The Last Goodbye…

This is a short post “looking inside” one author’s writing process/journey…

ThinkingHeadtoBook2Several weeks ago, Gayle Bartos-Pool posted an excellent writing on polishing your latest[i] before sending your wonderful novel out into “the world.” My “polishing activity” follow-on thoughts this week, are on my developing questions to use when looking back on my novels once they are actually gone and fending for themselves in the world.

One of my writing goals has always been to continually improve my writing — classes, books, editors, advice from writers I know, reviews, blogs like Writers in Residence (smile)—you get the picture.  Mainly, trying to do better than my last book.

This last item for me, has always been haphazard and unstructured. Especially since I have never reread any of my books after publication, except when I’ve read snatches at several events. Even that was hard—once published, the work is mentally and emotionally gone. If I didn’t have “important details” files, I probably couldn’t recall many characters names. Though sort of having a series now, my Shiné world and inhabitants have remained with me from book to book much better, stronger, and more fondly. Still, I haven’t reread any of them.

So, my point in this post is to share an actual list I’m working on to counteract my unfortunate tendency not to re-live what I’ve written, AND also enable thinking about what I want to do better in the next one. Improve my writing. Here’s the beginnings of what I’m working on so far from my looking back perspective..:

RTCTQuestionMark.jpg

  • More dialogue, and more action involving characters physically doing things (this is just a nugget of a goal—and I’m not sure exactly what I mean yet. Especially since I just reread a short story by P.D. James called the Mistletoe Murders where there’s mostly narrative—and I loved it.)[ii]
  • More action with real personal danger involved.
  • More real romance other than intellectual “love of the Mojave.”
  • Characters “actually” having changed, versus in the “process” of change.
  • More skillfully handle “musicality.” (do so much rewriting in that area — especially balancing long passages with short)
  • Better develop traditional “mystery” conundrums. (An outstanding example of what I’m talking about here is Agatha Christie. What a mind!)
  • Better balance against each other – (1) stopping a reader in reading-stride, versus (2) using the absolutely perfect word–noun, adjective, adverb, verb–for description emotional impact. Love finding the perfect word!

I plan to think about all these items, and more, as I start writing my latest Shiné adventure, Deceiving Eyes. But these items are peculiar to me and my writing goalsand the point of my sharing all this “what’s in my mixing bowl stuff” is to offer the thought of doing this type of farewell with your own ideas, writing, and goals?

Which leads to my second point, actually using Last Goodbye thoughts in the future. Not just thinking about them…smile. Another bullet for my list.

Happy writing trails…


[i]  https://thewritersinresidence.com/2019/08/14/polishing-the-gem-3/  Polishing the Gem

[ii] See Jackie Houchin’s post last week about our favorite authors.  https://thewritersinresidence.com/2019/08/21/these-are-a-few-of-my-favorite-reads/

 

 

These Are a Few of My Favorite … Reads

by Jackie Houchin

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages (from Amazon) tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things (reads)

When the dog bites, when the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things (reads)
And then I don’t feel so bad” *

 

Who doesn’t know the catchy lyrics to that song? I bet you can even picture Julie Andrews singing them while twirling around. And who of us bibliophiles can’t say we have been transported and uplifted during and after reading those few special books that we cherish in our libraries.

The majority of my all-time fave books are mysteries, the old fashioned, clean, puzzling and often romantic reads that still make me smile just thinking of them.

My very favorite book was written by Mary Stewart** in 1964. But it was a few years earlier that I began my journey into this marvelous writer’s world.

Madam Talk audio 51B6UTiH4GL._SX342_I’d asked a wise librarian in Burbank if there was something beyond Nancy Drew, but kind of like her, that I could read. She looked at this budding, though still gangling young teen, and recommended Mary Stewart’s first book, Madam, Will You Talk? (1955)

I was hooked immediately!

The setting is Southern France and involves a young widow, a lovable mutt, a child in peril, high-speed car chases, and a dark and handsome man who is either villain or saint, and suspense.  Delish!

