MY GREEK SOJOURN….

 By ROSEMARY LORD

Rosie Selfie

I love to see the writing trends and what’s being read in different locales. So here I am doing my research in far away Greece. Well, someone has to do it!

You see, my older brother, Ted, is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer and my sister Angela – an ex-dancer – is recovering from knee surgery. So, the best idea was to scoop everyone up and retreat to this sleepy village on the Greek coast, where we can do family healing and recouping – and where I can get a proper break from running the Woman’s Club of Hollywood.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, during those cold winter months.

And, as I sit on my balcony in the afternoon sun, while my siblings take a siesta, I concluded that this was indeed a very good idea!

Rosie in Greece 2

Behind me, the Taygata Mountains shield us from the rest of Greece. In front I can see the waves of the Ionian Sea rolling in, then rhythmically retreating. Olive trees and the occasional lemon tree fill in everywhere else, colored by a profusion of wildflowers wherever one looks. The birds – chaffinches, sparrows, house martins and the constantly-cooing doves – provide the background music. With the occasional bleat from a stray goat, or a distant dog bark.

Not many distractions for industrious writers here.

Rosie and sister 2 croppedAnd there are small writers’ groups in the little villages. Especially poetry writers. Mostly American, German and English ex-pats, who escaped the cold winters of their homelands to have a fresh start here.

An ideal place for writers – except that it’s very hard to get work done in such an idyllic surrounding. It was in the next village that Nicholas Kazantzakis wrote about the legendary local man, Zorba the Greek – the black-and-white film of the book had the iconic music as Alan Bates and Anthony Quinn danced on the local beach. Ernest Hemingway, Lawrence Durrell, Dorothy Parker and other writers would stay nearby at the home of British writer and war hero, Patrick Leigh Fermor. His home has recently been turned into a writers’ retreat, with programs through UCLA and the New York and the British Library. We watched it being restored over recent years and toured the light and airy library and living and writing rooms. A magical place.

But, back to today’s writing. In the small local Katerina supermarkets, I always head for the book stands to see what’s being read. Jeffrey Deaver, Lee Childs and James Patterson head the English-language shelves, with Danielle Steele and Mary Higgins Clarke perennial favorites for holiday reading. The same titles printed in Greek and in German occupy the next shelves. Victoria Hislop’s beautifully written and researched sagas based on Greek and Spanish civil wars are prevalent and, on a lighter note, Joanna Trollop, Lucida Riley, Leah Fleming and, still, Agatha Christie paperbacks remain popular purchases. At one of the nearby cafes there is a “bring one/take one” wall of books, where one can swap a book you’ve finished and read something different.

Rosie and Sister

Here I am with my sister Annie.

There’s a lot of sitting in the shade of the olive trees or under an umbrella on the beach and reading done here. Forget about TV in this part of the world – so there’s a lot of reading and writing going on. Until you nod off, that is, and awaken 40 minutes later, wondering where you are and what you’re supposed to be doing! I have done that many times since being back here! I’m catching up on lost sleep!

But getting away from one’s normal routine can be very productive. As Marcel Proust pointed out: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.”

Looking at one’s life and work from afar brings new perspectives.

I have long been working on a book of the history of the Woman’s Club of Hollywood that has occupied my life for lo these many years. Here, I have been able to attack it with a different, fresh approach. I have also taken a different slant with two of my other half-finished novels that really need to be ‘out there.’ And I’ve been sketching a new mystery set in these parts.

I picked up an interesting idea from the prolific Lee Goldberg (who wrote the “Monk” television series, “Diagnosis Murder,” and recently Hallmark’s “Mystery 101”) on my recent trip to the Left Coast Crime Writers’ Conference, where we were fellow panelists.

Lee explained that script writing was much easier and quicker for him than all the novels he had written. Novels take him many months to write. Scripts could be done in a matter of weeks – often due to the pressing time allowed by the studios. So now he does a simple script of his new novel first. In the script, he said, he writes the step by step ‘what happened.’ No back-story and scant descriptions. Because, in a TV or film production, all the other departments fill this in.

