Archive for the Category » ‘the Art of Writing’ «

Storytelling (Nostalgia ~ #13)

A short story, novella or full length novel often begins with a snippet of a story. Sometimes from your own past experiences, sometimes from others. Sometimes from a collage of different people melded into one. I just finished reading a 500 page novel that was born out of some brief family history of the author’s. The following memory came to me suddenly, about my Dad. Many of the subtle nuisances were lost on a child but now they make exquisite sense. 

My Dad was a ‘butcher’ his entire life. Beginning, I would assume as an apprentice when he was very young right up to being a civilian butcher on troop ships delivering men to the Korean Peninsula. (Civilian because he had lost sight in an eye during WWII and couldn’t re-enlist). After he returned and twenty years of working for someone else he bought a small butcher shop. Today his shop would have a fancier name like John’s Custom Meats, but back then I believe the signage said, ‘Meat Market’. Super Markets were just catching on but people were suspicious and preferred the specialty shops and small grocer so he did fairly well.  His work day would begin at 6a.m. and the shop would close at 6p.m. He would work another 1-2 hours moving all the trays of meat

 from the case into the cooler for the night. Then he would meticulously clean the inside of the cases. He scrubbed the top of the butcher’s block with salt and saw dust, using a wire brush. When all was clean he would collect the saw dust from the floor and replace it with fresh. 

Back in the 1950’s the meat cases were made mostly of wood, stretching the horizontal length of the front of the store. Glass in front and accessed in the back by wood-framed glass sliders.  Behind the counter was a large wooden butcher block table. But not the ‘butcher-block’ that we think of today. No, this table was made from one huge, square block of wood with legs attached. A saddle indent in the wood, on one side, was made from years of where my father (and the men he followed) stood and cut meat. The floor was covered with fresh saw-dust, changed out nightly. His knives, which no one else was allowed to touch, hung on a magnet strip on the side of the table. 

Weekly a truck would back up to the rear door of the butcher shop and my Dad would help off-load halves of a whole beef, and whole pig carcasses. Nothing was precut. My Dad would ‘break down’ the meat, cutting steaks (sirloin, rib-eye, T-bone, and Filet mignon), using a meat saw to go through bone. Racks of ribs and roasts, all cut by hand. Every left-over scrap of  beef was tossed into a bin (everything was stainless steel back then; no plastic was used). He began filling the cases with his beautiful cuts of meat. Next he would process the scraps of meat, collected earlier, through the grinder to make hamburger. (Hand cranked; he couldn’t afford electric saws or grinders back then.) There were only two grades; ‘hamburger’ (the cheapest filled with more fat and less meat) and ‘ground round’ (the leanest and most expensive.) The ground meat would fill long trays that fit inside the display case. When a customer asked for hamburger, my Dad would hand scoop one or two pounds from the tray, slap the meat into a sheet of waxed, white butcher paper and weigh it. He was never off on the weight and mostly put it on the scale for the customer’s benefit. If he had weighed heavy he never took away from the mound of meat; that would have been bad customer service in his view. In those days a butcher was allowed (by Federal regulations)  to sprinkle in a chemical that would ‘brighten’ yesterday’s hamburger that had turned a little brown. He would do this regularly and put it on ‘sale’ the next day.  

My mother would drive him to work and pick him up every night. As I mentioned, he was a veteran and had lost the sight in one eye during his time in the South Pacific, thus preventing him from driving. Frequently Mom and I would go early and help close up. Mom and Dad would also make their own sausage to sell. Using scraps of beef and pork they would make huge batches of ground meat, mixing in special spices. Placing a special tip on the grinder, they would attach a casing made of pig intestine on the end. They pressed the meat through the machine and into the casing, tying off  the lengths of sausages with a quick couple of twists of the casing.  

All the years I helped in the butcher shop I never saw my Dad dressed differently. Pure white t-shirt under a crisp white, short-sleeved dress shirt (ironed by my mother), blood stained white apron, with chino (kakis) pants. In the rear pocket was a pint of whiskey in a brown paper bag. His face was clean shaven, his fingers cracked and covered in small cuts. His hair neatly trimmed and slicked back with Brylcream. No matter what time of night we got home, my mother had dinner almost ready. Nothing left to do but ‘fry up the meat’. From the front door to the kitchen sink to wash up, to the dinner table to the couch was my father’s journey. The whiskey had navigated from the hip pocket to a glass sitting on the coffee table. Together we would watch boxing (my Dad’s passion) and shows from the 50’s:  Rawhide, Ed Sullivan, Ozzie and Harriet, What’s My Line, and Candid Camera. 

