Mystery People

By Jill Amadio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

 

###

 

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

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.

 

 

 

Changes

by Linda O. Johnston

Linda O Johnston

Everyone’s careers, everyone’s lives, can change.  And does change.

Once upon a time I was a practicing real estate attorney.  I loved what I did, working in-house for a major oil company… that eventually had to sell off its assets, so that job ultimately ended.  My last work for that company consisted of doing project work for the law department’s remaining real estate group for a while, and I used that to continue my practice by doing real estate project work for other attorneys.

Till the economy tanked and I was unable to grab onto any other projects, or even full-time jobs.

I’d already been published by then, in paranormal romance, romantic suspense and cozy mysteries.  Writing then became my main career, and it remains that way today–although which genre I’m writing in does… change.  You guessed it.  I’m currently concentrating on Harlequin Romantic Suspense, which I love, but I’d also love to do some cozy mysteries as well and still remain traditionally published.

Then there are other things that change, like how to connect with other authors and readers, and how to promote my work.  Last year, I attended four conferences, two focusing on romance and two focusing on mystery: Romance Writers of America National Conference,  California Dreamin’, Malice Domestic, and California Crime Writers.  Loved them all.  But two of them, California Dreamin’  and  California Crime Writers, are held by local organizations, and they’re both held every other year, the same year.  Therefore, this is the off year.

I won’t be attending Malice Domestic this year even though I enjoy it, but its focus is cozy mysteries and I don’t have any new ones currently pending.

rwalogoThen there’s Romance Writers of America.  It’s in San Francisco this year, and I’d certainly planned to go there, only…  Well, things have changed in the entire organization.  It’s been rocked by a scandal involving discrimination issues.  I haven’t entirely followed all the changes and nuances, but a lot of people in charge have been ousted from their positions or resigned, and even a lot of members have decided not to renew their membership, even though the discrimination issues will hopefully all be addressed–and eliminated.

I’ve been a member for a long time, and I’m hopeful it will survive–including the local chapters I belong to–so I did renew.  I’d hoped also to still attend the national conference.  But even if it’s held this year, a lot of major traditional publishers have said they won’t participate, and that includes my romance publisher, Harlequin.

Colton First Resp So, instead of four conferences this year, I doubt I’ll attend any.

But will I keep on writing, and possibly in different genres?  Oh, yeah.   That’s who I am.

And by the way, my next published book will be available in about a week. It’s COLTON FIRST RESPONDER, a Harlequin Romantic Suspense novel that’s a February release.

 

 

 

 

This article was posted for Linda O. Johnston by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

 

 

Enjoyable Events

by Linda Johnston

 Who knew?

 When I started getting published, I still believed that writers just wrote. That was before I began joining fun organizations like Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America.

 I learned otherwise fairly fast.  I joined MWA after I accepted my Robert L. Fish Award for Best First Short Story of the year in New York.  When I then began writing time travel romances, I joined RWA and also went to meetings.

 Even so, I had to learn that a good part of promotion is agreeing to be on panels and at special writing events.

So why am I talking about this now? Well, last weekend was a lot of fun.

 First, on Saturday, I was invited to attend Cozy Con, sponsored by Kensington at the Redondo Beach Library. I’ve not written for Kensington, but I was one of the authors there nonetheless.  And it was fun, with lots of opportunities for readers and fans to stop at tables where authors sat and chat for a while. Plus, there were giveaways to readers. And they were able to buy books which we could sign.

tri Color Spaniel dog-634031__340Then, on Sunday, I was on a panel for Sisters in Crime at the Thousand Oaks Library, where several published authors were on Dying Laughing, a mystery authors panel, where we were asked questions about our writing–how it starts, how it continues, and a lot more, including humorous aspects.  And I, unsurprisingly and fortunately, was asked a lot about the dogs in my stories.

 And although those were new events which I definitely enjoyed, they were among lots of others I’ve participated in, and will continue to participate in, as an author.  Local events, not just the many conferences I attend.

 So who believes writing is a solitary sport?  Oh, there are aspects of it that are… like the writing, at least most of the time. But getting out there is part of the career, a fun part of it, although I had to learn how not to be shy when out there giving answers or speeches to people.

 Now? Just ask me, and if the timing and location work for me, I’ll see you there!

How about the rest of you authors out there?

