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.

 

 

 

Time-Tripping to 1902: The Mary MacDougall Mysteries

By Richard Audry

When I first saw the movie adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Room with a View, I immediately fell in love with the passionate, rebellious Lucy Honeychurch character.  At that same time, my wife and I had become big fans of Masterpiece Mystery’s Sherlock Holmes series, with Jeremy Brett playing the coldly logical, unemotional detective. I had been toying with the idea of writing a mystery for a while, and I had an inspiration: What would you get if you mashed up Lucy Honeychurch with Sherlock Holmes? And that is the origin story of Mary MacDougall.

My Mary MacDougall series takes place in the Upper Midwest c. 1900 and stars the eponymous 18-year-old heiress, whose unlikely and socially inappropriate dream is to become a consulting detective. I wrote the first book a number of years ago, in period style. And that’s when I stumbled across my first principle of historical mystery writing:

Begin with primary historical source material, if it’s available.

For that original Mary MacDougall novel, I spent weeks in a university library hunched over a microfilm machine, reading newspapers from that period. I immersed myself in the real news and life of the early 1900s. I learned what people were thinking back then, how they were behaving, what the news of the day was at a granular level. Occasionally, serendipity struck, such as the time I stumbled across a full-page feature story titled “Women As Detectives.” The thousands of advertisements were another valuable window on that era.

I also obtained two sources from the period that have proven to be vital. One, which I found in the back recesses of a used bookstore, is a world almanac from 1904, packed with general information—nearly a thousand tissuey pages. Another is my reproduction copy of the 1902 Sears & Roebuck catalog, now close to falling to pieces.

(Wishbook Web.com is a great source for writers who need details about clothing and products from the mid-20th century and later. It has every Sears catalog of that era. Even if you don’t need it for research, it can also be nostalgic trip back in time. Project Gutenberg is a great place to find thousands of free public domain books from the 19th and early 20th century, including travelogs and non-fiction.)

Doing research for a historical mytery can actually be quite enjoyable, especially if you’re a history buff. We booked a trip to Michigan’s Mackinac Island a couple years ago, to flesh out scenes for Mary’s vacation there in A Daughter’s Doubt (Book 3 in the series). The island was a popular tourist destination at the turn of the 20th century, with notables such as Mark Twain booked in for lectures and presentations.

More difficult than doing the research, I think, is deciding what to use. How much is too much? Some readers love rich immersion in historical detail. This seems especially true if you’re writing straight historical fiction. But I think with the historical mystery genre, readers’ expectations are a bit different. When I decide what to include, I have one clear guideline:

The research has to serve my characters and their stories, not the other way around.

In other words, I don’t want to be showing off my research and bogging down the plot. I’ve seen it happen too often. By oversharing research, you run the risk of boring readers and losing them. But determining what to include and what to exclude isn’t easy. For my mysteries, I find that watercolor brush strokes of history work better than photographic specificity. Still, on my second or third reads through the manuscripts, I’ll end up cutting descriptive sections that I know are slowing down the tempo of the narrative.

When I finished my first Mary MacDougall, I received compliments about its authentic voice but the book failed to sell—to agents, publishers, or readers. Discouraged, I set it aside and concentrated on a couple of new contemporary mysteries and an alternative history sci-fi ghost trilogy. A few years back, I revisited that first Mary MacDougall story. I realized my main character was not very likable—more Sherlock Holmes than Lucy Honeychurch.

I decided to give her a personality makeover. And to loosen the restraints that would have actually been put on a young, wealthy woman back in 1901. Which leads me to my next rule of thumb:

I am willing to fudge some historical outlooks and prejudices for the sake of a good story.

That meant, for example, that Mary’s father, a wealthy businessman, needed to be a bit more accepting than might be expected when his headstrong daughter seeks a career in detecting. True, he disapproves and complains and threatens a lot. But he allows Mary to set up shop with her cousin Jeanette, as secretary/chaperone—trusting that the daily grind of business will wear her down. Then, he hopes, she’ll see the sense in marrying some solid man of business. He even grudgingly tolerates Mary’s infatuation with an unsuitable fellow who happens to be an artist—trusting she’ll grow out of it.

And what about Mary’s corset? Where is the lady’s maid to help her put it on? My heiress/sleuth is no hoity-toity duke’s daughter or snooty Manhattan debutante. She’s a practical Midwestern girl who can take care of herself. And she’s also something else that I think is essential in a historical mystery.

