Friday, January 29, 2016

Lie Catchers--review of a Police Procedural

A friend recommended Lie Catchers and told me about the interesting twist--the unusual abilities the main characters possess that make them good at their jobs, but miserable in life. These aren't super-human powers, they're oddities of the human condition that make for fascinating characteristics to give a couple of cops.

Detective Jane Randall has synesthesia, "a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color." In her case, she sees color streamers attached to the spoken word. She knows the color of confusion, sincerity, lies.

Detective Ray Pagan is an "empath"--someone with exceptional abilities to be empathetic, an acute ability to feel what another is feeling, and some of the things he feels in his line of work are hard to shake off.

Between the two of them, they solve crimes and catch criminals.

The idea fascinated me, and I expected to see something highly gripping and unique. I  was a bit disappointed.

The plot itself is a good one: two children are kidnapped simultaneously, in seemingly unrelated crimes, one from the home of a mortuary owner and the other from a rap-music producer. The two detectives rely on their skills and their unusual abilities to solve the case.

I liked both of the main characters. Jane, dubbed Calamity Jane, is the wounded, scarred hero who has a lot to overcome. Ray has already conquered his ghosts--or at least learned to live with them. All but one, anyway. Ray has created a haven for special people, and without her permission, has dumped Jane into it. She resents his gall, but loves the haven. Frankly, so would I.

The author, Paul Bishop, was with the LA police department for 35 years and was "twice honored as Detective of the Year," according to his Amazon bio, so he provides a lot of detail pertaining to interrogation and the laws governing it. If you write Police Procedurals, read this one with a notepad nearby.

And, if you write Police Procedurals, don't do it like Bishop did.

I'm not sure whether Bishop didn't trust his descriptive abilities or his readers' abilities to understand what he just presented, but he was forever explaining the obvious. It got to be annoying after a while.

Truth is, Bishop presented his scenes convincingly. He did a great job of it, and I understood everything that happened. Then, as I said, he turned around and explained it all to me.

Reminds me of the greatest rule of all in writing: RUE. Resist the Urge to Explain.

If you're not sure the reader will understand your scene, write it better. If you've written it as well as you possibly can, get a beta reader to let you know whether it works. If it works, leave it alone, if it doesn't, rewrite it. But never assume your reader isn't bright enough to catch on to what you've written.

And always write to your smartest, most critical reader. You please that one, you'll please 'em all.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Writer's Winter

Okay, I confess . . . I love winter. Gray clouds full of snow, cold wind biting my face, soft sweaters, scarves, mittens, hats, and coats. Coffee and a good book while snuggled up in a comfy chair by the fireplace make my day. I hang on the weatherman's every word like a child waiting for Santa Claus, because snow where I live is about as rare as Santa's visits.

The majority of my friends hate winter. The steel sky and freezing temperatures make them miserable. From their point of view nothing happens in winter. Everything feels and looks dead. No leaves on the trees, no grass in the lawn, no flowers in the beds. Just . . . bleh.

I have to admit, after a couple of weeks of sunless skies, I do begin to feel dull and have been known to sit under a bright light until I feel better.

Soooo, why am I writing about winter? Because we sometimes experience this season in our writing lives when nothing seems to be happening. Our minds are frozen, no words are on our screens, no inspiration in our souls. Just . . . bleh.

Winter gives the appearance of death, but life is happening below the surface. This season is actually nature's time of rest and rejuvenation. Therefore, when we are experiencing writer's winter, we should do the same. It is a time to play, sit under a bright light of inspiration, and push our writing roots deeper.

The way I play is doing fun writing exercises. One of my favorites is describing things using different senses not normally used. This stretches my imagination and refreshes my description storehouse. Below are a few ideas I have in my book, Writing from Your Soul, due out early next month:

  • Describe violin music using taste and touch
  • What does fire taste like
  • What does bravery smell like
These are just to get you started. Grab a notebook and have fun coming up with your own.

I also sit under the bright light offered by others in writing blogs like this one. Jane Friedman another great resource for writers.

Finally, we push our roots deeper by reading. This is very nourishing to our writerly minds. Read for the pleasure of it, and resist the temptation to edit while you read. *smiley face here* Appreciate the talents of others.

If you find yourself in writer's winter, embrace it. Take the time to rest and rejuvenate. In no time writer's spring is sure to bloom!

