often borrow, sometimes heavily, from books they’ve read or what they’ve watched on TV. However, I recently received something that crossed the line.

 

One essay submitted dealt with a topic the student obviously felt strongly about, for the words, while lacking eloquence (or grammar), contained genuine emotion. However, by the middle of the second paragraph, I noticed a distinct change in the writing, enough so that I Googled a phrase from his piece. Sure enough, it turned up on the website of an organization, cut and pasted word for word.

 

I have no idea if the student in question understood how wrong it is to take another’s writing and pass it off as your own. I immediately notified his teacher, who assured me she’d talk to the author of that piece. That still left me with the critique. It’s not my place to discipline the student, but I felt I had to address the issue in a way that made the point without overstepping.

 

I began by making corrections to the part of the essay written by the student, along with suggestions on how to improve it. Just before the essay switched to the website’s words I added the following – everything in parentheses has been paraphrased to maintain anonymity:

 

Winding Road Sign(Student), I am stopping my critique here, since this is where your words end and the essay you copied and pasted from (organization’s website) begins. What continues below is called plagiarism – taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own. Aside from being illegal and dishonorable, you’ve weakened your message.

The part you wrote yourself needs some work. The grammar is not perfect and you have a lot of unnecessary words in it. However, it is heartfelt, moving and real. It’s obvious that you truly care about (cause), however imperfect your writing about them may be. While (organization) may be dedicated to (cause), their website is designed to raise money. You’re writing to inspire people to care about the problem and do something to change the situation, and you’re doing it from the heart.

I would like to see you go back and rewrite this in your own words. Then I will be happy to look at what you’ve written. I’ll help you put the final polish on it so it stirs the hearts of anyone who reads it and encourages them to help (cause).

 

Now I’m the one anxiously awaiting feedback from you. Do you think I handled this correctly? What would you have done?

 

 

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

 

 

(Due to computer idiosyncrasies, this blog was posted by G.B. Pool for Ms. Johnston. Computers have their own minds.)

Teaching Writing in Africa

Ah, the stories they tell!

IMG_0643MeTeachOn a recent short-term mission trip to Malawi for my church, I had the opportunity to teach Writing classes to two groups of home schooled MKs (Missionary Kids). These were children from American, Canadian and South African families. There were nine in the 3rd-4th grade group and seven in the 5th grade and up group.

Two years ago I taught most of these kids “How to Write A Short Story.” Their creations were marvelous, and in fact, I posted some of the stories on my blog, Here’s How It Happened. (See the mystery, “The Tay Diamond”,  the action-packed, “The Adventures of Timmy, the Squirrel”,  and the creepy, Twilight Zone-esque “The Mirror”)

IMG_1133Booklet coversAfter reviewing the stories and talking to the other home school teachers, we all agreed that the kids needed help in character development. The action was amazing; the worlds they created were vivid, but the heroes, helpers, and villains were flat and hard to imagine.

This would be my topic then. I prepared workbooks for each of the classes. We did some work in them in class, but there were “homework” assignments for them to do at home as well.

IMG_0645MeTeach Young classBefore I arrived I asked that the kids (both classes) bring the first several paragraphs of a story they had written to class. In class, I had them each read their paragraphs aloud.  There were Captain Jack, Commander of a Starship, twin girls named Peace and Harmony, and a 20-year old girl named Ella who wanted to become a princess (and a dozen others).

I asked the listening students how they “pictured” each of these characters. There was either confused silence or vague and differing descriptions.  I then asked the authors to describe how their characters looked in their own mind’s eye. They came up with a lot of colorful descriptions that were not in their stories. Suddenly they “got the picture,” and from there I showed them ways and examples of taking the images of their characters from their minds and putting them on paper for their readers.

IMG_0640MeTeach Micah,TylerFor the younger class, I had them draw in their workbooks a circle for a face, then slowly add features (eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair) and write a description of each as they went. Next they drew bodies with any kinds of clothes and shoes (or not) they wished.  I had them write why these “characters” were smiling, wearing… glasses, a soccer jersey, a swim suit, a long dress, a tutu, and had on sandals or swim fins. They began to see how to show what their story characters looked like by writing descriptions, and in the process developed more interesting information about them.  (I could see “light” dawning in their eyes!)

We talked about what a boy’s face and posture would look like if he were angry, sad, or excited, and how to describe that in words.  Then I had volunteers come to the front and walk like someone angry, sad, sick, old, or excited. The class called out descriptions of the body movements (facial features, arms swinging, shoulders slumped, stumbling, skipping, marching etc.) that portrayed the emotion.  Suddenly they began to see how they could “show” these actions in their stories instead of simply “telling” the reader that the character was sad or happy.

We talked briefly about similes (and metaphors for the older group). Wow, did they come up with some doozers! At this point I had to remind them not to overload the story with these, but to sprinkle in descriptions as the story progressed in action or conversations.

