Rosemary wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House! She has been writing ever since.
The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now, English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.
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What, you might ask, is ‘Yak Shaving’? Where do I start…?
I was writing a new chapter in my next book, when I needed some research information that I could not find online. (If only I wrote about the present day, I wouldn’t need all this specific research – I could make it up.) A visit to my local library was needed. So… I got dressed and headed out. I knew my car had the little orange light flashing, so I would have to get gas first. But, lo and behold, the universe had another idea. I had a flat tire. So I called the AAA and waited. My spare was flat, too, so the AAA guy towed me to the local Tire place. Eventually, I was able to drive my car away, go get some gas and head to the library for my research. I found the book I needed and copied my notes. It was a reference book, so I could not take it out. After which, I was hungry. I can’t think or write when I’m hungry. So on my way home, I had to stop by Trader Joe’s and buy some food, before heading home to cook, eat, then pick up where my writing left off – many hours later.
This is known as ‘Yak Shaving’ – when you find yourself doing something as irrelevant as shaving a yak (don’t ask!), instead of the goal you set out to accomplish.
It’s a term invented by MIT student Carlin Vieri and made famous by blogger Seth Gordon, who told his own tale of, “the seemingly unrelated, endless series of small tasks that have to be completed before the next step in a project can move forward.” There!
Hey – maybe I can absolve myself from the personal responsibility for not finishing my current book: I have the Yak Shaving Syndrome.
But writers are known for procrastinating. Sometimes we find it is essential to clean out our fridge, before we can write that next article – or re-pot those pesky plants in the garden, before we write the next pages. Essential stuff, eh?
But then, we could turn Yak Shaving to our own benefit. When you’re writing a novel – especially a mystery novel – you usually have a vague idea how it ends, and maybe an overall feel about the way you want your characters to interact. So perhaps, if you’re stuck, you can work backwards. Think about what has to happen just before the end. How you resolve your different characters storylines at the finale. What has to happen just before that? And what has to happen before that point in your plot – and so on. Yak Shaving in reverse.
I digress. Because one can easily get distracted by all the Yak Shaving things life throws at us. Finding the perfect printer, the best notepads on which to write your literary gems, sharpening your pencils to perfection, then choosing just the right font when you finally get to type it all up. I get so busy and distracted by little things that I have to constantly remind myself, what is it I really want to accomplish or be doing?
Remember that old saying: ‘When you are up to your neck in alligators, it is easy to forget that your original mission was to drain the swamp.”
She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.
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Last summer I created a four-part seminar, “The Rules, And How To Break Them” for this blog. My intention was to show how crucial it is to learn the guidelines and formulas in writing fiction, because once you understand them, you can work around them.
There is a singular exception in my opinion, one rule that should never be broken: always treating your work in a professional manner – using standard formatting with readable fonts, and correcting your copy before showing it to anyone.
I still believe that. I set my Word docs to one-inch margins, double-spaced, usually Times New Roman or Cambria 12 point font. I check my work for spelling, grammar and punctuation before presenting it to a critique group or beta reader. What I present is never perfect, but I catch and correct a lot more errors than I let through.
Not everyone follows that policy. I don’t understand why. Pages with odd or odd sized fonts and single line spacing can be difficult to read. I don’t take issue with the occasional extra or dropped word, a few typos, or missing dialog tags. Writers who’ve caught an error after the fifth proofing of their work know it can happen.
However, when I have to review pages that are hard to read or overloaded with avoidable mistakes, I feel more like a teacher correcting papers than a writer offering critique. In fact, too many errors distract me from the writing, from finding the real gems within the pages as well as the core issues with character or plot.
I recently submitted pages from my third novel to a critique group with the up-front warning that they were a first draft. I’d been struggling with how to develop the story, which plot points to follow and which to drop. Even so, I made sure to present the material as though it was my final draft – proofed for typos and other errors. Their feedback was extraordinarily helpful, but I doubt they would have been able to provide so much insight if I hadn’t done my cleanup first.
Some writers I’ve worked with over the years don’t agree with me. They’ll submit a rough draft and make corrections after the critique. I’ve even heard some say they don’t care about grammar, punctuation and spelling – they can hire someone to do that for them. What professional would admit to being unable to handle some of the most basic elements of their job?
Doesn’t submitting sloppy work unchecked for common errors not only show a disregard for one’s own material, but disrespect for the readers?
