Friday, February 5, 2016

Word Filtering and Muscular Verbs

by Jean Henry Mead


I first learned about word filtering when I sold one of my previously published books to a small press. My manuscript returned with the notation: "I found 27 'she knew', 14 'he realized,' and 12 'they noticed.' You need to rewrite."

I looked through several bestselling novels and found quite a few 'she knew,' 'realized' and 'noticed.' Maybe not as many as in my book, but what's the big deal? The deal, my editor explained, is that those words weaken a sentence. I wondered why the book was published in the first place and why I couldn't leave in just a few 'she knew' or "he realized'?

Gritting my teeth I went to work replacing all the words in question, grudgingly admitting that my prose had improved. Instead of writing: She knew that Billy was lying, I replaced the sentence with: Billy's downcast eyes told her he was lying. And, She noticed a large man entering her room was rewritten as: A wide shadow fell across her bed when someone entered the room. Not Pulitizer-winning phrasing, but better.

I then addressed passive versus active verbs. Muscular verbs are necessary to strengthen a sentence and weak verbs need to be replaced. A. B. Guthrie, Jr. once told me during an interview that: "The adjective is the enemy of the noun, and the adverb is the enemy of damn near everything else. The guts of the language are nouns and verbs, and writers use too many descriptive words."

Amen.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Everyone Has Creative Talent!


by Jackie King

Each person has certain God-given creative talents. Some are born with wonderful singing or speaking voices. Others emerge with nimble fingers, able to play musical instruments or sing on -key. I like to think that I, and many of my current friends, have been blessed with the ‘writer-gene.’ These are all creative gifts and whether realized or not, everyone has been endowed with some variety of this type of DNA. (Perhaps I should add, “IMO,” in order to “CMA.”) J

These talents might include cooking, gardening, decorating or other types of arty knacks that are sometimes considered to be of a practical nature. Nonetheless, these creative talents.

Comment from a teenage daughter: "Holy freaking cow! Mom made homemade Croissants with strawberry syrup and cinnamon rolls for breakfast!"
Along with artistic type endowments, we also have innate or practical talents. I have always longed for the housekeeping/organizing ability. But sadly, I do not. While some folks have files, I’m one of those pitiful types who have piles. If I file something, it’s forever lost to me. If I sort papers into stacks, then I’m able to locate what I’m searching for, although not as efficiently.

Luckily for me, I gave birth to a natural-born organizing guru! My youngest daughter, Jennifer, can find and make order out of any sort of chaos.

My closet, for example.

A while back she brought order to the closet from hell within two hours. My help consisted of standing by, wringing my hands, and pleading, “Could we have a ‘maybe’ pile?”

After Jennifer had performed her magic and gone back to her own house and family, I drove to Goodwill and donated a trunkful of clothes for slimmer women, along with matching shoes and purses.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with writing and with Murder Most Foul. I’m about to get around to that.

Yesterday evening I was drawn again and again to admire my homogeneously and color-coded walk-in. How did she do that? I wondered.

Then I realized that this was pretty much the reaction I receive from some of my longtime friends and my relatives about my published books. “However did you make a story out of that?” they say. Or, “Where do you come up with your idea?” Or, “I never thought you’d be able to write a real mystery.” (Translation: one that people would pay money to read.) J

Sometimes I’m not sure how I manage this feat, either. I only know that I feel compelled to keep trying. I do know, though, as I sit in a restaurant waiting for an order, I’m looking over my fellow diners and noting their hand movements, facial expressions, and the way they walk. All of this will be fodder for developing characters. My daughter sits at the same table and watches the food being served to nearby people, trying to dissect how the recipes were prepared. One of her creative passions is cooking.


Isn’t it wonderful that God didn’t make us like Jello, all in exactly-alike molds? Instead He chose to craft everyone as unique, each with her or his very own and very special creative talents.
Woman learning to paint

Writer editing work




Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The writing gene

There’s a difference between knowing and feeling that you’re a writer and having it confirmed by someone else. The words ‘This is Bill Kirton. He’s a writer’ give me a wee buzz of pleasure each time I hear them and when I visit libraries, bookshops and other places for talks or signings, there’s the same secret pride at seeing a notice with the words ‘Writer Bill Kirton’ on it somewhere. But I’m careful to put that pride in perspective because, in the end, I can’t really take full credit for being a writer. Like others with specific skills, I happened to be born with a set of genes that equipped me to put words together in certain ways and to enjoy doing so. OK, you need the discipline to make yourself sit and write, and stamina to persist with a novel, play, short story, poem. But that’s true of everyone who’s exercising a particular skill, however elevated or commonplace it may be.

