One Simple Paragraph . . .but

I recently read A Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar. She is a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master. It was originally published in 1960 and I would describe the book as literary, noir mystery.

The story is about a married woman named Daisy who hires a private detective/ bail bondsman to reclaim a lost day in her life. It has to do with her believing there is another person in her grave.

Of course she is alive; she knows that. But there is a reason for her belief. It is a nice hook to draw you into a story with some great twists and turns among believable characters.

There is a piece of writing, one paragraph that I loved that I want to share. It has to do with her trying to convince the detective, who thinks the woman is a bit off her rocker. The following is the paragraph:

“I didn’t lose the day. It’s not lost. It’s still around someplace, here or there, wherever used days and old years go. They don’t simply vanish into nothing. They’re still available— hiding, yes, but not lost.”

We all have memories both pleasant and not so pleasant. But there are also lost days, days that if you live long enough, increase to the point where they far exceed what we do remember. But are there hidden within those lost days, if they were found, something pleasant that its recovery would be a wonderful memory, like a treasure hunter discovering Captain Kid’s treasure?

Of course the flip side is that there might be in those lost days something you may not want to discover. There are people surrounding Daisy that try to tell her some things are better lost, not found.

So I reread the paragraph. There is something wistful and naïve about her thinking. We as readers may stop and wonder about are lost days, that they can be recovered and wouldn’t that be nice. But then again . . .

It is one paragraph, well written, that lies within a well written story. The paragraph, like the story makes you think. That is good writing.

Whether my e-novels on Amazon make you think or simply entertain you can decide.
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Sue Grafton on Learning to Write; a Novel Approach

There is always someone who has not heard of a famous person, so I will not assume each of your are aware of Sue Grafton, but she is a best selling mystery writer whose titles have used the alphabet, going from A to Z, such as her first book A is for Alibi. According to her website, her latest book is “X” and that means two more novels, then . . . who knows.

She said the following about writing:

“There are no secrets and there are no shortcuts. As an aspiring writer, what you need to know is that learning to write is self-taught, and learning to write takes years.”

I remember hearing writers years ago saying one could not learn to be a writer through taking creative writing classes, that either you are a writer or you are not, and the best a writing class can do is make you a better reader, and understand the ‘craft’ or ‘art’ of writing.

Everyone has their opinion, but there is something to that. I think you can learn to write by reading and breaking down what writers do, even though there are different approaches, different styles, and the more variety you read, the better you should be as both reader and writer.

And Grafton is correct in that there are no shortcuts, and no matter how many webinars and conferences you attend, and no matter how many ‘how to books’ you read, there are no secrets. Most writers that I have learned about did teach themselves, trial and error, working through grammar, structure, metaphors, imagery, character creations, and everything in between and after; in truth each story, each book is an experiment, considering that the word ‘novel’ means strikingly new.

If you write then the more you write the better your writing should be. At least we hope so, and I think it is for the majority of us. It is a matter of being open to what you are doing and not doing, always challenging your ego to do better, not thinking you have it all figured it out. That is the learning process, and the process never ends.

There are and always will be, ways to improve. With each story you write, consider yourself starting from scratch, beginning a new. It is a novel approach.

My e-books on Amazon:

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A Must Read Book For Writers

The book in question is by Francine Prose, a great surname for a writer, and this book is different from every book I have read about writing.

I read books on the art of writing by Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Lajos Egri; I learned something from each. But the book by Prose has a unique approach. She breaks down writing by these chapters; Chapter one-Words, Chapter two-sentences, then Paragraphs, followed by Narration and then Dialogue, moving on to Details and Chapter nine Gesture. There are three additional chapters, but let me state how she goes about things.

She does not tell, she shows. For example in the chapter on dialogue she uses a book by Harry Green, Loving, and uses, say two pages of dialogue between two or three characters. She tells you what to expect before you read the passages from Green’s book, then explains following the passage what Green was doing, and why, and how.

And that is why the name of her book is Reading Like a Writer. She teaches you how to read, what to look for, the why and the how of what each writer was doing. And she uses examples from writers with different styles, each of whom have different approaches, but each has a way of doing things, that when you see and easily understand what the writer is doing, you can not help but to learn.

And think about the chapters, starting from words-choosing the right word and why, and of course using examples that always gives you the ah ha moment. Now I get it. She starts with words, then of course the sentence, and on and on’ a perfect structure for writing.

And this book is not just for writers, but for readers who want to enjoy stories with an understanding of how the bones are put together.