As writers, it’s tempting to remain focused on our own works-in-progress, but savvy authors know that one of the best ways to remain fresh is to read other books in our genre. It’s also a good idea to move a step outside of your comfort zone when composing your reading list. Consider it a mental stretch. I’ve been gorging on mysteries, and though I usually stick to golden age, British traditional, and humorous, I recently picked up a crime thriller to round out my list. Here’s the scoop:
Paul D. Marks
Timeless Skies Publishing
It’s apparent from the first page that Paul D. Marks writes stories that move. Fast. Hard-to-put-down fast. Which is probably why he has a Seamus Award for his novel, White Heat.
Vortex, protagonist Zack Tanner returns from Afghanistan to find that he isn’t the same shallow, fun-loving man that left Los Angeles for an adventure in the army. Unfortunately, no one else seems to have changed. Not his girlfriend, Jess, who is forever dreaming of stardom, nor his best friends and fellow soldiers, Bryan, Carlos and Matt.
Well, maybe Carlos and Bryan have changed. They believe that Zack has possession of something they desperately want, and suddenly the friendly banter takes a sinister turn. And the chase begins.
Marks, known for his love of Los Angeles noir, honors the moral ambiguity of that genre with a complex hero who straddles the line between being the good guy and being the guy who simply isn’t as bad as the rest. Zack, who functions as the point-of-view character, presents an authentic voice reflecting the difficulties a soldier might experience when faced with his former life.
The supporting characters ring true, and you won’t know whether to love them, pity them, or hope they get bumped off before they cause additional damage. You can never be sure who’s on Zack’s side.
Marks knows the Los Angeles area well, and whether the scene takes place in the affluence-surrounded-by-grunge Los Feliz neighborhood, on the touristy Santa Monica Pier, or zooming up the famous Pacific Coast Highway, it feels as if you’re there.
The only problem with the novel is that it ends, because you won’t want to lose touch with Zack Tanner.
Jacqueline Vick spent her childhood plotting ways to murder her Barbie doll. Mystery writing provided a more productive outlet.
You can find out more about the “Barbie Death Ritual” at http://www.jacquelinevick.com.
By Madeline (M.M.) Gornell
If 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)).
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 Lampreys—Ngaio 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 bad—I’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 time—embrace, 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/
By Jackie Houchin.
This is a “How To?” post on making simple half sheet booklets. Booklets can be used for any project or advertisement. I use them to print out my MISSIONARY KIDS STORIES so some of the younger kids can have a “hands on” experience and be able to re-read the stories when Mom’s laptop is not available. These booklets are pretty simple to look at… and I hope I’ve made the instructions simple, but…you judge. The problem is, there will be differences between PCs and Apple computers and laptops, and with the various aged or brand new software you are using.
I’m using Window 7 with MS Word 2007, and a mid-range Cannon Printer.
1. Open a new document in Word (I have 2007)
2. Go to the Page Layout tab.
3. In the bottom right corner there is a tiny arrow – click on that for a “Page Setup.” (It will open with a small Margins tab, if not, change it to that.)
4. FIRST go to ‘orientation’ and change it to LANDSCAPE.
5. SECOND go down to the “pages” drop down and click on BOOK FOLD.
6. THEN, for ‘sheets per booklet,’ use ALL. (Your booklet – however long – MUST have pages divisible by 4, such as 12, 16, 20, 24, 48 etc., or your page printing will be off. If necessary, press enter, until you have blank pages at the end to equal enough. (Check the page count at the bottom of your screen.)
7. NEXT Set the INSIDE and OUTSIDE margins to .5″ Set the TOP and BOTTOM margins anywhere from .5″ to 1.0″ as desired for more or less white space.
8. Leave O for the GUTTER if you plan to open the booklet flat and center staple it together, or sew it down the middle. If you plan to close your booklet and staple it along the left side, or use a spiral or squeeze binding, then set the GUTTER at .25″ or .5″ inch.
9. Still in the Page Setup box, go to the Layout tab.
10. Set the Section Start at “New Page.”
11. Warning: DO NOT CHECK the box for “Different First Page.” Somehow it screws up the order of pages in printing.
12. Set the headers & footers at .5″.
13. The vertical alignment stays at “Top.”
14. Click OK.
15. You will see a vertical half page. Make this title page special, with fonts or photos.
16. Start your work (or copy and paste from another document) on the following page. You can change fonts and sizes, spacing and indents, add photos, clip-art, tables, charts, etc., and change the style by using the Home settings. (For my stories, I use an easy-reader font and the block style of indents.)
