A Life in Pages by Miko Johnston

FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3 with Miko JohnstonMiko Johnston is the author of A Petal in the Wind and the newly released A Petal in the Wind II: Lala Hafstein.

She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.

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Please excuse me while I wipe tears from my eyes. Someone very dear to me has died. Or to put it more accurately, I had to kill someone very dear to me.

Now before you dial 911, let me explain that the person I killed was one of my characters, someone beloved by my other characters as well as my readers. It was difficult, but necessary. My continuing saga would not have the same impact, nor would the surviving characters develop as they must, if this character were allowed to live. As Star Trek Commander Spock famously said, “Logic dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.


I also needed to do this to prepare myself for what will be coming. My historical fiction
series revolves around a Jewish family living in what is now the Czech Republic. I’m working on the third book, set during World War I, but the final installment will take place after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. As you may surmise, this will not bode well for some of the characters.

Although my story is loosely based on my family history – my maternal grandparents endured pogroms in Russia and Poland, and my father survived the Holocaust – it has been suggested that my characters could escape prior to the invasion and make their way to America, thus sparing their lives. After all, I’m writing fiction. I can change it at will.

But can I? I think not, because when you’ve been involved with a story for over twenty years, it takes on a life of its own. I wish I could change their destiny, but it would ring false to me. Early on I made decisions about the characters: who they were, what they would do, and to an extent, how they would develop over time. However, after awhile some of them began to make decisions on their own. Most were simple and minor – a preference for a particular color or beverage – but one unexpected action taken by two of my characters resulted in converting my trilogy into a ‘quadrogy’.

In a sense, I gave birth to these characters. Early on I guided them, taught them, made sure they were always where they were supposed to be. Now they have a life of their own, and I must respect that. Within reason. I still have final edit. But I can’t ignore their wishes and directives, no matter what I, or some readers, may think. Why? As Captain Kirk observed, “Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.”

When you create your fictitious world, is it set in stone, or do you change it at will? Have you ever found yourself letting your characters decide where they’re going and what they’re going to do? Or do you maintain full control over them?

Civility Trumps Murder

4ed53-collectionofpictures063Jacqueline Vick is the author of over twenty published short stories, novelettes and mystery novels. Her April 2010 article for Fido Friendly Magazine, “Calling Canine Clairvoyants”, led to the first Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mystery, Barking Mad About Murder. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.jacquelinevick.com.



What’s the proper etiquette for murder? When Edward Harlow,  the offica817a-civility2brules2bebook2bcover2b252812529ial representative
of Aunt Civility and her etiquette books, discovers a dead body at Inglenook Resort, that’s the question he must struggle with, and it ain’t easy.

Edward is really a short-tempered man who thinks most human beings aren’t worthy of a polite hello. In his usual environment–lecturing like-minded people–the proper responses come without effort. But when he’s surrounded by liars, curiosity seekers, and an unrepentant murderer? Not so much.

My favoritedeath by sheer torturee mysteries throw an average person into a mix of lunatics. It’s that duck-out-of-water aspect that makes for big laughs. Take Death by Sheer Torture by Robert Barnard. A perfectly respectable police detective must return to his family home (which he’s avoided for almost 20 years) where he’s surrounded by the suspects–his family members. These include a slob cousin who married the daughter of Italian mafia and their brood of Squealies (the children), a cheerful aunt who collects and admires Nazi memorabilia, and his very real memories of the corpse, his own father, who died in embarrassing circumstances. What more could you want?

To read more about Edward’s adventure, Civility Rules is available on Kindle and at other ebook stores. Even better, anyone who comments on this post will be put into a drawing for a free ebook copy of Civility Rules to be drawn this weekend and announced on Monday.

Have you ever found yourself surrounded by nuts?  We’d love to hear about it!

Listening, and a Look Inside

e179d-authorphoto2mmgornellMadeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of six award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also a potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. For more information, visit her at website or Amazon Author Page.

I love writing. But writing isn’t always easy.