In less than a week I rushed back to the library to check out more of Mary Stewart’s books, reading down the list as fast as I could. Until I came to THE ONE. My favorite book of all time, re-read at least a half dozen times cover to cover, and often, as the song says, “when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad…”

Rough Magic Audio; 61gkNEBPKYL._SX342_This Rough Magic (1964), my opiate. ***

I’m not sure what makes my breathing slow when I open the book and settle into a soft chair, but in only a few pages I am deep into the atmosphere I love that is written so well by Mary Stewart in all of her books.

A writer’s hidden retreat on the isle of Corfu in Greece… An old house with secret passages… Wisps of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, quoted by the old recluse playwright living there, that seems to foreshadow the events in the book.

A young woman recovering from a career failure, arrives at the retreat with her sister seeking rest and solace but finding danger and death. Fog along the beach at dawn so thick you can only hear the waves slapping the shore… and the wooden oars of a boat bumping in their cradles, soft murmurs and oaths from its occupants, and grunts as they drag something heavy across the sand and into the trees.

A dolphin’s seeming magical appearances play an important role. And an arrogant and handsome figure, rough in clothes and manner slips in and out of the house at all hours. Is he a killer and smuggler, or a hero?

This is no silly Gothic, but is (to me) outstanding storytelling by a “wordsmith extraordinaire” whose sense of descriptive place is beyond amazing. My favorite read!

 

Next on my list is a puzzle mystery, that just so happens to also have a murder.

marinersCompass2Mariner’s Compass (1999) is Earlene Fowler‘s sixth Benny Harper mystery, set along California’s central coast. Each of her books is named for a quilting pattern although Benny is not a quilter herself. She is a rancher and married to a cop, but she helps maintain a historical museum in town that features old quilts.

What entrances me in this book, unlike any of her other mysteries, is the puzzle. In this story Benny receives a mysterious bequest from a dead stranger. She will inherit his entire estate if she will stay in his home in Morrow Bay for two weeks. Alone. Being alone, abandoned, is something that terrifies Benny.

She agrees, although her protective hubby-cop is not fond of the idea. Soon Benny is on a strange and dangerous scavenger hunt to find the man’s true identity. The clues he leaves hidden, if carefully followed, lead to more clues in a widening spiral of strange places. The deep mystery they reveal piecemeal is totally captivating. It’s a real stunner when she finally discovers who this Jacob Chandler was, and why he was stalking her.

More than the location in Mariner’s Compass, it’s the entwined maze of clues which makes this one of my favorite books. (BTW, if you look on Fowler’s fan page, this book is the favorite of many of her fans.)

 

Old Bones, maginfierOld Bones (1987) *** by Aaron Elkins is another favorite on my list. His protagonist Gideon Oliver is a forensic anthropologist, but his moniker in the series is “bone doctor.” It is absolutely amazing what you (he) can discover from a set of fresh or ancient bones. Who they were, yes, but more importantly in the book, how, where, when, and why a person becomes bones.

Oliver himself is a big, kind of cute, socially inept “nerd” of a guy, who is brilliant with bones. I like all of his cases, but in this one, it’s the location that grabbed me, chilled me, and after many nightmares, made me book a tour to the real place in France.

Mont St Michel,  the small island off the Western coast of France topped by a towering monastery, is tour-worthy for sure. (The original cover pictures the island.) But it is the incoming tides, racing without warning at a speed faster than a man can run, over quicksand riddled mud, that terrifies me.

Yes, I went there, rode in a bus across the long, straight road from the mainland at low tide, trudged up the steep, winding road to the top, and toured the ancient building with a set of huge bells. Very Nice. Reminded me of Notre Dame.

But I could see those swirly patches of mud and sand from atop the “Mont” and in the distance a dark blue-green smudge. Suddenly I couldn’t wait to get into the bus and race back to mainland safety.

You are not so lucky in Old Bones. You will suffer fear, panic and worse, when you read the final chapters. I dare you! But, it’s the reason this is one of my faves.

 

Christining Day MurderA freaky location again is the reason for my listing The Christening Day Murder (1993) by Lee Harris as a memorable favorite. (All Lee Harris’ Christine Bennett – a former nun – mysteries have a special “day” as their title.) I can’t even remember the mystery, but I remember where a good portion of it takes place.