Now, with a few decades of life experiences behind me I realize my Dad was probably never without pain. Pain in his back from carrying sides of beef and long trays of meat. Working fourteen hour days. And the untreated, jungle rot (tropical ulcers) on his legs must have been excruciatingly painful by the end of each day. No wonder he lay flat on his back on the sofa, self-medicating with whiskey.

I’ll end this story with a funny anecdote.  My Dad hated the narrator for the Skippy Peanut Butter commercial on tv. This was before all of our electronic accessories  of today. But finally one day he happened to read an ad for a remote mute button. It attached to the tv by a cord that ran across the living room floor and ended in a small box with a mute button. Yes, that was it: an on and off button. It finally arrived in the mail and we hooked it up. That night, my Dad waited in anticipation for the Skippy commercial to appear during our nightly shows. The the minute the commercial began my Dad gleefully pressed the mute button and yelled at the tv, “Take that, you S.O.B!” 
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Motivational Moments…for Writers (Retread)

It ‘s worth repeating. Writers!  You can do it!

Procrastination is just a word.  Write one new word, one new sentence.  Breath!  That sentence should make you want to write another.

What?  Why? When? How? Where does that sentence lead you? Breathe. It doesn’t have to be perfect…it’s the first draft.  That’s what re-writes are for.

                             ‘Writers aren’t exactly people, they’re a whole lot of people trying to be one person.’
                               – F. Scott Fitzgerald

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                                  ‘As a writer, I marinate, speculate and hibernate.’  Trisha Sugarek
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Interview with Author, David Poyer (part 2)

with wife, Lenore

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

DP. Oh sure. ‘What planet am I on?” Hours will go by and I am just not there at all in the chair. The same experience I hope my readers will savor!

Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.

DP. Always! An article for SHIPMATE magazine on students called to the battlefield from the classroom . . . the new literary review . . . a creepy short story for the next NIGHT BAZAAR anthology . . . a new Dan Lenson novel for next year . . . consulting and assisting my students in their novels. And of course, doing promotion for the latest book, OVERTHROW, the concluding volume of my War with China series. There’s no shortage of work! But it’s all fascinating and I really enjoy what I do. Especially helping younger writers. I only started teaching ten years ago, and am surprised how much satisfaction there is in helping someone else succeed.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

DP. In 1976, beginning with short stories.

Q. How long after that were you published?

DP. not that long . . . maybe a year. But it took four years to publish my first novel. That was WHITE CONTINENT, an adventure story that today might be called a techno thriller.

Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?

DP. I sure don’t. The sales numbers on those are going up again after a decline in recent years. EBook sales are down. Audio book sales are up. But no, we will not see paper books go away.

Q. What makes a writer great?

DP. So many things! Sympathy, deep craft, huge intelligence, deep feeling, an ear for language . . . I could go on and on. World building. The ability to truly see. The ability to truly care. The passions . . . rage, regret, vengeance, love. Jonathan Swift’s “burning indignation.” We’re not going to see any of those from AIs anytime soon!

Q. and the all-important:What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

DP. Like a long sea voyage, with lots of planning followed by setting sail; then changes of the wind, challenges along the way, port calls, near-disasters, interspersed with periods of calm sailing. Occasional mutinies by the characters. Menaces from pirates. Then the channel to the final destination opens ahead, and there’s a welcoming crowd waiting on the pier . . . my longtime fans, who sometimes take me to task, but who more often cheer me on and make me feel I’m doing some good in the world. I owe them a lot, and they know who they are!

Q. How has your life experiences influenced your writing?

DP. I would think that’s pretty obvious!

Q. What’s your down time look like?

DP. Sailing, coaching, reading, doing errands on my motorcycle . . . I live in a quiet rural seaside county in Virginia. Also, I travel. This last year we journeyed through seven countries by plane, bus, and rail, both for research, personal reasons, and to accompany Lenore to and from a writing residency in Schwandorf, Bavaria. I don’t think we’ll schedule that many at once again for a while! But we might try for Morocco later this year. Maybe.