These days I do feel very lucky though because my fellow Writers in Residence overflow with inspiration, encouragement, and expertise. And I also try to keep my eyes open for nuggets I can grab, steal, use, incorporate from fellow knowledgeable and sharing authors. So here’s the thought-crumb trail that led me to this post. Gayle Bartos-Pooles recent post here http://tinyurl.com/glnyqrh, Patricia Gligor’s recent blog http://pat-writersforum.blogspot.com/2016_05_22_archive.html, Paul Alan Fahey’s latest collection http://tinyurl.com/h96kjbh , and John Daniel’s Joy of Story blog http://johnmdaniel.blogspot.com/ . I don’t write short fiction, actually write long winded prose—can’t help it—but I take inspiration wherever I can get it. Listening, then incorporating into my writing what I hear that makes sense. And to write short fiction, in my mind, you have to take all the things that make a well-told story, then pare them down to their essence. And it’s a look inside of my trying to do just that in this post.

Which next brings me to Gayle’s post on openings. She said it all so excellently! And one of the points she makes is setting the tone in the opening. Boy do I agree with that! The Preface and Opening I want to be my invitation to the reader, “Come on in and go on my journey.” Ha! Not there yet, but that’s the goal. So, “Come on in,” and see how I’m trying to get there.

My current work in process has to do with making a film in the desert. (Yes, I stole the film aspect from friend and mystery writer Marilyn Meredith’s book River Spirits(I loved it)- in her Tempe Crabtree series) http://tinyurl.com/zxglxdv . The making of the film in my WIP is a central theme for several of the characters, and in my mind what they think, see, and feel are very important to the whole book. So, I have spent significant time rewriting the opening scene—wanting a reader to see, feel, touch what I was seeing. (1)

Here’s what I first wrote:

It was still early morning. They’d actually taken off in what Pete considered darkness. What he now saw was the new light of the developing day. The sun was an almost purewhite globe with broadening bands of saturated yellow emanating—more like glowingnorth and south from the globe. Bright without being blinding, colored without being saturated, and sparkling without being confusing. He could even feel it on his skin, then laughed at his hyperbolic silliness. Then he saw the chimney.

Georgeous. And Pete found it hard to get that stone-chimney out of his mind’s-eye. He almost sighed aloud.

Next was:

It was still early morning, they’d actually taken off in what Pete considered darkness. What he now saw was a world gently kissed with the new light of the day. The sun was an almost pure white globe, with broadening bands of saturated yellow emanating—more like glowing—from the north and south along the horizon. He blinked, as if what he was experiencing wasn’t real. Indeed, how the sunrise could be bright without being blinding, colored without being saturated or intense, and sparkling without being confusing. Pete even thought he felt a sun type warmth on his skin, then couldn’t help but laugh at his hyperbolic silliness.

Georgeous. He found it hard to get that stone-chimney out of his mind’s-eye—looking at it as he was from the West, and it silhouetted against the sunrise. He almost sighed aloud.

You get the idea how that went for a few times. Every time I open the WIP to write more words, I first rewrite the opening. Peculiar possibly, but true. Next, I realized from my short-fiction friends, who cares about all that sunset stuff—where’s the people? Where’s the character POV? Why does a reader want to care? Or go along for the ride.

So here’s what I had a couple days ago:

“Did you see that stone-chimney?” Pete Lily was becoming more comfortable talking into his headset microphone, no longer shouting like when they started out. “Down there to the West. Just standing there by itself.” He wanted to include the pilot’s name in his observation—which he thought was Jack—though wasn’t sure, and didn’t want to risk calling him by the wrong name.

“Yep,” he heard his pilot answer. Pete waited for more Pilot comment. But after a long moment passed, he figured that was all he was going to receive by way of reply. Conversation probably not included in the price.

