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.





[iv] By Bill Smith

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


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

This ‘n’ That

By Madeline (M.M.) Gornell

Rest Stop on the Writing JourneySeldom do I put together a new year resolution list, or a last year in retrospect list. Something about lists, I guess… Yet, this post might fall into the latter category—sort of. This n’ that are the “ones” which got away. The snatches of thought which weren’t quite big enough for a full post. Or “ones” I thought at the time were of dubious value. Every seven weeks I strive to come up with a post that might make a difference to someone regarding their writing; and during the process and quest for nuggets, over this year of ideas—“many” have flitted through my mind, only to be sent to the “not-quite” slush pile.

Before I start my list which isn’t really a list, here’s a little back story on how I got to this post. My Christmas holidays were spent, reading, watching DVDs (Miss Marple with Joan Hickson, Campion with Peter Davison, Inspector Alleyn with Patrick Malahide, Midsomer Murders with John Nettles, and Maigret with Michael Gambon), and napping. I didn’t get to Christmas cards, didn’t have any guests, barely went anyplace, and did NO housework. Did bake bread. And when I wasn’t doing all that hard work (smile) I was thinking about writing—how to make it better. Somehow, from bingeing with/on my favorite mysteries, reading my favorite authors,[i] eating far too much warm bread, mulling over possible plots, and thinking about my “next writing steps”—came this post! So, here are a few this n’ that tidbits:

  • Besides the musicality in writing (a previous post), imagery as in a
    There was the idea of challenging everyone to describe these cactus. I couldn't do it, so I passed.
    There was the idea of challenging everyone to describe these cacti. I couldn’t do it, so I passed.

    mental-pictures, which take me to new and often beautiful places, was an idea I started a post about. And a corollary thought to location imagery, is the imagery of ideas and emotions. In my mind, right beside scenes from movies, are the imagery Louise Penny brings forth in How the Light Gets In, Carlos Ruiz Zafon in The Shadow of the Wind, Robert Haig in Fire Horses, Paul Alan Fahey in Lovers and Liars, and P.D. James in all her novels–but especially in The Black Tower.

  • Then there’s the small topicsonly paragraph explanations at the most, like alliteration[ii]) such as “nattering nabobs”[iii] which has always tickled my ear. It’s not the meaning, it’s the sound. Another paragraph is on writing customs and conventions; such as Prefaces, Prologues, Lists of Character, and town/village maps. The thought here is, I had an idea of writing about how many of these writing customs were around as I grew up readingand now they’re gone, which saddens me.
  • And then there was the post I was going to tackle about writing styles, right after I’d read P.D. James’s posthumous latest, then read James Patterson’s latest, both of which I enjoyed.[iv] Totally different though, with P.D. being more to my taste. Next I started Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s latest (and haven’t finished yet), where he combines story telling ability, plot movement, atmosphere, and approaches the beautiful imagery of P.D. James. The thought was about the successful bringing together of different styles.

And what is the writing advice or inspiration to myself and anyone looking for writing tidbits from my this ‘n’ that hodge-podge? I think it is to take a moment once in awhile, then take stock of what you love in and about writing. Continue questioning and striving. And here, I’m stealing directly from P.D. James, “Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell.” I’m taking that thought and running with it. My version is, I’m going to try to make 2017 a Julia Child type of yearlive with (writing) abandon when possible, and for me, also with plenty of butter!

[i] “Read Widely and with discrimination.” P.D. James

[ii] As mentioned by G. B. Pool in an earlier post.

[iii] William Lewis Safir “nattering nabobs of negativism”

[iv] Trying to find my next  book-club selection/recommendation! Haven’t found just the right one yet…

The Sound of Writing Music

I’ve been thinking about Christmas and Christmas carols; which has brought me to a writing topic I’ve put off posting about because of the nebulous nature of my thoughts. I’ve wanted to write this post for a bit, but hesitant to do. Lyricism in narrative—that is, other than in poetry—is the slippery topic I’m referring to. But I’m finally writing this post at the risk of being labeled a loony. But that’s okay, it’s a classification I can accept and work with!(smile)

Here’s a quickie little back-storyI’m tone-deaf and monotone(1) when it comes to musical hearing and singing songs. The short synopsis of a long younger-life story is: in grammar school I was instructed to just move my lips during mass hymns, and in high school I was excused from Gee-Club (not a small concession for the time and environment) So, you get the picture—music is not my forte. But lyricism in writing is something I can hear. And feel.

