Another New Year’s Day by M.M. 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 website or Amazon Author Page.

Another New Year’s Day

Had a birthday not too long ago—my marker for beginning a year, not January 1st. A day for assessment and commitment (more often than not, re-commitment!). And Writing, these years, is the first item on the dreaded list. And even with all the time that’s accumulated behind me, instead of stretching endlessly ahead of me, it’s a constant yearly amazement why I haven’t figured certain things out a long time ago. A New Year for me, means a lot of “should have known” head-scratching.
This year, number one, was my dissatisfaction with where I am writing-wise, and promotions wise. On the Writing-front, “No more excuses,” I’m telling myself on B-day, I have to physically write more.
Should be spending more time writing. Deciding that was easy. So far, writing one book a year is not enough. But trying to figure out when, how, where—all those little niggling details are the hard part. So, after my New Year’s Day introspection, I was whining to a friend about how I’m flitting around not writing, who in response looked at me like I was crazy, then said, “You’re always writing. What are you talking about?”
She pointed out things like: I’m constantly picking-up unusual people and place names, also asking details about places and people no one else would bother with, and saying things like, “What a place for a murder?” or “I wonder why that happened?” or “What else was going on then?” or “Where you around when?” etc. She also most candidly offered, I spend a lot of time “listening” in a particular way. I stopped there—too much personal insight. I didn’t want to know in detail what particular meant. She also offered, “I bet you wake up thinking about writing, and go to sleep thinking about writing.” Guilty as charged.
So why am I publicly sharing all this B-day stuff? When I first sat down to write this post, I was thinking maybe it would be a help to anyone else struggling with the question of not enough dedicated computer or pen-to-paper time. I.e., 1000 words a day, or 3 pages a day, or, or… Plenty of thresholds out there to claim as your own. But now as I’m wrapping up this B-day meandering, I realize it’s because I wanted to share an important insight I finallyinternalized. Knowing about my writing, knowing about me even, isn’t an exclusively inside-to-outside progression kind of thing.
The looking glass needs to talk back. And I don’t mean writing critique groups—something more encompassing I can’t fully articulate yet. But hoping you get the point. Writing is a great adventure—made even better with a few road signs. Feeling pretty lucky I have some people in my life who’ll tell me the truth. But I don’t think we can always count on that, so here’s a nugget to be taken away. Occasionally step back, then look in.
And for my “writing more” resolution. Decided I’m just fine. Ha! However, I did make some promotions resolutions; but they can keep until the next time I’m up.

