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A Book Review ~~ The Prisoner in the Castle by Susan Elia MacNeal

reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing     3 out of 5 quills     A Review

I was disappointed in this latest offering in the Maggie Hope series. The plot was so implausible that, after a few chapters, I hurried to the back of the book, hoping for an author’s note. Sure enough, this plot was  far-fetched but based upon truth.  MI-6 and S.O.E. actually had a ‘cooler’ where the British intelligence community sent, what they deemed, their ‘unstable’ agents. 

So why was I having such a hard time connecting with the story? Usually I adore  Maggie Hope and the series. For one thing,  I didn’t care about the other agents. There wasn’t enough of a back story on each of them for this reader to care whether they lived or died.

Just too many clichés for me. A castle and a stormy night, tripping over dead bodies, the wife locked in a castle tower. By this time in the series, Maggie is too high up in the espionage business to be unceremoniously thrown into an island prison by her own government! I couldn’t buy it. She has kept countless secrets for the realm, why is she not being trusted to keep this latest one?

Then in the last forty pages, or so, I felt like I’d been dropped into an action film, with bombs going off and Maggie having to swim for her life. It was disconcerting and unbelievable.  I just wasn’t that excited about this book, but I remain a fan. The rest of the series is one of my favorites in this genre. 

Released today. Click here

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Nostalgia… (#12)

Martin Short, (famous actor on SNL, career included dozens of movies) was recently interviewed where he told a charming story. He, Gilda Radner, Paul Shaffer were born (as actors) at ‘Second City’, Toronto.  In the early days, Martin was in a community theatre production of Fortune & Men’s Eyes. The director told the actors that, as the audience came in and took their seats, the actors would be pacing on stage, in a prison setting. In character, wearing only their underwear.

Paul Shaffer, most famous for years with Letterman


Fortune & Men’s Eyes


Gilda (whom Martin was dating at the time 1972), Paul and some other pals all planned to go see Martin one night. But, as the story goes, the thing Paul Shaffer was really excited about was they would all go for dinner after at the Shakespeare Steakhouse.

So on the night of the performance, Martin’s friends arrived and Paul, upon seeing Martin pacing, moved up the lip the of the stage and whispered, “Martin, Shakespeare  Steakhouse is closed, wink once if Bavarian Seafood makes sense.” 

John Sugarek, actor




This type of crazy thing happens all the time in live theatre. Short’s story brought to mind the time that my husband played Dr. Miranda, (a murderous ex-Nazi) in Death and the Maiden (a part that Ben Kingsley is famous for). Our theatre was so small that it didn’t have a curtain.  Since Dr. Miranda is held hostage and tied up for most of the play, it meant that my husband, John, remained on stage, in character and tied up during intermission. With audience members coming and going.  Actually, he volunteered as there was no logical way to get him untied and offstage. 

During intermission, a trio of white-haired senior ladies came tripping down the aisle and neared the edge of the stage. John (said later) prayed that they were not

Death and the Maiden

Ben Kingsley & Sigourney Weaver

going to speak to him.  They moved as close to him as they could and one of the dear old things winked and said to him, in a stage-whisper, “Psst! Psst! Mister! Do you want us to untie you?” Giggling and twittering they turned and found their seats again. John stayed in character but it was hard not to burst out laughing.


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How To Format A Screenplay

TS.  ‘ACTION drives a screenplay, that and plot.  DIALOGUE drives a stage play so it better be damn good. In my opinion, if your action is good in a screenplay, the dialogue can be mediocre and often is in blockbusters. If your dialogue is crisp and interesting and helps drive the story, you’ve done a better job than most in Hollywood.’ 

While you can buy books and software to do the job for you it’s always good to have a grasp of the general spacing standards. The top, bottom and right margins of a screenplay are 1″. The left margin is 1.5″. The extra half-inch of white space to the left of a script page allows for binding with brads, yet still imparts a feeling of vertical balance of the text on the page. The entire document should be single-spaced.

The very first item on the first page should be the words FADE IN:. Note: the first page is never numbered. Subsequent page numbers appear in the upper right hand corner, 0.5″ from the top of the page, flush right to the margin.

Screenplay Elements

Below is a list of items (with definitions) that make up the screenplay format, along with indenting information. Again, screenplay software will automatically format all these elements, but a screenwriter must have a working knowledge of the definitions to know when to use each one.

