Those OTHER Blogs on Writing

signHow many blogs besides this one do YOU read regularly (daily, weekly, monthly)?  Yes, you can confess. We don’t mind. Reading them will help you become a better writer.

Of course there are thousands to choose from. Just Google a topic and you’ll see. Bloggers will give you tips on everything, from where to get ideas to how to publish and market your final product, be it a book, short story, poem or article.

Some writer magazines and blogs publish lists of the Top 50 or 100 from the previous year.  Here’s a link to the Top 50 Blogs in 2018

I have THREE blogs that I read daily and usually take notes on. Okay, sometimes I only peruse them, if the topic is not relative to my needs right then.

  1. Mia Botha’s Writers Writehttps://writerswrite.co.za/

Every day, Mia posts links to articles on a wide variety of subjects. Each article will offer other links to follow on related subjects in an Alice In Wonderland type trail that is positively addicting! And time consuming.  Watch out!

Her daily Writing Prompts will tickle your imagination and sometimes get a story going.

There are usually cute (or smarmy) writing cartoons to make you chuckle.

Finally, there is a list of “famous” authors whose birthday is that day. Each gives his/her advice on some aspect of the writing life.

Writers Write also hosts the “12 Short Stories Writing Challenge” each year beginning in January.  Using a monthly prompt that they supply, you write, finish and polish a 1500 word (exactly) story to submit. You comment on 4 other stories and receive feedback on your own piece. One a month for 12 months. Whew!

Writers Write also offers a variety of online classes which you need to pay for.

 

  1. Edie Melson’s The Write Conversationhttp://thewriteconversation.blogspot.com/

Each day Edie, or one of 10 or so guest writers, presents short articles that inspire, encourage, inform, and teach you all facets of the art of writing and publishing. It is a Christian site, but usually only one in seven posts talks about the author’s beliefs in her writing process.

Here are some topics on recent posts: (You can click on these to go to the blog.)

YOU HAVE A GREAT SCENE, BUT WHAT TO DO WITH IT?

7 TIPS TO MAKE YOU A MORE OBSERVANT WRITER

WHEN AN AUTHOR SHOULD SEEK PERMISSION FOR QUOTES

QUOTATIONS—HOW WRITERS FIND THE ORIGINAL SOURCE

WRITING SO THEY CAN’T PUT IT DOWN

GET YOUR BLOG READY FOR 2019

Edie also uses a technique for readers to easily sharing her posts on Twitter. She types the title of the post or another phrase that describes the topic, and gives it a hyperlink. Readers can click on this and it takes them to their Twitter account. The title and ping-back to the blog posts are already there. They click on “Tweet” and voila’, they have effortless shared your message!

She calls them TWEETABLES.

I tried it in a blog post I wrote on The Writers In Residence about a year ago. It takes a little effort the first time you do it, but it’s a great tool!

 

  1. Tara Lazar’s Story Writing for Kids with January’s StoryStorm Challenge https://taralazar.com/storystorm/

What is StoryStorm? It’s an amazing, month-long, story idea brainstorming event. It’s designed for children’s books mostly, but can be useful for any genre. The weird and whimsical, and sometimes serious topics by a new author each day, are really wonderful!

The Challenge is to create 30 story ideas, one or more each day in 31 days. Maybe it will be a clever title idea, or a lovable character, or a skeleton of a plot. If you follow through, you’ll have a list of at least 30 new, fantastic ideas to flesh out at the beginning of February.

And…. if you read it each day and post a brief comment, you are eligible for a bunch of prizes and free services.

From the topic “Double Story Lines” …. I came up with “I know an old woman who lived in a shoe…store. She had so many shoes she couldn’t fit in any…more.

Enter Old Mother Hubbard who went to the display case to buy some soft slippers for her poor aching “dogs.” But she found nary a moccasin or “mule”.

Enter a Fairy God Mother who felt sorry for the old ladies and turned every shoe into a slipper.

Ms Hubbard bought all 365. The Old Woman sold her shoe store and moved to Tahiti, where NO ONE wears ANY kind of shoes at all!”

From the topic “Stop, Look, Listen” …. I came up with a tale of a musician who paid for an extra seat on an airplane to carry his very valuable and fragile guitar in its case.  But his seatmates complained – I can’t see over the top of it, it’s on my armrest, etc., and caused a near riot. Crew and pilot intervened so the plane could go up on schedule. Ends with the man strumming and all the cabin requesting songs and singing along.

StoryStorm is a really fun Challenge, one of many throughout the year on a colorful, kid-friendly, idea-stuffed blog.