Even though it was a preliminary flyover, Pete had asked for the “door-removed option,” just like it would be during shooting. He was aware others in the business thought him the best scene-framer on the West Coast. He knew he wasn’t; especially when it came to aerial photography. I am darned good when it comes to a still-cut. But this, looking down, looking out, seeing it all from an omniscient-like view. That’s something else………

Where I started description-wise, is now on page three! But never fear, EVERY time I add to this book, edit, revise, whatever, I will refine this beginning. And I don’t yet know how it will end up. Why? Because at this point in my writing journey, I so agree with what Gayle said about opening tone, voice, and taking the reader (not only to the place) but into the action.

Writing isn’t always easy. But as Patricia Gligor points out in her timely for me post, “Enjoy the Journey.” Hopefully there’s also a writing nugget here for some of my fellow travelers.

Happy (Writing) Trails!

[i] Also grabbing at my brain is a TV series entitled Aerial America.

Free WRITING For Free

WinR profile picJackie Houchin is a Christian writer, book reviewer, and retired photojournalist. She writes articles and reviews on a variety of topics, and occasionally edits manuscripts. She also dabbles in short fiction. “I’m a wife (52 years in Feb/2016), a mom, and a grandma (of adults, sigh!). I enjoy creating Bible craft projects for kids; growing fruits, flowers, and veggies; and traveling to other countries. I also adore cats and kittens and mysteries.”    Follow Jackie on Morning Meditations and Here’s How it Happened

What comes to your mind when you think of free writing?

Do you think of finding a word, idea, scene or photo, and putting your pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and… writing whatever comes to mind? (I did that once about salt from a photo of a vintage restaurant saltshaker, giving the condiment a personality. It turned out pretty cool, I thought!)

Or does free writing mean penning something “on spec” which is a fancy way of saying that no money is involved. Or, if you are a newbie writer, maybe you volunteer your services for articles, blog posts, interviews, fillers, etc., for experience and to accumulate “clips.”

Freeing Willie

“Free Writing” – that mind-over-matter, staring-into-space writing that begins with a prompt – is often used by writers and novelists who experience writer’s block, as a way to prime the pump. However it happens, once you get your creative juices or muses moving, your other WIP seems to suddenly take on new life. (And no, my muse’s name is not Willie!)

FREE writing3This kind of free writing invigorates your thought process, sparks ideas that catch fire and burn down forests of paper!! (Sorry, I got a little carried away.)

You don’t have to be “stuck” to make use of free writing. Some writers write from a prompt daily in a journal designated for that purpose. Not only does it kick start their writing, but they archive a huge number of ideas in the process to use later. (See a list of websites at the end that feature prompts for writers.)

Don’t write right

Another method of free writing (I love this one and have recommended it often, but no one ever tries it… or at least has told me they’ve tried it) is to use a left/right brain strategy.  (You have to use a pen or pencil for this one.)

Choose a photo, or even an advertisement from a magazine with at least two people in it, and some background. With your dominant hand, write a brief account of what is happening in the scene (other than the obvious ad line). Include background, clothes, colors, expressions, relationship possibilities, etc.

NEXT, switch hands and write about the same scene with your non-dominant hand.  I was told that your brain will notice different details and story possibilities from the “other” hand’s POV. I didn’t believe it, but I tried it. I was amazed! I did it again using a painting of a village scene this time and the same thing happened!

Try it.  Do.  Then email me (or comment below) the results.

Money Ain’t Everything

FREE writing5The other type of free writing that most wordsmiths don’t like to consider, is writing FOR FREE; not charging a fee, gratis, a lot of work for no pay. Some do it for the experience and to get a name and byline which they can later barter. They think of it as a rite of passage, paying their dues, a necessary evil. (Hey, I love clichés.)

But I bet you’ve done free writing and didn’t even realize it. How about that guest blog? (Okay, you pumped your book.) What about being so wowed by a book you just read, you ran to Amazon or Goodreads and posted a glorious review?

Unless your own blog has a commercial aspect, every post there is virtually free.

FREE editing1How about volunteering to critique or edit a friend’s manuscript? (I edit papers by seminary students in Africa and it is very gratifying.) Or mentoring a newbie writer? (I’m doing that for a friend who’s attempting her first memoir.) How about writing a note of encouragement to an author who’s just lost her editor or publisher, or gotten a stinky review?