Scene Heading
Indent: Left: 0.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 6.0″

A scene heading is a one-line description of the location and time of day of a scene, also known as a “slugline.” It should always be in CAPS.

Example: EXT. WRITERS STORE – DAY reveals that the action takes place outside The Writers Store during the daytime.

Indent: Left: 0.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 6.0″

When a new scene heading is not necessary, but some distinction needs to be made in the action, you can use a subheader. But be sure to use these sparingly, as a script full of subheaders is generally frowned upon. A good example is when there are a series of quick cuts between two locations, you would use the term INTERCUT and the scene locations.

Indent: Left: 0.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 6.0″

The narrative description of the events of a scene, written in the present tense. Also less commonly known as direction, visual exposition, blackstuff, description or scene direction.

Remember – only things that can be seen and heard should be included in the action.

Indent: Left: 2.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 4.0″

When a character is introduced, his name should be capitalized within the action. For example: The door opens and in walks LIAM, a thirty-something hipster with attitude to spare.

A character’s name is CAPPED and always listed above his lines of dialogue. Minor characters may be listed without names, for example “TAXI DRIVER” or “CUSTOMER.”

Indent: Left: 1.0″ Right: 1.5″ Width: 3.5″

Lines of speech for each character. Dialogue format is used anytime a character is heard speaking, even for off-screen and voice-overs. Normal upper and lower case is used.

Indent: Left: 1.5″ Right: 2.0″ Width: 2.5″

A parenthetical is direction for the character, that is either attitude or action-oriented. With roots in the playwriting genre, today, parentheticals are used very rarely, and only if absolutely necessary. Why? Two reasons. First, if you need to use a parenthetical to convey what’s going on with your dialogue, then it probably just needs a good re-write. Second, it’s the director’s job to instruct an actor on how to deliver a line, and everyone knows not to encroach on the director’s turf!

Placed after the character’s name, in parentheses

An abbreviated technical note placed after the character’s name to indicate how the voice will be heard onscreen, for example, if the character is speaking as a voice-over, it would appear as LIAM (V.O.).

Indent: Left: 4.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 2.0″

Transitions are film editing instructions, and generally only appear in a shooting script. Transition verbiage includes:

  • CUT TO:
  • FADE TO:

As a spec script writer, you should avoid using a transition unless there is no other way to indicate a story element. For example, you might need to use DISSOLVE TO: to indicate that a large amount of time has passed.

Indent: Left: 0.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 6.0″

A shot tells the reader the focal point within a scene has changed. Like a transition, there’s rarely a time when a spec screenwriter should insert shot directions. Once again, that’s the director’s job. 

Sample of what your page should look like:  [Source: The Writer’s Digest]




other related posts by this blogger:
How To Write a Play
How To Format a Play
How To Format a Novel



MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   Did you miss the past few months?    January: Sue Grafton ~ In Memory
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Storytelling…a Cultural Imperative!

What is a cultural imperative?  ‘Peoples living within the encompasses of cultures associated with very different ethnicities often imbue radically different moral imperatives, through identification processes carrying across generations. Such cultural imperatives prevalent within one culture may not have any direct equivalent within another culture…’ * 

Glaring examples of this are the ethnic groups who, putting themselves at risk for censor or abuse, have insisted on keeping their native language, rituals, and religions alive. ‘one culture may not have any direct equivalent within another culture…’  But the one imperative that has crossed all ethnic and cultural groups is storytelling. 

What is this imperative that most people feel….to tell stories?  It seems, to me, to be hardwired into our DNA.

We begin at an early age: making up stories (to ourselves) as we play with our dolls or cars. A child has no inhibitions when it comes to weaving a fantastical tale, frequently out loud, as they play. 
A mother or father sits at their child’s bedside and makes up stories until they fall asleep.
A comic book writer tells his stories with a few words, facial expressions, and action illustrations.
A poet tells their stories through rhyme, lyric or free verse.
A playwright creates their story so that others can tell it.
Another storyteller sees their stories happening in the far future. 
Another goes to the dark side of human nature and writes stories about things that go bump in the night.
A teacher tells a story to enhance the lesson. (I miss you, Miss. O’Connor.)
The novelist weaves a longer tale; taking their characters on adventures, discovering love, suffering defeats, and usually conquering all in the end. 
……even gossip could be considered storytelling.