It was best summed up for me many years ago when I came out of a meeting of academics (which is what I used to be). A friend of mine, Vic, had also sat through the proceedings. He’s a graphics artist and, rather than doodling on his pad or snoring his way through the meeting, he’d occupied the time by sketching perfect little pencil portraits of some of the people there. They were beautiful and I envied his talent. When it was all over and we were walking back to our respective rooms, I told him how much I enjoyed seeing his drawings and added ‘Vic, I don’t know how you can do that’.

His answer?

‘Bill, I don’t know how you can’t.’

That encapsulates beautifully the mysterious business of exercising a talent. If we’re lucky and we get the chance to do so, it comes naturally. Taking pride in your work is one thing but being proud of ‘being a writer’ is another. I’d love to have got the drawing gene but I didn’t. I’m very glad, though, that I got the one for writing and grew up in an age and a place where I had the chance to use it.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Writing for Senior Readers




I write senior sleuth novels because there’s a growing market for retirees who enjoy  reading about characters in their own age group. I was intrigued years ago by Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, who were wise and introspective, but never seemed to have any fun.

That’s not true of today’s seniors who are less inclined to retire to their rocking chairs than previous generations.

The late Pat Browning, who wrote Absinthe of Malice, said: “A St. Martin's editor gave me a piece of advice I have never forgotten: ‘Be careful not to turn your characters into cartoons.’ I try to picture older characters as they are--the same people they always were, only older. This is especially true when it comes to romance and sex. For all the jokes about senior sex, it's a very real part of senior life, and it's no joke to those lucky enough to have a romantic partner late in life.”

I agree. Not unlike Janet Evanovich’s character, Grandma Mazur, who is eccentric enough for a cartoon character, most seniors have the same interests they’ve always had, with the possible exception of roller blading and downhill skiing. On second thought, I once interviewed Buffalo Bill’s grandson Bill Cody, who learned to downhill ski at 65 to keep up with his much younger wife.

Mike Befeler writes what he calls “Geezer-lit.” His novels feature his octogenarian protagonist, “who is short on memory but has a sense of humor and love of life. He accepts his ‘geezerhood,’ solves a mystery and enjoys romance along the way.”

My second senior sleuth mystery, A Village Shattered, takes place in a California retirement village. The plot is generously sprinkled with humor but none of the seniors resemble cartoon characters, although a couple come close with a redneck Casanova and love starved widow. Diary of Murder followed and I portrayed the two 60-year-old protagonist widows as quite capable of traveling the country in their motorhome as well as chasing down killers who happened to be drug dealers. 

Another senior writer, Beth Solheim, spent years working in a nursing home and says she loves the elderly and their “humorous, quirky insight to life, love and longevity.”

Chester Campbell, an octogenarian, writes the Greg McKenzie Mysteries. He said, “My friends in this [age] bracket are out going places and doing things. Some, like me, continue to work at jobs they enjoy. I chose to use a senior couple in my books who are long married, get along fine, and do a competent job as private investigators. Greg, who narrates the books, is aware of his limitations from age and makes up for physical shortcomings by outsmarting his adversaries. My hope is to dispel some of the absurdity of the stereotypes about seniors that are all too familiar. Like the old song says, "Anything you can do I can do better."

Like so many other novelists, I write what I enjoy reading. My readers are mainly retirees and baby boomers who number over 78 million. Some 8,000 boomers are moving into the senior column every day, the fastest growing potential book buying market on record.

We’re experiencing the graying of America. What better age group to write about?

~Jean Henry Mead

Monday, January 18, 2016

Lis Wiehl's THE NEWSMAKERS


by

Ben Small

Recovering alcoholic Erica Sparks is determined to return to journalism with a major media organization after having been fired in disgrace from WBZ in Boston. From out of the blue, she receives an offer from GNN, a fast-rising worldwide news network founded and owned by eccentric billionaire Nyland Hastings, who believes Erica Sparks has the makings of a news star.