These kind of projects are definitely in the “feel good” category but they are still writing. They are lucrative in a non-monetary way, and sometimes the payoff is astounding.

The Bottom Line

Writers write… however and whenever, for whomever, and for whatever pay. They write. WE write.

So WRITE FREE and see what happens.


Websites with writing prompts: scene setups, situations, words, and photos:

http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts – scenes

http://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/ – brief suggestions

https://dailypost.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/365-days-of-writing-prompts-1387477491.pdf – each day

http://www.writingforward.com/writing-prompts/creative-writing-prompts/25-creative-writing-prompts –  brief ideas

http://writeshop.com/creative-writing-photo-prompts-imagination/  – photos

http://writingexercises.co.uk/random-image-generator.php – very cool! a new photo prompt with each click of your mouse.


How to Write a Killer Opening



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



Whether you are writing a novel, short story, or screenplay, you want to open your story with a BANG!


 The Most Important Lesson:

If you want to give yourself a better chance to have your short story, novel or screenplay picked up by an agent, a publisher, or a producer, you have to get their attention FAST. If you are lucky, an agent/publisher will read your first chapter. Usually they will just read the first few pages or maybe only the first paragraph. This holds true for a short story that you might submit to a contest. Agents get 50 manuscripts a day and they are looking for any excuse to toss your work into the round file. You want to make your opening a GRABBER.

Make sure the opening scene has some relevance to the rest of the story, whether it actually figures into the plot or echoes the theme. Opening in a beautiful flower garden better reveal a dead body in the posies. Or hearing about a long ago train wreck better foretell another “train wreck.”

What exactly does an Opening Line/Paragraph/Scene in a Short Story, Novel or Screenplay do?

  1. Sets the TONE of the story
  2. Establishes the GENRE
  3. States the PROBLEM
  4. It might hint at the SOLUTION
  5. Gets you into the action FAST

The Opening should do 2, 3 or all of these things.

 When the OPENING Sets the Tone (funny/mysterious/adventure/children’s lit/chick lit/geezer lit). Don’t start out funny and turn it into a slasher film.

EXAMPLE: I couldn’t believe they found Brad’s body. I thought I buried him deeper.                  “A Role to Die For” by G.B.Pool

             This opening has dark humor; absolutely no remorse (Tone); it’s probably a mystery (Genre); it starts right in the middle of the beginning (Fast); and the reader will want to know if the killer gets caught (Problem).


EXAMPLE: When TONE is established by VOICE

Archie Wright’s the name. Dishing dirt’s the game. My sandbox: Hollywood. The most glamorous and glitzy, vicious, and venomous playground in the world. If you come for a visit, bring your sunscreen and your shark repellent. If you come to stay, let me warn you, Tinsel Town eats up and spits out a hundred just like you every day. Sometimes it isn’t pretty, but it’s my job to chronicle the ebb and flow of the hopeful, the helpless, and the hapless. My best stories come from the dark side of Glitzville.   “Glitzville” by G.B. Pool

      This opening is written in first person which is very one-on-one (Tone); the glib Hollywood-eze sets the Genre; there is a little dark humor, too. (Tone).


  1. When the OPENING Establishes the Genre – Mystery, Romance, Children’s Lit, Chic Lit, Geezer Lit, Women’s Fiction, Adventure.


East Berlin – 24 December 1964 – 4:00 p.m.

Why does it always rain when I’m in Berlin? Ralph Barton thought, feeling the oppressive dampness close in around him.            The Odd Man by G.B. Pool

       This opening classifies itself as historical, Cold War story (Genre); the very nature makes it a taught, spy drama (Tone).



Frank Madison rode the Monorail to work.

The used Cadillac Eldorado he bought six years earlier came with a stack of options, most of which didn’t work. The gas tank was currently empty, and so was his wallet, so the mint green boat sat at the curb near his place and he took public transportation.

