Chicken Diapers, Pinterest and Research

K.P. Gresham Cropped Color Portrait  Written by Kathy Gresham


Sometimes my descriptions of a scene, idea, character, etc. can use a little pictorial help. For me, I find Pinterest can be a great resource to help me get the picture in my mind “just right”. Other times, I’ve used it to store ideas for future writing, motivate me when I need a new idea, and in a few cases, to prove a theory of a book I’m working on.

I have a couple of manuscripts in the drawer (that’s a writer’s way of talking about finished manuscripts that you haven’t sent out to any agents or editors YET}. Two of them are fun little murder mysteries that take place in a small Illinois town called Hardscrabble. The title on my Pinterest account for this series is Hardscrabble Homecoming. I have a Pinterest board for each of my series: “Chicago Cubs” supports my 2016 novel, Three Days at Wrigley Field. “Preachers Murders” has scenes, jokes, ideas from my Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series. There are boards for future book ideas as well. “Ada’s Story” is where I keep all my visual material on the book I’m writing about a reformed Hitler youth who has devoted her life to making sure the world never sees another Hitler. Only she doesn’t get it quite right. I’ve also got a Board that supports my “Writing Whimsies”—little nuggets about writing. Some make me smile. Some make me think. Some just get me back in the chair.

Since I was at the dentist this week, it reminded me that I had a dentist in one of my Hardscrabble Homecoming books. I decided to check out a few graphs of the procedure done in the book. Then I got to thinking. In a different Hardscrabble Homecoming book, a character (and I do mean character) has a pet chicken (which integral to the story). I’d heard stories of a writer who did, indeed, diaper her chicken and keep it inside as a house pet. So what the heck. I looked up “Diapered Chickens”. Today I actually put these photos up on my board.

First, I needed to know what a chicken diaper was. Then I needed to prove to myself (and my readers) this wasn’t a half-cocked idea. (Sorry.) Some chickens are considered house pets and wear diapers.

I really do enjoy researching stuff for my books. The more creative, the better. If chuckles ensue, that’s the best. Thank you, Pinterest for helping me research my books! If you’re interested in checking out my Pinterest boards, here’s the link.

https://in.pinterest.com/kathygresham75/boards/

*

Images from My Pet Chicken

*

 

                                          Do Your Characters Talk to You?

 

Writers sometimes get intimately involved with their characters. We will be addressing the topic of author-character communication.  The “experts” tell you that you must know your characters when writing. That’s true, but how do you interact with them and do you talk to them? (There are doctors that treat people like us). There are a number of character trait forms to help you in most writing books, and there is also the back of an envelope. To be successful with your story you need interesting characters the reader can relate to and get behind. The characters must be believable, do things that are “in-character”, and right for that particular character, even if outlandish. It is a very good idea to really know your characters, especially the hero or protagonist. You need to “get into that characters head and live and see things through his / her eyes. Next, your characters need to talk to you as well. Have a dialog with your main characters to help drive your story. (I wouldn’t mention this conversation to too many people—they might outfit you with a new white padded jacket).

Below is a series of questions for consideration when working with your characters. I hope they make you think and consider how well you know your characters before you try and write them into situations they have to get out of.

When you write your characters, do you have a character profile and use it?

 

Do you talk to your characters when writing?

 

How well do you know your characters before and when you write?

 

Do your characters talk to you and if so, how?

 

Do your characters lead you in the story or do you have the story pretty well established and they follow suit?

 

If you talk to your characters, do you talk to them out loud or just in your mind?

 

During the writing process, stories sometimes change, do your characters drive this or do you just get other ideas?

 

Do your characters change during the story or just solve the mystery?

 

How do you develop your characters? Do they evolve or do you have a plan for them?

 

Does setting play a part of your characters personality?

 

Are your characters real people to you when you write?

 

We want the reader to like our characters, at least the good guys, how do you do that?

 

Do you think about your story and the characters when doing other things and not writing?

 

Have you ever been out in public and looking at a place or see something you could use in your story and start to discuss it with your leading character? Do people look at you strangely if you do this?

 

If your characters talk to you, what do you talk about?

 

Have you ever had an argument with one of your characters?

 

Do you take medication for this?

 

Remember, your characters work for you and they don’t cost much in pay and benefits, so treat them nice.

 

Remember: There are meds for this condition and doctors who treat people like us.

 

 

Made His Mark: Daniel J. Boorstin, A Man and His World

renee kimball dog photo written by Renee Kimball

 

Education is learning what you didn’t even know
you didn’t know. ~ 
Daniel J. Boorstin

2018-08-09 renee kimball www Daniel_Boorstin copy wiki commons
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

There are many people who have never heard of Daniel J. Boorstin.  You may not know of him or his lifetime of work.  Boorstin is one of a group of modern historians who rose to prominence in the 1950’s and beyond.   At the beginning of his career, there was no internet and the general public was eager for information primarily found in books.

