Mystery People

By Jill Amadio

As a Brit I put up with a lot of ribbing in America. Some friends take me to task for pronunciation. Well, I can’t help it if I have a very slight West Country accent as I am from Cornwall. To my amusement my accent is occasionally mistaken for Australian.

As a writer from over there, though, the ribbing can give me indigestion or at the very least depression for hours. The main problem is spelling. I am warned by colleagues that editors at U.S. publishing houses come down hard if you keep inserting a “u” into words like behaviour,  colour, and honour, or substitute a ”z’ for an “s”. Other minefields include using “ae” rather than “e,” as in “aeon” and “eon”.  Maybe it’s a matter simplicity. Americans pare as many ells from words as possible while Brits love double ells, such as “levelling” versus “leveling”.

My books are published here but habits die hard and I usually claim that Brits use the correct spellings. They only got chopped when unnecessary (to whom?) letters are summarily killed off. Flautists are called flutists, kerb is curb, and gaol is jail. Obviously what it comes down to is pronunciation, though. Americans spell words economically as they are spoken which is commendable although it escapes me why tyre is spelled tire. I think it has to do with the Boston Tea Party and wanting to be set apart from that awful king.

It’s a huge temptation to some authors who have leapt across the pond to use British spelling, perhaps as a sly signal to agents and publishers they are querying that the writer is a Brit – a sort of literary snobbism one occasionally encounters. In my first mystery I have my lead character admonish the British consul’s wife for this attitude which I did, in fact, actually encounter in Newport Beach.

Then there’s the grammar. Collective nouns in particular give me pause. Is a group, say, a government, singular or plural? Americans say it’s the former; Brits insist on the latter.  I have a page from the Associated Press Stylebook permanently stuck to my printer to remind me which to use.

Figuring out past particles is always fun. For instance, Brits say “pleaded” Yanks say “pled”. Oh, and the very, very worst word I hate to see changed is “hanged”. To my mind it should refer only to someone at the loop end of a rope, giving the action a far heftier meaning than the briefer word “hung”, as used here. People are not paintings.

What else? “Have” and “take” always flummox me. Am I going to take a bath? Or, am I going to have a bath? I read somewhere that this is an example of a delexical verb, which I’m not even going to touch.

While writing my mystery my beta readers caught another mistake. I wrote, “He drove her to hospital.” Wrong. I was told there should be a “the” in front of “hospital”.  I’m sure there’s some kind of diabolical rule about this but I think it is fine to give an in-house editor something to mark up to justify his/her salary.  As for tenses, the past participle in the U.S. for “got” is “gotten,” an ugly word that makes me shudder enough to want to write a thriller entitled “The Dangling Participle and the Dark, Dark Pluperfect”.

While writing the first in my crime series, whose amateur sleuth is a disgraced Cornish woman exiled by the palace for discovering a scandal (not sexual!), I had to learn the police rankings and figure out who was a sheriff and who was a police officer. Having worked with a reporter at the good old British rag, the Sunday Dispatch, I decided to have my sleuth simplify her confusion (and mine) by using British titles. When caught speeding she addresses a California Highway Patrol (CHiP) officer as Chief Superintendent, and calls the Chief of Police,  Constable.  I was very pleased to learn that sheriffs and policemen can be lumped into a group collectively referred to as “cops”.

When I mention a British pastime, such as nighthawking, no one has a clue as to its meaning. I was going to give the nasty habit to a character in my next book but I decided the explanation could be tedious unless you’re one yourself.

Even the four seasons can be a challenge. Seeking representation for my new book I scoured the agent lists and was rejected by 55 of them. I knew small presses can be approached directly and I found one with whose name I fell totally in love: Mainly Murder Press in Connecticut. However, the website declared, NO SUBMISSIONS UNTIL LATE SPRING!

Ha. I immediately sent in my query along with a note: “Dear MMP, I live in Southern California and although it is only January according to the calendar, and snowing where you are, it is already late spring here. You should see the roses!”

I received an email back within three hours, asking me to send chapters. Which I did. Obviously the publisher was not off in Tahiti but still on the snowy East Coast.” MMP published only 12-14 books a year and has now closed its doors but who can resist the name? So my advice is to go ahead and break the rules. Lay it on thick. Change the climate. Worked for me.

