Thursday, June 22, 2017

Virgin or Seasoned PRO - Details

Each week, I download multiple books to my e-reader.

Some I will finish and be excited that I’ve discovered great writing, a new author.
Some I will finish because I’ve discovered an innovative plot line.
Some I will finish because there is witty dialogue, superlative character development, or the use of literary device that is a struggle for me.

Many . . . many, I will not finish.

I’ll return them through my Kindle Unlimited – or simply delete from all my devices and take a hit on the cost.

Why?

Because reading time is precious and obvious mistakes in the first few pages of a book, does not bode well.

Sound pompous? Sorry for that, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are only 24-hours in any daily calendar.

After the writing, a bit of cooking, straightening, more writing, research, networking, working (the day job), family, more writing/editing . . .

You get the point.

Time is too precious of a commodity to waste on bad writing. (As a writer, I understand bad writing – only too well. However, that bad writing is edited to good writing or it goes into the delete folder. What doesn’t it do? See the light of readers’ e-readers.)

This mini-rant focuses on DETAILS.

Ancient adage: the devil is in the details.

This is never truer than in writing – good writing, that is.

Whether VIRGIN (newbie writer) or SEASONED PRO (established author), basic mistakes are unforgiveable to the reader.

I’ve chosen one selection from the many that have recently visited my e-reader. For the sake of literary discussion, I’ll term the selection: the red dress book. (Not anywhere in the title so don’t bother with a search.)

Why purchase this particular e-book?

Cover: Dramatic. Eye-catching
Title: Witty
Book blurb: Concise, Enticing
Even better it was listed as 9th in this author’s series, but it was billed as a stand-alone.

The problem with my purchase started on page 1 and continued through page 4.
Perhaps, the problem went further.

I did not.

The first 4 first pages of dialogue - whining dialogue, I’m sorry to say – contained no scene-setting, little character introduction, no backstory, or emotional meat. Who were these characters? Where were these characters? Why were they here in this moment in time, and MOST IMPORTANTLY – why should I the reader care about them?

Broken down into simplest form:

QUESTION: What did the characters reveal to the reader through their actions/observations?

ANSWER: Almost nothing.

Let’s start at the beginning. The characters are captured in a ‘surprise’ attack, held ‘somewhere’ by ‘someone’ for ‘some’ reason. Oh yes, they were chloroformed during the capture.

Have you ever undergone general anesthesia?
Been to the dentist for major oral work and received lots of Novocain?
Received muscle relaxers or pain meds while recovering from an injury?

Cement that instance in your mind.

Did you wake up instantly?

Or did you come back to your surroundings slowly? Take stock? Hear muffled sounds? Feel the sturdy bed beneath you? Or the cool sheets against your skin? Was there a stale taste in your mouth? Did you roll your shoulders, flex your fingers, or stretch your legs?

Chances are - what you didn’t do was immediately start into a bickering conversation in full sentences, filled with biting innuendos. Yes, you guessed it. That was the writing sin of the characters in the red dress selection.

If you, brilliant writer that you are, can’t accomplish this linguistic feat, neither can your characters.

Let’s return to our chatty characters.

QUESTION: What did the author reveal through the characters’ eyes?

ANSWER: read on . . .

The characters are restrained, sitting back to back, tied at the wrists. How? It’s a mystery as the author chooses not to tell and, more crucially, not to show.

Did I, as the reader, feel abrasive rope? Biting metal handcuffs? Sticky unforgiving duct tape? The cutting edge of ‘cop’ zip ties? Nope, because the author missed this small, but important detail.





The characters were sitting on the floor. What kind of floor? Was it cold concrete? Smooth laminate? Damp dirt or shifting sand? Again, the reader doesn’t know because the author missed the opportunity to scene set.

The female character wore an expensive red evening dress -- one she valued because she lamented its loss, but that's it. One tiny detail revealed. The size of the room: did it echo their whispers? Or muffle the sound? Is there cool air against (bare) arms? – I’m speculating on that evening dress – or humid heavy air? How dark is the dark? The pitch black of nothing? Or light edging around near/distant windows? Were there any other sounds? The hum of equipment? The scratching of mice/rats? Any noise from outside? Traffic? Wind? What smells were in the room? Damp and dank? Clinical and antiseptic?

Does an author need to put all those answers on the first four pages? Absolutely not.

Details in an opening scene can be likened to inviting a first-time guest into your home. Said guest will use all of his/her senses upon entering. Does each detail register to consciousness? Of course not. But if you’ve burned dinner – they’ll know. If the electricity is out and it’s dark as a tomb or hot as a Texas summer afternoon – they’ll know. If kids are slamming doors, exchanging sibling love at full holler – they’ll know.

So the author’s choice, more succinctly put, the author’s obligation is to present details.

Details add to the scene.
Details reveal or ‘show’ more than plain dialogue.
Details enhance the readers’ enjoyment.


Once again, back to our chatty character:

QUESTION: What did the author reveal about backstory?

ANSWER: Read on . . .

What relationship existed between the two characters?
1) Lovers – current or ex?
2) Professional associates?
3) Business adversaries?
4) Arch enemies?

Why was the female with this man? Right then? At that exact moment when the story began?

None of these answers were revealed during the 4-page conversation.

However witty the dialogue, if it does not move the plot or scene forward, then it is wasted page space.