Poetry in E-motion 
by Jackie Houchin

Jackie is a retired photo-journalist, a book reviewer and blogger. She loves to travel, to read (of course), and has a favorite, very intelligent cat named Story (what else?). She is involved in her church ministries for children and the elderly and admits to being a “sinner saved by God’s grace.”
Several years ago I took a creative writing class at Glendale Community College, hoping to develop my skills in fiction writing. I was disappointed to discover in the first ten minutes of class that the instructor, Bart Edelman was a poet and that poetry would be the main thrust of the class. 
I confess I’m not a fan of poetry, perhaps because I don’t know how to write it or read it.  Rhyming verse, as in hymns, ballads and old Rock ‘n Roll songs, is fun, understandable, and easy, but all that “free verse stuff” (often without punctuation and capitalization) seems like words scattered on the page without thought or purpose.
I considered dropping the class, but in the end, I decided to endure. Maybe I would learn something.
Mr. Edelman soon had us learning about the types of poems – Italian, Elizabethan and Shakespearean sonnets, haiku, tercets, ballads and such. We reviewed meter, construction, and how to “cheat” by contracting words.
In each session our homework assignment was to write a poem to the exact standard we’d learned, submitting all our notes and scribblings to show our process. I picked up a couple books on rhyming words and grudgingly got to work.
Surprisingly I began to enjoy the task. I’ve always been a lover of words, and to see them coming together from the hidden recesses of my mind to form beauty and sense amazed me. I saw character, setting, description, even dialogue. Huh! And I found that as I wrote the poem, hidden emotions – hurt, anger, sorrow – came out on the paper. I read it and had to acknowledge the truth I’d written. Whoa!
Edelman made me rewrite that first poem titled “Change of Face” four times, but in the end I got an “A-” on it.  
Sonnets with their strict meter and line placements appealed to me.  And again, as I wrote and rewrote lines and thoughts, the beauty of the words amazed me. Humor and entendre also surfaced. Wow!
I wrote a sonnet about my work as a photographer of civic light opera productions, titled “Drama, Focused and Exposed.” Can you guess the three Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals?
In gauzy fog beneath the ancient stage,
The masquerading maestro longed to own
Christine, his light and life.  But now in rage
He damns his love.  She’s gone and he’s alone.
A requiem, a funeral most grim.
But Argentina’s eyes must cry no more.
A comet flaring fast then growing dim,
A queen, a saint, belov’d, adored… a whore.
The chosen son – among his brothers loathed –
In rainbow hues paraded, dreamed, advised.
From Potiphar and prison cell, unclothed;
He rose like worshipped sun, adorned and prized.
These images through lens; my claim to fame!
With help, of course, from the Sir-What’s-His-Name.
I wrote a Terza Rima Tercet titled “Rude Awakenings” which came from some deep emotions of disappointment, danger, and disillusionment.
A candy bar, a car; his tools to stalk
A sweet young girl. She smiles and reaches…“No!”
They cry, “With strangers you must never talk!”
A tender boy, experimenting, slow.
(He loves me true. He’ll marry me. He will!)
A plunge; I cry!  He smiles and leaves. I know.
An angry boy, a son not mine, but still
I welcome him and offer help and love.
Rejection. Threats! Then me, he tries to kill.
Apologies, in recognition of
his infidelities, to her he brings,
And candy too, and gems…but not his love.
The final day, collecting all his things.
“We’re downsizing,” they’d said. “Now take a walk.”
“Oh… here’s a watch for your retiring.”
When we came to Haiku – those weird 5 – 7 – 5 syllable lines – I wrote about a 65 year old memory of my father’s death titled, “Daddy’s Demise.” I actually remember reaching on tiptoes into the casket and touching his cold hard hand.
Fatherless daughter
On tiptoes views him, reaches—
touches death’s cold hand.
Tears of grief squeezing
From a child’s eyes; bitter juice
pressed from unripe fruit.
Clods of earth; humans
Long returned to dust, welcome
box and body home.
Autumn’s crimson leaves
Drip like blood, blanketing earth—
Quilts warming the dead.
Like evening tides
eroding sand castles; life
fades from memory.
Okay, I know that was sad!  I also wrote a 35 line ballad based on the colorful life of someone I knew – but I won’t include that here.  I had SUCH fun with that one!
The poem – an Italian sonnet – I am most proud of, which was also included in the college literature book that year, tells of my personal emotions about my boys growing up and leaving. It’s titled “Empty Nest.”
Flown far from home my offspring; eagles now,
Were embryos and hatchlings; homely, plain,
Then fledglings yearning for the sky.  “Unchain
Us Mom,” they begged, then fled my homey bough.
First came the empty chairs at meals, (Oh, how
I missed their narratives of pain and gain!)
Then girls arrived, and cars and wives to claim
My boys.  Now men, with rows their own to plow.
But all’s not lost.  There’s peace and calm once more,
And rooms reclaimed and far less work to do.
There’s time for hobbies, gardens and decor.
And wives become new daughters. Furthermore,
There’re children, grand and great, and one more due.
Returned; the progeny of those I bore.
I got A’s on all these poems, often with an “excellent!” following. I thought I’d aced the class with a solid “A,” then Edelman pulled me aside. He couldn’t give me an A in class, he said, unless I wrote a free-form poem.
Ugh!  Just when I had begun enjoying the form and beauty of constructed verse, I had to let it go, throw words willy-nilly on the page and hope they passed the test.
For inspiration our instructor showed a film in class about a young Jewish boy hidden in a Swiss school during Hitler’s reign of terror. Goose-stepping soldiers eventually found him and…. well, the atrocities I saw burned in me and eventually came out on paper in my poem titled, “Reparations.”
Perhaps it’s not the free verse poem Edelman expected, but I noticed he cringed and squeezed his legs together as he read it. Raw emotion, unrestricted by order and form can be strangely cathartic.
Shall I include it here?  I might get some backlash. Oh well, here goes.
Kill them slowly…
Murderous bastards,
all of them arrogant
in their Aryan race and place.
Kill them slowly…
Blue-eyed scum
coldly wrenching gold teeth
from bloody gums, greedily.
Kill them slowly…
Golden haired giants
gleefully blackening bodies
and bones of boys and girls.
Torture them, burn them,
peel skin from their backs!
Torment them, rape them,
rip babies from their bellies!
Pluck out their eyes
and teeth and hair and nails.
Castrate them! Punish them!
Oh, God! 
Forgive them slowly…
In their quest for purity,
they exterminated the brilliant and the wise.
In their depravity, they left the world
bereft of light and art and grace.
In looking for the “solution”
they sacrificed the sanctified;
the chosen ones…
Abraham’s race.
Emotion, controlled in strict style or released just as it comes out, enriches writing in all genres. I still don’t write poetry as a rule, but the thing I learned is that beautiful (or terrible) images and emotions revealed in words is the substance of  good writing.
I got that “A” in the class. I even got the job of taking Edelman’s author photo for the back cover of his book of poetry. (I made him look pretty good.)