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Jill Amadio is from Cornwall, UK, but unlike her amateur sleuth, Tosca Trevant, she is far less grumpy. Jill began her career as a reporter in London (UK), then Madrid (Spain), Bogota (Colombia), Bangkok (Thailand), Hong Kong, and New York. Jill writes a column for a British mystery magazine, and is an audio book narrator. She is the author of the award-winning mystery, “Digging Too Deep” and the second book in the series, “Digging Up the Dead.”  The books are set in Newport, California.    http://www.jillamadio.com

 

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This article was posted for Jill Amadio by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

Two Little Paths…

AnotherRoadSignI’m sharing today two short blog writing-trails I’ve been down recently. As always, my hope is there’s something in my meanderings that might send you down helpful writing paths of your own.

My first little wandering, was instigated by a recent Paul D. Marks post[i] (Thanks, Paul…I think.(smile))

Paul posed the question to his readers of what would you do if you weren’t a writer. It was an intriguing question, and in thinking about my answer, my thoughts–after several professional considerations–led me BACK to writing. And you guessed it, ending up with ideas on how to improve my current writing. Here’s how the thinking trail went… Clipboard01Knowing what I know about my myself and where I am writing-wise——answering Paul’s question, I did arrive at being a Movie/TV Show Producer and/or Director (admittedly based only on outsider-knowledge of the professions). I do love movies and TV, and in my mind, producers and directors do all the great things in putting together a compelling story, like picking the  setting, lighting, color pallet, sequence of scenes, casting…

Then of course, it hit me—in my rewrites, editing, endless agonizing reviews—I could improve my WIPs with a heightened producer/director perspective. A couple posts ago I talked about BBC radio dramas that I listen to on audio-books, and what I learned from them. Well, I’m thinking carrying that learning experience forward to the big and little screen, should broaden my writing reviews.

Readers2I should backtrack a bit, and point out my prevailing approach and perspective on writing comes from reading. And especially from the golden age. Updated by P.D. James, of course! So, adding radio and movie profession perspectives, though it may be obvious to some, was not such a straight line for me.

So, in my “backup” career as a Producer/Director, I’m in the process of adding some touches to my latest WIP to expand my movie production “Vision.”[ii]

My second Little thing–is weighing egoism, good sense, advice taking, and the shortness of life. Items/thoughts which are a continuing balancing act for me–especially during the editing process.

With foolish bravado the other day, I decided to pull out some boxes from my writing dark-ages with the point to toss or save. This impulsive housework-like behavior lasted about an hour before I said “the heck with this” and pushed them back out of sight into the closet. But in that hour of attempted work, I found several short stories I supposedly wrote in the 80s. I say supposedly, because my name (actually pseudonym at the time MM LaCour is on them with submittal envelopes attached)—but I just don’t remember them. Whoever(smile) wrote them, evidently thought they should write however they wanted, convention be damned. Egoism, front and center.

Fortunately since then, I’ve been exposed to marvelous advice on writing. Indeed, so much about writing can be learned at conferences, seminars, from books, (plug) and especially here at “Writers in Residence.” Good Sense and Advice taking.

Paul’s post and the pulling out that box path-meanderings, have brought me here. All this “stuff” is excellent for thinking about, and to use for “how to.” But all important, is keeping in mind tomorrow is not promised. And all these thoughts and paths mean nothing–if I/you don’t write. Which has led me to the main thought I would like to pass on from these two little combined posts—–write as much, and as often as you can. AND most importantly, Enjoy the journey!

ThinkingHeadtoBook2Definitely interested in hearing your thoughts on Paul’s question(which I’m still thinking about), and what “perspectives” you might be using for your writing reviews. And here’s hoping, my ziggy/zaggy comments will help you make your next work “a stellar production.”



[i] I Write Therefore I Am by Paul D. Marks. https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2020/08/i-write-therefore-i-am.html?fbclid=IwAR2Bd1kSxrMyvgkFVS8AO3GcmU4ElEcYINye_-W8lOp84TJTim9emcmFoYY

[ii] Still working on a novella “Never Forgotten,” and in this period of having plenty of time, it’s much slower going than it should be. cover

Introducing Cynthia Naden, our Newest Writers In Residence Member.

