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Research Can Unearth Some Surprises!

Nazi codes in the hem of a dress?

After reading Susan Elia MacNeal’s Mr. Churchill’s Secretary I was inspired to write a short play about Winston Churchill and hisChurchills.Cat.BookCoverImage cat, Nelson.   Ms. MacNeal referred, in passing, to Mr. Churchill’s pets being allowed free rein to wander the war rooms at #10 Downing Street during Churchill’s time in office.  I could clearly see  the rotund, shambling figure of the Prime Minister with two pugs yapping at his heels while Admiral Nelson, the cat, sat high atop a side table. Silently observing his human and the general hysteria of the dogs.

Churchill was a master not only in crafting the English sentence but also in the coinage of words.  His tongue-in-cheek comment:  “A fanatic is one who won’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” is a favorite of mine.  In a World War I speech, (1914) Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty coined the phase ‘business as usual’.  Saying the maxim of the British people is “business as usual.”  Churchill gave the world the phrase: “Iron Curtain” in his speech in Missouri in 1946 when he said, “…..an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”

Having grown up during the post-war years, I knew something of Mr. Churchill.  A historic figure that was a great statesman, orator and leader.  But I really knew nothing of the man.  And once again, (as I have mentioned before) I began a project and then started my research.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, (which I highly recommend) is fiction but based in fact.  Ms. MacNeal was fortunate enough to have several interviews with Churchill’s private secretary before her death.  The book is about a ‘typist’ who was relegated to a menial job because of her gender.  She was actually educated in mathematics and cryptology and could easily have fitted in with MI-Five (British CIA) but for her being a woman.  The novel’s heroine, Maggie, saves the Prime Minister from certain death by breaking a Nazi code.  And this brings me to the fashion advert that actually ran in the London Times and was full of Nazi messages.  All the stitching (around sleeves and hem) was Morse code for attacks at #10 Downing and St. Paul’s cathedral. 

“German spies hid secret messages in drawings of models wearing the latest fashions in an attempt to outwit Allied censors during World War Two, according to British security service files. Nazi agents relayed sensitive military information using the dots and dashes of Morse code incorporated in the drawings. They posted the letters to their handlers, hoping that counter-espionage experts would be fooled by the seemingly innocent pictures. But British secret service officials were aware of the ruse and issued censors with a code-breaking guide to intercept them.”  (actual advert from the London Times).

If not for my love of reading, my passion for writing, and the need for research, I would never have delved into Churchill’s life and his time in office. (my interests don’t generally take that path).  It’s an unexpected delight to learn more about this amazing statesman.  He was quirky, irritable, brilliant, and very funny.

And all because I had begun writing a short play about Mr. Churchill and his cat!  I love when that happens!!

(Originally published 2013)
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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica, March: Lee Matthew Goldberg, May: Jenny Colgan
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What Does It Look Like?…..From ‘no book’ to ‘finished book’?

write, create, writing, authors, blogRecently a fellow writer and friend asked me this question:  “What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like?”  

My first novel, Women Outside the Walls began as a full length play.  I used my play script my book outline/treatment.  As the scenario was so current (because it was a play), I found that flashbacks were a great way to flesh out each woman’s story and it served me well.

It took me a year and four months to write it, format it and edit it. That equals 72,000 words.

I did not have a deadline and it probably would have really helped. I was my own deadline setter and that didn’t work out so well. On the other hand, I think having a publisher breathing down my neck would have stifled my creative flow.  When life got in the way I wouldn’t work on it for weeks but then I would get inspired and work on it for days, weeks, non-stop, sometimes 10-14 hours a day. So I guess it all evened out.  Whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t write for a few days….you’ll make up for it with better, more relaxed creative writing.

Because I inherently ‘rush’, I found that I had to watch-dog myself and be careful not to leave out important roads of the story. I was in early proofing of the final product of my novel and realized (in a countless re-read) that I had never described my female negotiator’s physical appearance. (Yikes!).  Again, (if the writer tends to rush) go back and re-read your work to see where you need to flesh out a chapter or a character.

I am not structured at all. I write a new project in my head for days, weeks and then when my brain is about to burst I begin putting it down on paper. I also write out of sequence and I think that’s okay. My novel’s last chapter was completed months before the middle was written.

