Attempts To Get Off The Sofa

by Jill Amadio

Like most writers I have read dozens of how-to books, joined Sisters in Crime; Mystery Writers of America; the Authors Guild, and even ASJA – the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I’ve been a panelist at conferences, given talks all over the place, and enjoyed writing for this blog and magazines.    

These days I have suffered from a lack of inspiration.

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 Previously I had deadlines that worked when I had a demanding publisher or if I was ghostwriting for a client. At present neither apply and I find myself with days, weeks even, of time to work on three books of my own that have been on the back burner.
 
They include a biography of a woman who pioneered aviation art in America; my third mystery, and a book about a terrorist event that was originally to be ghostwritten.
 
This last one is a true account of a teenager who was married in 1992 to a Middle Eastern college student who later became a terrorist. Divorced in 1994 she went on with her life. When she saw her ex-husband’s photograph on TV as one of the terrorists she contacted the authorities.
 
I interviewed her years ago in Oregon, made copies of her marriage certificate and divorce decree, and wrote a 40-page book proposal. I was quickly signed up with a top-five New York literary agent. However, no publisher was willing to touch it back then and a few months later, at the age of 31 and just before I was due to meet with her again, the young woman died in a suspicious car accident reminiscent of the Karen Silkwood story.
 
Last year, before moving to Connecticut, I emptied my storage unit and found the two bins of research I’d collected containing recordings of the girl, her mother, sister, and brother who knew the terrorist husband. Mindful of the fate she suffered I decided to fictionalize the book.  I’d signed a contract with her mother giving me all rights, registered the book proposal with the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress, and went to work. So far I have nine chapters.
 
The decision to go forward with this project was easy. The implementation almost impossible. I just haven’t been able to get myself to work on it further for the past few months, perhaps because of the overwhelming amount of research I had gathered.
 
My research includes several books on the event and I have great quotes from the young woman and the family. I visited locations and took photos, and had lunch in the same restaurants her ex-husband had taken her to where they met up with  “friends.”
 
The bins are brimming with marvelous, usable material. I was pumped and eagerly dove into writing. I became so engrossed I made dozens of cups of tea and left them in the kitchen forgetting they were there. The agent lost interest because the subject was no longer alive to promote the book. I stored the names of the detectives who investigated her death; transcriptions; the coroner’s report; the death certificate, and her obituary. So I went on to other projects.
 
Now, I want to complete it. But guess what?   
 
I can’t get myself to open the document. I’ve thankfully avoided writer’s block for decades and I have come the conclusion that I am simply lazy. This condition is exacerbated by the virus causing enforced isolation more than usual, and my discovery of the wonders of Netflix.  Or maybe the 123 files staring me in the face are too intimidating.
 
I remember reading how John Updike solved his lack of excitement for a story when he lived here in Connecticut, incidentally. In his den he set up three typewriters on which he was typing three different stories, During a day he walked from one to another when he ran out of ideas for one novel and moved on to the next for a while.
 
What to do? After a stern argument with myself last week which got me nowhere I reached out to friends for a solution and received some excellent advice. 
 
Peggy Ehrhart who is on her eighth mystery in her knitting series, had a suggestion. She told me to start at the front of a bin, pull out the first file and insert whatever material was in that file into the appropriates chapters.  And so on. Great idea.
 
Sandy Giedeman, a well-published award-winning poet who often edits my books offered more advice. I told her one of my favorite guides was “Writing Down the Bones,” by Natalie Goldberg. Sandy told me to re-read it and start putting flesh on the skeleton I had already created in the synopsis that included a sentence or two for each of the chapters. That helped. I had a terrific, ready-made skeleton for the entire book in the book proposal I had shelved years earlier. (It is one reason I am a fanatic for flash drives and printing out hard copies of precious writings)
 
A third friend said I should listen to uplifting music. I dug out my favorite CDs and heard the Mamas and Pappas singing “California Dreamin’” Well, that was a little sad as I was no longer in California and had a hankering to be back there. I also listened to ABBA, again a bit of a mistake since instead of writing anything I sat on the sofa and daydreamed about my life when the band was famous many years ago.
 