I have worried out loud (and written about it here) that storytelling will die, be a thing of the past.  But now I believe that many of us do have that cultural imperative to tell and write down our stories. After all the synonyms for imperative are: involuntary, necessary, nonelective, obligatory, peremptory, required. 
 I don’t think storytellers can help themselves. We have to tell stories!



* IdentityExploration.com/Culture_Imperatives

MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   Did you miss the past few months?    January: Sue Grafton ~ In Memory
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John Lithgow….and His Stories

     “…and that’s why we all need stories.”  John Lithgow said in a recent talk show interview.  He was telling the story of his father reading, to he and his siblings, from a book of short stories.  And then years later, as his father lay dying, John Lithgow said he read aloud to him from the very same book. 

John tells another story, within his story about reading this book of shorts to his father.  He has been on the road with this one-man show for years.  Narrating these same stories from this same book.  He calls it a trunk show; an old theatre expression. That is, pack up everything at night’s end and move, on down the road, to the next town where he presents this one-night-stand again.  He says that he finally wound his way to Broadway and is now  performing to sold-out, delighted audiences. 

This is why I entreat, beg, admonish, and plead with my readers to tell someone your story (hopefully your children and grandchildren), or write it down in a journal or even publish it. With today’s technology we are losing our oral history. And when this set of grandparents pass away it will all be lost. We all need stories. 

“Rarely have I spent so entertaining and touching a night at the theater. The predominant sentiment in Stories by Heart is love.” —Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal

“Superb, illuminating and uplifting. The imagination, Mr. Lithgow wants us to know, is powerful. What could feel more current, more worthwhile in the first days of 2018?” —Jesse Green, The New York Times

This is me telling a story about John Lithgow’s story.  

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How To Format Your (Self-published) Stage Play

TS.   Now that the traditional publishers have turned you down, file away that rejection letter,  soothe your fragile writer’s ego with a hot cup of tea, some chocolate, or whatever and self-publish your play. 

 It’s important to know that the correct way to format a stage play for submitting (to a publisher, agent or theatre) is very different from the format used when publishing it. Below is a sample of the correct formatting. 

List of  Characters:  I noticed that in the Dramatists Play Service scripts, they do not list the ages of the characters.  I always provide the buyer (producer, director, etc.) the ages of the characters for ease of casting.  I know from experience that a director wants to have this information immediately when choosing a play.  What if they don’t have an eighty-year old, male who can act?  Make-up can only go so far!  Ethnicity is rarely listed but there are exceptions. But, generally, no. What if the director has a different vision for casting?


CAST OF CHARACTERS      (Place on the 3rd or 4th page after title, playwright’s name, Copyright notices.etc.)

Emilee. Age 13, a pubescent girl making decisions

Danny. Age 14, Emilee’s first boyfriend

Maribeth. Age 22, Emilee’s older sister

Emilee’s best friends

Ruth. Age 13. The timid one
Barb. Age 14. The bold one
Sue.   Age 14. The worrier

A park bench. Middle School. Emilee’s house. 
Present day. 

Format Sample:

(From my published short play, “No Means NO!”© ) The formatting of the Dramatist Play Service (publishers) do use parentheses when formatting the blocking. It is jumbled into dialogue even though it does not pertain to that particular character’s ‘action’.  I find this very distracting but I am certain it has to do with production costs and keeping the page count down. Blocking direction is indented, italicized and in parentheses. Line spacing is 1.15 instead of single-spaced. Character’s names are all in CAPS and not italicized. Before dialogue, Characters’ names are all in CAPS with a period. Blocking is indented. Scene breaks should be on the next (right) page. There are no extra line-spaces between blocking and dialogue except if there is a ‘beat’ when the same character pauses. Be certain to leave plenty of white space for the actors/director’s written notes. I prefer the format used by (my publisher) Samuel French, Inc. which you see below:

                                           Scene 1 

Setting: A neighborhood park near a middle-school. Mid-afternoon.

                    (EMILEE and DANNY are seated on a bench. THEY are sitting upstage
                    with their backs to audience and 
are kissing. 
                    DANNY begins to fondle EMILEE. SHE pushes HIS hands away.)

EMILEE. No! Cut it out Danny!
DANNY. (Stopping.) I want you, Emilee. Stop being such a tease.
EMILEE. (Holding both of his wrists.) I don’t want to.

