More This and That…

My “This” today is a written-versus-spoken mea culpa, and words of encouragement I meant to say in person the first Thursday of this month. There’s a “trying-to-be” startup writing group that is getting together the first Thursday of every month at our local Newberry Family Center. But I didn’t make the last lunch. I wanted to come, and I wanted to offer to the few that might have shown up, encouragement to write, write, write… So, I decided to post my undelivered spoken writing group encouragement thoughts and words here, since I couldn’t make it to that meeting[i].

I’m a firm believer that if you aren’t a “pen to paper genius protégé”which I’m definitely NOT!—you have to make the MISTAKES that make you better: and if you don’t WRITE and REWRITE, you never make those growing mistakes, and consequently, your writing doesn’t improve—and often, doesn’t even get done. You never get that “Great American Novel” out there, or that wonderfully enjoyable cozy series with protagonists you love and hope everyone else will too, or the chronicling of your special hero, or the biography of someone you admire, or your book of poetry, or book of songs, or how to do something you’re good at, or your own memoir… I know, it’s rather trite and obvious words of encouragement—but I don’t think the sentiment can be expressed too often. Write and make those mistakes that move us forward, make us better writers.

To quote from P.D. James’s 5 Bits of Writing Advice (taped up by my computer where I can repeatedly read)  “…Don’t just plan to write—write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style….”

My “That” thought in this post is also prompted by “what’s going on in my life right now”—and is also a follow-on thought to making those “mistakes.” First off is to write the darned thing, but then, once you’ve written it, finding editors you trust is crucial. I’ve been so lucky to have great editors along my writing journey[ii]. The Caretakers, my latest book, is now in its third round of edits—sometimes it seems endless. But the release date is finally out there for the first week in July. And here’s the point—a lot of my “how could I do that again,” are misspellings, grammatical no-nos I never seem to remember, leaving out articles, and chronology and character mishaps[iii]—which I attribute to my carelessness and grammatical blind sightedness. BUT, with every book, and with every editing report, I also learn something about my writing that I can improve.

An example from my latest of what I’m talking about—I tend to go on-and-on about what’s going on in my character’s heads and their environment—with not a lot of “action” or dialogue. It’s a tendency that can bring about reader loss of interest. Well, the opening of my latest went on and on—which I wouldn’t have noticed because I liked the character (smile). And there isn’t a lot of thriller/adventure type action throughout the entire book, which didn’t really jump out at me. My editors of course saw these areas for improvement—and in line with my “This” above, pointed out opportunities for me to improve my craft.[iv]

So, here’s the big questions(and my answers) I’m presenting in this post—aimed especially to “in process” authors. Do you want to write? Then doing is the answer, no matter how daunting it might seem. Do you want to be the best author you can be? Then pay attention to areas we can improve for readers to enjoy our work. My thinking is—”writing” is a process, not a done-deal.

Our next local writers “keep at it” lunch is just around the corner… Sure hope nothing happens to keep me away this time, because I need a little, “Have you started the next one yet?” encouragement.

Happy Writing Trails!


[i]New water lines being put in kept me at home.

[ii]Mike Foley, Kitty Kladstrup, and Virginia Moody.

[ii] See Gayle Bartol-Pool’s excellent post last Wednesday https://thewritersinresidence.com/2019/06/19/polishing-the-gem-2/

[iv] In the case of The Caretakers, I’ve whittled out three pages from the opening, and I think I’ve “livened up” some scenes.


Polishing the Gem

Jewel 3by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Part Two: Keeping Track of Time

Along with the biographies of the various characters, I also compile a Chronology Chart that records each character’s date of birth and other significant episodes in the principal characters’ lives. You ask: Why should I do this? Here’s why. If a character is twenty years old in 1997 when she is at the Police Academy, she will be thirty-one when she has a run-in with her superiors in the LAPD. She will be thirty-three when she transfers to the small city of Santa Isabel up the California Coast. And she will be forty when the body of a police captain’s wife turns up on the pier in her city. Keeping track of her age during twenty years will also tell you when other incidents impacted her life.

Keeping the same running chronology on other principle characters will show when they had a chance to interact with other characters and when major incidents happened in their lives. If you are covering many years in these peoples’ lives, the chronology is a godsend.

If one of my stories takes place over a week or two, I use a calendar. Usually I mark off the few weeks involved on a piece of paper and jot down what major events happened on those days. This keeps me organized and I can make sure I don’t have one character in New York when he should have been in Los Angeles.