The Santa Claus Singer” by G.B. Pool

But in this example, the opening doesn’t set the genre. It does set the TONE. We have a down-on-his-luck guy riding the Monorail (Mono means: one/lonely). It does state a PROBLEM: the guy doesn’t have much money.

Here is another way to set the Genre for this story: Write a GRABBER book blurb



An out-of-work lounge singer ends up playing Santa Claus at the mall and makes a very sick young girl a promise that could cost him everything, but sometimes the best gift you can give is yourself.

The BLURB classifies this as a holiday story (Genre); How is this guy gonna overcome his situation? (Problem).

      Another way to set the Genre so the reading public knows what type of book you have written: Have the book’s COVER fit the story you are telling.

      If you have a publisher who wants to design the cover without your help, write a killer book blurb to capture the essence of your story and/or make sure your OPENING reflects the type of book you are writing. These might be the only times you have input.

      You can always submit a few cover ideas yourself. Just make sure you know what your story is about.



 The Opening can State the Problem.

  1. When the blurb tells us it’s a mystery… (Genre)

            EXAMPLE: When a body turns up at a local dam, P.I. Gin Caulfield has to get to the bottom of it, but the bottom can be very deep.


  1. The Opening gets us into the story Fast/Sets up Problem:


“How long has he been in the water?” I asked, knowing by the bloated, blue body it was too long. What was left of the corpse’s clothes had shredded, exposing large masses of distended flesh.

“More than a week,” said the sheriff’s deputy. “It got itself tangled in the bramble caught against the rocks down there. If you hadn’t noticed it bobbing up, it could have been there a lot longer. Good call, lady.”

I turned away.

            No, my friend, it was a lousy call. I hate finding dead bodies. No matter what they show on TV, private detectives don’t like corpses. We like the hunt… the chase… the capture. If everybody is still breathing at the end, great. If somebody’s dead, we hope it’s the other guy… or gal. I have seen my share of bad women. We’re not all Betty Crocker.                        Damning Evidence by G.B. Pool

In this opening we have a female detective (Genre); she’s probably been around the block a few times (Tone); she has a conscience and a cynical sense of humor. (Tone); the dead body (is the Problem).


  1. The Opening alludes to the Ending or the Solution/Payoff, so you come full circle when you get to the end.


EXAMPLE of an OPENING: “I already told you. I met the guy in a bar. We got to talking. Somehow he knew I’d been in trouble with the law before.”


EXAMPLE of the ENDING: “Perhaps you would like to speak to a lawyer now, Mr. Harrison?” said the cop.                                                 “The Big Payoff” by G.B. Pool


The OPENING shows a guy used to being in trouble. The ENDING sees that he has been talking to a cop about a crime all along, though I never mentioned the other guy was a cop until the last word in the story.

HINT: HOOK the READER with a compelling reason to continue reading; have an “out-of-whack” event; something that changes the protagonist’s world view profoundly and the reader just has to know what happens next.


John Smith didn’t know he was an amnesiac. He discovered that and the fact he was married to two women when one of them turned up dead.

  1. The opening gives us 4 things that change John’s world-view: he’s an amnesiac, he was married, to two women, one is dead.
  2. the dead wife drops this into the mystery Genre and sets up the Problem.


     The best way to make sure you are opening your story with a BANG is to go over the 5 Elements to any story – Plot, Character, Dialogue, Setting, and the Point of the Story – The Point is the most important. No Point – Why write it?

     The POINT should be reflected in your OPENING!

     Are you writing about Man against Man, Man against Nature, Man against Himself. Good vs. Evil?

  1. Use that OUTLINE that lists all the major plot points & characters.
  2. Ask yourself: Am I covering all the bases?
  3. Reread the story and ask yourself: Does this make sense?
  4. Does the Opening grab the reader and make him want to read more?
  5. Does the Ending fit the Opening?
  6. Does the Title fit the major theme of the story?
  7. Does the Cover fit the story?