Q. Have you or do you want to write in another genre`?

DP. So far I’ve written historicals, eco-thrillers, science fiction, sea novels, military fiction and nonfiction, lots of nonfiction biography and travel, and the occasional screenplay. I’d like to try a memoir one day, but not soon!

Note to Self: (a life lesson you’ve learned.)

DP. Be mindful, be here for each day, and tell those you love how much you love them. None of it will last forever! Which should make it all the sweeter, no?

Did you miss Part I of our Interview? Click here
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Review ~ The Vanishing by Jayne Ann Krentz

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5 out of 5 quills             Book Review 

This is a slick and clever mystery cloaked in the paranormal. Not all that ‘woo-woo’ stuff but rather heightened senses; something that we can all relate to.
Deja vu, intuition, and sometimes just ‘a feeling.’  

But in this story our protagonists and antagonists….well no… just about everybody in the town of Fogg Lake has the gift. The unique part of this story is for a short while, the author makes believers out of most of us. To write more about the story would give away too much. I highly recommend it and fans of Krentz won’t be disappointed. 

Jayne Ann Krentz (also writes under the pseudonym, Amanda Quick) is an excellent writer. And reliable. Whether she is writing historic romances or modern-day tales, her writing is always consistent and excellent. The Vanishing delivers.

Did you miss my Interview with Jayne Ann Krentz?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Interview with Naval Captain, turned Author, David Poyer

Naval Captain DAVID POYER grew up in Pennsylvania and attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. His naval service included duty in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Arctic, Caribbean, and ports around the world. His nearly fifty published books include THE DEAD OF WINTER, WINTER IN THE HEART, AS THE WOLF LOVES WINTER, and THUNDER ON THE MOUNTAIN. His latest is OVERTHROW . His work has been translated into Japanese, Dutch, Hungarian, and Serbo-Croatian.

Poyer holds a master’s degree from George Washington University and has taught or lectured at Annapolis, Flagler College, and other institutions around the country. He has been a visiting writer/writer in residence at Flagler and Annapolis. His fiction has been required reading in the U.S. Naval Academy.

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing? Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

DP. I’ve written just about everywhere . . . aboard ship, in bars, in offices, on residencies abroad . . . anywhere with a pen or a keyboard. These days I usually write in my custom-built office, which has large windows with a view out over the Chesapeake Bay. And lots of reference books!

Q. Do you have any special rituals or quirks when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

DP. Uh, not really . . . not superstitious about that, no. I check the email, look over the news, and set to work!

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

DP. One wall of my office is covered with typewriters. Manual typewriters, from all countries, that I’ve collected over the years. I came back from a research trip to Europe last year with five typewriters in a duffel bag…which interested the customs officials no end when they saw them on the X-rays!

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

DP. First thing in the morning works for me, when it’s quiet and not too much else has impinged on my day. I try to get at least a thousand words down, and then the rest of the day is mine to answer email, do research, or have fun!

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

DP. Here’s what I emphasize to my creative writing students: I think procrastination or “block” is usually just the result of a failure to properly prepare. I go through a long process of imagining my characters, daydreaming about their scenes. Eventually, I generate a detailed chapter outline that extends all the way to the end of the novel. (Things change, natch, and the outline is fluid to accommodate gifts; but having the outline there in the morning in place of a blank page removes all my stress.) When I know what will probably happen next, there’s no reason at all not to be able to do my thousand words that day. And usually more!

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

DP. They stem from various sources . . . some from people I knew . .. others are patterned after earlier fictional characters, especially in WHITENESS OF THE WHALE . . . and some spring fully born onto the page, like W. T. Halvorsen, who was a walk-on in DEAD OF WINTER but who took me through the next three books in the Hemlock County series. My wife says she’s often puzzled when I talk about my characters as if they’re people she should know! But then, she’s a novelist too, so she understands….

Q. What first inspired you to write?

DP. I tell my students at Wilkes, “One becomes a writer, not because one can, but because one must.” I realized very early, around age four, that writing was what I was sent here to do. And no matter what I did in between childhood and becoming a fulltime writer, that was preparation, rather than the main event.