When the story gets down to the nitty gritty, by that I mean the final chase scene where and when all the characters collide, I actually mark off a sheet of lined paper by the hour or even fifteen minute intervals so I can plot various characters going to and from various places so the times fit reality. How many times have you watched a TV show where the good guys can get across say Los Angels in a car in about two minutes when in reality it would take the better part of an hour? I know TV gets away with it, but I prefer a little more reality in my fiction. I plot air travel times as well as automobile driving times between places down to something that is fairly close to the actual time frame. You can look up airline flight schedules on the Internet as well as driving distances in hours and minutes on Google maps. My time sheet keeps the story honest.

Even if your story takes place over a twenty-four hour period or an evening in the haunted house, it serves you well to keep track of the time. It also allows you to watch where the bad guy is. Remember, he or she is the reason you are writing a mystery, if in fact that is what you are writing. But even if you are writing a memoir, you still can’t have 32 hours in a twenty-four hour day.

 

Jewel 4Polishing the Gem

Part Three – Line by Line

 

A Line Editor, as the phrase implies, goes line by line checking for errors. She is looking for misspelled words, missing words, redundant words, redundant words (I wrote the last one twice just to see if you were paying attention.) She is also looking for words used incorrectly like when you use “effect” when you should be using “affect.”

I actually keep a long list of troublesome words on my computer for quick reference. Of course there is always the dictionary. Mine is ragged from constant use. Remember: Spell-Check is only good if you actually misspelled a word. If you mistakenly typed in an actual word for the one you wanted, it will not know the difference. And sometimes the Grammar feature on your WORD program will be wrong. Get out your Chicago Manual of Style and verify your usage if Spell-Check tries to tell you that your grammar is incorrect. Often the computer will insist that “It’s” should be “its.” It’s wrong when you want “It is” and it wants “its.” Have patience. It’s a machine.

There are a lot of words that writers get wrong. Maybe your readers won’t know the difference, but work at getting the word right. You do need to know when to use “laying” verses “lying.” Laid and laying always take an object. Lie, lain, and lying don’t take an object. There are also a bunch of words that are used incorrectly such as dead-end verses dead end. Dead-end is the adjective. Dead end is the noun. Deadend isn’t a word. Some word groups are written with a hyphen. Some are one word. Some are two separate words. Some words are just hard to spell correctly. My list is long, but I know to check that list when I am editing and come across a familiar nemesis. We all make mistakes, but it’s nice when we catch a few before the book goes to print.

 

Part Four – Continuity – Coming up in another few weeks.

Progress!

        by Linda O. Johnston

Climbing Books

 

What is it like to make progress in your life and in your writing? 

It’s wonderful!

When I was younger, making progress often consisted of reviewing a real estate contract for my law career.  And negotiating it. And eventually getting it to the point that the parties were willing to execute it.

Or, it could be helping one of our sons with homework or choosing the next school he’d be attending and working on the details to get him there.

Or, always, getting one of our Cavalier pups to obey our commands. Of course, we always obey theirs.

Pencil 2

And of course progress included writing a new novel or proposal, and getting it accepted by a publisher, then finishing it, and finishing it well.

At the moment, progress is still getting both writing and editing accomplished, plus promotion, too.

I’m currently under contract for four Harlequin Romantic Suspense books.  So what is my progress there?  WDeadlineell, I’ve finished manuscripts for the first two.  I’ve also completed initial edits for the first one after I received changes and questions from the editor, and I sent it back this week–and already received the final version back to review.  I need to make more progress there! With the second, I’ll review the completed manuscript once more and send it off next week before the deadline.

I’ve just begun working on the third, and face a tight deadline that I intend to meet.

So, happily, I’m making progress, even considering all the time I have and don’t have to write. I’ve been busy promoting the last mystery I was under contract for, plus I’ve been participating in a lot of events. For example, I’ll be at the California Crime Writers Conference next weekend, where I’ll be on a panel about having a long-time career.

Yes, I’ve had a lot of progress points in my career, which I’m always happy about.

So what is progress in your life? In your writing and/or reading?

Racing 2

OF CABBAGES AND KINGS….

                  by Rosemary Lord

Walrus“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing wax – and cabbages and kings…” So wrote Lewis Carroll.

And as I have been in Europe, travelling around with my siblings, my mind has been darting all over the place; seeing new and old places, marveling at new sights, meeting new people. A hundred new story ideas, new characters, new snippets of conversations and odd words have been buzzing around my head.

Greece SceneI was recently chatting with my family over coffee in a little taverna in southern Greece – as you do…  “What’s the positive of disgruntled, disheveled and dismayed?” came up. We don’t say “She was gruntled – or “I looked sheveled…” After spilling lots of coffee with our bursts of laughter and giggles, we couldn’t solve that one, but went on to marvel at the intricacies and rather bizarre vocabulary of our amazing language.

