A Moving Experience

 

             by Gayle Bartos-Pool

AnotherRoadSign

As some of you who follow The Writers in Residence blog know, I have recently moved from California to Ohio. Coordinating the five thousand things one must do to leave one state, drive across country with a dog whose only experience in a car was going to the vet, and then re-situating in an entirely new place was…

 

That’s the subject of this blog. Not the fear the house wouldn’t sell at a decent price or the fact I bought another house strictly from photos and a video my niece took for me. No. That worked out. Or coordinating the movers to arrive on a certain date in Ohio and hoping the lady whose house I bought wouldn’t decide at the last minute that she needed to stay in her house for a few more weeks while her new abode was being refurbished. No, that all worked out, too. And getting a special crew to crate my dollhouses so they would have a 50-50 chance of surviving the trip happened. It was nail-biting time, for sure, but other than a lot of the miniatures I had glued down in the many miniature scenes I had built had come loose and are slowly being re-glued, the move across the country basically worked.

 

There were two large framed prints that had the glass broken. All my mom’s oil paintings and my paintings made the trip just fine. A martini glass and a margarita glass broke diminishing the service for four down to three, but I only drink one at a time anyway, so I guess I’ll manage.

 

Broken ComputersNot finding all the wires and cords and plugs for the computers for a month had me surviving using only my Kindle, but at least I could read my e-mail. I still haven’t gotten the landline set up. Or the printer. But it’s only been a month since I got here. And I still had several thousand things to do on this end.

New House 1

I bought the house with the master bedroom furniture and sun-room furniture included. The problem was that the lady who owned the place tossed her mattress. Because of the COVID thing, I guess. I bought a new mattress. The salesman said it would take two weeks before it would be delivered. We are now ending week three and still no mattress. My dog Candy won’t sleep upstairs where the two beds I brought from Sunny Cal are sitting with mattresses, so we are camping out on the sofa in the sun-room. I would tell you how that is going, but I don’t use that language in polite society. Needless to say, I have a large pain somewhere.

 

Oh, I also had to buy living room and dining room furniture. What I left in California wasn’t worth shipping out here. The charming salesman from whom I purchased the items said it would take two months for the stuff to be made. That wasn’t a typo. They have to custom make the furniture now. So Candy and I sit on the uncomfortable sofa or the equally uncomfortable chairs in the sun-room when I need a break. They look great. Maybe other backs and derrieres find them just fine, but… Sorry, I digress.

 

Anyway, I spent the first month and will no doubt spend the next month unpacking. I had a lot of stuff in that little house back in California. This new house is bigger, but not the same. Not as many nooks and crannies for the ton of collectibles I had collected. But I will survive. Some of my “collectibles” might find new homes, but I’m not giving up… yet.

 

I could go on… and on… and on. But my point is, have you ever seen the movie Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House with Cary Grant? Or how about The Money Pit with Tom Hanks? Each little adventure had its stars looking forward to a new, wonderful home, then reality hit, usually right between the eyes. Things go wrong. Lots of things go wrong. In fact, everything goes wrong. But they were movies. Yeah, right. Reality sucks.

 

But, hey. I’m a writer. I could use this challenge, or should I say “adventure” as the start of a new book. Make it funny, but I’m not laughing at the moment. I’m contemplating what might go wrong next. I have already replaced the stopper in the master bathroom. I tried a twist tie and then a clamp, but finally my brother went to the hardware store and bought a stopper and installed it. He’s an aeronautical engineer. It was easy for him. But my clamp worked for a while. So maybe the book shouldn’t be funny. But I refuse to write a downer book because everybody goes through this kind of thing many times during their lives. It’s reality. Let me repeat myself: Reality Sucks. 

 

So what kind of book would I write? How about someone moving into this new neighborhood where the houses are all pristine. Think “Stepford Houses.” Perfect lawns. Perfect streets. The people… Ah, yes, the people. (In truth, the folks here have been wonderful. They brought me wine, flowers, muffins, fruit, and friendship.) But what if the people in this new story are a little different? Maybe a tad too quiet. They keep to themselves. Then the hero of the story finds out this is a “witness protection” community and a bunch of the people looking for these folks find out where they are?

 

Robo ManOkay, that’s an idea. But what if the people are overly friendly, almost too outgoing, and they want to know everything about this new neighbor who came from this distant state? What if they keep asking questions? Odd questions. Almost like they are learning about life here for the first time? What if the entire community is made up of space aliens and they want to learn everything they can about us humans before they take over the planet?

 

Autumn tree in OhioAnd then there is the idea that came to me when I saw the first tree in the strip of woodlands near my house that had gone totally autumnal with orange and yellow leaves. There it was stuck down under all the taller, green trees around it. It reminded me of a kid wearing her mom’s fancy dress just for fun. But what if my main character happens to pick up a branch that had fallen off that little beauty and realizes the branch is plastic? Then my protagonist pulls a leaf off one of other trees and it’s made of fabric or plastic? My character runs to her house and as she yanks open the front door it comes off its hinges because it was only stuck there with a tiny metal hinge held on with glue. The curtains at the windows are little pieces of lace from an old handkerchief. Some of the furniture inside is made of plastic and several other pieces are overturned revealing a Made in China label. She’s living in a miniature world full of doll furniture that has gotten all shook up from its long drive from California to Ohio.

pict0025

Ah, the possibilities are endless. Just like trying to unpack all this stuff, but it’s home now.  So am I.

