Thursday, May 31, 2007

Have you been on a cemetery walk?

No, I don't mean a ghost tour in some of our larger cities, although they are fun. If you get a chance to go on one this summer, they offer an evening's entertainment.

I mean a cemetery walk in your community, where descendants share their story with you, the public. Many historical societies have become involved in these living tours, sharing a bit of local history with its citizens.

Last January I was asked to write a few scripts for our town's upcoming cemetery walk. The nine people selected as honored guests for the tour were all veterans. The walk was scheduled for Armed Forces Weekend, May 20th.

Our team of writers dug through old obits, talked to descendants of the ones to be honored and did some general research of the times and war they had been a part of. I soon became intrigued with the three stories I was in charge of writing. One man, Caleb, was a veteran of the War of 1812. None of his descendants had known him of course, actually it was the other way around, his family found him through a geneology search and discovered him in the local cemetery in the old part no longer used. His stone was in great shape and his story gradually came to life. He moved from New York to Illinois, bringing his family with him when he was 57 years old. As a vet he was granted 160 acres of bounty land and finally took it 47 years after the war. Why he waited so long no one knows.

Another man in character as his father during World War II, talked of his pilot days in Europe. He'd flown twenty-two missions. An unexpected storm and battle fatigue of one of his fellow pilots caused a fatal accident taking his life and the crews of seven other bombers. It took my breath away to watch this man portray his father, a father he doesn't remember except through the stories told by his family.

Our only woman honored was portrayed by her sister. Minnie was a army nurse on a naval ship during the same war. She and several others were confronted with a drunken sailor while aboard ship. His thrashing about knocked her so hard against the floor that she suffered epileptic seizures the rest of her life. Her military career was over, but she continued with her nursing until a seizure took her life at the age of forty-five.

And then there's the scotsman, James Hamil, who our local VFW post is named after. He came to America, became a citizen and went to fight for his new country during WWI. James was the first soldier killed from my small town. The pictures of his flag draped coffin and horse drawn caisson with military escort to the cemetery lend solemn dignity to his life. He represented so many other immigrants who found a home in rural Illinois. Many just like him had been seeking a new life and new freedoms. All understood the price he paid to keep that freedom.

I could tell you about Fred who fought in Cuba during the Spanish American War and his part in Teddy Roosevelt's ride up San Juan Hill. Or I could mention Don and his miserable stay in the cold winter of Korea during that conflict. And the story of Robert aboard the USS Caldwell for three long years. But what I'm hoping you will garner from this article is this - others came before you and me, they built strong communities, defended our country and handed us something to be proud of. Maybe you live in a sleepy little town like I do, maybe you live in a thriving metropolis, it doesn't matter. It's our turn to take care of our communities, our turn to honor our country and our time to stand strong for what is right.

Who knows, some day, decades from now, your historical society may decide to do a cemetery walk about our generation, our time on duty so to speak. We don't need to have a military background to have served our community or our country. What we need is initiative to change things for the better, even if we're old like Caleb was. And the best place to make a difference is at home, the place that matters most.

Til next time ~

DL Larson

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Writers are Gamblers

I was over at Lake of the Torches Casino again yesterday playing the slot machines. It's a form of entertainment where I get totally engrossed in a machine and forget everything else except whether or not I achieve what I'm aiming for. The games offer rewards, large and small, along the way, but what players are really aiming for are what are called "screens" or "bonuses" which provide free spins or jackpots.

So, a person can play, get good or even great hits, yet not get a screen or bonus. Some people are satisfied and stop at that point. The true players play on until they get a screen or a bonus. One is not enough. The more the better.

I'm one of those stubborn players and refuse to give up no matter how much I'm losing. That can be bad. Sometimes the money disappears and I have nothing to show for it. It can also be good. Sometimes I get what I've been looking for and the rewards are stupendous.

You guessed it - Once again I'm making an analogy to writing. Writers are like players at a casino. We invest time and money learning our craft, doing promotion, going to conferences, buying how-to-books and magazines, etc. Then the book is finished and we get praised by family or friends, maybe critique groups. We win contests or awards. Some of us stop right there and don't submit our manuscripts for publication.

For those in the game to stay, we figure out how and where to submit and do it more than once to achieve the screen or bonus of publication. Once we get that goal it's still not enough. We want it to happen again and again. No only that, we want the screen or bonus to be really big, an experience we'll always remember.

Like gamblers, to achieve that great screen or bonus sometimes we have to make sacrifices that are hard to make. There's no guaranty that even if we put our heart and soul into achieving our dreams that they'll actually come true.

We have to remember - If we don't play, we can't win.
Morgan Mandel

Monday, May 28, 2007

Domain NameTheft

It's Memorial Day, and I'm sitting outside working on the edits for my upcoming book, The Next Adventures of Guy ... more wackiness.

It's a gorgeous day ... though I'm sticking to the shade so glare won't make it impossible to read the screen. Dont'cha love laptops? Anyway, I just posted a blog on Book Place, but I think the message is important enough to 'cross blog.' Especially since one of our own Acme Authors was involved.

Because of writer's conferences and such, I have met hundreds of writers, and gotten to know some of them better over drinks or at author fests. Still, though, there are thousands and thousands of writers in the various genres. So how surprising is it to hear the same story from two of the few that I know a little better? The story?

That of domain-theft.

This isn't really my story, but you have to hear it. One of the writers from the Mystery Writers of America posted a message on our Chat Board that someone had somehow swiped her domain name ... which was simply her name. It wasn't because the thief shared the same name, he wanted it and simply took it. She actually tracked down the jerk, and his explanation was that he 'collects' writer's domain names.

Yeah, you heard me, er, read me. He collects them!

She managed to get it back from him after pleading that her professional success depends on people being able to find her, and this is best done by having a website named after her. It ended up costing her nothing but a period of absolute panic.

Her message prompted a series of alarmed postings, and one more horrible tale:

Another writer told how his had been swiped, too, but when he contacted the perpetrator, he was told he could have it back ... for a price. The person who took it did so simply for monetary purposes. This writer told him to just keep it, and he simply changed his domain name. Hopefully later, the thief will let his illegitimate ownership lapse and the writer can get it back if he wants it.

My domain name is named after me, too,, in the hopes that the millions of people (I hope) who hear of me can find me. But every year or so, I get a mailing from a domain-naming company that offers to 'renew' my domain name for me. The first time I received this, I frantically contacted my web page company who assured me that they do this for me as a part of my contract with them.

So the word is, my friend writers, is 'writer beware.' There are people out there who want to make money without working for it. And they don't always do it at gunpoint.

The Adventures of Guy ... written by a guy (probably)
and coming soon, The Next Adventures of Guy ... more wackiness

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Decoration Day -- by Larry D. Sweazy

When I was a kid, my mom and grandparents called Memorial Day Decoration Day. We would load up wreaths and flowers and visit the cemeteries where all of my relatives were buried. It was important. It was a tradition. Our own version of Day of the Dead. Personally, as a kid, I thought it was weird and morbid. The last thing I wanted to do on a 3 day weekend was visit the cemetery. I was going to live forever, right? Graveyards were for old people that I could barely remember or had never met at all. All of the flags and flowers were pretty, but I didn’t figure the dead people could appreciate them, so what was the point?

Funny how middle-age changes things. Death is a certain reality. By the time you’re 50, it’s almost guaranteed you have lost someone you truly love, that you’ve been touched or devastated by a lingering or a sudden death. But…it’s easy to forget that Memorial Day is more than a long weekend meant for relaxing and cooking out. Or maybe not. Who wants to think about death? Who needs to remember the pain? Who needs to stare at the inevitable end of our own life?

As writers…we do. We must. Life is a fragile, precious commodity, and if we don’t feel that way, then how can our characters truly come alive? How can we write about death without facing it ourselves. Especially us mystery writers…but all writers must have a sense of urgency in their work, a foreboding future lurking around the next corner, blood throbbing in the veins. Our work has to have life in it.