Mary is the modern reader’s agent in a tale from the past. Her point of view is closer to ours than to that of a real heiress of 1902.

I want to be able to identify with any protagonist I write, and I want the reader to feel the same. That requires Mary to be kind of a version of you or me. If you or I were in her shoes, we might attempt the same things, which would be in tune with modern sensibilities.

For instance, in the new book, Mary takes up the cause of a street urchin whose most prized possession, a valuable pocket watch, has been stolen. The matter seems trivial, on its face. But her concern is an expression of her awakening notion that homeless children are deserving of justice just as much as anyone. In fact, it’s this particular epiphany that gets Mary in the gravest peril of her career. I believe it’s that sort of thing that makes her resonate with readers in 2020. She is our champion.

Writing about the bawdy, brilliant historical comedy The Favourite, New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane put his finger right on it: “…all historical reconstruction is a game, and to pretend otherwise—to nourish the illusion that we can know another epoch as intimately as we do our own—is merest folly, so why not relish the sport?”

I certainly have relished putting Mary through her paces in her first four adventures. And I have many more plots in mind than time to write them. I’d love to bring her out to the Carmel/Monterey artist colony to try and talk some sense into Edmond Roy, the man she loves who refuses to follow her advice and stay in Duluth. And then there’s the possibility she may go spying in Europe for the State Department—imagine how much fun that story would be to research. There could even be some cloak and dagger during the Atlantic crossing. (A tip of the hat to Jackie for that idea.)

 

RichardAudry (1)In closing, I have a request for writers in this group.

I’m starting work on a non-mystery novel about two young nurses who travel from the Midwest to work in California right after WWII. I’m looking for sources that would give me a flavor of what life in Santa Barbara was like in that period. Any suggestions for books (fiction or nonfiction), articles, websites, or libraries would be much appreciated. You can contact me at drmar120@netscape.net.

 

Here are the Mary MacDougall Mysteries in order, in their Kindle editions. The first three titles are currently available from other booksellers such as Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords. A Fatal Fondness will be available in Epub versions later in February.

A Pretty Plot  A Pretty Little Plot

Stolen Star  The Stolen Star

DaughtersDoubt  A Daughter’s Doubt

A FATAL FONDNESS   A Fatal Fondness

Also, please consider visiting my website  and liking my Facebook author page.

 

This article was posted for Richard Audry by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

For a preview of Richard Audry’s A Fatal Fondness, please check out my FIVE STAR REVIEW on my:  Here’s How It Happened – A Fatal Fondness

 

Keeping It Real: Developing Characters Throughout a Series

by Miko Johnston

I became an author when I finished the first in my series of fiction novels – my first book, period. Interestingly, Lala, the character I inaugurated thirty years ago, recently turned thirty herself. Is that a coincidence?

Maybe not.

Petal InTheWindMy writing has matured over those thirty years, as has my heroine. Granted, when introduced in my first book, she was “almost eight”, so her voice and thoughts had to reflect her age. However, the book was meant for adults, therefore it had to present the story at a more mature level. Much of the storyline and the tension springs from a child who’s unable to fully understand her situation and an adult audience who clearly can.

As the story develops, and Lala ages, she had grown up in the eyes of my readers as well as my own. I sometimes feel like thirty years ago I gave birth to this young girl, though I’m thrilled not to have actually given birth to an eight-year-old! Still, having lived with these characters for almost half my life and four books, they’ve become very familiar, and I’ve grown close to them. I sense a greater intimacy between the characters with each novel, in part because of my growing familiarity with them.

I feel the same way about characters in the series I still read. I’ve become invested in their lives, curious to see how they play out. It’s become an even more important aspect of pleasure in reading than the storyline. I’ve stuck with a few series with formulaic plots because of my attachment to the people who populate the stories.  I’ve also dropped a few series from my must-read list and always for the same reason – stagnant characters.

I asked several writers of serialized fiction about how their relationship with their characters – and their characters’ relationships with each other – has changed with each book, and each passing year.