Short & Sweet

By Gayle Bartos-Pool

This might not be my usual type of post on our Writers-in-Residence blog, but stuff has been happening in my life as it has been with everyone at the moment, but I still wanted to encourage you writers out there to keep up your writing.

As for me, since my life has changed over the last several years, I have a few new directions to travel. First, let me mention the fact that I lost my beloved husband Richard about a year and a half ago. It wasn’t something I talked about or posted because Richard and I were never ones who wanted to open up all over the Internet.

During this Covid thing and being basically alone here in California, I needed family around, so I decided to move to Ohio where my brother and his oldest daughter and her three kids live. So I bought a house after looking at photos and a video my terrific niece took. It’s a cute house with room for my miniatures and vast Santa collection and all the other holiday decorations I have accumulated over these many years. And the house is near my family.

So at the end of August the movers come. My brother is flying out here so he and I and my dog Candy will drive to Ohio.

But during all this change I thought it was time to start writing what I call My Scrapbook Life story. For over 60 years I have been making scrapbooks of my life. From my family’s travels when my dad was in the Air Force and we were stationed on the island of Okinawa, to the three years we were living in France and I got to attend a terrific boarding school, to college and then my short stint as a private detective, to my move to California and the various jobs I had here, to meeting and marrying Richard at one of those jobs, to our 34 years together and the dogs and cats we had, to Richard’s illness and his strength during that time, to losing him and finally me moving to a different life.

The scrapbooks are full of pictures and memories of this life that I am having, so I thought I would share it with people. But writing this saga isn’t just to show what an interesting life I am living, but to let people know that everybody is living an incredible life.

During the past five years it has become apparent to me that all the people I was meeting were incredible from a lady I met in a hospital cafeteria who was fascinated by the fact that I was a writer. But while we were talking she mentioned things from her wonderful life. I told her that her life was so interesting that she might want to write about it for her family and friends. She had things to share with those folks as well as other people.

Then there is Art, the young man who regularly serviced our air conditioner and heating system. He told me about his late father and brother who added all the beautiful touches to the leather saddles of famous movie stars like John Wayne. Two of their saddles are sitting in the Gene Autry Museum. Art also does leather work and wants to move someday to Tennessee or someplace where he can continue doing that beautiful craft.

And my neighbor, Shawn, has written a book, though not yet published, about his fascinating journey from Iran to America when his dad got him out of the turbulent country to avoid being drafted into the Iranian army. So at 17 he was smuggled out of the country, sent to Turkey and then Sweden and finally after several years he came to America, got a college education through hard work and now has a terrific family and living that American Dream everybody has heard about. We found him an editor and I bet that book will be published. I got to read a first and second draft and it is marvelous.

What I am saying in this blog is that everyone has a story of their own life. Each is incredible, different, and worth telling. Your story might be read only by family members and friends, but if the stories are anything like the ones these folks have told me, they are worth the telling. Who knows whose hearts and minds they will touch.

Start writing about where you came from, who your parents, grandparents and relatives are. How they influenced your life. We all learn both the good and the bad. That’s how we grow. Tell the world who you are after you uncover the real you under all the life you have lived. You might be surprised by the person you are.

I can guarantee you, we all have a story worth telling.  Write On!

Building a Character Arc

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Part 2

Here’s Part Two of the Character Arc Blog I started a few weeks ago. We discussed the main points of not only the Character Arc, but also the Three-Act Structure that works right alongside it. Here are some other points that you might want to consider.

Here’s the harsh reality that I warned you about in Part 1: If you write a book and the story is sold to the movies, your ending might be changed. It’s happened many times. Just cash the check and hope people read your book and see what you wanted to happen in the original version. The Lord of the Rings, Forrest Gump, Jurassic Park, and I Am Legend all had their ending changed. There are many more examples out there. Some were better endings, some worse than the original, for some it didn’t matter (except maybe to the author, but they still cashed the check and moved on. What else could they do? That’s Hollywood.)

Nevertheless, write your story as if it will be carved in stone.

So let’s continue. Whatever happens to your main character(s) during that final Act and phase is going to threaten/effect not only the protagonist, but many of the characters who populate your story. But it’s the protagonist we will be watching to see how he/she handles the crisis. In a mystery it’s usually the villain of the piece who tosses in a few monkey wrenches or hand grenades. This is the time when the hero needs to see what skills they might have within themselves to overcome the obstacles.

Here’s a breakdown of Scarlet O’Hara’s arc in Gone with the Wind.

Scarlet is basically Orphaned because of the Civil War.

As the Wanderer, she nearly loses Tara; she does lose her mother; gains and loses a husband.

She starts replanting and harvesting cotton, dispatches a thief; meets Rhett Butler; learns she can’t have Ashley, she marries Rhett, but loses her daughter during a very busy Warrior phase.