Character traits 71T4QNm+soLNext, we had fun with thirty-six Character Trait cards (ten seen at left) that I purchased from Amazon.  I had them each choose a positive trait and a negative trait and to explain their choices. I asked them to describe the animals in the picture illustrating the trait.  We talked about how they could write about the kind of person (animal) their character was by using these traits (such as, mischievous, responsible, persistent, mean, honest, loyal, etc.)

As an exercise I had them use these two opposite traits and write a short paragraph in their workbooks, describing how that character trait would look in actions.  “Harmony was dishonest because she….. or  Timothy was peculiar because he….”

For another exercise, I had them draw a large “T” diagram on one page, labeling the left side “What a character looks like” and the right side” How a character behaves.”  They made a few comparisons from their own story characters. At home, they would make more of these diagrams and fill them in for other characters, or ones from books they liked.

IMG_0654 Older writing classFor the older class (all boys, and most writing sci-fi or fantasy) we delved a bit deeper into making their characters memorable by using various ways to describe physical as well as personality traits. They practiced describing a character in an action scene (showing fear or bravery without actually using those words) and played around with using an occasional quirk, flaw, or unconscious mannerism to reveal hidden traits.

We talked about body language and how personal beliefs and moral standards could affect their characters actions and words in certain situations.  These t’weens and teens also enjoyed acting out emotions and physical limitations while the rest of the class called out descriptions. It’s a great exercise in noticing small things and putting them into words. Their favorite was imagining a large magnet across the room, and a piece of iron stuck on various parts of their body (forehead, stomach, etc). They were to show being pulled by that force and trying to resist. (Some were hilarious!)

IMG_0651MeTeach MatthewIMG_0653MeTeach AndrewThese boys also wanted to read from their stories, using some of the descriptions they’d learned inserted here and there.

I think they got it! By George, they got it!  

(I can’t wait to read the complete exciting, imaginative tales!)

At the end of the two-hour sessions, I sent both groups home with assignments to sharpen their skills. Hopefully they will follow through and I will have a new pack of stories to post on my blog, with characters you can clearly imagine, love, or love to hate.

I love these kids, and I really had fun…. as you can see!

IMG_0667MeTeach fun

 

Post Script:  I used several limericks in the classes, to illustrate teaching points, add humor, and keep the class attentive.  One of the kids in the older group took one of these limericks, combined it with a vocabulary assignment from his home school writing class and came up with a HILARIOUS story – The Virtuous Walking Fish.  Check it out too, and leave a comment for Jacob K.

 

 

A Visit with Marilyn Meredith

As referenced in my May 1 post here on Writers in Residence, I wanted to talk to Marilyn Meredith about the unique experience of using real people’s names. For me, a “one of a kind” experience. Thank you, Marilyn, for including my namesake character in Spirit Wind!

Marilyn in Vegas 1
Marilyn Meredith

Hi Marilyn, and thank you so much for doing this interview with me. This last Wednesday, I mentioned on this blog site how seeing my name in a book felt, and some thoughts about the experience.. I really enjoyed reading Spirit Wind—plot, characters, location, interactions… In line with those thoughts, my first question is:

  • Where did you get the idea of using another author’s name in a book? I thought it such an unusual idea. I certainly loved being in the contest-and of course, was thrilled to be a winner.

At various mystery cons I attended, big name authors auctioned off the chance to have the winner’s name used for a character. I thought why not do that in a contest on a blog tour as a way to get people to follow the tour. It worked, and was fun for me.

  • If you personally know the person, do you think about that person when you write their name in the story? Or are you thinking about the character? I’ve used the first name of people I’ve known, and sometimes memories not connected to the book surface—and I have to stop for a moment or two.

No, once I know the name, I start conjuring up a persona for that person—however, for Madeline Gornell in Spirit Wind I did add something about the real Madeline—and I’m sure you know what that was.

  • What kind of feedback have you gotten from others?

Everyone seems to have loved the experience. One fellow, and another friend, who is gay, loved that I his names sake was a macho cop.

  • Location/setting is really important to my enjoyment of a novel. I love being “taken away,” which you very successfully did in Spirit Wind. Why did you choose the Tehachapi setting? Is Tehachapi a special location for you:

I’ve always been fascinated by Tehachapi, the wind machines covering the mountains, and the engineering miracle of the Loop, where the engines of long freight trains pass the ends. I also had a friend who suggested that I use Tehachapi and the Stallion Springs resort as a setting.

  • Do you believe in ghosts, or spirit directions and/or haunting? I found that a very intriguing part of the story.

My beliefs about spirits is that there are both good ones and bad—as in the biblical sense. Though I’ve often thought that the memories of people who once lived in a place still exist. And to be perfectly honest, I love ghost stories and haunted houses.

  • Are there other back stories to your plot—or interesting happenings that inspired you? Such as the earthquake in Tehachapi? Or?