Her book subtitled A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them is an accurate description. I love books, and I love writing them. And because I love books I discovered in the course of examples she cited writers I was unfamiliar with, and whose books I have purchased. They are coming in a brown box from Amazon and I looking forward to reading these stories in a new way.

Naturally I could have read any of the unread books in my massive slush pile, but the examples of writers she used made me want to read them. So now thanks to Francine I have learned about Harry Green, about Stuart Dybek, and Heinrich Von Kleist. I have invited them into my home, new friends to encounter, and to learn from. 

It is always exciting to encounter a new writer-new to you-and exploring there stories and now thanks to Francine Prose’s book, I can read them in a way that will make me a better reader, and a better writer.

My-e-books on Amazon

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What the housekeeper in “Rebecca” reveals about the writing process

If you read Daphne De Maurier’s Rebecca, then you know Mrs. Danvers, the mysteriously manipulative housekeeper of Manderley. What you may not know is how her character developed. It says much about the writing process.

In an interview describing the development of Mrs. Danvers, Du Maurier said, “…the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers had become more sinister. Why I have no idea.”

Taking her at her word, I think Mrs. Danvers became more sinister in the story because writers have an instinctive sensibility for storytelling that often surprise them in the writing process. Characters simply take over no matter what the writer intends. I have no idea how Du Maurier originally envisioned Mrs. Danvers, but if she were not sinister, not a creepy manipulative, jealous, spiteful woman, there would be no tension, no conflict between her and the new Mrs. de Winter. The reader senses the conflict, more so than Mrs. de Winter.

Mrs. Danvers is the pivotal character in the story around which so much mystery revolves. Without her sinister character the story is entirely different, our feelings for Mrs. de Winter will be different, for the malevolent spirit of Mrs. Danvers will be mitigated and Mrs. de Winter will not seem so isolated, so vulnerable.

I have read about many writers, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Elmore Leonard to name three, who have an idea for a story and in the course of writings, minor characters become major characters, and where the story was planned to go ends up going somewhere else. Again, it gets back to the writers instinct, the ability to sense when you come to the fork in the road, you take the one that feels right.

The lesson here is if you write, don’t think too much, just keeping clicking letters on the keyboard, use it like an Ouija board and see where the fingers take you.

Du Maurier also said, “Women want love to be a novel, men want a short story.” I’ll let you sort that one out.

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Why Word.doc IS a Writer’s Tool Despite What Some Think

The following revised and updated blog entry was first published in 2013 in my first blog that I wrote under The Quill, the e-word, the looniness. I like the title, but though it had many followers, it was too long of a title, so I reset to this blog. This was my opening blog, my first entry into blogging. I hope you like it:

“There is a bestselling writer, definitely old school, who is adamant that using Word doc. is not writing. He contends writers write longhand, or, his choice of weapon, the typewriter.

Sholes typewriter, 1873. Museum, Buffalo and E...

Sholes typewriter, 1873. Museum, Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I must say the statement was made some years ago and I am only 95% sure of who made the statement, and he may have revised his original opinion in the interim, which is why I won’t reveal his name.

I have written two e-book novels in my loony series (three now) and his statement fits within my view of the world. We are all a bit loony.

But consider the absurdity of the statement. Shakespeare used a quill pen to write. Had the typewriter been invented during his life, would he have rejected it because only a true writer uses a quill? Old Will would have learned how to use the new tool and be thrilled not to be continually dipping his quill in ink over and over.

The quill was the tool of Will’s day. A typewriter is a tool. A PC with Word doc. is a tool. All writers are storytellers and they use the tool that more easily tells the story. And writing in Word is far easier than a typewriter that has no spell check, no grammar check, nor needs reams of typewriter paper. With Word you can revise as you write.

That being said, the experience of Word and formatting, in my case, blogs, movie reviews, and e-book novels, is far from easy. Word may be easier than the quill and the typewriter, but both Word and Cyberspace bring their own set of problems.

And that is what led me to create a blog, one I hope you, whether a writer or not, will interact with me on, to discuss the looniness of writing in cyber world.

Speaking of spellcheck and looniness, as I wrote the previous paragraph a red line popped up under ‘looniness’ indicating it is misspelled or is not a word. But my American Heritage dictionary says otherwise.

So I hope you will join me on this journey, sharing the looniness of writing in cyber world. Quill pen anyone?”

I did not use a quill, pen and paper, or a typewriter in creating these cyber books.

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Why I Created Three Fictional Characters-And How

It started so strangely.