Scarlet learns even more during the Martyr phase. She discovers she has to stand on her own two feet while rebuilding her life. As for getting Rhett back, she’ll think about that tomorrow.

What is so helpful about knowing these Character Arc phases is the fact you can start forming your story around each one. They give you the basic outline along with the Three-Act Structure. It’s a game plan.

You probably have a rough idea who your main character is. Now you can give him or her a kick in the pants to get them out there in the world. You get to paint that new world they find themselves in. Is it bleak? Does it start out rosy and then all hell breaks loose? Is there a misunderstanding that thrusts the character(s) into chaos? There needs to be some major change to their life to get them on the road to solving this problem. The reader has to see this little Orphan out there all alone. That’s how you grab their attention when they first open your book. Make your main character likeable and the reader will want to see how they solve the dilemma they are in. I have actually read a few big-time authors whose characters were so unlikable that I didn’t care if they succeeded or not. A few of these books I put down just a few chapters into it, never to be picked up again. That is not your goal as a writer.

Once your Orphan is out there in the wilderness, (this usually means in an unknown environment or one radically changed by circumstances like a crime or poverty or holocaust), it’s time for your character to take a look at this new landscape. The writer can use the next phase to paint a picture of where the Wanderer is wandering. Readers do like to see new places, so paint a good picture. You also need to show how your character(s) react to this new place. Their reaction will say something about who they are. They should be wary at first. This place is all new. They are learning what the boundaries are. What their limitations are. One character might crumble, another will rise to the challenge.

As your main character starts to grow, they meet people who aid or even try to block their progress. This Warrior Phase lets you introduce new characters or expand the personality of characters already introduced. You don’t want to drop all the characters into the first part of the book. Even if you might have mentioned them, you can reveal new things about their character in this phase. It’s the middle of the story. The Second Act. Even minor characters can have a bit of a Character Arc as the story unfolds.

By the time you get to Act III and the Martyr Phase, your main character(s) need to hit a wall. This is true for a mystery or regular fiction or any fiction. Some problem needs to confront your hero so the reader can watch them overcome it or have a meaningful exit from this world because they did the right thing to solve the dilemma. This is also the time the writer discovers that special trait in their hero that sets them apart. They have learned things during their journey and now they can use those lessons to solve the problem facing them.

Do yourself a favor and watch old movies or read a classic novel and see how this method was used. I mention using older examples because I know they work. When you watch newer movies or read more contemporary books, see if they follow the same game plan. If not, ask yourself if their method worked as well or if there is need for improvement. The old method worked for centuries.

There aren’t many steps in this format. Four Character Arc Phases within Three Acts. Keep them in mind when you’re crafting your story. Write On!

Building a Character Arc

                                   by Gayle Bartos-Pool

There aren’t strict rules for writing fiction, but at least one character needs to change in some significant way by the end of your story just to make the journey worth taking. But it doesn’t have to be the main character. If you’re writing a series, whether it’s in book form or a television series, you can take a lot longer to have your main character or a series regular change in some significant or meaningful way. If a character is making a “guest appearance,” they can change dramatically in that one book or show. But whether it’s a novel, short story or screenplay, one character should have a true Character Arc in each outing.

Part 1

So what is a Character Arc?

A main character needs to go through phases during any given story. Usually it’s the protagonist in a movie or stand-alone novel, but sometimes it’s a character very close to the lead character. That person usually has these phases thrust upon them by nature, or willful intent by another character (the antagonist), or by a fatal flaw in that particular character. Or, here’s a fun reason: the character learns something about himself or herself that alters their personality or their way of thinking because of that revelation. Maybe they’re from outer space or somebody else is really their father or they have a twin. This kind of thing can happen to the hero or a major player. It’s how the character deals with it that makes the difference.

Watch old movies and pick out these arcs or phases as the movie progresses. It is amazing how many screenwriters use these phases. They work perfectly in a short story, too.

You will find many books on the topic of the Character Arc. Even if the phases are given different names, the description is pretty much the same.

The Phases:

            Orphan – the character feels alone or is literally abandoned

            Wanderer – the character goes looking for clues or answers

            Warrior – the character decides to fight for what is right

            Martyr – the character risks everything for his ultimate goal

Character Arc from “A Role to Die For” – G.B.Pool

  • Orphan – middle-aged actress starts losing roles to younger actresses
  • Wanderer – she starts looking for one last, great part
  • Warrior – she defends herself against the person who wants that part
  • Martyr – she risks getting caught for doing a dastardly deed, but doesn’t flinch when confronted

Character Arc from The Wizard of Oz

  • Orphan – Dorothy is blown to Oz by the tornado
  • Wanderer – Dorothy wanders around Oz and meets several characters who accompany her on her journey
  • Warrior – Dorothy and her pals have to brave their way through the woods and flying monkeys to get to the Emerald City
  • Martyr – Dorothy dispatches the evil witch and then can’t catch the Wizard’s/Professor’s balloon to get back home. She fears she will be stranded there until she is told she has the power to go home in those ruby slippers.