Thirty years before, the small town of Studsburg was evacuated by the government and flooded to create a reservoir. (Feeling creepy yet?) In this story, a drought has uncovered the town’s forgotten church, along with a gruesome discovery in the dank basement. It is the skeletal remains of a 30-year-old murder.

As Christine tries to piece together the sordid puzzle from the past, the water begins rising again and she is trapped in the basement…..(Gasping scream from me!)

 

Shell SeekersAnd lastly, the wonderfully warm and well-written family saga by the gifted Rosamunde PilcherThe Shell Seekers (1987) **** (all 582 pages ) This is not a mystery, but a lovely women’s novel featuring Penelope Keeling, a 64 year old woman whose days are limited, and whose family does not understand her. A woman whose past is calling her, but whose present threatens to fence her in.

A painting which her children vie for, lusting for the wealth it will bring at her passing, but which is too sweetly precious for Penelope part with, is in the center. Instead of giving it to her children, she uses it – to their chagrin and horror – to fund one last trip into her romantic past.

In the book, sixteen characters have their own section and say. Shell Seekers is not a linear book, so the characters each tell their story, almost as if they are all in a room together, and one steps forward to knit their story into the entire piece. They form a complete picture of “Miss Penelope Keeling,” who speaks last in the book.

These multiple POVs – besides Pilcher’s amazing, evocative, sweeping, tender, gorgeous writing – makes this a favorite. It is the voices of 16 people, separate and yet forever intertwined in the story of one wonderful woman. A tear-jerker. You won’t want it to end. When it does, you’ll fly to the first page and begin again. (PS: Rosamunde Pilcher was 60 when she wrote this book.)

 

Suspense and romance, locations and mystery

Old Bones and bodies, shrouded in history

Villains and heroes revealing their deeds

These are A FEW of my favorite reads.

 

Have you got any favorite reads? What is it that makes them memorable to you? Characters, setting, style, genre, author, the writing…?

 

 

* Richard Rodgers, The Sound of Music, with my words in italics

** Mary Stewart is credited with developing the genre of romantic suspense featuring intelligent, independent, and capable women who don’t fall apart in a crisis. A reviewer wrote, “There is an old-fashioned elegance about Mary Stewart‘s writing. A stately polish with more than a hint of an old 1950’s Hollywood movie.”

*** Mary Stewart‘s mysteries are now all available in audio through Amazon/Audible. Here’s the link to This Rough Magic

**** 1988 Edgar Award Winner – Best Mystery of the year. (“Look out Sherlock Holmes!”)

***** In her introduction, Pilcher writes that she intended The Shell Seekers to be “A big fat novel for women. Something above all, that tapped into my life and the experiences of my generation.”

Polishing the Gem

Jewel 5by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Part FourContinuity

 

This is a very tough area to polish. Think of a road map to a destination. You know where you want your characters to go. You pick several roads. Some are clear-sailing, some bumpy, some are really rough going, but you think they will eventually get your characters to their goal. But what if one of those streets is a dead end? Or what if you end up on a street that circles back in another direction, but it doesn’t and won’t get your characters to where they were supposed to be going?

This is what a continuity editor does. He looks to see if there are holes in the plot, missing descriptions that might clarify a point you are trying to make, or if you just can’t get there from here.

This is what your beta readers just might point out, if you have a few, or what a continuity editor will discover, if you have the means to hire one. But if either of those possibilities is not available, you will have to do the work yourself. Is it hard? You bet. Is it impossible? Heck no.

There are actually a few ways to look at your work through different eyes… at least sort of different eyes or maybe ears. What do I mean? If your computer has a WORD program that has a Text to Speech feature, use it. Have the little voice read your manuscript back to you. The voice feature isn’t bad at all and it can even give inflection if you have a question mark or exclamation point. Have it read slow enough so that you can follow along like the member of an audience. It’s the actor reciting lines. You just listen. If that mechanical voice says something that you don’t understand, stop the program and go back over what you had written. Remember: that little voice reads only what’s on the page. It adds or takes away nothing. If the voice says something you don’t understand, and you wrote it, you better go back and rewrite it until you understand what the voice is saying to you.

It’s best to do this read-through a few days or even weeks after you finish your last draft. You want to distance yourself from the project and come at it as if it were all new to you. You might know the plot, but having the mechanical voice read it out loud after some days away from the project does make it seem fresher.