17. To add page numbers, go to the Insert tab.
18. Go to the Header & Footer square and click on Page Numbers. It will give you choices as to where you want the numbers placed. For a booklet, it’s best to place them at the center of either top or bottom. You can also “format” what they look like, and at what number you wish to start. Experiment with what you prefer. I start with #O since I don’t want the front cover to be page one.
19. When you are finished, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A NUMBER OF PAGES DIVISIBLE BY FOUR, as per the page number on your screen, NOT on the document, even if you have to “enter” your cursor several times to get a few blank pages at the end.
NOTE: I am using a Cannon MG5500 Series Printer, so the following may differ with your machine. Use these as general instructions, and adjust for yours.
20. Click on “print” (not quick print).
21. When that window opens. Choose the number of copies you want to print (or experiment with one at first), and check “Collate.”
22. Click on “Properties” (upper right corner of your print box).
23. Go to the Page Setup Tab.
24. Make sure LANDSCAPE Orientation is checked.
25. Check DUPLEX Printing
26. UN-CHECK “automatic” if it is checked. (With “automatic” checked, the printer will draw the paper back inside to print the opposite side before going on, but THIS DOES NOT WORK WITH A BOOKLET. The second side will be upside down.)
27. Click on OK, then OK to print.
28. The printer prints ONE side only, then stops. (It will look weird at first.)
29. Take your printed pages out and re-insert them, according to how YOUR printer works.
With my printer (a front feeder), I keep the pages face up and just lower them down to the paper feed tray beneath the output. I don’t turn them over or rotate them clockwise (like in this screenshot), STRAIGHT DOWN just as they came out of the printer (EVEN if my printer screen SAYS to rotate them, I don’t. THAT works only for full page documents, NOT for booklets which are printed and compiled differently.) TEST yours first!
30. Click “Start Printing” when prompted.
31. After the second side is printed, take the pages out, align the edges carefully and fold them in half crosswise to find the line where the staples or sewing will be placed. (Or crease them heavily in preparation for stapling or binding them along the left side.)
32. Use a stapler that opens flat, place cardboard or wood beneath and staple two or three places, with the inside pages of your booklet facing down.
33. Open and carefully bend the staple ends tight. Fold and crease tightly.
Megan reading MK Story #1 – “Dead Mice”
A former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (G.B. Pool) writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She also wrote the SPYGAME Trilogy: The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power; Caverns, Eddie Buick’s Last Case, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas and The Santa Claus Machine. She teaches writing classes: “The Anatomy of a Short Story” (which is also in workbook form), “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “How to Write a Killer Opening.” Website: http://www.gbpool.com.
“Hi. My name is Johnny Casino. I’m a retired P.I. with a past. I just hope it doesn’t catch up with me. That’s how I was introduced in the first book about yours truly. It was fun reading about my exploits. I guess when you’re in the middle of it; you don’t see what’s happening around you. But the stories in The Johnny Casino Casebook 1 – Past Imperfect do a pretty good job telling part of my life story.
“Since the book is about pasts, mine and a few other people I bumped into along the way, it gives you a pretty good idea who I am. Anyway I thought so when I read it. But sometimes what you think you know isn’t the truth. I found that out the hard way.
“You see, I grew up in a Mob family in New Jersey. Nothing like having a father who is the consigliere for one of the top Mob families in the country. And my darling mother was the daughter of another Mob boss right outta Chicago. What a pedigree. My name was Johnny Cassini back then.
“Me and my brother were raised thinking this was the only life there was. But after a while I got tired of it. Maybe that’s because I watched a lot of old movies while waiting for protection money to be dropped off at my hotel room in those days. These were Black & White films on the movie channel. But a steady diet of Bogie, Cagney, and Edward G. Robinson opened my eyes. And it wasn’t just seeing them splattered on the pavement. Sometimes these tough men played the good guys. That’s when I started seeing a different side of things.
“So I fled to Miami and joined another Mob. I know that didn’t exactly remove me from the life I was starting to hate, but I was seeing it from a different perspective. I worked on a gambling ship and met a lady who changed my life. She wasn’t the only one. Not by a long shot, but this gal was the wife of the Mob boss in Miami. She was steering me away from her daughter who was even more trouble. And then everything went to hell.
“A dealer on that gambling ship went overboard one night, literally, so I switched identities with him and then hightailed it to Los Angeles. So Johnny Cassini died and Johnny Casino was born. But the story didn’t end there. I was having a hard time shaking my life of crime and got myself into some hot water when I was working for this guy in L.A. He had me kidnap this lady. She’s the one who really changed my life.”
