IT’S A SMALL WORLD – OR IS IT…?

 

By Rosemary Lord

Did you notice how small our world became during the Covid-19 lock-down?

For those of us in California it’s been over eighteen months of confinement, and it’s not over yet. We were prohibited from travelling, other than for emergency/essential needs. We were discouraged from meeting anyone, other than those we lived with. For those of us who live alone – too bad!  In case we caught or spread the Dreaded Disease. 

Our in-person Writers’ Conferences were cancelled. First the Left Coast Crime Conference in San Diego was cancelled March 2020, just after I’d checked in!

Even last month’s ‘Blood on the Bayou’ Bouchercon Writers’ Conference in New Orleans, was cancelled at the last minute.

Our hardworking conference organizers must have wept as years of planning were wiped away. But you can’t keep writers down for long. We always find a way… They came up with various creative online offerings.

There was no travelling to meet other writers or to research places for our stories. We stayed home, becoming ‘shut-ins,’ locked in our own little castles – be it one room or a whole rambling house. We were still ‘confined to barracks.’ We didn’t drive – there was nowhere to go. People had everything delivered. (Cardboard box-makers must be making a fortune!)

Lives the world over changed. We became resourceful. We helped relatives, friends and neighbors. We re-evaluated our world. But the fear the Media shared, became pervasive. It was – and still is – difficult to escape.

But, as writers, we had our own escape – into our  private, isolated writing world. Some writers flourished, with no distractions, completing novels, articles, scripts – all sorts. Other writers struggled, unable to concentrate. I wrote some, but not as much as I wanted.

I read a lot more. Most of us did. Unable to get the creative juices flowing and seeking diversion, I found something quick and easy, re-reading  “Eats, shoots and leaves” – which I’ve written about before. It’s Lynn Truss’s witty book on sloppy punctuation. It still made me laugh. Just what I needed. Lynn Truss bemoaned the fate of proper punctuation, claiming that it was an endangered species, due to low standards on the internet, email communication and “txt msgs”  She explained, “Eats shoots and leaves” is a joke about pandas. They eat (bamboo) shoots and leaves – and not, by the simple addition of an errant comma, a comment about a violent criminal act. (Although pandas can give a very nasty bite.)

Then there’s Michael Caine’s interpretation of a line in a script that read,  “What’s that in the road ahead?” By adding a simple dash, Caine had his fellow actors in fits of laughter when he announced: “What’s that in the road – a head?”

Or the Australian take on bad punctuation, taught in schools as a way of making students remember the grammatical rules: “Let’s eat Grandpa,” sends Aussie kids into helpless giggles with such a picture. But it’s not a cannibalistic suggestion, merely the absence of a comma in a sentence that should read:  “Let’s eat, Grandpa.”  That’s why Eats, Shoots and Leaves became so popular, reminding us of school lessons that seem to have vanished in today’s hurried world.

So, my lock-down reading provided some laughs, and I learned a lot of new things. (Just don’t get me started on Social Media for Dummies, or U-Tube attempts to teach me ‘techie’ things with my computer or Social Media. Urgghh!)

But at least I discovered a terrific search engine: DuckDuckGo – where you don’t get followed by advertisements and constantly besieged by sales pitches for something you were looking up. 

My reading veered from my usual research about Old Hollywood, to total escapism. Mysteries in far off places: Peter Mayle’s The Marseille Caper, Victoria Hislop’s The Island and Rosanna Ley’s The Saffron Trail – to name just three. Clearly a theme here: my yearning to travel again!

Unless you’re half of a writing partnership – we write alone. Although, when I’m immersed in my writing, I’m enjoying a world with all sorts of characters – so I don’t feel alone. Our writing community is filled with a smart, imaginative assortment of writers. But this long, lock-down was different.  And as much as we did Zoom Meetings, phone-calls and Webinars, we missed that personal interaction, spontaneity, the regular Coffee Shop meetings sharing our latest pages and new ideas. We missed meeting friends – especially the hugs. Waving at the end of a Zoom meeting is not the same.