As the voice is reading you will be listening to the plot and character development from a different perspective. It’s really like fresh eyes, or in this case, ears, reviewing your work. Try to “stay in the moment” as the story is unfolding and listen for incongruities. Again, if it doesn’t make sense to you, the writer, it won’t make sense to the reader either.

If you don’t have a Text to Speech feature on your computer, ask a friend to read the book out loud to you. They can enjoy your book while you listen for things that don’t work. Your friend might even point out a few things that don’t quite hold together, too.

If you don’t have Text to Speech or a willing reader or a continuity editor, run off a copy of your book and sit down in another room and go through the book yourself. You can check for spelling and punctuation errors, change one word for another word, discover holes in the plot, and even rewrite portions because you thought of a better plot twist while re-reading your story. I usually go through my novels four separate times finding errors as well as picking a better word here and there. I have discovered goofy mistakes and few big errors that I fixed before the book saw the light of day.

No matter who you hire or the people you know who are willing to help you out with your editing, the ultimate responsibility is yours. Your name is on the book, not the copy editor or line editor, or college professor who said he would read your book or Aunt Mabel who loves to read and who said she would go over your manuscript for you. It’s your baby. Do the very best editing you can do. Go over it one more time after you think you’re finished, and then send it out to the world.

And even if an error slips past you, remember this: Only God is perfect. Do your best.

 

Parts Five & Six – Finding the Right Word & Picky Picky will be coming up in a few weeks.

Improve Your Introductions and Conclusions in Non-fiction Writing

by Jeanette F. Chaplin

I recently discovered I’m a cruciverbalist. It’s chronic, incurable, and inoperable. Don’t worry, it’s not contagious. But it’s probably terminal. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of this blog post, which is the whole point.

The purpose of this somewhat puzzling introduction was to get your attention. Using a word that is probably unfamiliar is one way of doing that. I “hooked” you in one of two ways: either you didn’t know the word and read on to learn the meaning, or you know the term because you are one. In that case, you decided to keep reading to see what I have to say about a topic that already interests you. Or, I may have lost you while you left to look up the word.

For your enlightenment:

cruciverbalist [ kroo-suh-vur-buh-list ] noun.  a person skillful in creating or solving crossword puzzles

Two of the most challenging aspects of writing non-fiction are effectively introducing the topic and wrapping it up satisfactorily when you’re done. The trick is to find a natural and interesting way to lead into the topic in the beginning and close it off at the end.

Movies do this quite well. A classic example is The Princess Bride. The opening and closing scenes have nothing to do with the actual story (although some might challenge that statement). The well-meaning grandfather comes to read to his ailing grandson. After watching the story that’s enacted, the viewer is returned to the modern-day scene and Peter Falk excuses himself with, “As you wish.”

Using a narrator to tell the story can be useful, but it has been overdone and doesn’t lend itself too well to non-fiction. One way to make this “bookending” happen is to connect a seemingly unrelated idea with the theme of your essay, article, or blog post. Then weave it in seamlessly from beginning to end.

To accomplish this, come up with an idea, a concept, or premise that seems far removed from your topic, as I did with crossword puzzles and introductions and conclusions. Nothing is off limits: waterfalls, RV life, grandkids, politics. Well, maybe not politics.

Make a list or a cluster chart of your ideas and think of any connections between those random concepts and the topic of your essay or article. Let’s try waterfalls as an example. Waterfalls flow, they are refreshing, it may be difficult to reach them, they could present a danger, are challenging to cross, and they can be inspiring—or frightening. Those descriptions could apply to any number of topics. Do any of them spark a connection? If not, keep playing with ideas until you find a comparison that works. Brainstorming with a friend or family member may help.

So, back to my off-the-wall, totally irrelevant introduction. What connection could crossword puzzles possibly have to with writing non-fiction?

crossword-146860_960_720For one thing, both follow a very specific set of rules. Crosswords must be square, they contain a specific number of squares and answers, they must be symmetrical, and they can’t duplicate clues in the grid. Clues and answers must match grammatically. Puzzles must have a theme. Now we’re getting closer to something writers can relate to: themes and grammar. For crossword creators, that means their answers must support the theme. Writers, on the other hand, must develop a theme that carries readers logically from beginning to end. Do I even need to mention that writing should be grammatically correct?