Some writers have actually written whole books while blogging; they found it less daunting by writing in segments. At the end they had a book.  If you need a deadline the days that you commit to writing a blog would serve.  For me this wouldn’t work;  I would feel too exposed having my rough draft out there for the world to see as I am a writer who slams it down the first time around and then edit, edit, delete, edit.  Did I mention that the lettering ‘D’ is worn off my ‘delete’ key?

Frequently I will begin a story that has inspired me, not knowing much about the subject. It has sometimes stopped me dead in my tracks while I researched (example: hostage negotiations).   I had 8 pages of a new play, about Winston Churchill, written and  had to stop to do research. I find that it can be done while I am writing and that is what I prefer. It’s more fun and keeps me interested. I don’t think I would do well having my research all done before I put my story down. I find that the research itself inspires my story line.

WRITE WITHOUT FEAR
EDIT WITHOUT MERCY

And then there is that unseen, unheard phenomenon where, with any luck, the characters take over and you become the typist.   This has happened to me time and again, and while I resisted at first (being a control-freak) I now embrace and welcome it.  In Women Outside the Walls my character Alma, at sixteen, is abandoned by her promiscuous mother.  Alma is befriended by the ex-girl friend of the man Alma had a teen crush on.  They end up being room mates.  I could never have dreamed that one up;  but my characters got together and decided that this was what they would to do.

I don’t think that there is a right or wrong way to go through the process. Each writer should be unique in how they work. Instead of thinking of it as a project/deadline ‘thing’; think of it as a work of art, created just for you and by you. Where possible, let the characters lead you. They will never steer you wrong!

well, there you have it…the process such as it is and how it works for me.   

(Originally published January, 2013.)

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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!     December: Lauren Willig, January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica, March: Lee Matthew Goldberg, May: Jenny Colgan
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The Listening Path ~~ Book Review

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 5 out of 5 quills 

Back in 2006, The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron was published.  I had just begun my journey as a dabbler in watercolors and( since 1998), had been writing stage plays. In that same year, I still considered myself a dabbler in watercolors and a junior level playwright….learning as you go.  I certainly would never have called myself an ‘artist‘ in those early days. This was a workbook that I treasure to this day. 

Now Ms. Cameron has written another lovely, insightful, encouraging book, The Listening Path. A successful communicator’s first skill is LISTENING.  A successful artist and human being should be listening; not just to other people but listening to their surroundings, and even listening to silence. Much can be learned.

This book is not only instructional but filled with tasks to practice your listening and become a better communicator. 
I highly recommend this book to my readers who are interested in furthering their self-awareness and their world around them. 

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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!     December: Lauren Willig, January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica, March: Lee Matthew Goldberg, May: Jenny Colgan
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A Little Poetry and Where It was Born

ferry landing, poetry, foggy night, blogs, writing,I was sitting, late one night, at a ferry landing, waiting and watching the boats ferry back and forth until it was my turn to board.  Fog horns, misty fog, reflections on the black water, the screech of the gulls, and the silent hunting of the pelicans.

The wet air, the silence, the sound of a lone fog horn warning vessels of danger.  The fog smearing everything I looked at… I was inspired  to write poetry.  But the scene could have inspired a murder mystery writer to write about a body, weighted down, being slipped into the water;  or it could have inspired a romance writer to write about two lovers parting as the boat docked.  Never to be together again.  For me, it was poetry.  Here is an excerpt of what came out of that black night……..

FOGGY NIGHT  © 

The white orb, saturated with tidal flows 

peers through the veil, 

a ghost ship slips up the fog laden channel

 Night gulls’ sing with strident cries 

fog seeps in, the tide rolls out, 

day is gone, the night creeps on

Trees, dressed in ebony, drift by 

water glistens, gold and wet 

Night is soft and tender, edges blurred 

damp seeps into cloth, hair, bone 

Fog casts tents of light over the landing 

Hunters of the sea know not day nor night 

Fishers all, white feathers stark 

against the night shadows 

Palm trees, silhouetted against the ochre gauze,

brushes hardened with black paint……

I raced home as I had nothing to write with in the car.  Opening my front door, I dropped my keys and purse onto a chair, tore off my coat as I sped down the hall to my studio.  Waking up my computer, my fingers flew across the key board, lest I forget the words that were born in the night.

