Becalmed…

     Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of seven award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert in her “Rhodes” series. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also an occasional potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. Visit her website and Amazon Author Page.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ngaio Marsh – Public Domain Image

(1)http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Heritage/Photos/Topics/People/MarshNgaio/ https://commons.wikimedia.org  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ngaio_Marsh

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

Dropping in Quickly…Then Staying for a While

Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of seven award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. Visit her website and Amazon Author Page.

Fotosearch_k8804412Several events/ideas have brought me to this post. My continuing interest in the importance of setting in conjunction with “taking me there,” G.B. Pool’s recent post on Openings, and my enjoyment-of and fascination-with audio books. I’ve mentioned in past posts how much I enjoy audio books—and now I’m asking myself why, in that there might be a couple writing-nuggets there worth paying attention to.

Being taken (dropped) into a protagonist’s world is what reading is all about for me, and has also been mentioned by other readers to me. In that line of thought, I’m currently listening to an audio series called Cherringham Mystery Shorts[i], and though the blurb for these audio book offerings didn’t immediately grab me, the narrator did. Neil Dudgeon[ii] I’ve liked his acting and “aura” from first seeing him in Mrs. Bradley Murder Mysteries—and I’m now realizing a lot of the like is the sound of his voice. When listening to Neil read these stories, it feels like I’m actually in Cherringham, UK. I can visualize the dual female and male protagonists, see their world. Part is the writing of course, but a large part is the immediate involvement that comes with hearing a spoken word, versus reading a sentence. Indeed, I think if the narrator reads well, the reader can so easily be “taken there.” Dropped into the character’s lives.

How can a writer do that without having Neil read their book (smile)? I suggest the knack/art/skill, is to take the reader into your protagonist’s head with your writing POV. Then once inside, see the world through their eyes. A Big deal I think, and not that easy without simultaneously stagnating the story or “dragging” the action and dialogue. But once a reader is with your character, so much easier to go into their world. There is a downside though with character identification, and one that has caused me to not finish reading more than one book. Once engaged with a character, and/or their environment, if you don’t like the character-person, interest is gone. Most recently, I didn’t finish such a book because even though the author quite successfully took me into their world, and was indeed a very good writer, I didn’t like the character or the character’s world. A future post maybe on what makes a likeable character—a protagonist you want to root for?

I’m throwing-out in this post, that a narrator, if good, does that “taking you there” easily and quickly—including setting, events, and personalities. Would very much like to hear from readers and writers reading this post on your experiences and thoughts about audio books in the comments below.

SWCoverOn a personal note, I would love to have all my books as audio, but don’t sell enough (not yet! Smile) for many narrators to take a commission-split chance on me, and can’t afford the narrator I want with a hefty flat out payment! (I’m talking about someone famous of course like Neil Dudgeon or Hugh Frasier) The talented Mei-Ling Downey, did take a chance on me and narrated Lies of Convenience, on Audible. What a joy to my writing-heart that is!

On the flip-side, a few comments from other writers have pointed out not everyone is as fond of audio books as I am! Nonetheless, the key point I’m aiming for is–paying attention to bringing your reader into your character’s world is crucial to reader enjoyment and writer success—whatever the format. Paper, eBook, or the spoken word.

Happy 2018 writing trails!Fotosearch_k8475028


[i]Written by Matthew Costello and Neil Richards about a retired NYC policeman who moves to England and lives on a houseboat solving crimes with a divorced lady co-protagonist and her two teen aged children.

[ii] Of Mrs. Bradley mysteries way back when, and currently Barnaby in Midsomer Mysteries.

Betwixt and Between

 

Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of seven award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. Visit her website and Amazon Author Page.