 

And then there are blogs that are more like OUR blog – The Writers In Residence – where multiple member writers and the occasion guest, wax eloquent on some aspect of their writing life.

Here are a few examples, check them out:

Make Mine Mysteryhttp://makeminemystery.blogspot.com/  –  Mystery writing ladies.

Ladies of Mystery https://ladiesofmystery.com/  –  Mystery writing ladies.

Pens, Paws, and Claws http://penspawsandclaws.com/  – Animal loving ladies and gents writing about pets, mystery and other topics.

eat poto

 

I hope this post has whet your appetite for reading OTHER blogs besides ours.  If you already indulge in this “sweet” pastime, will you share some of your favorites with our readers?  Or… if you write one of your own, please share a link to it. Our readers might like to “read you” too!

 

PS: I’m adding a few “OTHER” blogs that I remembered after posting.

Creative Writing Nowhttps://www.creative-writing-now.com/  –  They offer Writing tips, Ideas, Courses (free and paid)

Penny Sansevieri’s  Author Marketing Expertshttps://www.amarketingexpert.com/book-promotion-blog/   –  Wonderful articles about promoting/marketing your book.  You can also sign up for a free weekly “5 Minute Book Marketing Tip” via email or more extensive and personal, direct coaching on selling your book (for a fee).

The Devil’s in the Details by G.B. Pool

Computer Devils

When I teach my writing class, The Anatomy of a Short Story, I hand out a card to each student. I hope they tape it above their computer for future reference. It’s very simple. It’s only 16 words:

 

 

Always Ask Yourself:

Does it Advance the story?

Does it Enhance the story?

Is it Redundant?

Academic WisdomWhat does this bit of “academic wisdom” mean? It means that when you write your story, short story or novel length, and are in the editing phase, at least the preliminary editing portion, look at all that stuff you packed onto those pages. Some is Plot. Some is Character Description. Some is Scintillating Dialogue. Some is Painting a Background Setting. And Some is Just Plain Boring, Trivial, Superfluous, and Unnecessary.

It’s those latter ones we need to get rid of. But how, you ask, are you to know the difference between what to keep and what should you cut? First use Common Sense. I know that commodity can be in short supply if you are blinded by the abundance of words you have written in a fit of creative madness. But let me say this, Too Much is just as bad as Too Little.

Devil Half FaceLet’s say you did massive research on an area of the country that you thought would be terrific as a background setting for your story. You spent time in the library, on the Internet, or actually drove to the area and did the research live and in person. You know every street, tree, nook and cranny and you can’t leave any detail out. Problem: The reader might not want to spend eight pages reading a travelogue about a place no matter how fascinating you think it is. If you were writing an article for a travel magazine you could get away with the detail, but the gal reading your novel might not share that enthusiasm. And anyway, how many times did you mention the waving fields of corn at sunset, the majestic forest in the moonlight, or the quaint country village in the pouring rain? Paint a word picture, don’t graffiti the entire neighborhood.

Often a writer will pack all that cumbersome detail in the front end of the story, weighing it down to the point the reader can’t plow through all that description to get to the point of your narrative and they will put the book down… forever.

Here’s a suggestion: Spread out those details. Some really are worth keeping. Every time the hero drives by that picturesque spot he can see more detail. But remember this; don’t have him see the same thing each time, over and over and over until the reader says, “Enough, already.” The only time seeing the same dilapidated shanty again and again works is if one time the ramshackle building isn’t there. Now the hero has something to investigate. You’ve changed direction. A new path is to be followed.

So let’s take that little card I provided and look at each line a little closer.

Does it Advance the story?

One of the best ways to advance any story is through Dialogue. As each character speaks, they should relate something new about themselves, about others, or about their surroundings. Here’s an example:

Barney came stumbling in the General Store on his bum leg, the one he got in the last war. The few hairs on his head were standing straight up like he had been in a violent storm though the weather was calm at the moment.

“Did ya hear about crazy ol’ Betty up yonder in the haunted house? She done come into a passel a money and is spending it like a drunken sailor.”

_________________________

We got a brief description of Barney and his bum leg, but he Advanced the Story by telling us about crazy Betty, where she lives, and about that money. We also can tell by Barney’s accent that he’s a simple guy, not too well educated, and probably lives a fairly rural life.

Barney might be a minor character in this story, but he knows the town, because where does he run with the news about Betty? The General Store. Isn’t that where the town folks go to hear the latest gossip? From that launching pad others can add their two cents worth of knowledge about ol’ Betty. We will see her from different viewpoints, not one major information dump.