Looking for Meaning by Gayle Bartos-Pool

A former private detective and reporter for a small weekly newspaper, G.B.Pool writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” “How To Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line.” For more information about Gayle, visit her website!

For the past several months I have written blogs on the 5 Elements of a Story as outlined by Aristotle in The Poetics. Mine weren’t deep, philosophical discussions. They were just good, solid writing tips and techniques. So far we have covered Plot, Character, Setting, and Dialogue. Each of these is an integral aspect of a good story.

Without Plot, you have your annual Christmas letter. Without Character, you have a travel guide. Without Setting, you have an essay. And without Dialogue, you don’t have much reality to your story.

The final element is Meaning. Or: “What is the point to your story?” If you don’t have a point, why write the story? You might think the plot is the meaning, but the plot is simply what characters do in a specific time and place, enhanced by what each character has to say about it.

The Meaning is a higher concept. It’s the theme. There aren’t all that many concepts out there: Man against Man. Man against Nature. Man against Machine, Man against Himself, Man against God. Even if you have a dog as your hero, it would be Dog against Man, Dog against Dog, or Dog against Nature or Machine. (God loves dogs so there wouldn’t be any conflict between them. Sorry, I digress.)

Any good western has a guy in a white hat battling a guy in a black hat. Even in good, old-fashioned detective tales you have man against man (hero against killer) or maybe it’s hero against femme fatale.

The new movie, Everest, has men battling that mountain. My latest book, Caverns, coming out in October, pits man against nature until the heroes realize the rats in the caves underneath the city of Chicago aren’t their biggest problem.

The silent movie, Modern Times, has man battling the machine age. Or how about 2001: A Space Odyssey when the human is trying to outsmart the computer. (Obviously in real modern times and the real future, now, every gadget used in a CSI TV show works, nobody’s cell phone ever loses a signal or runs out of battery power. But that would be a different story. Sorry… Again I digress.)

Then there is Man against Himself. This is often a psychological tale where the man is trying to find himself or save himself. The Days of Wine and Roses and The Lost Weekend pit an alcoholic against the bottle in his fist. Whether it’s alcohol, drugs, or maybe a nymphomaniac female and her cravings, they are each fighting a battle against their addiction. And since they are the only one in the room, it’s the character against himself or herself. Society really doesn’t have a place in that scenario.

There are tales of man (and I use the term facetiously in this case) against God as in The Screwtape Letters. The devil is definitely having his issues with God.

And as in some instances, the man or woman doesn’t have to win. The Tale of Two Cities ends with Sydney Carton walking to the gallows. The plot might lead him to Madame Guillotine, but it’s his self-sacrifice that takes him on his final journey and the ultimate meaning of the story.

It is up to the writer to find those obstacles against which his or her characters can struggle. The writer creates a character with traits that either defy and overcome the odds or succumbs to them, because in the final analysis all stories are really about man vs. himself. 

Can the hero triumph over his limitations? Will the hero find himself, his courage, and his soul in that struggle?

What is your story trying to say?  What are you trying to say?

The Long and the Short of it….by Rosemary Lord

Sometimes I want to read in a hurry: quickly turning pages to find out what’s coming, racing through an exciting mystery. Other times I enjoy lingering in the luxury of words – savoring the colorful, evocative descriptions. Immersing myself in the mood of the piece.
I became aware of this as I began to read the English Best Seller, The Girl On The Train, by Paula Hawkins. I saw a smart format that moved the story along quickly. Written diary-style. Staccato. Divided with headings into morning and evening. Sentences very, very short, each session about a page. Although the diary entries increase in length heavily deeper into the book.

It starts off with brief descriptions of what the girl in the title saw on her daily train journeys back and forth to work. She makes up her own stories about the people she observes daily. We’ve all been there. I did that, fresh out of school, following similar train routes when I worked in London years ago. Train journeys are an excellent opportunity for writers imagination to run wild.

