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Inspiration in the Check Out Line…really?

Back in 2015 I wrote this post. It’s been getting some ‘clicks’ lately from visitors so I thought I would reprise it. When something or someone inspires you, grab hold and don’t let go?   

inspiration, writing, story telling, blogging, blogs, short stories,, short plays, life     The other day I was standing in line at the grocery store, minding my own business…preoccupied that I was leaving my dogs in the car too long….when I suddenly became aware of the man in front of me being checked out.  I had picked that line because it appeared that he only had maybe six items, (boxes of something) and I was eager to get checked out.  (the dogs…remember?)

Well, it turned out that in front of the ‘boxes’, and out of my line of sight, were two dozen very tiny cans of dog food.  It seems that you can buy three tablespoons of dog food in individual cans for your darling pet.  Two bags of doggy treats and then we were ready to ring up the boxes.

Those six boxes were actually fifteen (yes I counted every one of them; the dogs in the car, remember) boxes of Healthy Choice ‘nutritious, packaged dinners; microwavable, ready to eat  in just twelve minutes’. Fifteen boxes of over-processed, heavily salted, flavor enhanced, empty food.  The nutritional value in the dog food was probably better. I wanted so badly to take my bag of fresh spinach out of my cart and give it to him with my best wishes. But, wait, he wouldn’t know how to steam the spinach or for how long.

Well!  That made me take a closer look at the customer.  And by the time he paid ($86.13 for the dog food and the TV dinners, OMG!) I had half of a short, one act play written in my head.   

The man in my story is a newly widowed senior who was married for forty years and never cooked a meal in his life. 

He goes home with his sad little boxes of food.  He puts his delicious, processed dinners in the freezer to be enjoyed later in front of his fifty-two inch high definition television.  DogSpeaking baby talk he rips open the doggy treats and gives his overweight  shiatsu a goody.

If this sounds as if I am making fun…..no, no, no…it’s written with love as this is the typical existence of the widowed male.  A snapshot of life that gave me a great little story. And  the lesson to be learned, fellow writers, is to keep your eyes and ears open.  You never know when inspiration will strike!
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   May: Boo Walker, June: Anne D. LeClaire and July — Catherine Ryan Hyde
 
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Interview with Poet, Author, Joe Albanese

Joe Albanese is a writer from South Jersey. his work can be found in publications across the U.S. and in ten other countries. Joe’s the author of For the Blood is the Life, Caina, Smash and Grab, and a poetry collection, Cocktails with a Dead Man. If you are frustrated with the brevity of this interview, don’t despair. He lets it all hang out in this wonderful book of poetry.

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.

JA. Most of my writing gets done at the dining room table. Although sometimes I write in front of the tv, just for the ambient noise. Poetry I’ve written all over, mostly on my phone, then transfer it so my computer later.

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.)

JA. Yes, I try to avoid writing at all costs. So I clean up a lot beforehand, do any chores that need or don’t even need to be done before I can sit down and write.

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

JA. I’m probably done with my writing career. I have two more books I am trying to get published, but then I’ve finished. Or at least I’ll be taking a long break while I try to find a “real” job.

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

JA. Usually the middle of the night. There are the least amount of distractions.

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

JA. Just sit your ass down and start typing. Something good will eventually come.

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

JA. I try to see how they relate to me first. Are they similar, or completely different? Then I try to get into their mindset in terms of how they’d react in the story.

Q. What first inspired you to write?

JA. My friend was high and asked if I wanted to write a screenplay. I haven’t looked back.

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

JA. Mostly situation. Then I try to figure out which characters would be most fun in that situation.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

JA. Not really. When I’m writing, I think about it a lot, but I never really get lost in it.

Q. Do you have a new book coming out soon? If so tell us about it.

JA. My novella, For the Blood is the Life, just got published in March. It’s crime-horror.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

JA. A few years ago. After my friend stopped writing with me, I got more into it.

Q. How long after that were you published?

JA. A few years before my first short story was published in Sheepshead Review.

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

JA. I hope not. I can’t read on a tablet.

Q. What makes a writer great?

JA. Someone who can bring truth to untruthful situations.

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

JA. Well, I have a lot more grey hair now than when I started writing.

Q. How has your life experiences influenced your writing?

JA. Yes, my poetry collection is mostly personal, dealing with my anxiety and depression mostly.

Q. What’s your down time look like?

JA. Ass in a chair, watching bad tv and movies.

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

JA. Most of my fiction is crime. I guess I could one day, but my brain loves coming up with criminal characters and situations.

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

JA. It’s okay to be yourself.

 

Did you miss my review of Cocktails with a Dead Man? 