The Casting Department bring in the actors whose personality, looks and ability provide the story’s characters. The Costume designers create the clothes for everyone, based on their view of the script they have read. The Production Designer designs the sets and, with the Art Department, select the locations and the back-drops. The Prop Master decides all the bits and pieces that fill the set, bringing it further to life. It’s a collaborative effort. They all meet up and discuss their ideas, along with the Cinematographer, Lighting and sound people. They each add their own talents and experience, orchestrated by the Director and the Producer. Writing the script, Lee says, is the simple part. He may not agree with or recognize the end-product on the screen, but, as long as the check didn’t bounce, he’s okay with this.

And so, he uses that basis for his novels now. He says it’s quicker than the old outline route. He writes the basic storyline as he would a script. With this, he can see if there is a part of the mystery or plot that doesn’t work, or something left unfinished. Once he knows he has the story worked out, he will go back in and fill in the character details, the background, the setting. This is the stage where he adds in any research he has undertaken and adds the touches of flavor and nuances. Whatever that particular novel needs to bring it to life.

And so, as the sun begins to sink behind the olive trees, I have re-assessed my various writing projects with fresh, ‘new’ eyes. Would fresh, ‘new eyes’ change your current writing?

                  Love from Greece,

                              Rosemary

Rosie in Greece 3

Mystery People, Jessica Speart

by Jill Amadio

Few mystery writers pour their personal passion into their fiction to get their message across as successfully and as brilliantly as multi-book author Jessica Speart.  Published traditionally by such as Severn House, William Morrow, and others as one of the most addictive thriller series, the acclaimed American author’s plots are based on true, wildlife issues.

Elephants slaughtered for their tusks, sharks for their fins, rhinos for their horns, and other species for their rarity, many endangered, form the focus of Rachel Porter’s action-packed sleuthing. An agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (USFWS), the fictional character is a composite based on real agents who investigate smuggling, murders, and criminals who break the laws that cover illegal species trading.

Casting a worldwide net, Speart sets her mysteries in several American states, and peoples them with characters in Mexico, Russia and other countries where illegal hunting is at its most prevalent such as Hawaii for its rare reptiles and exotic birds in Florida, but what stands out the most is the remarkably meticulous and detailed research that Speart brings to her books. The reader learns a wealth of fascinating facts told in an often-humorous style while at the same time learning how poachers work, the tools needed to trap tortoises, and the clever ruses criminals use that include the rich and famous with their collecting obsessions.

Doing research is essential to my writing,” she said. ”The idea is not to just make things up [but] to provide facts in a compelling way.”

An investigative freelance journalist for several years after studying theater at the Boston University College of Fine Arts, and stints as an actress off-Broadway, in commercials, and soap operas, Speart switched from acting to writing.

“I needed to get away for a while and ended up going to Africa. It was there that I witnessed the poaching of elephants for their ivory and rhino for their horns. I came home determined to do something to try and help.”

Speart took a direct approach and began her magazine career writing stories about the USFWS special agents and their investigations. She became fascinated with their work. Many of her articles involved wildlife and drug-trafficking crimes and were published in the New York Times, Mother Jones, and many other outlets.

But the subject matter, she discovered, wasn’t high on the list of law enforcement agencies. An animal lover, she decided to take justice into her own hands by starting a crime series, knowing the popularity of mysteries and thrillers could give her topic a voice.

My first ten books are the fictional Rachel Porter mystery series,” she said, “which sprang from my magazine work. I became frustrated with the outcome of many wildlife cases. The illegal trade in endangered species is worth between $15-20 billion a year and yet the fines and punishment remain low.”

In the process Speart became an expert in demand at endangered species conferences, a keynote speaker at a wide range of distinguished forums including the American Museum of Natural History, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, chapters of the Audubon Society, and others, and a frequent guest on television shows and documentaries..

“The transition from non-fiction journalism to fiction wasn’t difficult, given the reality of the issues,” she said, having covered cases from initial suspicious behavior to arrest and conviction.

The fast-paced Rachel Porter series begins with what could be considered fragments of the author’s own life. Titled GATOR AIDE, it takes place in the steamy bayous of Louisiana and the New Orleans French Quarter, featuring an alligator chained to a bathtub with a dead stripper nearby. The book’s characters include cops, killers, drag queens, and corrupt politicians.