So now, as we venture out again, we are cautious. Driving any distance, after eighteen months of only running local errands, was most disconcerting. The intrepid journey on not just one, but three, freeways, took me back to learning to drive when I was seventeen – in a clunky old Morris that would not go much faster than thirty miles an hour. I was right back there on that quiet English road, holding my breath until I reached my destination. I found going to a shopping center almost overwhelming. Where did all these people come from? I’d got used to the quiet isolation of my apartment building. But I wasn’t alone. We had stopped interacting with each other. Stopped those lovely unexpected meetings of friends and acquaintances we bumped into on the street. We’d not been out on the street for eighteen months.

 But I discovered that friends and family were going through the same thing. The enforced isolation was more difficult than many of us realized. Not wanting to make light of kidnap victim’s suffering – but many people appear to be suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome.

We’d learned to keep ourselves ‘safe.’  Our world had become so small. Walking out again into the big, brash, noisy world was scary. It was tempting to run back inside and close the door. But, adventurers at heart, we writers have stepped back into the fray. Into that great big, bright, scary world again, that’s just waiting for our participation and our imagination. Hey, World, we’re back!

 

……..end……..

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Betwixt and Between

AnotherRoadSignRecently, I was given a nudge down my “how to improve” writing road journey, while thinking about my most recent book club selection discussion. I’m sure I’ve previously mentioned how much I like—and have learned from my local monthly book club. Indeed, without the diversity of selections members put on our list, there are so many books and authors I would have regretfully never read. So first off, let me say again, I love book club!

For example, our August book selection was Catalyst, written by the highly acclaimed and award winning Science Fiction/Fantasy author Anne McCaffrey, this offering written with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough[i]. Great writers, but in a genre which is not my forte—which I’ve proclaimed on several past occasions. Thank goodness for members who ignore me and push us all outside our reading cocoons. Indeed, I’ve self-indulgently proclaimed on more than one occasion about the genre, “Not what I like. Not real.” 

On my way home from our meeting, I had one of those “good-grief” moments that astound me at my own silly thinking and categorizing. I write fiction. Duh, questioningmannot Real! Mystery fiction writers ask readers to accept people, places, events, etc.—all that often aren’t real—though sometimes based on real events and situated in real places.

From there, I headed down the “how real should our fiction be?” path. Sounds silly, but what I mean is the importance of having the right “reality balance” to our commercial fiction—mysteries in particular. I’ve talked before about closing books without reading because the characters don’t grab me, or I dislike them, which sorry to say, I seem to be doing more of. But, does the reality-balance also have something to do with my lack of story engagement?

Some thoughts:

    • For sure, for me in particular, I want readers to be able to visualize a non-existent-unreal town of Shiné as a real place. Store fronts, roads, places of business, even a castle. If they actually visualize an unreal alien world they can’t go to, will they want to mentally be there, or visit again? Indeed, I want them to escape from the reality of their habitat to a neat identifiable place they’d like to visit, but different from where they are—at least for a couple hours. But not as far as a different planet or world?
    • Are the characters real? Certainly not. But real enough for a reader to visualize a real person they can piece together, and at the same time find the character different or eccentric enough to find interesting? Normal enough to be real, but not too normal as to be alien, or worse, unlikable. Another balancing act.
    • Scenery? Can they see a real place in their mind’s eye? In my writing case, the Mojave Desert does exist. But Shiné? No. But can a reader imagine a place “like” this possibly existing in the real world?
    • And here’s a hard one. Are the events real? Especially with some of the mystery writing conceits in use. Of course not, ask any policeman(and I’ve asked several–thank you my PSWA friends and San Bernardino County Sheriffs). Indeed, we’ve got the reality in our own lives of actual bad guys and victims. The balance here is of not trivializing real crime and horror, but at the same time offering escapism with characters being killed and justice of some kind happening. Hmm…
    • And here’s another tricky one, is it a realistic story? Again, of course not. The goal is larger than life adventures, with larger than life characters, with larger than life attributes—and minimal flaws. Not reality for sure.
    • Is the conclusion realistic? And on this one, not a dilemma or quandary for me at all. No. It’s what I want to happen. Reality doesn’t matter. That being said, sometimes an author has hit the mark on all the previous points, and I’ve gotten to the end and said, bah humbug!(smile)

Agatha Christie, I think, was a genius when it comes to snatching a reader into sometimes outlandish unreal situations, with larger than life characters when it comes to abilities, and posit some implausible situations and happenings—but leaving me thinking these people, places, and events actually happened. Easily suspending my disbelief while reading. Her non-reality was/still is[ii] for me very real.