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   February: Rick Lenz, March: Patrick Canning, April: Poet, Joe Albanese,  May: Boo Walker 
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Writing Non-Fiction, by Guest Blogger Kai Nicole

TS. I would like to welcome this wonderful writer with a lot to say about what most single people are thinking about. Enjoy!

When I think about the experience of writing a nonfiction book I have to look to my other experiences to try and figure out how to describe it. Honestly, since I am currently writing a script, which is technically fiction, I find that writing a nonfiction book is very similar. I think the major difference between writing fiction vs. nonfiction is the purpose for which they are written. Fiction is written for the purpose of entertainment whereas nonfiction is written for the transfer of information.

While I was writing my book, Date Like A Woman, my purpose was to share the knowledge I had around dating and relationships that I noticed many women didn’t have. My purpose was to give others an opportunity to “pick my brain” about dating without actually knowing me personally. Through my book I become a close friend that my readers become connected to. My book becomes a window to my thoughts and insight, not for the purpose of entertainment or escape as many fiction books are but as a resource and place of comfort to help my readers along the way.

I think this is the motivation behind nonfiction writers. We write to share information. And, if you are also entertained, well, that’s a bonus. However, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, you are drawing from your personal experiences. For me, I was not only drawing from my experiences but also from what I had learned from reading and research. The biggest difference between fiction and nonfiction books is that nonfiction books have to have evidence of being truthful and plausible. There has to be an effort to support the main premise of the book as true. Fiction doesn’t have this restriction. Nonfiction writers must be able to tout their “knowledge” as true, which is not an easy task.

Authors of both nonfiction and fiction must draw on personal experiences to create a story, nonfiction being a truthful story, fiction being a possibly true story. But, only nonfiction authors must back their stories up with evidence of truthfulness.

I am sure other authors, whether of fiction or nonfiction, can attest that when you are writing, you rarely just make up a false scenario. While the fiction writer may have the liberty to embellish more than the nonfiction writer, there is usually truth to every story. I am having this very experience now as I write my script. Many of the scenes that I am creating in my script are drawn from very real experiences in my life. While the story is fiction, much of what I am writing is true.

Now when it comes down to it, I don’t see writing fiction or nonfiction as easier than the other. Both require major effort on the part of the author. Good writing is a long and arduous process. As best said by George Orwell, “Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

And let’s just say, most authors, myself included, have a demon they will never get rid of.

Kai Nicole, Author

Date Like A Woman

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   December:  Jayne Ann Krentz (Amanda Quick)  January: Molly Gloss.  February: Rick Lenz, March: Patrick Canning and April: Poet, Joe Albanese
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Interview with Thriller Mystery Writer, Manning Wolfe

      TS. I met Manning after discovering her exciting new release, Green Fees. Manning Wolfe is an author and attorney, with one foot in the business world and one foot in the creative realm. Manning writes cinematic-style, intelligent, fast-paced action-packed legal thrillers with a salting of Texas bullshit. She is writing a series of Texas Lady Lawyer novels based on her main character, Austin attorney Merit Bridges. Manning’s background as an attorney has given her a voyeur’s peak into some shady character’s lives and a front row seat to watch the good people who stand against them.

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. 

Writing Space on Houseboat

MW. Since I travel a lot, my writing space often changes depending on the city, state or country I may be visiting. One of my memorable writing spots was on a houseboat in Berkley Marina near San Francisco, California. I could watch the sailboats come and go, sea lions visited while I drank my morning tea, and the sunsets reflecting on the Golden Gate Bridge were breathtaking.

View from my NYC desk

 

 

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

MW. I have a ceramic wolf that I purchased in Alpine Texas. I set up my travelling space and face the wolf toward the window. Then, I know it’s time to write.

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

MW. I raised a dyslexic son, Aaron. It was heartbreaking to watch him struggle to read – the very thing that means so much to me. I always include something about literacy in my books. Aaron was enrolled in a school for dyslexic students and not has a complete command of his reading and writing skills.

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

Sand Sculptures – Port Aransas

MW. No. I am not a good sleeper, so I may write in the middle of the night, or any time during the day that the story comes to me. I tend to think things through at odd times, i.e. while sleeping, cooking, walking, etc. Mindless tasks allow my mind to wander around in the story and I usually come up with my best ideas at those times.

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

MW. My self-diagnosed periods of procrastination turned out to be times when the story was not clear in my mind or I was needed elsewhere. I’m not sure procrastination exists.

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

MW. In my series, the next story comes to me when Merit Bridges starts to feel caught up in something. She “calls” to me and I start solving the problem mentally. When I feel there’s something of substance story-wise, I begin to write.

Q. What first inspired you to write your stories?

MW. I told my mother stories when I was very young. I grew up in my small-town library. By the time I was in junior high, I had read every book in the building. I loved Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Thomas Hardy, on and on. I always thought I’d write a book someday.