 

lindaphotoLinda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, currently writes two mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries, and the Superstition Mysteries.  She has also written the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and also currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries about shapeshifters for Harlequin Nocturne.  Her most recent release is her 44th published novel, with more to come.

 

 

 

 

This article was posted for Linda O. Johnston by Jackie Houchin

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

 

 

September Memory

by Miko Johnston

When you read this my husband and I will in France for an annual international conference that we’ve attended most years since 1993. All have been wonderful and enriching experiences, but one will always stick out in my memory until my dying day.

We arrived in Grenoble on a warm Saturday and after checking into our hotel, wandered to the main street for dinner. We’d been attending these conferences for enough years to have met and befriended many of the attendees, so when we passed a few of them sitting outside a restaurant they invited us to join them. The organization chairman ordered mussels and white wine for the table.

zan-ilic-WrueFKpTlQs-unsplashSoon waitstaff brought out steaming five-gallon pots filled with briny shellfish, loaves of French bread and bottles of chilled wine – a white Beaujolais, which I’d never heard of before. I took one sip and delighted in its light freshness, its unpretentiousness, like young girls in summer dresses.

More attendees showed up and joined our group, and soon extra tables were added as our numbers grew. We ate and drank, laughed and caught up with each other’s lives as more orange-enameled cast iron pots of mussels emerged from the kitchen, more bread, and more of that innocent young wine.

This was September 8, 2001.

Three days later, as I returned from a morning of hiking up La Bastille hill and riding down the spherical cable cars known as “Les Bulles” (bubbles), I returned to my hotel room shortly after three and turned on the television to CNN. I saw coverage of a plane that had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York. My first instinct was to blurt, “What the ___?” but before I could get the words out I watched as a second plane hit the other tower.

world-trade-center-67695_960_720Not wanting to be alone, I found my husband and we gathered with other Americans in the lobby, where we watched the horror continue to unfold on a big screen. We gathered in small groups to commiserate. One friend had a brother who worked in the first tower (miraculously, he wasn’t there that day). Another recognized a name from the passenger list of one of the planes that hit the tower – his former boss. All of us were too shocked to respond until he said, “If anyone deserved to go like that, it was that SOB.”

Then the first tower collapsed.

That evening the conference attendees and their guests had been invited to the Hotel de Ville  – the administrative building of the city – for the annual reception hosted by the mayor. It usually involves a brief greeting and welcome, followed by drinks and refreshment. Instead, we gathered with the mayor and city officials in a moment of silence followed by the usual greetings to the attendees, albeit in a more subdued manner.

Then we left, passing the restaurant we’d dined in Saturday night. Someone inquired if they could accommodate our group for dinner. They could, but for our numbers, not outside. They took us to a separate room upstairs.

Once again we gathered, not outside but in a converted attic to eat and talk. You can imagine the conversation. The pots of mussels soon appeared, along with the bread, but not that delicate wine. Every bottle of white Beaujolais was gone, along with our innocence.

new-york-4321235_960_720

##

 

mikoj-photo1

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

 

 

 

This article was posted for Miko Johnston by Jackie Houchin

 

 

 

 

Conferences and Writing

by Linda O. Johnston

RWA2019_FINAL LOGOI attended the Romance Writers of America National Conference last week in New York City.  Am I glad I did?  Yes, mostly because of the wonderful people I saw, meeting up with those I knew professionally and as friends–or both.  I’ve been attending RWA conferences for many years and for different reasons, but that’s the most important.

I also attended three other conferences this year, some of which I have mentioned here.  One of the others, California Dreamin’, was a local romance writers’ conference.  Two of the others were mystery writers’ conferences: Malice Domestic, and the California Crime Writers Conference.  Yep, that’s a lot of conferences.

So why do I do it?  Yes, to meet up with those kinds of people I mentioned.  And that’s the most important reason for me these days.  But I also attend workshops and meals and other related events.

Do they help my writing career?  I think so, or I wouldn’t go.

But if you’re a writer, should you attend conferences?  Why not?  At least those for the genres you write in.  I always tell other writers, especially those just starting out, to join writers’ organizations in their genres and attend local meeting of their chapters.  Conferences help you meet others in different stages of writing and sales, which can also help your career.