What did the author reveal?

The characters had been taken during a surprise attack. Both of them. Both were PIs, or at least trained as investigators of some type. Both surprised from behind. Neither suspected. Neither heard anything. Neither felt the air move behind them, heard twigs snap, doors ease shut?

Why?

If the author doesn’t provide a reason on page . . .
that makes the character inept, newbies, or TSTL (too stupid to live).
Inept or newbies can be trained during the story’s evolution, repaired by another character, or simply highly humorous. Case-in-point: a Stephanie Plum novel or a Pink Panther movie.

TSTL is not repairable. It’s replaceable. Characters must be cheered on, rooted for, and supported even, and especially during, their darkest periods. Only characters who are worthy of investment will keep readers turning the page.

Final QUESTION: What were the characters’ emotions on page?

ANSWER: No shock. No fear. No panic. No sense of urgency to be free. Unfortunately, the author provided a void of reaction.

Do we, as readers, believe that lack of reaction?

Do we commit to the characters?

Do we keep reading?

Answer - I didn't.

My surprise - this was the 9th book in this series by this author. How had this author missed so many, tiny and grand, details?

If you, as an author,
1) Aren’t utilizing ‘beta’ readers, you should.
2) Don’t work with critique partners, you should.
3) Especially an established author - haven’t had your recent work critiqued, you should.

As writers:
We’re never too smart to learn.
We’re never too busy to edit/review/critique.
We’re never too highly published to work the craft.

VIRGIN or SEASONED PRO – the devil’s in the details.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sly as a Fox

Common phrases can be trite and throw-away.

Or they can layer on depth and provide alternative options to explore characterization.

Today animal phrases are roaming (pardon the pun) through my brain.

Why?

On an early hours’ walk, a fox crossed my path. Not unique for loads of people who enjoy country living, but considering that I’m buried in a ‘metropolis’ of suburbia, pretty unusual for me.



So the fox crosses my path and now I’m wondering (at a quick pace, I might add) what does it mean?


Is it like the crossing of a black cat? (bad luck)
Is it like crossing paths with a crow? (change on the way)
Is it like a path-crossing tortoise? (A sign to stay steady, stay true to the course)


A visit to an ‘animal symbol' site: What’s Your Sign (catchy), a click on the fox and I discovered that depending on the ancient belief system of choice, the meaning will alter.

Celtic beliefs – the fox successfully negotiated the twists and turns of the forest and it was viewed as a guide.

Native American beliefs – (Northern Tribes) viewed the fox as an animal of wisdom and as that of a messenger.

Another site – Spirit Animals holds that the fox is again a guide and will foretell of resolutions to problems. ‘Solitude and Silence’ are required as the fox is a stealthily animal.

(Note also that when the fox hunts, he/she will point straight toward the prey and be fully focused.)
Not a bad thought for the writer's life.


From a phraseology standpoint, I discovered a number of common ‘catch’ phrases:

Sly as a fox.
Clever as a fox
Cunning like a fox
Crazy like a fox


Whatever the phrase, remember how long the wily fox has existed in literature:

The Gingerbread Man – folk tale. ...
Fox In Sox by Dr. Seuss. ...



The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. ...
Aesop's Fables. ...


Breaking characters down into bit pieces and then connecting the pieces in an interesting puzzle-like fashion is the goal of any established writer.

A few famous characters that could easily be likened to the fox:

1) Sherlock Holmes
2) Peter Falk as Lieutenant Columbo
3) Agatha Christie’s Mrs. Marple
4) Flynn Rider in Rapunzel

5) Will in Robin Hood
6) Vizzini in The Princess Bride
7) Even the everyday run of the mill – teenager.

Point made?


Characteristics of the clever and sly fox can be artfully woven in a written work, can show intrinsic layers and depth to a character, and can provide reader insight with the clarity of minute details.

Whether protagonist or secondary lead, hero or heel, victim or villain, the fox can add complexity to any character.

At times, the simplest of phrases can open doors of development for characters.

A cliché, trite and overused, never belongs on page . . .

but the deeper meaning, a clearer understanding of the cliché can mean the difference between readers who root for a character, cheering them on, shedding tears for their losses, and would never dream of putting the book aside until all is resolved . . . and readers who can and will toss away an author’s earnest words.

Here’s hoping that ‘the turn of a phrase’ makes all the difference in your writing.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Too Much to Swallow - Plotting

However great the storyteller, however well published the author – one truth remains constant. Plotting, beast that it is, can never be side-stepped, shortened or eliminated. Short story to novel, fiction to non-fiction, romance to suspense, each writer must face the daunting task of basic plotting.

Breaking the process of plotting down into specific bites can make the entire process more palatable.

Who . . . What . . . When . . . Where . . . and Why:
basic questions guaranteed to cook up plotting
BRILLIANCE

Who – be specific, which character is the target of this plotting session.

1) One of the protagonists?
2) The villain?
3) A secondary character who’s crucial to plot development?
Tami Hoag's, The 9th Girl, is expertly plotted, with twists and turns that actively involve the reader throughout the story. If we take Ms. Hoag's female protagonist, Detective Nikki Liska from a plotting standpoint, this is an established character, secure in her life choices - or so it seems on the surface - who is embroiled in the hunt for a serial killer.