Speart’s second book, TORTOISE SOUP, crosses the country to a new assignment in Nevada where endangered tortoises have disappeared, while book 3, BIRD BRAINED, sends the USFWS agent back to the southeast coast and Florida, where exotic cockatoos and parrots are smuggled out. The cast includes a wonderfully-rendered sleazy snake dealer, Cuban cigar smugglers, airboat cowboys, and Castro terrorists. The action never stops.

Primates inhabit book 4 and the locale is the Mexican border. Not too surprisingly because they exist in real life, there’s a game ranch stocked with rare antelopes, Indian deer, and African oryx for the rich to hunt down and kill for sport. Rachel Porter unwittingly joins the group on the wrong side of the party.

Caviar, anyone? BLACK DELTA NIGHT explains how Tennessee’s Mississippi River paddlefish becomes a rival to Beluga for the Russian mafia to exploit. This time Rachel goes undercover when murder is on the menu.

While her methods eventually result in catching the criminals, her way of operating tends to irritate her bosses and, once again, she is shipped off to another state. Montana, long known as home to private militias and survivalists, also has more than its share of grizzly bears. But why are they being killed along with several Native Americans? A KILLING SEASON provides a dazzling backdrop to the puzzle.

Books 7, 8 and 9 see Rachel once again shuttled off to other states to get her out of her boss’ hair. This time she is sent to Georgia with its manatees in COASTAL DISTURBANCE, and then to northern California with BLUE TWILIGHT in which a collector is obsessed with a rare butterfly. Again, Speart’s research brings reality to the characters, locales, and plot lines. In RESTLESS WATERS Rachel is back in Hawaii to chase down those who upset the fragile ecological balance.

Book 10 winds up the series with UNSAFE HARBOR involving the importation of illegal Tibetan antelope fur clothing, before Speart turns to non-fiction for her 11th book, WINGED OBSESSION: The Pursuit of the World’s Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler.

“It deals with an actual case that is so crazy no one would believe it if I wrote it as fiction,” she said. “A Japanese national began prowling around America’s national parks. One butterfly he chased was the Apache Fritillary, catching 500 of them and shipping them back to Japan to sell.”

Following up on the true case she flew to Japan and went undercover to make friends with the man. Soon, she discovered he was setting her up. A thriller, indeed.

Whether writing non-fiction or fiction Speart spends time outlining her books before giving it its freedom. “I’m a big outliner, especially when it comes to writing a mystery. Otherwise, it’s like driving your car through a tunnel without lights on a dark night. You are bound to have an accident.”

She noted that some authors spend a year-sometimes two or three – nurturing their book. “Then comes the morning when we finally have to let go and the book takes on a life of its own.”

Speart finds that releasing a published book is exciting and frightening both at the same time. “There’s the rush of having the published book hit the stores, there’s the fear that no one will like it. But what about those folks who read your book and become angry?”

After BLUE TWILIGHT went on sale a small group of butterfly collectors felt she had attacked them, and, in turn, began attacking her.

“Apparently, I’d hit a nerve,” she said. “I’m not saying butterfly collecting is a crime but there are those who cross the line between collecting legal butterflies versus collecting protected and endangered butterflies. There are instances where even legal butterflies have been over-collected.”

The author points out that there is a class system when it comes to species being valued, and that if they were chimps, tigers and others public reaction would be one of horror. She continues the argument on her website in one of her blogs. She also discusses the difference between the two styles, saying that narrative non-fiction is fact-based storytelling employing some of the same skills that are used in fiction, setting each scene, presenting fascinating characters, and creating a strong narrative persona.

As for specific dialogue in non-fiction, Speart again brings her research to the forefront. It requires, she says, exhaustive digging which is something she enjoys. She also points out that narrative non-fiction doesn’t have to be told as purely objective journalism. Writers can bring emotion to their characters and create a sense of drama while following the story arc.

A few books that fit into the discussion are some of her favorites including In Cold Blood by Truman Capote; Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer; The Orchard Thief by Susan Orlean; The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, a book that began Speart’s love affair with the city of Savannah.