Cynthia, we are so glad to have you in our Writers in Residence blog group. Tell us about yourself.

cynthia-nadenThank you, Jackie! I’m a native of California, I was born and raised in the Pasadena area.  My husband and I still live here, although we have talked about living elsewhere that is less expensive.  I have two adult sons and two adorable granddaughters.  We live in a condominium with two precious pups, Minnie, a mellow Maltese, and Mandy, a very precocious Terrier mix.  They keep us on our toes and give us hours of unconditional love and fun!

I bet they are cute!  When did you first get interested in writing?

I have been a writer since I was a child.  The first book I fell in love with was Pearl Buck’s Good Earth.  I subsequently read the rest of her tomes.  The first attempt at writing occurred when I was in the 4th grade and wrote about an imaginary trip I made to Australia aboard the SS Lurline.  What fun that was! Throughout my years in school, I always veered back to writing about Asia and when in college, studying for my Master’s in History found myself back in Asia but more specifically China.

Was History your only avenue of study?

No, besides my Master’s in history, I also have a Bachelor’s in English and Paralegal Studies, and a Master’s in Library and Information Science. But my writing career really took off following the completion of my last Masters.  I took a couple online writing courses and found myself writing a romantic suspense that is loosely based on a personal experience of my own.

You mean, the events in Cache Under the Stacks actually happened to you? That’s scary.

Well, some of the elements did, but not all. It is fiction. (smile)

A bookstore features prominently in the book. Do you have a favorite one?

I love bookstores. Whenever we travel my first stop is a bookstore. One of my favorites is Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara, but our own Vroman’s here in Pasadena is the best of the best.

What other writing interests do you have?

I’m interested in writing historical fiction and have a couple of novels started that take place during World War II – one in Europe and the other in the Pacific Theatre. And I would someday love to write about cooking or do restaurant reviews.  Always something that I am striving towards. But my one far-fetched desire is to own a boarding house for dogs with all the amenities!

I love it!  We have some dog-lovers in our group and among our readers. They would be happy about that aspiration.  I see you have many yummy recipes on your blog as well.  Cynthia’s blog recipes

Yes, and did you notice the SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE recipe at the end of Cache Under the Stacks?

I sure did! I plan to try it soon. I love Italian food.  So, what have you in the works right now?

Starting Over 41S6cFWnPxLCache Under the Stacks was published in August 2018and Starting Over was published December 2019. Both books I “pantsed,” but now I am trying to outline and it is not as easy for me.  I’m working on a sequel to Cache Under the Stacks and a sequel to Starting Over, a woman’s fiction that has evolved into a bit of a mystery.

How about those two WWII novels you were considering? 

One is set in the late 1930s New York and London. It is called Because of You. The other one set in Pearl Harbor, and is yet to be titled, although tentatively I call it Murder in Waimea.

What are you reading now?

Reading during this “lock down” time has not been as productive as I thought it would be. I have several books on my bedside table: Woman in the Shadows by Jane Thynne; Erik Larsen’s The Splendid and the Vile; The Last Bathing Beauty by Amy Sue Nathan; and Landing by Moonlight by Ciji Ware.

How have you been managing during the “lock-down” time?

I thought I would have gotten a lot of writing done, but it has been hard to concentrate. If anyone has any suggestions, I would gladly like to know about how to overcome this. It has been a time of great distraction.

Do you have any dreams or goals?

My dream would be for Covid to be over and to travel to London, France, and Germany. I would like also like to publish at least one book a year and if possible, someday land a traditional publisher.

Thank you, Cynthia (Cyn), for sharing your past and your heart. We are so glad to have you here, and look forward to when you will be posting alongside us next year.

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Cache Under Stacks 51iDVwGVQML._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_BOOK REVIEW: Cynthia (pen-name Claire Naden) published Cache Under the Stacks, A Cate Wagner Mystery, two years ago, and I have just found and read it. It’s a story about a divorced, empty-nester bookstore owner, living alone in a nice neighborhood with her sweet pup, Minnie.

But then, she begins to get threatening phone calls from an unknown person. It doesn’t matter if she is at home, at the bookstore, or 100 miles away, he seems to know just where she is and what she is doing.  For most of the book, this stalker only terrorizes by phone, but towards the climactic end, the calls and messages get more specific. And when strange packages and people begin to appear at her bookstore, she knows her life is in danger.

Fortunately for Cate, a handsome police detective enters her life and takes an interest in her case. As the threats escalate, their relationship begins to heat up. But he can’t be with her every minute. She is alone sometimes and the stalker knows it.