I also played “The Standing Stones of Callanish,” Celtic music composed about an ancient site in Cornwall but then I remembered I had bought that disc to put me in the mood for my Cornishwoman mysteries. I replaced it with “Puccini Without Words,” which is quite lovely but again, maudlin in parts because operas are so melodramatic. Nevertheless, all three suggestions helped and I am now happily engaged in methodically sorting through the first bin of files.
 
It is so easy to waste time instead of sitting down and writing. Such a strange paradox as we all share the passion and when inspiration smacks us on the jaw it is thrilling to get our ideas onto the electronic page – and just as disappointing when we don’t or can’t.
 
I’m sure most writers have their own solutions, even quirky ones, and someone has probably written a book about them. I still like Goldberg’s book not only because I write mysteries and love its title, “Writing Down the Bones,” but also for its content.
 
My current plan is to finish the first draft of the story by May 15, self-publish, and see how it goes. 

 

Photo by Inside Weather on Unsplash

Sitting in the Rest Area Thoughts

RestareasignAnother “on the writing road again” post. Indeed, I’m finding my writing journey endless—though a most enjoyable discovery adventure—with my posts here at Writers in Residence, metaphorical rest stops[i], and my actual books, destination arrivals in places I’ve never been.[ii]

Looking back, I think my journey started with scenery, North Bend, WA, and now it’s the Mojave Desert and Route 66. And I’m thinking many would agree, questioningmanthat setting/scenery is the initiating spark for many a tale. Often being the impetus for the plot—or at the very least, the enabling/hindering plot action backdrop. I’ve spent a lot of time these last few years pondering over how to enhance my writing in those areas.

But now, with the arrival of 2021, when I think about the books, DVDs, and TV  I enjoy most, it’s the ones with great characters that have brought me the most enjoyment. Fotosearch_k8817762To mention a few, Agatha Christie (Poirot and Marple,) Neil Richards and Matthew Costello’s Cherringham audio series, Midsomer Murders(my all time favorite,) Justified, The Good Wife, Marilyn Meredith’s[iii] Tempe Crabtree and Gordon Butler, Craig Johnson’s Longmire, Simon Brett’s Charles Paris, Patricia Gligor’s Malone and Morgan—and not to sound like a publicist for Writers in Residence(smile), love Johnny Casino and the Harlow brothers.

There are many more… Good plots, enjoyable get-away settings—but most of all, it’s the Characters. And it’s not just the protagonist, but most importantly, all the story and backstory characters that bring a richness to the tales.

More particularly, is it their niceness? Their eccentricities? Do they remind me of people I’ve known? Is it because they make me smile and reminisce? Not sure, but my next writing travel-leg starting now at this rest stop—is to make my characters the best they can be.

How?   GroupOfPeopleThere are a lot of us characters out there! https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

So far on my writing journey, if asked, I think I would say “they just popped up” in my head. But I’m pretty sure the “just popping up” is based on many things—like past experiences, people I’ve met, people I liked, and people I wasn’t that fond of! Whatever that process is, I want better control over it.

Not sure I can add to what my fellow Writers in Residence have already quite helpfully said on this blog—but no matter what great advice one might get—I do know so much of writing is “personal.” I.e., you have to figure out how it helps you—by and for yourself. Sigh. It’s not math, you can’t just add up the column of great advice, come up with a sum, and you’re done.

I want my books to be populated with Midsomer Murders characters! I want my characters to be people a reader enjoys hearing from, and wouldn’t mind knowing and appreciate—well maybe not the murderers! (Smile) And I definitely think this is an important part of writing to think about… I’ve closed many a book, and turned off many a show because either I didn’t like the characters—or in some cases, actively disliked them.

So, on the road again…and hopefully something for you to think about. Not just from the “doing” perspective, but also from the experiencing side. Why did I dislike that TV show kind of thing. All thoughts welcome!

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Happy Writing Trails!


[i] In younger days, on the road with hubby and pups, would sometimes find myself waiting, and would avail the time taking in, and talking to some of our fellow travelers. I wonder if some of those people stuck in the brain and psyche??