Dorothy’s Character Arc is also an outline for what is called The Three-Act Structure which is the basis of most every story ever written. Follow:

Act I – A young girl finds herself alone in a strange place; she meets a few characters who are willing to help her in her quest: she wants to get home.

Act II – She is told she must ask the wise man in the city that is far away for help; but someone who wants what she has doesn’t want her to make it to the city and throws out roadblocks.

Act III – She and her new friends have to fight their way through some tough places to get to the city and she ends up saving her friends’ lives; the wise man leaves without helping her; and then someone tells her she has had the means to get back home with her all along – the ruby slippers.

The basic Three-Act Structure (or Beginning, Middle, and Ending) is found in most great movies and books and short stories. It’s simple. It works. It goes hand-in-glove with the Character Arc phases.

Okay, let’s dig deeper into this Character Arc concept.

You know there should be a plan, but how do you know what your character is supposed to be doing in each Character Arc phase? That’s where your Plot comes in. You can’t really have a story without both Plot and Character, can you? If you know roughly where you want your character to go, you can plot/plan/prepare the journey.

Your character(s) must have a destination in Act I, even if they don’t realize they are on a journey when they wake up that morning. In most stories the journey is thrust upon them. They are living their lives when all of a sudden they find themselves out there in the wilderness. In a mystery, the protagonist is either the main suspect or asked to find the clues leading to the real killer and is basically left to their own devises. In other words: Orphaned in the story.

In the Act II they need to gather both clues and maybe some help in order to solve the crime. In a romance, the girl (it’s usually a female in these things) finds herself in a new town or a new job or a new environment like aboard a ship or even a spaceship. The character finds his or her self wandering aimlessly (hence the Wander Arc) and needs to get his or her bearings.

Also during Act II the character (the Wanderer) can learn a few things about himself or about the people around him. This is also the time the character begins to question not only others, but themselves.

It’s during the transition from Act II and Act III (or Warrior phase) when the main character has obstacles thrust in their path. This can be red herrings in a mystery or maybe an earthquake or hurricane or drought in an adventure. Books come in all flavors, so whether you’re writing Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Mystery, Thriller, Romance, Westerns, Dystopian, or a Contemporary story, this phase comes into play. But it’s also during Act III when the Martyr Arc kicks in. It’s the Do or Die phase. Does the hero succeed or die trying? Not all stories have happy endings, but they should have an ending that fits the story the author is writing. And I do mean that the author has a choice to make (At least at first; more on that subject in Part 2). There is no formula here. Write the ending that fits the story you want to tell.

Along with the Character Arc for either your main character or a character whose life is sort of the center of the story you are telling, there is also a Character Arc for another central character in your story, especially if you are writing a mystery. This is the Arc for the villain. Remember, the villain is the guy or gal who caused all the trouble in the first place. This character sets the action in motion, is introduced somewhere around the early part of the story as just another character, then tries to thwart any solution to the problem during the middle of the story, and is brought to justice or a reawakening of his or her soul by the end of the story. That’s four parts, just like the main Character Arc.

Some writers both past and present will drop in the bad guy right at the end of the story with no early introduction which isn’t fair to the reader or the story. This character has two faces. Usually the first one seen is nice, sympathetic, tries to help find the solution to the problem at hand. Of course, what this character is actually doing is seeing what holes he can patch up before he’s caught. Sometimes those methods are diabolical, but that’s why he’s the bad guy.

While the Wandering hero is gathering friends to help him solve the puzzle, the bad dude is working in the background to make that not happen, sometimes offering to help as well. When the hero becomes the Warrior, the villain has to double-down. Bad stuff starts to happen and the hero has to make serious decisions. The villain already knows what he will do. And it is never very nice.

The last phase has both hero and villain battling to the death, both figuratively and actually in your story. Sometimes heroes die. Again, that’s your call as the writer. But always keep in mind who the villain is and what he or she wants. That Arc will show the reader what kind of person the villain is. Will he sacrifice everything for whatever it is he wants? Money? Power? Or does he just hate the hero because of jealousy? Just keep in mind the villain’s Arc while you are crafting your story. And remember, even if it’s not a mystery, a love story or saga can have one person trying to screw up the life of the main character. And it can be because of love, money or power. Craft that Arc well and you will have a good story.Part Two of this blog will be coming up in a few weeks. Watch for it!

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

THIS YEAR IT WILL BE DIFFERENT…

 

 by Rosemary Lord

   382e7-rosemary2bat2bburbank2blibrary2bjpg         Ah yes – that’s what so many of us are wishing for this coming year.

For Maeve Binchy fans, this was the title of her best-selling novel about festivities over Christmas and New Year, amidst a tumultuous family saga. The book has a happy ending, of course. And I think that’s what we all want from the happenings of the last nine months.

            The frustrating thing is that the challenges facing people all over the world were not of our choosing – or our fault. Unimaginable circumstances were thrust upon us. We did the best we could. In the beginning, somewhat stunned, we froze. We did as we were told. Because not only lives were at stake – but livelihoods, businesses and careers – and our sanity, due to the forced isolation of most of us.