Advance Speed CarDialogue is a clever way to Advance the Story because it does it without beating your readers over the head with detail. It’s a natural way of imparting information because we all tell people what happened in our own lives by basically telling them a verbal story. Your characters will be doing the same thing. But just like the goofy guy up the street who you try to avoid because when he pins you down, he spends an hour telling you some long, boring story that you have heard twenty times before. You don’t want that to happen in your book. Spread the information out. You might even get that last strategic bit of information later from yet another character who knows a deeper, darker secret about ol’ Betty.

Go over the dialogue you have between characters. Ask yourself if one character told enough of the story to keep your reader interested or if they imparted way too many details that got in the way of the story’s pacing.

 

Paint BrushDoes it Enhance the Story?

While you are adding all that detail, ask yourself if it Enhances the Story. Enhancing is different from Advancing. Advancing does just what it says – It gives the story movement. It pushes the plot forward. It directs the reader to some goal.

Enhancing, on the other hand, adds color, texture, depth. But answer me this: Is knowing every fine detail of how an office is furnished necessary? Does the reader really have to know which period every stick of furniture is from? Or is the fact it is rich mahogany, fine old, oak, or from roughly the Louis XIV Period enough?

I have been reading book after book written by E. Phillips Oppenheim lately. He wrote his hundred or so books at the beginning of the last century. He has lots of detail in his stories, but he spreads it out. I get enough detail in a well-written paragraph, not a half dozen pages explaining everything in the room. He sets the stage. He doesn’t drag all that furniture through every scene strapped on the backs of the characters so we, as well as the characters, are weighted down with his prose.

Take that office reference I mentioned earlier. You might very well want to compare and contrast the guy wearing the ten-year-old sports coat with the frayed cuffs who works in a shabby office with grimy windows and torn leather chairs with the man wearing the Armani suit in the elegant high-rise with slick chrome furnishings, polished marble floors, and a monarch’s view of the city from the fifty-first floor.

How much more detail would you add or take away? What’s enough to get your point across? What’s padding? What’s the purpose of the detail in the two samples above anyway? You want to impart to the reader how each man lives. You want to show that one has money while the other is scratching out a living. It doesn’t take too many words to do the job. You might add another bit of detail the next time each man enters his respective office, but you don’t have to mention every scratch on the poor guy’s desk or every porcelain statue in that glass-fronted cabinet in the rich man’s office suite.

Is It Redundant?

Repetitive MarchingThe third line on the card that I hand out to students is the most important and the hardest one to recognize: Is it Redundant? It’s the trap some writers fall into when they have fallen in love with their own words. Not that we don’t love the language. After all, words are our life. But sometimes we say the same thing to distraction. True, we might use different phrases, but they mean the same thing.

For instance:

  1. She was a lovely girl. Petite, but feisty. And she was strong when she had to be strong.
  2. Later, it is said: She was as tough as a boot, a pretty boot, but the leather was sturdy and the seams sewn with two rows of stitches.
  3. And still later: She didn’t mind taking the bull by the horns even with those delicate hands that could rock a cradle, because she was made of sterner stuff.
  4. And finally: She knew how to stand on her own two feet because for a small girl, she had to fight her way out of tough situations using her clever wit.

 

I made the examples sort of corny because too often I have read well-meaning descriptions of a single character that became funny after reading basically the same thing over and over. Or how about repetitive actions like when the characters keep going to a tea room or restaurant and eat and eat and eat. I know real people chow down three times a day, but I would prefer characters in books to forgo a meal or two so we can get on with the story.

The best way to get the point across that the girl is feisty is to SHOW her doing something feisty like jumping off a horse to save a young child or diving into a lake to rescue a dog or maybe standing up to a bully and telling him to leave the handicapped kid alone. Showing the character doing something is always the best way to get your point across. Your reader will get the idea when they see her in action. And don’t they say: Actions speak louder than words. Of course you are writing words to convey that physical accomplishment, but you get the point. So will your reader.

Another classic “filler” in stories, books, TV shows, and movies, is the constant use of someone’s name or maybe a pending event. The movie The Outlaw Josie Wales is famous, or should I say infamous, for using the main character’s name to distraction.

Even in general dialogue between characters, they keep using each other’s name ad nauseam. They both know to whom they’re talking. You don’t have to use “he said” or “she said” all that often, either. If you are worried your reader might lose track of who is speaking, try giving the speaker some action to accompany the dialogue. “Where were you last night?” she sobbed while strangling a handkerchief. The word “said” is replaced by “sobbed” and it’s an action, physical. It moves.

Again, Actions Speak Louder than Words.