The week between Christmas and New Yearsfrom childhood and school breaks through my “working for others life,” has always been a time to think about “stuff.” Daydream, refresh, and kick back (snooze, read, watch TV). Though it certainly is a different electronic world these days—finding it very hard to completely escape into my own little mental world, with email and Facebook calling me…

So my writing and posting thoughts in this betwixt-and-between kind of twilight-zone post are not after Christmas ponderings, or 2018 future thoughts about goals—but more like meanderings (if that’s an actual word) through writing thoughts I’ve collected and remain unresolved. I’m sharing, with the hope there might be something you might find worth thinking further about—or even keeping into the new year as a goal:

  • I love reading and writing murder mysteries. Meaning, there are always dead bodies and murderers inhabiting my stories. One of the things I’m pondering about is—the weighing of nature versus nurture. Especially in today’s world of genome and DNA exploration. Are my murderers compelled by genetics, or willfully evil, or? Or? A great underlying theme, I think, for at least a short story? For sure, a character trait/observation to include? Thinking about how to do that, and still maintain a story that’s FUN to read. The fun part, I also think is very important.
  • As an addicted TV watcher since childhood, I’m finding myself turning off more and more new shows and movies and removing the DVR timer completely. Why? Sometimes language, sometimes too much blood and gore (hubby reminds me I do write murder mysteries!), but most of all—characters I don’t give a darn about. Definitely want to write tales where the reader cares about what life has done to the character, and how they respond. Better ways of my accomplishing that key writing goal are floating around in my betwixt-and-between thoughts.
  • I get in my email “Websters Word of the Day.” Sometimes I know the word already, often I don’t, and occasionally I keep them in an electronic folder with the thought I’ll use sometime. Ha! (usually quickly forgotten) Using just the right word, without turning a FUN tale into a hard to read tome I think is tricky. As a side note on words: used “knackered” for tired the other day when speaking to someone who doesn’t watch as much BBC offerings as I do. They didn’t know what the heck I was talking about.
  • And lastly, do a lot of audio book “reading,” and I’m thinking about how much of my enjoyment is the voice-actor’s talent, or tenor of their voice, or the writing? Or? Think this one might be a post on my 2018 writing road…

I know this is a mish-mash post all over the place, but for me, that’s what this betwixt and between week is for—wading through my mental writing mess. And hopefully, some of this mental-mess (I know, too many “m”s) will get your writing thoughts going.

Sunset

Impressionism or Realism?

Rest Stop on the Writing Journey

The trail leading to “why this post?” about visualizing characters—is twisty and meandering…

Trail-head number 1: Connotation and denotation[i]. I’ve wanted for awhile to do a post about how much a writer can potentially convey just by choosing a word that conveys more than a fact—but also has an “aura.” I’ve called it in the past, choosing the most-loaded word. A bend in the road with an uphill rise—also love alliteration, and especially if combined with words that denote more than their definition–even when just an impression. Though, there needs to be a shared or recognizable background for those words to work. So I’m often finding myself, especially in re-write and draft-reviews, trying to finWinding Road Signd that “perfect” word that will conjure up a particular image in the reader’s mind. At a minimum when stuck, adding peripheral-props, like a style of dress, or a slump of the shoulders, type of build, a turn of the head or other unconscious character mannerisms–even the type of car the character drives; instead of skin color, exact features, type of hair, or how the character “looks” in a mirror. Hopefully you get my drift even though these aren’t great examples. A starting “impression” a reader can create a real character from using their past life encounters.

Trail-head number 2: At my/our latest book club meeting we discussed different kinds Book Club Clip Art 23916of electronic gadgets like Smartphones, Kindles, IPods, etc. From somewhere in that discussion, audio books came up and I spouted-off about how much I liked them and what narrators I liked listening to.[ii] On the way home I also thought further about what writers I listen to, and realized my favorites mostly go on-and-on-and-on describing the physical attributes of their characters.

On the side of the road during a curving twist, in editing my latest, The Movie-Maker, it was rightly pointed out to me there’s not a lot of physical descriptions of my characters, and several could be “fleshed-out” a little better.