Advertised as Romantic Suspense, I can assure you the book is both.  From the first pages, you will feel an unease for the main character that quickly turns into unrelenting anxiety. It’s hard to stop reading even at chapter breaks, because you simply must find out who is terrorizing the heroine and why.

Naden writes simply but in great detail. Where another author might say “She went into the house and locked the door,” this author breaks down those movements into tiny increments (fumbling with the key, dropping it, her purse strap catching on the knob, preventing her from closing the door fast). You think it would be boring, but not so. It  holds you captive while it ratchets up the suspense. You “just KNOW” someone is in the house, in her bedroom, or right behind her…

PS: You only understand the title at the very end!

 

 

Building a Platform

The last few items in this multi-paged blog for your consideration.

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Platform

Point #9

  1. Your Inner Ham. This one might be scary, but if you really want to cut the mustard as a writer, you have to be able to stand up in front of strangers and read your work out loud.

If you haven’t passed out from the mere thought of that, you might think, “Oh, how hard can that be?” Go ahead and try it. Have some friends watch you and honestly critique you. Try reading stories to a children’s group. If they start laughing or fall asleep, maybe you should improve your technique. If you mumble in a monotone with your head down, it’s time to take a Toastmasters course or maybe acting lessons.

Reading to an audience is more than saying the words out loud. You must be able to project to the back of the room. You should use varied tones and moods. Your face should suggest the different characters you are portraying. In other words, you should give a performance.

Sing

Not all authors are good at public readings. Many mumble. Others stumble over their own written words while maintaining a monotone throughout the entire read. That is telling the audience that there is nothing exciting happening on those pages even if the selection would have been interesting if it had been read with the proper emotion and gusto.

Many books are sold at author readings when the author makes his or her book sound like a performance. It can be done, with practice. Read your own work out loud. It will help you discover some great sections to read to an audience.

It’s actually a good strategy in writing to open your book or short story with a bang. It grabs the attention of the reader who might be a potential agent or editor. And the guy in the bookstore might buy your book if the opening grabs his attention. So when you are reading to an audience, starting at the beginning is always a plus. But even if your opening isn’t a grabber, pick an exciting part to read and keep going over it until it sounds like a stage performance.

As a bonus, while still in the editing phase of your writing, try reading your work out loud. You will detect mistakes that you had overlooked while just reading the words off the computer screen. To kill two birds with one stone: record yourself as you read. You will hear your literary errors and you can judge your own presentation.

Remember: It is a performance. Lights. Camera. Action.

 

Point #10

  1. “Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” If you have anything published, even self-published, do TV interviews to get face time and experience. Local TV stations in many areas do segments on local authors. Public access stations do round-tables with authors. Call them up; tell them what you have done. Suggest doing a panel of several of your writer friends for their station. It never hurts to ask.
GenderWritingPanel
Burbank Library Panel

Point #11

  1. Don’t Drop the Ball Now. If you have gotten this far, take time to update your website, keep people informed on your Facebook page, or Twitter your latest event. Let your targeted audience (chefs, lawyers, senior citizen groups) know what you are doing. Visit all those Internet communities you have joined and let them know what you are up to. Leave a comment on a fellow writer’s blog when they have a new book out. Review somebody’s book on Amazon.com. (Wouldn’t you like somebody to do that to your book?)

 

PhotoFunia-1562086112As you learn new skills, like doing a TV interview, let people know about it on your website. Polish old skills. (You can always improve.) You should have learned a hundred great writing techniques and mistakes to avoid in that writing group you joined. (We can all learn from other’s mistakes as well as our own.)

Update your short, one-paragraph biography often, so when someone is doing publicity on you (or you are sending out your own Press Release) you have the latest news on yourself at hand. Something you did in college probably won’t interest anybody ten or fifteen years later, but guest blogging on someone else’s blog is Big News. The fact you wrote poems in high school isn’t very news worthy. The fact you interviewed a fellow writer on your blog is exciting. Read other people’s biographies on their websites. You’ll spot the pro from the novice by what the pro leaves out.

 

Point #12

  1. Go for the Gold. Once you have a book in print, try creating a video book trailer for your website. Windows Movie Maker software can help you turn out a mighty nice one. Hey! If you have done all the previous points, you can do the book trailer. It’s the latest thing out there. Other writers are doing them.