My novels and short stories are littered with dead people. My memory as a human being is jam-packed with dead people. This weekend, I will honor them by planting flowers, by participating in a tradition I once thought was ridiculous. I will visit the graves of my mom and my grandparents, and I will say thank you for teaching me to remember.

By honoring the past, by letting go of the things we cannot change, we can face the future with hope and courage—dream our own dreams while there is still time. We can do our best work, in memory of the past, because we were touched or devastated, because we choose to face the reality of our own end by placing a few flowers on a tombstone.

Love and memory live in every petal of every flower, in every flapping flag. If we can capture that universal moment and put a little bit of Decoration Day into our work, the urgency of life and the fragileness of it, then we have succeeded as writers…and as human beings.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Solitary Life of a Writer...until publication by Margot Justes

I write because I love to see words create an image, capture the imagination. I have learned how to tell a story.

As writers we sit in our offices, or in tiny spaces reserved just for us. Solitude..we are in harmony with our environment. I won't even have a phone in my office.

We tell our stories, but all of us want to get published, to get validated. Think about what happens once you get that phone call.

It happened to me, Echelon Press said yes. Nirvana hit, I was going to be published. Did I think what was going to follow, absolutely not. My name was going to be in print. My books were going to be sold. But were they? Who is going to know about me, my name is not Nora Roberts or James Patterson (I guess that's good, the James part at least) I will not automatically be on the best seller list.

Karen Syed, my publisher said work on your name recognition, start now. Is she right, absolutely, she is the expert. Now comes the dilemma, the solitude evaporates, and we must suddenly throw ourselves into the public arena.

We must blog, write articles, create contests, make public appearances, attend conferences and promote our books. Does that make us better writers, maybe, does that get our name out there in cyberspace, nationally and locally, absolutely. Do we collectively grow stronger, more assured, I believe so.

We learn how to promote ourselves, because that is what we are selling. But the dichotomy continues, writing is a solitary endeaver, selling that writing most assuredly is not.

Till Saturday,

Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris
Echelon Press, June 2008

Friday, May 25, 2007


Part 2

The human brain sorts its mail via images, so it behooves us to use verbs that carry the weight and smell of an image (was standing is weak beside stood; was climbing weak beside climbed, was about to decide is weak beside decided). We call on simile and metaphor and extended metaphor, but the absolute is even more powerful than these. Absolute detail, as in a Name is a photo in the mind, as a Number is an instamatic shot for the mind. Metaphorical language then and Verb Choice then create style and voice; and if we choose verbs that fire off shots of photographic moments as in SLAMMED, divorced, cuddled, crammed, leapt, jarred, frightened over the weak helping verbs as in the door WAS slammed or about to be slammed, we don’t hear the firing off of the “slam” itself. Nothing really slamming there as it is going to slam or going to be about to slam (see what I mean about politician-speak?) My fellow Americans, the bomb was defused by the heroic soldier, or the door on the Humvee was about to be slammed, or on its way to being slammed…well…they were thinking about maybe getting a divorce, they had sorta been cuddling, was cramming, was about to leap, was feeling a bit frightened—THESE all REDUCE the photo or blur it considerably. We clip ourselves at the knees when we overuse ly-words and qualifiers in which sentence the strong verb is relegated to a murmur somewhere along the line of thought.

Most assuredly helping and passive voice verbs such as was\were SLOW the action and the firing of the photo in the brain of the reader if it gets there at all. Strong female VOICE carries the day in crime fiction with female leads who are SURE not unsure, and who do not qualify unless there is great good reason to do so. The ‘secret’ to creating strong voice, male or female is the same!

There is/was/has been no more insidious word in the English language to insinuate itself on sentences like a parasitic leech than the verb to be, and in particular the word WAS. Take a moment and picture for me a was in your head; next, define the word was in the manner you might define any action/active verb and you cannot. Picture was now in your mind and tell me what you ARE\WAS seeing? Do same for throw/threw/thrown or torch/torched. Jessica bolted from her seat RATHER THAN Jessica was about to maybe stand up as she was sipping her coffee. Meredyth torqued up her language whenever Lucas Stonecoat entered her office. The man engraged her. Enraged is the verb, not was enraged, or was growing angrier by the minute. These examples of action over passivity “fire off” mental imagery and are far more photographic and strong like bull…strong in Voice than is this: Meredyth was (in the process of) thinking about perhaps torquing up her language whenever she was confronted by Lucas’s presence in her office. Lucas, by the same token, was nervously thinking about maybe entering the room. If you wish to write Passively go write speeches for politicians and Supreme Court justices, and others who are trying to save their backsides from their tongues.

Robert W. Walker

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Some Dreams Really Do Come True

The pancakes were delicious this morning. We made extra because my daughter took a badly needed day off from her work as a high school guidance counselor and joined us for the day. She brought with her the floor plans to the remodeling project she and her husband are about to begin. This is no simple room addition, oh no, not my daughter. This is buying five acres of the Larson farm and farm house. This is a project of major proportions. The farm house is coming down and a new home will be built on top the existing foundation.

This is a dream I unintentionally handed down to my daughter. See, I lived in that very home for twenty-six years until my husband and I chose to walk across the road and build a new home. For twenty-six years I dreamed of pushing down walls, moving bathrooms and expanding bedrooms and playrooms. I wanted the yard, it's a beautiful yard with mature trees and flower beds my family and I put in. It's the yard my children played in. But I also wanted a new home. Walking away from that dream of making the Larson farm house into something to be proud of was difficult to do. Remodeling would not be practical too many contractors told us. It wouldn't be financially sound. The house was still in good livable condition. We should rent it out and build somewhere else. And so, eventually, we did just that.

I love my home. It's still on the Larson farm, it's something to be proud of for the next generation. But my daughter, she didn't let that dream go. She had the vision, the same vision I had for so many years. And she married a risk taker.

Isn't it funny how some dreams just won't die? They hang on, lurking in the back of our minds, like characters that have yet to make it to the printed page. But still they wait, knowing some day, some how they will come into existence. And so my long-ago dream of remaking the Larson farm house has bloomed again. Only it's not my dream anymore, I gave it away. But I was very careful who I handed that dream to. I gave it to the one person I knew who could protect it til that right time came to make it a reality.

The demolition will begin this summer. I'm excited and scared. Scared that this is costing a bundle of money and scared of what they might find ~ mold, rot and other icky things that will cost even more money to get rid of. But the excitement overrides all that. This is a dream coming to life. It feels a bit surreal, in a good way.

But mostly, I'm proud of the dreamer who wants to raise her children on the Larson farm, the farm where she grew up. The backyard where she used to play. And I'm thankful that sometimes, yes, sometimes dreams really do come true.

Til next time ~

Deb (DL Larson)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


The Cicadas are coming, the Cicadas are coming. That's all I hear about these days. The invasion is expected any minute, any day. Once these sleeping insects awake and rise from their burrows, the noise will be horrific.

At first, they'll go through the nymph phase, finding their way around. After that, they'll break free of their shells and soar. It won't last long - only a few months. Their presence will be a nuisance, but they'll be harmless. I've been told they make great eating for pets – even humans who dare to experiment.

I can't resist an analogy to my life as an author. In my underground stage, I learned my craft, writing and rewriting stories, hoping some day someone would appreciate them. During that time, I attended mystery conferences, religiously went to Chicago-North RWA meetings where I participated in critiques and served on the Board. I pitched, I submitted, I did whatever I could to get published.

Then it happened. After an interview at the Love is Murder Mystery Conference, Janice Strand from Hard Shell Word Factory accepted my Two Wrongs manuscript. Within a year, I was no longer I wannabe, but a published author.

Everything took on a new perspective as I adjusted to my new role. I was like a nymph Cicada, up from the ground, finding my way around, asking other published authors what to do. I learned how to set up a website. I learned where to go for bookmarks, author labels and other paraphernalia indicating I was a real author. I scurried around finding websites to post on, setting up booksignings, reviews, anything that would get my book noticed.