Jessica Speart teaches an advanced mystery writers workshop in Connecticut, and reminds students: “You have to believe in your work and not give up. Writing is a rough business and not for the faint of heart.

A Thank-You Note That Led to Story

by Jackie Houchin

Do you like receiving a thank you note for some little thing you did (or even said)?  I recently received “three thank yous” via email (one was from my very well-trained, sweet granddaughter for a gift I sent).

It used to be something we would pound into our kids’s heads when they got birthday or Christmas gifts. “Write Aunt Dottie a thank you!”  “Tell grandma you loved her gift!” 

One boy at church ALWAYS wrote such sweet notes to me as his Sunday School or AWANA teacher. They were well thought out, and even used “bigger words” than I expected. Many had little drawings of something I might have given him. I would tell his mom that she sure trained him well, but she told me, “Oh, that’s his idea. I don’t say anything.”  Sadly he’s graduated out of my class now.  I miss his notes and illustrations.  (Yes, I’ve saved them.)

I enjoy writing thank you notes as well. I’m always surprised when someone I sent a card to exclaims “Oh, what a wonderful surprise! That was so nice of you!” Sometimes I send an email, and very occassionally a quick text message. But I enjoy writing out my thoughts on real-life cards. And since my granddaughter now has a little business* making greeting cards, I get to use all kinds of them. She’s the artist and designer.

I also write birthday and holiday cards . Dear Kerry!  Don’t make so many cute ones I just HAVE to buy and use!!

    *     *     *

Recently there was an article in our newspaper, The Epoch Times, January 26, 2022, titled “The Importance of Thank-You Notes”. I loved the sentiments and agreed with what was written.

This morning, February 25, 2022, there was a response in the form of letter in The Readers’ Turn section.  It is a wonderful story of one particular thank you.  Here it is (I hope it’s clear enough to read.)

As we here at The Writers In Residence are always encouraging our readers to WRITE, have any of you recently received something in the mail – snail, email, or text – that you could turn into a short story, essay, blog post, or even a poem? Ok, yes, even a utility bill that came. (Have you seen how Natural Gas prices have skyrocketed?? You could write a letter to the editor, or the company!! Haha.)

But I had something else in mind. Something creative. I recently got a snail mail letter from my sister who will be 89 next month. She is super spry physically and mentaly. She is now taking a writing class, and had to write a small piece from each of 30 prompts. She did it, and now she says her local newspaper wants to publish a few of them. Wow! Who knew? MY sister!!!

So… a thank you note that caught your attention, a birthday card, a GALentine’s Day card (yes, my granddaughter makes those!) or perhaps a mailing from a charity with a photo of a needy child, a disaster, or a pet who needs a home might spark a thought. Maybe even a gardening catalogue with seeds from an old variety of flowers that your grandma grew might inspire you to write a mini-memoir.

Go look through your mail. If you’ve got an idea now, let us know below. If it turns out nice, I might consider posting it in one of our GUEST BLOG spots this year. Just go do it! Write!

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*PacificPeachDesigns.com

A Life of Strange Inspirations

 by Linda O. Johnston

I wrote last time I was here about how a writer might decide what to write.  I’m going to expand upon that a bit today since I’ve been considering some strange inspirations. 

There’s one we all have these days: Covid. Should we include the pandemic in stories we’re writing now? What about a series that deals, in a fictional way with a lot of the issues and arguments and other matters relating to the disease, and how people deal with them—or don’t? I’m fascinated with the idea, but doubt I’ll dive into it.

 And then there’s what happened on my very nice residential street the other night. 

My husband and I were walking our dog Cari around the block. When we got to the fence behind the property next to our home we saw that one of the fronds of the cacti growing behind it near the street had been broken. (We live in LA.) And then my husband saw a large, dangerous-looking knife lying there and we assumed it had been used to cut the cactus. We saw blood on the sidewalk and we then assumed whoever did it had cut him or herself. My husband moved the knife but hid it to show neighbors later. We weren’t thrilled, especially my husband, who’d planted the cactus with the neighbor’s approval. 