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

DP. Well, sometimes one, at other times the other. My continuing characters, such as Halvorsen, Dan Lenson, Tiller Galloway, usually find themselves confronted by ‘The Situation’, as you put it. Then they are called upon to react. Typically, things then get very dark. I mope around, trying to think of a way they can possibly escape. Eventually, I (or really, they) figure it out! Then all I have to do is craft the prose. Which is absorbing, too, in its way. The style of each of these series seems to differ. That, I think, is half organic and half from what my mentor Frank Green called a “felt knowledge.”

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

Join us for Part 2 of this griping interview next week
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Book Review ~~ The Country Guesthouse

reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing5 out of five quills         Book Review

 

Every time I read the newest release in the Sullivan’s Crossroads series I think to myself, ‘This is the best book in the series’. Nothing has changed.

 

The Country Guesthouse is deliciously good. All the reoccurring characters from previous books in the series appear again. As the reader returns to the campground and country store once more, we pick up where we left off in the last book. Like I said, ‘delicious!’  There is a wonderful love story between a woman, a man, a boy and a dog. And who doesn’t love a love story with a few bumps in the road?

Lots of twists and turns in this story, which I won’t elaborate on since I don’t write spoilers. But suffice it to say, you will be rooting for the new lovers and the newly forged family all along the way. 

I highly recommend this book to my readers! 

Did you miss my Interview with Robyn Carr?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Review: Christmas in Winter Valley by Jodi Thomas

 

4 out of 5 quills                     Book Review reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing

 

This story was perfect  reading for the holiday season. While it did rely heavily on readers knowing the back stories from the series (Random Canyon Romance) it was entertaining and charming. So many characters in this one, but my favorites were Coop, Tatum, Tye, Creed, Dani and of course the horses. I didn’t connect with the other brothers, Elliot and Griffin. They weren’t as well drawn as the others. 

While I enjoyed the story immensely, the whole thing felt rushed. I felt rushed. I wish there had been less story lines and more story. And my only real criticism was the need for the wacky half-cousins, trashing the house, getting drunk, (no character development); they were here, they were gone and they seemed superfluous to the story plot. (Delete key!) And Creed rashly hooking up with the redhead. He wouldn’t do that. He’s too careful about life.  

This is not to say I didn’t finish the book with relish and left wanting more. 

Did you miss my interview with this best selling author?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Happy New Year!!

Petey watching Live PD

I’ll end the year with a little poetry about the love from dogs and affection from cats.  Don’t groan….ewww, poetry...I think you’ll find the poetry funny if you have either cats or dogs. I’m blessed with both.  Rescued of course. 

 

Molly & Barcode

Cat Love

Don’t ruffle my fur that direction! You’re doing it all wrong! I’ve got it looking just the way I want.

I love you but I’m very busy today.

Don’t move, this is my lap time and I’m very comfy.

Scratch right there, no a little more to the left, a little higher, to the right.

Petey & Barcode

Look what I’ve brought you–isn’t it beautiful? I killed it in the garden.

That’s what we’re having for dinner?

You need to work on how you pick your friends. I don’t like that one and besides he had the nerve to sit in my chair!

I could find a better human, you know, if I put in some effort…

But I guess you’ll do…for now.

Dog Love

Stack Dogs

Pet me, pet me, pet me! Oh boy! A butt rub!
I love you to the ends of the earth and beyond!

I’ll just lay here quietly, I won’t bother you, as long as I can touch you.

In memory….Gus

Throw the ball! Throw the ball!
Again! Again!

I love my dinner, you’re such a good mommy!

‘Walkie’, ‘go outside’, ‘go for a walk’, ‘let’s go pee-pee’. Yippee! Where’s my leash?

In remembrance, Sam

I love your friends. That one scratched my ears and told me I was a good dog.

You’re home! You’re home! Why were you gone so long….it doesn’t matter now…You’re home!

You’re the best human ever….I love you!

Fiona & Petey

Molly & Petey

Petey

The Lost are the Last to Die ~~ Book Review

reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing4 out of 5 quills ~~ Book Review

The Lost are the Last to Die by Larry D. Sweazy is a new, old west tale. 
Fans of westerns are going to love this story.  Set in the early 1900’s, the horse is being replaced by the automobile, the Great War has just ended and the lawlessness of the ‘old west’ is being rooted out.