I think lyricism is more complicated than my explanation—but it’s the best I can do so far. It’s the juxtaposition of short sentences, long sentences, paragraph breaks, even scene breaks that carry our minds forward. Sing to our minds. Pleasant to the earreading wise. It’s the mechanics, (or is it the art?), of intermixing heavy and tedious words or sentences with the short and snappy. For me, it’s also a kind of a coaxing music that moves me along in the story. It’s that little “something” that makes you want to keep reading, keep listening to the author’s song. Regardless of whether a good or bad story.

And for me, it’s often very hard to do—but when it’s there in other’s writings—easy to hear. In the final edits I do make a lot of changes to try to make my writing “sing.” Especially since I’m habitually fond of writing long and tedious sentences. Not sure if “literary lyricism” is a craft-of-writing kind of thing that can be learned, or a talent you either have or don’t. Sure hope it’s at least an improvable skill.

musicpictureAnd indeed, this may be something only I “hear.” A concept only important to me. And there are enough hurdles and “things” to think about already in writingI certainly don’t want to build artificial new ones. But bringing music to your writing is something to think aboutespecially for those of you who can tell C from D, and a flat from a sharp when you’re singing all those lovely Christmas Carols!

If you have a thought/insight into what I’ve dubbed “literary-lyricism,” and would like to share, I’d love to hear your comments.

 Happy writing trails throughout the holidays!

(1) From Internet — “Tone deafness is the lack of relative pitch, or the inability to distinguish between musical notes and between linguistic tones that is not due to the lack of musical training or education It is also known as tune deafness, “tin ear”, dysmelodia and dysmusia.”

“Monotone a continuing sound, especially of someone’s voice, that is unchanging in pitch and without intonation…(of a voice or other sound) unchanging in pitch; without intonation or expressiveness.

When “Things” Get Out of Hand…

Madeline Gornell

Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of six 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, and besides reading and writing, is also a potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. For more information, visit her at website or Amazon Author Page.

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Characters and settingI’ll expound on both whenever I get a chanceare the two items that are really important to my enjoying a story. Several of our recent posts here on Writers in Residence have been on research, so I thought I’d add my voice to the discussion. And why? Because without research—unless you’re one of those people who already knows everything about everything(smile)characters and locations have no backbone, no appeal, no enticement, no flavor without it. I know I mention P.D. James a lot, but setting and characters are two of the many aspects of her writing that I revel in; the places, buildings, institutions she took me to, and going there through the eyes of so many multi-careered characters with their own unique back stories was marvelous.

And in my own writing mind, one of the major items in location is sensory experience, and one of the main ways of presenting a character, is explaining how they are experiencing the world through all their senses.

Going off tract a bit with a little back-story, as a child, an elderly and kind lady—still remember her name, Mrs. Shoecraft—in the flat above us, I grew up as a Chicago kid, would often bake yeast-bread. The aroma floating to the floor below, was marvelous. And to my delight, she made mini-loaves and shared. As an adult, and primarily a west coast dweller, I’ve retained my love for good bread, but it isn’t easy making good yeast bread of any type, including rye-bread, ciabata, and baguettes (other childhood favorites and memories), and I have consequently collected various and now seldom-used items like a bread mixer, mix-master kneader, and a lots and lots of books on bread making.

Back to the writing part, Hester Miller, a character in my current WIP, and a carryover from Rhodes – The Mojave-Stone, is baking bread in a scene. Why? Because I think she’s a bread-making kind of Romani housekeeper, and bread baking is a new aspect of her that might explain, or counterbalance some of her other actions. Of course I couldn’t just write the darn scene. I had to do more research on bread! By late afternoon, I’d ordered yet another book from Amazon, and printed out three new recipes from the internet.

Did I write anything that day? No. But two days later, wrote these lines:

Then he caught the aroma in the air. “Is that yeast I smell?”

“Yep,” she answered.

He smiled, not just at her short and enigmatic seeming answer, but his mind shot back to those days eons ago when his father Everett and his mother Sophie would take him to her mother’s house in Austin. Grandma Nelson would always have dough rising when they came over. Invariably Sundays, and she had mini-loaf panseveryone got their own loaf of warm buttery bread. The aromas at Grandma Nelson’s were heaven; but the homemade yeast bread Leiv knew he would never forget. Yep, a special memory.