Still pondering, but thinking “real” fiction writing of any kind, is a balancing act for sure. My take away from these meanderings? For me—more carefulness when it comes to reality-balancing, when developing all my characters, places, situations, and conclusions. And maybe read more Scifi(smile).

balancingAct

 

Happy Writing and Reading Trails!


[i] More about Catalyst and Anne McCaffrey here on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Catalyst-Tale-Barque-Cats-Book-ebook/dp/B002XHNOMO/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=catalyst+anne&qid=1629596367&sr=8-1

[ii] I re-watch Poirot mysteries on DVDs all the time (with David Suchet).

Things to Consider Before You Self-Publish

When Jackie H. asked me to talk about indie publishing, or self-publishing,  I wanted to write something helpful for those who are considering going the indie route. You will find plenty of people online ready to tell you the pros and cons, but once you’ve made up your mind, what’s the best way to go about it?

There are people who can help you step-by-step through the processes of self-publishing. The absolute best is Sarah Cannon at Publish and Thrive. There isn’t much you won’t learn from her.

The question is, should you go this route. It is a LOT of work. You will need to commit both time and money. Here are the top five things that anyone considering the indie author route needs to know.

1. Your writing is your business. Treat it as such.

If you are writing as a hobby, or if you simply want to publish a book of recipes or family memoirs for your own group, no worries. However, if you intend to make an income at this, then treat it like a business. That means:

  • Showing up to write when you don’t want to. You wouldn’t skip your office job if you weren’t in the mood.
  • Take continuing education, especially in those areas where you are weak. Every profession requires continuing education. You’re responsible for yours.
  • Track your expenses. And there will be expenses. Cover artists. Editors. Software. Subscriptions. Know how much you are spending on your career.
  • Have a budget. It’s easy to go overboard with advertising, etc.

2. You Will Have to Do Things You Don’t Like.

I’m not fond of social media, but that is where readers are. So, I do it. With all the emerging social sites (have you heard of TikTok?) there is a learning curve. Consider it part of your continuing education.

If blogging is something you plan to do, (or YouTube or Facebook Lives) learn it. Don’t depend on others to do it for you. If they are busy or decide they no longer want to help you out for whatever reason, you’ll be stuck. Don’t let your career be at anyone else’s mercy.

Someday, when you have enough income, you can hire a virtual assistant to do these tasks for you. 🙂

3. Know Your Limits

You can’t do everything. You aren’t good at everything. Unless you are a social media wiz, focus on one platform and do it well. You can always expand.

The same goes for volunteering. This is an excellent way to network and get your name out there, but you still must find time to write, right? Know when to say No.

You may have seven wonderful ideas for seven different series. I understand. Pick one. Once you get the first few books out, if time permits, you can branch out.

4. You Can’t Do It Alone

Although writers tend to be introverts, you can’t live in a bubble and sell books. I’m sure there are exceptions, but they are probably not you.

Join writers’ groups. Make sure they are professional and supportive. If you write mysteries, Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America are excellent groups, though not the only ones. For Romance, you can join Romance Writers of America. Every genre probably has a group.

Through these groups, you can also make connections and form smaller groups to help critique, promote, or whatever your group decides to focus on.

Subscribe to Indie Author Magazine. Join Indie Author groups on LinkedIn or Facebook or wherever you find them. Check them out first. You don’t want to waste times on groups that don’t match your needs.

I’m a member of three Sisters in Crime chapters–Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Chicago. I also belong to Novelitics, a group of writers who critique each other’s work and offer support. It’s led by author Kim Taylor Blakemore, and she keeps creativity alive through workshops, challenges, and targeted topics. You can check out a free trial here.  