                     (DANNY begins to kiss her again. HE starts to touch her again.
                     Jumping up,
SHE yells at HIM.)

EMILEE. I said ‘No’! I don’t want you to do that!
DANNY. I thought you loved me?
DANNY. Okay then.

                    (DANNY pulls HER down on to the bench. HE begins to kiss
                     and fondle
EMILEE again.)

EMILEE. (Jumping up and crossing several steps away.) Stop it, Danny!

                    (SHE rushes off stage left.)

DANNY. (Rising and calling after her.) Em! I love you!

Scene 2   (New page)

Setting: Emilee’s home.

                   (SUE, RUTH and BARB are laughing and talking.
                   EMILEE is not participating.)

SUE. (Noticing her friend.) What’s wrong, Em? You sick?
EMILEE. No. Nothing.
BARB. Come on, ‘fess up. We’ve known you since first grade. What’s the matter?
RUTH. You can tell us. You know that, right?
EMILEE. (Sighing.) It’s Danny.
RUTH. Ugh! Boys!

                   (THEY laugh except EMILEE.)

SUE. Whad’ he do?
BARB. Yeah, what? We’ll beat him up for you.
EMILEE. (Laughing tearfully.) He…he wants to do stuff.
SUE. They all do.
BARB. Comes with dating, Em. They’re all dogs.
RUTH. Yeah.
EMILEE. But, I don’t wanna.
SUE. What?
EMILEE. You know…stuff. (Beat.) And I’m afraid that if I don’t, he’ll break up with me.
SUE. Yeah, there’s that.
BARB. Just do it. It’s not so bad if you close your eyes.

                 (The GIRLS who are sexually active giggle.)

RUTH. Do what?
SUE. Jimmy wanted me to kiss him…down there.
RUTH. Why?
EMILEE. I’m not doing that!
BARB. (Blurts out.) I’m having sex with Arnie.

                 (The GIRLS scream.)

SUE. No, you’re not!
BARB. Am too.
RUTH. Barbara J. Masters! I’m telling your Mom!
BARB. No you’re not, Ruthie. Remember our pledge.
SUE. I’m not having sex until I’m sixteen, at least. My parents promised me a car if I will abstain…their word…until I’m sixteen.
BARB. Car trumps a boyfriend any day.
SUE. But that doesn’t mean we don’t do other stuff.
RUTH. Barbie, you’re using a condom, right?
BARB. Arnie doesn’t like them.
RUTH. But you have to.
EMILEE. I don’t want to do any of it. And Danny keeps after me every time we’re alone. What should I do?


To correctly format your stage play for submitting to publishers, agents, directors click here.  

Look Inside a script: Click Here 
How To Format a Screenplay

Just Released!  Order here

This new, exciting, instructional book is a sharing of over twenty+ years of experience. This writer has honed  her craft of creative writing.

Thirty-five writing tips that include:

That first, all important, sentence
How to develop rich characters
Writer’s Block
Writing process
What Not to Do (when receiving a critique)

….and many more words of encouragement and tips,
Including quotes from successful writers such as yourself. Takes the ‘scary’ out of writing!

How To Write a Play  Click Here
How To Format a Stage Play  Click Here
How to Write a Ten Minute Play

How To Format a Screenplay
How to
Format Your Novel
Want to try writing a ten minute play?  Click here

DON’T MISS MY BLOG with twice-weekly posts.  Also featuring INTERVIEWS with other best-selling AUTHORS! with me once a month . We shall sneak into these writers’ special places, be a fly on the wall and watch them create!

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A Review ~~ The Wanted by Robert Crais

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5 out of 5 quills             

A Review ~~ The Wanted                                                                                                  

A good old fashioned murder mystery reminiscent of the writings of John McDonald and Robert Parker.  Simply and beautifully crafted, Robert Crais weaves a great story. Like myself, new readers to Crais will be delighted. And his fans are counting the days until the newest in the Elvis Cole & Joe Pike novel is released. 

A panicked mother, goes to veteran PI Elvis Cole as a last act of desperation.  She fears ‘her son is in deep sh– trouble’  when she found things in his bedroom that indicate that he has been stealing from other people.  Oh, if it were only that simple.  Tyson and his two buddies have committed a string of home burglaries and, by accident, have stolen from a really, really bad guy.  Now two hit men are on their trail and the big question is: will Elvis find the two teenagers before these hired killers find them and silence them forever? 