Boorstin was born in 1914 and died in 2004, at the age of 89.   He was a man of many talents, but in terms of authorship and approach he was truly unique.   To study all his work would take a lifetime.

He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for the last book of a trilogy he titled The Americans. The trilogy included:  The Colonial Experience (1958), The National Experience (1965), and The Democratic Experience (1973).

Boorstin’s gift was his laser-like insight and unrivaled ability of connectedness.  He was adept at evaluating trends and society, as well as history, and combining both into highly readable chronologies.  His writing details historical events, social change, progress, and scholarly viewpoints throughout the history of America and the world.  To say that Boorstin was the consummate researcher is an understatement.

Not only was Boorstin adept at interconnecting facts, people, places, inventions, and abstract concepts into a smooth and interconnected whole, no one that I am aware of has written with the same clarity or ability as a historian – Boorstin has no equal.  He was also such a prolific writer; a published annotated bibliography was produced comprised solely of his work in 2000.

2018-08-08 WWW Renee kimball amazon The image - book cover - boorstein 51iKBhLpL4L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_
The Image

Daniel J. Boorstin is what I have personally dubbed “a place keeper.”  He is the type of historical and social writer who sees the pivotal in the mundane, marks it, explains it and knows what effect the event had at a certain point in time, and the impact it could have in the future.  Boorstin was one of the first to literally name certain social conditions.  He was the first to coin “image”, the “non-event” and the “celebrity”, all concepts either invented, or first dissected, by him.” (Hodgson, 2004).

But who was this man? Why is his writing so important to us today?

Boorstin was born in 1914 in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Russian Jewish Immigrants.  His father was an attorney who represented Leo Frank, and despite being found innocent of the rape and murder of a young girl, Frank was later lynched by The Klu Klux Klan.  Anti-Semitism forced the Boorstin family to relocate to Oklahoma.

After completing his early schooling, Boorstin went first to Harvard Law, graduated, then studied at Balliol College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.  During 1938, he joined the Communist Party for one year. He dropped his affiliation when Russia and Germany invaded Poland.  He never returned to the Communist Party, and fully denounced it when questioned in later years.

He received his doctorate at Yale and was hired as a professor at Swarthmore College in 1942. Later, Boorstin became a professor at the University of Chicago, holding that position for twenty-five years.  He later attained the position of “Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions,” at the University of Cambridge.  In 1974, he became the Librarian of Congress upon the nomination of then President Gerald Ford, and retained that position for a full twelve years.

He married Ruth Frankel, in 1941.  Their marriage was a solid one lasting the rest of their lives.  Ruth was also Boorstin’s editor. “Without her,” he was quoted as saying, “I think my works would have been twice as long and half as readable.”

Boorstin is most famous for the trilogy, The Americans; however a second well-known trilogy spanned an all-encompassing study of man and the world in which he lives.   That trilogy included : (1) The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself, (2) The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination and (3) The Seekers: The Story of Man’s Continuing Quest to Understand His World Knowledge Trilogy.

These works are maps from where man began, his creations along the way, the curves and changes that mark man’s historical progress, and their effects on society. They are important because Boorstin is a place finder and a place keeper who shows our progress as a country, society, and habitants of this large world that we all are a part – and guides us to something better in ourselves.   These works are lasting works, we can all learn something from Boorstin’s achievements.

 

 

Daniel Boorstin’s books cited above are available from Amazon, https://www.amazon.com/Daniel-J.-Boorstin/e/B000AQ79EE

References

Hodgson, Godfrey. Obituary – Daniel Boorstin. Prolific American social historian who charted the corrupting influence of advertising and spin on political life. The Guardian U.S. Edition. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2004/mar/01/guardianobituaries.obituaries

Mon 1 Mar 2004 03.59 ESTFirst published on Mon 1 Mar 2004 03.59 EST.

Daniel J. Boorstin. Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_J._Boorstin

Encyclopedia Britannica. Daniel J. Boorstin. American Historian. The Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  https://www.britannica.com/biography/Daniel-J-Boorstin.

The Washington Post.  Langer, Emily.  Ruth F. Boorstin, writer and editor, dies at 95. December 6, 2013. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/ruth-f-boorstin-writer-and-editor-dies-at-95/2013/12/06/0d6f6692-5c62-11e3-95c2-13623eb2b0e1_story.html?utm_term=.164161ad5973

Wikiquote.org    https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Daniel_J._Boorstin

***

A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading and writing. She is an active Animal Advocate, fosters and rescues both dogs and cats from shelters, and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.

 

Book Review: Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and with Others — by Renee Kimball

 Written by Renee Kimball

 

Recommended Reading:   Writing Alone and with others, The guide that will beat the block, banish fear, and help create lasting work, by Pat Schneider- Writer, Poet-Healer, and Shaman. An instructional guide to self-healing through writing

Cover photo from Amazon.