But it was the quick, short approach that caught my attention. Short descriptions, simple words written in the first person. No luxuriating in similes. Nothing sentimental. ‘Just the facts, Ma’am.’ It’s hip and sharp. And it works. This book was #1 on the L.A. Times Bestseller List.

But my problem is that I write about the past. A slower, gentler past. I get steeped in creating a mood of a by-gone era. Admittedly, I sometimes get carried away with my sometimes verbose descriptions and my writer friends on this blog will reign me back in. But a short, staccato, present tense would not work for what I want to say in my 1920s-set novels. Although I am getting better. 

For the past 5 years I have been working to save an historic Hollywood building from being turned into a condo-resort-with-swimming-pool. And as there were elderly ladies involved, it led to me to write the historical aspects, their stories and why the Woman’s Club of Hollywood should be saved. My first submissions were red-penciled by the legal teams. The Court, they pointed out, just wants the facts, no flowery descriptions, no emotions, and few – if any – adjectives. I learned to cut the information to the bone, with no sidetracks. It was explained to me that with thousands of legal pages to read, one needs the court to understand the story – without getting bored. Keep it simple. A twelve-step program phrase that is very useful.

I used the ‘keep it simple and short’ theme consistently when I was writing the updated version of Los Angeles Then and Now last year. Although I find it much easier to keep things simple when writing non-fiction. I did that as a journalist for years. Editors give you very little space in which to tell the entire story.

So, when I returned to working on my Lottie Topaz novels (Yeah!) that are set in the world of silent movies and Prohibition in Hollywood, it was with a renewed enthusiasm and fresh approach. While my novels and character’s voice are not really the place for that 2015 staccato tone, I have divested my writing of some of its frippery. And some of the descriptions that I just loved – well, they had to go.( Although my fellow blogger GB Pool uses an excellent, Chandleresque staccato tone in her Johnny Casino books. But that’s a subject for a whole other blog…. )

So, the long and the short of it is that there is room for both styles. It depends on the nature of your writing. I will leave you and return to my dusty, dry days of sweet-smelling orange groves, endless blue skies and the clang of trolley cars in the distance and the world of Hollywood in the 1920s. 

The Human Mind (Yes this has something to do with writing!)

I like three word titles, but this time, The Human Mind was just too obtuse.
In one of my prior lives, I majored in Philosophy with a minor in Psychology. The academic choices of a naive twenty year old I don’t think are of interest, or relevant, except as background for why I thought this blog was a good idea.

Philosophy gave me a logical thinking grounding, and Psychology appealed to my interest in always wanting to know “why?” Nonetheless, I’ve ended up being more of a “pantster,” than a thinking ahead “outliner” and laying out kind of writer. And when it comes to “why,” I sure like leaving “what if” loose ends and unresolved questions in my stories. Especially about the future. Logic and “why”—apparently went out the window.
Which leads me into the heart of this post. The numerous articles on how to do this or that (especially if it’s something computer related!) are wonderful, and my saviors in our electronic age. However, the “ten things” you have to do, or the “ten no-nos” or the “ten rules” for writing, editing, etc. sometimes hit a sour note. And they shouldn’t, because people are always asking those questions, and we’re all eager for help and answers.
But in the background areas of my “human mind” runs the belief everyone is different, and contradictory. And picking and choosing what works for you is the only one answer I wholeheartedly believe in repeating. That being said, I’ve pontificated while on many a panel, in many a blog, and answered many a question about “should and shouldn’t” behavior. Even had numbered lists. Guilty as charged.

Madeline (M.M.) Gornell

Finally, here’s the conclusion and connections to these thoughts(which started as musings on my way home back to the high-desert from a lovely lunch in Arcadia with some wonderful author friends—you know who you are): Not only is every author unique in our approach to writing, but also contradictory in our thoughts, actions, personalities, and life philosophies—and these contradictions, whether we want them to or not, in many ways define our writing style, the characters we develop, and the tales we tell.

A good thing, I think.

The WinRs are Brainstorming

From Wikicommons, Bundesarchiv Bild 183-13800-0006,
Berlin, Frauen beim Selbststudium, Weiterbildung.jpg

Writers need to take time to regroup, restore, and refill their mental reservoirs! 

The members of Writers in Residence are off this week to do just that. We’ll be back again next week with a post from Miko Johnston!

Until then, keep your pencils sharp and your typing fingers limber.