Now I'm an adult author. It's been over a year since Two Wrongs first came out in February, 2006. My book will still be available for at least another year from the original publication date and that's good. I've learned a lot, but the more I know, the more I need to know. I've laid the groundwork and it's time to break out.

I'm up and running. I schedule at least one booksigning a month. I participate in panels. I network with other authors. I work the Internet, joining e-groups and contributing in their discussions, commenting on and doing blogs in every conceivable place –, my individual blog at, my group blog at and other sites. I make friends on MySpace and post bulletins there. I join Ning networks and make more friends.

I also set up my own Ning network, Book Place, at to share and promote books of all genres. I've got videos and a book trailer on my website and YouTube and numbers of other places. I hand out business cards whereever I go.

I'm an adult author. I've broken free and I'm flying. I will make my name known and I intend for my career to last a lot longer than the Cicada's few months!

Morgan Mandel

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ride to Write, Write to Ride

This is the first in what I intend to be a series about writing and riding. I do both. I make my living both as a writer and as a manager of writers--my day job is as a technical communications manager at HSBC, the 2nd or 3rd largest bank in the world (every place but the states), depending on who is measuring and what they're measuring. And one of my passions is writing book length works of fiction and non-fiction. So you could say I write to work and work to write. But I also ride to work (less so now that my commute is along Chicagoland's asleep at the wheel commuter filled expressways) and work to ride, so carrying the equation to it's logical end, I ride to write and write to ride.
So the upcoming thesis is simple: as writers, there is much we can learn from bikers. In fact, these two activities are so much alike that I wonder if many writers aren't bikers, and vice versa. Time to do some research--did the American greats ride? Contemporary big names--do they have motorcycles?
One contemporary small name does--me. For me, the open road is a blank sheet of paper, and a blank sheet of paper is the open road. This may seem contradictory coming from someone who preaches and practices the creative discipline espoused in NOVELIST'S BOOT CAMP, but
A) I have earned the right to contradict myself
B) F. Scott Fitzgerald, who I will now misquote, once wrote that "the true test of a superior intellect is the ability to hold two contracting ideas in one's mind at the same time."
C) There's more discipline in motorcycling than the uninitiated know.
And with those as teasers, I'll pick this up next time.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Wonderful World of Reviews

Rob Walker passed word along about a great review he'd gotten from the Chicago Tribune, and it got me to thinking ...

(shaddup - okay, mebbe it's not too good to overtax both brain cells, but they are somewhat capable)

... anyway, as I was saying ...

(boy, I hate it when I interrupt myself)

You did it again!


You said you hate it when you interrupt yourself, then you went ahead and did it again.

Oh, sorry.

(Ahem. Sometimes those two brain cells aren't on the same page.)

Anyway, it got me thinking...


(silence as your intrepid blogger struggles to remember his point)

Oh, yeah...

... it got me thinking how wonderful reviewers are that they can make a seasoned writer like Rob so happy when he's already validated by the fact that he has a dozen published books.

What? Over forty? Oh, my bad.

With a book on the way, and just a modest one book under my belt (along with a few misplaced pounds), I remember well my first reviews ... especially since they were just last year. Imagine a newby's thrill when Midwest Book Reviews wrote, "... very strongly recommended..." and, "Norm Cowie is a truly skilled and engaging storyteller..."

I am?

I mean, of course I am.

But for a stranger to write it? Not only that, but a highly skilled, obviously intelligent professional?

I know how Rob is feeling right now, because I just received a new review from Pop Syndicate, four and a half stars, and they said, "...takes on stereotypes with his satirical wit and unique creative twists ... a great read for both men and women."


I just about sprained a finger cutting and pasting this on my website

Anyway, we are fragile humans and after agonizing and sweating for months and getting invested in our characters' lives, it's GREAT when the public proclaims, "this was worthy."

Worthy of my efforts...

... of Rob's efforts...

... and anyone who ever put pen to paper, or, uh, finger to keyboard.

Notice how I turned the news of Rob's great review into stuff on me? Sneaky, huh?

That's something else altogether... BSP (Blatant Self-Promotion)

Norm Cowie
The Adventures of Guy ... written by a guy (probably)
and coming soon, The Next Adventures of Guy .... more wackiness

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Day Job -- by Larry D. Sweazy

I don’t know too many writers who don’t have day jobs, myself included. Most of us try to juggle work, family time, chores, and writing—and something, or someone, always seems to get slighted because of the time we take for our writing. Most of the time, it’s our writing that suffers.

No work—no money to pay the mortgage. Ignore your family and you’re likely to face a rebellion after a while and lose the much needed support for your writing career. Chores. Personally, I can only let the yard grow into a weed patch for so long—and I feel like I need to pull my weight so my wife doesn’t have to do everything around the house.

So—how do we fit in our writing time?

I’m lucky. No question about it. I work at home and don’t have the constraints of a Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 job. But…I have deadlines every day. I work a lot of Saturdays and Sundays. I work until 9 or 10 at night a lot. Essentially, I work every day. Sometimes, I think it would be easier for me as a writer if my work schedule was more structured.

More about my day job in a second.

Like I said, I’m lucky. I write the first thing in the morning. After I have poured myself a cup of coffee and let the dogs out to do their business. I don’t stop until I get the number of pages written I have set for myself that day, usually 4. I spend about 2 hours writing, then I shift gears, get a shower, and go to work. A few things things are important here. First, I have a daily writing goal, 4 pages. Second, I make writing a priority. I spend at least ten hours a week writing—and I write at the same time every day.

So—where do YOU find an extra 10 hours a week? What do you sacrifice? Giving up watching the evening news gives you 5 hours—and you’ll be in a better mood if you don’t watch all the bad stuff anyway. Giving up watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune gives you another 5 hours. Or you can spread 10 hours over 7 days and you have less hours to find every day. The point is, you can find the time. You have to. Or you won’t be writing. And you won’t be a writer.

I’ve often told people who say they want to write but don’t have the time to write a page a day (7 pages a week) and after year, you have a novel. Plain and simple, if writing is important to you, you’ll find the time. No matter what your day job is.

Now, about my day job. I own a publishing services company, but my primary job is indexing. I write 50 to 60 back-of-the-book indexes a year. That averages one a week, but life is never that simple. Most of the time my projects come is clusters. I can have 4 or 5 indexing projects on my schedule at one time. A quick primer on indexing: It is nearly the last task that takes place in the book production schedule because the pagination has to be set in stone (if changes get made after the indexing phase it can be a real nightmare—but it happens). If the copy editor took too much time, it usually affects my schedule since the date the book has to be shipped to the printer is set months in advance—same with the proofreader or anybody else in the production cycle. This past week for example, I had a 500 page book come in on Friday and I had to deliver the index on Tuesday. Trust me, I didn’t take the weekend off. I worked. And I wrote my fiction pages, too.

On average, nearly 30,000 pages of text cross my desk in a year, and in 10 years, I have never ever, never ever, missed a deadline. My indexes always ship on time, even if it means working 16 hours a day. And that is just the indexing part of the business.

The great thing is I get paid for reading and writing. I just finished indexing a book on physics. I don’t know how or when I will need to know about Newton’s Laws of Motion, but as a writer I’m sure it can’t hurt to have that stuff mixed into the soup of that makes up my brain. Recently, I did a technical editing job on a photography book. Funny thing. The novel I finished in September is about a professional nature photographer—photography is one of my hobbies. Not all of the books I work on fill the soup bowl, but a lot do. It’s a great job. But a busy and demanding job.

If I didn’t write first thing in the morning I wouldn’t have enough brain cells left at the end of the day to write a sentence. Writing a good index takes every ounce of creativity and skill I have left after writing. But writing in the morning is what works best for me—it may not be the best time for you, for your schedule. Find what’s comfortable and show up every day.

I know I’m lucky—I can’t say that enough. I have a job that’s interesting, challenging, and feeds me as a writer. But it didn’t just happen, and it doesn’t continue to happen for any other reason than hard work, discipline, and perseverance. All of the same qualities that are needed to succeed in the writing biz.