What – be specific about the goal of the plotting.

Not necessarily which scene or chapter; that’s actually irrelevant. Much more important is the character arc. Will this session deal with tricky external plot points? Or the deeper, more emotional internal conflict layers? Or the difficult task of intertwining the external with the internal? Always think of bite-sized pieces no matter how complicated the plotting goal.

Supersized may be wonderful at your favorite fast-food restaurant, but it’s likely to lead to difficult digestion with plotting. With internal (emotional) conflict, the character will grow (arc) through more than one learning experience. Knowing and truly understanding what the character must absorb in order to aid this growth will greatly enhance the writer’s ability to slice the character’s education into morsels for the reader to devour.

REMEMBER, those kiddie plates for our little ones?



Sectioned off so their peas didn’t roll into mashed potatoes? Capture those slots in your mind. If the character must learn to trust, spoon out the ‘life’ lessons into smaller parcels until the plate (or the lesson) is complete. While most characters transition over the course of the story, understanding that multiple bites will be necessary for this process, keeps the writer truer to the process. And helps alleviate that worst of worst: the disappointed reader.

We’ve all encountered books that left us wanting more. That frustrated because those plotting steps that allowed us, as readers, to grow, to stretch, to learn right beside the character from beginning to end were somehow incomplete. Something of that ‘real’ process was missing. Plotting . . . at least, doing it well . . . will prevent those missing steps.

In The 9th Girl, Nikki Liska is overtaxed mentally and physically. As the job of hunting the killer cuts into sleep hours, parenting time with her two sons, even sitting still for a decent meal, single mom Nikki finds her personal life in turmoil. Fighting the age-old conflict between home and career, millions of single moms, moms with demanding careers, and women who find themselves often alone in raising their children, can and will identify with the character of Nikki Liska. What appears to be early story filler turns out to be plot-driven necessary information. Ms. Hoag sets up her protagonist as an in-the-dark overworked mom of a 15-year-old son. Through the choice of a reserved, hard-to-understand teenager as a secondary character, Ms. Hoag offers nibbles of insight into the internal conflict that Nikka Liska is experiencing, but also weaves a complicated external plot to the ultimate necessity to catch the killer.

Who and What belong to the story, to the characters, to the plot.

When – belongs to the writer. A writer should focus on his/her body rhythms.

When are ideas freshest? Most open to new twists and turns? Daydreaming? During the day, is there allotted time to actually let go and allow imagination free reign? Identifying those times, scheduling quiet hours, a secluded walk and hitting the time-frame when it aligns with our body will inherently equal more successful plotting.

Where – not quite as simple as the question implies, also belongs to the writer.

1) Is plotting time better at home with a white board/chalk board/stack of sticky notes?


2) Perhaps being AWAY from home with a recorder? Is plotting better in motion like on a walk, or in a swing, or rocker? Does the motion literally force your brain into forward motion? OR perhaps a drive down country lanes?

IMPORTANT **If so, consider how to best accomplish a good recording of these imagination trips. I often work with the recording app on my phone and a Bluetooth. But I’ve checked the recording quality in different environments so I know when I can literally hear myself think . . . and when there’s just too much background noise.


3) Perhaps as a plotter, you work better in stillness, calm surroundings, in a space specifically designed and designated for writing?
4) Or is this process better completely away from home? A writer’s retreat with critique partners? Or a mini-vacation with a spouse or significant other? If so, make certain to set clear partner perimeters. What you expect to accomplish and when you’ll be available for them. Same goes with critique partners. How much time is allotted to each partner? Make a schedule. And always allow for quiet time then to flesh out the plotting that you’ve accomplished together. The quiet is as important as these great brainic sessions.
5) Learn to avoid those places that are mental drags. I cannot plot in my breakfast nook even though I love the furniture. Why? Because when I look up, my glance is constantly drawn to something else that needs to be done.

And finally, Why – this step reinforces the ‘What’. And is back to characters, story and the basics of plotting.

1) Why does your character need to learn this particular ‘What’ task?
2) Why does this ‘What’ internal conflict need to be resolved at this part of the story? The ‘Why’ is crucial to on-going plotting.

*Ever-so-often, this one piece of the puzzle will lead to further plotting. Internal conflict resolution must take place in a logical and often linear manner. For writers, this can be taxing. Our brains have a tendency to jump from Point A to Point M, skipping over everything in between: mainly because we don’t know our characters or the story well enough at this point to fill in each individual phase.

**However, through the ‘why’ stage, a writer can boil it down to the bare bones. Then the writer is free to explore and open the character up to each point of the ‘conflict resolution’.

*BONUS*

Through this process, the writer will often discover exact scenes for character enlightenment, whom (which other characters) must be on page at the time, where the discoveries will take place, and exactly how much the character will learn at that precise moment.

Early in The 9th Girl, Detective Nikka Liska's shy and reserved, but good student son is suddenly in big trouble at his private artistic school. Nikka is forced to breach the proprietary walls of the school and her own son's privacy in order to first, protect her child, and second, to hunt a killer. While a limited amount of information is released to Nikka at this early juncture, the groundwork is set for several necessary school and school friend scenes. From the initial conflict at her son's private institution, Nikka is firmly entrenched on this path. And what turns out to be the twisted path to find the actual killer of The 9th Girl.