Did I enjoy the RWA conference this year?  Yes, but I had some issues with it, too–one of which was the hotel we were in and its horrible elevator service. But I did get to visit the AKC Dog Museum.

Plus, this year, I hardly attended any conference workshops. No time, thanks to the various Harlequin meetings and workshops. I also had less interest in most of the topics than in the past, although the ones I did attend were helpful for research purposes. My favorites were, one on creating  series, where I got some other people’s takes on how they do it, another workshop on forensics in fiction, and another on twists in stories.

Will I attend RWA next year?  Most likely.  I’m under contract for four new Harlequin Romantic Suspense books, some of which will be published by then, and it’s always good to make contact with the editors and others at a publishing house in person like that.  Plus, it’s in San Francisco, which is a lot closer to LA than New York is.

Maybe I’ll see you there!

lindaphotoLinda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, currently writes two mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries, and the Superstition Mysteries.  She has also written the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and also currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries about shapeshifters for Harlequin Nocturne.

 

***

 

This article was posted for Linda O. Johnston by Jackie Houchin. 

 

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.

 

 

Me? Write a Memoir? But…!

by Gail Kittleson

Decades ago, some friends invited us to go rafting on a local stream. I thought our son, three years old at the time, would be excited, but he said,

          “I’m scared of those rabbits, Mommy.”

          “Rabbits?”

          “Yeah. Evelyn said we’re going to come to some rabbits…”

Those rapids would’ve scared me, too, if I thought they might hop into our raft. After a bit of explanation about the mild rapids, our son loved rafting.

**

Misunderstandings often ground our fears, and this proves true with writing. Being afraid to express our anxieties in black and white originates in false assumptions:

  1. What we write may be used against us.
  2. There’s a ‘right’ way to write, and we haven’t learned how.
  3. Once we write something down, we’re bound to the perspective we embraced at the time.
  4. Once written, our words will be “golden,” and therefore, we can’t destroy them.

          First of all, what we write may be used against us. But this is no reason to forego all the benefits of the process. Writing in a safe place that no one ever sees has done wonders for many people experiencing trials.

The feeling that we have no control over who might see what we write can keep us bound by the tide of emotions swirling inside us. Launching out to safely journal our thoughts, tied irrevocably to those emotions, may seem beyond our power.

          In order to take this tentative step, we must unlearn the second misconception, that there’s a ‘right’ way to write. Nothing could be farther from the truth. No perfect method for expressing what we feel exists.

In fact, the ‘perfect way’ will be the way our words come out. Each person’s story contains unique content, since it comes from our one-of-a-kind inner being. Each of us perceives even the identical situation with variations.

A family outsider, my sister, or my brother will see what I remember differently than I do. But my first feeble step—even if that amounts to writing one short paragraph about what’s transpiring inside me—unleashes immense healing power.

          Now to the third misnomer: we are not bound by our viewpoint at any given time. A glance around us reveals that everything changes constantly. The only constant is change, as they say.

If I still looked at what I experienced fifteen years ago with the same eyes, I would be in big trouble. But the thing is, I would never have arrived at my present perspective if I hadn’t started writing down my thoughts and feelings.

          At the time, my journal pages seemed somehow sacred, and they were. But as the years have passed, I’ve grown, and at certain points, I let go of certain writings from the pasts. Burned them, because they no longer seemed ‘golden.’ Some of them, I kept and edited. And re-edited, and re-re-edited into a memoir. That’s not the route for everyone, but proved to be an important part of my journey.

The point is, your writings are your writings. You have the right to choose what to do with them, including chucking them down a sinkhole never to be seen again.

And the broader point is that in the darkness of an emotional avalanche, we cannot even know what we think. By allowing words to flow from us, we invite clarity, and through this process, discover truths we would never have imagined.

Words equal an enormous gift—penned quietly in secret places, they blossom like hidden desert plants that bloom in darkness, where no one observes. But their flowers bear perfume, attracting the necessary insects for pollination. It may be that we will rework and launch our writings into a published memoir, but either way, this practice can become a powerful experience.

“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than You.” 
Dr. Seuss

 

Gail Kittleson 2

When Gail’s not steeped in World War II historical research, writing, or editing, you’ll find her reading for fun, gardening, or enjoying her grandchildren in Northern Iowa. She delights in interacting with readers who fall in love with her characters.