Her first day at GNN. Erica is assigned a Kate Middleton interview at New York’s Battery Park, but as Eric sets for the shoot, a ferry loses control and rams the pier, killing and injuring scores. Erica’s on top of the story, and GNN puts her on the air immediately.

Erica’s second assignment, almost immediately thereafter, is to interview a female presidential candidate in California. As the interview begins,  the candidate collapses and dies in Erica’s arms, a victim of poison.

Almost overnight, Erica is a celebrity. People recognize her on the street and shower her with praise. But her sudden fame threatens her job aspirations, as her boss wants Erica to become the desk-bound face of the network, and Erica wants to continue investigative reporting. Erica believes the ferry collision may have been a result of  cyber-terrorism, and she’s enlisted Mark Benton, a GNN IT professional to hack into DOT computers. She’s also tracking the Mexican waiter who dosed the politician with cyanide, which takes her to Juarez, one of the most dangerous cities of the world. She learns that while Hispanic gangs arranged for the hit man, they were funded out of Russia.

Mark Benton calls Erica, tells her he’s found something too important for the phone. Mark and Erica agree to meet early the next morning, but Mark doesn’t show: he’s been beaten almost to death.

Meanwhile, GNN pressure mounts on Erica to give up her investigations. She finds a dying rat on her desk, an elevator sticks and may drop and a stage lamp falls, barely missing Erica during a rehearsal. She knows she’s being watch, and as each day passes, Erica trusts fewer and fewer GNN employees; indeed, her dealings with Hastings lead her to suspect that Hastings may be a psychopath and her job may cost her life.

This is fast-paced, crackling suspense as good as it comes. With her background as a regular on the Fox Business and Fox News, Lis Wiehl is uniquely qualified to write a book like THE NEWSMAKERS. After all, she is one.





Thursday, January 14, 2016

A SALUTE TO WRITERS CLUBS

by Jackie King

Tulsa NightWriters--My Soft Place to Fall

Writer’s clubs have sprung up all over the country, even in the smallest of communities. In Oklahoma where I live these groups grow like wild flowers such as Indian Blanket or Indian Paintbrush. These resplendent native plants seem to force their way up through hard ground and bloom gloriously in spite of any obstacle.
Indian Paintbrush
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Writing is a lonely business and those of us who choose this path feel compelled to gather together with others who are infected with the same bug. Charles Sasser, Tulsa NightWriter member and, author of numerous books, including At Large: The Life and Crimes of Randolph Franklin Dial (St. Martin’s True Crime Library), speaks of “The lonely circle of light…”

  

Charles W. Sasser
Charles Sasser, Author



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Filled with trepidation, I first visited Tulsa NightWriters in the late 1980’s.  I had just survived an unexpected (by me) divorce, and had taken refuge in writing. What fun it would be to murder my Ex-husband on paper, I thought. 

I'm a lion on paper, but walking into the door of that library took all of the courage I could scrape together. Like most writers I was sensitive, shy and petrified to be sitting with “real” writers. However, I soon realized that the business-like fa├žade I had assumed to cloth my uncertainty, was not needed with this group.

This smokescreen of a woman totally in control of her life had sprung to life from my imagination. That’s what we writers do: we make things up, create our own worlds and friends, and in many ordinary circumstances we never feel as though we quite fit in. It took me a while to grasp that I had at last found a place with other square pegs and we all fit nicely into the square holes available at TNW.
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Tulsa NightWriters is the oldest writers club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and was started in the 1950’s for people who worked. The history of this club is nebulous. The group keeps no minutes and usually ignores Roberts Rules of Order. Their total focus is to support individuals who write or who want to write.

As far as I know there’s no written account of the club. If there is such a record, the pages must lie in some dusty trunk with unpublished manuscripts. 

For over 30 years I have perennially blossomed in this organization that focuses on writers and the prose and poetry they create.

As I said, we have no formal history as a club. Minutes are never taken at meetings. Few people volunteer for offices. Most officers are drafted and serve from loyalty and gratitude for the support they themselves have received from the group. Our meetings are about wordsmithing, and the acceptance of all oddballs who pursue this occupation.
TNW Mall Signing 2015


Most all of our members work at day jobs and spend evenings honing the craft they love. At each meeting members are called on to tell what they accomplished during the month.