[ii] Not as many “destinations” as I planned at this point. I thought 20 books, ha! Only nine…  Author and friend Marilyn Meredith is my guiding light and star when it comes to “getting it done!”

[iii] As it happens, Marilyn has a recent post up about her characters. She even mentions Tempe Crabtree! https://anastasiapollack.blogspot.com/2021/02/mystery-author-marilyn-meredith-on.html

Here’s my latest group of characters (smile) Just out…https://www.amazon.com/Rhodes-Never-Forgotten-M-Gornell/dp/1943063605/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1613418531&sr=8-1

 

Challenge Yourself to Read 100 Books THIS Year!

Yep, 100 books!  That’s what I read in 2020 and I hope to duplicate in 2021. I have a few secrets and methods I’ll share.  One of the best helps I can suggest if you want to give it a try, is to join a Reading Challenge on Facebook. There are many out there, and I’ve joined three for this year. They keep you inspired, and they help you with choices.

Reading in the Dryer. a51880cb8ed871ed003cd9eab01b33ff The 52 Book Club (formerly, The 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge)

I found this one last year in February, and had fun reading in the 52 prompts that founder Liz Mannegren listed, and then posting the titles (and covers, if you wish) on the Facebook page .  For instance, which books would YOU read in such categories as; #3 – By an Indigenous Author? or #6 – Written in the 1970’s?  or #40 – Used on the Mensa reading list for grades 9-12?  or #48 – A Character who wears glasses?

For those prompts, I chose Whitefly, by Abdelilah Hamdouchi, Kindred, by Octavia Butler (recently deceased), Nine Taylors by Dorothy Sayers, and Andi Unexpected by Amanda Flower, respectively.  All excellent books, the first two I wouldn’t have read if not for the challenge. So glad I did.

Two very difficult ones for me to find and read were: #50 An Author You Previously Disliked, and #51 A Genre You don’t care for.  I chose a 30-page children’s book by James Patterson (the shortest I could find), and a sports book that turned out to be excellent, The Boys in A Boat by Daniel James Brown. (Think  Chariots of Fire.)

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Among this year’s 52 prompts are:  #3 – A dual timeline, #17 – A character on the run, #19 – Book with a Deckled edge (Huh??), #24 – A book you think they should read in schools, #27 – First chapter ends on an “odd” page (harder to find than you think!), #35 – Set in a Country that starts with the Letter “S,” and #48 – A cover with a woman facing away.

Fun, huh? I bet you thought of books YOU would choose just like that!

A few difficult prompts for me to settle on this year are; #14 – Written by an author over 65 when first published (I hope to get the guy I chose as a WinR Guest later in the year!), #15 – A book mentioned in another book, #18 – An author with a 9-letter last name, #31 – Shares a similar title to another book, and #49 – A flavor in the title. (I chose Naomi Hirahara’s Strawberry Yellow.)  By the way, I chose another of Naomi’s books, Clark and Davidson (to be released in August) for the #26 prompt – An author of color.

One more prompt that everyone on the Facebook group found difficult was #8 – A book in the 900’s of the Dewey Decimal System.  Yikes!  After several librarians commented about geography, history, and biography, I eventually chose the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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Liz Mannegren announced this year’s new prompts (categories) on November 30, 2020, and wow, did the group go crazy!  Suggestions and questions flew back and forth. By mid-December, most everyone had settled on the books they wanted to read.  BUT… now was the hard part. Reading was not supposed to commence until January 1st.

So…hard…to…wait.

Liz solved the “terrible itch to read” problem with giving the group a Mini-Challenge just for December. Three books with the Prompts: books about or with these words in the title – Light, Holiday, and Snow.  Pretty easy to find. I used a couple short stories (Jacqueline Vick’s The Christmas-s-s Party for one, and two beautiful Children’s books, which I then gave as Christmas presents.)

The Mini-Challenge prompts for February (she does this every other month for speed readers) are: A book with a red spine, a book related to the word “magical” and a book with a great platonic relationship (can be with a favorite pet). I’ve gotten three books picked out, whether I’ll get to reading them this month, I’m not sure. (They can be extra reading, or books in the current 52-book challenge.)