51pZwz0PBbL GOTUMike McNeff introduced his hero Robin Marlette in GOTU (pronounced Got-U, it’s short for Guardians of the Universe). His action/adventure series features a covert ops team that has to balance work with home life. Mike’s currently writing the fourth book in the series. When I asked him how his characters have evolved over time, he decided to let Robin speak for himself:

“We were once cops who tried not to hurt anyone, including suspects. Now we kill just to survive and it has reached the point where killing has become a mere afterthought. I’ve killed sleeping men, men who didn’t know I was near them and men who were simply doing an assigned task at a particular moment. They were all involved in acts threatening innocent people, but I gave them no warning…no chance to surrender. I just killed them.” Robin’s eyes met the admiral’s. “My men and I have become dark and dangerous shadows moving through the night grappling with a squirming underworld. I’ve become unsure of just what and who the enemy really is…I just react to threats to the innocent people on this earth.”

I’ll add that the series has grown darker, but as Mike’s characters have developed into a close-knit team, they’re more comfortable teasing each other, and their humorous banter provides comic relief that lightens up the action.

*

41SMl8rQs0L IndelibleWhat began for Heather Ames as a stand-alone novel turned into a deftly blended mystery, suspense and romance series featuring Detective Brian Swift and socialite/club owner Kaylen Roberts (due in part to encouragement from some members of this blog). Ames says, “My characters have evolved from two people who didn’t even trust each other enough to share confidences into two people who have been trying to work through various challenges. They weren’t sure they could work things out by the end of Book one, but they both wanted to try.”

In each subsequent novel she balances the suspense between solving the mystery and navigating their evolving romance. Readers root for the couple, but Ames keeps us wondering as we follow their emotional roller coaster ride. “Being mismatched soulmates isn’t an easy gig. Brian’s profession is a huge stumbling block for Kaylen (while) Brian feels like a fish out of water in Kaylen’s world, and isn’t so sure he wants to try fitting in.”

The couple has progressed with each book. “Kaylen has evolved into a much stronger character than she was at the beginning of the series, while Brian has developed chinks in his armor that make him more vulnerable.”

*

41SMgxyg59L Last ConfessionPat Kelley Brunjes traveled a similar route with her characters as I, opening her series with a story loosely based on her family history. In her first novel, The Last Confession,  her protagonist serves as a stand-in for Brunjes. “Maggie was me seeking to find the truth about my grandmother’s relationship to the Catholic Church.” Although based on her research, she fictionalized the story, which allowed her to take Maggie in a non-biographical – and more dangerous – direction. In the sequel she’s writing, her heroine gets entangled in a cold-case murder and human trafficking. “In the second novel, Maggie has evolved into her own person dealing with what fate has thrown her, and how her personal beliefs guide her decision to help others.” Having given herself the freedom to step away from semi-autobiography, Brunjes will have much flexibility in plotting future entries in the series.

*

51sKIWU-ULL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_ PaulineAvis Rector faces a unique challenge in writing her historical fiction series, based on the early life of her family on Whidbey Island. In her first book, Pauline, the heroine and her husband settle on the island during the Depression. “So much of the first Pauline was based on my memories of the stories I heard as a child from my father who loved to tell stories—usually real happenings, but many embellished.” However, in her sequel, the story moves into the 1940’s, a time Rector lived through. She’s having to reinterpret her childhood memories through an adult’s perspective. “Actually, I’m having a hard time writing how the adults felt about the time. Pauline has changed.”

Part of that involves Pauline’s maturing. Rector admits she struggles to find the right balance between the irrepressible gal readers meet in the first novel and the responsible parent she becomes after adopting two children. “It was difficult for her to become a mother. She’s no longer the fun-loving young wife (as in the first book), but a serious, not so much fun, mother. I’m sorry about this, and feel I should…try to soften her personality, to enjoy the experience of being a mother like she always wanted to be.”

***

Most of us in WInRs have written, or are writing, series – I’m interested in hearing their take on this. I also know some of you reading this post write serialized fiction. What challenges have you faced moving your characters through the years, either in ‘book-time’ or real time? Have they evolved over the course of your series, and if so, how?

 

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

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

M.M. Gornell: One Of Our Own!

by Jill Amadio

madelineI had the pleasure of getting to know one of our Writers in Residence bloggers, M.M. Gornell, more in depth last month and decided to write up my talk with her for the monthly column I write for a UK magazine called Mystery People.

I thought you might like to know what I discovered about Madeline so herewith is the story. The magazine included a photo of her and one of her book covers.

