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Writing Fiction Organically

Song.cover_rev16JulyThis was the first time, in twenty+ years of writing that I couldn’t find a place to end the book. What was going on? Every new adventure that LaVerne had in the wilds of Alaska suggested another story thread.

It took me three years to write this saga.(87K words) I didn’t know it at the time, but I was letting it ‘rest’ at certain points and I think it’s a better story for it.

I have learned over the years to let it flow organically; when characters come busting through the door, I welcome them in.  They always tell me their story and it always fits with what I am writing. The indigenous people in Song of the Yukon joined me early on. Black-eyed Joe was sitting in the back of the village store and LaVerne (heroine) and I were both surprised to find him there. Then I went on to meet Joe’s brother, Elk-tail and his mother Edna.
Without exception, at some point (early, if I’m lucky) my characters take over the story and I become the typist. I interview authors on my blog and so many of them say the same thing, so, with relief, I find I’m not as crazy as I thought I was.
Research: The story about my auntie LaVerne running away to Alaska is a true family tale. So all I had to do was pull from the many stories my mother told me as a child.  But, living ‘off the grid’ in Alaska, in the 1920’s? The Internet is a writer’s best tool. Can you believe that we used to have to go to the library and do all this research, pouring through books?  With a couple of clicks I was able to weave the Athabaskan (native American) language, their folk lore and their customs throughout the story. I was able to build a dog sled, from scratch using only wood and rawhide lashings.  I was able to set a fur trapping line. I was able to build a cabin with only hand tools. (think about it) I was able to train puppies to become a dog sled team. I was able to describe, accurately, a funeral pot-latch.
My advice to other writers is: write every day. If you get stuck, let the story rest; go write something else. And never, never give up!
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Writers! Leave Yourself Open To Stories!

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you know that I am a proponent of keeping yourself open to life, stories, and snippets of tales.

shrimp-and-gritsI recently heard this question asked of a West African chef, “How did you feel when you heard a fat, rich, white woman (cooking show) claim that her recipe had been handed down from  generation to generation in her family? When actually the dish (Shrimp and grits) has been cooked on the west coast of Africa for hundreds of years?”
The answer?
The chef/host who was giving an intimate dinner party in his home in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa (each syllable drips with mystery, fish.senegaldoesn’t it?) smiled and said, “Gratitude that our cuisine lives on and is enjoyed in the United States.”

And Gumbo is another example. Louisiana claims it originated there. A poor man’s dish. Ingredients: Fish/seafood from the river out back, tomatoes and other veggies from the garden, a roux from pork drippings,(from the pig pen out back) butter  and flour.  Again, Africa via France and brought to the south with the Cajuns.

When I heard this conversation (above) what this writer’s ears heard was:  “MamaBelle, cook up some of your shrimp and grits as a side dish for my guests!”  The fine lady, from the senegal.Mamabellmansion on the hill, had walked down to the kitchen house to talk about the menu for her dinner party.  MamaBelle had been the head cook on the plantation for decades but still had knife-sharp memories of arriving in Georgia, bound in shackles, barely surviving the trip on the slave ship from West Africa. Put on the block for auction, teeth examined, hips examined (for breeding) stripped naked. Being marched miles and miles to the plantation. Working the fields until it was discovered that she was of better use in the kitchen. Living through the horror of her children being sold off when the Masta’ needed ready cash. more »

What are Writers? Crazy?

…… want, to need to be writers??  I am happy (and nostalgic) to report that the world of writers has not changed all that much…..I came across these quotes and laughed.  Writers of the World!  We are not alone!

john steinbeck, authors, writing, quotes from famous authorsJohn Steinbeck:  ‘The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.’


Edna St. Vincent Millay
:  ‘A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his (or her)authors, quotes from famous authors, writing, writers, bloggers pants down….if it is a good book nothing can hurt you.  If  it is a bad book nothing can help you.’

famous quotes, famous authors, writing, writers


Somerset Maugham:  ‘There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.’

Trisha Sugarek ‘Writing is a lonely business.  You pour your heart and guts into the written famous quotes, authors, writers, writingword, often exposing what you’ve experienced in your own life.  You nurture it, feed it, trim its toe-nails, wash its hair, dress it up and send it out into traffic.’  more »

Authors, Where Do You Find Your Characters?