Micraphone Man

 

Tough love segment: Agents and publishers are looking for any excuse to say “no” to you and your manuscript. But if you have most of these twelve bullet points mastered, they are going to find it hard to turn you down. You show initiative and you follow through. That means they won’t have worry about expending time and money on a newcomer. (Let them spend their time and money when your efforts pay off and you have a Best Seller.) Do your homework now and maybe your publisher will spring for the book trailer and book tour later.

 

A Final Thought

You aren’t alone out there. There are plenty of people who are at the same level in their career as you. There are some a little further along, some even more of a newcomer than you are. Writers today are learning that they need to master these same silly skills in order to get themselves noticed. Why not you?

These bullet points are meant to give you a heads up in this business and to urge you learn them, try them, and to get your name plastered all over the Internet along with your terrific face. You have a vested interest in getting a book published and selling those books. You are also the best salesman of your work. Nobody knows you like you.

Use all these “platforms” to climb up to the top of the heap and shout your name from the rooftops. Each one will make you a better writer and more interesting to an agent or publisher.

All the best with your writing career.

If you found these various postings about Building a Platform helpful, you might like to know where they came from. These helpful hints as well as a bunch of other timely tips can be found in a little book called So You Want to be a Writer by Yours Truly. There are also a few short stories for your reading enjoyment in the rather thick book. It’s a companion piece to The Anatomy of a Short Story that came out several years ago. I do love to teach. Write On!

So You Want to be a Writer Amazon cover 2anatomy-book-cover

Genres and Generalities

by Linda O. Johnston

LINDA scott-broome-BcVvVvqiCGA-unsplashI love to write.  I love to write novels that contain romance.  I love to write novels that contain mystery or suspense.

Any surprise, then, that I write in multiple genres?

I’ve mentioned some of that before while blogging here.  At the moment, as with many people who do many things, my career seems to be changing a bit, yet staying the same.

And yours?

I’m currently writing romantic suspense novels for Harlequin Romantic Suspense.  I have a couple stories I’ve turned in that are my own plotting, and I’m currently working on another of HRS’s many, multiple stories about members of the Colton family, who always seem to be finding wonderful relationships and also dealing with a lot of crimes.

LINDA adult-1850704_640My kind of story, and I follow their bible and have my characters interact with the protagonists of other Colton stories in the various mini-series that are part of the Colton series.  When I write stories that are all my own I fit a lot of dogs into them, and occasionally have been able to slip one in to a Colton story.

I’ve also written a lot of cozy mysteries over time.  My most recent cozy publisher went out of business, so I don’t have any currently in progress–although I believe, and hope, that a publisher that’s new to me is going to buy one of my ideas.

So–yes.  I write in different genres, and often read in different genres to keep my ideas flowing.  Generalities–I guess I can say I love fiction, I love suspense and mystery, I love animals… and, as I said, I love to write.  Even these days, when there’s a lot going on in the world nearby and elsewhere.  My writing has slowed as a result, but it goes forward.

It’s always fascinating to me to see that some writers stick to their primary genres as long as they write.  Others are like me and have more than one favorite genre that they also  go back and forth among–or sometimes combine them, as I do. Of course my cozies contain a romantic interest, and all my romances also contain suspense or mystery.

So how about you?
What are your favorite genres?
If you’re a writer, which genre(s) do you prefer to write in?
Or read in?
What’s your general purpose for reading?
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Linda O Johnston
Linda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, has written 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.  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 (Photojaq)

COMING CLEAN

by Rosemary Lord

 

Office clutter 1

Okay – so I’m all clean. That is, I have a very, very clean home now. I have newly washed the blinds, cleaned window screens and window sills, I have a scrubbed floor, laundry is done and my stove and microwave positively gleam.

Can you tell that I have started writing my next book?

Yes, I know – I am still working on getting the first Lottie Topaz novel published. But this next volume is bursting out of my head just now. So….

Why do we writers have these odd work habits? For me I think it is part avoidance and part ‘my special writing method.’

You see, I recently wrote the key outline of this next book, ‘Seven for a Secret,’ the working title. Then I wrote parts of the first 5 chapters – by hand on legal pads. I typed up a few pages here and there. I know where they’re going and roughly what needs to be said. Next, I have to think it through before I sit down and solidly write from Page One to The End. That daunting – or exhilarating – task takes months.