5. Enjoy the Process

Overnight Success is a rare animal. As rare as unicorns and dragons. It will take time to build a career. Probably years.

We all have “those days”, but if you aren’t enjoying the writing and you break out in hives when you need to tend to the business side, indie publishing might not be a good fit for you. Because if you’re going to invest the time it takes to become successful, you certainly don’t want to dread each day.

For those who are super serious about following this path, I highly recommend bestselling author Sarra Cannon’s Publish and Thrive course.  She covers everything you might want to know step-by-step, and there are weekly Zoom sessions as well as a Facebook Group where you can ask questions. She just closed her last class for 2021, but work on your book until the next one opens and follow her YouTube videos until then. You will learn a lot from her.

Good luck!

Short & Sweet

By Gayle Bartos-Pool

This might not be my usual type of post on our Writers-in-Residence blog, but stuff has been happening in my life as it has been with everyone at the moment, but I still wanted to encourage you writers out there to keep up your writing.

As for me, since my life has changed over the last several years, I have a few new directions to travel. First, let me mention the fact that I lost my beloved husband Richard about a year and a half ago. It wasn’t something I talked about or posted because Richard and I were never ones who wanted to open up all over the Internet.

During this Covid thing and being basically alone here in California, I needed family around, so I decided to move to Ohio where my brother and his oldest daughter and her three kids live. So I bought a house after looking at photos and a video my terrific niece took. It’s a cute house with room for my miniatures and vast Santa collection and all the other holiday decorations I have accumulated over these many years. And the house is near my family.

So at the end of August the movers come. My brother is flying out here so he and I and my dog Candy will drive to Ohio.

But during all this change I thought it was time to start writing what I call My Scrapbook Life story. For over 60 years I have been making scrapbooks of my life. From my family’s travels when my dad was in the Air Force and we were stationed on the island of Okinawa, to the three years we were living in France and I got to attend a terrific boarding school, to college and then my short stint as a private detective, to my move to California and the various jobs I had here, to meeting and marrying Richard at one of those jobs, to our 34 years together and the dogs and cats we had, to Richard’s illness and his strength during that time, to losing him and finally me moving to a different life.

The scrapbooks are full of pictures and memories of this life that I am having, so I thought I would share it with people. But writing this saga isn’t just to show what an interesting life I am living, but to let people know that everybody is living an incredible life.

During the past five years it has become apparent to me that all the people I was meeting were incredible from a lady I met in a hospital cafeteria who was fascinated by the fact that I was a writer. But while we were talking she mentioned things from her wonderful life. I told her that her life was so interesting that she might want to write about it for her family and friends. She had things to share with those folks as well as other people.

Then there is Art, the young man who regularly serviced our air conditioner and heating system. He told me about his late father and brother who added all the beautiful touches to the leather saddles of famous movie stars like John Wayne. Two of their saddles are sitting in the Gene Autry Museum. Art also does leather work and wants to move someday to Tennessee or someplace where he can continue doing that beautiful craft.

And my neighbor, Shawn, has written a book, though not yet published, about his fascinating journey from Iran to America when his dad got him out of the turbulent country to avoid being drafted into the Iranian army. So at 17 he was smuggled out of the country, sent to Turkey and then Sweden and finally after several years he came to America, got a college education through hard work and now has a terrific family and living that American Dream everybody has heard about. We found him an editor and I bet that book will be published. I got to read a first and second draft and it is marvelous.

What I am saying in this blog is that everyone has a story of their own life. Each is incredible, different, and worth telling. Your story might be read only by family members and friends, but if the stories are anything like the ones these folks have told me, they are worth the telling. Who knows whose hearts and minds they will touch.

Start writing about where you came from, who your parents, grandparents and relatives are. How they influenced your life. We all learn both the good and the bad. That’s how we grow. Tell the world who you are after you uncover the real you under all the life you have lived. You might be surprised by the person you are.

I can guarantee you, we all have a story worth telling.  Write On!

Not Quite Cozy

by Jackie Houchin

(I’m early this month with my post, because I switched with the “other” Jackie – Jackie Vick  – who will be posting on Self Publishing on August 18th.)