Non-fiction also needs an attention-getting beginning and an introduction to the topic, which may include why it is important to the reader. The author has to explain the concept in a way that is understandable to the reader, preferably in an interesting way, and conclude with a reminder of what was discussed.

In the crossword puzzle, the creator may attempt to misdirect the solver to make it more challenging. In the really difficult puzzles, generally scheduled for Saturday, creators often turn to wordplay, slang, unusual punctuation, or the ultimate twist of the knife: heteronyms (words that are spelled the same but have different pronunciations and meaning, Polish and polish, for example). 1

But ultimately, the creator wants the solver to succeed. According to crossword expert David Kwong, a New York Times puzzle constructor, “A good enigmatist makes the solver feel smart.” 2

newspaper-news-media-spectacles-53209But solving a crossword puzzle is far removed from the experience of reading an article. The solver of the former is looking for entertainment and a challenge. The reader of the latter wants to be informed, inspired, or educated. Or, at times, to be entertained.

The crossword challenge ends when the cruciverbalist either a.) solves the complete puzzle unaided, b.)  resorts to subterfuge to find answers, or c.) tears it up and tosses it into the trash.

In written work, the writers’ goals are accomplished when they convey the ideas to the reader as clearly and convincingly as possible and possibly even stir them to action. A good ending helps to achieve the desired result.

A satisfying conclusion should in some way reflect the introduction. It can be a restatement, an echo, a contrasting statement, or an illustration of the point. Or as in our example in this blog post—a bookend. Which means, at this point, I’m expected to return to the original crossword puzzle illustration.

Just as puzzle solvers come to a crossword with certain expectations, so do readers. Construct your non-fiction writing to smoothly lead them into your topic, cover the main point clearly, and tie it up neatly at the end. Make your reader feel smart.

Unlike the crossword creator, your goal is not to bewilder or stump your reader. You want to skillfully lead them from the hook to the denouement. Directly from 1. Across to 31. Down.

##

JFC_RomyBestSemi-retired college English and Spanish instructor. Self-publisher, editor, and entrepreneur. Jeanette has been writing, teaching, editing, mentoring, and publishing for the past four decades. Now she is available online to help writers around the world with their writing ventures.  When she’s not writing, she enjoys enjoys traveling to visit family and friends, especially her two grown daughters and her two young grandchildren.

Jeanette F. Chaplin, Ed.D.


Look for Jeanette Chaplin on Facebook, LinkedIn, & Twitter

Sign up at http://www.WordsAreForever.com

Chaplain-esque      https://chaplainesquethoughts.wordpress.com/

 

 

1 Amlen, Deb. “How to Solve The New York Times Crossword.” n.d. https://www.nytimes.com/guides/crosswords/how-to-solve-a-crossword-puzzle?module=inline

2 Kwong, David. “How to Create a Crossword Puzzle.” WIRED MASTERMINDS  S1  E3. n.d. https://youtu.be/aAqQnXHd7qk

 

This article was posted for Jeanette Chaplain by Jackie Houchin

When the curtain falls, the story begins…

No Curtain Call cover

Our good friend Alice Zogg has a new book out. Her stand-alones are amazing with suspects galore and clues hidden in plain sight if you look close enough. But waiting until the bad guy is revealed at the end is even better… then think back over those clues and you will say, “Ah. There they were.” Here’s the book’s blurb:

Nick Fox, a retired sheriff’s department lieutenant, is trying to get his act together after nearly being blown up in a targeted explosion that resulted in the loss of part of his leg, a kidney, and his subsequent retirement. His wife had already left him years earlier saying she didn’t like the kind of life he led.

Then a friend asks him to investigate the death of the man’s son who died from an opioid overdose after the opening night performance at the local high school three and a half years earlier. Fox knows the trail is cold, but his friend said his kid would never do drugs or kill himself, after all, young Jim Hoang was brilliant, had just gotten accepted to a great college, and was liked by everybody, but sometimes parents don’t know everything about their kids. Fox could attest to that. His own son, now living with his ex, is having troubles.