I readily admit this is my first novel by Crais and I look forward to catching up with Elvis and Joe in the other books in this series.  A highly recommended read!

On sale at all book stores December 26th. 


MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   Did you miss the past few months?   October’s author was Donna Kauffman. November: Rita Avaud a Najm. December: British writer, J.G. Dow. 
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‘No Means No!’ New short play for the Classroom by Trisha Sugarek

  Available now!   The latest short play in the playwright’s  ShortN’Small series.
“G” rated for teens and the classroom.

Those who follow me and all my friends in theatre know that I have added to the
ShortN’Small short play series for years now. ‘G’ rated 10 minute plays that focus on issues impacting the teens of today. 
Ranging from divorce to cutting, from running away to drug use, from date violence to bullying. 

 Synopsis:  Emilee has reached the age where boys are pressuring her into sexual activities that she is not ready for.
In this ‘G’ rated, short play for the classroom we explore the peer pressure that comes to bear as young girls
try to navigate their teen years.

Emilee is torn between what her friends are doing and what she instinctively knows is not right for
her at this stage in her life.   1m. 5f.

No props, no sets, no costumes, just open dialogue!

To purchase click here


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Video of Murder, New Release by this Writer

REVIEW~~Recommended Reading – Donovan’s Bookshelf      By now it should be evident, with Volume 7’s addition to the ‘World of Murder’ series, that Trisha Sugarek has a real winner on her hands in terms of an ongoing theme able to sustain itself through book after book. This latest focuses on the Chinese mafia in New York City, and presents a riveting story line that takes two different cultural milieus and ties them neatly together.  Replete with satisfying turns, this story not only fits nicely into the prior series but stands well on its own…. ‘ More 


TS.  I wouldn’t ever have imagined that a short little play, written on a whim, would become a best selling true crime series. Here’s how it all began,

Years ago one of my crew, in a stage production I was directing, said, “Trish for years now I’ve had this great idea for a play script but I know I’ll never write it….hell, I wouldn’t know where to begin…. and you’re the writer so I want to give you my idea.” His name escapes me but it must have been Billy Bob or Bubba or junior seeing as we were in Texas at the time.  This idea of Bubba’s blossomed first, into a one act play, and later into this series of true crime mysteries.  All because we had a few beers one night and he thought I could write it better than he could. Thank you, Bubba, wherever you are! 

I feel like I need to explain the ‘writing a play on a whim‘ remark. I was deep into writing my series of 10 minute plays for the classroom, many of them addressing the serious challenges of teens today. Why not throw in a “G” rated murder mystery, for the kids,  just for the fun of it? So I did.
Many of my fans and friends read my play scripts even though they aren’t involved with theatre.
So the feedback that kept coming back was, “We want more of Detectives O’Roarke and Garcia. Can’t you adapt this play into fiction?”
Never dreaming, at the time, that there were seven books (and counting) in me!  I have to pinch myself.  


Midwest Book Review ~ Angel of Murder    ‘It takes a tightrope artist of a writer to create chapters that successfully delve into a killer’s thoughts without revealing his identity in the process, but Sugarek achieves this with a dance of introspection.’

At all fine book stores in paperback & e-books  Click here to see them all



Motivational Moments…for Writers! #28

As writers, we are all guilty of using particular words or phrases WAY TOO MUCH!!  

I was recently reading a delightful series by an author but it was very distracting when she used the same phrase over and over.
“Custom glass workroom”.  The shop where the story takes place is just four rooms so it is my opinion that:

1] the author needed to change it up; There is an office, a retail room, a classroom and the custom workshop.  Just a little chance would make all the difference. For example:  ‘the workroom’  and  ‘the workshop’  and ‘the specialty glass room’. 

2]readers are smart and we should never underestimate their ability to follow along. If they can’t then we, as the writers, have failed at our job.
3] If we miss our idiosyncrasies, and we all have them, then the editor, beta reader, proof reader, etc., should catch it.

My most common ones are the words, ‘just’ and ‘that’My watchdog, first defense, is to use Word’s ‘find’.  Then I review the manuscript looking for when I over use the words and why.
“There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily.” Anthony Trollope

“All fiction is largely autobiographical and much autobiography is, of course, fiction.”  P.D. James



Now available! Release date, May 15th. 



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