I’ve recently read two books which are billed as “cozies” but have none of the more modern sewing, crafting, cooking, library/bookstore, tea shoppe/coffee house, or pet themes that we’ve grown accustomed to. (There’s nothing wrong with these if they are what you like to read!)

No, these were the “old fashioned” style mysteries, that are super-plotted, character-strong mysteries like Agatha Christie wrote. Clean, as far as no on-the-page sex, vulgarity, profanity, or excessive violence. Just good, captivating, complicated mysteries, sometimes in unique settings. 

Here are reviews of the two  books I read.

BLACK JADE, a Daiyu Wu Mystery by Gloria Oliver

What a fascinating book! It’s very different from the usual historical cozy mysteries out today. It has a main character who is unique and amazing in her disability, living in a disguised house with her once royal parents and a pair of staff who love and protect on her.

Black Jade, A Daiyu Wu Mystery by Gloria Oliver, is set in Texas in the early 1900’s, when the race issue is prominent against Asians, specifically Chinese, who are considered to be the “Yellow Menace.” Even more of a bias however in this story, is the rich vs commoner distinction. So when the second son of a British Earl comes to America and falls for a ‘common’ girl who is a waitress in a speakeasy, his hoity-toity relatives across the Pond rush to the first ship heading west to try and stop him marrying her. The means they use is macabra and horrific, but only the blind, Chinese Miss Wu, working in her family’s laundry is able to discover it.

The rest of the book takes us on a detailed and fascinating investigation to find and identify, first the victim, then the villain. (My guesses hopped from one to another of the book’s characters: all in vain.) But Miss Wu, accompanied by Jacques, her handsome companion and chauffeur (who also narrates the story), along with her new friends, a female forensic doctor and a millionaire playboy, moves along as surely as a bloodhound following an invisible scent (burnt garlic?) to the killer. She meets obstacles at every turn, but this gal is persistant and clever, and inspires those around her to not give up no matter what. The climax scene is a nail biter!  FIVE STARS

PS: I totally loved Miss Wu’s little dog, who goes everywhere with her. He has a strange name – Prince Razor. When you read this book, you’ll find out why.

 

GHOST DAUGHTER, An Alice MacDonald Greer mystery by Helen Currie Foster 

This is an amazing, sometimes jaw-dropping, mystery-adventure in which the heroine, Texas lawyer Alice Greer, risks life and limb to fulfill the last wishes of her friend Ellie. In Ghost Daughter, the newly widowed Ellie has discovered her long-lost daughter, conceived at age 17 and given up for adoption decades earlier. She wants to include her somehow in her estate and asks Alice to be executor if/when she dies.

Sooner than either expected, Alice finds her friend’s bloodied body in her own ranch house, along with a rearing, kicking, squealing horse! Yes, IN her house. LOCKED in. Huh? Instantly my mind tried to come up with suitable scenarios, but failed. There was nothing to do, but keep turning the pages.

And that was just the beginning of this fast-paced story with multiple complications and misdirections.

And what was so special in Ellie’s Santa Fe vacation house that could elicit murder? Alice tries to find out, but meets with “baddies” at each attempt. There are car chases through the mountains, unexplained  assination attempts, theivery of extremely valuable art right under Alice’s nose. And, if that isn’t enough, Ellie’s warring sons threaten to drive her up the wall with their arguing about who gets what. And the police can’t find the murder weapon or any evidence at all pointing to a suspect. 

There are no giveaways in the plot. To the literal last pages I couldn’t guess how, why, and by whom the murder of Alice’s friend was done. Thankfully the author ties everything together in a grand scene at the end.  FIVE STARS

I enjoyed Ghost Daughter so much, that I purchased Ghost Cave, the first of Greer’s six  books in the series!

Oh, and by the way, there is nothing “paranormal” in her Ghost books.  

#

I hope that in the future more of these new/old style cozy mystery books will be published. Books that challenge the reader to get out of her rocking chair and trudge the mean streets with the protagonist. 

PS: I just noticed that both of these books were set in Texas. 

 

 

How short can you write?