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

MW.  As above, my main character, Merit Bridges talks to me about a situation. That said, all my stories are based on real life legal dilemmas that happened in my law firm. Of course, I take the facts only so far and then explode them into a thriller.

Tune in for Part II of this Interview  June 22nd.

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   March: Mystery (and Western) writer, Larry D. Sweazy.  April: International adventurer, writer, Tal Gur.  June: Manning Wolfe

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Part 2 of my Interview with author, Michael Saad

Photo # 8 - Mike Sailing Along Queen Charlotte IslandsQ. Do you have a set time each day to write or do you write only when you are feeling creative?

MS. When I’m working full time, especially with teaching, with all of the marking, lesson planning, and numerous ‘extra-curricular’ duties we have going on in our profession, it is very difficult to find the time and energy to write. As a married family man with small kids, my family has been very supportive of my ‘hobby time’ of writing, but it still can be an insurmountable task to balance work, family time, and writing. I want (and need) to spend time with my family, and I want (and need) to focus on teaching, so quite often writing will (and should) take a back seat to that.  That being said, I have gotten up at 3 or 4 AM some days to write, often during holidays, just so I can squeeze it in, and balance writing with my other responsibilities.  It is not an easy thing to do, but when you truly find a hobby you like – whatever it is, in my case it’s writing, you are willing to do that if it means being able to get that ‘hobby time.’

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

MS. There’s a number of things. The consistency of writing – that is, doing it every day – can certainly help you to build flow and enthusiasm in your work. However, most of us – certainly those of us who do not make writing our careers – are unable to have the advantage of being able to write every day.  So I think the key then is to have a piece or project you believe in, but also have definite parameters in place for the size and scope of your project.  Don’t try and write the great Canadian novel, for instance, if you truly don’t have the time to do so.  Work on a short story instead.  more »

Interview With Author, Jordan Rosenfeld

JOrdan.Watercolor-Headshot TS.  I met this writer on Facebook and was instantly intrigued by her wacky photos and obvious joie de vie.  She writes fiction and also non-fiction on the subject of writing.

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.

JR. I do have a wonderful office in my home that I painted in bright bold colors that reflect me. I write there most often, though I’ll write wherever if need be.

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

JR. No, for me personally, rituals often detract from just getting down to business. Unless you count eating corn chips by the handful?

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

JR. I dropped out of Acting school but made it all the way through beauty school, go figure.

Q. Do you have a set time each day to write or do you write only when you are feeling creative?

JR. I write whenever I have time. Waiting for the muse leads to a lot of waiting for me. Perhaps in the luxurious leisure time of my twenties I “waited” for inspiration, but I had no real distractions other than books at the time so the wait was short.

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

41RTW4v2OsL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_JR. Write one sentence. more »

Melting away the shame…

Women Outside the WallsOne early, wintry Sunday morning I found myself sitting in the waiting area of an Illinois State Prison for Men.  I was about to visit a confessed murderer. I was writing his story for a stage play I was developing.

I felt like a fish out of water. Over dressed, out of place, and very conscious of the other women around me. Probably much like how Kitty felt, in my future book. The only males in the room were young, probably sons and nephews of the incarcerated men we were waiting to see. And here was an odd thing, everyone’s shoes were untied.  I found out later, and by personal experience, that the other visitors knew the drill.  The CO’s (correctional officers) would search our persons which included removing our shoes for inspection.

Trying hard not to stare, I observed the hopeful resignation on these women’s faces.  They knew each other and murmured news and gossip to one another.  I was definitely an outsider and did not belong.  As I sat there an overwhelming urge to know their stories and write them down came to me.  It was urgent that I find out what brought them to this place.  They didn’t look like bad people. They were women you saw at the store, on the street, in an office, ordinary in every way; wives, mothers, sisters.

Now it was time to go inside. I remember heavy steel doors clanging shut behind us. It was a scary moment; I had just given up my freedom. Even though it was for a short time, my rights and freedom were in other people’s hands.  I was assigned a table and sat down to wait for Bill. The suppressed frustration and rage in that room was palatable. Other than a short hug between loved ones, no touching was allowed.  I’m certain that contraband was exchanged but I never witnessed it. The women were indefatigably cheerful in front of their men.  It might have been a crowded city park, families sitting at picnic tables visiting, playing cards, giving their children snacks; save for the concertina wire at the top of the fence.