Broom 1  That’s where the cleaning comes in. I find that as I scrub and clean and polish I run through all the scenes in my mind and have much more clarity away from the computer as I do ‘mindless things’ like cleaning. I get out of my own mental way. Yes, there is a bit of avoiding that commitment to sit down and write for the next however many months it takes to complete a first draft. What if it’s rubbish? What if it’s no good? At least, if I don’t start the typing part I can’t get scolded for writing rubbish or being boring. Well, that’s one of my little avoidance gremlin’s voice at work.

 

Broom 3 During the Covid 19 enforced solitary confinement, my writing methods have changed somewhat. Partly because, after all the Woman’s Club administrative work, I found time to declutter my office, move things around and re-arrange my filing system. (Possibly another unconscious avoidance technique?) Then I re-edited the first Lottie novel with fresh eyes on it, enabling me to take out over 20,000 words. I knew it was far too long and was able to keep most of the edited-out scenes to use in later books.

Computer filesSo now, sitting in my newly arranged office space, with smartly labeled files and clearly focused folders – I can’t find anything. I do a lot of research and have copious folders of notes, print-outs and clippings; now all neatly categorized. Normally, when I sit at my desk in my very small ‘office’ (in reality, a corner of the living room) I can reach my arm out and grab the stack of papers I need. Or reach the other arm out and grab the specific notebook. Everything’s at arms length and very convenient. Except now I have to stop and think “which arm?” “Is it to the left or to the right or behind me? My color-coded files are in upheaval because I have re-arranged them methodically. But my creative mind doesn’t work that way. Now I have to rethink my steps as to why I re-filed things and where my logic was going with the new system.

Or maybe it’s just another avoidance on my part?

My next step is to start my Story Board: a large notice board on which I stick post-its with the outline of each chapter and perhaps characters or incidents that need to fit in somewhere.  But with all my smart de-cluttering, where did I put my board? It’s a bit like shaking your head a lot and then waiting for all the bits of your brain to settle down again so you can see where things are.

Over these last locked-in months I worked really hard on trying to streamline my whole writing system. It’s just my brain hasn’t settled down enough yet to remember the new system. I know it will work much quicker than my old scatter logical system that was emotionally driven.

Readers  I resolved to be super organized, efficient and be a real smarty pants – so I could become a prolific novel writer, like many of my fellow writers.

But my mind hasn’t yet caught up. This is where the cleaning helps. I can see the fruits of my labor as I wash the Canyon grime off my white wood shutters. Yes: they’re white again. I accomplished something. Better than sitting in front of the computer typing and erasing the same sentence again and again as I await the muse to visit once more. But, as I mentioned, it’s often when I am distracted with the dusting, soaping, scrubbing and rinsing that words, sentences, scenes and whole conversations are visited upon me.

I hurriedly grab my writing pad and scribble down the dictated words – often forgetting to first dry my hands. My notepads tend to have water and soap-suds stains all over. Some tear-stains of frustration, too.

I know this is a change for the better. In my decluttering marathons I rediscovered several half-finished books and stories. And I was able to take time to re-evaluate my time and get out of old work-habits that didn’t serve me.

This year we all had the opportunity to re-think what we were doing and how we were doing it. Or to simply do something totally different. So, overall, as we slowly open up our lives again to regular business practices, social visiting, travel and family gatherings it will be a case of “So what did you do during your 2020 Shut-down?”

Me?  I got clean.  What did you do?

Typewriter and desk

How Will YOU Tell The Story? Part II

 by Miko Johnston

In my last post I asked, How will we write about this? There has to be a moment when the reality of the new normal hits you in a unique way.

This is my moment:

May 20, before the tragedies we’ve witnessed in the past weeks occurred, when we focused on the pandemic and its effects on our health, our economy and our lives 24/7:

Mikos Garden1aIMG_1530After ordering restaurant take-out, my husband drove there to pick up dinner. It would take him almost an hour, leaving me time to explore a newly bloomed section of our garden, planted with rhododendrons. If you’re not familiar with the plant, they’re like azaleas on steroids, with flower clusters, some as big as your face, nestled against dark green leaves. Some grow as tall as trees; others have been pruned knee- or chest-high, their blossoms a riot of pinks, fuchsias, purples and reds.