          LadyWriting  As writers, we were luckier than many, because we are used to being isolated, to working on our own. But for others it was – and is – extremely difficult. But we are survivors and we became adaptable and very creative. Across the nation – and indeed across the world – we worked together and reached out to our neighbors, watched out for strangers and became concerned for those living alone. Especially the elderly. We became better people because of it – and appreciated each other all the more.

We acknowledged our great appreciation for all those Front Line workers, the store clerks, the delivery people, the drivers – all those that had to go out to work to keep our lives running. We learned to appreciate the little things and to count our blessings, remembering that many were far worse off than us.

            People became eager to support their local stores and restaurants by having goods and food delivered for the first time. They recognized how we each depend on each other and that together we could survive. “No man is an island,” wrote English poet John Donne in 1624. It still works well today. During both World Wars our parents and grandparents recalled that ‘everyone pulled together.’ They all looked out for each other and took ‘waifs and strays’ into their homes, as they fought a common enemy. Adversity usually brings people together. It also makes us stronger and more resilient.

            As Helen Keller said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

            For so many people last year, their lives changed forever, as they were forced to re-evaluate how they earned a living, after their usual work was shut down by local Governments. Some business owners were able to reinvent their small businesses, but many still struggle for survival.

            As writers, we are very blessed. We rely on ourselves to accomplish our work. No-one else can do it for us.  Yes, I know, we then have to get  literary agents to accept our books and stories, or publishers to produce them – and our readers to buy the finished product. But, think of it. Today, we now have so many news ways to accomplish all this ourselves. We can do it!

            Winston Churchill said: “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”

            Think of the changes in the writing world in the way our work is published, just in this past year. Our work doesn’t even have to be in printed paper form. Writers have found a new voice in Blogs, Vlogs, Podcasts and many other venues. For the printed books, more and more writers have turned to self-publishing, with the help of Amazon and other sales approaches. Once marginalized, self-publishing has become legitimized – mainstream even. 

Typewriter and desk           As writers, we have been stopped from doing our usual book-signings, our promotional events at bookstores, both local and across the country. With bookstores shut-down and in-person Book Festivals cancelled, due to the pandemic, we no longer had those resources as a way to meet our loyal readers, to introduce ourselves to new readers or to promote our books and garner new followers.

            We learned to be flexible and creative when we couldn’t get out to bookstores, launch our books, attend conferences, and travel across country to book festivals. We went online and explored Zoom rooms and Skype events. We explored, we joined forces with other writers and created different styles of conferences, workshops and writers’ groups.

As a result, we have widened our horizons considerably. Whereas before, we travelled to local bookstores, now we can reach out to readers and other writers, not just across America but across the world. We have quickly adjusted to different time-zones and we are exploring a variety of other writers and new readers across the Globe. How exciting is that?

            And having had our vacations cancelled by assorted Governments restrictions, our wanderlust has been channeled into armchair travelling.

I have read books by an array of writers new to me and had wonderful escapes in Crete, snowy Scotland, Mandalay, and Paris during World War II, the Greek Islands and India. I’ve visited far more places from my armchair without the struggle of today’s air travel – and it doesn’t cost anything.

            I’ve also learned a lot about growing grapes, spinning silk, constructing large houses, farming and how to make really good humus. What’s not to like?

We’ve all been reading a lot more – especially with people being shut-in, they have turned to reading books. Lots of them.

            Some people, forced to abandon their usual nine-to-five work, have turned their hands to writing for the first time ever. They told themselves, “If I only had time, I would write a book…” Well they have and they did. See. Out of adversity, good does come.

            And yes, this year it will be different. We are older, wiser and more appreciative of everything and everyone around us. Happy New Year!

Happy New Year. 11479ac38d18eab96733e0ba72dbdeff

…………………………….

This page was written by Rosemary Lord and posted by G.B. Pool.

Mapping Your Mayhem

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

When I was asked to teach a writing course for Sisters-in-Crime/Los Angeles, I decided I better evaluate how I wrote a story first. I write novels and short stories and figured there were similar fundamentals all writers use in both endeavors. Then I remembered the Aristotle course I had taken in college. I still had the textbook, The Poetics, so I dusted it off and read the part on the 5 Basic Elements in any story: Plot, Character, Dialogue, Setting, and The Meaning of the story.

I have covered most of these points in previous blogs, but there is one crucial thing a writer needs to make sure all these elements fit and that is a Timeline. I looked back over the files I had on all the books and stories I had written and lo and behold, I actually made a timeline for just about all of the stories.

What does a Timeline do? It keeps track of Who does What, Where, and When, and sometimes Why. I worked as a newspaper reporter a long time ago and those points were necessary in any article I wrote.

I actually use several methods to achieve these goals. If the story doesn’t cover very much time or utilizes few locals, I write a simple Timeline noting the date and time certain things happen and where the action takes place and who does what each time. If there is a lot of time covered, I use a calendar.

I generally have a basic idea what my story is about before I start putting words on paper. I write the opening (usually about 20 times) until I know where I’m going and the tone I want in the story. Then I jot down the relative time of day each event happens as the story progresses. I break them into no less than 15 minute intervals. Usually it is thirty minutes or by the hour. You can’t have more than 24 hours in any given day, so it keeps you honest and organized.