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Monday, January 25, 2016

From Coffee Can to Publication

I recently participated in another round of Oral History Inteviews for out city. One of our colorful local authors, 83 year old Hub Parker, regaled us with tales of his early life of farming and ranching. He was in his 60s when an accident (he and his horse both fell, and the horse landed on his foot) put him out of commission for a long time.

Faced with a lot of time on his hands, he started scribbling down his thoughts and memories on little scraps of paper and stuffing them into a coffee can. Hub says, "I didn't know I liked to write until I started doing it."

His wife found the can and asked him about it. "It's just a bunch of junk and when it gets full I'm going to dump it out and burn it, and then fill it up again." She encouraged him NOT to burn his little slips of paper.

Over time Hub experimented with poetry, submitted a few things and then was asked to do readings at cowboy gatherings. The persistent encouragement of family and friends eventually led to several published books of poems, and the novel, Long Ride to Davis. His narrative style is one of a kind.

Three tips for authors that I gleaned from Hub's interview:
  • It's never too late to start.
  • You don't need a lot of fancy equipment. Just use what you have (i.e. imagination, pencil and coffee can).
  • Surround yourself with a network of advisers and supporters.
Hub has a quality all authors need, and that is the ability to laugh at oneself. "I didn't know what I was doing, but I did it anyway," he said.

Just do it. 
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Friday, January 22, 2016

10 Steps to Girlfriend Status, Book Two of the Bird Face Series: A Book Review

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Cynthia T. Toney's 8 Notes to a Nobody, the first book in her Bird Face series, published by Write Integrity Press. Today I'm reviewing the second book called 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status. Anyone who read the earlier review knows how impressed I was with the characters and storyline, as well as Toney's uncanny ability to climb into the head of a middle-schooler to accurately regale readers with the angst, humor, giddiness, trauma, and thrills of growing older.

That talent led Toney to write a second book with the same character, Wendy Robichaud, now a 9th grader and in a different school. Being low on the totem pole and surrounded by more different faces than familiar ones, Wendy embarks on new relationships and a brand new family. Her mother, once crushed by the divorce from Wendy's father, has met and married a new man, the father of Alice Rend, a friend from 8th grade. When her mom and Mr. Rend marry, Wendy's simple life as the youngest in a two-person family morphs into the life of a blended family with a new stepdad, stepsister (Alice), and little stepbrother, six-year-old Adam. She's excited, nervous, and more than a little sad. What will life be like with an instant family? What if she and Alice don't get along anymore now that they're sisters and share a household, not to mention parents? Will little Adam, sweet as he is, get on her nerves? And last, but certainly not least, what on earth will she call Mr. Rend?

As if all that isn't enough to rattle her cage, Wendy's love life has taken an upward turn and she's in a relationship of some kind (friend, buddy, soon-to-be girlfriend?) with hunk and star baseball player David Griffin; her dear friend and older neighbor, Mrs. Villaturo, is acting strangely and claiming to see (and converse with) her dead husband, Gus; and when Mrs. V's son comes to check up on his mom, he brings his own son, Sam--another drop-dead gorgeous boy Wendy's age who sports beautiful eyes and just happens to be deaf. Add to all that a Robichaud family scandal from a couple of generations earlier that Mrs. V has alluded to and you've got more than just a little tension and excitement in Wendy's life.

Do a young person a big favor and give them a copy of both 8 Notes to a Nobody and 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status. These books might not spare them the agonies of middle and high school years, but they'll sure as heck give them someone to relate to--and I can think of nobody better to share those growing-up years with than Wendy Robichaud.
I love to hear from readers, young and old. I can be reached at any of these:

Follow me on Twitter:  @CynthiaTToney
Cynthia is a former advertising designer, marketing director, and interior decorator who holds a BA in art education with a minor in history. While employed by a large daily newspaper, she rewrote some ad copy without permission and got into trouble for it. At that point, she knew she was destined to become an author.

When she’s not cooking Cajun or Italian food, Cynthia writes historical and contemporary teen fiction containing elements of mystery and romance. Cynthia loves animal-shelter dogs and the friendly South from Georgia to Texas, where she resides with her husband and several canines.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sounds and Rhythms of Language


                          Donn Taylor

In most writing, we work mainly on getting the meaning we want into concise sentences that put the most important information in the most emphatic part of the sentence. Our concentration will vary according to the kind of writing we're doing. If we're doing technical or scientific writing, content is everything. Insofar as we can, we avoid any quality of the words that might distract from the content. We avoid drama or other emotion. And as writers, we try to disappear so that the reader can concentrate solely on the informational content.