Almost done, but not quite.

For the final and easy to overlook step – don’t forget to capture all this greatness in useful format. If it’s a recorder, make certain to transcribe notes. If it’s a white/chalk board, take a picture and upload to your ‘progress of plotting’ file. Sticky notes get added onto the greater plot board. (I’ve used a corkboard, divided up into the appropriate number of chapters then added the sticky notes to the correct chapter.) As I can type (and delete) faster than hand-writing, I currently use a Trello board app. With its cut and paste, drag and drop, highlight and illuminate features, the Trello app covers all the bases for me. It’s also available on my phone and tablet. I can connect anywhere with this app and upload my momentary brilliance.

Spooning out plotting into manageable and thoughtful bites can make the task of gnawing through this often overwhelming process of writing so much easier to swallow.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Brilliance of Layering

I am a bit of a DIY nut. Not the most talented rehab expert, but darned persistent when I need to learn a task in order to complete a make-over.
When necessity demanded, I’ve tackled walls and ceilings: tape & bedding, trim-out work, baseboards, texturing, priming then painting, tiling (yes, you can tile a bathroom wall), to floors that have been stripped, sanded, leveled, prepped, tiled, grouted and finally sealed. At our home, we've changed light fixtures, ceiling fans, plumbing fixtures, even a few main internal water lines. I've removed old, leaky doors, sealed framing, stuffed installation, and floated in a couple of walls. Then there were old dated external doors out and new insulated ones framed-in.

I've discovered that while not a master tradesman (and my hat off to those who are), I'm a fair Jack {or Jill, if you will} of many a trade.

To me writing is the birth or rebirth of an idea. I rather like taking some nugget of a scene/conversation/characteristic and allowing my imagination to run wild. In the real life of my home, I face limitations: color, texture, my expertise or the overall expense, but in my mind, there are no limits.

If I can dream up the plot line, then it only remains I find a 'writing' solution to bring it to conclusion.


I must give my characters the knowledge, the experience, the obstacles or challenges that will build them equal to the tasks of the plot. Whether my characters are midget or giants in stature, stick-pole skinny or pin-up curvaceous, pimple-faced young or lined with maturity, there are no limits, except . . . and this is the most important 'except', he/she must be the perfect hero/heroine/ally/nemesis for my book at that precise moment.

Sounds more than a touch intimidating, doesn't it?

Each author that you could interview would provide a different way to achieve the 'perfect' character for a specific role. Each would be right, if that technique works for their, well, their work.

That's the brilliance of layering.

Many have used and coined the phrase: 'A character is like an onion. As writers, you must peel away each layer until you find the center.'
As an experienced chef, I will tell you the center of the onion isn't all that great. It's smelly, and if you let that onion sit too long, it's mushy and then more smelly.

Instead of onions, I consider my character and their layers rather like a remodel project.

Wherever a character starts at the beginning of the story is NOT where he or she will end up at the end. It's call a 'character arc' for a reason.
Consider the character as a DIY remodel project.

The first step must be removal; repair/replacement/alteration/new treatment cannot take place until the old is gone.

Characters are the same.

Until the old is broken, stripped away, obliterated, the new cannot began. Besides, demolition is its own reward.


1) Consider what habits the character will need to change to start their path in the story line.
In Christina Dodd's Just The Way You Are,

main character tycoon, Zach Givens never does for himself. He commands his minions to retrieve messages, run errands, act as butler, chef, housekeeper. Until he crosses paths with main character, Hope Prescott and gets a dose of her reality, he's content to live in the world of his making. But to prove he's not the monster that this fiercely independent woman, struggling student, and joyful burst of sunshine believes him to be . . . Zach must give up many of his selfish and narrow-visioned habits.



2) More, consider what beliefs must be challenged then altered for real character growth.
In Susan Elizabeth Phillips', Kiss An Angel,

broody, secretive protagonist Alex Markov refuses to believe that an age-old marriage and mating between the Markov & Devereaux holds any merit. Even married & mated to Daisy Devereaux, to the woman who brings equal measures of joy and chaos to his life, Alex continues to deny that he'll ever become a father and allow his ancestry to live on. The destruction of this belief system shape the hero's character arc and spans the entire book. Under Susan Elizabeth Phillips' careful tutelage, the introduction of this inherent and embedded belief and its constant re-iteration, the hero's well-honed prejudices are ultimately destroyed and laid at the feet of the heroine.


Now, consider what I call the 'married' phase.

1) What habits are so ingrained, so necessary, so 'revealing' that the character must retain them?
In the 'In Death' series by JD Robb,

main character, Roark carries a button in his pocket. A gray button. A gray button that fell from a female cop's suit jacket. A gray button that belongs to the cop who becomes his love, who becomes his wife. Is he a man with a button fetish? A retired criminal who steals without reason? Or does the button, which is constantly in his pant's pocket, which never leaves his side, is the button a symbol? A touchstone? By its very presence, does it represent something so small, that which could be easily overlooked? Or does the author take this simplistic item and by its existence turn it into an integral glimpse into this character?

2) What part of the character's belief system is at their very core and cannot and must not be changed?
Take another Roark (Howard Roark) of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.