Over and over again, I preach the concept:  ‘let it flow’, ‘let your characters take you on a journey’, ‘If it’s going well, I will happily be just the typist’.

I recently interviewed Dean Koontz and here’s what he said on the subject:

Photographer: Thomas Engstrom

“And then I start. In the first few chapters, the lead characters are forming, and I am learning who they are. I’ve often said that 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. When it’s going well, it’s simultaneously an intense intellectual endeavor and an almost dream-state journey of wonder and emotion.”

Author, Matt Jorgenson recently said when asked: Where do you first discover your characters?
“Initially I don’t think of them as characters. It’s kind of like arranging furniture. I need OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsomething tall here, wide there, elegant there. I often just plop them in for the energy they lend to the development of the story. When I’m unable to sit at my laptop and write I will often sketch out backstories for some of the characters with pen and paper based on what seems reasonable according to how they act/function in the story and then weave those details back in later.”

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How to Write a Novel….the writing Process!

writing, blog, authors, create

……is there a wrong way??

NO!  There is no ‘wrong’ process when writing your story….but, as I and other authors (I’ve interviewed here on my blog) have stressed….be certain that you HAVE a process.

1.  Write about what you know.  If you are a beginner…and we all were at one time…write a story about something you know or have had first hand experience with.

2.  If the idea of writing a novel  (75,000+ words)  is way too daunting,  write a short story (3,000 words) or a series of short stories.  Write a novella. (16-25,000 words).   After writing three full length novels, I decided that my mystery series The World of Murder would be short novels.  I didn’t run out of story,  I just believe that there is a market for short novels (24–35,000 words).

3.  If your subject is something that you know nothing or very little about the Internet is a powerful tool.  Let me give you some examples:  My aunt ran away to Alaska in the 1920’s to homestead.  I knew her story but I knew very little about Alaska at the turn of the last century.  What did Fairbanks look like then?  It was little more than a trading post.  How many acres did you get when you homesteaded?  80. What tribe of native Alaskans were in my story-area and what language did they speak?  Were there hunting ‘tags’ or seasons for hunting in those days?

Another example are my murder mysteries that are heavy  on police procedures and crime scene investigation.  I know a lot but certainly don’t know everything.  Between the Internet, local law enforcement and the Medical examiners,  I have pretty much everything I need in the way of research.  Book #4, The Angel of Murder is about the Catholic religion and confession.  I am not a Catholic so I called my friend’s priest, Father Gabe, and he was incredibly kind and helpful.  DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP!  I asked a private detective and a priest, BOTH STRANGERS, and they gave willingly of their time and knowledge.

4. What if my writing process is wrong?  NO!  There is no wrong process. Just be certain that you have a writing process.  Whether it’s with meticulous outlines and story notes or just writing from your gut. My personal process is this:  An idea forms and begins writing itself in my mind.   I joke about ‘slamming  my story down first’It’s more than an outline (which I don’t use) and less than the finished product.  I type 80 words a minute so when I say I slam it down, I mean I slam it down.  I frequently write out of sequence.  Sometimes the Epilogue is written before the end of the story.  Sometimes the prologue is written after the first few chapters. That’s WEIRD’, you say?   No, not really,  the story such as it is at that point is feeding me.  Right now, AA.Cover.bridgeofmurderas I am writing Book #6, The Bridge of Murder, some chapters are un-numbered as I’m not certain where they fit, only that they are part of the story.

5.  Have people you trust read your manuscript.  They aren’t standing as close to it as you are.  But, be certain that they can look at the work and give a constructive critique.  When I say trust, I’m not talking about them stealing your work,  I’m talking about trusting that they will be honest with you.  I have two such people in my circle;  one in particular.  He is honest and wants the very best for me and out of me.

6. Poor Man’s Copyright:  I’ve done this for years.  When I have four or five pages of a manuscript completed, I make up a title page, date it and then mail it to myself.  When you get it back in the mail, be certain you DON’T open it.  Just tuck it away in a safe place.  Courts (if it ever came to that) will honor the post marked and unopened envelope.  Of course you have saved the date of the saved draft of the first time you worked on it in your computer.