If we are writing fiction, we pay more attention to drama and emotion, varying according to the fictional situation. In this, we are trying to give the reader a vicarious experience rather than merely convey information. This of course involves voice and style, as well as a decision on how much the reader should be aware of the writer. Yes, there is a varying balance between the reader's consciousness of content (the story) and his consciousness of the writer's language and style. The more the writing leans toward literary quality, the more conscious of language the reader will be.

I would like to call attention to two qualities we usually don't think much about: the sound and texture of words and the rhythms of sentences. We actually use these qualities any time we write, but we use them mostly by instinct without conscious thought. Yet they can give our writing added depth, and they can be used in passages of commercial fiction as well as literary fiction. This can be illustrated by a passage from my espionage thriller The Lazarus File. The hero, Mark, was missing in action in Southeast Asia when his wife and young child were killed by a drunk driver. In this scene he has finally returned and makes his first visit to their tomb in Louisiana.

Among the moss-draped oaks of the silent cemetery, Mark read again and again the brief dates of two beautiful lives. Somewhere among the oaks a redbird called to its mate, who piped her spirited reply. Quick wings whirred. Then silence returned. In the darkening cemetery, Mark stared at the marble walls and felt, as never before, man's inability to penetrate the barrier between life and death.

            What makes this passage work? The emotional mood setting by deep sounds, mostly long vowels. The contrast of those with the lighter sounds of short vowels. The contrast of monosyllables with polysyllables. The varied sentence lengths, with the sense of finality conveyed by short sentences. And this brief passage does not slow the action of the thriller.

            Truth to tell, I wish I could write like that all the time. But I can't. I was thinking of sound and rhythm when I wrote it, but in that instance it all came together with a little revision.

            How does this apply to all of us as fiction writers? We should continue to concentrate mainly on clarity and moving the story forward. But we should always be conscious of possibilities to add deeper layers of emotional meaning through the rhythms of sentences and the sounds of words.
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Monday, January 18, 2016

YA Book Cover Trends


Cynthia Toney doesn't design book covers. She writes young adult novels.  But like any fiction reader, she's attracted to some book covers more than others.

After receiving positive feedback regarding the first two covers of her YA series, Bird Face (shown below), she began to pay close attention to the YA covers she liked, which led her to consider trends in YA covers.

She shares her observations with us:

In deciphering which features draw me to a book cover, I realized they’re the same features that designers of print advertising, known as display ads, employ in their designs. And I used to be one—a display ad designer, not an ad.

Everyone reading this knows that any two-dimensional design must stand on its own merit. It must please the eye regarding use of light, color, movement, balance, unity, and visual texture, to name a few elements of design.

An advertising designer also knows that the ad must somehow jump out at the reader from all the other ads on a newspaper or magazine spread or page. Readers of print periodicals make a decision in a split second whether or not to read an ad’s content. The same goes for a book cover, and thus for a book.

On a table or shelf, what can be done to make a book cover stand out among the rest? It has to do with knowing the trends and staying ahead of them if you can.

Going forward on memory alone—and it’s been eighteen years since I designed newspaper ads—here are some of the design trends I recognize from those days and see repeated in book covers today.


Big human eyes. Dog or puppy eyes. Snake eyes. Just about any eyes, with or without much of the face. The reader is captivated unless every book on the shelf uses eyes.

Off with their heads

—or one side or top or bottom half of the body. The brain fills in the missing pieces. This trend focuses the reader on what the body is doing or wearing and can give a strong hint about the story. Using only legs can work as well.


The back

--of a figure or of a head. Done right, it directs the reader into the figure’s point of view.

Human silhouette.

It evokes mystery. Unfortunately, newspaper advertisers often wanted to fill silhouettes with ad copy, to the dismay of the designer.

Limited Color.

At one time, all newspaper ads printed in black ink, and the product images attracted readers. Then spot color was introduced to draw the eye to an ad, but eventually most advertisers caught on and used it. When presses made full color printing available, a few big-budget advertisers were able to dominate the pages through size and color. Then the little guys followed suit, the pages filled with color and, once again, no one’s ad stood out. So, some clever advertisers went back to black to get their ads noticed on colorful pages.

Today, book covers appear to be moving away from full color and toward a limited color palette. What sometimes appears to be a single color is actually a duo-tone created with one color plus black. Sometimes the entire background is white.