Howard Roark's belief system is that which drives the entire book, that which all the other characters fight against, and finally embrace, or fall to devastation because it is unshakable and resolute. That is a belief system so intrinsic to the plot line, to the characters' developments that it cannot change through the course of the story.

That which you, as the writer, must solidify on page, must marry for the duration of writing the story.

As with any good DIY project, knowing what goes and what stays is crucial. To layer a character with brilliance, the writer, a writer, any writer must first determine what parts of the characters: habits & beliefs need to be challenged, to be rattled, then to be broken. Equally important, is the determination of what parts of the character are inherent and intrinsic and must be nurtured and protect through the writing.

Writers are gods of their own creations.

What a fabulous opportunity each writer enjoys: the ability to condemn and to condone, to abandon or assure. Fabulous business is this writing world. The power of the pen is etched into the writing through an author's conquest of layering.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Weekend Craving . . . hunting burgers!

This weekend's craving was for the perfect Veggie Burger.

Now, don't immediately click off the blog.

Veggie burgers can be great.

Case in point, the one that was served @ Mellow Mushroom until last week. (Note there's no link, because they're on my bad side.) Apparently, the powers-that-be @ Mellow Mushroom didn't find sales of their Herbed Veggie Burger high enough and it's been pulled from the menu.

Hubby and I went for lunch today, ordered the burger, then after a 25-minute wait we were told the burger had been pulled from the menu.

1st - shame on waiter/management that it took 25 minutes to tell us what we ordered was no longer available.
2nd - I did order one of their Gluten-Free Pizza options (again, don't say ick! - Gluten Free means that a different type of flour is used in the crust. I promise if you have the right homemade crust from alternate flour, you won't complain, most likely won't know.) The pizza was fine. However, when one is really jonesing for a burger, then pizza - even good pizza - isn't the answer.

Now, I'm on the hunt for the perfect Veggie Burger recipe, but it's specific. I want kale/brown rice/quinoa and mushrooms in my basic burger.

My Twitter account is in high drive at the moment as I've sent out scads of personal messages to fellow 'weekend chefs'.

If you've dropped by my porch and have a suggestion on a recipe, pop me a note on where to find it.

OH, and if you want a great pizza (just don't ask what the crust is made from) go to: Across The Pond



(of course, living near or visiting Fort Worth, TX is helpful.) If you don't have an Across the Pond, experiment a bit with Gluten-Free alternative pizza options.

Best Suggestion - visit restaurants that advertise Vegetarian/Vegan/Gluten Free options. Someone in the kitchen will know what they're doing and you'll more than likely (I didn't give an absolute guarantee) be pleased.

Happy Cow
is a great phone app for this type of search.





Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Working Wednesday - Organization is not a '4' letter word

Writers live in their own world, gladly, but sometimes it becomes a messy place.



The temptation may be to wear ear protectors to keep all the ‘good’ stuff from falling out before its time.



Currents of conversations, snippets of scenes, puzzling plots, character quirks (heroic or hateful) -- all roll around in a writer’s head, vying for storage space.

Several years past, the organization tool: Trello came on my radar.

Whether writers are ‘pantser’ or obsessively organized, Trello can be the light at the end of the tunnel.
Think of Trello as a large message board filled with Post-it (sticky notes, if preferred) notes galore, color-coding, sharing options, drag and drop, schedule capabilities, external linking, and artwork add-ons. Trello can be a highly useful tool to organize the writer’s mind.


Trello has been my organizational hero:
1) useful whether starting at the beginning with just a nudge of an idea
2) to plotting – partial or full
3) to character analysis
4) to keeping all the details straight


After joining Trello (I have the basic version because it gets the job done for me), writers can set up one or multiple ‘Boards’. Click ‘Add a Board’.

Start simple – 1st board – Work In Progress:

a) Inside the Board, set up ‘Lists’ or columns.

b) Title the list and start adding ‘cards’ or sticky notes.
The initial information on the card could be detailed such as thesis sentence, or a tidbit, one tiny bit of crucial information. If the initial information is kept basic, then a click on the card will open an array of options.

c) Now for some fun: Under ‘Edit the description’, it’s possible to add detailed information. The sky’s the limit as to what can fill the edit the description space. From a plotting stand-point, the card may be titled: 1st External Turning Point – (Crossing The Threshold for my purposes, if you are familiar with Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero Journey’.) However, under ‘Edit the description’ there may be a bullet list, multiple descriptive sentences, or references to other corresponding cards.



Additionally, the cards allow for:
*additional members
*labels
*checklists
*due date
*attachment

For writers who collaborate, critique groups who work long distance, editors who require updates, adding members who can sign on through their individual Trello account and see instant data can eliminate long emails, missed deadlines, or gruesome plot holes.


‘Labels’ are a color-coded option that will allow writers:
1) To pluck a vital character trait and then weave that thread all the way through story development,
2) To layout secondary characters, their introduction, purpose, and scene schedules,
3) To initiate plot points (external & internal) and then deliver the story promise at The End.

The ‘checklist’ and ‘due date’ options are additional steps to keep projects on track.

Finally, the ‘attachment’ option is as wide-open as the Internet itself. Whatever picture, reference source, website or blog mention that is necessary to the story’s development can be linked and labeled with a few clicks.










Imagine that this becomes manageable:

As one who thinks better when the story must travel from my imagination and down through my fingertips to a keyboard – the Trello option has opened up a world of organization.