Scissors2But now you are saying to yourself, “Okay, I’ve cut out a lot of detail, how do I fill up those empty pages?” This is where the writer in you rises to the occasion. Use that freed-up space to tell a little backstory about your main character. You have gotten to know him or her a little better while writing that first draft, why not ask that character a few questions about his past or her family life or about “the one that got away.” You might discover some new and interesting sides to that character.

Let me tell you what happened when I was writing my Johnny Casino Casebook Series. I wrote the first book subtitled Past Imperfect knowing a few things about Johnny. He was raised in a Mafia crime family. His father was consigliere; his mother was one tough cookie. His brother wasn’t as smart as Johnny was, but he went along with the family business as it were because he had nowhere else to go. As for Johnny, he wanted to get out. He did. He changed his name and moved from the East Coast to the West Coast, but he still dabbled in crime. Then he met a female private detective and found a new calling. He became a P.I. Then he went out on his own and one day a new client asked him to find her long lost son. Finding that missing man changed Johnny’s life forever.

My point in telling that story is this: I used all those lovely empty pages to discover who the hell Johnny Casino really was. I asked him questions and dug into his background. This was all new territory. No redundancy. I wasn’t going over the same old road.

(I know you might think it odd that a writer would have a conversation with a character, but trust me, after a while that character becomes very three-dimensional. So just be quiet and let him talk to you about himself.)

You can do the same thing with a secondary character who really could use some more face time in your story. Or maybe there is a sub-plot that needs a little more detail… Did I say Detail? Yes. Sometimes you can actually add layers to the main plot to make the story seem more real. I don’t like to venture too far away from the main plot unless it somehow fits into the main story because it’s like taking a detour down a dead end road. You’ll have to double back to get on the main road again. Big waste of time… and words.

But how cool would it be to find out that the two guys who were hanging around Crazy Old Betty’s place… (Remember, she had come into that money that Barney mentioned earlier.) But What If she had really been a bank robber back in the day and the two guys were the sons of her dead partner? Now the cop in that small town can track down the two guys who just held up the local bank because the cop just got a huge lead. (PS: This is an actual plot from an upcoming short story.)

That What If approach can really help you flesh out a character or story because you take chances, think outside the box. That’s what makes a story memorable… something different, daring, and unexpected.

Layers, not redundancy, my friends. Your readers will appreciate it. It’s like having the apple pie with ice cream… and caramel topping.

So, read every word in that story you have written and see what you have mentioned way too many times. Take some of that redundancy out and then ask yourself, what can I add to make the story richer?

Just remember this…

The devil is in the details.

Devil with sword

Poetry for Prose: Make Your Fiction Come Alive with Music

 by Maggie King

Looking to take your fiction to a higher level? Add a little poetry to your prose and bring music to your sentences and scenes.

This YearI’ve been intrigued with this idea since I read Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel. Yes, that Walter Mosley, creator of the bestselling historical crime series featuring Easy Rawlins. Mr. Mosley considers poetry the basis of all writing and suggests that reading, writing, and studying poetry gives fiction writers a deeper appreciation of the nuances of language.

He has taken several poetry workshops and, although he says he has failed to turn out “even a passable poem,” he’s confident that what he learned from the workshops has benefited his fiction. 

Here’s an excerpt from This Year You Write Your Novel:

Of all writing, the discipline in poetry is the most demanding. You have to learn to distill what you mean into the most economic and at the same time the most elegant and accurate language. In poetry you have to see language as both music and content. A poet must be the master of simile, metaphor, and form, and of the precise use of vernacular and grammar, implication and innuendo. The poet has to be able to create symbols that are muted and yet undeniable. The poet, above all other writers, must know how to edit out the extraneous, received, repetitious, and misleading.

Take Walter Mosley’s advice and sign up for a poetry workshop. You may not become a poet, but you’ll gain an appreciation of language that will make your fiction come alive. If you can’t find a workshop in your community, check online sources.

Who knows … you may become a regular at poetry slams.

Words and Music

In lieu of a poetry workshop—or in addition to one—enhance your fiction with a few tips from the poets:

  • Think in terms of music. When you read your work aloud, does it please the ear? Does the rhythm of your words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs vary?
  • Add words into phrases, delete others, create different words. Try different ways of expressing the same idea.
  • Shorten or lengthen sentences by using words with fewer, or more, syllables.
  • Use beautiful words like mellifluous or enchanted to add music to your writing. Less appealing words like disgust and harangue and the like can evoke a different response.
  • Use the poet’s tricks of alliteration.
  • Play with punctuation to liven up the musicality of your sentences. Take out commas and periods. Combine three or four sentences into one.
  • Metaphors make implied comparisons, and poets use these comparisons to evoke complex images and emotions for readers. “America is a melting pot” is one simple example of a metaphor.