Pat Schneider is a poet-healer, a guide and shaman who believes writing is the means to self-healing.   Writing Alone and with others is a writer’s guide to forgiving yourself and giving yourself permission to write your story so that you can go forward to a better you.

There are many gems of wisdom in Schneider’s book for writers and would-be-writers.  Each page speaks in a kind of firm best-friend voice.  It is directed to anyone and everyone, quoting Will Stafford, Schneider affirms: “A writer is someone who writes” – stating whether writing a letter, email, or merely a report, we all write (p. xxv).   If writing calls to you, you must answer the call, if you do not, you damage yourself – whatever your write, it is your art—your story– and your right to write.

 

“When we neglect the artist in ourselves,
there is a kind of mourning that goes on
under the surface of our busy lives.
 ~Schneider

 

If you are troubled and wish to heal, then the act of writing will heal you. And your story does not have to be shared in order for you to be whole.  Of course, there are those who want to share, and that is a good thing. But, whatever path is chosen, the medicine – writing- will heal you.

The very act of writing takes courage, it is an act exposing your most vulnerable self.  You know which writers’ stories relate to you.  If you share, it may be the story that irrevocably changes not only your path, but another’s path, you never know – it is a risk. Take the risk to write, whether you share or not, and you will heal.

 

“Writing is a scary thing to do and the bad news is, it never stops being scary.  Once I was at a luncheon with several writers and one of them had won the Pulitzer Prize.  And he said: “what in God’s name do you write after you’ve won the Pulitzer?”  And he was terrified. And I know someone else who has written book after book. . . and he’s miserable when he’s writing his next book, because he says, “I’ll never finish, I can’t finish, I can’t do this.  How did I get myself into this?”  So, a claim does not take care of the fear of writing.” (on-line interview)

 

Schneider’s book is a writer’s self-help book and an instructional manual for writing groups, it gives a firm but loving GET TO IT message, a message to GET ON WITH YOUR WRITING AND HEAL YOURSELF – Look into the dark corners of yourself and write them down, clear them out, banish them, shed them, become whole.

Schneider leaves no one behind.  She encourages everyone to “Write something that feels too huge, or too dangerous, to tell. Courage is not the special prerogative of those who have experienced some dramatic suffering” (p. 90).

This is a hefty book, a thoughtful book, and whether you are an old-hand at writing, a beginner, or simply seeking personal solace through writing, Schneider’s book will fill you up and just may be the start towards a new beginning.

By Deekatherine [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

To grow in craft is to increase
the breadth of what I can do,
but art is the depth, t
he passion, the desire,
the courage to be myself,
and myself alone.

 

 

 

 

 

***

GOING HOME THE LONGEST WAY AROUND

we tell stories, build
from fragments of our lives
maps to guide us to each other.
We make collages of the way
it might have been
had it been as we remembered,
as we think perhaps it was,
tallying in our middle age
diminishing returns.
Last night the lake was still;
all along the shoreline
bright pencil marks of light, and
children in the dark canoe pleading
“Tell us scary stories.”
Fingers trailing in the water,
I said someone I loved who died
told me in a dream
to not be lonely, told me
not to ever be afraid.
And they were silent, the children,
listening to the water
lick the sides of the canoe.
It’s what we love the most
can make us most afraid, can make us
for the first time understand
how we are rocking in a dark boat on the water,
taking the long way home.

~ Pat Schneider

***

For more of Pat Schneider’s poems visit, Pat Schneider.com. – http://patschneider.ca/pat/?p=47

 

References

Writing alone and with others. The guide that will beat the block, banish fear, and help create lasting work. Pat Schneider.  Available on Amazon.com, https://www.amazon.com/Writing-Alone-Others-Pat-Schneider/dp/019516573X  Photo contribution from Amazon. Com

Pat Schneider – Online Interview – On Writing
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQ1ukC0KWZI  Oxford Academic (Oxford University Press) Published on Apr 24, 2013

Pat Schneider.com http://patschneider.com/pat/

Pat Schneider – Online Interview – On Writing
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQ1ukC0KWZI  Oxford Academic (Oxford University Press) Published on Apr 24, 2013

Disclaimer: The reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed here are her own.

*****

A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading and writing. She is an active Animal Advocate, fosters and rescues both dogs and cats from shelters, and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.

 

 

Never Mind the Villain!: Dorothy Sayers and Point of View

 Posted by Helen Currie Foster

Okay, you know writers have to make choices. I began writing the Alice MacDonald Greer mysteries from a single point of view—Alice’s. As you all know, whether in first person or third, making this choice in an amateur sleuth mystery requires the writer to figure out how the protagonist can acquire and understand all the necessary clues.