There are Trello apps; Trello inspirational ideas and a large number of professional ‘Power-Ups’ (Trello’s name) add-ons from Google Drive to Twitter to Drop Box to Mailchimp. Search under Power-Up categories to explore the large number of choices.


This NOT a paid advertisement for Trello. The good folks at this company don’t know me from their millions of other customers. This is a recommendation for folks who want to organize their lives and not suffer in the process. I’ve used Trello for over six years and while there are other choices for information management, this one works for me.


For the non-writer –

*I keep an updated list of Books on my Shelf (so I don’t ever buy the same book twice again)
*Handle Christmas lists for consecutive years (again, I don’t buy the same gift for the same person)
*List my DVDs (so the kids won’t buy me the same DVD over and over)
*Share recipes and household tips
*And of course, each of my Works In Progress and every brilliant bouncing idea.

For all these reasons and more . . . I’ve found a way to stay organized and sane at the same time. Not a bad deal.

Plotting . . . Sorting . . . Keeping up with the details – all through Trello.com


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Motivational Monday - a day late

Starting out with a Smoothie

I watched Food Matters (listed under Ted Talks) on Netflix this weekend.




While I’m a Vegetarian, we do eat most of our veggies cooked – many steamed, baked or sautéed, but cooked nonetheless.

Based on information from Food Matters, and the ever-decreasing nutritional value of fruits and vegetables, we’re trying the 51/49% rule for plating purposes.

51% to be RAW – as in not cooked.

What’s the purpose?

To further eliminate junk food, to limit unhealthy carbs (I am a bread-oholic ), and to kick start my morning system with more smoothies.
My pledge was to go for a week. I’ve discovered that I can talk myself into anything for a week.




This morning’s breakfast smoothie:

(3) Strawberries (high levels of antioxidants known as polyphenols; they add a bit of sweetness, and moderate the extreme green color to more of a sage green. Sounds strange, but not all of us want to drink something the color of the lawn.)

(1) Kiwi (for my 270% of Vitamin C)

(4) Apple slices (Yes, they have Vit C and potassium – although not huge amounts, but these act as a natural sweetner)

(6) Walnuts (for my healthy fat)

(10) Pumpkin seeds, raw, unsalted (for protein and Magnesium)

(5) Baby carrots (for Vitamin A)

(1) Cup spinach (it's excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids), manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, copper, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin E, calcium, potassium and vitamin C. It is a very good source of dietary fiber, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc, protein and choline. – Okay, so it’s just good in your diet.)

(1) Teaspoon golden flax seeds (for a boost of antioxidants)

(3) Ice cubes (cause I like it frosty)

So drop by the porch again and see how my RAW adventure is going.
~Until Next Time~

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Thoughtful Thursday


It seems like such a simple word . . . but the meaning, the emotion, the grief behind the word can be heart-breaking, devastating, and life-altering.

This has been a difficult week: the tragedy in Manchester, UK has gripped headlines and the collective heart of the world.
A few hours ago, I learned that a young man who I have known for close to ten years was killed in an auto accident. Notice that I didn't say senseless; accidents are inherently senseless. But, alas, the loss is always profound.

So much death, some at a distance, some close and personal. So much life yet to live and explore for all these people.

But wasted? I think not.

Our lives change between one breath and the next.
One moment the world is balanced and 'normal'.
The next, nothing seems to fit together. As though the puzzle has been dropped to the floor and all the pieces broken and scattered.

When tragedy strikes, it's difficult to watch the normal around us. To hear laughter. To see smiles. To witness families with their scuffs of sibling interaction to the soothing touch of a mother or father. The grief comes in waves all but washing away the sand, leaving the spouse, child, brother, sister, friend wobbly and unsteady on their feet.

There is no quick fix to grief. No immediate remedy to the desolation of a loved one's sudden death.

But there can be moderation for the loss.

Have you ever watched a child play at Hopscotch? One square at a time. Dropping the rock, then hopping and moving to the next square, then the next, but always moving forward. Until they reach the end, accomplish the goal and come back to home -- exactly the same way: one square at a time.



Loss should be treated the same – one square at a time.

Every life lived is a joy. A celebration.

For those who have left this world, gone ahead, entered a better place, stood at the Gates of Heaven . . . they have left behind so much: smiles and tears, accomplishments and do-overs, serious moments and outrageous adventures, tenderness and temper.

Time is fleeting,

The blink of an eye.

The moment between breaths.

The giggle of a child, the whisper of a loved one, the caress of a lover, the smile of a stranger.

Fleeting . . . but oh-so precious.

Every life is a gift. Every life lived is worthy.

Perhaps best said in the poem The Dash.



Friday, May 19, 2017

Fun Friday - Dressed to the Nines

Phraseology in our language seems for the most part to be passed down generation to generation.

Whether writing historical, present day, or futuristic getting the language 'writer-right' is crucial.

Make sure to explore the etymology of words and language before inserting into your written works, or twisting for a new/futuristic meaning.

‘Dressed to the Nines’ is an expression designed to speak to clothing expression, certainly, but more to clothing perfection. I love the 60s movies when the culture dictated gloves, hats, pressed pants, silk stockings.

From How To Marry A Millionaire.

OR

Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's
But whatever these pictures represent to me, is that the original meaning of ‘Dressed to the Nines’?