Fox starts asking questions and gets answers, but as someone close mentions, not everybody tells the truth. Fox raises the curtain on those around the young thespian that fateful Opening Night to see who had motive and opportunity to slip him those pills. The search widens as stories match up and some conflict. Can Fox finally raise the curtain on the killer?

 

A wrap up: Suspects abound in this fast-paced mystery set among theater people who each have a really good reason to eliminate the victim when the curtain falls. A retired Sheriff, Nick Fox, is asked to lend his expertise to this three-year old case, but Nick has some baggage of his own to deal with. That doesn’t stop this guy in sorting out who could have had not only motive, but opportunity.

A terrific read with suspects galore. Follow those clues Zogg places so masterfully right to the satisfying ending.

The book is available on Amazon in paperback as well as e-book.

 

Conferences and Writing

by Linda O. Johnston

RWA2019_FINAL LOGOI attended the Romance Writers of America National Conference last week in New York City.  Am I glad I did?  Yes, mostly because of the wonderful people I saw, meeting up with those I knew professionally and as friends–or both.  I’ve been attending RWA conferences for many years and for different reasons, but that’s the most important.

I also attended three other conferences this year, some of which I have mentioned here.  One of the others, California Dreamin’, was a local romance writers’ conference.  Two of the others were mystery writers’ conferences: Malice Domestic, and the California Crime Writers Conference.  Yep, that’s a lot of conferences.

So why do I do it?  Yes, to meet up with those kinds of people I mentioned.  And that’s the most important reason for me these days.  But I also attend workshops and meals and other related events.

Do they help my writing career?  I think so, or I wouldn’t go.

But if you’re a writer, should you attend conferences?  Why not?  At least those for the genres you write in.  I always tell other writers, especially those just starting out, to join writers’ organizations in their genres and attend local meeting of their chapters.  Conferences help you meet others in different stages of writing and sales, which can also help your career.

Did I enjoy the RWA conference this year?  Yes, but I had some issues with it, too–one of which was the hotel we were in and its horrible elevator service. But I did get to visit the AKC Dog Museum.

Plus, this year, I hardly attended any conference workshops. No time, thanks to the various Harlequin meetings and workshops. I also had less interest in most of the topics than in the past, although the ones I did attend were helpful for research purposes. My favorites were, one on creating  series, where I got some other people’s takes on how they do it, another workshop on forensics in fiction, and another on twists in stories.

Will I attend RWA next year?  Most likely.  I’m under contract for four new Harlequin Romantic Suspense books, some of which will be published by then, and it’s always good to make contact with the editors and others at a publishing house in person like that.  Plus, it’s in San Francisco, which is a lot closer to LA than New York is.

Maybe I’ll see you there!

lindaphotoLinda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, currently writes two mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries, and the Superstition Mysteries.  She has also written the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and also currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries about shapeshifters for Harlequin Nocturne.

 

***

 

This article was posted for Linda O. Johnston by Jackie Houchin. 

 

WHAT JUST HAPPENED…? By Rosemary Lord

06694-rosemaryatburbanklibraryjpgDo you ever look around and think “What just happened?”

“How did I end up here?

A flurry of self-searching thoughts tumble out:

Where did the months – nay, years go? This was not what I intended…

I had intended to have at least three or four best-selling novels published by now, maybe a movie deal and a writer’s award or two.

Well, your Honor – it was like this…. Life got in the way. As it does.

As writers we observe people, we notice things. It’s just that sometimes we are so busy looking and living elsewhere that we don’t notice ourselves. We fail to notice our neglected selves as we deal with what life throws at us. We get distracted by life’s fun-an’-games and dramas, family matters and assorted other happenings. Our dreams and goals get left by the roadside.

Then one day we get a breathing space and notice, “Hold on a minute – where am I? What happened to ME? What about my dreams and goals…?”

I’ve had a lot of ‘Shirley Valentine’ moments lately: you remember the movie starring Pauline Collins as the worn-down housewife who had big dreams and realized twenty years later, when she wins a free holiday in Greece and has time to stop and look at her life, that she has let life pass her by? “I’ve lived such a little life…,” she says, “when inside me there is so much more that I could have lived. I disappeared…. I got lost in all this unused life… ”  Author Willy Russell’s words are so observant and poignant.