***

U.S. Route 66

“The United States is such a whacking great country it encompasses every type of climate and terrain from deserts to glaciers, providing settings for crime writers in sand, mountains, seas, and snow.

Officially founded in 1776 and with archaeologists discovering tribes who lived here as long ago as seven millennia, America’s history of pioneers, gold miners, railway barons, and migrants continue to capture the imagination of writers. The push West from the East coast, where 100 or so Puritans from England disembarked from the Mayflower in 1620, has inspired books, movies, poetry, and songs, and created myths and legends.

How did these brave souls travel across the vast, undeveloped country?  One answer: Route 66.

route-66-2264400__340One of the most famous, nostalgic, fascinating and historic highways that wagon trains of homesteaders traveled, along with migrants seeking fortunes in gold mines, land, and new opportunities, U.S. Route 66 was originally a 2,500-mile dirt trail that ran from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. It was eventually smothered in asphalt and became known as the Mother Road, and the Main Street of America, passing through a total of seven states.

John Steinbeck memorialized Route 66 in his masterpiece, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, in which he described sharecroppers’ gritty hardships and hopes. It is said that there was no symbol more loaded with meaning in Steinbeck’s novel than Route 66.

Many over the years have jumped on the bandwagon (forgive the pun) from the Rolling Stones, the Shakers, and other British bands who wrote hits about Route 66. Currently the BBC is preparing to launch another “The Hairy Bikers” show starring the popular cooks who will be riding their motorbikes along the renowned U.S. highway; no doubt pausing at the famed old diners along the way.

Crime writer M.M. Gornell

One author who actually lives smack on Route 66 in a small community called Newberry Springs in the western Mojave Desert is crime writer M.M. Gornell, Madeline to her friends. A typical oasis in the desert, the small town’s surrounding area boasts man-made lakes, farms, and ranches, and is about 100 miles south of Death Valley.

perfectAlthough her former residences have included other towns and the Sierra Nevada with its rich palette of Red Rock Canyon (the setting for her thriller, DEATH OF A PERFECT MAN), Madeline’s move to Newberry Springs inspired her to set the majority of her eight crime novels, including two series, along the famed highway. “For me, setting definitely comes first, then the story,” she said.

“Through some serendipitous miracle, probably springing from tiredness, the cost, and most importantly the feel of the place, we ended up in Newberry Springs. I come from Chicago, where Route 66 starts, and now I live at the end of it in California. I’m nowhere near to being an expert on the Road, not like real ‘roadies,’ and I’ve never driven the entire route, but in my mind, heart, and emotions the act of crossing this vast country has taken hold of my mind as a symbol for the hardiness and determination of the people who took it on, especially in those early days.”

As it proved for Steinbeck, Madeline said the name itself – Route 66 – is a pretty awesome beacon, leading the way in her writing adventures. “It is a constant writing inspiration.”

The multi-award-winning author’s first published work, including an Honorary Mention at the London Book Festival, was a short story in Alfred Hitchcock Magazine, which led to her debut crime novel, UNCLE SI’S SECRET. “It’s set in the majestic Cascade Mountain range where the seas of evergreen forests and the seemingly boundless waterways all combined to send my creative juices continually a-whirring”.

California and Route 66 beckoned…

liesBut California and Route 66 beckoned in the 1990s, due to mental pictures and expectations she had of the Mother Road twenty years earlier. It was not as easy as she had imagined, but new settings presented themselves and the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains provided magnificent, magical scenery, inspiring her “Raven” mystery series, then LIES OF CONVENIENCE, and more recently her “Rhodes” mystery series.

dead.route-66-1238115__340Although the romance of the route was a fixed American landmark, it was soon bypassed by the new Interstate Highway System which either paralleled it, resurfaced portions, or went elsewhere, leaving Route 66 abandoned and lined with ghost gas stations and tiny deserted communities. Eventually, it was officially designated as “ceasing to exist.” But you can’t keep an icon like the Mother Road down. It was rediscovered by musicians, hippies, artists, movie makers, and writers.

Madeline is an avid fan of British novelists P.D. James, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Marion Chesney, and others of the Golden Age.  She is published by Aberdeen Bay which describes her books as literary mysteries. “My intent is usually to write a murder mystery but they’ve all somehow gotten out of hand and ended up more what I call ‘character studies’.