Don’t wimp out

Avoid weak, wimpy verbs. Follow the “show, don’t tell” rule with action verbs that create images and stir emotions.

An example: an unhappy student with a failing grade visits her professor’s office. Show that she’s unhappy. Have her crying, pleading, screaming, kicking the door, throwing books across the room.

Eliminate or minimize to be in its various forms. Change “He’s in love with her” to “He loves her.”

To be verbs aren’t the only weak ones. Strengthen “Larry went to Florida” with “Larry traveled to Florida.”

As for your characters …

Reveal characters by how they speak: smooth words with soft sounds vs. harsh words with harsh sounds.

Try changing the name of a character or place; does it change the mood and tone of a scene? A name can affect how a reader responds to a character.

Further reveal characters by showing their honesty (or lack of). Richmond poet/novelist Vernon Wildy, Jr: “I’ve always felt that poetry was a place where I could not lie. I believe fiction holds that same weight. Characters have to be honest with themselves and how they are feeling. Readers are smart and they can tell if a character is being disingenuous. Also, it messes up the arc of the story if the characters are not being real with themselves and the others around them in the story.”

I agree with Mr. Wildy. However, consider your genre: duplicitous characters have their place, especially in crime fiction. It’s all about the writer’s intention and the character’s motivation.

A Few Caveats

By all means, flourish your writing with poetic touches. But keep the touches light, especially if you write genre fiction. Readers of literary fiction and, of course, poetry, will appreciate pretty, nuanced writing. Crime fiction enthusiasts, on the other hand, want to know who killed Ramon’s odious boss and don’t want to plow through endless metaphors and other style choices.

In a popular thriller that I recently read, the author went way overboard with beautiful poetic styling, constantly taking me out of the story. At several points I wanted to hurl the book across the room. Don’t irritate your readers!

Back to Walter Mosely (who does strike the right balance of the poetic in his crime novels)

If the fiction writer demands half of what the poet asks of herself, then that writer will render an exquisitely written novel.

Now, let’s make music together!

Thank you for letting me visit one of my favorite blogs. Happy Holidays to all!

*****

Maggie King Author Photo 72 (1)Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She has contributed stories to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies and the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology.

Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and the American Association of University Women.  These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive. She enjoys reading, walking, movies, traveling, theatre, and museums.

Website: http://www.maggieking.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MaggieKingAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaggieKingAuthr

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/authormaggieking

Amazon author page: http://amzn.to/2Bj4uIL

***

Optional links:

Walter Mosely: http://www.waltermosley.com

Vernon Wildy, Jr.: https://vernonwildyjr.com

Poetry workshops

Key “online poetry workshops” in a search engine or visit the following sites:

Gotham Writers: https://www.writingclasses.com/classes/description/poetry-writing

Lighthouse Poetry Workshop (online) https://www.lighthousewriters.org/workshop/8-week-online-poetry-workshop

Poets&Writers: Writers Conferences, Colonies, and Workshops http://www.pw.org/content/writers_conferences_colonies_and_workshops?cmnt_all=1

For further reading

Norton Anthology of Poetry 6th Edition

This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley

***

 

 

 

 

This page was posted for Guest Blogger, Maggie King, by The Writers In Residence member, Jackie Houchin.

Holidays and Writing by Linda O. Johnston

Dec. 25 Calendar Happy Day After Christmas, everyone!  

Yes, major holidays of this year are now behind us.  The next will be New Year’s Day, the beginning of 2019.  And how are writers handling this season? 

CalendarEnjoyably, I hope.  That’s true for me, at least.  I’ve been having fun with planned events and meals with family and even one surprise when a wonderful family member dropped in unexpectedly for a day.  I even had to break away when I was writing this to make a reservation for a bunch of us to attend a special movie together–which will take up some more time. 

Of course all of that, as delightful as it is, had its effects on writing.  I am working on something with a deadline that I still can’t discuss, but that doesn’t mean I can take the holiday season off.  I just get in what writing I can when I can.

 That’s probably true of all of you who are writers, and even some of you who aren’t.  If you have a full time job, whether or not you’re a writer, too, you probably know in advance which days you’ll have off, but those can also be taken up with family adventures–and/or shopping. 

Holidays

So what do you do?  How do you handle the holidays and whatever work you may be doing?  I’ve found that if I attempt to plan much in advance, I still have to remain flexible –such has that wonderful visit from a family member, as well as one afternoon taken up with accompanying family to a delightful rendition of The Nutcracker Suite ballet…and that upcoming movie.