There was a real person named Charlie Faust, 1880-1915, who once pitched for the New York Giants in 1911. Sort of.  A biography of Charlie, though much of his life is unknown, was written by Gabriel Schecter, called Victory Faust.

But who was Charlie?

That is what baseball people wanted to know. He was strange, and though many of his famous Giant teammates talked about him, and wrote about him, Charlie remains elusive. He could have been the most naïve country hick in history. Or he could have had mental issues. Perhaps-in the language of the day-retarded. But nobody knows for sure.

A few people have tried to write a fictional story of his life, but according to Mr. Schecter, nobody had. So a few years ago I decided to explore Charlie. To tell his story I used a rookie fresh off a Storden, Minnesota farm. Chet Koski was born in 1888 and in 1911 at the time of the story he is 22, his birthday being in October. He is not the rube that Charlie is, but it is his first time in a big city, and in a true sense it is his coming of age story, though by stories end, Chet does not fully bloom.

So we see Charlie through Chet who ends up as Charlie’s friend and at times guardian angel.

Now a young man in New York needs a girlfriend and she is Eveleen Sullivan, born in Ireland, 1890. Red hair, green eyes, she is all Irish. Her dreams are of the Broadway stage. When we meet her she is doing small parts, mostly in the chorus. She has another suitor, a British actor, who I will say little about. I won’t say he is a cad, but there is something about him I don’t trust.

Chet and Eveleen, like any young couple whose dreams lie in different direction, are unsure of themselves, of each other, and of any future. They might have a chance together, but then again, who knows.

The e-Novel is a satire on fame and celebrity. Charlie after all, though he is more a good luck omen, like a rabbits foot, or a horseshoe, becomes famous, not only in New York where he appears on Broadway within weeks of his mysterious arrival in New York, but all around baseball and the cities he sort of played in.

The baseball action and the scores are accurate. I researched the season and the games. Since Chet is fictional, I substituted him for a real player from time to time, but though he is fictional, what he does is what really happened.

Not only do we meet Christy Mathewson, Rube Marquard, manager John McGraw and other Giant players, we also meet Bat Masterson, George M. Cohan, and sportswriter Damon Runyon.

I said in the heading there were three fictional characters and I have mentioned only two, Chet and Eveleen. The third is Clancy. At the time of this story she is eleven years old and is not in Loonies in the Dugout. She shows up at the age of 22 in Loonies in Hollywood. She is the daughter of a rich California banker, and a carpe diem flapper with an extroverted personality. She is, as anyone would say, a handful. She was to be a plot device, nothing more; enter and leave the story in one scene, and a brief one at that. But she dominated the scene and as writers know, a character, yes a fictional one, can force their way into a story. She has become my favorite character. As I said she is a handful. 

And of course Clancy became friends with Eveleen and Chet, helping their murder investigations in two published books and one mystery in progress.

Though the three characters appear in two stories, Silent Murder being the second, you do not have to read them in sequence as each is a stand alone story.

You can find them on Amazon here. Loonies in the Dugout, with two four star reviews, only 99 cents.

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WARNING: Writers Eyes Only Should View These Links

If you notice the links below you will find information on Facebook ads, critique groups, stressed out writers, how to sell books, how not to sell books, 25 great writing tips, and blogging tips. This and much more you can find on Anne R. Allen’s blog with Ruth Harris. Having subscribed for years I can attest to the useful information I have gotten, some of which goes against common perceptions, but common perceptions are often wrong, which is another reason to follow their blog. It does not always agree with beliefs, too often regurgitated without anyone saying, “Hold on here. Does this really make sense?”

Facebook Ads that work

Disappearing Amazon reviews

Beware Groupthink-About choosing a critique group

Important for depressed, stressed and anxious writers

Speed Kills or Does it

How Do I Sell My Book

How Not To Sell Books

25 Must Read Tips

6 Tips for getting More Traffic to Your Blog

Blogging Authors, Ignore the Rules

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Who Was Dr. John Yeoman And What He Did For Writers ?

I subscribed to Dr. John Yeoman’s blog on writing for years. He died last month and I felt it time to share not only who he was, but some of his helpful blogs and his e-novels. Not only was John’s blogs helpful, written very conversational, but often with humor, and certainly intelligence.