If my characters are driving around the city, take for instance Los Angeles, I use Google Maps to see how long it takes to get from point A to point B. I’ve seen TV shows where people in L.A. can get someplace in thirty seconds… Only if they use a teleporter. (“Beam me up, Scotty.”) I discipline myself and make my fiction a tad more real.

When I have finished the story, I’ll go back over the Timeline to see if I have crammed too much or too little into that given time frame. And I do something else. I’ll see if the plot holds together. Sometimes a destination doesn’t make sense or maybe some other character should be involved or eliminated. And sometimes I need to add a high point or low point just to give the story movement. I know movies today are all action and explosions and no plot, but I prefer plot and character.

There is another type of timeline I make: A List of Characters. I include their date of birth in case they age throughout the story. You want to make sure you don’t have a character born in 1920 be only fifty in 1990. And you don’t want a character to remember seeing news of the Hindenburg when she was born in 1947. Keep track. I start out with a piece of paper that I print off just for this task. I pencil in the character’s name as I write them. I give a brief description of their role and age. Many times I change the name. I put an alphabet at the bottom of the character page. I circle the first letter of the character’s name in that alphabet. I want each name to fit each particular character, but they can’t all begin the same letter unless I’m having fun.

When I’m finished with the story, I copy all those names and descriptions into the computer and add even more description and start evaluating those characters. Do some need more personality? Does one need to be meaner? Or smarter? Or should a particular character add something to the story that is needed? Or should the character be eliminated? One time I wrote a book knowing who the bad guy (or in this case gal) was going to be, but when I was finished, I had another thought. I bumped off the initial suspect and then my private detective had to go back over the case to see what she missed… or was it time to hang up her .38s and retire? It was by reviewing that list of characters that allowed me to see a “What if?” scenario. And I am glad I did. It made for a much better and far more exciting conclusion to the novel.

And here is another benefit in having that Timeline. It gives you an Outline for your story in case an editor or publisher wants a synopsis of your book. And even better, that quick rundown of the plot lets you see what your story is about so you can more easily write the all important blurb for the back of your book. You only need the first third to tell any reader what is in store. Think of the Timeline as the dry run for that “elevator pitch” you have heard about. The fact that you have consolidated your story into a few pages of a “time-lined” plot; you can easily tell someone what the story is about.

I have put most of my writing course into books: The Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook and its companion book: So You Want to be a Writer. They cover many of the things I have posted on our blog, but as an added bonus, they give you diagrams and pictures of the worksheets I employ. I use them in all my writing. I never create a story without them. Maybe they can help you. Write on!

How Much of YOU is in Your Writing?

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

 

People 5

Okay, let’s get down to the basics… If you happen to be writing a memoir, use as much of yourself as you want. But if you’re writing fiction you might want to rethink how much of YOU you put in your story.

I don’t mean your sense of humor or sarcasm or even little bits of happiness or sadness that has been part of your life, but you can take your PLOT or your CHARACTERS on the wrong path if you aren’t careful. Not that you aren’t the most interesting person in the world… but maybe, just maybe, your beliefs, passions, or politics might be the things that take your great story off the tracks. And remember, in ten years things may change, trends, ideas, even your beliefs. When that happens your story will look dated. But some things never change.

Let me explain.

I have been a huge fan of E. Phillips Oppenheim, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and Anna Katharine Green. They wrote a hundred years ago. That’s 1918! Their stories are still readable. Sometimes you’d swear they were written last week. It’s the STORY that withstands the test of time. Stick with it. Don’t head down a road that half your audience might not want to go down with you.

I have watched some of my writer friends on Facebook mention that they will use the recent unpleasantness (AKA: the pandemic, the corona virus, the China virus, the Wuhan virus… whatever you call it) in their work.

Okay. It’s your call.

Writer Lady 2People used World War II, the Vietnam War, the Depression, -insert disaster here-, in their work. The memorable stories didn’t dwell on the event itself per se. They used it as a backdrop and then showed how their characters’ personalities dealt with the event.

Not that your characters might not do what you would do, but sometimes the story “sounds” like preaching instead of a fascinating character study or a unique story.

I once wrote a scene featuring one of my main characters when she recalled losing one of her beloved dogs. I wrote a rather long sub-story featuring everything I felt at the time of that loss. Funny thing was my character was driving home while thinking of this event. During an edit I came to that scene and realized that particular detour took my character off in another direction – a dead end. It had nothing to do with the main story and it didn’t necessarily enhance her character even though it might have been touching. It showed how hard it was losing that wonderful dog, but it really didn’t fit the spy novel I was writing. I cut it.

I do use people I know as characters, at least a slice here and there. Often I change their name. I do that mostly because I don’t want to embarrass them or anger them – lawsuits, you know. But I never make fools of them… period. And I never use someone I don’t like in a book. Why waste the ink?

I have used all our pets as minor characters in different stories. My wonderful husband, Richard, is definitely the basis of Fred Caulfield in my Gin Caulfield mysteries. I enjoyed using his strong personality so much, he will become a partner in her detective firm in upcoming books. But that is the extent of the similarity. I want Fred to be his own person.