Cut to an hour or so after we got home. Our doorbell rang, and when I answered a couple of uniformed police officers were there. Turned out someone had been stabbed in the area in the middle of the night. We have security cameras outside but they weren’t connected at the time, unfortunately. The cops had hoped we would have footage of what happened—since someone was apparently stabbed there by another person, which resulted in the fallen cactus. 

My husband gave them the knife, of course, and said he hoped they’d make it clear why his fingerprints are on it. We still have no details about what happened or why or if the police are still investigating, but you can imagine that led my mind to start wondering if I could use that in a story. 

And then a dear relative, after we related what had happened, made a suggestion about a whole mystery series based on some matters relating to that incident. 

My mind is still churning around that. But I don’t know if I’ll follow through. I’m concerned about such things happening nearby, in any event. But as a writer, of course I let it potentially inspire me for a story or more. 

And yes, some strange things can become inspirations. When should we include reality in our stories? Whenever it works—with embellishments!

Are You RESOLUTE? Or not…

Yeah, yeah, I know. Nobody makes resolutions at New Year’s anymore.  A least not ones they can keep beyond the 31st of January. (Surveys report that 47% of resolution makers can’t keep them until February 1st.)

WHY?

I have some suggestions, tips, and encouragements if you really want to change something in your life/writing in 2022.

From the Hints From Heloise column, I found these believable suggestions.

  1. Be specific.
  •  Don’t vow to “Lose weight” but, to Lose 20 pounds by May 1st.
  •  Don’t vow to “Exercise more” but, to Walk 2 miles a day for 4 days a week.
  •  Don’t vow to “Write more in 2022” but, to Write 2 chapters, or 2,000 words, or a complete short story or article each week.

2. Then add your answer to the question, “why?”

  •  Because I’m too young to be heavy and it makes me look matronly.
  •  Because walking is healthy for me, and the kids (dogs, Hubby) can go with me.
  •  Because I’m a writer and I want to finish my book and/or publish my work.
  1. Put these (your) resolutions on 3×5 cards and tape them to your bathroom mirror. Read them aloud to yourself every morning.
  2. Keep track of your progress.
  3. Reward yourself when you accomplish each one!

(If you try this, let me know how it works!)

Hey, have you heard this one? “I was going to quit all my bad habits for 2022. But then I remembered: Nobody likes a quitter!”

Here’s a unique take from The Victoria Magazine, letters, Jan/Feb.

        Says Wendy J. “Decades ago, a friend and I came up with the idea of “un-goals” instead of resolutions. This gave us permission to give up things we detested! I gave up zucchini. For years I had tried one recipe after another to use the piles of this vegetable that I received from neighbors’ gardens or the market. I finally decided that they all tasted the same because I truly dislike zucchini!”

Do you have something you really dislike and will renounce in 2022?

(Let me know, and I’ll rejoice with you!)

Do you have a (mental) list of what you want to do “someday?” Here are a few examples: (I love #2.)

  •  Finish the book I’m writing
  •  Spend a season living abroad
  •  Read that stack of books I’ve been accumulating
  •  Add weight training to my workouts
  •  Plan day trips with my family
  •  Schedule those _____________ lessons I promised myself I would take

Resolve to move these from the  “Someday” to the “In-progress” column.

(Maybe I’ll join you on those lessons!)

From Cathy Baker’s Creative Pauses Facebook group, Dec 31, 2021.  Choose a word or two as a theme for 2022. (Easier than a whole resolution.)

There are many websites that can suggest words to you, or give you ideas. Think of your goals/hopes for the New Year, and use these or other sites to help you choose.  Some even give you ideas on how to make the word stick for 365 days.

        https://elisabethmcknight.com/word-of-the-year-ideas/

(Scroll down to the 100-word list at the bottom, Abundance to Zest.)

        https://www.happinessishomemade.net/word-of-the-year-ideas-one-little-word/

(Schroll down to the 150-word, printable, non-alphabetized list.)

        OR… for heaven’s sake, we are writers & readers… pick your own. Haha!

(Let me know if you pick one and what it is, or maybe keep it secret.)

Here are some suggestions from the Orange County Register newspaper, on the personal side, with specific fill in the blanks.