How to Write Flash Fiction Stories: 4 Approaches

In short, flash fiction has all the elements of longer stories, but with less “fluff.” So, the challenge of writing flash fiction lies in crafting a complete story in under 1,000 words. How should you approach the writing of flash fiction? Consider the following four approaches.

1. Ruthless Editing

Some writers might try starting their flash fiction story as a normal story, then cutting the words down. This is a common approach to writing flash fiction, especially if your story isn’t far away from the 1,000 word mark. If you think you can cut a story down after writing it, then kill your darlings—and have fun with it!

2. Plot-First

Flash fiction stories require bones before you can put meat on them, so start with the story’s plot. With a plot-first approach, you start by writing only the details of the story, without any description or figurative language. Then, once the plot is written, you fill it with details until you hit the 1,000 word mark. This “fill in the blanks” approach allows you to keep the story to its most important details while still being complete.

3. Start with Poetry

Writing fiction from poetry? It’s more likely than you think. Many literary critics consider flash fiction stories to border the lines between prose and poetry, since it uses many poetic devices to convey plot. If you’re a poet as well as a fiction writer, consider writing your story’s plot in verse, then expanding that verse into a prose-poem or prose.

4. End with a Bang

For a flash fiction story to feel “complete,” it needs to “end with a bang.” The final line(s) of the story must leave the reader thinking long after the story ends.

The end of a flash fiction story must surprise the reader in some way. Flash fiction often offers a resolution to the story that inverts themes, uncovers ironies, or offers unexpected dualities. 

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Could YOU write a flash fiction story in, say, an afternoon?  THIS afternoon? Why not try it?  Take a notebook and pencil. Go outside to some shady spot. Scratch your head, put you pencil to paper and….write.

 

From an article on WRITERS.COM  –  How to Write Flash Fiction Stories –  by 

 

Photo by me.

 

 

 

The Joys of Waiting

It’s almost August, 2021. That’s the month my next book is being published, although it’s available some places already.

It’s HER UNDERCOVER REFUGE, the first in my new Shelter of Secrets miniseries for Harlequin Romantic Suspense.  That miniseries is a spin-off of another, also for HRS, that was called K-9 Ranch Rescue.

 And I’m delighted to have HER UNDERCOVER REFUGE published!  My last novel was published in February 2020, and that’s a long time between books for me.

It’s my 54th traditionally published novel, so most often there have been several a year. Was this gap a result of COVID? I don’t think so, unlike a lot of things that seem to be delayed these days. It just was.

 So how can you plan for a lot of traditionally published books to be published, and have several come out each year? I don’t really know!

Oh, it helps to write for more than one publisher. I’ve tended to write cozy mysteries and Harlequin romances at the same time.

And it helps also to write for different lines for the same publisher.  I’ve written for Harlequin Romantic Suspense and Harlequin Nocturne at the same time. However, Nocturne, their paranormal line, will no longer be published.

These days, a lot of people self-publish. I ponder that now and then, and may do it someday. But while I have good relationships with traditional publishers, I’ll probably hang out there some more.

Am I writing for anyone other than Harlequin now?  Yes. My first Alaska Untamed mystery, BEAR WITNESS, will be published next February by Crooked Lane.

Oh, and in the meantime, my next Harlequin Romantic Suspense, UNCOVERING COLTON’S FAMILY SECRET, part of the Coltons of Grave Gulch miniseries, will be a November 2021 release.

So although there’d been a bit of a gap between my last published novel and my current one, I’m delighted to say there’ll be more soon. I am working on my next Colton book in the next HRS miniseries. And I’m hoping for even more beyond that!

And you? What’s your preferred way of writing and publishing?

Either way, or both, I hope you’re highly successful!

A TOPSY-TURVY LIFE….

    

                                    By ROSEMARY LORD

           

Do you ever feel that your life seems to have been turned upside down these last couple of years? Topsy-turvy. All those goals you had listed, carefully planned, trips scheduled, Writers’ Conferences booked. Gone. Banished. Cancelled. Due to the Covid pandemic lock-down. So, you took a deep breath and made yourself a cup of tea, coffee or poured a nice glass of something stronger. “Okay,” you told yourself, “I can manage this. Find another approach…”

            How did that work out?  Do I hear peals of laughter?