Olde English Dictionary Where do these words originate? Most of them we can trace to Latin, Old English or European origins – but there are others that leave us baffled as we delve back into history for a clue. There are so many delicious words for writers to paint a myriad of pictures with. Our language is so rich and colorful when used by good writers and orators.

Not just fiction and non-fiction writers, but poets and song-writers. When you think of the moods created by Henry Mancini’s Moon River lyrics, or Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, the cheery Oklahoma theme, or He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother and Paul McCartney’s poignant Eleanor Rigby – to Y.M.C.A. and Get Me To The Church on Time. All these present such different stories, different moods – using the same English language. Clever writers.  Beautiful language.

I wonder how today’s kids, who rapidly text for seemingly hour after hour, will find the opportunity to explore the wonders of our language if their thumbs are trained to only to write “thx, OMG and LOL.” Thumbs may get a workout but what about their imaginations?

Railway ChildrenSpeaking of imaginations: We went to see the stage version of the children’s classic The Railway Children, by A.E. Nesbitt. I’m clearly still a little kid and absolutely loved it. Such an imaginative way to portray the story of the children who watched the trains go by their house every day, and decided to enlist the help of one of the regular passengers they had spotted (a Rich Old Gentleman) to find out what happened to their father who had disappeared. It turns out their father had wrongly been jailed for embezzlement and the Rich Old Gentleman helps clear his name. The book had long ago been turned into a film starring Jenny Agutter. So the stage production had the challenge of dealing with a real train as the central character. The imaginative designers used a portion of the real, working railway tracks at London’s King’s Cross Station with a real steam engine waiting in the wings.

The story is set over one hundred years ago, and the show starts the minute you walk in from the box office into the old-fashioned station waiting room, instead of a theatre lobby. The theatre staff are all dressed in the railway uniforms of that period. We are ushered through the door onto the station platform. The seats are either side of the real railway tracks, audience facing each other. The cast, all dressed in their Edwardian costumes, wander onto the platform, luggage in hand and greet the audience as if we are all fellow travelers. “Are you travelling far today?” and so on. Then, slowly, the play begins. A small square stage area, with tables and chairs for a dining room scene, is pushed along the rails by costumed railway porters and stops in front of the audience as the actors take their places and begin the scene. The set is moved off at the end and another scene appears. Scenic changes are created with spectacular lighting effects and sleights of hand. The whole thing moves along very quickly and the huge climax at the end when the real engine chuffs into place, whistles blowing and people cheering is very moving for kids and adults alike. Words written over one hundred years ago mixed with 21st century technology, amazing designer talents and wonderful imagination all come together to create a happy, moving experience.

Old BooksOf course I came back from my travels with more books in my suitcases. A nice habit I have noticed in England and Greece is the book-exchange. Charming little cafes have walls lined with used books and signs such as “Take one and leave one…” So people bring in the books they have read and swap them for another. Although writers may not benefit financially, it’s a great way to discover new authors. Then I head for Foyle’s bookstore in Charing Cross Road or the Owl Bookstore in Kentish Town to stock up on new authors.  No wonder my luggage gets heavier and heavier. The English tea and custard powder I bring back doesn’t way much. But I am a happy girl, anticipating all the new books I have to read – and even more happy and inspired at the books I am about to write – about cabbages and kings and all sorts of things.

Big Ben

 

FINDING YOUR PLACE

                                       by Jill Amadio

TombstoneThe 17h century English poet Andrew Marvell wrote the line, “The grave’s a fine and private place,” in his poem, Upon Appleton House. To My Lord Fairfax. I wondered if one could write there and discovered that an author actually set herself up in her small village cemetery where ancient gravestones had fallen in a heap to hold her laptop. She sat on a folding chair like a plein air artist in southern Spain in a Cost del Sol hamlet where weather was hardly a factor. I also heard of an author converting a coffin to serve as a desk. Hunters wrote in the jungle while on safari, Mount Everest climbers wrote with frozen fingers in their tents. Charles Darwin wrote aboard ship, and others wrote wherever they happened to be, as evidenced by their diaries-turned-books.

Coffin

I learned to write on the fly as a reporter in different countries, the babble of foreign languages never fazing me. Deadlines were inviolable jill valle bookand the discipline is still embedded in my bones, which helps me with setting up and meeting deadlines today, especially for my column in the UK magazine, Mystery People. When I began to write books after settling in America I discovered I need privacy to write my books. Plus perfect silence, a fine view, classical music, and endless cups of tea. I need my files that are always brimming with notes, press clips, drafts, character bios, settings, maps, and travel guides. When I wrote the Rudy Vallee biography I had close to 86 separate folders, one for each year of his life (he died watching television as President Reagan presided over the centennial in New York harbor.