  •   Mend a relationship with _______________.
  •    Be more kind to _________________.
  •    Call _______________ whom you haven’t spoken to in a long time.
  •    Adopt or foster a ___________ (animal) and take good care of it.

(Or sponsor a child.)

From an article in The Epoch Times:

  •         Get inspired by reading blogs you love (like The Writers in Residence).
  •         Begin with tiny stuff – make it a habit that is “too easy NOT to do.”
  •         Find a friend or family member for support.
  •         And lastly, don’t call them NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS, rename them as “January Objectives” or maybe even “Today’s List.”

(And check those buggers off! I’ll celebrate with you.)

For me, three for ’22:

  • Try new recipes from my “Eating Clean” cookbook at least twice a week.
  • Shorten my “screen time” by half (PC and phone). Use a timer if needed.
  • Cut out sugar (again) to help with inflammation issues.

(And YOU can check on ME at the end of the month/year. Really!)

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Our Faith Bible Church pastor gave us this verse for the year:

Romans 12:9b. “Detest evil; cling to what is good.”

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Why Aren’t You Writing?

By Miko Johnston

It’s a valid question. Maybe a few of you can’t think of an idea, but I’m willing to bet that you’re in the minority. In most cases we have an overabundance of ideas and at least one work in progress, if not more. Why are we having so much trouble writing? In a word:

PROCRASTINATION

Okay, we can admit it. We do procrastinate. Why? There are many reasons why, and they’re tied to different types of procrastination.

A dear friend and fine writer often wore a sweatshirt that said, EASILY DISTRACTED BY BRIGHT SHINY OBJECTS. This describes procrastinators who get sidetracked by other projects. Often they take on more than they can handle, or they get diverted by the next big thing. The only cure is to acknowledge writing is important enough to do. Focus on what’s in front of you for a set amount of time and literally time yourself.

Do you suffer from perfectionism syndrome? If you have a deadline and still can’t make progress, this may be why. If we can’t get it right, we don’t want to commit to working on our projects. I have a suggestion: GET OVER IT. You can argue about whether there’s crying in baseball, but there is no perfection in writing. Commit to doing the best that you can, then review it and make it better.

Sometimes I open a work-in-progress document and stare at the last bit I wrote, wondering where to go next. Then I close it because I can’t think of anything. Does this happen to you?

Try creating a separate ‘work’ sheet, copy the last paragraphs you’ve written onto it and then…just write. Don’t concern yourself with anything other than getting words down on the page. This technique opens the door to creativity; once your mind is free to explore ideas without judgement, the ideas will flow. Write until you come to a natural concluding point, then read back what you’ve written. I guarantee that most times you’ll find something useful for some part of the story, and sometimes you’ll get what you need. If the block occurs at a point where the story is still open-ended, your ideas may give you some direction to move forward, or warn you, “don’t go there”. If you’re trying to connect your scene with an approaching plot point, try the bridge technique I explained in an earlier post .

Easier said than done, you say? True. But I’m guessing that none of you became writers because you expected to become rich, famous, younger and more beautiful. You did it because you had a passion to write, or a story to tell, or characters whom you’ve created who deserve to live. The world is not an easy place right now; has it ever been? We need your stories out there, whether to entertain or to educate, distract us from our problems or understand them better. Or all of the above. So please sit down, take out your computer, or notebook, or whatever you use to write, and WRITE!.

And why not begin by commenting on this post – do you procrastinate, and if so, how do you get past it?

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

FUN WITH WRITING (AGAIN)

by Miko Johnston

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

One Picture Is Worth….

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

Rapid Writing

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

Crossover Appeal

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

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

“Honku”

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

Why do you delight

 in photographing your meal?

I’d rather eat it

“Spelling Bee”

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

24/7

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

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

DYI “Mad Libs”

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

“The Dating Game” for words

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

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

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

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

Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash

Creating “Spine” Stories

If you are like me, you’ve never heard of a Spine Story (or Poem) before.  I hadn’t until I read Erica’s wonderful children’s blog “What Do We Do All Day?” about a Summer Literacy BINGO game.

In the game, some of the squares were titled; learn a new song, finish a crossword puzzle, read a book outside, listen to an audiobook, and write a comic strip. As the the kids do each thing, they cross off the square. Five in a row means a BINGO win.