Pencil 2As for myself showing up in the books I write, a little of me is here, a little is there, but I actually like to have my characters be themselves. I might like them because we are compatible, but not identical twins. And I definitely don’t want us to be Siamese twins joined forever, never having a life of our own. That wouldn’t be fair to my characters, after all, they are like one’s own children in a way. You might want to instill some values in them, but you really have to let them be themselves. Think of your friends, you like them because you have something in common, but if you try to change them, I bet you won’t have them as friends anymore.

So I let my characters be themselves, and as almost every writer I know has said: These people take on a personality of their own. If you as a writer just sit back and let them talk, you might just find they have a terrific voice. So shut up and let them do the talking for a while. We’ll get who you are by the story you tell. Trust me. Write on!

Typewriter 3

Building a Platform

The last few items in this multi-paged blog for your consideration.

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Platform

Point #9

  1. Your Inner Ham. This one might be scary, but if you really want to cut the mustard as a writer, you have to be able to stand up in front of strangers and read your work out loud.

If you haven’t passed out from the mere thought of that, you might think, “Oh, how hard can that be?” Go ahead and try it. Have some friends watch you and honestly critique you. Try reading stories to a children’s group. If they start laughing or fall asleep, maybe you should improve your technique. If you mumble in a monotone with your head down, it’s time to take a Toastmasters course or maybe acting lessons.

Reading to an audience is more than saying the words out loud. You must be able to project to the back of the room. You should use varied tones and moods. Your face should suggest the different characters you are portraying. In other words, you should give a performance.

Sing

Not all authors are good at public readings. Many mumble. Others stumble over their own written words while maintaining a monotone throughout the entire read. That is telling the audience that there is nothing exciting happening on those pages even if the selection would have been interesting if it had been read with the proper emotion and gusto.

Many books are sold at author readings when the author makes his or her book sound like a performance. It can be done, with practice. Read your own work out loud. It will help you discover some great sections to read to an audience.

It’s actually a good strategy in writing to open your book or short story with a bang. It grabs the attention of the reader who might be a potential agent or editor. And the guy in the bookstore might buy your book if the opening grabs his attention. So when you are reading to an audience, starting at the beginning is always a plus. But even if your opening isn’t a grabber, pick an exciting part to read and keep going over it until it sounds like a stage performance.

As a bonus, while still in the editing phase of your writing, try reading your work out loud. You will detect mistakes that you had overlooked while just reading the words off the computer screen. To kill two birds with one stone: record yourself as you read. You will hear your literary errors and you can judge your own presentation.

Remember: It is a performance. Lights. Camera. Action.

 

Point #10

  1. “Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” If you have anything published, even self-published, do TV interviews to get face time and experience. Local TV stations in many areas do segments on local authors. Public access stations do round-tables with authors. Call them up; tell them what you have done. Suggest doing a panel of several of your writer friends for their station. It never hurts to ask.

GenderWritingPanel
Burbank Library Panel

Point #11

  1. Don’t Drop the Ball Now. If you have gotten this far, take time to update your website, keep people informed on your Facebook page, or Twitter your latest event. Let your targeted audience (chefs, lawyers, senior citizen groups) know what you are doing. Visit all those Internet communities you have joined and let them know what you are up to. Leave a comment on a fellow writer’s blog when they have a new book out. Review somebody’s book on Amazon.com. (Wouldn’t you like somebody to do that to your book?)

 

PhotoFunia-1562086112As you learn new skills, like doing a TV interview, let people know about it on your website. Polish old skills. (You can always improve.) You should have learned a hundred great writing techniques and mistakes to avoid in that writing group you joined. (We can all learn from other’s mistakes as well as our own.)

Update your short, one-paragraph biography often, so when someone is doing publicity on you (or you are sending out your own Press Release) you have the latest news on yourself at hand. Something you did in college probably won’t interest anybody ten or fifteen years later, but guest blogging on someone else’s blog is Big News. The fact you wrote poems in high school isn’t very news worthy. The fact you interviewed a fellow writer on your blog is exciting. Read other people’s biographies on their websites. You’ll spot the pro from the novice by what the pro leaves out.

 

Point #12

  1. Go for the Gold. Once you have a book in print, try creating a video book trailer for your website. Windows Movie Maker software can help you turn out a mighty nice one. Hey! If you have done all the previous points, you can do the book trailer. It’s the latest thing out there. Other writers are doing them.

Micraphone Man

 

Tough love segment: Agents and publishers are looking for any excuse to say “no” to you and your manuscript. But if you have most of these twelve bullet points mastered, they are going to find it hard to turn you down. You show initiative and you follow through. That means they won’t have worry about expending time and money on a newcomer. (Let them spend their time and money when your efforts pay off and you have a Best Seller.) Do your homework now and maybe your publisher will spring for the book trailer and book tour later.

 

A Final Thought

You aren’t alone out there. There are plenty of people who are at the same level in their career as you. There are some a little further along, some even more of a newcomer than you are. Writers today are learning that they need to master these same silly skills in order to get themselves noticed. Why not you?