Mikos Garden2In the shelter of the garden, hidden beneath a canopy of lavender and laurel trees, I sauntered the path that wends through the rhododendrons. As I neared the end of the path, where it rejoins the lawn, I spotted something crescent-shaped sparkling on a branch. A closer look revealed a young bird, judging by its downy feathers of gray, which blended in with the bark. She (as I later discovered) had a curved beak, bright yellow, which stood out like a slice of sunlight in the darkness of the overgrowth.

I think the bird spotted me but didn’t fly away; she seemed to accept my presence without fear. I froze and observed in silence as she returned her attention to her surroundings.

She stared at the bees hopping into flower melheads, gathering their pollen, and buzzing into the next blossom. At the sound and movement of the leaves whenever a breeze rustled them. At sunbeams that danced across branches overhead. At a pair of energetic bunnies as they frolicked on the lawn, oblivious to our presence. Many minutes passed.

Mikos Garden3IMG_1555I so wanted to hear her sing, but she didn’t. Silently she sat there, occasionally darting her head, watching everything around her as I watched her, delighting in her curiosity, her seeming amazement with the world she’d recently entered. She hadn’t mastered flying yet. Her wings fluttered to help her balance on the branches as she hopped along, taking in the sights and sounds all around her. I’d been feeling blue awhile, in a rut. All that changed with my encounter with this fledgling. I found myself transfixed by her utter joy, and that joy flowed through me for the first time in months.

Soon her mama showed up for feeding time. Mama didn’t take kindly to my presence, so I backed away and fetched my binoculars to watch her offspring from a non-threatening distance. I continued to observe her until hubby returned with dinner – fortunately, fish that night. My spirits revived, I left her and went inside to eat. Later I searched through my bird book for a picture to identify her. She resembled a female European starling, except the juveniles don’t have golden beaks.

*          *          *          *          *

Two days later, as I walked toward my rhodie garden, I noticed a rock centered on a bare spot in the lawn. Nothing unusual about that, but a tiny light stripe along the top made me look closer. I found the little bird’s body lying there, her once vibrant beak now a dull tan, and I broke down.

My husband took her away and buried her, noting she had a peck wound on her chest, likely from a crow. I cried uncontrollably, then berated myself for crying over a dead bird when the tears didn’t come for much bigger tragedies.  How could I be so shallow?

Was I, though?

That little bird reminded me of how quickly melancholy can turn to joy, and joy to sorrow. How the magnitude of what’s been happening to so many, for so long, can be hard to process. By wrangling it down to its essence, finding a small representative to a larger picture – a symbol – we can better grasp how it affects us, better articulate what it means to us. And isn’t that what writers do?

So now I can answer the question I posed in my last post.

What about you? Have you begun your story yet?

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mikoj-photo1

Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

 

 

*****

 

 

This article was posted for Miko Johnston by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

 

 

 

 

Using Idioms, or Not

by Jill amadio

When we write “stabbed in the back” we may not necessarily be referring to murder. How about “I stubbed my nose yesterday, enjoyed a drop in the teacup, and beat around the flowers while protesters were a penny a dozen.”

Clock flyingOf course, the correct common usage idioms are “stubbed my toe, a drop in the bucket, beat around the bush, and a dime a dozen.” The last two are alliterative, yes, but why, I wonder, are toes the only part of our anatomy ever stubbed? And why drops only drip into a bucket instead of any other container? My favorite, though, is “a short/long week – or year, or hour.” What do they actually mean? Six days instead of seven? 11 months instead of 12? Sure, it’s easy to explain that an hour can drag on seemingly forever and a short week can mean time flies by, so why don’t we write that?

Happily, most writers are imaginative enough to come up with their own original phrases rather than rely on the over-used, and yet “stubbed my toe” is so perfect you can almost feel the pain.

rule-of-thumb-idiomI have a book, “The Describer’s Dictionary” that contains oodles of such hackneyed idioms but they do inspire me to create my own if possible. The book is tremendously helpful when trying to find a way to describe, for example, low-elevation clouds. One description offered is “a cloud mass like a formless gray horizontal sheet.”  Would you honestly use that? However, I have found the book invaluable for character physiques, architecture, locales, settings, and surfaces and textures. There is an entire chapter on Necks. Granted, it’s only half a page but it encourages the mind to explore other possibilities.

Chandler’s description of a building in ‘The Long Goodbye” was “The entrance had double stone pillars on each side but the cream of the joint…”Can’t mistake his signature style.