“Let me take over from there, Johnny. Hi, my name is Ginger Caulfield. I’m a private detective, too. I was on a case and ran into Johnny during his crime wave here in Los Angeles. It was an odd meeting to say the least. He kidnapped me, but I could tell the guy had something, so when the case was over I told him to look me up sometime because I might have a job for him. He did.
“Johnny worked for me several years until he had enough P.I. hours under his belt to go out on his own. I hated to see him go, but I knew he worked better alone. Most of the time I do my work solo like the case at the racetrack in Hedge Bet. I should amend that statement because I got my husband, Fred, to do some work for me. His trip to Mexico to bring back a witness led to a few choice words from him, mostly unprintable. But the guy’s a natural P.I.
“I had been in the detective business for a while and knew good people like Johnny when I saw them. In fact I knew a few things about Johnny that he didn’t know, but I have a reason. You see my uncle is a spy. His name is Robert Mackenzie and he has had some incredible exploits around the world ever since World War II. His story, at least the parts that can be told, are in a series called The SPYGAME Trilogy documented by a writer who I got to know through the years. She’ll explain this next part.”
“Hello, folks. My name is Elaine Barton. My dad was involved in Colonel Mackenzie’s exploits and I got caught up in a few exciting adventures in books like The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power. The trilogy covers about fifty years and follows not only Mac’s life but also my father’s Air Force career. Parts of my life got caught up in this tale, too, and I put it all in book form. Though you’ll see in the books, some of it almost didn’t get written.”
“Thanks, Elaine. Since I knew my Uncle Mac had ways of checking on people, I had him check out Johnny Casino. I learned his real name, or at least I thought it was his real name, until another story in the Johnny Casino Casebook series uncovered something that even Johnny didn’t know. It changed everything for him. It’s in The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 – Looking for Johnny Nobody. That’s when I started seeing a pattern.”
“Hey, Gin. Johnny here. You aren’t the only one who is starting to see a pattern. When I had a case in Las Vegas, I met one of the biggest headliners in the world, Jack Lynn. He turned up in two of my stories, but then I noticed he was also in The Santa Claus Singer about a lounge singer called Frankie Madison. He met Jack, too.”
“I’ve got another one for you, Johnny. One of the guys I trained after you went out on your own, Chance McCoy, has a story about him and me in the upcoming short story collection called Second Chance. Chance is a special guy. You see, he got killed on a case, but his story doesn’t end there. Not by a long shot.”
“I can give you another one, Gin.”
“Lay it on us, Elaine.”
“I’ve heard a rumor that there is a particular elf, yes, I did say elf, who is thinking about starting his own private detective agency to help ‘the little guy.’ How does something like this happen?”
“Maybe we should ask the author of all our books. Hey, G.B. What goes? The ladies and I want to know.”
“Okay, Johnny. I’ll confess. When I started creating this fictional world I had no idea you all knew each other, but as this world grew I saw connections between all of you. First it was Johnny knowing Ginger Caulfield. Then I wondered how Gin knew so much about Johnny’s past and I realized her uncle was Mac Mackenzie. Who else would have access to all that secret stuff?
“As for Chance McCoy, he told me a bunch of his stories and when he needed a fellow P.I. to help him out in a case, it just happened to be Gin Caulfield.
“Did I say ‘he told me’? Yes, I did. If any of you readers have ever been to an author panel, I bet half of those writers mentioned that when they write their stories, especially the dialogue, they just sit back and let their characters speak because those people really do talk to us. That doesn’t mean we are ready for the padded cell… yet.
“We do ‘hear’ those voices if we have created a character with a past and a personality. And by that I mean that you should try writing a biography of your main characters and even for a few of the other people who play an important part in the story.
“You, as the writer, need to know as much as you can about the character you are working with. If you know where he or she was born, their education or even lack there of, or maybe even their desires or hates, you will be able to craft a character with depth. And maybe, just maybe, you will discover something about a character that they didn’t know. That’s what happened when I found out something about Johnny that shocked him and me.
“I can’t explain it, but by knowing who my characters are, I hear their voices and I basically transcribe what is being said in my ear. On top of that, I marvel at the fact that some of my characters actually know each other, but the small world I created is only a part of the larger world around us. I sometimes wonder if any of my other characters know or have run into these people sometime or somewhere. Anything is possible in fiction… if it is fiction. Or maybe there is a parallel universe where they all live—”
Knock, knock, knock.
“Excuse me; somebody is at the door. I think it’s the guys from the asylum. They tracked me down and they are going to take me back so I can do some more writing.
Catch you later.”