The square that caught my eye  was, create a spine poem.

I’d never heard of a spine poem before so I clicked on a link to her page that explained them. Of course, if you’ve viewed the photos in this post, you will already know what one is. I call them stories instead of poems. A real challenge would be to do a Haiku poem in Spines.

I’ve yet to create one myself, but by the end of this post, I promise to put one together to share. Meanwhile, here are a few in Erica’s post.

(In case you can’t read the above Spines, they say “How to Write Poetry” “Brainstorm” “Where do You Get Your Ideas?” “All the world.”)

At the end of her blog on Spine Poems, she added a link to 100 Scope Notes which had a slew more of these poems/stories, titled “2013 Book Spine Poem Gallery”. There are other years of galleries available too. Lots of laughs and some really good Aligned Spines.

Okay, here are a few I tried. (haha) It was actually more fun than I thought. Once I’d done two, I saw many more possibilities!

Now it’s your turn.

Gather some of the books on your shelves or TBR stacks and try to create a few stories or poems?  I’d love to see a photo, or just write the titles in your comment below. Hey, you are very talented storysmiths. Let’s see what story you can tell… from your bookcase? Create a cool, scary, funny, mysterious, clever, or romantic “aligned spines” story.

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Erica’s Literacy Bingo page: https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/reading-bingo-for-kids/

Erica’s Spine Poetry page:  https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/spine-poetry-activity-for-kids/

100 Scope Notes Book Spine Galleries:  https://100scopenotes.com/2013/04/02/2013-book-spine-poem-gallery/

The Fun and Frustration of Ideas

 

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by Linda O. Johnston

Like many of you who may be reading this, I’m a writer. A fiction writer. That means what I write is rarely true, though of course it needs to be logical and, hopefully, enjoyable.

And how do I figure out what I’ll be writing? Well, my mind is always at work. Whether I’m intending to or not, I’m always coming up with ideas. That, too, probably sounds familiar to many of you.

While watching a TV show a couple of weeks ago, my mind glommed onto its theme as being a great idea for a story. A mystery? Probably. A series? Hopefully. 

But unlike many of my ideas, how to proceed with this one didn’t become automatically clear.  As a result, I’ve been doing a lot of pondering and research and jotting down possibilities. And reading what I can about the general concept.

That’s an important part of writing, of course. The plotting and writing and character development are all essential. But so’s figuring out how you will determine each of them and where your story’s likely to go.

I knew I was scheduled for the WinR blog today and, while at first not knowing what I’d write about, this blog idea finally came to me, too. It’s important for writers to recognize how their minds work at least some of the time. Ideas and me–well, I’d better make note of them and run with them when it makes sense. And writing here about coming up with and following up with ideas–why not?

 So how do you do it? Where do ideas come to you? How do they come to you? Is it always by a similar way, or, like me, do you just keep your mind open to whatever it wants to throw at you and then follow up on those ideas? 

And me? Well, I’m sure I’ll figure out the direction I want to go, probably soon. Will I run with it? Depends on whether I wind up liking my direction as much as the initial idea.

 

 

Artwork Design by Cher Schriefer(Groch)

 

Cruises Can Be Murder**

by Jackie Houchin

(**See disclaimer at the end)

Ahoy there Maties! Have ye sailed the Seven Seas yet?  What’s stoppin’ ye?  Oh… murder!  That!

In January my Hubby and I went on the most amazing 15-day cruise from Florida to Los Angeles by way of the Panama Canal.

What made it amazing?

IMG_5504The Canal transit, of course!! (#1 on Hubby’s bucket list), But the perfect sunny weather, the deep blue sea(s), the small, uncrowded ship (just 670 passengers), the funny and very personable Captain, the amenities (food, lounges,  gorgeous library, spa, pool, Internet café, crafts & games, casino, theater), our beautiful cabin with a balcony (oh, the views!), breakfast in bed, the lack of crowds and lines, the cool excursions in Aruba, Costa Rica, and Chiapas and Cabo San Lucas in Mexico were all definitely fantastic.

IMG_5214(Yes, we are in our 70’s, but we had a blast zip-lining in the Rain Forest!)