Why ravens?

r.ravensAsked if any of her life experiences have crept into her stories, and what exactly was her attractions to ravens, Madeline responds with a smile. Those two things fit together in perfect harmony.

c.ravens“Ravens are indeed a prime example of life experiences creeping into my story-lines, even into the titles, RETICENCE OF RAVENS  and COUNSEL OF RAVENS. 

The ravens love our backyard, most likely because of the bird seed we set out. They seem to be intelligent and even fanciful. For reasons I can’t articulate, ravens seem rather mystical and mysterious. My writing mind went on from there.

“None of my stories carry “messages” but occasionally it can happen, especially after I select a title, and especially with the Rhodes series. I regard the Mojave and Route 66 as a sanctuary where no-longer-needed pasts are blown away in the dust.”

Like many authors, Madeline chafes at having to spend time promoting and publicizing her mysteries. But she enjoys talking to people in person where she can present them with bookmarks or even a few small samples of the stoneware pottery she creates when not writing.  She attends a few writers conferences and loves England but her favorite celebration is the annual Newberry Springs Pistachio Festival on Route 66. It attracts many Europeans, as well as locals, who are “doing the Route” and exploring its ramshackle old cafes, rental cabins, and trading posts.

It is a sure bet author M.M. Gornell will never run out of inspiration for her mysteries thanks to her choosing to live along this fixture of historic and popular culture.

***

stoneMoviecaretaker

M.M. GORNELL

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

 

sign.route-66-868967__340

 

 

This article was posted for Jill Amadio by Jackie Houchin

 

 

NaNoWriMo – No Never! or You Bet!

by Jackie Houchin

NaNo_2019_-_Poster_DesignNa-

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. You knew that, right?  But did you know that it is the largest writing event in the world?  More than 300,000 writers sign up each November for a “simple but audacious” challenge: Write 50,000 words of a novel in a month. In the twenty years of NaNoWriMo, approximately 3 million writers have taken that challenge, including many bestselling authors.

Fifty thousand words in a month means 1,667 words per day. Doesn’t sound too hard, right?  Maybe an hour and a half at the keyboard? Two at most? A mere sliver out of your day.  HA!

I’ve entered NaNoWriMo five times since 2004 and it IS a heck of a lot of writing time; my bottom got numb, my fingers stiff, everything around me was out of my mind except “The Story.”  Sadly, I only completed the challenge once with my novel “Sister Secrets.” The novel was only 2/3 done at 50,000 words, but I never finished it (let alone edited it). It sits in a dusty file in my computer. (sigh)

So, if you plan to write the 50K words in a month, you’d better allow yourself a bit more time. Many NaNo veterans suggest bumping that word count up on the weekdays, in case your weekends get crazy. And remember, in the US, we have the Thanksgiving Holiday in November. (Eek! Can Aunt Sally do the turkey this year??)

Speaking of word count, why 50K? The staff of NaNo believe that this number is challenging, but doable, even for people with full-time jobs and children. It is definitely long enough to be called a novel. That’s about the length of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

-No-

A NaNo novel is defined as “a lengthy work of fiction.” Any genre of novel is okay.

Nonfiction, memoir, biography, essay, unrelated short stories, music, etc. do not qualify. But, if you want to write 50,000 words in any of those categories, there is a special group for you – NaNoRebels. Join that forum and you can chat with your fellow outlaws. You can also use the NaNo site to upload your 50K words and validate your work.

Here’s how one “rebel” couple did it:  Nanotunes-NaNoWriMo-NaNoMusicals

NaNo never questions a manuscript. “This is a self-challenge” say the moderators. “The real prize is accomplishment and a big new manuscript you have at the end. Everything beyond that is icing on the cake.”

-Wri-

There are only a few rules.

  1. Write a 50,000 word (or longer) novel, between November 1st and 30th.
  2. Only count words written during November. None of your previously written prose can be included (although outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine). If you choose to continue a previous work, ONLY count the words you write during November.
  3. Be the sole author.
  4. Upload your novel for word-count to our site during the winning period.
  5. Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.

NaNoWRQI Mo tumblr_pynwv9HiLJ1qd8ab4o2_640“Traditionally, NaNoWriMo works best when you start a brand-new project. It may be an arbitrary distinction, but we’ve seen that novelists do better (and have more fun) when they’re free from the constraints of existing manuscripts. Give yourself the gift of a clean slate!