These bullet points are meant to give you a heads up in this business and to urge you learn them, try them, and to get your name plastered all over the Internet along with your terrific face. You have a vested interest in getting a book published and selling those books. You are also the best salesman of your work. Nobody knows you like you.

Use all these “platforms” to climb up to the top of the heap and shout your name from the rooftops. Each one will make you a better writer and more interesting to an agent or publisher.

All the best with your writing career.

If you found these various postings about Building a Platform helpful, you might like to know where they came from. These helpful hints as well as a bunch of other timely tips can be found in a little book called So You Want to be a Writer by Yours Truly. There are also a few short stories for your reading enjoyment in the rather thick book. It’s a companion piece to The Anatomy of a Short Story that came out several years ago. I do love to teach. Write On!

So You Want to be a Writer Amazon cover 2anatomy-book-cover

COMING CLEAN

by Rosemary Lord

 

Office clutter 1

Okay – so I’m all clean. That is, I have a very, very clean home now. I have newly washed the blinds, cleaned window screens and window sills, I have a scrubbed floor, laundry is done and my stove and microwave positively gleam.

Can you tell that I have started writing my next book?

Yes, I know – I am still working on getting the first Lottie Topaz novel published. But this next volume is bursting out of my head just now. So….

Why do we writers have these odd work habits? For me I think it is part avoidance and part ‘my special writing method.’

You see, I recently wrote the key outline of this next book, ‘Seven for a Secret,’ the working title. Then I wrote parts of the first 5 chapters – by hand on legal pads. I typed up a few pages here and there. I know where they’re going and roughly what needs to be said. Next, I have to think it through before I sit down and solidly write from Page One to The End. That daunting – or exhilarating – task takes months.

Broom 1  That’s where the cleaning comes in. I find that as I scrub and clean and polish I run through all the scenes in my mind and have much more clarity away from the computer as I do ‘mindless things’ like cleaning. I get out of my own mental way. Yes, there is a bit of avoiding that commitment to sit down and write for the next however many months it takes to complete a first draft. What if it’s rubbish? What if it’s no good? At least, if I don’t start the typing part I can’t get scolded for writing rubbish or being boring. Well, that’s one of my little avoidance gremlin’s voice at work.

 

Broom 3 During the Covid 19 enforced solitary confinement, my writing methods have changed somewhat. Partly because, after all the Woman’s Club administrative work, I found time to declutter my office, move things around and re-arrange my filing system. (Possibly another unconscious avoidance technique?) Then I re-edited the first Lottie novel with fresh eyes on it, enabling me to take out over 20,000 words. I knew it was far too long and was able to keep most of the edited-out scenes to use in later books.

Computer filesSo now, sitting in my newly arranged office space, with smartly labeled files and clearly focused folders – I can’t find anything. I do a lot of research and have copious folders of notes, print-outs and clippings; now all neatly categorized. Normally, when I sit at my desk in my very small ‘office’ (in reality, a corner of the living room) I can reach my arm out and grab the stack of papers I need. Or reach the other arm out and grab the specific notebook. Everything’s at arms length and very convenient. Except now I have to stop and think “which arm?” “Is it to the left or to the right or behind me? My color-coded files are in upheaval because I have re-arranged them methodically. But my creative mind doesn’t work that way. Now I have to rethink my steps as to why I re-filed things and where my logic was going with the new system.

Or maybe it’s just another avoidance on my part?

My next step is to start my Story Board: a large notice board on which I stick post-its with the outline of each chapter and perhaps characters or incidents that need to fit in somewhere.  But with all my smart de-cluttering, where did I put my board? It’s a bit like shaking your head a lot and then waiting for all the bits of your brain to settle down again so you can see where things are.

Over these last locked-in months I worked really hard on trying to streamline my whole writing system. It’s just my brain hasn’t settled down enough yet to remember the new system. I know it will work much quicker than my old scatter logical system that was emotionally driven.

Readers  I resolved to be super organized, efficient and be a real smarty pants – so I could become a prolific novel writer, like many of my fellow writers.

But my mind hasn’t yet caught up. This is where the cleaning helps. I can see the fruits of my labor as I wash the Canyon grime off my white wood shutters. Yes: they’re white again. I accomplished something. Better than sitting in front of the computer typing and erasing the same sentence again and again as I await the muse to visit once more. But, as I mentioned, it’s often when I am distracted with the dusting, soaping, scrubbing and rinsing that words, sentences, scenes and whole conversations are visited upon me.

I hurriedly grab my writing pad and scribble down the dictated words – often forgetting to first dry my hands. My notepads tend to have water and soap-suds stains all over. Some tear-stains of frustration, too.

I know this is a change for the better. In my decluttering marathons I rediscovered several half-finished books and stories. And I was able to take time to re-evaluate my time and get out of old work-habits that didn’t serve me.

This year we all had the opportunity to re-think what we were doing and how we were doing it. Or to simply do something totally different. So, overall, as we slowly open up our lives again to regular business practices, social visiting, travel and family gatherings it will be a case of “So what did you do during your 2020 Shut-down?”

Me?  I got clean.  What did you do?

Typewriter and desk