To read more click here for the books, Butterflies and Bullets and Moths and Machetes
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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!     December: Lauren Willig, January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica, March: Lee Matthew Goldberg
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Book Review~~Picnic in Someday Valley

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4 out of 5 quills   

Author, Jodi Thomas, never lets her readers down. This sequel to the Honey Creek series is a satisfying read, re-visiting Someday Valley and the strong characters that Jodi Thomas has drawn. Pecos and Brand being my favorites in this new one.  

The readers get to return to Honey Creek and Someday Valley, two small towns in Texas. While set in current times, there’s still a flavor of the old west and small town closeness and politics that you cannot escape from to this day.  The story is rich in twists and turns with vibrant, quirky characters.

I highly recommend it to my readers. 

Did you miss the wonderful interview we did with this author? 

Coming Soon! (Oct. 2021, Book 3 Honey Creek series)

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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!     December: Lauren Willig, January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica, March: Lee Matthew Goldberg
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How to be Certain a Director will NOT choose your Play

Recently I was invited to read and review a new collection of three plays. There was so much WRONG with the formatting and the lack of knowledge by the playwright that I couldn’t review it without tearing it all down and asking the playwright to begin anew. But there evolved a constructive critique that might help other new writers. 

Example back cover

Back cover should not be blank with a graphic design. Don’t waste this space.
1. Use this space as an opportunity to grab the buyer/director. List titles and short synopses of your plays. Count gender and following synopsis type this: 1m. 4f. (indicating one male and four females.
2. One line tags
3. A short bio of you

Pg1. First page: Title of play/s
Pg.2: Copyright notice
Pg 3:  list of play titles and Pg # they start on.

In the first few pages you should have a Contents (list) with the tile of each play and the page number it begins. Make it as easy as you can for the director to find the play and the list of characters Because this dictates whether the director can use your play or not depending on age of character and gender. Always keep in mind that men are harder to cast.

On whatever page a new play starts it should begin with the title and the list of characters.

Be certain, you as the playwright, understand what constitutes a full length play. a One Act play, and a Ten Minute Play.  If your plays are preachy and  esoteric it will be a hard sell to a director.

The end of a play is indicated with one word, centered: CURTAIN

Black out‘ and ‘End of Scene‘ are no longer used. The director will understand when a new scene begins. The next page demonstrates to the reader that a new scene is beginning. ‘Act’ and ‘Scene’ should be centered.

CHARACTERS names and blocking should be centered on page; NO underline.

If you find yourself writing a soliloquy or a monologue in a scene, break it up by having other characters insert dialogue in your speech. It then becomes less preachy and more dynamic.

Be certain YOU know the difference between a Ten Minute Play, a Full Length play (with two acts) and a One Act Play. The first act in a full length play is longer than the second act. Full length plays are about 100 pages/minutes. And no one ever uses an Act III unless your plays is over two hours or closer to 3 hours long. Also, a no-no. Remember the rule of thumb is one minute per page. This varies based on how ‘busy’ the blocking is as that takes time too. It is permissible that a 10 minute play might go over but never more than 18 to 20 minutes.

The first few pages of the book should be simple and convey the correct information. Keep it simple.  The title of your book  should be on the 1st page of your book. The next page [on the left] should be your copyright page. On the right should be your table of contents (centered)
Title with page numbers. (justified left)

On the page number of the play, the title should be on the 1st page. (odd numbered page, right side) the next page (odd numbered) should be the list of characters. The blocking and description of how the play should be produced does not need to be too detailed. Remember this is the job of the director to interpret the playwright’s Play.

Examples:
Link, How to Format a play: https://www.writeratplay.com/2018/01/15/how-to-format-your-self-published-stage-play/

When the formatting is not industry-standard, I have seen more than one director throw the book/script into the ’round file’.
Look at other scripts on line for guidance.  
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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    November: Ella Quinn, December: Lauren Willig,
January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica  March: Lee Matthew Goldberg
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One of those Days…. When There’s nothing to Talk about…

Not me, just thought it was funny. I don’t own pearls.