Lens flare or spotlight treatment.

Brings light to an otherwise dark cover image, or calls attention to a particular area of it.

The cover for The Perfect Blindside is a great example of one that combines a limited color palette and a silhouette viewed from the back with a special lighting effect. Doesn’t this cover draw a reader right into the book? It feels almost three-dimensional to me, as if I could step with the boy down to where the light is coming from and investigate what he sees.

Large Title or Large Author Name.

This trend was addressed continuously in newspaper ads as “Large Header or Large Company Logo,” so it was more of an ongoing debate between designers and clients than a trend.  Sometimes the company logo was the header, just as the author name can appear large at the top of a book cover. Or the title might appear much larger than the author’s name and be located at the top or bottom.

Playing with the Title Presentation or Font.

Other trends include a title that fills the majority of a blurry background, such as the cover of We Were Liars. Sometimes extra kerning (space) is added between letters to spread them out. Another trend is to place the title text on slips of paper, such as on the cover for All the Bright Places. As in that case, a human image might not appear on the cover at all.

I first noticed all these trends in advertising almost two decades ago, but they work now as they worked then.

By paying attention to the cover trends in our genres, authors can plan for our next book cover. The question is whether to ride a successful current trend—or create our own.

What is a favorite recent book cover and why? Did the cover call to you from among many others surrounding it?


Author Bio:

Cynthia writes character-driven teen novels with twisty plots—because life is complicated.

The first edition of her debut novel, Bird Face, won a 2014 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award in the Pre-teen Fiction Mature Issues category. With a new publisher, Write Integrity Press, the original story is now book one of the Bird Face series and titled 8 Notes to a Nobody. Book two is 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status. Watch for future titles in the series, which will continue to combine mystery, real-life struggles, and innocent teen romance.


Best ways to reach Cynthia:

Twitter:  @CynthiaTToney

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Book Review - The King's Dragon

I must admit right off the bat, that I've been in major work-mode lately, and my reading has fallen by the wayside. However, in recent days, my work load significantly lightened up, and I was finally able to take a bit of time to do some fun-reading (rather than the research reading I've been up to as of late.)

I also rarely read novels based off of TV series I watch. I do read series that sparked movies and TV shows, but not the other way around. Just one of those weird rules of mine.

But a few months ago, one of my friends raved about a Doctor Who book by Uma McCormack. I'm a Doctor Who fan (yes, I'm a geek--why else would I write books featuring a superhuman main character?) and my friend said that this writer had done a brilliant job at characterization of the Doctor and his companions. Okay, I'm sold.

Sadly, my library didn't have that book. But they did have The King's Dragon by the same author. At right about 250 pages, this definitely fit my need for a quick, light read.

The story is pretty much typical Doctor Who-type fare: the Doctor and his companions arrive on an alien planet and find something amiss, in this case, a magical metal called Enamour on a pre-industrial planet, and a king with a dragon made of the stuff. The Doctor knows it shouldn't be there, and when two bands of aliens show up to reclaim what may or may not be theirs, a Doctor-kind of chaos ensues.

As a light-read, this was perfect. It was brilliantly paced, cleverly written, and the characterizations nearly spot-on for the characters I've grown to love over the last few years. I had no problem picturing this alien planet or its people, and for the characters I knew, their voices and facial expressions came through clearly in my head. It is British, being that Doctor Who is a BBC-produced show, so the spelling and the punctuation took a bit of getting used to (they use single quotes the way we use double quotes, and vice-versa. But I've dealt with that before when reading Ian Fleming's work.)

If you're in to Doctor Who as well, and haven't taken the plunge into the literary world of the Doctor, this would be a good one to start with, especially if you're a fan of the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond.

The King's Dragon is $8.94 for Kindle, $4.85 for paperback.


Brief note from Liberty because Linda Yezak said I could:
This week, I launched a new podcast with two of my fellow nerds, Aaron DeMott & Joshua Hardt. If you're a writer, or a reader of sci-fi/fantasy/speculative fiction, you may be interested in following our podcast! Co-founder of AuthorCulture, K.M. Weiland will be our guest in our 'casts later this month. You can find Lasers, Dragons, & Keyboards at this link. Thanks so much!
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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Beware Past Tense

Past Tense

We’re going to start with the PREMISE that TENSE is our friend in our literary efforts.