 

 

Ladies StudyLike many writers, I jot down notes while travelling or dictate into a digital recorder if I’m visiting settings in my books, luckily all local so far. I also love eavesdropping. Restaurants and airport terminals are great places for this.  But for writing crime-ridden scenes no other place beats sitting in front of my laptop at home. My needs are simple and thankfully realized. A desk and chair in front of a window with a view to the horizon. Considering the many times I have moved house this requirement has not always been met but today my writing place faces sliding glass doors to the patio embraced by jacaranda trees through which I glimpse mountains far, far away. I have potted flowers scattered around, an Asian-style bistro set, and in the north nook the perfect lounge chair for reading. My trees are home to many birds and squirrels. The hummingbirds who visit are always thirsty, it seems, probably because I add extra sugar to the water, assuring myself it won’t cause diabetes or whatever. The crows gather late in the day and I always wonder what they are telling each other with their harsh cries.

 

RestaurantLast year I picked up Catriona McPherson at the Orange County airport. She was the main speaker at a conference. When I arrived she was sitting on a bench in baggage claim tapping merrily away upon her computer, oblivious to the crowds coming and going. A few days later we were early for her return flight. I went into the café for some tea. When I brought it over to her, there she was again, still tapping away. She told me she can write anywhere, anytime. What a blessing. No wonder she is so prolific. But what about the research and files? She said she makes a note if research is needed and she can’t find it online but knows it might be in her office files. When she gets back home she makes the additions. How sensible. Why can’t I do that? Perhaps I miss the sturdy, heavy electric typewriter too much anchored to my desk with its keys clattering to reassure me that sentences were being formed, sleuths were on the case, and victims were being murdered. The typewriter eventually died, throttled by its ribbon. Now, my laptop accepts my written words silently, the keyboard flat as a pancake, and no need for paper until printing.

I suppose all writers have their own preferred place for getting the story on the page but surely it doesn’t really matter to readers as long as you keep providing them with their favorite books. Where do YOU write best?

WORD FOR WORD

                         by Miko Johnston

 

Climbing BooksIn the spring of 2018, I organized a volunteer program at a local high school. Together with three other writers, we mentor students in a creative writing class. Every semester we accept up to three pages of writing from the students, which ranges from chapters from novels-in-progress to poems, short stories to essays. We critique the work, make comments and corrections, and return it to the class. Their teacher has mentioned how much her students enjoy the process, how they anxiously await the feedback we provide.

 

Writer GiraffeEach time we begin a new round of submissions, we, too anxiously await the material, hoping to find both familiar names and new ones. Having worked with the class for over a year, including several students who’ve been in the program since it began, I’m delighted to see a steady improvement in their work.

 

Not surprisingly, some of the writing we’ve seen has been what can be called fan fiction, based on existing work. Beginning writers often borrow, sometimes heavily, from books they’ve read or what they’ve watched on TV. However, I recently received something that crossed the line.

 

One essay submitted dealt with a topic the student obviously felt strongly about, for the words, while lacking eloquence (or grammar), contained genuine emotion. However, by the middle of the second paragraph, I noticed a distinct change in the writing, enough so that I Googled a phrase from his piece. Sure enough, it turned up on the website of an organization, cut and pasted word for word.

 

I have no idea if the student in question understood how wrong it is to take another’s writing and pass it off as your own. I immediately notified his teacher, who assured me she’d talk to the author of that piece. That still left me with the critique. It’s not my place to discipline the student, but I felt I had to address the issue in a way that made the point without overstepping.

 

I began by making corrections to the part of the essay written by the student, along with suggestions on how to improve it. Just before the essay switched to the website’s words I added the following – everything in parentheses has been paraphrased to maintain anonymity:

 

Winding Road Sign(Student), I am stopping my critique here, since this is where your words end and the essay you copied and pasted from (organization’s website) begins. What continues below is called plagiarism – taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own. Aside from being illegal and dishonorable, you’ve weakened your message.

The part you wrote yourself needs some work. The grammar is not perfect and you have a lot of unnecessary words in it. However, it is heartfelt, moving and real. It’s obvious that you truly care about (cause), however imperfect your writing about them may be. While (organization) may be dedicated to (cause), their website is designed to raise money. You’re writing to inspire people to care about the problem and do something to change the situation, and you’re doing it from the heart.

I would like to see you go back and rewrite this in your own words. Then I will be happy to look at what you’ve written. I’ll help you put the final polish on it so it stirs the hearts of anyone who reads it and encourages them to help (cause).

 

Now I’m the one anxiously awaiting feedback from you. Do you think I handled this correctly? What would you have done?

 

 

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

 

 

(Due to computer idiosyncrasies, this blog was posted by G.B. Pool for Ms. Johnston. Computers have their own minds.)