According to: The Phrase Finder the terminology 'dressed to the nines' (loosely translated to mean dressed to perfection) more than likely originated from 'to the nines', which was a term for perfection - plain and simple. As in the Nine Muses, the Nine Worthies, or perhaps:
That was in use in the 18th century, well before 'dressed to the nines' was first used, as in this example from William Hamilton's Epistle to Ramsay, 1719:

The bonny Lines therein thou sent me,
How to the nines they did content me.

In your writing, if you wish to express the perfection of clothing, personality, structure, consider 'to the nines'.

Perchance, it's a reference to the time and effort the Ton exercised regarding their appearance before even the most casual of outings through Hyde Park{historical};


















Perhaps something more modern as in a New Year's Eve celebration -







Or of a child's full dress regalia for a Christening
(complete with bonnet and gloves) {current};



Conceivably, the beauty observed inside recreated religious centers/churches where ecclesiastical splendor could be brilliantly on display (futuristic);














Finally, the phrase could be the antithesis as in 'Walmart shoppers would never be accused of dressing to the nines'.

I had to be quite selective for this last picture. Dressed to the Nines is clearly not a phrase often bandied about in Walmart.

A simple phrase, once the etymology is clear, the date origin is confirmed, and the purpose in your writing established can turn an otherwise obscure sentence or paragraph into a clear picture for your reader. See above for that confirmation.

Words paint pictures, images, emotions, dreams.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Technical Tuesday - a tasty tidbit thanks to the Iron Chef Gauntlet


The Iron Chef Gauntlet is currently running on Food Network. If in your part of the world the season finale has already aired, do NOT reveal the ending. No spoilers in the comment section, please. The series started with seven experienced, and extremely hopeful, chefs who set their sights on eliminating their fellow kitchen connoisseurs in order to face the toughest competition of all: three reigning Iron Chefs.
For most that would be enough to curdle blood, weaken knees, and reduce steel spines to a puddle of ooze. But each of the seven signed on for the heat in the kitchen and wielded their knives with enthusiasm.

This week’s episode featured a Chairman’s Challenge between three final fierce competitors. Their task: to build the perfect simple dish, with the entire pantry at their disposal, using . . . wait for it . . . only five (5) ingredients. (They were granted the concession of salt/pepper/olive oil, but those were the only staples provided.) Two of The Iron Chef contenders chose to build one simple, but complex item, while the third went a bit different route to put an entrée on the plate. In this case, SIMPLE and COMPLEX won. The full entrée with protein and sides could not contend against the perfect single dish. Simple and complex is anything but . . . well, simple.

As writers, one of our most difficult journeys is to KISS, an old sales acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid. And for the purpose of this conversation, it’s about the goal of the writing. Ultimately, what do you, as the writer, expect to accomplish when you type THE END or the last period?

Short or long in length, know what the reader is to gain at the end of the experience. Then boil it down the basics and ask:
 Is the writing: Fiction or Non-fiction?
 Is the writing: Interrogative and possibly interactive?; Is the writing: Persuasive?; Is the writing Informative, possibly a teaching vessel?
 Is the reader: age group or education level relevant. If so, what?
 Is the reader: gender or nationality (as specific to the target audience)?
 Is the reader: coming to this literary work with certain expectations?

In keeping with the spirit of (5) ingredients, the answers to these five (5) questions can significantly narrow the writing field and hone the goal, allowing the writer to KISS.

As I write Romantic Suspense, based in U.S. cities, my finished products will be:
1) Fiction
2) Persuasive (I do believe in selling the concept of love), and Informative (each of my fiction endeavors teaches or explores a concept, whether hobby, career, or location).
3) Readers will be between 18 and still breathing, hopefully with breathy pants if the sexual tension is done well. Education level – because my writing is to entertain, I carefully tread the language level, but strive for the highest level of grammatical correctness.
4) Readers are generally female, with some cross culture nationality.
5) Readers expect a HEA – or Happily Ever After.

Simple, straight-forward answers that give me a definite goal to accomplish with my writing. Complex comes with all the other steps, and will be explored in future articles. Yet, even the layers of complexity must be kept simple enough to entertain, enthrall, and enrapture the reader with my characters and my writing.

Simple and Complex – the perfect recipe for delicious writing.

Drop by the porch again.


Monday, May 15, 2017

West Texas travels

My husband and I traveled into the west Texas area -- not far, by Texas standards, but a lovely distance from the commuters jamming every major thoroughfare in the Metroplex. Did you know cows are darn choosy about who stops at their fence? They don't come when called? And they're fairly skittish creatures. Meaning they don't like the sound of auto-wind on a camera. Who knew? Well, I guess the cows did. Travel out towards Weatherford -- stop at this great cafe, if you have a chance.

Oxymoron 2.1 version

Oxymoron 2.1 version

In updating my blog labels, I ran across this old blog.

Folks - it's worth revisiting.

Truisms never go out of style. So, relive the truth from 2009.

"We are a people who spend money we don't have on things we don't want to impress people we don't like."

Okay, that is a seriously great line . . . especially with the ring of truism in it.