I remember that big earthquake in Tehachapi though I didn’t live there. When I was researching Tehachapi I learned a lot about the devastating earthquake, what it did to the town and to the women’s prison. Before the earthquake, a young movie star was incarcerated there for killing her husband, but later was released, and yes, that gave me a big part of the plot.

  • What were your personal feelings when you visited the wind turbines? For me they were HUGE up close and personal.

They are absolutely enormous—and there are so many of them! Even more interesting, is the many ranches and homes tucked away among them.

  • Any other thoughts you’d like to share about Spirit Wind?

When my daughter and I visited Tehachapi to make sure I had everything right or right enough in the story, while visiting the wind turbines, we came across an injured back-packer who’d been following the Pacific Crest Trail all the way from Mexico. We gave him a ride into town. I thought about the fact that I could have woven some interesting tale about him into the story, but it wouldn’t have worked.

Tehachapi wind machines.2
A few of the Tehachapi Windmills

Thank you, Marilyn. Spirit Wind is a most enjoyable book ((of course I  might be a tad biased(smile)) Here’s Marilyn lovely ethereal cover and contact info.

https://fictionforyou.com

https://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com…

 

This and That…

Fotosearch_k25788172The “This” in my current title (I’ve used a similar title before) refers to BBC audio-book plays. The “That,” is my name being used in a novel. I don’t think the two are connected, though I’ve experienced writing ideas and connections coming at me from surprising directions. As I found out with my current WIP.

I’ve tried, but don’t have the knack for writing screenplays, much less a regular play, much less a BBC type radio drama. But I’m thinking there is something to be learned from dissecting your novel down to acts or segments. Especially if back stories, scene painting, character development, internal thoughts, etc…are what you/I like to write. And also, if forever-in-length compound and complex sentences with parenthetical phrases, asides, and flashbacks are what one(me) likes writing.(smile)

Recently though, over the last year or so, I’ve become very fond of “This”—BBC radio broadcasts offered by Audible that I can download to my Kindle and listen to as I’m falling off to sleep. My current favorites are Simon Brett’s[i] novels with the leading character Charles Paris. Adapted for radio, with Bill Nighy in the lead as Charles Paris.[ii] I’ve read many Simon Brett novels, and I’m very fond of his books and characters: now, I am also so impressed at the skill, ability, and writing-ear of the novel adapters for BBC Radio. (Of course Bill Nighy is also an extremely good actor-film and voice.)

As you may have already guessed, from “This,” my thoughts have gone down the ThinkingHeadtoBookpath of—how the essence of the character, the basics of the plot, and setting, are all capsulated into two-to-four hours of narration with a few sound effects to produce a really enjoyable play/radio adaptation. Though I’m still thinking about this particular tightrope,  I have noticed in my latest edit of my latest WIP my “what’s necessary” filter seems heightened. Of course, there are items not crucial for a “hearing” experience,  that I still think are necessary to the reading experience to enable escape to/into a different world through a character’s eyes. Indeed, both well done BBC plays I’ve heard, and many loverly novels I’ve read exemplify story-telling at its best–but from different perspectives.

The “That” is—my name used in a book. Marilyn Meredith, a wonderful writer with two series[i] I follow had a blog tour contest wherein a person who left a comment on each post during the tour went into a drawing . The Prize—Marilyn would use your full name in an upcoming book. What a wonderful promotional idea, I thought, and still think. I won one of her contests.

But I must admit, at first encounter on the printed page, seeing and internally hearing my full name was disconcerting . Marilyn’s Madeline Gornell, was of course quite different from me (I think!) Except for her hobby. It was a unique and enjoyable experience, and this Sunday here at Writers in Residence, I will be posting a short interview with Marilyn with some questions about Spirit Wind, Turbines, ghosts, and more…

I am combining the first names of two lovely ladies I know into one for a character’s name (with their permission of course). LydiaRose. And  given my own feelings and reactions now, I’m now wondering if I should. I liked my name “in lights,” but will they too, once the deed is done? Hmm…

A further follow on tidbit and unexpected connection—and to my joy—seeing my name in Marilyn’s latest Tempe Crabtree novel also led me down the character names path,[iv] and yet again, out of the blue, a serendipity connection was made—I realized what was wrong with a recently dumped WIP that I just didn’t like! I changed a name, and with that simple revision the “underlying” plot fix popped right out—A change of character emphasis, and whose mind to start the darned thing in. Now I’m back to Rhodes The Caretakers rewrite/editing. Hope to have out by July…

As always, love hearing your thoughts on my meanderings—such as audio books, BBC radio dramas, character names, ideas coming out of the blue, unexpected connections–this and that…

Happy Writing Trails!


[i] Simon Brett, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Brett

[ii] Bill Nighy, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Nighy

[iii] Marilyn Meredith https://fictionforyou.com/

[iv] We have several great posts on character names on Writers in Residence!