Bronze statue of Dorothy L. Sayers by John Doubleday, located on Newland Street, Witham, England. By GeneralJohnsonJameson [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons
The magnificent Dorothy Sayers instead adopted a disciplined omniscience in her eleven Peter Wimsey mysteries (1923-1937). In the first, Whose Body (1923), we meet not only the main character but his companion investigators: his unflappable butler Mervyn Bunter and Inspector Parker of Scotland Yard, who carry through the entire series (with Harriet Vane appearing in the fifth mystery). These characters both enrich the books and add structural strength. Parker provides the window to the police, while Bunter possesses useful technical skills (photography, testing for arsenic). Furthermore, the companion sleuths (and others) shed light on Wimsey’s character by their own thoughts and observations—necessary because Wimsey, though a chatterbox, is notoriously introverted, plagued by his war experience.

Omniscience also gives Sayers flexibility in setting the opening scene.  In Strong Poison (1931), after the bewigged judge’s dry summation of the evidence against Harriet Vane, we’re privy to reactions not only from Wimsey but also newspaper reporters and the public. Busman’s Honeymoon (1937) opens with letters describing Wimsey’s marriage to Harriet Vane, written to or from unknown society matrons, Peter’s butler Mervyn Bunter, Peter’s prickly sister-in-law Helen, and Peter’s mother. These multiple points of view enliven both openings.

But after such openings Sayers typically narrows point of view to the clue-finders. In Strong Poison we’re mainly in Wimsey’s head, feeling his growing emotional involvement: “Wimsey walked down the dingy street with a feeling of being almost lightheaded.” “For the first time, too, he doubted his own power to carry through what he had undertaken.” Sayers lets us abandon Wimsey to accompany his “team.” We follow the resourceful Bunter into the kitchen of a London mansion where we watch him toast crumpets while eliciting critical evidence from the cook and housemaid:

By what ingratiating means Mr. Bunter had contrived to turn the delivery of a note into the acceptance of an invitation to tea was best known to himself…He had been trained to a great pitch of dexterity in the preparation of crumpets, and if he was somewhat lavish in the matter of butter, that hurt nobody…Nothing goes so well with a hot fire and buttered crumpets as a wet day without and a good dose of comfortable horrors within.

Later our heart pounds with that of Miss Murchison, whom Wimsey has persuaded to take a job as temporary secretary in order to burgle a lawyer’s safe.  “Miss Murchison felt a touch of excitement in her well-regulated heart.” We follow the elderly Katharine Climpson to a village where, she’s promised Wimsey, she must somehow find and read a dying woman’s will: “In a single moment of illumination, Miss Climpson saw her plan complete and perfect in every detail.” And so do we.

Given their moments in the sun these characters develop richly. We feel Miss Murchison’s excited terror as she presses the panel that reveals the safe in the suspect’s office. We feel Miss Climpson’s anxious discipline as she waits for the kettle to steam enough to loosen the glue on the envelope holding the will. We love Bunter’s roast chicken recipe and ability to extract critical detail from the housemaid and cook. And when Wimsey celebrates their information the reader enjoys the teamwork as well:

(Wimsey) “Have you brought us news, Miss Murchison? If so, you have come at the exact right moment…Have you had tea? or will you absorb a spot of something?”

Miss Murchison declined refreshment.

(Wimsey) “Tell us the worst, Miss Murchison.”

Miss Murchison needed no urging. She told her adventures, and had the pleasure of holding her audience enthralled from the first word to the last.

In the earlier (pre-Harriet Vane) Clouds of Witness (1926) we travel to Paris with Inspector Parker, in search of a cat-shaped diamond brooch. After a fruitless day, Parker decides to buy his unmarried older sister “some filmy scrap of lace underwear which no one but herself would ever see.” He finds help in one Parisian shop: “The young lady had been charmingly sympathetic, and, without actually insinuating anything, had contrived to make her customer feel just a little bit of a dog. He felt that his French accent was improving.” Somehow we like Parker even more—a good thing, since later in Clouds of Witness he’ll propose to Wimsey’s sister.

In Have His Carcase (1932), the initial point of view is all Harriet Vane’s: she discovers the grisly body. Then Wimsey arrives, and we follow him as he tracks down alibis (“Wimsey shuddered at the thought of roast mutton and cabbage on a red-hot June day”). At the end, we’re  with Bunter as he doggedly trails a suspect to find the key evidence, then sees the back of a man leaving the movie theater (“He had not followed that back through London for five days without knowing every line of it”). By the conclusion we’ve enjoyed the inner workings of all three minds—Harriet’s, Peter’s, Bunter’sin a way we couldn’t with a single point of view.

However, there’s one point of view Sayers refuses to share, despite her omniscience. Sayers never admits us to the killer’s point of view. We hear dialogue from the killer; particularly where a death was unintended, we hear the killer explain what happened; but Sayers bars us from following the killer’s thoughts.