So, I went back and flipped through my latest (something I seldom do because it’s too late to rewrite…), but I wanted to know what I actually do/did—versus what I like to read, and what I might want to change in future books. FBRTMMFront300dpi1200pixAnd yes—unfortunately or fortunately—depending on your writing-style perspective, a lot of visualizing my latest cast of characters is left up to the reader without lengthy descriptions from me. Nonetheless, that night I so enjoyed listening to my latest audio book, a very long-winded character description in Margery Allingham’s The Fashion in Shrouds– brought to life by narrator Francis Matthews. I’m not sure if I saw the person(s) Margery wanted me to see, or if somehow, a key word(s) she used triggered in my memory a real person I’ve known or met? But Georgia Wells and others were very real. Hmmm. Dueling perspectives—even goals?

Bottom line I think, is creating identifiable characters—and by that I mean characters a reader can visualize in their mind’s eye, feel they know, and maybe even identify with—is QuestionMarkFaceneither easy, nor as linear as it at first might seem. The often given writing advice, “show not tell,” can definitely also be applied to character description–but it’s not the whole story either. I don’t think it’s easy—yet another writing goal ha! But an aspect of writing well worth being thought about when you’re doing that last draft. And asking the questions, “How will the reader picture XXXX in their mind’s eye? Have I given enough clues? Not enough description? Too much description?”

A side detour: (for a future post unless the road turns again)—the Hercule Poirot character I will always have in my brain is not the “person” I initially conjured-up from Agatha Christie’s realistic descriptions of the great detective in her books. No, it is David Suchet. Bringing up the question of what film actors and audio-readers bring to the character visualization table? And then there’s what picture a choice of a character’s name brings.

Happy writing trails! (even though sometimes circular, winding, and many times, an uphill climb.)


[i] Connotation – “An idea that is implied or suggested.”  Denotation – “The most direct or specific meaning of a word…”

[ii] Hugh Fraser and Patrick Malahide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stealing and more…

Remembering way-back-when at my first few book eventsoften asked questions were, “Where do you get your ideas?” and “How do you know all that stuff?”[i] Then there were blog-tourswhich several generous and kind authors asked me to participate inand often talked about was, “where do ideas come from.” And of course, our thoughts on inspiration and ideas, have all been shared here on Writers in Residence from several directions.

But then recently at the Vons grocery store, a lovely lady traveling on Route 66 from Illinois to Santa Monica came up to me, and said “I know you!” I had on a Route 66 T-shirt, and as it turned out, it was mistaken identity–she thought I was a “Roadie” she’d met elsewhere in another state.[ii] But after I gave her a bookmark and mentioned about my Route 66 connected writing and my books, she asked, “Where do you get your ideas from?” She seemed genuinely interested. Hence, this post was inspired.

Her question is not one I’ve thought about in detail for a long time, so not having a good answer, I flippantly said, “I steal ‘em.” And though a smart-alecky response, driving home, I realized there was a lot of truth in that statement. For example, in Rhodes The Movie-Maker,[iii]:

  • I stole film crew as an idea from Marilyn Meredith’s Tempe Crabtree River Spirits book,
  • Stole Cap Coleman tattoo from Hap Meredith’s very real tattoo,
  • Stole the real “ghost child” experience from Robert Haig – retired firefighter and author of Fire Horses,
  • Stole the castle-in-the-desert scenario from Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley,
  • Stole photographic flyovers from Aerial America,
  • and on a more generalized writing style level, stole a love for multitudinous characters with unique back stories from Ngaio Marsh, and Agatha Christie. And the love of and use of multitudinous (and far more than I should) compound sentences from P.D. James.

And to use a gentler word, incorporatingthere are the personal experiences, like with helicopters flying across the Mojave causing my ancient windows to rattle and my dogs to hide behind the couch, glorious sunrises and sunsets that I’ve lately come to appreciate, black-birds flying en masse and lining up on electrical wires going down our road, people who live where I live who willingly share orally, or like “Mojave Desert tales,”[iv] in the written word, and from seeing Route 66 films, articles, and museum visits. And even if the stealing connection isn’t direct, I’m pretty sure my subconscious snatches, grabs, kidnaps—whatever you want to call what it does—then lets my conscious mind use whenever and wherever needed. Just like with dogs that I talked about in an earlier post.