 I’m considering appropriate New Year’s resolutions, but the best I can come up with so far is, yes, stay flexible and keep busy, as appropriate. 

I hope you enjoy what’s left of this year–and have a wonderful 2019!

cropped-typewriter-history-4.jpg

 

AFTER THE RAIN…. by Rosemary Lord

UmbrellaAfter the rain cometh the fair weather, quoth Aesop –  

        …… he of the many pearls of wisdom.

            I was thinking about this recently, having spent a lot of time in inclement climates. After years of growing up in rainy England, I made a new life in Los Angeles where it was claimed, “It never rains in Southern California….”  Hmmm.

            Over the Thanksgiving holiday I was with my family in England. I find myself working long hours, seven days a week in Hollywood, so my only break from this is to fly far, far away from it all.

            Of course it rained, and it was dark by 5 pm. But it was cozy, and the Christmas lights and busy shops and crowded London streets were cheerful. For a while. I’m just not used to being so cold anymore.

            Umbrella over SunMy siblings and I spent a few days in southern Greece, where the Mediterranean sunshine was very welcome. It was on the cool side, but the feel of even the winter sun on our faces was such a tonic.  However, later on, after the sun dipped down setting into the reddening sky over the Aegean Sea, the thunder rolled in and lightening crackled and cracked. The heavens opened up and rain lashed out, whipping across the beaches and coastal village throughout the night. It was spectacular to watch – and rather scary to listen to, as I lay in bed, unable to sleep because it was so loud. But it was dramatic and exciting.

            In the morning, a weaker November sun began the task of drying up the pavements and puddles. These spectacular night storms that vanished at dawn continued for several days.

            When we drove back to Athens for our return flight to Gatwick, we stopped en route for lunch in Ancient Corinth. The winter sun had warmed considerably as we sat on the terrace of a small taverna, enjoying a simple Greek salad and souvlaki, at the foot of the Temple of Apollo. Rain seemed a distant memory.

           Lady with Umbrella We arrived back in England in the dark. It was freezing cold. Thirty degrees. I had forgotten the misery of the bitingly cold, damp, weather of my early years.

            The rain and the cold continued when we took a day-trip down to Hastings in Sussex. With the drip, drip of rain somehow getting inside my collar, wet hair plastered to my head and the wind lashing around my icy, mauve-with-cold face, we braced ourselves for a walk along the pebbled beach where many Foyle’s War episodes had been filmed, then hurried into the warmth a local café for fish and chips and hot cuppa (cup of tea). Bliss.

            I don’t remember England being this cold – or wet. My energy seemed focused on trying to keep warm and dry. My family teased me about being ‘soft’ and spoiled by the artificial life in Hollywood, where Christmas day is usually sunny. It was the warmth of having my family around me that made it so special. We chatter continuously and laugh a lot. But I’m not sure I would want to get used to the endless gray skies and rain again.  

And so I came back home to sunny California.

            It certainly was warmer in Hollywood the first couple of days; the sky was blue with just a few wispy clouds. Hallelujah! Then it started. A pitter-patter on my windows. Oh no – not again! For the following three days, the rain bucketed down and skies remained dark.

            But then it stopped. The next day it was blue skies and sunshine and I got my smile back.

            I realized that it wasn’t just the rain and overcast skies that had been getting to me. It was that time of year. Many of us silently panic that the year is rolling to a close and we have not finished what we promised ourselves we would do. Uncompleted To Do lists, abandoned projects, all those holiday gifts and cards to buy and taxes to start thinking about. Writers have unfinished stories and articles to write. I certainly do. And what about that extra weight we were going to lose?  But what’s the point of dieting now, at the eleventh hour, with all the holiday parties and meals with friends and family almost upon us. What’s the point, with all the chocolate appearing everywhere we look? No point at all. (She says, savoring another favorite Quality Street chocolate: a purple wrapper this time.)

            So we resolve to switch to healthy salads and fruit plates in the New Year. This time I mean it! Except that the winter has only just started and salad weather seems a long way off. We’re about to have the shortest day of the year… January and February can be very cold, wet and gloomy. Lots of rain. Oh dear.

            But there’s another way to look at it. Especially if you’re a writer. Winter’s the best time to shut oneself away and write, with no distractions. You can’t really potter in the garden, should you have one. So you might as well stay inside and write. No matter how gray the sky is, how torrential the rain or how short the days are outside, we are inside, with an extra layer of sweaters on and perhaps a wooly scarf to keep the draughts out, and a clever little heater aimed at our feet, keeping us warm as toast.