She’s taken a position consistent with the first rule of The Detection Club which Sayers helped found in 1930: “The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.” (Indeed, she even follows this rule for the accused killer in Clouds of Witness; he’s innocent, but still we never hear his thoughts.)

Many mysteries break this rule (see, e.g., Tony Hillerman’s The Ghost Way (1984), where we enter Vaggan’s mind), sometimes to great effect.

But it’s a rule Sayers kept.

On May 19, 2018, at our Heart of Texas Sisters in Crime meeting, Ed Martin  told in fascinating detail how he helped determine who murdered Madalyn Murray O’Hair, her son John, her adopted daughter Robin, and Danny Fry, a co-conspirator in their murders. As he ended, Ed mentioned that the murderer David Waters had told of a nightmare in which he saw Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s hand sticking up from the grave. Ed said, “No conscience, but he had a nightmare!”

That comment intrigued me. It opened an unwelcome door into the villain’s thoughts. It was already too hard to understand the murders in the first place. Hearing about the nightmare made the O’Hairs’ deaths more painful. And yet—the murderer had had that nightmare. Maybe that’s a different story.

***

Photographic images of covers of Strong Poison and Clouds of Witness taken from personal copies.

***

Helen Currie Foster is the author of the Alice MacDonald Greer mystery seriesGHOST CAVE, GHOST DOG, GHOST LETTER, and GHOST DAGGER. She earned a BA from Wellesley College, an MA from the University of Texas, and a JD from the University of Michigan.

Having grown up in Texas surrounded by books and storytelling, she taught high school English and later became a prize-winning feature writer for a small Michigan weekly. Following a career of more than thirty years as an environmental lawyer, the character Alice and her stories suddenly appeared in Foster’s life. In her writing, Foster explores the interaction between history and the present and the reasons we tell the stories we do.

Married with two children, she lives north of Dripping Springs, Texas, supervised by three burros. She works in Austin, and she’s active with the Hays County Master Naturalists and the board of Austin Shakespeare.

 

 

Finding the Muse

Today Writing Wranglers and Warriors
welcomes a new blogger, 
David Ciambrone

 Posted by Dave Ciambrone

You will hear writers sometime say, “I can’t write right now, the muse hasn’t been with me.” They wait for the muse or the inspiration to hit in order to write. You can wait forever. Writers have also said that once they start, sometimes they will get “into the groove” and things really come, it seems to flow. Why does this happen? Is there a muse? What is the groove and how does it work?

Well, after studying hypnosis I think I have the answer. It is called self-hypnosis. There are those who don’t believe in hypnosis or think it is evil, but it isn’t. It is just an altered state of mind. Have you ever been listening to a replay of an old time radio show or listened to a book on tape in the car and you are transported into the story and you can “see” the action in your mind like a movie. Later you wonder how you got to the place you were headed and don’t remember driving? You were hypnotized. You did it yourself.

When you start to write something you are interested in, your mind gets into a state where the physical aspect of writing (the typing) is “mechanical” and your conscious mind lulls itself into a pattern activity. This means it “doesn’t have to think” and “goes to sleep” or relaxes. Your subconscious mind is the creative part of your brain, and because your conscious mind is “asleep,” the subconscious takes over and the story and characters and plots get to come to the surface and start to flow. You visualize things and see the story before your eyes and the writing is nothing more than documenting what you are seeing. You are “in the groove” or “the Muse is working.” It is your subconscious mind at work. You’ve been thinking about a plot problem but couldn’t figure it out. While you were doing your normal daily activities and your conscious mind was working on life, your subconscious mind was hard at work on your plot problem. When you “got into the groove” the problem was solved. That’s when your subconscious mind got to surface and told you the answer. Time becomes irrelevant, you are in the world of your story and the plot and characters become alive. You are under self-hypnosis.  People self hypnotize themselves without knowing it all the time.

You can get into this altered mind state by sitting down in a comfortable chair with your computer or word processor in a room or place that you like to write in, and relaxing. Take a few deep breaths and slowly let them out.  Now, start writing. Start on your story and just write what comes to you. Before long you’re “in the groove.” You can go back and edit later, just create. Let your mind go and just write. The results will surprise you.

***

“Brain Connections” by Jack Moreh is licensed under Equalicense 1.0 via Freerange.

***

Dr. David Ciambrone is a retired executive, scientist, professor of engineering, and a forensics consultant, and now a best selling, award winning author living in Georgetown, Texas with his wife Kathy.  He has published 20 books, four (4) non-fiction and fourteen fiction, and has news mysteries in work. He has also published two (2) textbooks for a California university. Dave has been a speaker at writers groups, schools, colleges and conferences and business conferences internationally.