Trust me, it is. This is the first in a series discussing the most common forms of Tense:

Past, Present, Future, Speculative

The word “subjunctive” gives me brain freeze, and since many experts on English Language and Usage Stack Exchange agree it’s similar to “simple past,” let’s just go with that.

It’s still enough to give me a headache, but it's necessary to understand that Tense is a style that is best served separated. In narrative, particularly fiction, CONTINUITY and FLOW are vital, crucial, of utmost importance as the best way to tell and read a story. USING PAST TENSE DOES NOT relegate or confine activity to a period of time, such as then and now.

Some good sites to visit:

The most simplistic way I know of sharing these differences may create some discussion in the audience—for which I say, Let’s!

                        HYPOTHETICAL PAST 

As long as I’ve been writing professionally, there have been differences of opinion about method and style of grammar, punctuation, and usage. The more people publish, the more we’ll slide toward a common ground. I have learned after many years to ask, “Specifically, where did you get that information?” when some writer says, “I was told/learned, I heard/my editor said/had me...” But for now, here are the scholarly differences.

Simple (Ordinary) Past Tense: Reporting an action that is finished: 
e.g., I ate. /I ate dinner.

Perfect Past Tense: Here’s where that pesky HAD comes into play. When you see a sentence with “had” in front of the verb, it’s most likely the perfect (complete) form if the sentence is using proper grammar. We put that “had” in a complex sentence to show a time reference of two or more events that happened in the past, and one came before the other—even if the events are assumed. For example: But I had already eaten. (Assumes a question or thought about another event: i.e., I had already eaten before I arrived.) SOOOOO—if you hear anyone telling you to take out all the “had”s in your narrative, he or she is probably WRONG.

Hypothetical or Speculative Past Tense: Discusses “IF” Subject/verb past tense. – Something that did not happen/ or probably would not happen/never could have happened, no matter how much I wanted it to happen. i.e., “If humans had gills, they could live in the ocean.”

If I had wanted to eat dinner with you, I would have come earlier.
My mother must have been Vulcan if you believed she had green blood.

NOTE: you will often use the hypothetical “would” and “could” in this sentence structure WHEN there’s speculation involved. When there’s no speculation (if this, then that) I tell my clients these terms are generally considered cushions/fluff/ or speed bumps that can come out, as they weaken the sentence and take the place of a strong verb. Examples I see often include: “I could hear singing from the other side of the wall.” There’s no speculation here—Just write, “I heard singing from the other side of the wall.” Or make it active: “I listened to singing from the other side of the wall.” On the other hand, making it perfect speculative past would be something like, "I could have heard the singing better if the wall wasn't in the way."

Dialog tags will be in this format:

,” he said. (told me, etc.: whined, screeched, called...anything that denotes speech, and speech only)

Example: He jogged down the sidewalk, skipped the cracks, and slid to a halt in front of Darla’s where he inhaled Peruvian ground beans with a hint of...was that cocoa? He opened the door and slipped inside. “Hi, Darla,” he said.

,” he thought. (AND PLEASE don’t add “to himself” or “in his head/mind/heart/throat/gut/soles unless you are writing spec and there is more than one entity of different genders in there)
Example: And if Jennifer was already at Darla’s, he would get up the nerve to sit with her this time, he thought.

Sometimes I see writers using contractions everywhere, in narrative as well as dialog. They may write: And if Jennifer's already at Darla’s, he would get up the nerve to sit with her this time, he thought. WHY IT'S WRONG: the contraction, Jennifer's, infers Jennifer is, instead of Jennifer was. Use contractions in Dialog, where you should use present tense when speaking in the here and now. More of that next time.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Writing Dynamite Suspense

Not to be outdone by my neighbors' yard d├ęcor,
I recruited some construction guys to place this
at the end of our driveway. Not really. It just
showed up one morning, adding thousands to the
 value of our home, which we rent, so it doesn't
 really matter to me one way or the other.
It happens to all of us. We think we're ready for something; we plot, we plan, we do whatever it takes to be ready when the times comes. And then ... nothing.

I'm not talking about dynamite blasts--well, in a way I am, but I'll get to that in a minute. Right now I'm talking about keeping the suspense alive for our readers. Taking them to the brim of disaster, then pulling back. Giving them a few more hints, more brim-hanging, and still teasing them. More hints, more hanging, and then when you finally have them where you want them ... they close the book and leave. They're sick and tired of the teasing. They want something to happen, for crying out loud.