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Okay, I’ve hinted at a “method” or “secret” I use to read 100 books.  I simply read some of the prompts in Children’s or Middle-grade books (which I enjoy anyway, and which usually end up as gifts or put into my Little Free Library).  They are usually shorter and take less time to read.  Also, in this “secret” is that I occasionally read short stories. (Confession: the challenge likes the books to be 100+ pages, but I don’t always do that. See bottom of next paragraph.)

Here’s something else I did. I found a book for last year’s #18 prompt – A book written by Stephen King (not going to read!) by Googling other authors by that name and finding a delightful Children’s book by “Stephen Michael King.”  Cheating? Nope. Over and over, you hear “It’s YOUR challenge, so YOUR choice” when people ask if they can use a certain book for a category.

And… another cool thing that’s done is that parents and children are doing the challenge as well. Older kids read in their age books while a parent reads in theirs. Or, busy moms of little ones do the challenge by reading children’s books in each prompt ALOUD to their kids.

One note: The 52 Book Club is a private group (to keep out spammers and such) but anyone can join at any time.  Here’s the link to join.  You can find the list of prompts, and even suggestions for each one.

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  1. The 2021 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge.

This one is easy, and you can use books you read in other Challenges.  Simply read a book with the first main word of the BOOK TITLE (OR do it with the Author’s LAST NAME) for every letter in the alphabet. They discount the prefixes “A” or The” etc.  The letters “Q  X and Z can be found anywhere in the title (or name).  It’s a public group, anyone can join at any time. There are three moderators who keep a lookout for off color posts.

Founder, Lori Boness Casswell also suggests a one-book Mini-Challenge each month. For January it was, a book about or in the title: COLD. In February it is: LOVE.

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  1.  The Literary Escapes Reading Challenge.

Another easy one founded by Lori Casswell. You read books that are set in each of the 50 states. You can also do countries as well. And again, they can overlap with other challenges.

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So you see, by reading in these challenges (with my secrets & methods, and, okay, “cheats”), plus the ARCs I get for review, AND my books for pleasure, it is easy to read ONE HUNDRED books.  Don’t worry about “the time” just pick up a book and read.   And, if you review the books on Goodreads or Amazon, the authors will love you.

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Comics from Bookbub blog

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A Valentine to Writers

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

As a writer, a reader, and a watcher of television shows, I have seen my share of romance portrayed in various ways. If you have viewed any of the shows on the various Hallmark channels you might have an idea where part of this blog is going. Those shows, as nice as they are, both their mysteries and their romances, are all pretty much alike. Gal meets guy, they clash, they see some potential in each other, then something pops up that makes them each think this will never work, but during the last five minutes of every show the truth comes out, they really are meant for each other, they kiss. End of story.

Some books and shows, even on the Hallmark channels, do have a different view of life and love. I wish there was more variety, but I understand that some publishers and producers have a formula they wish their authors and screenwriters to follow. In the majority of them, usually in the romance genre or mystery/romance genre, the romance part might be sweet, but the outcome is preordained. But is all romance or even, dare I say it, love, so predictable? What about what happens in real life? In your life?

Since this blog is the first in a series entitled: Write What You Know… and Make Up the Rest, let me share a page from my own life. I have had many jobs where I learned things that ended up in my novels and short stories. One really nice thing that happened while working at a bank is the story I am going to tell you now.

One day while working at the bank I caught a glimpse of faded denim jeans and a pair of cowboy boots on some guy’s feet in my boss’s office. I looked through the opening and saw a nice looking guy chatting with her. The guy ended up working for me. His name was Richard. I was given two people to train at the same time. Both Richard and a woman. She needed her hand held through the entire process. My section dealt with stocks and bonds, purchase offers and mergers. This was the one place in the Trust Department of Lloyd’s Bank that could actually lose money (other than a bank robbery) if we didn’t get assets to the right place before a deadline. The lady who hired me said it was like spinning plates on poles. I would have to keep all those plates turning or the bank could lose millions. The gal I was trying to train ended up going to another department because she couldn’t spin all those plates.