First who he was can be found here 

Now a dozen of my favorite Dr. Yeoman blogs:

How To Shape Great Stories With Word Games

How to Plot A Story (Even If Plotting Scares You Silly)

7 Great Ways To Close A Story (and How Famous Authors Did It)

Do You Make These Six Big Mistakes With Your Writing Blog

How To Cope With Bad Feedback On Your Work

Nine Big Lies That Agents Tell You

Could This ‘Magic’ Trick Rescue Your Story

How To Sell 100,000 novels Without (Really) Trying

Three Ways (Not) To Kill Your Story In Its Cradle

Top Ten Tips For Promoting Your Book-From A Dog

How To Write A Kindle Best Seller

Five Top Tips For Being a Happy Writer

And he practiced what he preached and taught. Here is his Amazon Page. I have read “The Cunning Man” and “The Hog Lane Murders” and they are great for new writers for you can read the e-novel like you read any book, but is also has footnote markers. When you click a footnote number he shows the why and how he wrote that scene and you can learn from seeing what he is doing. Great writing tool.

Thanks John!

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The following is reposted from a previous incarnation of my writing blog “The quill, the e-word, the looniness.”

Thinking is not good for writers. Thinking means analyzing what you are doing, dissecting your sentence, your paragraph, your page. Is everything you want to say there? Is it said the correct way? And are you following all the rules those creative books say you should do? Does doing this numb the mind? If you want to improve your writing, then stop thinking and just write. And here is why.

In his book “Zen in the Art of Writing” Ray Bradbury says,  “. . . the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style; instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.”

I don’t know what Bradbury means by ‘deadfalling or ‘tiger-trapping’, but I understand what he is talking about.

Style can not be calculated. Style is how you write and that reflects who you are; a writers style comes out of his being. Don’t be who you are not. It is impossible for me to write a tragedy, a serious drama, a heart warming love story, or an inspiring story. The reason is that my sense of humor, good or bad, always finds its way into the story. I can’t help myself. That is why the titles of my first two e-novels begins with the word “‘Loonies.” It is part of my world view that there is something loony about humanity, with how we think, our actions, and so on. Whether we recognize it or not we are kind of funny in a weird way.

So I write without thinking. I write with what is coming out of my head, entering my characters mouths’ giving me the opportunity to blame them for their actions or inactions. Consider these two phrases; “He who hesitates is lost?” and “To thine own self be true?” They apply to writing. Don’t think, just let you mind flow and be who you are. I write what I write in the way I write because that is who I am. It will work for you as well. So go trap a tiger.

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How to create a story-FROM WHAT?

While reading “The Curse of Beauty: The Scandalous & Tragic Life of Audrey Munson, America’s First Supermodel” I was struck by lightning, or to put it another way, a light bulb lit up over my head in a cartoon panel; in other words I had an idea.

Audrey Munson was a young woman of great beauty in the early years of the 20th century. She posed for every great sculptor of her time, not to mention painters, illustrators, and photographers. She was in high demand because during this neo-classical time before modernism became the mode of the day, she had, according to artists, the classical Greek form. She also appeared in two early silent films, appearingnude, which she frequently did posing for sculptors.,

In the book the author talked about the artists and how they would make sketches from all angles before making a clay model, then onto the actual sculpture. It dawned on me as the light bulb grew to full illumination that a writer can do the same thing, make sketches I mean.

I could in essence sketch the story before writing. So I thought I would try it for a short story that I must submit by September 1st. I have the beginning of the story, the problem that the protagonist encounters and what problems would arise with said problem and how it will end. You may think I created an outline, but I did not and this is why. It was free form, writing what came to mind without any undue thought process, one thing leading to another, thoughts, ideas within ideas, flowing from brain to fingertips, fingertips to tapping keys, and showing up in Word.doc. I wasn’t outlining by thinking, I was sketching by not thinking, coming up with a sentence here and there, more words, phrases, something to work from.

I would show you exactly what I did, but then you will have all you need to write your story from my notes, win yourself a Pulitzer, get a book deal with a New York publisher, make millions, have swimsuit models draped on your arm-or undraped if you prefer-and get you face on the cover of Writers Digest. I think you understand why I can’t share. Besides with success come problems. You will have too much money and fame, and that leads to drugs, addiction and the murder of a swimsuit model, and you spend the rest of your life in prison. So I am saving you from a life you don’t want. You’re very welcome.

So if you want to write a story, write a sentence or an idea, and then let your mind roam, writing down any thought that comes based on the sentence. Think of it as word association, but using at times more than one word. Example: Using the famous opening, “It was a dark and stormy night”-dark-power outage in the neighborhood-what kind of storm-rain? Meteor? Sand? Maybe a rainstorm in a desert-what is going wrong with the climate- a climatologist is in danger-is it the apocalypse? Well you get the idea. Let you mind go crazy and create a sketch of ideas to build your story on.

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