My guess is, most writers are good at their day jobs. My challenge to you then, is to put the same amount of dedication into your writing. Make it a job. Make it a priority. Make a life out of it. Show up every day…

For more information about indexing, visit

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Time Found by Margot Justes

A remarkable thing happened to me last week at work. The power went out and our building was pitched in darkness. I used a maglite to reach the darkest crevices, which included the bathroom, since there are no windows in that facility. The only light available was emergency ceiling lights, (few and far between) and management offices which provided natural light.

All of us stood in the hall and chatted, after all, this has happenned before, we expected to get back to work momentarily. It was not to be, we had a serious power outage, some cables had metled under ground and we would be left in the dark for the remainder of the day. We were told to go home.

Freedom. Total absolute freedom. No obligations, time on our hands, no responsibility. Time found to do with as we pleased. No big deal you may say, but in fact it was. Try to imagine a chunk of time that had not been planned, had not been allocated to some chore or other. It was an amazing feeling.

First and foremost I stopped for a cup of coffee...delightful...I ran errands, didn't even turn my cell phone on, not that it made a difference, I let the battery run down and had no power. I had no place that I had to be, it was glorious.

I know we enjoy our weekends, our holidays, vacations, and time away from work, but that day bordered on euphoria simply because it was so unexpected.

As it turned out I was not the only one who felt that way, my Web Guy (you remember my Web Guy) said why don't you do your blog on this day off, well, I am way ahead of you Web Guy.

Nice to know I was not alone.

Till next Saturday,

Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris
Echelon Press, June 2008

Thursday, May 17, 2007

If it's Thursday, then it's pancakes for breakfast.

Traditions are important at my house. We have such things as birthday week, Christmas breakfast, Mother's Day cook-out, even come home on Sunday days. Then comes those other traditions that aren't built around holidays and we wonder how and why they got started. These little traditions have become habits and we wonder if we should break them. Would something drastic happen if we tried something new?

It's not that I don't like the traditions at my house, after all I helped create many of them. But today is Thursday, and that means once again my granddaughters want pancakes for breakfast. They ask for pancakes every Thursday. They love Grampy's pancakes, they love my pancakes. Sometimes they enjoy helping to make pancakes, sometimes they are too busy playing, but still request pancakes. Heaven forbid if we run out of pancake mix. That only means an early run to the store for pancake supplies. I did try waffles one day and although my little ones ate the substitute, they looked so disappointed that I couldn't venture from the traditional pancakes the next week.

So I ask you, in years to come is this little tradition going to be something my granddaughters will look back on with fondness in their eyes? Saying, 'we always had pancakes at Gramma and Gramps.' Or will they roll their eyes that certain way and say, 'all we ever had was pancakes at Gram and Gramps.' As a grandparent I find this a quandary. I enjoy making loving memories, even silly ones like pancakes every Thursday. But as I look back over the memories of raising my own children, I especially like the minor traditions we created as a family. They are uniquely our own. They are what sets us apart from your family. And I bet your family would not want to trade your family traditions for mine. Simple traditions are some of the strongest glue that binds families together. Just like in 'Ever After,' the Cinderella story starring Drew Berrymore, the maids tell Leonardo not to leave just yet. Cinderella is in the coach driving away, but still they wait. It's tradition! And sure enough, Cinderella peeks out the window and waves. The tradition has been fulfilled and all are satisfied.

Traditions really do satisfy our needs. These acts may be something as simple as a wave of farewell, or tooting the horn as we leave our family for our own homes. Or pancakes on Thursday. But they fill some void we didn't know we had. They connect us to each other on that special level that says I care. I care enough to continue what was started long ago.

And so it's time to go play Barbies. It's what we do every week. After all it is Thursday.

Til next time ~

Deb (DL Larson)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Catching Up and Forging Ahead by Morgan Mandel

After a 10 day vacation and an instant return to my day-job which pays my bills, I'm fortunate enough to get a catchup day in the middle of the week. I've sorted and thrown out mail, paid bills, discarded the ads from the papers and put them in a pile for later reading. Maybe. I've finished a load of clothes and another is washing. All of these everyday chores needed doing.

Okay, those were my household tasks. Now, I need to get down to business and finish my writing chores. Writing is a business with many aspects that need attention and often interfere with the actual creation process.

I've got tons of e-mails with contest entries, all hoping for a chance to win Rob Walker's book, City For Ransom. For each of them, I print out a copy, send a reply and also an invitation to join my booklover's network at Book Place at where membership is open to everyone who is involved with books in any way. After June 14, I'll close my eyes, shuffle them all up and pick a winner.

After receiving a helpful hint from one of Karen Syed's blogs, on vacation I used up my store of Book Place business cards, handing them out when paying bills at restaurants and even at the physical therapy department of Howard Young Hospital while visiting a friend. So, I'll be printing up more Book Place cards today on my own printer. I'll gather those together, along with the author cards I'd already obtained from and I'll pack them along with the other items for my next vacation around Memorial Day. While I'm at it, I'll replenish my purse supply for the home target area.

Last night I uploaded vacation photos to various sites where I belong, so people won't forget who I am. I still need to go through the e-mails I skimmed, but didn't get a chance to read on vacation. If I have extra time, I'd like to gather more friends on myspace and the ning network.

All of these author publicity chores are actually fun and I enjoy doing them. That's a good and bad thing. At some point, I need to tear myself away and produce. Writers write.

I was very encouraged to note I'd finished 5000 words on vacation. I'm determined to continue and expand that trend. While some authors write prolifically, I've got the opposite problem. My wordage is sparse, which means I often go back to places in my story and expand on description and/or plot points.

My usual writing area is the commuter train on the way to and from work, because it's peaceful there and I can concentrate. Since I'm making a push to get my work-in-progress done this summer, I'll be spending more time writing at home as well.

Gotta go now. The dog wants a walk. Another thing that needs doing.

So, that's my life as a writer.

Morgan Mandel

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What you see is table stakes

In Novelist's Boot Camp--both the book and the workshop--we teach that your prose can be much more powerful if you leverage the intimacy of the senses. In fact, we have a Boot Camp Drill both in the book and the workshop that we do to practice this. The central idea is that by including many different senses in your descriptions, you truly show and not tell.

But I want to take that idea one step further. Given that TV is visual, that movies are visual, that billboards are visual, that even the Internet is visual, I've come to believe that if a writer gives a visual description of an event, action, character, and so on, it's just not enough to just show. As writers, we compete with powerful visual media, and we compete at a disadvantage. Camera crews and special effects folks can present in a half-second an image that it would take us pages to describe. Yet that's what many of us tend to do--take photos or play movies of our stories in our heads, and then replay them on paper. Then we often wonder why the picture has greater impact than words describing a picture.

So we can't just "show," because simply replaying our story-movie on paper is by nature second best, and because our readers are bombarded with images daily. They're desensitized if not totally numbed. Visual description is expected, but that description just gets you to the table. To be in the game, you have to do more. And we can't do what videographers do, because we're writing, not making a video.

What we can do, and with greater impact, is to invoke the other senses. Here we writers have the upper hand over our visual-media brethren (and sister-thren). We can invoke the sense of taste, touch, smell, and sound in ways they simply can't. Moreover, our readers may be numb to visual stimulation, but they're still receptive to input from the other senses.

Poets and songwriters do this. Consider these lines from Meat Loaf's "You took the words right out of my mouth,"

It was a hot summer night and the beach was burning
There was a fog crawling over the sand
When I listen to your heart I hear the whole world turning
I see the shooting stars
Falling through your trembling hands
You were licking your lips and your lipstick shining
I was dying just to ask for a taste
We were lying together in a silver lining
By the light of the moon
You know there's not another moment
Not another moment
Not another moment to waste

You hold me so close that my knees grow weak
But my soul is flying high above the ground
I'm trying to speak but no matter what I do
I just can't seem to make any sound
And then you took the words right out of my mouth
Oh-it must have been while you were kissing me
You took the words right out of my mouth
And I swear it's true
I was just about to say I love you
And then you took the words right out of my mouth
Oh-it must have been while you were kissing me
You took the words right out of my mouth
And I swear it's true
I was just about to say I love you

Now my body is shaking like a wave on the water
And I guess that I'm beginning to grin
Oooh, we're finally alone and we can do what we want to
The night is young
And ain't no one gonna know where you
No one gonna know where you
No one's gonna know where you've been
You were licking your lips and your lipstick shining
I was dying just to ask for a taste
We were lying together in a silver lining
By the light of the moon
You know there's not another moment to waste...