So part of this post is an “into-the-cosmos thank you” to so many, but also to verbally acknowledge a deep gratefulness to those who have come before me—laying a path for others(including me!) to follow. Especially my rock stars, P.D., Agatha, and Ngaio. And odd as it may sound, I want to thank computers and word processors.[v] They have been my enablers, wouldn’t be a writer without them. Indeed, how my writing-heroes wrote/edited on olden typewriters with their deep and hard to push keys, or with pen and pencil–will always amaze me. I once heard/read (possibly not true but sounds good), Eudora Welty would cut out her paragraphs and move around in her editing process. Early “cut and paste!”

And my ramblings connection for my fellow writers?—absorb, absorb, absorb. It may sound like I’m encouraging criminality, but I’m not. It’s more like, let it all in. Something I don’t do enough of. I tend to think what’s important is what I think is important at the time—what I’m doing research on. But all the other stuff needs to get it, be mushed(technical term) together, intertwined, concatenated; a lot will get used some time, somewhere.

And “on the other-side of the coin,” one of Louise Penny’s most wonderful novels is The Beautiful Mystery. I love her writing, and this novel in particular. After reading, I so wanted to write a book about a seminarian or monk detective. But it didn’t and won’t ever happen. Don’t know enough to get inside such a protagonist head, and can’t make it up (even though I know and have known several seminarians and priests)—and never will know enough. Sadly, sometimes stealing, incorporating, experiencing, and just plain winging it, just don’t get you there.

Happy writing trails!



[i] Like how things work, and types of items mentioned, or procedures or pottery stuff, and recently desert stuff…etc. — Real answer is research, flippant answer is “I make it up.”

[ii] Alas, I’ve never been approached by anyone recognizing me as an author. And after I mentioned my name to the lady in Vons, she still didn’t have a clue. Sigh, so much for fame and notoriety.

[iii] https://smile.amazon.com/M.-M.-Gornell/e/B002BM4L78/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

 

 

 

[iv] By Bill Smith

[v] Even with their crashes, malfunctioning software-hair-pulling incidents, and just general aggravation…

Delusional…

I haven’t met a dog I didn’t like, even the guard dog[i] varieties in Jackie Houchin’s wonderful post last week about dogs in Malawi. But when it comes to writing, from the very first, I wanted to make a point of not writing about animals (many of my fellow authors already do that soooooo well!) So I haven’tat least that’s what I’ve told myself for many a year before gathering my thoughts to write my Writer in Residence animal-series-post here.

Blogs are better with pictures, I’m told and think is true, so going back since starting to use a digital camera, I looked on my computer for pictures of pets we’ve known and lovedthinking an animal collage would be good to include in my post. So, I copied and pasted into PowerPoint all the pictures I could find, (some I didn’t have digital pictures of) all the while saying things to myself like, “Oh yeah, I did use Dobie in Mojave-Stone,” and “Jasmine was Della’s buddy in the Ravens books…” as I made my collage. Well, I finally realized how delusional/clueless I was about animals in my writing. A few examples are:

Mugs Nightshade–a character’s name inspired by Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion’s sidekick Lugg, and my dog Mugsin my latest Rhodes book

Dobie – playing herself in two Rhodes books

Tempefaithful friend to Elizabeth-May in latest Rhodes book

Silky and Samara (a friends cats)playing themselves in two Rhodes books

JoeysJoey was honored by having Hugh Champion’s mini-mart “Joey’s” named after him

Jasmine—Della’s faithful companion in two Hugh Champion books

Dogue—Camille’s faithful companion in Lies of Convenience

Tasha—Jada’s companion in Death of a Perfect Man

Naja and Buster—as themselves in my first novel Uncle Si’s Secret (with POV scenes of their own no less!)

I also forgot about the Ravens, itinerant residents here with us in the Mojave. Inspiration for Reticence of Reticence and Counsel of Ravens.

And then, I took a step even farther backthe first story I ever had published was in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine many-many-moons ago—title, Duck Soup. with characters, Dogue (my German Shepherd at the time) and some ducks. And the second story they published, The Case of the Lost Collie (their title, not mine. But there indeed was a Collie involved.)