And we write – and write. Typing away, as our imagination takes flight. It is the best time to do what makes us feel alive: the best time to write. We shut ourselves away in our own literary world. And with a little discipline and lots of cups of tea or mugs of coffee, we turn out yet another masterpiece with our name on.

Lady Typing 2

            Then one day, we realize that it’s not so cold. A scarf and a layer of sweaters get discarded, the heater gets turned down a notch. When we finally look out of the window again, there is the smattering of blue patches in the sky.  

            He was right. Aesop, that is. After the rain cometh the fair weather – with all the possibilities of the spring season, with summer to follow. And a tumult of new ideas and fresh approaches to our writing.

            Clever lad, Aesop also said that the level of our success is limited only by our imagination. That is something writers have in spades. Imagination. So what are you going to work on to get you through this winter? Where will your imagination take you?

…………………end………………………..

A YEAR IN RETROSPECT by Miko Johnston

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, it won’t come as a surprise to hear how much we at THE WRITERS IN RESIDENCE like, respect and learn from each other. As 2018 draws to a close, I’d like to share with you some highlights from the blog this past year.

Our cycle of posts begins with Madeline, who always opens the discussion of writing with her unique point of view.I nodded in agreement after reading her post on why adjectives and adverbs are okay… “They are what bring the cadence to your ‘voice’, and the musicality to your writing.” I admire the way she paints pictures with words: “…the (plot) cake is mixed and in my mental oven.”

Reading Rosemary’s entries almost feels like I’m reading her diary. Her innermost thoughts on why she writes remind me that the best writing digs below the surface of the subject. “Leading Myself Astray”, on the importance of research, illustrated how she brings historic authenticity to her writing. I especially related to her piece on how endings, even when tragic, can lead to promising new beginnings.

That proved true when a post on naming characters became the last entry from former member Bonnie Schroeder, who decided to leave the blog. However, we welcomed Jill Amadio, whose range and depth of experience has made her a valued addition to the group. Not many of us can begin a sentence with, “Sara Paretsky told me….” I appreciate her insight on the business side of writing, something I tend to overlook.

Speaking of the business side, Linda wrote a thought-provoking post about a subject many of us have, or will, experience as the publishing industry continues to transform. I could relate to the decisions she’s facing with publisher Midnight Ink’s dissolution, a common dilemma for authors.

Gayle’s “What’s in a Name?” confirmed the importance of getting the right name for our characters – it took three tries before my newest one would ‘talk’ to me. I consider Gayle the teacher of the group. Her lessons included how a character’s voice can convey who they are, and how to bring minor characters to life without a lot of exposition. And I still smile when I recall Gayle’s post on Valentine’s Day – part 2 of “How to Open Your Story with a Bang”.

There were several great tips on how to evoke sensory details in Jackie’s post on the subject. Jackie’s work with African children, including mentoring them in writing, exemplifies not only her life’s mission, but our blog’s mission to encourage and support writers. I found her recent post on handing down traditions very meaningful.

I can’t ignore the many excellent guest posts we’ve had. Patricia Smiley’s “The Importance of Setting” would have been an outstanding piece under any circumstance, but it carried special meaning for me. I read it the day before the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks California took place. Whenever these tragic incidents happen I’m horrified and disgusted, but this was different. For many years I lived two blocks from the Borderline Bar, where the shooting occurred.

Sitting 7,500 miles away in Sydney Australia, I watched news footage taken from a sidewalk I’d walked along thousands of times, of a building I’d driven past almost daily for years. I could envision every inch of the route the ambulance would take back to the hospital, the layout of the ER where they’d treat the victims, the waiting room, down to the carpeting, where the victims’ families would be waiting. Having had ‘boots on the ground’ personalized the emotional impact for me. It became a painful reminder of our challenge as writers to incorporate that first-hand realism in our own writing.

I interviewed author Mike McNeff about his background in law enforcement and the authenticity it brings to his writing.  Mike has also pursued courses in the craft of writing and became a certified editor. He generously shares his expertise with other writers, including creative writing students at our local high school.

Hanna Rhys Barnes weighed in with the best pep-talk on writing romance fiction I’ve ever seen, reminding us of how some writers can be disrespectful toward the most popular, best-selling genre of fiction in the English language. As we WINRs have often said, “Writing is writing.”

An excellent post by Paul D. Marks lamented how… “our cultural ties-that-bind are breaking down”, which has made writing more challenging as a new generation seems less aware of the past. I still recall a young writer in my critique group questioning why my child protagonist wandered in the forest for days when she could have used GPS. In 1899. Fortunately, some readers appreciate the past. Sally Carpenter made that point in her “Retro-Cozy” piece, and in “The Story of You”, three memoirists shared their insight and advice with me on the importance of communicating memories of earlier times.