I'm incorporating this into my next word-snapshots for the piece I'm working on now, and I'd offer that you might do the same with your writing. Such a technique not only makes for more interesting writing, it also makes you truly stop and smell the roses, or taste the kisses.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Me, myself and AAIIIIEEEEEE!!!

I have to admit to having a pet peeve.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. First of all, it’s not a pet… unless maybe you’re talking about a pet rattlesnake or weasel, or something you find under a rock somewhere.

The other inaccuracy is that I have more than one peeve … some pet… some not-so pet.

But today’s peeve is a Monday favorite of myself, because it drives myself crazy. The peeve? The word ‘myself’.

There are almost no situations where this word absolutely has to be uttered, written, used or whatever. The only time it probably really can’t be avoided is when a kid says it.

A kid, you say?

No, a kid I ‘write.’

Anyway, this way-overused word is best used in a sentence like this, “I did it, myself.”

This works.

Even then, it could be avoided! How about the simple sentence, “I did it.”? It says the same thing without the redundancy.

Or if a kid wants to exult in an accomplishment, sure, let him say, “I did it all by myself.”

That’s great … no problem.

Or if you’re just ticked off about something, this is okay, “Fine. I’ll do it, myself!”

But be careful. Say this to your wife and you might end up sleeping on the sofa. And it would work just as well if you said, “Fine, I’ll do it.”

So think about the following bad boys:

Myself and the kids are coming over for dinner.
I’m inviting yourself and the family over for dinner.
The kids and myself are cooking warthogs for dinner.

And it gets worse when you bring the word ‘me’ into the equation.

Me and the kids are coming over for dinner.
The kids and me are cooking flaming salamander for dinner.

And don’t get me started on ‘I.”

It drives myself crazy … er, … it drives I crazy … um… wait, I got it …


The Adventures of Guy ... written by a guy (probably)
and coming soon The Next Adventures of Guy ... more wackiness

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Land of False Starts -- by Larry D. Sweazy

I have been trying to start a new novel for about 3 months, and my fingers have been mired in the Land of False Starts. Some context. Last year I finished writing an amateur sleuth novel, and my agent starting submitting it in October. All the while, I have another novel out, a police procedural. Both are series ideas with a proposal for multiple books accompanying the novel submissions. I’ve had some “nice” rejections on both, but having two series proposals out on the market left me in a quandary. What do I write next while I wait to see what happens with the two series?

To start with, I wrote some more short stories and cleaned up a few I had tucked away in the archives—and got them out on the market. I didn’t want to continue to write short stories indefinitely, so I would start chapter 1 of a novel. I started seven or eight. Lack of ideas wasn’t the problem. But nothing clicked. For some reason chapter 2 didn’t seem to follow like normal…I just couldn't get excited about what I was writing.

My problem was fear. I was afraid I would start a novel, be halfway through it, and one of the novels that was out on the market would sell, and I wouldn’t be able to finish the one I had just started. I was afraid both novels would sell and I’d have to write four or five more books that I had proposed. I was afraid of success, and it left me spinning in the mud. I was editing myself, throwing up walls for myself. I was writing. But I wasn’t writing anything that I could ultimately put on the market to try and sell.

So what changed? How did I get past the false starts? By being honest with myself.

Maybe neither novel that was out on the market would ever sell. A hard pill to swallow, but possible.

Instead of worrying about the 2 novels selling, I had to forget they existed and start fresh. I had to start the new novel, and put everything I’ve learned from writing the others into the new one.

Were the false starts a waste of time? No. I was practicing. I was organizing my thoughts. I was in the physical position of writing. I hadn’t lost the most important part of writing, I kept showing up. But I was putting a cap on my creativity by worrying about things I could not control.

Publishers take forever. At least it seems like forever to us writers. I’m sure if we saw the stacks of manuscripts on their desks, we’d wonder how they got anything done at all. So I’m not blaming the editors, or the system. I’m blaming me for being afraid to commit to a project.

The moral to the story? Keep writing. Write your way out the problem. Keep showing up. Quit worrying about the things you can’t control…

I’m happy to report that I’m writing chapter 5 of the new novel…and I can’t wait to get to the end of the novel. I’ll finish it regardless of what happens. That’s what writers do. We write. Regardless of whether somebody buys our last project or not.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Bath, England by Margot Justes

Summer is almost upon us, and if you find yourself lucky enough to go to London this year, do take a detour to Bath. It is but a two hour train ride from Paddington Station, you can sit on a train and watch the English countryside glide by.

Bath has been designated a World Heritage Site, and rightfully so. It's history goes back to 65 A.D. It is the place of the Roman Baths, incredible Georgian Architecture, the best examples are the Circus and the Royal Crescent and must be seen to be believed.

The Pump Room, where Jane Austen had high tea served (and so can you), is still in business and still serving tea. It is the Bath lifestyle Charles Dickens satirized in his Pickwick Papers. If you read any Regency books, Bath will invariably be mentioned.

But more than that, a visit allows you a brief glimpse of ancient history. The Abby had its beginning in 973. There is a restaurant that has been in business since 1680, and to this day still serves the Sally Lunn buns.

There aren't too many places in the world with that kind of sustenance. You can walk on Gay Street and be sure that Jane Austen walked that same street. There are art galleries, one museum after another, just walking down the street there is an incomparable feeling of joy and essence of its past.

That is an awesome sense of history, anywhere you turn you are surrounded by it.

Till next Saturday,

Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris
Echelon Press

Friday, May 11, 2007


The lowly apostrophe loves to shine but seldom takes center stage, while damn it, it’s the hardest working, least understood mark, and yet it retains its bubbly nature. How does the apostrophe keep its positive outlook and energetic, even electric personality? Let’s us just consider how put upon it is and yet it just keeps on giving….The most maligned, misused, misunderstood grammatical mark of them all and also the smallest yet self-made and courageous.

“Why do perfectly intelligent people, even geniuses, have a problem seeing the apostrophe much less using it properly?” --St. Ignatius of Tyrn 1402…

“Some of my best friends act as if they’re going under the knife when confronted with the use of the apostrophe….” --Dr. Lucius Derleth, MD 2004…

“Little’s changed since the MONKs figured out SYMBOLS for us all to ABIDE by in order to communicate in writing….” Author Robert W. Walker, 2007…

First reason the apostrophe causes confusion: it’s (that is IT IS) used for two separate and distinct purposes that’ve absolutely NADA to do with one ’nother. The simplest use is to show ownership in THINGS. Things he, she, we, they, us, him, her, them and Joe OWNS.

Ownership as in HIS THINGS or Joe’s things….ought to end all confusion there since if you SEE the connective tissue of ownership, like as if the apostrophe in ownership situations is a little arrow that points to what Joe owns. Joe’s Harley…Joe’s eyes…Joe’s girl…or Joe’s future. Who owns that future? Whose hole is it anyway? Joes hole. He dug it. But it gets a bit complicated when it is not Joe or John or any name ending in a letter other than S….Damn, now what?

How do we deal with Phyllis’s stuff or James’ junk? Marcus, Jesus? Jesus and these others end in S but that does not make a noun or a name plural! ….if a name ends in S…then we’re looking at JESU’s if we put the apostrophe in the wrong place….pointing at the wrong letter….as in Phylli’s, Jame’s. Notice that if you don’t put the apostrophe pointing to the S, then you are cutting away at Jesus’ name! Another complication, it can be shown either way: Jesus’ or Jesus’s. In most modern usage we have dropped the double S for the sake of simplicity but my publisher WANTS it there thanks to the Chicago Manual of Style. All the same, there are not many names ending in S, so this should not be so hard for folks to follow.