He is past vice president of Sisters-in-Crime Orange County, CA, and past President of the Austin chapter of Sisters-in Crime; a member of Mystery Writers of America; past Member of the Board of Directors of the Writer’s League of Texas; Past President of the San Gabriel’s Writer’s League in Georgetown, TX; and a member of the Williamson County Coroners and the International Thriller Writers. Dave has also been on the Georgetown Library Advisory Board and the board of a local theater. He was Chairman on the Williamson County Appraisal Review Board and was on the board of directors of a Texas special utility district. He was also Chairman of the Williamson County, Texas Historical Commission.

Dr. Ciambrone has written three newspaper columns and a column for a business journal.

He is a fellow of the International Oceanographic Foundation and has a Bronze Trowel Award from the Archaeological Institute of America. He is also a member of the Order of Merlin of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

The Deep Dive

Today Writing Wranglers and Warriors
welcomes a new blogger,
Helen Currie Foster

Posted by Helen Currie Foster

I’m so used to the pressure of fast-moving fiction. “Does this scene advance the action?” “Should I pare down this description?” Now and then I’m reminded, though, of the need to take a dive. A deep, deep dive.

Interconnectedness is not something we always grasp. But in writing, we’re struggling to understand, to make sense of, the interconnections of people, events, timelines. A deep dive into nature can give new vocabulary. The Brits, never slouches at nature-writing, offer some virtuoso examples. One is Robert MacFarlane (The Old Ways, The Wild Places, Landmarks). My copy of The Wild Places is tattered at the back from mad attempts to scribble down just a few of his phrases. For instance, he quotes a friend’s description of the rare moment we’ve each sometimes felt while hiking, climbing, walking: the moment when “the great door, that does not look like a door, opens.” He reminds us that we must remember that “our minds are shaped by our physical experience of being in the world.” He urges exploration of “the undiscovered country of the nearby.”

And he can nail a description. Sleeping out one night in the moonlight he wakes to “millions of lunar photons pelting” onto his face, giving him “an eyeful of silver.” His description places humans right where we belong, on our planet and in the cosmos. A vivid, exact, resonant phrase.

Another deep diver is Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie. In Findings, fascinated one spring in the Orkneys by a pair of nesting peregrines, the male and female sitting separated by a dozen feet on their separate rock ledges, she describes the male: “when the sunlight glanced [on] his undersides they were pale and banded like rippled sycamore.” Yes, the mottled sycamore, silver, tan, gray. How did she seize that phrase, a tree for a bird? It is exact though. I see what she meant.

Salutary, a deep dive into worlds we can’t see. Behavior-changing, even. Never again will I plant a lone tree after reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. He calls trees “social beings,” where most individuals in the same species may share nutrients through their connected root systems. So J.R.R. Tolkien was prescient in describing the slow speech of his Ents at their Ent-moots:  apparently tree roots signal each other not only by chemical compounds sent through the fungal networks around their root tips, but by electrical impulses that travel at very slow tree speed: one/third of an inch per second, instead of the milliseconds humans would register. Beeches, spruce and oaks signal neighbors when bitten. So if an oak is chewed by insects, all oaks in the area begin to pump bitter tannin through their veins.

The Wildlife Management Plan we signed onto out here in northwest Hays County, where live oaks abound, requires planting native trees and oaks other than live oaks. The goal: reduce the risk of oak wilt. So, filled with virtue, we’ve planted one-offs of the chinquapin oak, eve’s lace, osage orange, etc., carefully fenced to prevent the deer from over-browsing. Now we know those trees have been pining (heh) from loneliness. Grab the shovel, sink the fenceposts, stretch the wire! Now the lonesome redbud has a new friend, not too far up the hill, and the lonesome chinquapin is sharing its little fenced enclosure with another chinquapin. Another deep dive into secret worlds. Trees have their own plans, their own slow conversations, their own social policies.

I’m seventeen, standing at the end of the diving board at Barton Springs, staring down at the bluegreen water. Yes, so clear, but also opaque. A brilliantly bluegreen surface, reflecting live oaks, bird flight, the endless blue sky of summer. Just a few feet out, the water shivers and shimmers, the only clue that from the door twelve feet down, opening the limestone floor of the springs, millions of gallons of water surge up to feed this pool.  A stray cumulus cloud passes over the sun as, one jump, two jumps, I dive, as deep as I can, until my face hits the uprush of water power, bubble power, shooting up from the door in the floor.

It’s a secret world, the water below the surface. The feel of that water opens the door to thinking about the depth of limestone with its chutes and ladders, cracks and fractures, caves and crannies, beneath Austin. This karst world holds such surprise that I could only blink when a matter-of-fact City of Austin employee—charged with spelunking and mapping the water channels—announced that though we’re in the Colorado River watershed, sinkholes in the bottom of the Blanco send water out of the Guadalupe watershed and all the way to Barton Springs.