            I recall that in my Blog of November 2015, Time Out – To Remember,  I was overwhelmed with a too-busy schedule and too many other things on my plate and on my agenda, when all I wanted to do was write my next novel. “Don’t you sometimes wish,” I unwittingly wrote,” you could stop the clocks – just for twenty-four hours – so you could catch up?” I’d become so busy with my other work, there was no time for my writing. I was thwarted by my promise to at least write during my lunch hour, realizing I didn’t have time to stop for lunch. Weekends free to write? I wish…

            So, the Covid 19 shut-down should have provided that time  – not just 24 hours –  but fifteen months to catch up. Yikes! Except that’s not what happened for so many. First was the traumatic health concern and challenges. Then came financial loss to small businesses and to those who ran or worked at those businesses and to the self-employed who relied on customers. I think the techies of the world probably made out okay. But once the external/in-person meetings, lunches, appointments, travel, shopping, et al, stopped – so many other things took over our lives.

            As for those with large families, lots of kids in need of an education, all crammed into the house for longer than a couple of days at Holiday Time. That must have been fun – or not! (Sometimes there’s an advantage to being a singleton again.) 

            On the upside, was the massive de-cluttering we all did. Very therapeutic, if time consuming. After that forced isolation went way beyond the initial thirty-days, we adjusted to our own company – which writers relish. I did eventually write – several different things, still incomplete. I did a major edit, too. So many other writers I know had the chance to try writing something totally different, venturing into different genres.

It gave everyone the chance to re-evaluate the path they had been on and ask, ‘Is this how I really want to spend my life?’

            A lot of people decided to move house – across country, some returning to their family fold, others found the place of their dreams. Some even moved across the world. Others discovered that, like us writers, they could work from home anywhere. New careers were created, less-stressful jobs accepted. Our world was topsy-turvy.

      Serendipity, the Oxford English Dictionary says, is “The faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident” Or – when you start out in one direction and fate takes you in a different direction. Sort of like Yak Shaving….  Remember Yak Shaving? It’s when you start out to do something fairly simple, but have to accomplish small steps (or annoying distractions) along the way, before you can complete your original, simple task. And so, that early morning chore is still not completed when, exhausted, you fall into bed that night and promise, “I’ll try again tomorrow…” 

            But we’re a resourceful lot, us humans. We worked through trials and tribulations.

We reinvented not only ourselves, but our lives. At times some of us felt like Sisyphus, pushing that rock uphill, only to be so close to the top when it rolls back down to the bottom and forced to start again. But we don’t give up.

            And as the world begins to open up again, we pick up the pieces of our former lives, now with clearer eyes, so we discard the bits that we no longer want – and add new ventures, new goals to our To Do lists.

            For me and many writers, we’ve missed the in-person writers’ meetings and conferences, where we meet up with old friends from all over the world, and we make new friends, new contacts. In our recent lock-down world, we stopped our instinctive human connection with others and now are gingerly learning social graces again. Do we hug, do we shake hands (That seems currently a taboo!), do we wave-from-a-distance, nod a ‘hello’ – what’s acceptable? Hey – I’m a hugger, as much as I can be these days.

A be-masked clerk at the DMV told me she was terrified of seeing people’s faces again. She didn’t know how she’d react! How sad, I thought. I can’t wait to see everyone’s smiles again. I love the unspoken language of expressions. I’m always ‘reading’ people’s faces – just as we read their body language.

            So, okay, everyone. Are we ready for this new world? Considerate and understanding of some folk’s cautious behavior, while rejoicing the exuberance of others celebrating the new freedom.   The lock-down has left many with new challenges with finances, health, mental-health issues and facing new lives, new careers. We’re putting our lives back together. All of us. It’s like writing a mystery novel, where we purposely misdirect the readers and plot red-herrings and diversions. But at the end, we writers have to tie it all together for a flourishing dénouement.

And so with our lives, this new, topsy-turvy world is waiting.

What fun. What larks, eh Pip? ***

*** In case any young ones are wondering who is Pip: It’s Pip in Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations – and this is a favorite quote of Judy Dench.