So how could I not think I write about animals? The honest-to-goodness truth is I didn’t think I did.

My writing point here—clearly my subconscious author-mind has been writing about my lifelong “friends” all along. Even if they aren’t the main characters, or crucial to the plot line. They are there. And the further I thought, the less surprised I was. Clueless as I was about my animal friends, I’ve written about what’s inside mewhat I’ve experienced, liked, and disliked. From animals, through locations, character traits, situations, and more. In the past I’ve gone on-and-on about locations, settings, sensory experiences, even lyricism—and how these items can make our writing better. Clearly, my dear animal friends have been “singing” to my writing-mind all along, and are embedded in who I am, and what I write.

From now on, I’m going to embrace on a conscious level any richness their presence in my life can provide to my writing. And my other take-away from putting together this post—is the question of what else is out there that needs conscious thought on my part?

My final thought, maybe advice? from this whole exercise is “Write what you know—even if you don’t know you’re doing it.” (Smile)

One little closing note: My characters are often talking to their animals. Why? Because I do. All the time. Hmmm…



[i] As a child we had a big black Belgium Sheppard named Champ

Spring and the Comeback of Writing Richness

By Madeline (M.M.) Gornell

Rest Stop on the Writing JourneyIf you are a follower of our Writers in Residence blog, you may have noted by now my fellow writers possess a wealth of knowledge! I’m always learning from them, especially when it comes to where to, how to, and when to.[i] You’ve probably also gathered I spend a lot of time sitting around thinking about the art and craft of writing. Time, I must confess, that might be better spent actually writing or promoting. Nonetheless, everything started blooming out here in the Mojave last month, and I’m once again sitting around and thinking some more, and still reading Ngaio Marsh, and thinking about/starting several new books that would hopefully incorporate these thoughts and goals ((key word starting(smile)).

Spring Blooms

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is the art of bringing richness to my work. So what the heck am I talking about? Around Christmas I was thinking (posting) about lyricism, and recently just finished a Surfeit of LampreysNgaio Marsh’s tenth book, and written in 1941. In this novel, there is so much richness of characters and sense of place. I became one with the Lamprey family members and with Chief Inspector Alleyn. Not to say her dialogue isn’t snappy enough, or plot movement quick enough, or descriptive passages manageable. But given there is some reading-patience required, the rewards are great!

And where am I going with this? Sometimes, no matter what the current wisdom is, you have to write what you feel, like, and admire. Contrary to that concept, last year I spent too much time trying to tighten, streamline, improve my writing in line with current-guru directions (not necessarily a bad exercise for sure.) But now though, good or badI’ve finally realized the heck with it—just not me. Indeed, to the opposite end of current writing conventions, I’m going to go back in timeembrace, not try to eliminate or modernize a certain richness of style. One reader once mentioned to me, “I like your books, but you take too long to get to the action!” That reader is right. But the nugget for me there is—how important is that to me/you to the enjoyment of the tale and the emotional remnants remaining with the reader? It might just be a matter of prioritizing preferred outcomes?

An added note in taking my ramblings into account, I still don’t have a Smartphone. Maybe I’m also just a literary Luddite (living in the past maybe?) My hopefully helpful thought is, there are still people out there like me who when reading actually do want to  feel, know about settings, locations, character feelings, and emotional impacts in depth. And dialogue alone doesn’t get you there. I’m not sure exactly how to accomplish all of what I’m talking about, but I’m certainly trying in my rewrites to incorporates all the thoughts I’ve had lately into my work. (probably with an outcome of using more adjectives and adverbs than current writing connections condone–and not getting to the action soon enough!)

I’m also thinking about “words” and how picking just the right one brings lyricism and richness…but I’m out of time. Next post. Also thinking about the “leftover emotion” and imagery left after reading a book—I can still see Lamprey’s “lift” in my mind’s eye.

Comments are most welcome! And continued happy writing trails…


[i] Take for instance, last weeks post by Jackie Houchin on Making a booklet https://thewritersinresidence.com/2017/03/15/how-to-make-a-booklet-in-23-easy-steps/