Members discuss their projects
Christmas Party 2014

If I should say, “I got six rejections, but one of my stories came back with a different colored paperclip," this bunch will applaud wildly. “Way to go, Jackie, at least the editor looked at your piece.” Or, “Next time you’ll get a contract,” they might say. knowing that the new clip means the editor actually read some of my story.

The current membership is around 80 and anyone who writes or is thinking about writing is welcome. We have some members who have sold hundreds of books and others who are just beginning. Ages range from 14 to 94. The only prerequisite is to want to write.

Organizing writers is like herding cats, and TNW doesn't even try. Each member walks to his/her own drummer. That’s the reason it’s the best writers club ever.
TNW Anthology--2007

Members have compiled two short story anthologies. SHADES OF TULSA in ,  and A RIVER OF STORIES, 2015. Parts of this post have been included as a history of the club. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A writing Q & A


Definitely NOT the author
I recently came across a set of answers I gave to an interviewer several years ago and was relieved to see that they still describe my approach to this writing business. (So I must have been telling the truth.) Here’s how they went.

1) In order to meet a writing goal, do you write down the date you wish to have your manuscript completed?
No. Even though the word ‘deadline’ suggests a finite point (which may well be the case for some publishers or academic examiners, etc.), it’s really notional. Not notional to the extent that you can make it spread over a year or so, but in that it indicates a period towards the end of a month, say, by which you should have got the job done. Much more compelling is the impetus of the work itself. If anything provides the push to get the thing done, it’s the novel’s internal drive. Your characters insist on moving towards the resolution and, when the end is near, the euphoria of knowing that you’re about to slot the final pieces together is much more compelling than the artificial mark on the calendar.

2) If you have a publisher, do THEY dictate to you the date your manuscript will be completed?
Some do, others are still aware that the creative process isn’t an automated procedure. If you’ve promised them a draft by a particular time, your professionalism should make sure they get it, but you and they then need to recognize that second thoughts on your part and queries/suggestions from them will necessitate rewritings and a period of reflection. If you’re writing to someone else’s orders, you’re giving up control of some important parts of the process.

3) In order to meet your deadline, how often, and how long do you spend working on your writing project?
This will sound like a glib or facile answer but the truth is that it’s the project which dictates that. Whether you’re talking about a play, poem, short story, novel – each takes as long as it takes. The pleasure of being involved in creating an intrigue involving people interacting with one another is so absorbing that you lose track of time. If you’re thinking of the deadline, you’re not giving the work the attention it has to have. If progress stalls, you have to find some technique to get it going again or bring it to a conclusion. For academic exercises, of course, it’s different, since the tutors are calling the tune – but writing, in all its forms, only works properly if the writer is in charge.

4) What do you do to keep those writing juices flowing?
Look around, watch people, speculate on their motives, feel their elations and their sorrows. And trust your characters – even the nasty ones. They’ll always take you on surprising journeys. Writing is a compulsion.

6) Do you do outlines for your novels?
No. I know overall where I want to be heading before I start. There’s an issue I want to address, a character I want to explore, an anger I want to externalize, a remark I want someone to make – all sorts of things provide a starting point. So I have a notion of what the tone of the writing will be and maybe of some major turning point I intend to reach. But then, as the fiction begins to build, it’s the characters who take over to a certain extent. They lead the narrative in directions which often surprise me. They add details I hadn’t suspected were there and, in the process, they force me to adapt my original plan. It’s still the same basic drive and the purpose remains relatively unchanged, but the way in which I convey it is coloured by what my characters allow me to do.

When it comes to rewriting, I correct some of the wilder fancies they’ve had and bring them back within the scope of the book but the process from conception to delivery (sorry to use an obstetrical image but, as a man, it’s the closest I’ll ever get to having a baby – albeit without the pain) is organic, unstable.

However long the novel, until the final full stop’s been added, all it has is potential.  If I started with a rigid notion of its shape, I’d be inhibiting that. In fact, the only time I imposed a preordained structure on a piece was with a radio play. I was very keen to maintain a specific set of images, so I made the characters do exactly what was necessary to achieve that. After the broadcast, a well-known critic reviewed the play in a respectable journal. His review began ‘This is a tiresome play about tiresome people.’ He was right.