That's exactly how I felt a couple of days ago after I discovered this tastefully-colored sign adorning the edge of our driveway. Because we live in a new neighborhood, the construction is non-stop and our backyard looks like a literal war zone. Mounds of dirt, rock, debris, and those lovely blast blankets (my name, not theirs) made of old, ripped apart tires greet me from the front and back windows of our house. From what I've observed, Tennessee is comprised of six inches of topsoil and a state-wide chunk of granite that extends about 12,000 miles into the earth. Planting petunias requires a post-hole digger. Digging a basement is out of the question, and running sewer lines, as they're doing at the moment in our neighborhood to accommodate the cul-de-sac going up behind us, means dynamiting their way past that first six inches of dirt and on down toward the earth's core. My experience with the blasting the other day reminded me of ways we can surprise our readers without teasing them past their tolerance levels.

Without giving away any of the plot of my latest manuscript, I'll tell you how I kept the suspense alive without (I hope) driving my readers insane. Yes, we want them on the edge of their seats, panting for that moment when it 1.) all falls together, 2.) all falls apart, or 3.) falls flat on its face. Falling together can mean things work out well for the protagonist or that the reader finally understands what's going on, whereas falling apart can mean the end of the antagonist or that the preconceived notions of our reader are dissolving before their bleary eyes (they've been reading through the night, you know, unable to put our book aside). Both definitions for either of those two works in the favor of both the author and the reader. And I've said it before, falling flat on its face means ... well, you know.

So I try to keep the suspense in motion by manipulating the speed and cadence of the chapters, speeding up at times, slowing down at others. Oftentimes leading up to a finale doesn't have to be full-speed-ahead, even though the plot may have progressed rapidly for the past few or several chapters in order to set it up. Too much of a good thing, though, can be wearing. (Except for pecan pie. You can never have too much pecan pie.) Pie aside, leading the reader on a pell-mell race through the last third of the book is liable to leave them exhausted and instead of panting for the ending, they might just roll over and nod off. To make sure I don't overstimulate them, I chop up my chapters with short scenes. Some are very short--one paragraph of information telling them what's going on behind the scenes can do two things: increase the suspense by filling them in on the actions of other characters or where the timer on the bomb is at the moment, and slow down the pace just enough to give the reader a breather. Then it's on to another character and what he's/she's grappling with at the moment. Done in the right way, you can drop the bomb on them when they're least expecting it and give them that satisfying ending, one they didn't see coming and aren't too exhausted to appreciate. As an added benefit, keeping the reader invested in the actions of other characters (assuming their actions pertain to what's going on at the time) imparts that "in the know" feeling we all look for in a good book. We want to be surprised, but also to be kept in the loop just enough so we can't cry "Foul!" at the end.

Back to my dynamite-filled afternoon. I'd been waiting for them to blast all day and when the first one came, I literally threw myself across my four-year-old granddaughter in anticipation of the ceiling falling down upon us. That didn't please either one of us. I didn't hear any of the warning signals and assumed they hadn't bothered with them. Later that day, though, I could see through our kitchen window that they were preparing for a second blast. This time I'd be ready for them, I told myself. I watched as the crane deftly maneuvered the blast blankets atop the area they'd been scurrying over for the past few hours. Finally, they were ready. I was ready. Molly was ready. "Any minute now, honey," I said in my best "don't-be-afraid-of-the-earth-rattling-noise-I'm-about-to-subject-you-to-sweetie" voice as I focused my phone camera in the direction of the grand finale.

But they weren't ready. More men scurried over the mound of blankets. What were they doing? Playing king of the mountain? Then more men came by. They talked, they gesticulated, they took a lunch break, they moved massive pieces of machinery away from harm's way (a good move, looking back on it), they took sips of Mountain Dew and tossed the can to the ground. "Earth haters," I thought. My arm was getting tired of holding that darned camera high enough over the screened section of the window to get a clear shot. Molly was getting tired of standing next to her deranged grandma and whined to get back to playing Drown the Little People in the kitchen sink. The suspense was killing us. I panned the phone to keep up with an orange-vested man holding what looked like a can of hairspray (vain, aren't we, Dynamite Dude?), but ended up being the anemic air horn. When he hit the button, the resulting noise wouldn't have awakened a colicky baby from six inches away. We waited. More. Still more. Just when I thought I'd drop the camera and miss it altogether, it went off. Even though I was ready for it (and had been for the past three hours), when it exploded, my arm jerked and I got a great shot of the blue sky over our house followed a second or so later by some dust blown upward.