FUN WITH WRITING (AGAIN)

by Miko Johnston

It’s summertime, so let’s have some fun. Inspired by Jackie’s piece on Spine Stories, I decided to update my “Fun With Writing” post from five years ago –  here goes:

One Picture Is Worth….

Many groups and websites offer pictures for writing prompts; this is different. If you’ve seen any of the greeting card lines that use old photographs and insert funny comments, then you know what this is about. Select a picture from your photo album or a magazine and write a line or two about it. It can be funny, like one of my favorite birthday cards, which shows a pregnant woman with two pre-school children. The caption: All I wanted was a back rub. It can be poignant, a reminder of how things were vs how they are now.  See if you can come up with a clever interpretation of the photo.  You don’t have to write a thousand words.

Rapid Writing

This is an exercise that my local Whidbey Writers Group has done in the past. One person (usually the host) comes up with a concept and the group has ten minutes to write something. Previous ideas include rewriting a scene from an iconic book, describing an event from the past, and having everyone volunteer a word, then write a short piece incorporating all the words.

Crossover Appeal

If you’re in a writers group or have friends who are authors, try writing a scene featuring a character from another writer’s novel. Compose it in first person so the name isn’t revealed, avoid using any characters’ names or obvious settings. Then see if anyone can guess who you’ve written about. You can also have one of your characters interact with one of theirs.

If you write mysteries, you probably love at least one mystery series. Write a scene where your character meets that detective or P.I. Select a character from the same era as yours if possible, otherwise consider time-traveling the classic character to the present; think of how many modern-day iterations of Sherlock Holmes have been done.

“Honku”

Based on a witty book of haiku – “the zen antidote to road rage” – a  subject rife with possibilities. It you want to attempt poetry, try writing dedicated to driving. If cars aren’t your thing, pick any topic that lends itself to commentary and use the 5-7-5 syllable format to ‘haiku’ your idea. For example, my take on social media:

Why do you delight

 in photographing your meal?

I’d rather eat it

“Spelling Bee”

Last year I discovered this word-making game on the New York Times website’s puzzle section. I got myself and hubby hooked; we played it daily. It helped keep us sane during the pandemic lockdown as well as stimulated our brains. You don’t need a subscription to access the letters, only to play online. Or, play the DIY version:

24/7

Come up with as many seven letter words that don’t repeat letters or include S or X – a challenge in itself. When you have a list, pick a word at random; whatever day of the week it is, use that for your center number. Then make as many words out of the letters that include your center letter. Letters can be used more than once and four letter word minimum. No proper nouns, hyphenates, contractions or foreign words unless they’re in general usage, like pita or latte. Play alone or challenge a friend. Return the word to the pile and use it again on another day, when the center letter would change.

For example: Take the word MIRACLE.  Today is Wednesday, the fourth day on the calendar. My 24/7 challenge would be to make words that include the letter A. Had I picked MIRACLE on a Friday, I’d have to include L in each word.

DYI “Mad Libs”

Take a page from a book, edit out a series of key words and play “Mad Libs”. If you’re not familiar with the classic game, you create a list of nouns, adjectives and verbs and insert them into a story. Try it with a classic novel, a current best-seller, something awful, or if you’re brave, your own work.

“The Dating Game” for words

The clever pairing of an adjective and noun can replace a thousand words, a great way to create the sense of languid prose with brevity. It’s how I came up the phrase, overpriced abscess, to illustrate a McMansion enclave set in a wilderness area in my first published short story.

An interesting two-word combination works in any type of writing, and when it succeeds, it’s like a love match. As an exercise, see how many ‘matches’ you can make. Then save them; they could be incorporated in one of your WIPs.

We at The Writers In Residence always say “writing is writing”, and sometimes mixing it up can encourage creativity. Try an exercise for fun or to stimulate the creative brain.

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Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers in Residence, is the author of three novels in the A Petal In The Wind saga, as well as a contributor to anthologies including LAst Exit to Murder. She has recently completed the fourth novel in the series. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington (the big one) with her rocket scientist husband. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash