FUN WITH WRITING (AGAIN)

by Miko Johnston

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

One Picture Is Worth….

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

Rapid Writing

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

Crossover Appeal

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

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

“Honku”

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

Why do you delight

 in photographing your meal?

I’d rather eat it

“Spelling Bee”

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

24/7

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

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

DYI “Mad Libs”

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

“The Dating Game” for words

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

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

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

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

Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash

Creating “Spine” Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now it’s your turn.

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

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

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

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

Mystery People

By Jill Amadio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

How Will YOU Tell The Story? Part II

 by Miko Johnston

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

This is my moment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*          *          *          *          *

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

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

Was I, though?

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

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

What about you? Have you begun your story yet?

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mikoj-photo1

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

 

 

*****

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

“A Cruel Blessing” a Ballad

by Jackie Houchin

                 I know this is an unusual post, but in this time of lock-down, I’ve not been able to focus on writing anything new. So I’m presenting this Ballad I wrote for a Creative Writing class at Glendale Community College. I’ve tried to publish it, but no one will take this many stanzas (27), although one of the lines is only ONE word. Can you find it?  And it’s less than 600 words. 

                This ballad is based on a real person I knew, a man who had Grand Mal epilepsy.  

 

“A Cruel Blessing”

 

In olden days, the ancient Land

Of Ararat became

The birthplace of a first born son—

So beautiful, but lame.

 

The lameness was inside of him,

A sleeping fiend, unseen,

That would attack and seize him fast

Once he became a teen.

 

But now, the babe lay peacefully

Against his mother’s breast,

And drank her nectar, white and rich,

And safely took his rest.

 

They double blessed and named the boy

Vartan and Victory.

Then sprinkled him with holy oil

To seal his destiny.

 

A close-knit tribe, his kin instilled

Within their growing child,

A pride of place, and heritage,

A name kept undefiled.

 

The father taught Vartan to war,

Retaliate, defend,

And laid in Victory the love

Of truth, and God and friend.

 

The mother gave him nourishment

To make him strong of limb.

Likewise, the food for soul and mind

She gently forced within.

 

Then on their son they placed this grave

Responsibility,

“The future of this clan does rest

On your integrity.”

 

Relentlessly the clock of months

Ticked thirteen times around.

Vartan approached his manhood proud,

A prince as yet uncrowned.

 

But on his honored day there struck

A death – so fresh, so raw.

The gruesome end of one most dear

Was what young Vartan saw.

 

Then deep within the boy-man’s frame

An aura and a flash

Preceded tremors, shakes and quakes,

A weakness, then a crash.

 

Like frozen forms the family

Around the crumpled lad

Took in with shock and fright the sight,

And wailed, “Our son is mad!”

 

They mourned the loss of hopes and dreams,

(As well, the one so dear),

And wake became a vigil grim;

A sick bed and a bier.

 

Vartan lay still as death that night;

The other’s corpse quite close.

At dawn they lowered bones below,

But Victory arose!

 

A celebration wild with joy

Then met the rising son.

They dared to hope that only once

The dreadful foe had won.

 

Forgotten soon the grievous curse

As manly, Vartan grew.

A wanton woman caught his eye,

Then taught him all she knew.

 

But in the rush of ecstasy

The pleasures turned to pains.

He screamed, convulsed, then toppled down

Amidst a dozen stains.

 

In shame they found the fallen oak

And slowly hauled him home.

Beside the hearth, he warmed and woke

With kin, but all alone.

 

A disciplined and structured life

He thought would bring release.

Vartan desired glory bright,

But Victory sought peace.

 

So in the frozen, northern wastes

A soldier he became.

And hardship burned the dross from him;

A cruel and thorough flame.

 

But still, in light-less days he fell

A victim to his plight.

And so there came to dwell in him

A darkness more than night.

 

A disciplined and structured life—

This time, a different kind;

In solitude and quietness

Release he’d surely find.

 

So to the Church, went Victory.

He knelt, and prayed and read.

Now sixty months of sanity

Have eased his tortured head.

 

A Holy Man, a Prophet true

Is what he’s meant to be.

For holy oil had marked him thus,

And sealed his destiny.

 

Now from the monastery, he

Speaks out the Truth he’s learned,

And prays forgiveness from his kin

For hopes and dreams he’s spurned.

 

For from Vartan no seed will flow

To populate the clan,

And to defend the name and place

There’s no one who will stand.

 

But, praise! The sleeping fiend has fled—

It dared not seize a priest!

So God and Church held Vartan in…

And Victory released.

Vartan 2

Vartan woman

Vartan 3

Vartan monestary

 

  • * * * * *

 

 

 

 

How to Write a Humorous Book (a not-very-serious version)

An Author Guest Post by Marc Jedel

People always ask me about my writing process for my humorous murder mystery series. They’re interested in how I get the ideas and how these turn into a novel. “Magic,” I tell them, but that rarely suffices. Some authors seem to swim in an endless pool of plots and characters, effortlessly plucking out one plot twist or character arc after another until they’ve burned through their keyboard.

Not me.

So how does it work for me?

Research. That’s a fancy term for my process. I start by collecting funny anecdotes, interesting people or snatches of overheard conversations. Back in the days when I used to leave my house, I would add notes to my phone about what I saw in daily life. (Don’t worry if you see me hanging around now, I’ll be wearing a mask.) I also change the names and exaggerate—or combine—the incidents to protect the guilty.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that I pay much more attention to my surroundings than I ever did. I also have become more willing to approach strangers and ask them questions. Who’d have expected that the solitary life of a writer would make me more social?

Plot. As plot ideas smack me in the face, I jot them down before I forget. My extensive study of bestselling books clearly highlighted the importance of having a plot. All those other successful authors must be on to something. I try to come up with ideas for challenges to throw at Marty (my protagonist) and then think about how he might solve the case despite those problems through his powers of self-delusion, attention to detail, and the inability to leave a coherent voicemail message.

Characters. Once I developed the concepts for a few of my regular characters, I find myself wondering how to make life more difficult for them during the course of the book and how they’d react to unexpected situations. Having my novels take place over the course of about a week has been a deliberate approach to force myself to increase the pace and make the characters act and react more often.

Humor. By setting up an imperfect character who’s not particularly good at the one thing the reader expects him to achieve in the story, and then making his life hectic, I’ve found plenty of opportunities for situational humor. Personally, I’ve always been better at coming up with a quick, funny comment in the moment than telling canned jokes. I can never remember punchlines so there’s no chance of my doing standup comedy even if I were funny enough.

Dad Jokes, Puns, Shakespeare Lines and Lyrics as Humor. These make me laugh as I’m writing my stories. Writing can be a long and lonely process, and editing even more boring. My dog is great company but not the best conversationalist so I have to entertain myself as I go. Sometimes that spontaneity happened months ago and I wrote it down and sometimes it comes to me as I’m writing. Typically, the use, or misuse, of parts of music lyrics as dialogue hits me on the spot. Same for most of the puns. Fortunately for readers, my editor is awesome and she removes the attempts at humor that aren’t quite funny enough.

A while back I read a good article about famous Shakespeare put-downs and quotes. That gave me the idea to develop a key character in my third novel, SERF AND TURF, who plays the Bard in Renaissance Faires and tries to use Shakespeare’s quotes whenever possible. He wound up as a fun character who starts off as a suspect and winds up … well, you’ll have to read the book.

Outline. Some writers are ‘pantsers’. This means they fly by the seat of their pants, writing without a detailed plan. Not that they wear pants. Some authors probably do wear pants when they write. That’s kind of a personal question best unasked of an author, especially in these days of shelter-in-place.

I outline. I admit to it. If I didn’t, I’d still be trying to figure out how the book would end, or who gets killed. Creating an outline with each scene on one line of a spreadsheet helps me to look at holes, try to spread out when different side characters show up, and make sure the action keeps moving forward at a good clip. Then I go through all my notes and put most of the notes into the relevant scene so I can include all the right amount of humor as well as balance tense vs wacky situations. Once that’s done, there are no more excuses. It’s time for the next stage.

Write and Edit. This part sounds simple — write, edit, repeat.  Eventually magic makes it good.

My books in the Silicon Valley Mystery series, starting with Uncle and Ants, are humorous murder mysteries. The first three are available as audiobooks from Tantor Audio almost everywhere that audiobooks are sold. The books can be read standalone but I think you’d enjoy reading all 4 of them—and probably enjoy it even more if you buy copies for everyone you know. I know I would.

Silicon Valley is not your typical cozy mystery locale and Marty Golden doesn’t fit the normal profile of a mystery protagonist. Despite finding himself thrust into challenging situations, Marty isn’t exactly hero material. He brings a combination of wit, irreverent humor and sarcasm mixed in with nerdy insecurities, absent-mindedness, and fumbling but effective amateur sleuthing skills. With an active inner voice and not a lot of advanced planning, he throws himself into solving problems. Sometimes, he even succeeds.

Hit and Mist, book 4, was just released on May 8 and can also be read standalone. The books are free to Kindle Unlimited readers. Buy them on Amazon at: amazon.com/gp/product/B07PHNT7XM.  For more about my books or me, please visit www.marcjedel.com.

*****

Bio for Marc Jedel

Marc JadellMarc Jedel writes humorous murder mysteries. He credits his years of marketing leadership positions in Silicon Valley for honing his writing skills. While his high-tech marketing roles involved crafting plenty of fiction, these were just called emails, ads, and marketing collateral.

For most of Marc’s life, he’s been inventing stories. Some, especially when he was young, involved his sister as the villain. As his sister’s brother for her entire life, he feels highly qualified to tell tales of the evolving, quirky sibling relationship in the Silicon Valley Mystery series.

The publication of Marc’s first novel, UNCLE AND ANTS, gave him permission to claim “author” as his job. This leads to much more interesting conversations than answering, “marketing.” Becoming an Amazon best-selling author has only made him more insufferable.

Family and friends would tell you that the protagonist in his stories, Marty Golden, isn’t much of a stretch of the imagination for Marc, but he accepts that.

Like Marty, Marc lives in Silicon Valley where he can’t believe that normal people would willingly jump out of an airplane. Unlike Marty, Marc has a wonderful wife and a neurotic but sweet, small dog, who is often the first to weigh in on the humor in his writing.

Visit his website, marcjedel.com, for free chapters of novels, special offers, and more.

Uncles ants    Chutes Ladders    Serf Turf   Hit and Mist

 

(To read my review of Serf and Turf, click here)

 

 

 

This article was posted for Marc Jedel by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

 

Stuck at Home? Write That Book!

By Jeanette F. Chaplin, Ed.D.

This devastating pandemic took us all by surprise. With no time to prepare, we were suddenly either inundated with work and/or home obligations, or we found ourselves isolated and wondering what to do with all the spare time.

writing-923882_640 (1)Here’s a suggestion for wannabe authors. You’ve pondered that writing project for years; now you have time to get those ideas down on paper (or computer, or recording device). What would it take to turn that dream into a manuscript?

In a perfect stroke of timing, CampNaNoWriMo begins the first of next month. If you’re not familiar with the National Novel Writing Month challenge, it provides a venue for novice and accomplished alike to focus for an entire month on writing. The goal is to produce 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. I’ve done it a few times and managed to produce a satisfactory draft in the allotted 30 days. Except for the year I had an emergency appendectomy on November 6!

CampNaNoWriMo is more flexible, allowing you to work on a project of your choosing, setting your own goals. I’ve signed up and plan to compile my advice for beginning writers. At the same time, I’ll be posting the most relevant tips in my Avid Authors Facebook group. Join me there and immerse yourself in learning about writing at the same time as you write.

bookstore-4343642_640 (1)I’ve opened membership to this site on a temporary basis. Here’s a place for you to learn about the author’s journey from “aspiring” to “avid.” Find out how to improve your writing, where to market your work, and ways to research trends in the industry. Get questions answered from an author who’s been there.

* * * * *

Jeanette Chaplin I’m a semi-retired college English instructor and published author with a doctorate in English composition. I self-published the Self-publishing Guide in 1979 and went on to self-publish print versions of a mystery series and several non-fiction books. I’ve given workshops through libraries, bookstores, writers organizations, and continuing education departments and have written for writers’ newsletters, homeschooling blogs, inspirational magazines, and publications such as the Des Moines Register.

Disclaimer: I focus on writing as a craft and what a beginner needs to know. I’m still learning the ever-changing marketing and digital publishing aspects of the industry. I have no affiliation with NaNoWriMo and receive no compensation for referrals.