Yep, the grand finale arrived, all right. I thought I was ready; I thought I'd prepared; I thought I knew the mind of Dapper Dynamite Dude. I didn't. He played his game well, and by the time the end came, I was ready to throw in the towel. At just the right moment, he made his play and blew me away. (Excuse that pun. It was just too good not to use.) His scurrying over the mound, drinking Mountain Dew, and taking my mind off the explosion by showing his blatant disregard for our planet all redirected my mind and altered the speed and cadence of the event. He took me by surprise.

Well done, Dapper Dynamite Dude. Now go find that slivered Mountain Dew can and put it in the recycle bin where it belongs.
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Thursday, January 7, 2016


Read this and work the exercises. Your characters will thank you! 

I've had the pleasure of attending Jan Morrill's workshops at several conferences and I'm delighted she has put together this book which is based on her presentations from the past five years. In it she suggests six methods of creative characterization she used when writing her historical novel The Red Kimono, a story of a small Japanese girl who is a victim of the Japanese Internment.  These methods are:
  • Interviewing
  • Describing photos and paintings
  • Writing letters
  • Writing from a different point of view
  • Accessing a character's inner child
  • Internalization
I've used them all and have discovered many things about my characters I'd never thought of before. The exercises are fun, thought provoking, and effective. Even if I do not use all the information I've gleaned from working the exercises, I certainly know my character better. 

Creative Characterization is a small book with big ideas. It's user friendly and economical. I recommend this book, you will not be disappointed. I certainly wasn't. 

Jan Morrill was raised in a multicultural and multi-religious family. Her mother, a Buddhist Japanese American, was an internee during World War II. Her father, A Southern Baptist redhead of Irish descent, retired from the Air Force.

Her award-winning historical fiction, The Red Kimono, as well as her short stories, poetry, and memoir essays reflect her rich cultural background.

While working on the sequel to The Red Kimono, Jan presents workshops on writing, as well as speaking on the history of the Japanese American internment.

For more information please visit her site:

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Just Thinking

Google Free Images
In the spirit of the new year, and echoing Liberty Spieidel's awesome post about goals, I share one of my favorite quotes. My husband is fond of asking, "How do you eat an elephant?" Answer: "One bite at a time."

I love that because really, we just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other, or in our case, one word after another and another and another. One bite, or word, at a time. Just, well, just write!

After my first book came out, I got caught up in social media marketing and networking. Yep, it's got to be done. After a time I realized that I wasn't getting much writing done. As a writer with a full time "other" job, my writing time is limited. But I've decided when I'm going to do it and pray for unwavering faithfulness to that block of time. Every morning - one word after another and another and another.

We can't edit or submit something that hasn't been written. We can't improve our skills if we don't write, write, write. Writers write, right? First and foremost. The only other thing more important in my writing life is praying for direction about what I'm writing.

What say you?

Have a happy, blessed, and productive 2016. Jody
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Monday, January 4, 2016

Post-New Year's Motivation

A bumper sticker I picked up at the Air Museum in Seattle, WA.
I keep it under the glass top on my desk for a reminder when I need it.
The above is one of my all-time favorite quotes. It was made famous in the 1995 movie, "Apollo 13" starring Ed Harris as Gene Kranz. In the scene, Mr. Kranz is motivating his engineers how to get the Apollo 13 astronauts from the moon back to earth after their service module had a mission-ending explosion. The engineers weren't sure they could come through, but as Kranz says, Failure is not an option. He wanted those astronauts back--and alive.

There's a John Wayne quote I love as well:
 What do both of these have to do with writing?

A lot, at least in my mind.

At this time of year, humans tend to like to set new goals, new resolutions. Unfortunately, most resolutions are abandoned within a few weeks. Very few are likely to be accomplished, but those who manage to accomplish their goals are very dedicated and motivated.

The new year is a great time to sit down and consider your goals in your writing career and decide to reach for the stars. Or maybe to shoot for orbiting the Earth.

But you still have to be as dedicated as the engineers during the Apollo 13 mission. Failure is not an option. And even though it may be distressing and scary at times to push through for your goals, you still need to saddle up anyway.

So which is it going to be for you this year? For me, I'm going to saddle up, and vow not to fail.
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