After eight years of blogging, I find myself with a day (today) that I really don’t have anything to say. It’s too early for March’s author interview. It’s a good one! I’ve run dry on tips for writers ….  except  ….  “Writing isn’t a calling, it’s a doing.”  That hasn’t and will never change.  So get busy. 

Lee Goldberg

I spent my morning running errands on the internet; some book buying, some banking, some talking to authors. Next week we will start with my Interview with Lee Matthew Goldberg, a sci-fi writer.  And, literally, a tree hugger.   >>>>

I’m currently adapting my stage play, Emma and the Aardvarks into a children’s illustrated chapter book.  I have discovered a wonderful illustrator in Brazil and this is the first of his work for the book. Wonderful, huh? 

Jobson Chagas

I’ll sign off for now. If you’re wondering how I feel about this ‘dry spell’; it doesn’t bother me in the least. I see it as a much needed resting period and I know that March will fire up with lots of good things including our chat with Lee.

Bye for now….see you next week!

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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    November: Ella Quinn, December: Lauren Willig, January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica, March: Lee Matthew Goldberg
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One Candle Can Light Another

Gary Swindell
1961-2020

One day a good friend called me; Gary was  a very accomplished pianist, guitarist and musical director. He was reading my book of poetry, Butterflies and Bullets. He went on to say that while reading my work he kept hearing music in his head. And could I give him permission to use my poetry for lyrics. What a compliment! He said he was especially taken with, “Hair-cut…Two Bits”, about a down-and-out cellist, gambler and barber in New Orleans.

Gary  had previously written a song based on my play, Scent of Magnolia (Billie Holiday).  The world lost a beautiful musician and friend this past December. 

We artists, regardless of what we do or what we write, should lift each other up whenever or wherever we can.  When I review a book I make certain that my review (if bad) lists helpful and constructive criticism and is never cruel. 

It is my hope that my posts relating to writing helps a new writer begin their journey in writing….and helps experienced writers learn something new. My hope is to light someone else’s candle of creativity.

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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    November: Ella Quinn, December: Lauren Willig,
January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica 
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Interview with author, Madeline Hunter

Madeline Hunter is a bestselling author of more than thirty historical romances. She is a two-time RITA winner. Her books have been on the NY Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller list.  Over six million of her books are in print, and have been translated into fourteen languages. A Ph.D. in Art History, she was, for many years, a professor at an eastern university. She lives in western Pennsylvania, near her two sons.

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.

MH. About ten years ago some renovations in my home allowed me to create an office just for my writing. It is right off the family room and has a lot of light. My desk is a long, deep ledge along one wall. I am a stacker, so that desk is usually a total mess. I know where everything is, though! And when I organize, I lose stuff so I don’t do that too often (this is my excuse and I’m sticking to it!)
I suppose if I had a dream work space, it would be a small separate building, or perhaps an elegant office that resembles an English country library from the 19th century, full of books and wood and a desk that isn’t so big that it gets covered in my stacks. Can I have regular office staff to keep it all looking gorgeous too?

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.)

MH. Coffee, then more coffee. Silence. Preferably no one else in the house and certainly not moving around and DEFINITELY not popping in to chat.

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

MH. I am a traveler. I have been to five continents, and more cities than I can count. Travel really invigorates me and fills the well that I draw on for my writing.

Q. What tools do you begin with? Legal pad, spiral notebook, pencils, fountain pen, or do you go right to your keyboard?

Available April 27th

MH. I start with either legal pad/pen or computer. In either case, I am just throwing down ideas to flesh out the germ of a notion I have for a book. It is very messy and barely understandable to anyone else except me. I keep doing this, honing the story idea, making sure the characters work for me, and ensuring there is enough story to carry a novel. Eventually I start writing a synopsis and try to synthesize all of that into the actual plot story line. The synopsis goes through more drafts until it is in final form. The synopsis is not an outline. It is the who, what, why of the book, but not necessarily the how.