The notion of single and plural plays havoc with people’s heads, however. People—or any GROUP designation like FAMILY already has PLURALness inherent, so adding the S can only mean ownership, not MORE plural. A green light doesn’t get any greener, nor does a plural word like jury get any pluralER…see? So it is the Jury’s decision and once again the apostrophe hugs the WHOLE word (like the whole name) and not an add on form….like Jurys’….which only works if you are talking about two or more juries…(unlikely).

But what of nouns that’re not names like teacher, lawyer, and aviator? Suppose you are talking about one lawyer’s briefcase? Then notice one lawyer ends with R….not S….while two lawyers’ briefcases shows the S on lawyer(S) see? So then it becomes: All of my teachers’ habits annoy me; or every one of my teachers’ habits annoy me. A single on TEACHER in that sentence CHANGES the meaning significantly. Again the issue of single\plural has a lot to do with where the apostrophe wants to fall…

Now the ownership thing ought be easy, folks! Ther’re only a handful of words in the whole freakin’ language that have OWNERSHIP built in already, like MY, MINE…His…Her…so these do not need the HELP of the lowly apostrophe. But Mike or Rob does if you’re’a speakin’a what Mike or Rob owns…so this is a major ‘juice’(use!) of the apostrophe. Another is to show emphasis as I did in de’ bad ‘joke’ around ‘juice’ buy nowadays this kind of emphasis calls for quotation marks or italics.

The second major ‘juice’ or ‘use’ of the ‘comma that leaps up atop words’ really screws with people’s heads, but I do not (don’t) know why it should. For instance, there’s an ITS that sits on the same plane as MY and his and hers, yours, mine, ours, theirs…for ownership built in is in ITS like MY. The only other IT’s in existence is a CONTRACTION….

Contractions ought be a simple affair. If you write this: ITS color is as strong as IT’s powerful….then you are using both ITS/IT’s in the same sentence. A good practice. Write TEN sentences using ITS and IT’s in same breath. “IT’s a smart dog that scratches ITS own fleas.”

Its\It’s is so instructive if you realize or see the pattern here. This is in a nutshell the two PRIMARY uses of the apostrophe. ITS, like HIS requires NO apostrophe ‘cause why? Because it has ownership built into IT same as Her. Whereas IT’s is two whole words shoved together, something American English loves to do, especially in dialogue. We all of us only learn if and when we see the connectiveness and the pattern of things—like words and apostrophes are like the pilot-fish following the shark. If you look REAL close, you’ll see that the apostrophe points toward what it modifies or changes. Tom is Tom but to modify Tom into changing from the subject of the sentence to what he owns as being the subject, Tom’s becomes necessary, so the subject becomes Tom’s lunatic brother… or Tom’s broken arm…

OK, hopefully ownership’s ugly head has been cut off thanks to this old grammarian’s ability to make it clear. As Stephen King’s illegitimate son, I think I can quote Dad faithfully by saying, “If you can’t make it sing, at least make it clear.” Apostrophes are your friend…a friend of the writer. Notice if I use an apostrophe, I can say A writer’s friend instead. How droll is it to read: The backdoor was squeaky and needed oil now. Much better to say, “The backdoor’s scream signaled years of neglect.”

Now onto the CONTRACTION in more detail. Read any one of my books and you’ll find people speak in contractions ‘cause we’re Americans. So if the apostrophe is not ON STAGE to show ownership, then it’s doing its second, UNRELATED job of POINTING out where in a word we’ve TOSSED out letters! The lowly lil’ apostrophe FILLS the GAPs, and sometimes these gaps are enormous. Don’t you see that the O is missing in DO NOT in Don’t so the apostrophe takes ITS place (not it’s--it is place)? OK, DON’t is too easy. Cause fraid we also speak in multiple contractions as in:

Mike would have loved to see Madeline’s upper body movement, but when he had attempted it, she clocked him so hard he had fallen into a coma.

Mike would’ve loved to see….etc. but when he’d etc…he’d fallen…etc.

I have used triples such as Mayn’t’ve, couldn’t’ve, wouldn’t’ve. NOTICE exactly the number of letters missing from these contractions: May not have…could not have, etc. So often the apostrophe is carrying the space of several missing letters, often four, five missing letters! Damn but this mark is strong….

So no longer do ya’ gotta’ wonder why a proper Britisher hates us for what we’ve done to the language. Much of it’s contractions as in “Wha’up?” from: What is up? So the apostrophe is a real workhorse! You can’t ignore it, can’t run from it, can’t hide. It’s ever’where its use is found and sometimes, too often, it’s used incorrectly. So WATCHA’ back and watch the signs as in Buck’s Gunshop.

All that said, in your novel use contractions liberally but never use an ownership apostrophe in a place where it does not ADD anything as in: The ocean’s floor….just ocean floor…or the Clock’s tower….if the Clock Tower works just as well…actually better. Ownership apostrophes help cut out long prepositional phrases as in this example:

After Paul stepped through the house’s front door, he heard the door’s hinges creak behind him as it closed.

Rather better to say: After stepping through the door, Paul heard it squeak closed

behind him.

G’luck with grammar’s lowliest mark!

Rob Walker (

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Weeding my garden, er, manuscript!

The other day I was pulling rotten bulbs from my flower bed, disheartened that so many had been destroyed due to our erratic midwest winter. We had 70 degree weather in January and a snowstorm in April, thus the reason for having to remove bulbs that didn't make the transition.

As I dug and pulled, and rearranged the existing bulbs, I also extracted several scragly weeds. The process felt very familiar. Yes, I've weeded my garden many times, rearranged the plants to make the foilage more aesthetic, but the real similarity came to mind about weeding my manuscript of deadwood, cliches, and over-used words. The average person might not notice a weed or two, but that doesn't mean they don't need pulling.

So I wondered what tools do we need to weed our manuscripts? When I tackle a job in my garden I have a whole shed of tools at my disposal. I don my work-worn gloves, grab a trowel or spade, have my flower feed close by and the water hose ready for a good dousing when I'm finished.

If only it were that easy when it came to weeding our manuscripts. Actually it's easier than you think. The best way to weed, for me anyway, is to let things set awhile. Pretend if you will, that your manuscript is like the plants growing. When you look again, the weeds nearly jump off the page. They look out of place, just like the withering bulbs or the dandelion flouncing its brilliant yellow bloom. Your delete button is the best tool for this problem. Simple, easy and nearly painless.

Then, and this is a big then; then there are the words that aren't right, but when you try to pull them, the entire sentence structure comes up too. Don't panic. The best gardener will tell you that sometimes the ground around a bad bulb or weed has to come up too. It's the same with writing. Many a writer has had to bury a wonderful sentence that just wasn't right where it was planted. The best defense is breathing. Yes, take a deep breath and pull. It may leave a hole and that's okay. Actually that's wonderful because now something new can be planted. Something fresh and invigorating. It's called new life! And every manuscript needs several doses of this through it's growing stages.

So, you say, what about the over-use of your favorite words. My first drafts are always peppered with similar words because I write in sprints. I get as much down as I can, going with the plot or scene and not worrying about finding that perfect descriptive word. That will come later. When I come back to fix them, the tool I use first is my imagination, then the thesaurus. I let my thoughts drift, not rushing the re-write. Hurrying through this process is worse than not fixing it all. Time is another tool; if you use it effectively, you'll actually gain time by not having to go back over it again and again. I tend to use colored pens when I edit or re-write. First I use a red pen, adding or deleting, rearranging and then let that set for awhile - days usually. Then I go over the same passages with a green pen. For some reason this system works for me. It's like working a garden, the big plants in the back, the flourishing foliage intermixed in the middle, and the border plants filling in those nuisance type holes. Once all that is inserted it makes for a well-diversified garden, er manuscript!