Gail Kittleson taught college expository writing and ESL before writing women’s historical fiction. From northern Iowa, she facilitates writing workshops and women’s retreats, and enjoys the Arizona Ponderosa forest in winter.

catching up

Catching Up With Daylight; a Journey to Wholeness, is Gail’s own memoir. She and her husband began renovating an old house after he returned from a deployment in Iraq.  The book is “a gorgeous tapestry of non-fictional thoughts. This very gifted author knows how to weave her thoughts, memories, and the history of the old house she is refurbishing into a journey of emotional and spiritual wholeness.”

 

Women of the Heartland, Gail’s World War II series, highlights women of The Greatest Generation: In Times Like These, April 2016, With Each New Dawn, February, 2017 A True Purpose (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, and Word Crafts Press, December, 2017.)

 

  Cover_APuroseTrue    With Each New Dawn    In-times-like-these
Visit her at the following social media sites:

 ******
NOTE: This article was posted for Gail Kittleson by The Writers In Residence member, Jackie Houchin

The Importance of Setting

Guest Post by Patricia Smiley*

michael-discenza-331452-unsplashYears ago I bought a novel written by a well-known author because it took place in Seattle, a city where I’d lived, went to school, and worked for many years. A few chapters in, I was dismayed that the descriptions of setting were so generic that the story could have taken place anywhere. It was almost as if that the author had never set foot in the city.

Setting matters. The place of your novel includes the broader vistas into which you set the story, such as the culture and customs of the people who live there, history, land, floral and fauna, and even the shape of the clouds. It’s also where each scene takes place, be it the backseat of a Mini Cooper, an English garden, a Federal prison cell, or a home kitchen.

We were given five senses for a reason. Detail specificity enriches your writing. Don’t just say the kitchen was messy; describe the smell of spaghetti sauce oozing down the wall, the feel of that sticky green substance puddled on the floor next to the baby highchair, and the tick tock of the antique grandfather clock in an otherwise silent room. Descriptions should not just be an inventory of the space. Each one must illuminate an element of plot, theme, or character and, in the case of this kitchen, raise a myriad of dramatic questions about what happened there and to whom.

Description as fine sauce. Descriptions need not be long and rambling, but a writer must persuade the reader that the story is real. Even people who’ve never been to a location should feel as though they’re experiencing it firsthand. This also applies to imaginary settings. To prevent long passages of boring prose, take Elmore Leonard’s advice, ”Don’t write the parts people skip.” Instead, distill the essence of a place into a fine sauce. Below is an example of reporter Jeffrey Fleishman’s brilliant and evocative description of Port Said, Egypt, from the Los Angeles Times:

“This shipping city of factory men, with its whispers of colonial-era architecture, was once a crossroads for intellectuals, spies and wanderers who conspired in cafes while the Suez Canal was dug and Egypt’s storied cotton was exported around the globe. Rising on a slender cusp in the Mediterranean Sea, the town exuded cosmopolitan allure amid the slap of fishing nets and the creak of trawlers.”

Don’t trust your memory—verify. Get the specifics right. Nothing takes a reader out of the story faster than getting hung up on inaccurate details. If you can’t visit the location, read travel blogs, talk to friends with knowledge of the area, consult Google Maps, online photos, and YouTube videos.

People like to “travel” when they read. Effective use of description creates atmosphere and mood, and stimulates emotions. Anyone who is familiar with the cold, bleak settings in Scandinavian crime novels or films knows how integral “place” is to every part of those stories. So, give your readers a compelling setting and then wish them a bon voyage.

_______________

patty-smiley-250-shadow

Patricia Smiley is the author of four novels featuring amateur sleuth Tucker Sinclair. Her new Pacific Homicide series profiles LAPD homicide detective Davie Richards and is based on her fifteen years as a volunteer and a Specialist Reserve Officer for the Los Angeles Police Department.

The third in that series, The Second Goodbye, is set for release on December 8, 2018.

Patty’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Two of the Deadliest, an anthology edited by Elizabeth George. She has taught writing at various conferences in the U.S. and Canada and also served as vice president for the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America and as president of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles.

PatriciaSmiley.com

3books
______________
Photo by Michael Discenza on Unsplash
*This blog article is posted for Patricia Smiley by The Writers In Residence member, Jackie Houchin