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

MH. Yes, but it has shifted around. I started out a night writer, then became a morning writer, and am currently an early afternoon writer. I have no idea why the times have changed. Ideally I’d be a morning writer because when it gets pushed off, it may not happen at all.

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

MH. Sit in the chair and just start with one sentence. The rest will follow. Now, that sounds so sensible, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it is the actual sitting and doing it that is the problem. If you have a publisher and write to contract, that contract really helps because no work, no pay. However, if you are not beholden to anyone but yourself, problems can develop. I think every writer who starts a project should create deadlines and commit to them. Make them realistic, but non-negotiable once they are set. When I was starting, before I was published, I forced myself to finish a book every eight months. I had a goal and found the time to get it done. It is harder to procrastinate when you see your goal slipping away.

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

MH. Wow, this is a big subject. I have had characters come to me in many ways. I have had them walk into other books and start being so dynamic and interesting that I knew I had to do a book just for them. I have had visions of characters and ended up figuring out a story so I could learn more about them. And I learn about them as I write them. I am a big believer that character development is just that—they develop as the story unfolds. The reader learns about them pretty much the same way I did. It is important to me that my characters be distinctive. I don’t want all of my heroes to be cut of the same cloth, for example. It is tempting, when you have a really cool character, to use clones of him again and again. Eventually the readers recognize that is happening, however.

Join us for the conclusion to this Interview ~ January 23rd
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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    November: Ella Quinn, December: Lauren Willig,
January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica 
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New Fiction for Women: Mini Book Reviews

         I am always on the prowl for new authors (to me) to read, review and interview. If I’m lucky I find them to my taste for my pleasure reading too. An added bonus! These mini-reviews are books I wanted to share with my readers and unsolicited by the authors.

Christmas at the Beach Hotel by Jenny Colgan          reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing 4 out of 5 quills

A wacky little story set in a wacky little village on a remote rock (really) jutting out of the north Atlantic sea. The sentence structure, the run-on sentences and the odd flavor and cadence of the language made this writer/reader wonder if English was the author’s first language.  Rather than distract from the story, it turned out (at least for me) to add charm and credence to the unlikely characters living, willingly, on the harsh and unwelcoming island that is Mure.
It took a couple chapters in to fully believe in said characters and stop wondering why anyone in their right minds would live there. I recommend this book and look forward to the next one I shall be opening soon.
 

Seabreeze Inn by Jan Moran   reviews, authors, writing reviews, authors, writing reviews, authors, writing reviews, authors, writing   
                                                                   4 out of 5 quills

I’ve been reading Jan Moran for awhile now. Very enjoyable contemporary stories set along the coast of southern California.

Seabreeze Inn is a series set in what was an old private home, now, out of necessity, turned into a charming Inn by a reluctant widow. Her husband, recently deceased, had neglected to tell her about his acquisition. She is quite surprised to find herself the sudden owner of an old house, with back taxes past due, broke on top of everything else. Its beautiful location on the beach and steps from the sand inspires her to convert the house into an inn. Throughout the series the old house gives up its secrets and becomes another vibrant character in the story line. 

The characters are well drawn and very plausible. The reader will be  happy to know that there are more challenges, conflict, surprises and love interests in the following books. 

    reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing        5 out of 5 quills 
                                    Married To The Rogue  by Mary Lancaster

This Regency romance is a perfect mix of good writing.  A fun, interesting story, several love stories woven in, and a hint of sex. Written in the style of Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer and Mary Balogh, the raciest romance scenes go no further than the kissing of fingers, the inside of a lady’s wrist, one or two passionate kisses….and the rest is left to the imagination of the reader.  This is my favorite approach to sex scenes in this genre. When an author is blatant, for no apparent reason, I find it is frequently to compensate for weak writing. A Literary Commentary

Married To The Rogue is strongly written. Deborah is a self assured young debutante who finds herself painted into a corner of scandal where there appears to be no escape.  Christopher is a young peer who has political ideas far ahead of his time and has an urgent need for a wife. 
Having just discovered Mary Lancaster, I look forward to reading more of her books. (Hurry up, Amazon!) 
I highly recommend this book to my readers.
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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    November: Ella Quinn, December: Lauren Willig, January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica 
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  On the home page, enter your email address.  Thanks!