Check out the latest writing tips and find more info about the “Camp” at https://www.facebook.com/groups/AvidAuthorsGroup/

 

This article was posted for Jeanette F. Chaplin by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

 

 

My Fishy Introduction to Malice Domestic

by Jill Amadio

 

Ever feel like a fish out of water? As an ex-pat in California where residents are famous for being “the people from somewhere else,’ I humbly claim myself as a prime example. Because I am a Brit from Cornwall I was invited to be a “Fish-Out-of-Water” panelist at the three-day Malice Domestic Writers Conference held in Bethesda, MD just outside Washington, D.C.

Mary HigginsThe event is the largest annual gathering in America for writers and fans of traditional mysteries in the genre of Agatha Christie, which places them in a genre called ‘cozy.” It appears that publishers here prefer authors to be strictly categorized into the type of book they write: romantic suspense, noir, thriller, psychological suspense, hard-boiled, legal thriller, historical, private investigator, cozy, police procedural, and sub-genres such as a sci-fi and the newest, cyber-crime mysteries.

Some crime writers look down their noses at cozy writers. We are often considered to be the low man on the totem pole. No matter. We bask in the knowledge that it attracts hundreds of attendees from all over the country.  It was my first foray into this cozy conference although I am a veteran of Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, Ladies of Intrigue, Surrey International in Canada, and other conferences for cozy writers and readers.

DiggingDeadCover-375x600The second book in my series, “Digging Up the Dead: A Tosca Trevant Mystery” was published just in time for this premier annual event. My main character hails from Cornwall and comes to live in Newport Beach, like me, so the “Fish Out of Water” panel was perfect for us both.  It was fun to explain to the audience that Tosca Trevant, a London gossip columnist (me too!) had rattled the royals by discovering yet another scandal at Buckingham Palace. This led her editor to re-assign her temporarily to America. Cussing mildly in the Cornish language, and coping with a culture that sees no need for a teashop on every corner, the meddlesome, outspoken and humorous Tosca turns amateur sleuth when she stumbles upon human remains in a neighbor’s garden, in the best Miss Marple tradition although Tosca is a younger version.

I was the only ex-pat author among us five panelists at Malice, whose main characters were also considered outsiders rather than police detectives or private investigators. I was bombarded with questions from the packed audience about how I came to live in the United States (“my ex-husband insisted and who needs all that rain back home?”), why I write traditional mysteries (“because Agatha Christie is my muse”) and how I manage to conjure up clues, settings, and plots. My favorite question is usually how I decide who the murderer will be. I answer honestly that I don’t always know until I’m into the story.

In my new book I created a character whom I intended to be the killer but the more I wrote about that person the more I came to like them so I designated someone else to be the villain instead. Another time during the writing of chapter 16 something incredible happened to me. I was writing dialogue wherein a character denies knowing something. GuardianShe was instantly contradicted by a voice behind my chair shouting out, “Yes! You did know!” The voice was male and sounded exactly the way I had described his gravelly voice in a previous chapter. I swung around, dumbfounded. Of course, there was no one there and no one else was in the house. Some writers say their characters often take over their role in a book but this was different. Sam spoke a line of dialogue that added another dimension to the plot. It worked well, surprisingly, giving an extra twist to the story. I didn’t hear from him again nor from anyone else I created so I guess he and the others were satisfied with how the plot was progressing.

One important take-away I have learned from being a panelist and this was particularly true at Malice: make ‘em laugh. I was fortunate enough to be able to describe some of Tosca’s amusing clashes with American culture, a few of which I experienced myself when I arrived in the U.S. Her reactions, though, are a bit more defined and she has no problem expressing herself although most of the time she is proven to have grabbed the wrong end of the stick or has misinterpreted the meaning, which makes for a few giggles.

So the lesson is that the more listeners you can make laugh, the more likely they are to buy your books. The key is for your readers to like you as a person, which can encourage them to believe they’ll like your writing. I was lucky enough to have sold out of my books at that first conference, as did other authors. I’m told that cozy readers make up the bulk of the crime-reading market so I plan to attend Malice Domestic forever. Or as long as I write mysteries.

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JillAmadioHead

Jill Amadio’s mysteries are available in paperback and kindle on amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Nook. She is also the ghostwriter of 16 memoirs and biographies, and co-author of the Rudy Vallee life story, “My Vagabond Lover.”

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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