A year and a half later when I was in the final rewrite of my novel Women Outside the Walls I was working on the acknowledgments. One woman, in particular, had shared so much with me, about her life outside the walls.  I wished to thank her but still maintain her anonymity. I asked her if I could use her first name and only the initial of her surname. Would that protect her, I asked, and keep her clients from knowing about her personal life? Her reply to this question was this:
“It doesn’t matter if your readers figure it out and discover that it’s me…your book has taken away all my shame…”

Shirley K. had stood by her man while he served ten years.  Raising their children, supporting an unwed daughter and grandchild and working two jobs.  Half way through her husband’s term, Shirley’s son was sentenced to life for murder.  Now she was visiting two of her men in prison. She’s a hero in my book.  She did nothing to deserve this kind of life.  Never even had a traffic ticket. And that’s the common thread among these women.  Married, raising their children; mid-stream America, right?  Then their husbands or sons or brothers make a stupid decision and end up in prison.

I asked Shirley how she and the other women kept up a brave face when visiting their husbands. She told me stories about how after the visit was over the women, friends for years, had a designated rest area (down the highway a couple of exits from the prison) that they would meet at after visitation.  That’s where they shared their tears, grief, anger, and commonality of spirit.  But they never let their husbands see what they were going through. They were serving time in their own personal prison; doing their own time.

Little did I know that my novel about wives waiting outside the walls, while their men served out their sentences, would have this kind of impact. What I did know was, as I wrote the book, I met many women from all walks of life that had someone currently in prison or had that experience in the past. Most of my book is based on true stories told to me. As a writer it is not uncommon for me to have people, strangers, appear in my life to share and contribute something to my writing. It’s welcomed but uncanny.

Epilogue: Shirley’s son, convicted of murder and sentenced to life, had his conviction and sentence reduced to manslaughter and fifteen years.  He was released in 2014.
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DON’T MISS BLOGS featuring INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   In April, a long awaited interview with Kathleen Grissom (The Kitchen House) May’s author is Jordan Rosenfeld.

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Curiosity Killed the Cat? The real Story!

Curosity.BookCoverPreview.do      Oddly, (I think) many searches/views on my web site contain  the phrase, ‘curiosity killed the cat’.  I thought it would be fun to tell my visitors where this story actually came from. (Part of my collection of 10 minute plays for the classroom)

By now you  know that I write frequently based on family stories….true ones.

This (short play) comedy is true which just goes to show, once again, that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’.

My auntie Ivah had been grubbing all day in the garden of her brick mansion in the Laurelhurst district in Seattle.  While she could afford a gardener or two, she was an avid gardener herself and could be found there, bare foot, in shorts and a sun hat every fair day.  Ivah wore shorts whenever she could because she had ‘Betty Grable legs’  (An actress circa 1940’s-1950’s whose legs were insured for a million dollars) and Ivah was quite vain about hers. She was eager to show them off at every opportunity…even if it was just to her flowers abounding in her gardens.

Around dinner time her husband, Arthur (an attorney) arrived home and announced that he had a client stopping by to sign some documents on his way to the airport.  Ivah, dirty and smelly from the garden said she’d hide in the kitchen, putting final touches on dinner, until the client was gone.  more »

What’s in your St. Valentine’s Day Box?

writers, interviews, valentine day, authors,                  My St. Valentine’s Day box is full of authors willing to take time out and be interviewed!    This month, we digress a little with a charming interview with a book narrator.   Audio-books are all the rage now, what with our busy lives,  and professional actor/voice over artist, Tavia Gilbert will let us into her world.  March’s guest author will be Susie Drougas whose modern day mysteries takes us into the wilds of Washington, atop a horse.

Three years ago I began interviewing best selling authors and to my ever-lasting gratitude, they accepted!   Dean Koontz, Sue Grafton, Patrick Taylor, Sheryl Woods, Mark Childress have all graced the pages of my blog!

It doesn’t really surprise me that the authors are relating similar experiences that I have had in my writing life. Characters taking the story in a whole different and unexpected direction.

Dean Koontz: “…if I give characters free will, if I don’t plot out the story and instead present them with a problem and watch them deal with it, they begin to take on a life of their own, frequently surprising me with the choices they make. This is mysterious and exciting.” more »

10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer

image of 10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer PosterCompliments of Brian Clark, CEO of Copyblogger

This is so true!  I bang out stuff that never sees the light of day.   I vent on a new post that I never publish.  I keep post-it note pads everywhere in the house so that if I get an idea (some good, some not so much) I can jot it down.  My most valuable post-it note pad is by my bedside because frequently I write in my head in a dream-like state and too lazy to turn on the light, grab paper and pen, I say to myself, ‘oh, I’ll remember this when I wake up’ I never do and IT IS GONE FOREVER!

In the middle of the night I ‘dreamed’ a single line for a poem I was working on…..“an overachiever  dips into the nectar….” and yes, I turned on the light and wrote it down.  When I awoke in the morning the only thing I remembered was that I had a terrific line for my poetry but had no idea what it was.  Fortunately there it was by my bedside.

“Write When You Don’t”….I tend to marinate.  more »