Take another look at your story and see if these questions have been answered. If it does, you will have a Killer Opening to your story.

 The AAnatomy  Book Covernatomy of a Short Story Workbook will be out this summer on Amazon. It’s a great way to analyze your story whether it’s a novel, screenplay or short story. It will help with your Opening and your Ending and everything in between.




Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.


One of my favorite quotes, attributed variously to writers Philip Roth and W. Somerset Maugham, is this: “Nothing bad can ever happen to a writer. It’s all material.”

I take comfort in that reminder when bad things happen in my life; at least I might someday squeeze a story out of the experience. I might think, “So this is what it’s like to be stuck in a hospital ER.” Or “So this is what it feels like to watch someone you love get sick and die.”

Do you ever find yourself taking notes, mental or otherwise, during some traumatic event?

Not to be morbid, but those moments of sheer pain or grief or terror, if captured when they’re fresh, can add depth and authenticity to your writing.

Many years ago, my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Inoperable. She was in her 70’s and knew she didn’t want chemotherapy, so she entered a hospice program. As I watched her fade away, sometimes in terrible pain, sometimes in a morphine fog, I didn’t jot notes in my journal as I sat by her bed. But when the dreadful process was over and she’d been laid to rest, I did journal the experience. The entries weren’t poetic or well thought out, but my raw emotions seeped onto the page so that years later I could pull out my journal and refresh my memory—from a safer distance.

I fictionalized my mother’s dying in my novel Mending Dreams—not to capitalize on her suffering but to try and redeem it, to acknowledge her courage. Many people who read the book have told me, “I could tell you’d been there. I have, too.” I like to think they derived some comfort from knowing they weren’t alone, from understanding “It’s not just me. Other people have felt this, too.”

Writing about life’s darkest moments gives me a slight sense of control and helps me get a handle on my pain or grief or anger or fear. And using personal experience, even if I disguise it, adds a layer of credibility to my writing.

Knowing I might eventually write about a painful incident, I try to be more observant. If I’m going to go through this experience, at least I can record it, do it justice, and convert it to something useful after my emotions have cooled.

I’m not the only writer to do this. Here’s another quote, from the late Nora Ephron, a writer I truly admire: “Everything is copy.”

She should know—she turned the failure of her marriage to Carl Bernstein into a very witty memoir, Heartburn, which went on to become a hit movie. And she was able to give her ex a little payback for the infidelity that wrecked their marriage.

So what about the flip side? Does this mean that nothing truly good can happen to a writer? I don’t think so. I journal many peak experiences too, and try to capture the good feelings before they dissipate. Those entries come a little easier.

Heck, you know life’s going to throw us some curves. We might as well use them to make ourselves stronger writers.




A Literary Journey in England by Rosemary Lord

06694-rosemaryatburbanklibraryjpgRosemary wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House!

She has been writing ever since.

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now,  English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.

A Literary Journey

I didn’t intend it this way. It just happened. I was visiting my family in England on what, I reflected later, turned into a very literary journey. ……

Firstly, as I travelled the tube (subway), trains and buses, I was surprised to see so many passengers reading. Actual books. Hard backs and paperbacks – and some kindles. Ian McEwan, John Grisham, John Le Carre,  Lee Childs, Linda Green were some authors I noticed. On a lighter side were Santa Montefiore, JoJo Moyes, Dawn French and Fiona Gibson. An interesting, different selection from what we see in L.A.

A stop British Library on Euston Road, where purses or bags go in a locker. No pens/pencils allowed either – in case you have an urge to doodle on the Gutenberg Bible.

Catching up with my friend Marie Rowe, we wandered around Seven Dials, near Covent Garden. Agatha Christie wrote, The Mystery of Seven Dials. Then to Foyle’s Bookshop, famous for Literary Luncheons. Moved down the road from its’ 100 year old,  rickety, wood-lined shop, it now gleams white and chrome and boasts 4 miles of book shelves. Across the road is the site of Marks and Co, the antiquarian bookshop star of the movie 84 Charing Cross Road. It closed in 1970 and is now a MacDonald’s.