Just like a good watering, I run all my re-writes through the computer and then look at the fresh new pages. I marvel at how the additions have rounded out my work. The deletions aren't missed, and I learn all over again the vaulable lesson that less is more.

I have several flower gardens around my yard. I never try to work on more than one a day or I tire too quickly and do a bad job. I use that work ethic with my rewriting as well. I don't try to do too much at one time, usually only a chapter or two. So the process is on-going, evolving, growing and developing. At some point, I promise, the work comes to a halt. And if you have maintained a steady, but thorough doggedness, you will have a flourishing manuscript, er garden when you're done.

til next time ~

Deb (DL Larson)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


Did you ever wake up from a pleasant dream or a vivid nightmare, fall asleep, and not remember any of it in the morning?

Did you ever walk down the street, be struck with a brilliant plot and then forget it?

Did you ever go on vacation, hear tidbits about the area, but not remember any of it when you got home?

Did you ever see someone unique – with a different way of walking, talking or looking and then forget about that person?

Did you ever see something beautiful? Smell something delicious? Hear something different? Did these experiences escape you?

If you'd only remembered them, you could have used them in your book.

The solution is simple. Instead of trying to remember a lot of things, you need only remember two things: pen and paper. Keep them handy – by the bedside, in the pants or jacket pocket, in the purse, anywhere you can get to them right away.

Record your impressions as quickly as possible, either while they're happening or immediately afterwards. Then, when you need them, you'll have them.

Sure, it's old fashioned, but it works!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

I have been to the mountaintop (s)

Or thereabouts.

Several years ago I stood as groundling in the Globe theater in London and watched The Bard's Richard III. On a recent business trip to London I dropped by the "residence" of a fairly well-known detective. It's something of a pilgrimage for mystery writers. You can see the pictures by clicking the "Side Trips" link off of the home page of storytellerroad, or go here.

Bikers (of which I am one) should do the same--visit their history. I ate fish and chips at a place any biker worth his or her leathers would know--all the rockers hang out here.

Neither of these trips was an exercise in ego--they were both quite humbling--but they did offer some insight.

We do what we do because we are who we are. With that in mind, there are places writers should go, if for no other reason than to help place themselves in the great writing "scheme of things." I'm not talking conferences, but rather places that are important in one's own understanding of the history of writing. Such trips offer a chance to get connected to something larger than the next deadline, something that money can't buy--a bit greater understanding of what we do and who--in very much the collective sense--we are.


Monday, May 7, 2007


You never know what's going to spark an idea for a book. It could be something as significant as the spaceshuttle explosion or something as minor as foot odor.

Of course, foot odor is only minor if, a) it isn't yours, b) you aren't stuck in an enclosed area with someone who has it, and c) the foot odor virus doesn't mutate into a killer fungus that strangles your cat.

And, strangely enough, I haven't yet run into the Great Foot Odor Book, though I'm sure it's lurking out there somewhere. This would be a 'must read.'

I got the idea for The Adventures of Guy because of overwhelming reader response to a humor/business article I wrote where I picked on attorneys, calling them poo-poo heads and weasels.

People liked this!

They wanted more!

So I figured I'd go after, not just attorneys, but telemarketers, Grand Pricks, er, Prix drivers, people who throw cigarette butts out of the car window rather than using the handy cigarette tray that comes standard in most cars (including the Grand Prix) and the differences between plumber's butt and a woman's cleavage. Okay, it's a little sophomoric, but it's fun!!

Anyway, the reason this came up was that I was talking with Karen Syed today and she was talking about poisons (yeah, one of THOSE type discussions, ...heh), and I said, "hey, how about a book where a bad guy poisons people and arranges them into the shape of a letter where when he's done he will have spelled his name?"

We both laughed and I thought, "Nah, Rob Walker probably already did this..."

Norm Cowie
The Adventures of Guy ... written by a guy (probably)
and soon The Next Adventures of Guy... more wackiness

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A Dog Year - by Larry D. Sweazy

Every once in a while, and not as often as I should, I read a book for pleasure outside the mystery genre. Not for research, not for knowledge, but for the pure fun of it. I usually buy the book because I read a review, heard an interview, or God forbid, the cover and blurbs attracted me to it.

One such book is A Dog Year (Random House), by Jon Katz. I heard an interview with Katz on The Diane Rehm Show one day, and bought the book the next day. So much for the idea that radio doesn’t sell books. I didn’t know Jon Katz had written mysteries, and at some point I might check them out, but something tells they are out of print since Katz lost his mystery contract several years ago and started writing books about dogs instead. I missed out on the rush to buy Marley and Me, and the other Dog Story Bestsellers, by not paying much attention to the creative canine nonfiction rage of the day. Typically, if I buy a “dog” book, it’s a training manual, or a book about Rhodesian ridgebacks, the breed I own.

Anyway, since I have 2 dogs, and I had just bought a puppy, Katz’s interview struck a chord with me. A Dog Year chronicles Katz’s tenuous relationship with a rescued border collie named Orson. What I liked about this book, and what Katz has taken some heat for, is his honesty. He doesn’t sugarcoat his anger and downright fear when Orson runs off, dashes in front of a bus, then jumps on the roof of a passing mini-van—the very first night he owns him. He screams, he yells, he’s damn near in tears. Some days, Orson is so disobedient he just pisses Katz off. Now…I’m not advocating yelling at your dog, or throwing a choker chain at them to get their attention, or standing in the front yard half naked calling your dog every name in the Swear Book. These are Katz’s actions—I have my own stories of frustration (ask me about our puppy being banned from the kennel we’ve going to for ten years some time).

Like I said, Katz has taken a lot of heat from a certain segment of pet owners who disapprove of raising your voice to a dog. I didn’t buy the book to pass judgment, I bought it to be entertained. So I’m taking a quick left turn away from the training debate as quickly as I can. But remember why I said I liked this book: Katz told the truth, even when it didn’t present him in the best light. Honest writing trumps the day for me anytime over passing judgment.

There are a lot of tender moments in this book, and I recommend if you want to read A Dog Year, read the book that came out before it, Running to the Mountain. You’ll need the information in Mountain to really understand the heart of A Dog Year. Writing a mystery series obviously served Katz well.

In the end, Orson and Jon Katz survive. They come to an understanding. They become a unit, master and his dog, and dependent on each other. Better yet, they become best friends…but it’s not an easy journey. I liked Katz’s writing style, and he’s a good storyteller. It’s a shame the mystery world let him go, but even he admits that his signing lines are ten times longer now than they were when he was writing mysteries. I say good for him…and I’m glad to have found A Dog Year. It made me feel as if I wasn’t the only person in the world whose patience was tried by a dog. I wasn’t alone in my effort to train, what seemed at the time, a dog that refused to be trained. Isn’t that what all good books do? Remind us that we are not alone? Mystery or not?

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Let's talk about belly dancing by Margot Justes

Yes, belly dancing - it all started many years ago, in a club in Madrid, Lucero Tena was on stage and she was magnetic. She was an unforgetable Flamenco dancer.

I have loved classical Flamenco dancing ever since. It is fluid, it is sensual, it is passionate - of course I have to use these words - first of all it is true, and after all I do belong to Romance Writers of America. I will segway to belly dancing don't worry. Every movement is calculated for maximum effect to bring out the most sensory feelings in the perfomer and the audience.

I have found a similarity in belly dancing. The music is exotic and rousing, just listen to Tarkan, a Turkish heart-throb, and you will not not be able to sit still. Whereas I would never in this lifetime attempt Flamenco dancing, I did try belly dancing, and I love it.

The movements portray a very similar feeling, evoke a similar response from the audience. Belly dancing is fun, great exercise, and lightens the spirit. I can shimmy with the best of them, well maybe not the best, but I can assuredly hold my own and I use muscles I never knew I had.

If you want, you too can learn to shimmy, and have fun, don't worry about the pain and muscle strain, that comes the following day.