7.  Re-write, re-write, then re-write some more!   Read your work over and over.  You don’t have to read it from start to finish….that will make your eyes cross and make you want to give up.  Read sections,  edit, re-write, make it as good as you possibly can.

Want to learn more about developing rich and interesting characters?  Want to try writing a little poetry or a Haiku?  Want to learn more about that all important ‘first sentence’ of your story?  Check out my Creative Writer’s Journals.  There are six ‘how to’ sections and 275 pages of lined, blank pages for your writing.

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When A Story Takes You by the Throat!

Women Outside the WallsHow do writers find their stories??  This one came to me as I sat, one Sunday morning, in the waiting area of a state prison. I was there to interview a convicted murderer for a play I was writing(Cook County Justice) about his case. I found myself sitting with many other women;  wives, sisters, daughters, grandmothers.  We all had one thing in common; we were there to visit a man behind bars and all of our shoe laces were untied. (They search you.)

Was I nervous?  Scared?  YES!  I’d never been in a prison before and I was about to enter a visiting room filled with convicted murderers, rapists, thieves and drug dealers.  The one thing these men had in common was they were someone’s son, husband, and father.

I have often advised new writers to write about what they know.  I did not follow my own advice.  These women had such an impact on me…..figuratively taking me by the throat and insisting that I tell their story.  So I did….with research, research, and more research.

This story is told by three diverse women married to men who made a bad decision. more »

My Momma Always said, Life is Like A Box…. (part 7)

Words.….a Box of Words.  this popular series is for all of you out there that love the English language as much as I do.  Especially stumbling over a word I have never heard or used.  I am fascinated with the origin of words such as:


Forest Gump, WordsCracker,  I’ve only heard it used as a derogatory term for Caucasian people. To imply an ignorant hillbilly or worse depending upon who was using it. (Well, yes, the obvious generic term for those tasty, crunchy squares that we can’t resist.)     When in fact it is an endearing term used for the COWBOYS of Florida (past and present)  who are adept at the use of a whip.  The cattle in Florida are trained to obey the ‘crack’ of the cowboy’s’ whip and hence the term ‘cracker’.  Did you know that Florida has the largest number of cattle in the USA?  You’d of thought, Texas.  But you’d be wrong.

Beeline, “I made a beeline for the car, more »

My momma always said, Life is Like a Box of Choc….or, for me, words (part 7)

writers, write, words, dictionaryMy box of chocolates is a new word or two or three.  My readers know how much I love the sound of words, the feel of them in my mouth, and the joy of finding out trivia about a certain word.  For example:

KerfuffleA commotion or fuss, especially one caused by conflicting views. (Oxford Dictionary)
Origin: Early 19th century: perhaps from Scots curfuffle (probably kerfuffle from Scottish Gaelic car ‘twist, bend’ + imitative Scots fuffle ‘to disorder’), or related to Irish cior thual ‘confusion, disorder’.
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Researching Fairy Tales

fairy tales, books for children, children's books,bullying, literacy   When I decided to add some of the classic characters (from fairy tales we all grew up with) to my fourth fable,  I was amazed at the fascinating information I found….

I had so much fun researching characters like Little Red Riding Hood (Rhonda Rider in my story).  Where she originated..oh yes, way before Walt Disney was a twinkle in his Daddy’s eye.

While creating  “Bertie, the Bookworm and the Bully Boys  I wanted to pay special homage to the classical fairy tales, by having some of the characters appear in my story and chat briefly with my friends in the Fabled Forest.  As seen here in this illustration, Druscilla, Cinderella’s stepsister, has stumbled into the Fabled Forest’s clearing. more »

Don’t forget to go back and……

writing, process, writers, styleI was recently working on my blog, and fiction that I had written over a year ago  I realized as I cut and pasted excerpts from my writings (in preparation to posting on my own site, and other sites) that with all the flurry of editing, rewriting, deleting, (I have grown to love my delete key)  and proofing I rarely  stop to enjoy the final product. 

And when I do go back, it’s always with an editor’s eye and I am very critical.  I could have done so much better!  Do you ever feel that way?

So as I was organizing and doing the housekeeping that a web site requires, I took a moment.  As  I chose and inserted excerpts, I stopped to just enjoy the poetry of the words, the dry humor in a line of dialogue, or a quip from one of my fictional characters…. more »