Ranging from 1911 (flashbacks) to 1934 (present time for this story) Sweazy’s hero, Sonny Burton has enjoyed a stellar career in law enforcement. Surviving fighting in the Great War, he comes home and joins the Texas Rangers.  But life has served up a couple of career changing setbacks and Sonny must find new meaning in what seems like a meaningless life. 

The writing is superb. Larry leads the reader on an exciting chase with many twists and turns in the plot. Sonny Burton gives the reader someone worthy of rooting for. We want him to win even when it seems most unlikely.  

My Review of other Sweazy books.
Did you miss my interview with Larry Sweazy?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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  On the home page, enter your email address.  Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 3, Interview with Australian Author, Dervla McTirnan

Q. and the all-important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

DM. It has been different with every book, honestly, and I expect (hope!) that this will continue. For the last few books the first draft has been fast and it is getting faster. I think about a book for months before I start writing so I have a pretty good understanding of the key characters and situation before I start. And I always outline. But as I become more experienced I am also trusting my instincts much more, making decisions faster and leaning on my emotional responses to things. I think (hope!) that that is making for stronger books. Then my book goes off to my editors and I get very detailed structural editorial notes back. I really like to go to town with a structural edit. I take at least two months, sometimes three, to take a book apart, down into the sum of its parts, and rebuild it into something stronger. It’s ferociously hard sometimes, but very worth it. Sometimes a book doesn’t need that much work, of course. With The Good Turn only one storyline needed a significant rewrite, but I can always find something to do to make the story stronger. I try to put as much effort and energy and creativity into the edit as I did into the early drafts. It takes staying power, honestly, because the more you work a book the harder it gets…but it’s worth it.

My tiny desk

After that we have copy-editing, which is much easier, and then a proof-read. I keep tweaking right up to final pages, and I always do one final read-through where I read the book out loud, trying to work on the rhythm of the lines. When it’s finally done I never want to see the book as long as I live! And then I see the cover and I remember why I loved it in the first place.

Q. How has your life experiences influenced your writing?

DM. In every possible way. I’ve drawn on elements of my life for every single book I’ve written.

Q. What’s your down time look like?

DM. Down time for me is mostly not really down time! The wonderful thing about being a writer is that you have maximum flexibility. But I’ve written at least a book a year over the past few years, sometimes a book and a novella, and that’s really a full time job if you want to produce quality books. Until a year ago I had a part-time day job too. And I have primary school aged kids. So I choose to arrange my writing day around the children – I write when they are at school, but I also have to do the usually household tasks during that time, which cuts into precious writing time. I spend most of my afternoons with the kids (and believe me, I know how lucky I am that I have that choice!) but it does mean that I usually still have work to do when then are asleep. For a long time I started my day at 6 am and finished work for the day at around 10 p.m. These days I usually get at least three nights off a week and I love to curl up on the couch with my husband and catch up on TV. This year’s favourites so far – Chernobyl, Morning Wars and His Dark Materials. TV is so extraordinarily good right now and the writing is very inspirational.

Q. Have you or do you want to write in another genre`?

DM. I have a couple of long running stories that I write for the kids when I have time, and I would love to try my hand at properly writing a middle grade fiction some time. I do have a story in mind. But there are so many other stories I want to write first that I never seem to get around to it. Not that there’s any guarantee that I would be any good at it…but I’d really like to try!

Q. Note to Self: (a life lesson you’ve learned.)

DM. There have been so many. But the need for balance, maybe, has been the hardest lesson to learn and the most rewarding. When I was younger I saw hard work as the answer to every problem. That worked for a while…until I hit a few walls that were tougher than I was and paid the price. Now instead of throwing myself up against things in mad bursts of energy and effort, I try to do smaller things but very, very consistently. I rely on routine, I try to go easier on myself and take some time for relaxation and honestly, I am more productive and far happier.

Did you miss Part 1 or 2 of this wonderful interview? Click here

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   December: Dervla McTiernan ~~ January: David Poyer  
To receive my posts sign up for my 

  On the home page, enter your email address.  Thanks!

Available now!