In fact, I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve lived a very ‘big life.’

TravelI’ve lived in England, Paris, Holland, Spain, Malta – and now Hollywood. My movie work has taken me to Germany, France, Spain, Miami, Bermuda, Minneapolis, Colorado, New York. So I really can’t complain. I’ve met and worked with amazing people. I’ve had tremendous adventures – until recent years, when my creative-self got buried.

Sometimes we just get lost on the wrong road and it takes a while to turn things around and find our way back.

But if we creative types – writers – didn’t have these challenges in everyday life and wrong-turns, what would we write about? These diverse roads we follow give us rich fodder for our stories.

The myriad of jobs we have undertaken – sometimes under duress, or to support families and sometimes simply to support our writing habits – give us fuel for our imaginations.

Think of the English writer P.D. James, a Civil Servant, caring for her husband invalided in the war and wrote her first novel when she was 40. The late Michael Crichton, MD, was a doctor, who wrote Jurassic Park, Westworld. Lee Childs was a TV producer in England before he wrote the Jack Reacher thrillers. Agatha Christie worked as a chemist and was married to an archeologist. All great sources of information for their writing.

On the bright side, in looking back through the “What just happened…” in my own life, I realized I have been given a wealth of material to write about. A veritable extravagant buffet of characters, settings and stories. Even living in Hollywood brought me my first publishing contract for Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now, which led to my 1920s Hollywood mystery Lottie Topaz and the Flicker Murders.

Hollywood SignI’ve worked at all the major Hollywood film studios as an actress or as a writer. All the dramas and angst of saving the Woman’s Club of Hollywood has taught me a lot about the American legal system, skullduggery amongst women and more about the law courts than I wish to know – as well as how to maintain an old historic building and run a business office.

trip-of-a-lifetime-2009-240I dealt with the sudden death of my darling husband, Rick Cameron. I’ve taken care of elderly, lonely neighbors and an ailing mother-in-law and learned far too much about hospitals, nursing homes and Medicare!

But my earlier life was much easier; travelling on the original Orient Express to Athens as a nanny, then sailing round the Greek Islands. I worked as an assistant fashion-designer in London’s ‘Rag-Trade,’ attended the Cannes Film Festivals, movie premiers, working in the theatre, TV and movies in England with some legendary actors, doing dozens of assorted ‘temp’ jobs in London, flying in a tiny 2-seater plane to the race-tracks of France….goodness. I’d forgotten so much from my youth.

I re-discovered a lot of this in my recent de-cluttering sessions.

And I have recently uncovered a stack of novels I’d written that finally need finishing. The material is right there, in our own lives, if only we can see it.

Think of our fellow bloggers here: Gayle Bartos Pool was a private detective, she lived and attended school in France, where her father was stationed with the U.S .Air Force. She has used all of this and more in her Eddie Buick and her Gin Caulfield series and her many short-stories.

Jackie Houchen travelled to Africa and Europe, teaching little kids to read and write. Her children’s stories are richer for her experiences. Linda O. Johnston was an attorney before she wrote her Harlequin romances and Nocturne shapeshifter novels. Her love of dogs and knowledge of King Charles Spaniels have launched dozens of books in her Pet Sitter series and her Barkery and Biscuits successful series. Linda has sold over one million books – imagine!

Miko Johnson was a librarian before writing took over her life, with ample research experience for her Petal In the Wind trilogy.

English-born Jill Amadio has lived in many exotic places, was a journalist in England, became a motor-racing correspondent for a magazine. She has ghost written biographies for a WWII pilot, Movie legend Rudee Vallee and an array of interesting subjects while writing her Tosca Travant “Digging Too Deep” series. Madeline Gornell lives way out of town in the Mohave Desert near the famous Route 66. This is where her inspiration for such as Counsel of Ravens, Rhodes, The Caretaker and so many of her fascinating stories originates.

So you see, all is not lost – however much time has escaped. Those intervening years have provided us with a wealth of knowledge through experiences.

Mary Wesley, author of The Camomile Lawn, had her first book published when she was 72. Grandma Moses started painting at 84. So, there’s hope for all of us, isn’t there?

What just happened? LIFE just happened!