A Limehouse victim?

My brother Ted and I took the Docklands Light Railway to Limehouse in London’s East End. The setting for many historic mysteries, Limehouse – on the northern banks of the Thames – is the former site of China Town and opium dens. Remember the jazzy Limehouse Blues? Thomas Burke wrote Limehouse Nights, Dickens set books here and Peter Ackroyd  wrote Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem.

The Docklands were reclaimed and developed in the 1980 s  with smart high-rises and apartments. Vintage narrow-boats moor next to fancy yachts.

Walking back along the Thames, the river bank is littered with flotsam and jetsam – where many literary bodies are washed up. The Prospect of Whitby in Wapping was a  smugglers’ haunt. Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens imbibed here. On the sands behind, the gibbet where pirates were hung, remains. Further along, at London Bridge, are Nancy’s Steps, where Dickens had Bill Sykes chase poor Nancy in Oliver Twist.

Another day took us to Oxford, setting for Colin Dexter’s novels about Inspector Morse – and the historic Bodleian Library.

Next, a family outing to Rudyard Kipling’s House, Batemans, in Sussex. He was 36 and world-famous when he found this 33 acre estate. Now a National Trust property, we saw the room where he wrote the Just So Stories, Kim, Puck of Pook’s Hill and more. His large writing table overlooks a serene garden. His Nobel Prize on the mantle-shelf, the faded sofa is where Kipling lay in writing mode. Inspired, he would jump up and hand-write pages. His secretary would later type out his words on the small portable typewriter that sits on a side desk.

He wrote The Jungle Book when he lived in Virginia with his American-born wife, Caroline. Kipling was born in India, his great inspiration.

England was freezing, so my siblings and I flew to sunnier climes in the Peloponnese, Greece. Perfect, sunny weather. We visited the village where Nicolas Katzenzakis wrote the book based on local character, Zorba, who found celluloid fame with an iconic dance on the beach.

We visited the house of the late English writer and war hero, Patrick Leigh Furmor. ‘Paddy’ wrote successful books about The Mani, this area of southern Greece. The film Ill Met By Moonlight, starring Dirk Bogard, was about his wartime heroics.  His overgrown, red-tiled villa on a pebbly beach off the beaten track, is presently being prepared to open as a museum.

I could go on. It was a wonderful trip and over too soon. But I returned to Hollywood with a case full of books and a replenished Kindle. Travel is supposed to broaden the mind. For me, it feeds my soul.



by Bonnie Schroeder
Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.
The recent uproar over the lack of non-white nominees for the Academy Awards got me thinking, because I seldom explicitly depict people of color in my books and stories. I don’t think I’m a racist, so why is that?
First off, although I have many friends who are Black, Asian and Latino, I don’t think of them by that label. I think of them as my friend who was with me during a traumatic purge at our former employer, or my gal pal who shares my love of classical music. And so on.
Therefore, I don’t often assign a racial label to the characters I write about. Many of my characters could be black or green or blue or purple, but it’s not relevant so I don’t go into it.
Should I?
The reason I ask is that our books and stories are often source material for films and television programs, so in a sense, diversity starts with the writers. But is it myjob to impose diversity? I’m not sure.
When I was working in the business world, I certainly enjoyed a diverse assortment of co-workers, many of whom became close friends. Then I retired and spent more and more time in my home community, which has a predominantly White population. I didn’t notice the change at first, preoccupied as I was with making the transition from worker bee to independent writer.

Then I joined a Tai Chi class at the local Y, and the first people to welcome me were an Asian couple. The teacher was Black. A graceful Filipina taught me some of the moves. Suddenly, my world grew more colorful again—no pun intended there, or maybe it is. And I realized how I’d missed hanging out with people who didn’t look or talk like me. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.