What to do when you lose your publisher or contract became a popular topic (little wonder), on which both Linda and guest blogger Heather Ames reported. And the question of where writers get their ideas has been explored frequently this year. Jackie wrote about it in “Writing A Murder”, Linda in “Inspiration?”, and Madeline in “Stealing and More….”

Did you find one of our posts particularly noteworthy, touching or instructive? Tell us which one. Wondering what the new year has in store for you here at THE WRITERS IN RESIDENCE? Check in with us every Wednesday and find out!

 

 

Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington.

A WRITER’S CHRISTMAS IN CALIFORNIA by Jill Amadio

EnglandWhile the wildfires raged north of Los Angeles and Sacramento, the state capital, and tens of thousands were required to evacuate their threatened homes with little assurance as to when they could return, I longed to be home for Christmas. By home, I mean Cornwall, specifically St. Ives where my dance teacher mother presented pantomimes and my father dispensed medications for the local chemist and played the lead in The Emperor’s New Clothes. The holiday was usually subdued compared to the frantic, joyful goings-on across the pond, with only a few presents, and nothing like the Christmas gift of a handgun a Wisconsin glassware company is giving each employee.

Television

 

Here, the telly has turned into a Christmas monster, hawking gifts, edibles, and anything else to which the word Christmas can be attached. The commercials are relentless and have been so since August. One TV channel has been broadcasting movies for the past three months with the yuletide holiday theme overshadowing Thanksgiving, which I grudgingly celebrate because I love turkey stuffing and gravy.

 

Some Christmas cards one can buy in Southern California are localized with illustrations of Santa Claus sunbathing on the beach attended by bikini-clad maidens wearing little else but white fur-trimmed Santa hats. The idea is to mail such cards to friends and relatives suffering from the cold. I once received a rather rude thank-you note in response that sympathized with my having to celebrate in such an un-Christmas-like climate as Orange County, and asking me not to remind them of my sun and sand in the future.

 

fruitcake

For my December 25th Grand Meal dessert I buy Christmas pudding and brandy-soaked fruit cake at the Indian grocery shop down the road. They sell clotted cream, scones, Marmite, Bisto, and many other British products. I tried what they call a Cornish pasty. Nothing like mother made. But the cream is imported in small glass jars from Devon and is delicious.

 

BoxThere’s a big sales push on by a Nebraska company that ships a very large white foam polystyrene box filled with prime steaks, hamburgers, chops, and roasts packed in dry ice. What does all this have to do with my current job of finishing up my next mystery? Well, these gifts save a lot of time in the kitchen, and the box I received from a friend who decided I was a starving writer is large enough when empty, I realized once I’d transferred the food to the freezer, to hold a small body or bits of one.  The top fits tightly and is leak-resistant, leading to the assumption that any blood will remain inside. The U.S. post office is used to accepting and mailing all sorts of odd-shaped packages and this one passes muster whatever it may contain except for petrol, pot, explosives, and ammunition.

 

Dozens of authors have been writing Christmas mysteries since last spring and one can see the results of their intellectual labors at online bookshops as well as in brick-and-mortar buildings that devote several shelves to the kind of killings the holy holiday can inspire. Aside from the bakery, and dog and cat Noel cozies, some titles are clever, such as How the Finch Stole Christmas by Donna Andrews, and Christmas Stalkings, several stories collected by Charlotte MacLeod.  In fact I counted ten other Christmas Stalkings titles before giving up on Amazon’s lengthy list on its site.  Other holiday titles include Every Vampire’s Christmas Wish by M.L. Guida, and a collection of yuletide thrillers by Edgar Wallace and Arthur Conan Doyle. Lee Child’s A Christmas Scorpion continues as a best-seller. Meanwhile, mistletoe, the three wise men, the guiding star, and reindeer haven’t escaped being borrowed for the holiday and are included in several titles by authors such as P.D. James, Shelley Coriell, Anthony Litton, and Lena Bourne.

 

Christmas cracker

I’m a bit surprised that traditional Christmas crackers haven’t emerged as a themed title because these English table decorations offer so many possibilities for the inclusion of small body parts such as fingernails, eyelashes, or a hank of hair into the cracker’s middle section. I know one can remove the gift already included because as children my brother and I often did so when no one was looking. If we didn’t think it was worth keeping we’d slip it back in and try another cracker.

 

I wish everyone a Happy Holiday and a wonderful New Year.