“That said, we welcome all writers at any stage. Outlines, character sketches, and other planning steps are encouraged, and you’re welcome to continue an old project. Just be sure to only count words written during November toward your goal.”

-Mo

So you decide to accept the month-long challenge, what kind of preparation can/should you do before NaNo begins?  Anything, from a vague idea of your story to one of the detailed outline structures found in the following blog sites.

 NaNoWriMo 6-week Prep.

  • Develop a story idea – September 9-13
  • Create Complex Characters – September 16-20
  • Construct a detailed plot or outline – September 23-27
  • Build a strong world – September 30-October 4
  • Organize your LIFE for writing – October 7-11
  • Find and manage your time – October 14-18

Writers Write – Countdown to NaNoWriMo 1 month Prep.

  • Week One – 1-8 October – Decide on your story idea, protagonist & antagonist, their names, the setting
  • Week Two – 9-16 October – Work out your plot. Give your novel title.
  • Week Three – 17-23 October – Flesh out your characters.
  • Week Four – 24-31 October – Create a timeline. Write a LIST of 60 scenes and sequels that you will include in your novel.

Angel Leigh McCoy on  AngelMcCoyBlog recommends the Milanote.com: “How to start your novel: 5 critical questions you must answer first” article. How to start a Novel

  • The Premise – In 20 words or less, what is this novel about at its core?
  • The Stakes – If the story ended in tragedy, what would that look like?
  • The Core Conflict – What are the opposing sides?
  • The Resolution – How does the core conflict resolve?
  • The Lesson – What is the moral of your story?

There are many more places you can Google to get a head start if you plan to join NaNoWriMo this year.  I know it’s late for most of the above now, but you can do a crash course over an upcoming weekend, or lay out a simple outline to show you a direction.

NOTE: Be sure to check out the blogs above, especially Writers Write which is packed full of writing advice. The daily blog also offers writing tips, writing comics, writing quotes, and writing prompts. They have a monthly Short Story Challenge. And they offer seven extensive online writing courses (fee).  

Speaking of costs, all of NaNoWriMo’s programs (including Camp NaNoWriMo and the Young Writers Program) are FREE.  They run on donations. (tax-deductible) Whether you are writing or not, you can donate here  NaNoWriMo – Donations

You bet!

Yes, I signed up this year. But 50K words? Probably not. But if I get 5K words and finish my children’s mystery “The Bible Thief,” I will jump for joy!

 

Give me a Na!

Give me a No!

Give me a Wri!

Give me a Mo!

Na-No-Wri-Mo!

Hooray!

My Declaration of Accountability

 

NOTE: The links to NaNoWriMo may be a little slow loading right now. They changed their hosting company (Yeah I know, dumb time, right?) but they promise all will be up to snuff in the next week or so.

 

 

Improve Your Introductions and Conclusions in Non-fiction Writing

by Jeanette F. Chaplin

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

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

For your enlightenment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

##

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

Jeanette F. Chaplin, Ed.D.


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

 

 

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

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

 

This article was posted for Jeanette Chaplain by Jackie Houchin

Teaching Writing in Africa

Ah, the stories they tell!

IMG_0643MeTeachOn a recent short-term mission trip to Malawi for my church, I had the opportunity to teach Writing classes to two groups of home schooled MKs (Missionary Kids). These were children from American, Canadian and South African families. There were nine in the 3rd-4th grade group and seven in the 5th grade and up group.

Two years ago I taught most of these kids “How to Write A Short Story.” Their creations were marvelous, and in fact, I posted some of the stories on my blog, Here’s How It Happened. (See the mystery, “The Tay Diamond”,  the action-packed, “The Adventures of Timmy, the Squirrel”,  and the creepy, Twilight Zone-esque “The Mirror”)

IMG_1133Booklet coversAfter reviewing the stories and talking to the other home school teachers, we all agreed that the kids needed help in character development. The action was amazing; the worlds they created were vivid, but the heroes, helpers, and villains were flat and hard to imagine.

This would be my topic then. I prepared workbooks for each of the classes. We did some work in them in class, but there were “homework” assignments for them to do at home as well.