We need variety and color in our lives; it enriches us and makes the world more interesting. The universe offers a panorama of colors, shapes, sizes, sounds, tastes and smells to experience.
But back to my question: should I be more explicit in my character descriptions to make it clear that the protagonist or her friend or her boss is a particular race or color? Is there a way to denote ethnicity—to make my writing more polychromatic—without being obvious or patronizing?
After all, despite the self-important proclamations of certain performers, Hollywood would be nothing without the written word. So to circle back to my original premise, your book or my short story might be the starting point.
Sometimes the story or the situation demands a character be a certain race, but often he or she could be any race, at least in my stories. Then the reader can decide for himself or herself if the character is Black or Asian (or Martian.)


Weigh in with youropinion on this admittedly tricky subject. Do you consciously include a variety of ethnicities in your writing? Do you think it’s a good thing to do? Or is it better to let the reader fill in the blanks and imagine a character in any color they want?

The Value of Critique Groups

by Miko Johnston
Did you know that Writers in Residence began as a critique group? Gayle, Bonnie, Rosemary, the Jackies and I met monthly to discuss one member’s set of pages. Although we all benefited from the peer review, we grew to enjoy each other’s company and finally accepted that work interfered too much with play. From then on we became a social group, meeting monthly for lunch and conversation. We relegate critiquing to a by request as needed basis (to which we always say yes).
As much as I enjoy getting together with my WinR friends, which now includes Kate and Madeline, I must credit their critiques for my success as a published author. Aside from their helpful comments to me, evaluating their work sharpened my ability to judge my own. Critique groups have been invaluable in my personal life as well. Last year I moved from California to Washington, where I knew no one. After spending over a week alone in my house, I researched local writing groups and found one in my new hometown. The members welcomed me and since then we’ve become good friends.  I also belong to two other groups dedicated to critique – one strictly online, one in-person.
Membership in a writers group can provide support, encouragement and networking opportunities for the independent writer. You’re probably aware of the national organizations that champion a popular genre like romance or mystery. However, if you want to join a critique group, here are some things to consider:
There are two basic types – public and private. Public groups tend to be large organizations like the Ventura County Writers Club, Whidbey Island Writers Association, and the recently defunct Alameda Writers Group.  They hold monthly general meetings featuring a guest speaker and offer various special interest groups – SIGs – geared to a specific genre of writing. You pay an annual membership fee, which entitles you to participate in their SIGs. The group I found in Washington, Just Write, is a unique public group anyone can attend. We gather once a week at a coffeehouse with our notepads or computers and just write for two hours. Afterward, we head to a nearby pub to socialize.
Members of public groups who want more autonomy or have different aspirations often form private groups like WinR. Membership is by invitation only and usually requires a probation period, where the newbie participates in a set number of critiquing sessions before presenting his or her own work.  Some private groups meet in person, where members read their work aloud. Others exchange pages online and email their comments to the author.
Which type of group is better? That depends on what you need. I always recommend public groups for beginners – if you’re interested in writing but haven’t done much, if you’re unsure of what genre suits you, if you’re unsure if you truly want to write. Public group SIGs host a variety of skill levels. You can experiment with different genres to find one you like. You’ll learn a lot very quickly, for you’ll get to read some awful stuff. Since membership tends to fluctuate you’ll interact with many more writers and get a broad diversity of opinions in these groups. Best of all, if you find other members with whom you’re simpatico, you can start your own group.
If you’re well on your way to publishing or have published already, then consider a private group. Working with people you know builds trust and you minimize overexposure of your pre-published manuscripts. There is some debate as to whether it’s better to limit a group to a specific genre. I think that makes sense if you’re working outside mainstream fiction, particularly controversial or quirky sub-genres that traditionalists might not ‘get’. Otherwise seek or form a mixed genre group comprised of writers with a comparable skill level.
Writing is such a solitary endeavor we often get lost in our own head. It helps to connect with like-minded people who can spot the glitches in our work that we sense but can’t quite see.  So does sharing a common goal, whether it’s completing that first novel or getting it published.
Do you, or did you ever, belong to a writers critique group? Share your experiences with us.

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