At my back I always hear the reader’s impatience hovering near. But I long for the deep dive, the sitting still to watch and listen and wonder, and for a resultant precise resonant description that might connect a character with this minute and also cosmic star-time. Even, or especially, in a murder mystery.

***

Helen Currie Foster is the author of the Alice MacDonald Greer mystery series: GHOST CAVE, GHOST DOG, GHOST LETTER, and GHOST DAGGER. She earned a BA from Wellesley College, an MA from the University of Texas, and a JD from the University of Michigan.

Having grown up in Texas surrounded by books and storytelling, she taught high school English and later became a prize-winning feature writer for a small Michigan weekly. Following a career of more than thirty years as an environmental lawyer, the character Alice and her stories suddenly appeared in Foster’s life. In her writing, Foster explores the interaction between history and the present and the reasons we tell the stories we do.

Married with two children, she lives north of Dripping Springs, Texas, supervised by three burros. She works in Austin, and she’s active with the Hays County Master Naturalists and the board of Austin Shakespeare.

***

Photo of rock climbing via Good Free Photos, CC0 10, public domain.
Photo of peregrine falcon via Good Free Photos, CC0 1.0, public domain.
Photo of Barton Springs, Austin, TX courtesy of M. K. Waller, 

I Love Research and Nolan Ryan!

Today Writing Wranglers and Warriors
welcomes a new blogger,
novelist K.P. Gresham

 Posted by K.P. Gresham

Writing for me is both a compulsion and an exploration.  I know, I know, they say “write what you know,” but I’d add another clause on that. Write what you know and/or what you’d like to research.

The best book prompt that I know of is “What if?” For example, what if my heroine wants to become a professional baseball player?   (By the way, that is a cheap plug for my first novel, Three Days at Wrigley Field.) Even though I am an avid baseball fan, there’s no way I had enough baseball knowledge in my head to complete a novel on the subject.  More important than knowing that Nolan Ryan pitched seven no-hitters in his career (a record known by thousands of fans), I needed to know how he pitched those no-hitters. To that end, I purchased Nolan Ryan’s video on how he pitched. That information is integral to making the book work. (Side note: I’m nuts about Nolan Ryan. When I lived in Houston, I’d drive an hour to his hometown of Alvin just to get my hair cut. I kept hoping on the off-chance I would see this super-human walking down the street.)

Research for me is one of the most fun parts of creating a fictional piece.  For example, in my Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series, I do indeed write what I know. I grew up a PK–preacher’s kid (I prefer the term TO for theological offspring, but alas, that never caught on). I know a whole lot about what a preacher does, about how congregations work (or don’t work), about the ever-present pitfalls for even the most devoted. But I didn’t know anything about the Federal Witness Protection Program or how to own and run a sports bar. (I hope that’s a tease–what is my series all about??)

In the coming blogs, I’m going to talk about how and/or where I do my research.  A writer may write in a bubble, but IMO they certainly can’t research in a bubble. She has to join groups, go to conferences, hit the bars J, and talk to experts in the field. (Hence why I had to hit the bar.) She has to get the facts right, or she risks losing the trust of the reader. Why is this important? A “This is bogus!” reaction from the reader means they’re slamming the book shut never to pick it up again, and, worst of all, telling others not to read it.

Research is necessary, but fun! I hope you’ll enjoy my escapades into research that I’ll share with you in coming blogs.

***

Photo of Nolan Ryan:  This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Wahkeenah at EnglishWikipediaWahkeenah  grants anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

***

About K.P. Gresham

K.P. Gresham, author of the Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery series and Three Days at Wrigley Field, moved to Texas as quick as she could. Born Chicagoan, K.P. and her husband moved to Texas, fell in love with not shoveling snow and are 30+ year Lone Star State residents. She finds that her dual country citizenship, the Midwest and Texas, provide deep fodder for her award-winning novels. Her varied careers as a media librarian and technical director, middle school literature teacher and theatre playwright and director add humor and truth to her stories. A graduate of Houston’s Rice University Novels Writing Colloquium, K.P. now resides in Austin, Texas, where life with her tolerant but supportive husband and narcissistic Chichuhua is acceptably weird.

4-Sentence Review: A Broom of One’s Own

  Posted by M. K. Waller

 

A while back, I accepted a challenge to write a book review of  Nancy Peacock’s memoir A Broom of One’s Own in only four sentencesStarting well before the due date, I wrote the first sentence of the review over and over, and deleted it over and over. For a while I wrote the same sentence several times in a row. Then I made up a new sentence and wrote it several times in a row. After weeks of torment, I buckled down and produced the following review.

*

I like Nancy Peacock’s A Broom of One’s Own: Words About Writing, Housecleaning & Life so much that it’s taken me over two months and two missed deadlines to untangle my thoughts and write this four-sentence review, an irony Peacock, author of two critically acclaimed novels, would no doubt address were I in one of her writing classes.