Ended up, in my story the reference/memory wasn’t even with the same character in mind. Was the additional research worth it? I’m doubtful. Did I enjoy going back down my sensory bread-lane? Definitely.

bookcaseAnd this isn’t an isolated event for me. Research that gets out of hand—at least at “that” moment of interest. Here’s a picture of an ages old bookcase in my kitchen, stuffed with unused recipe books and internet printouts. Many are products of “Research.” Nonetheless, I sincerely believe–not only are past memories, experiences (see several preceding excellent posts here on our site), and travels invaluable to writing, but all the “research gone array” also contributes to the mosaic of our stories. Maybe not exactly at this moment in writing time, maybe even unconsciously, but down the road for sure. To use a bread analogy, to write with texture, flavor,  and aroma (I can smell the bread), research is invaluable. Though it can get out of hand for some of us. But even if I’m completely wrong about the value part, it sure is fun.

I do need to figure out what kind of filming camera one of my characters would prefer. Hmmm, maybe there’s something on the internet…or a book on Amazon maybe….

Happy writing trails!

The End. Or is it?

Madeline GornellMadeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of six 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, and besides reading and writing, is also a potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. For more information, visit her at website or Amazon Author Page.

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In my last post, I talked about “Openings.” Recently, the knowledge our reading personalities (our likes and dislikes) differ, was not only reinforced to mebut also the thought of writing about “Endings” came to mind as a good idea.

On the “our reading personalities differ” front, after reading the latest selection from my Book Club, I mentioned the book in a couple places and to a couple people because I liked some parts of the book a lot. Then I asked for and received input from both fellow authors and my Book Club. All their thoughts caused me to think again about how important Endings are. I already knew how special they were to me (both as an author and as a reader). But there’s knowing, and then there’s knowing.

I liked this particular book especially for its opening and ending (fond of unresolved characters, symbolism, and lyricism). I found the middle sagged, and the issues weren’t ones that particularly grabbed me. So, here’s my “readers are different” reinforcement anecdotes. Among other items, feedback I received was:

  • Didn’t like the end because it was too open ended—i.e. what happened to…
  • Almost put it down because didn’t like beginning
  • Didn’t like beginning or end, but loved the story, mainly the dialogue and the issues…


I’m what I call a “Pantster” when it comes to writing. That means specifically, I usually write the beginning first, then the end[i], and finally fill in the middle. And that filling in the middle jumps around a lot—but that’s the fun part. That’s where the plot twists and turns come in. My personal joy in writing.

So, at the risk of possibly once again offering more than you want to know about how writing actually happens for one particular author, here’s even more. The kind of endings I love to read:

  • Tie to the beginning, giving the reader that “Oh yeah, I remember how all this started” feeling,
  • Endings that leave readers with pictures in their minds—not just mental, but photographic too,[ii] (in color with all the senses involved is even better!)
  • And highly desired, is leaving a symbolic nugget of some kind.

I live in a rural desert area, and if I want to get anywhere near civilization, I have to drive over one of two Burlington Northern/Santa Fe railroad tracks. One train line I usually get caught sitting at runs along Route 66. Several days ago, the train was relatively short compared to some, and it stuck out visually that there was an engine on both ends. And in my mind, symbolic at that moment in time, the lead engine was pulling the reader along the story track, but when at the end of the line, the ending engine would take your mind farther past a particular book, or back into the book. I know, fanciful and a flawed example in several waysbut sitting there, waiting for that train to pass gave me several ideas on how to improve my current ending.

And yes, every time I open my WIP, I “touch up” not only the beginning, but also the end.

I’m hoping there might be a writing tidbit here about the importance of the impression your reader is left with at the end–given all our differing likes and dislikes. Having readers of your offering who not only say, “wow,” I liked that, or even “ptooie,” what an awful book; but more–such as a not easily forgotten image(s) left in their minds. And just maybe ideas and thoughts taking them farther than the tale just finished. For me it’s a lofty goal, but one that keeps me striving, keeps me writing.

I also want the ending sentences to be lyrical—and what exactly I mean by that is another blog for another day. (translation—I haven’t figured out yet what exactly I mean by that. One of those “I know ‘it’ when I experience it in other books” kind of thing.)

Happy (writing) trails!

[i] Sometimes it’s the end first, then the beginning. [ii] Fire Horses by Robert Haig is a prime example for me.