How about Edith Wharton’s “…its front [of the house was] so veiled in the showering  gold-green foliage…” in her novel, “Hudson River Bracketed.”

In Wallace Stegner’s “All the Little Things” he writes about an old house with its sides and roof “weathered silvery as an old rock…” and “…the way three big live oaks twisted like seaweed above the roof…”

What’s your pet peeve when it comes to using idioms?

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JillAmadioHeadJill Amadio is from Cornwall, UK, but unlike her amateur sleuth, Tosca Trevant, she is far less grumpy. Jill began her career as a reporter in London (UK), then Madrid (Spain), Bogota (Colombia), Bangkok (Thailand), Hong Kong, and New York. She is the ghostwriter of 14 memoirs, and wrote the Rudy Valle biography, “My Vagabond Lover,” with his wife, Ellie. Jill writes a column for a British mystery magazine, and is an audio book narrator. She is the author of the award-winning mystery, “Digging Too Deep.” The second book in the series, “Digging Up the Dead,” was released this year. The books are based in Newport http://www.jillamadio.com

 

 

This article was posted for Jill Amadio by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

 

Visiting Ireland…

Ireland

Ahh… out here in the Mojave, yet able to visit Ireland, via BBC Radio 4, and “Maeve and Me”—What could be better?

At home, trying to write, but with low mental and physical energy, combined with a mindset not completely in tune with writing—and—on the other side of the possibilities pendulum, not inclined to do household chores of any kind.

Most fortunately, I had Maeve Binchy’s “Dublin 4”[i] on the top of one of my stacks of beloved books—ready for the right moment! And with my trusty Kindle at my side, as it often is, loaded with yet to be read or heard kindle and audio book offerings, I’ve been in couch-potato heaven. I did think about writing—but not about doing improvement tasks, or dusting “write your name in it” dust laden furniture, or any of the other neglected household items, or heaven forbid—donning a mask and going out into 2020’s real world. The “thinking” about writing part prompted this post…

Here’s the rambling part of this post that hopefully will end later with a writing tidbit/thought/adventure. Thru Amazon/Audible I first listened to a BBC Radio 4 Broadcast of Charles Paris, played by Bill Nighby, then there was Rumpole, played by Julian Rhind-Tutt, and now I’m finishing up Father Paolo Baldi played by David Threlfall. (I’m mentioning the actors names because I think they have great voices in case you want to give any of them a try) My current listening, Paolo Baldi, has taken me to his Ireland, including traveling around a bit, and I love his mystery focused adventures, and the Ireland he sees.

The next stop on my rambling writing road is Maeve Binchy and her book. I’m in a wonderful book club, and periodically, each of us have to come up with a selection. Fellow Writer in Residence, Rosemary Lord, mentioned Maeve Binchy in one of her posts,[ii] and I thought at the time, one of her books might be a good idea for book club. So I decided to buy a used one[iii] from Amazon, and have fallen in love with her Ireland.

So how does this all come together? After several years of listening to BBC radio,  my reading-self finally realized, that through the spoken-word only, I was hearing and putting together a whole story—location, action, clues, scenery, characters…all through dialogue. There are a few side-effects like a phone ringing, and stomping feet—but the story is carried completely through dialogue. Could I do that? Definitely not.

Then Maeve, who takes you to Ireland up close and personal, with lovely characters and situations–does so much of her story telling through dialogue. You get to know her characters, the setting, motivations, emotions, often via what they say. Can I do that? Definitely not.

Clearly, dialogue can do it all if done right, and I need to learn much more when it comes to writing dialogue, and I plan to definitely enhance my writing along that line. Once again, I’m sharing what’s going on with me with the hope it will help you in your writing. Although, I’m rather reticent it took me soooooo long to realize I needed to enhance my dialogue skills! Sigh. And even though I haven’t spent “enough” time at my computer (per my writing-conscience), I do think I’m going to be working on moving more of my story telling into dialogue.

I’m also thinking this will NOT be easy…

Happy Writing Trails



[i] It’s an old used copy I bought through Amazon from a book store across the country. It has the “feel” of being loved by many. Maeve Binchy on wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maeve_Binchy

[ii] https://thewritersinresidence.com/2016/11/02/a-quick-escape/

[iii] Didn’t notice until after I took the picture, London 4’s cover title is the exact same fuchsia color as my Kindle cover. Eerie.