If EVER you go on a sea cruise, be sure to book passage on a small ship (unless you have kids). The Princess line has only one, and the Oceania Line has just three. And yes, they can and do travel around the world in 111-195 days. (I’m still dreaming of that!)

 

IMG_5638Imagine, if you will, 4-6 months in luxury, with everything taken care of for you, the occasional excursion ashore, time spent in one of several lounges or the library or your room, even out on the balcony with a laptop, with a bunch of characters eager to do malice, and a twisted mystery plot to direct them!

Yep, I could write a book on a World Cruise.*  (sigh)  Oh, yeah, writing and books, that’s what this blog is about…

 

Since we’ve come home, I have noticed the abundance of mysteries aboard ships.  There are the dark ones like The Poseidon Adventure by Paul Gallico, Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys, The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, Birds of Pray by J.A. Jance, and Death on The Nile by Agatha Christie.  (Perhaps you’ve read a few.)

On Goodreads, there is a list of 47 Cruise Ship mysteries/adventures for Young Adults and Kids, including some with the new Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, and the Boxcar Kids.

And of course, the cozy and humorous mysteries; Killer Cruise by Laura Levine, Cruising for Love by Tami Cowden, Princess Charming by Jane Haller, and Murder on the Oceana by Elizabeth Martin.  Whew!!  With all that written murder, mystery, and danger, I can see why you might be hesitant to walk up a ship’s gangway.

 

IMG_5146But what about on OUR cruise ship, the Pacific Princess?  I asked the Capitan Paolo Ariggo several questions during our two weeks, but one of them was about this topic.

“I’m a part-time mystery writer, and I want to know, does the ship have a morgue and a brig?”

He grinned and in a very soft voice said, “Ahhh, yes. There are two refrigerators that could be used for that…” then in a normal voice, “but a brig, what is this?”

“A jail,” I said.

“No-o-o,” he said with that Italian accent and a quick shake of his head.

“So where would you keep a prisoner until the ship docks?”

Silence, then, with a laugh, “In the Captain’s quarters!”

(Yeah, right.)

 

The seasoned passengers were more forthright. One related this story.

“On the world cruise we took two years ago, there was a murder. Late one night on the pool deck (#10), a man and a woman, obviously drinking, had a loud argument. The man (he was quite large) back-handed the woman.  She fell to the deck and lay still.  He thought she was dead! (she wasn’t). So he picked her up and threw her overboard.  BUT she landed on top of one of the life boats. She did die that time.  They found her body the next day.

“They searched the ship. Everyone was called to their muster stations.  We had to wait there until he was found. It was two hours!  And when we docked in Aruba no one was allowed off the ship until the police had come and taken him away.”

Wow.

Another told of a husband being poisoned to death. They thought it was the wife.

I bet you writers are thinking of possible crimes now that could be set aboard a cruise ship. What would be YOUR angle?  How would it happen? Would it lead to other murders? Would a passenger become the sleuth, or would there be a retired/recovering detective aboard? And… who would be the killer?

 

Bonbon voyageRight now, I’m reading an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of a cozy mystery for review, Bonbon Voyage by Katherine H. Brown about the Chef being murdered. (Oh, no!!)

And I’ve recently reviewed Death on the Danube by Jennifer S. Alderson which you can read here.  Review on my Here’s How It Happened blog This one was a river cruise.

After the BonBon book, I’m looking forward to reading The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper by Sally Carpenter, and the humorous “geezer-lit” mystery,  Cruising in Your Eighties is Murder by Mike Befeler.

How about you? What is on your TBR pile? Have you got a mystery or memoir set on a cruise ship?  Or… perhaps you know a dark true tale that could be made into a short story or book?

Well, dive right in!  Launch that story! All aboard!

 

(Disclaimer: First of all, this seems like a very untimely post. I am so sorry about the unfortunate cruise ship in Asia and the number of sick people on it. I pray all those among the 3,500 passengers plus crew will recover soon. But please don’t let that stop you from an ocean voyage in the future!)

*A 111-day cruise on the Pacific Princes in a balcony cabin like ours begins at $60,000 double-occupancy.

 

 

 

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