If you cannot find an instructor, just visit the Sphinx restaurant in Niles, IL. They have dancers, occasionally my instructor is among them.

Till next week,
Margot Justes
A Hotel In Paris
Echelon Press June 2008

Friday, May 4, 2007

ESTABLISHING SHOTS – by Robert W. Walker

No, this is not about booze. It is about making the right opening moves in your story…first lines and first paragraphs which Establish character and much more.

When you open a story, you really have to rework it and rewrite it so that those opening moments are pure gold…as pure as you can make them. Clear as you can make them as well. Think of every good film that has SET the stage in the very first seconds and minutes of the film. These first shots establish time and place along with tension and character. Perhaps you might have a page or two to interest the reader in a character or the actions being taken by a character, but this can’t possibly happen if your story opens in a miasma of confusion in which we know nothing whatsoever of the setting, the time, the character, perhaps his or her occupation, where his or her hands are at the moment, what action(s) the character(s) are currently occupied with…what pie they have their hands in.

To become proficient at opening chapters and new scenes, all this has to be repeated again…over again with each geographical shift, point of view shift, time shift. Such shifts have to be carefully “glued” together by comforting road signs as with a time word or two such as since, before, then, now, when…

To become proficient at openings, read the back jacket copy of every paperback you can get your hands on, and tell me how many of these “interest” grabbers appear in paagraph one or two: Time period, setting with place names, character’s names (names have resonance), occupation of main character, chief tension or problem.

Take a lesson from the back-flap writers. In fact, become adept at writing your own “flap” to place in your query letter and synopsis. They say never judge a book by its cover, but when the flap is well written, go ahead—judge a book by its synopsis. Learn to write the most important short story you will ever need to write—the story of your story in its most elemental form, my dear Watson.

You can also use this in pitch sessions! You may want to begin with the word WHEN.
Just when Inspector Alastair Ransom had cut off the head of one snake slithering about the gaslit streets of Chicago in 1893, a second fiend raises his ugly head to mar the prosperity of the city and the success of the World’s Fair. In one fell swoop, one sentence, you get the name and profession of the main character, the time period and the location and a teasing tension. Write the copy you’d like to see on the back of your book!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Character Insight! A child's POV

When Promises To Keep was published, my editor thought it should be two books instead of one. So now, as I work on the back half that is not published I've come upon a few obstacles that I had covered early in Promises To Keep, namely character descriptions and insight to their personalities. In order to not feel as if I'm rewriting part of the first book, I had to come up with new ways of describing my characters. I chose to use the children in a few places. They are minor but important characters and this way of writing is nothing new, but to those struggling with a similar problem, I wanted to share with you how I accomplished this.

Promises My Love is the contination of Promises To Keep. It is a family saga, set in the mid 1840's Kentucky. The boy Jimmy in this scene is the son of Francis Frailey, both are main characters. The girl is a neighbor and continues to be a minor character throughout the book. The two children are sitting on the girl's back porch after Jimmy's piano lessons. Jim loves playing the piano, he simply doesn't like his instructor and has been verbalizing his dislike to his young friend Kazarah. Jimmy's little sister Crystal is also with them on the porch steps.

"Pa's home," Jimmy sounded happier now. "An' I bet it won't take 'im two shakes to come looking for Crystal."

Kazarah knew what Jimmy said to be true. Five minutes passed before Mr. Frailey crossed the yard. Kazarah watched as he squatted in front of the little girl. His big hand moved gentle when he stroked Crystal's hair, then Mr. Frailey sniffed as the tot held the bedraggled flower out to him.

"Hmm," his soft voice drifted up. "Who gave you the pretty flower?"

"Dimmy did," Crystal giggled at her daddy, and Mr. Frailey smiled too. Kazarah realized how young and tall Mr. Frailey was compared to her own daddy. Her daddy's hair was almost gone and she liked kissing his rough bewhiskered cheek. But Crissy's daddy dressed perfect in a gray suit and a stiff white shirt. His hair was light-colored and short cropped, nary a scrap of gray like her pa's. And his clean shaven face looked quite proper even when he noticed the scowl Jimmy wore. Mr. Frailey's smile warmed his features when he asked in a quiet voice, "What happened this week?"

Jimmy bounced off the steps, rattling on much like before. As Mr. Frailey lifted Crystal into his strong arms, he patted her ruffled skirt down, but Kazarah still glimpsed pale stockings. Mr. Frailey nodded his goodbye and Kazarah smiled shyly at his kind manners. The threesome sauntered to the big house across the way and Kazarah watched them til they reached their back door.

So, through the eyes of this child Kazarah my readers have a better understanding of Francis Frailey. By the time the POV turns to Francis the reader will already have some insight as to his quiet reserve.

Writing sequels or a series is a great way to build your reader audience. And I hope sharing this excerpt helps in your writing tasks.

Til next time ~

Deb (DL Larson)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


This does not usually happen to me. I'm very careful to check all the pockets in the clothes I put into the wash. Well, I had a cold. At the last minute I found an extra pair of slacks that needed washing and in they went.

And out came the tissue paper and mixed with all the clothes in the wash. Not a happy sight. I was not a happy camper. What a pain shaking it off, pulling it off, trying to get rid of it.

Well, the Internet is kind of like that. Once you put something on there, it scatters in all directions in places you least expect to find it and sometimes where you don't want to find it.
So, be careful what you put on there or you may not be able to get rid of it.

Well, that's my tissue paper theory. Gotta go - In a rush - Getting ready for vacation - Friday through Mother's Day.Hope to post a blog sometime next week from vacation in between shopping, going out to eat, and my big passion - slots at the casino. If you don't see one and need some kind of blog fix, come on over to Book Place, my new ning network, where people do all sorts of book sharing and promotion - blogs, events, contests, book recommendations, lots more - at

Morgan Mandel

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

So many conferences so little time

Todd and I returned on Saturday from the Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention (in Houston this year) where his Novelist's Boot Camp was a huge success--standing room only. As often happens several of the attendees asked him to come to their neck of the woods and put on a boot camp for their particular writers group.

The irony is that we have limited time available to tour the country putting on boot camps because of our day jobs but we can't afford to quit our day jobs. Our day jobs come with perks we would not be able to replace as self-employed writers. The benefits that big business can provide - health coverage, retirement plans, paid vacations (to go to writer's conferences)- are too important to overlook. Ergo the saying - Don't quit your day job!

At the same time conferences can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars (depending on travel, hotel and registration fees) and often writers need a day job to fund their writing expenses. Another reason not to quit your day job.

Why go to conferences? This is an important question for writers to answer for themselves given the expense and time often involved. Promotional opportunities and book signing fairs are often the main reasons. Workshops are usually available on a variety of topics that are important to a writer's career - yes I said career!

For aspiring (and sometimes published) authors a main attraction of conferences and conventions is the opportunity to meet editors and agents face-to-face and to network with them in a way that will hopefully get their manuscript on an editors desk.

Over the years Todd and I have attended many conferences and conventions both local and far away and one thing that has resonated again and again is how many aspiring writers have not done the one thing that all editors and agents want - finish the book. An idea only gets a novice writer so far in this business.

Finishing and polishing the book is the central theme of Novelist's Boot Camp and some editors have specifically recommended Novelist's Boot Camp to aspiring writers, which makes us very happy. In fact, if it weren't for Novelist's Boot Camp I probably wouldn't have a completed first draft myself which I'm now polishing using many of the drills in Novelist's Boot Camp.

In addition to my completed first draft, I have ten beginning novels with anywhere from three to five chapters written and I would bug (probably annoy) Todd with my frustration that I couldn't seem to get past this point in my writing. I often tell people that he wrote the book because of me and all the questions I asked. Now he can just say - RTFB (my variation on geek speak for RTFM - Read the you-know-what Manual). Of course, Todd doesn't say this - he's too much of a professional and a gentleman - but I do read the pieces of Novelist's Boot Camp whenever I need them and I can honestly say that I'm glad that he wrote the you-know-what book!