IMG_0645MeTeach Young classBefore I arrived I asked that the kids (both classes) bring the first several paragraphs of a story they had written to class. In class, I had them each read their paragraphs aloud.  There were Captain Jack, Commander of a Starship, twin girls named Peace and Harmony, and a 20-year old girl named Ella who wanted to become a princess (and a dozen others).

I asked the listening students how they “pictured” each of these characters. There was either confused silence or vague and differing descriptions.  I then asked the authors to describe how their characters looked in their own mind’s eye. They came up with a lot of colorful descriptions that were not in their stories. Suddenly they “got the picture,” and from there I showed them ways and examples of taking the images of their characters from their minds and putting them on paper for their readers.

IMG_0640MeTeach Micah,TylerFor the younger class, I had them draw in their workbooks a circle for a face, then slowly add features (eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair) and write a description of each as they went. Next they drew bodies with any kinds of clothes and shoes (or not) they wished.  I had them write why these “characters” were smiling, wearing… glasses, a soccer jersey, a swim suit, a long dress, a tutu, and had on sandals or swim fins. They began to see how to show what their story characters looked like by writing descriptions, and in the process developed more interesting information about them.  (I could see “light” dawning in their eyes!)

We talked about what a boy’s face and posture would look like if he were angry, sad, or excited, and how to describe that in words.  Then I had volunteers come to the front and walk like someone angry, sad, sick, old, or excited. The class called out descriptions of the body movements (facial features, arms swinging, shoulders slumped, stumbling, skipping, marching etc.) that portrayed the emotion.  Suddenly they began to see how they could “show” these actions in their stories instead of simply “telling” the reader that the character was sad or happy.

We talked briefly about similes (and metaphors for the older group). Wow, did they come up with some doozers! At this point I had to remind them not to overload the story with these, but to sprinkle in descriptions as the story progressed in action or conversations.

Character traits 71T4QNm+soLNext, we had fun with thirty-six Character Trait cards (ten seen at left) that I purchased from Amazon.  I had them each choose a positive trait and a negative trait and to explain their choices. I asked them to describe the animals in the picture illustrating the trait.  We talked about how they could write about the kind of person (animal) their character was by using these traits (such as, mischievous, responsible, persistent, mean, honest, loyal, etc.)

As an exercise I had them use these two opposite traits and write a short paragraph in their workbooks, describing how that character trait would look in actions.  “Harmony was dishonest because she….. or  Timothy was peculiar because he….”

For another exercise, I had them draw a large “T” diagram on one page, labeling the left side “What a character looks like” and the right side” How a character behaves.”  They made a few comparisons from their own story characters. At home, they would make more of these diagrams and fill them in for other characters, or ones from books they liked.

IMG_0654 Older writing classFor the older class (all boys, and most writing sci-fi or fantasy) we delved a bit deeper into making their characters memorable by using various ways to describe physical as well as personality traits. They practiced describing a character in an action scene (showing fear or bravery without actually using those words) and played around with using an occasional quirk, flaw, or unconscious mannerism to reveal hidden traits.

We talked about body language and how personal beliefs and moral standards could affect their characters actions and words in certain situations.  These t’weens and teens also enjoyed acting out emotions and physical limitations while the rest of the class called out descriptions. It’s a great exercise in noticing small things and putting them into words. Their favorite was imagining a large magnet across the room, and a piece of iron stuck on various parts of their body (forehead, stomach, etc). They were to show being pulled by that force and trying to resist. (Some were hilarious!)

IMG_0651MeTeach MatthewIMG_0653MeTeach AndrewThese boys also wanted to read from their stories, using some of the descriptions they’d learned inserted here and there.

I think they got it! By George, they got it!  

(I can’t wait to read the complete exciting, imaginative tales!)

At the end of the two-hour sessions, I sent both groups home with assignments to sharpen their skills. Hopefully they will follow through and I will have a new pack of stories to post on my blog, with characters you can clearly imagine, love, or love to hate.

I love these kids, and I really had fun…. as you can see!

IMG_0667MeTeach fun

 

Post Script:  I used several limericks in the classes, to illustrate teaching points, add humor, and keep the class attentive.  One of the kids in the older group took one of these limericks, combined it with a vocabulary assignment from his home school writing class and came up with a HILARIOUS story – The Virtuous Walking Fish.  Check it out too, and leave a comment for Jacob K.