Richard was a different story. I would give him a rough idea of what was needed and he did it. Never lost a dime. We even got a commendation from the bank when we saved them about $30,000 when a customer asked the impossible. We made it happen. Then I asked Richard over for dinner one night. We talked about movies we both liked and the books we had read. We started dating. But there was a problem. The bank had a policy that employees couldn’t date. Dilemma. Richard knew I was getting close to tenure. After ten years on the job, I would be eligible for a pension eventually. He offered to look for another job. He got one at a broker’s office making more money than he was making at the bank.

Then a job offer came my way. Our biggest client wanted someone to do basically what I had been doing at the bank. I would have taken it, but the bank had another “policy” that said employees at the bank and this investment firm wouldn’t steal each other’s employees. I mentioned to the lady who had wanted to hire me that this former employee of the bank would be a great alternative. Of course it was Richard and he got the job at nearly twice what I was making. Then one evening when he was visiting me at home he asked me to marry him.

Now you have to understand my situation. I was thirty-eight years old, five years older than he was. I had been on my own for a long time. I didn’t know if I was cut out for marriage. I told him that. He said he’d wait for me to make a decision. For nearly a year he kept asking me if I wanted to get married. I kept saying I was thinking about it. Then one day I was listening to music at home. Several were songs about love and I realized I had absolutely no reason NOT to marry him. I knew it was his laundry day. I drove down to Monterey Park where he lived and found his laundromat. Richard was kind of surprised to see me, but he kept pulling his clothes out of the dryer and folding them. Finally he looked up and casually asked me to marry him… and I said “Yes.” It took him a few seconds to realize what I had said.

Now we had to plan our wedding. Neither of us wanted anything fancy, but I did have a date in mind. I think it was mid-summer at the time, but I wanted to get married on New Year’s Eve because my parents had eloped on that day and I always thought it was so romantic. My parents had a regular wedding the following April. They just wanted to get married. If you’re wondering if they had to get married… No. My brother was born almost five years after their elopement.

So Richard and I made plans. We found a minister who would come to the little duplex apartment I had in Glendale on New Year’s Eve. My landlords would stand up for us. I called my parents to tell them the news and they insisted on coming out, so mom and dad drove from Memphis to Glendale that December. Dad gave me away, but true to my dad’s independent streak, he insisted on saying the he and my mother were doing the honors. My cats, Sylvester and Angel, were there as well. So were all my Christmas decorations and trees with all the Santas I had collected to that point. I think my collection totaled over a thousand at that time. It was crowded in that little apartment, but at eight o’clock on New Year’s Eve 1986, Richard J. Pool and I were married.

So many love stories you read or see in the movies, or any story with some romance in it, has that formula I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. But love isn’t a formula. There might be chemistry, but each is its own unique blend. In the case between Richard and me, we always got along. We liked the same things, laughed together often, went places together, and never really had an argument about anything. We were a team. I’d go to the hardware store with him, and bless his heart, he actually went to a fabric store with me… once. He knew my desire to write. That was actually the one thing that I thought might be a roadblock to us getting married, but he said he would make sure I had all the time I needed to write. The fact he was making twice what I made at the bank allowed me to retire early and continue my writing. He made that happen.

I use a character based pretty much on Richard in my Ginger Caulfield mysteries. Gin owns the detective agency and Fred, the name I gave to Ginger’s husband, does leg work for her when the opportunity arises. Fred works for an investment firm as his day job. (You see, I use stuff from real life in my work.) Fred will eventually join Ginger at the agency because Fred is very good at getting the job done, just like Richard was at the bank. Fred and Ginger work well together.

Richard and I were always a team, maybe like Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man series. We were equals. No angst, just respect and a sense of humor. I always like seeing that in books and movies and I hope to see more of that kind of love in the future. The gal doesn’t have to be better than the guy, they just use the strengths they each have together. You see, Richard and I really took our vows seriously: To love, honor, and cherish, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live… and beyond.

Happy Valentine’s Day my friends.

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