She would probably tell me there is no perfect writing life; that her job as a part-time housecleaner, begun when full-time writing wouldn’t pay the bills, afforded time, solitude, and the “foundation of regular work” she needed;  that engaging in physical labor allowed her unconscious mind to “kick into gear,” so she could become not the writer but the “receiver” of her stories.

She’d probably say that writing is hard; that sitting at a desk doesn’t automatically bring brilliance; that writers have to work with what they have; that “if I don’t have the pages I hate I will never have the pages I love”; that there are a million “saner” things to do and a “million good reasons to quit” and that the only good reason to continue is, “This is what I want.”

So, having composed at least two dozen subordinated, coordinated, appositived, participial-phrase-stuffed first sentences and discarded them before completion; having practically memorized the text searching for the perfect quotation to end with; and having once again stayed awake into the night, racing another deadline well past the deadline, I am completing this review–because I value Nancy Peacock’s advice; and because I love A Broom of One’s Own; and because I consider it the equal of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird; and because I want other readers to know about it; and because this is what I want.

*

This review first appeared on Whiskertips. It was posted here in 2015. I received a copy of the book for review from Story Circle Network. My opinion is my own, and it’s as strong today as it was when I first read the book. I recommend it to anyone who writes or wants to write, and to anyone who likes to read about writers and writing.

***

M. K. Waller blogs at M. K. Waller–Telling the Truth, Mainly.  She has published short stories and is once again working on the novel she set aside several years ago. 

 

What Editors Want

Keri De DeoPosted by Keri De Deo

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about two different kinds of writing: writing with the door closed and writing with the door open. First, you write with the door closed. That means you write for yourself. After you’ve done that, you open the door and revise your writing with the audience in mind. This is the step you must make before turning your writing over to an editor (or anyone else).

When you turn your work over to an editor, you want to put your best foot forward. As a freelance editor, I work daily with writers, and I’ve compiled a list of what I look for in good writing. Of course, every editor harps on his or her own pet peeves, but for the most part, we look for the following components:

  • Exciting Content

Before you start worrying about word usage, syntax, grammar, etc., your writing must contain a good story. Give us drama, plot, and a rise and fall in action. Make sure to complete your research. Has the story already been written? If not, go for it! If it has, can you do it better or in a more interesting way? Writer’s Digest provides an excellent list of cliché stories to avoid.

  • Accurate Content

A good editor checks your content for accuracy. If they find inaccuracies, they’ll send it back to you for changes. You might think this only applies to non-fiction or historical fiction. But it applies for all writing. Even if you write fantasy novels, physics and scientific facts matter for readers to believe your story. Before writing my book, Nothing but a Song, I played with several phone apps to make sure the apps I described actually existed. I also did research about the Deaf culture and using sign language. It helped make the story more believable. (At least I hope so.)

  • Active Voice

We all have heard that saying “Show. Don’t tell.” This is where it comes to play. Rather than saying “she was smart.” Show me by using active voice. “She rattled off equations in a few seconds.” You also accomplish this by avoiding helping verbs (i.e. “to be” verbs). Don’t know what those are? See this list. You can’t avoid them every time because sometimes you need to mark a change in tense somehow, and helping verbs do this. However, if you can replace them, replace them. If they’re irreplaceable, leave them. For help in writing more active sentences, visit this link. (Yes, count how many helping verbs I used in this post. I tried to avoid them!)

  • Polished Writing

Nothing makes me put down a book faster than silly mistakes. Typos happen, but they can be avoided by having several people read your draft. Don’t pick a person who won’t be honest. Pick someone you know will give you constructive feedback. Embrace criticism! Avoiding it encourages bad writing. You need feedback if you want to improve. Also, if you read your writing out loud, many errors will show up. Then have someone else read it out loud to you. If they stumble, make that sentence smoother. If no one else has seen your manuscript, don’t send it to an editor. You might just get it back quicker than you think.

Editors care about your writing, but they also care about their reputation. They won’t put their name on something that fails to meet their standards. Some editors might return your manuscript if the writing falls flat. So, make sure to send your best work to an editor and prepare for changes. As my writing teacher always said, “It’s never done; it’s just due.”


Keri De Deo - nbs book coverKeri De Deo, owner of Witty Owl Consulting, lives in northern Arizona and works as a writer, editor, researcher, and instructional designer. She is author of the young adult novel NOTHING BUT A SONG, released December 5, 2017. She loves technology and finding innovative tools for a happy, healthy life. Keri spends her free time with her husband kayaking, hiking, and walking her two beautiful dogs: Maiya and Lilla. To learn more about Keri, visit her website keridedeo.com! You can follow her on Twitter @thewittyowl and on Facebook @authorkeridedeo.