I'd like to take credit, goodness knows, I like good writing. I'd even like to give credit where it's due; however, this piece of wisdom belongs to the man who wrote, Why is God laughing?. Sorry, I didn't catch the gentleman's name during his Good Morning, America interview. The gentleman who did remind me quite a bit of Mahatma Gandhi, sans the big nose, spoke eloquently about the oxymora (or our common plural version - oxymorons) in our lives.

For those who need the dictionary lesson: Oxymoron
a figure of speech by which a locution produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory effect, as in “cruel kindness” or “to make haste slowly."

Sometimes, an oxymoron is more than a figure of speech. Sometimes, it's life in action.

Case in point . . .

My husband, smart guy that he is, related another just a few days after I'd been turned on to this thought. While walking our dog -- sometimes it's more the dog walks us than we walk the dog -- but dog and hubby were getting along down the bike trail when my hubby dearest noted a guy out tilling his garden for spring planting. The oxymoron was the hacking and coughing up one lung this old boy was doing while puffing away on a ciggy for the other lung. Even more of an oxymoron is that this guy will be planting a garden, fruits and veggies one must assume -- as in the healthy stuff -- yet he's polluting his lungs at a rate far faster than the fruits and veggies can save. Yep, Gardener Man was definitely a life in action oxymoron.

Okay, don't get on the collective soap boxes and lecture me about smoking and the rights of smokers everywhere. I'm a reformed smoker so I get to point and laugh. However, the point is the oxymoron.

But there's more . . .

What about the folks who crave children, and then leave them to be raised by daycare and nannies? Okay, I understand that sometimes both parents have to work to make all the ends meet and right now the ends might not be meeting at all. But if honesty won out, many folks could live in a smaller house, drive less expensive cars, take less grand vacations and make the budget balance on one salary.

Watch that soap box . . . I'm simply pointing out the oxymoron. If raising kids was the the most important thing, why would it be left to strangers?

That same tangent could be eloquently stated for our current educational system. How can we, collectively, claim that education is the most important thing when we, collectively, don't lobby -- forget lobbying, how about storming the capitol -- and demand that teachers' salaries match the job we lay on them? Our oxymoron, collectively, is that we'll pay exorbitant prices to go watch athletes run around a field, high-powered cars drive in circles, etc. Point should be made, collectively speaking.

So perhaps Oxymora are a way of life.

For a 2017 update: Is your life filled with an oxymoron or two? A negative that needs to be turned into a positive? Chaos that reigns over focus of life? Are you spending money/time/energy on minutiae that you can ill afford/don't need/won't use to impress people who in the long run should never have the opportunity to 'run' your life? That's a weighty thought for Motivational Monday. Give it the serious attention that it deserves.

Do drop by the porch again.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Lure The Muse

Creativity is simultaneously a writer's best friend and most dreaded enemy. But why? Are we, as writers, challenged of casual creativity? Are we blind to the bare bones of original brilliance? Do we glue our eyes closed to simple genius?

Finding a writer's muse can often involve gritting teeth, severing of limbs (metaphorically, folks) or jumping off the proverbial cliff and hoping for wings of inspiration. But why must it be so difficult when often hidden wells of creativity lurk inside each of us?

What is the secret?

Lure the muse.

How?

I have discovered that most writers have a number of passions. Seldom does our creativity sequester itself in a solitary cell. Instead, creativity bubbles in many areas of our lives.

Do you garden? Maybe your home is surrounded by flowering perfection, filled with the whispering wings of butterflies or the gentle rush of hummingbirds. Is your garden pots of brightly colored vegetables and lush succulent herbs.


Do you paint? Not necessarily easel canvases. Perhaps, the color on your brush covers bare, boring, beige walls. Perhaps, the tint of walnut, or cherry, or maple fills your brush, sponge or cloth as you breathe new life into old furniture.

Do you cook? Not Iron Chef level, but do you tease your family and friends' taste-buds? Is your house the one with simmering spaghetti sauce that the neighbors always manage to visit?

Are you more than a shower Sinatra? A musical diva - maybe not The Voice quality - but no basement Betty either. Is there music in your soul that finds expression in the piano, the flute, the tuba? Drums with a real beat?

A car/antique/art aficionado? Devotion to beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Others may not pant over a '66 Fastback Corvette, or understand the glories of abstract art . . . but that doesn't make it less a form of creativity that begs for expression.

The final solution?

Free your muse. No reigning in budding brilliance. Use those areas of creativity as the bridge to your writing muse.

Never fear folding in aspects of your creative passions into your characters. Protagonist or secondary - all can benefit from the snippets of those passionate endeavors that fill your home and your hobby time.

Want to follow a new creative dream? Let your character take the ride with you.

From photograph to pottery
From aerial skydiving to aqua-farming
From calligraphy to cave-diving
From Frisbee-golf to foreign languages

Your life is the richer for every extension of your energy and talent.

So, too, will your character benefit from the magical journey.

Free your muse and the writing will follow.



Thursday, April 27, 2017

Be brave, be bold, be yourself!

An important phone conversation today led me down a particular path of thought.

Someone near and dear to me is changing jobs - not careers - but jobs. However, this individual's professional world is highly stressful, intensely competitive, and filled with too many work hours for any given day. Bottom line: the right job selection is pretty darn important.

At times when choices seem so critical, it's easy to become handicapped, stifled, and fearful. Standing in place seems better than moving any direction. At least, feet are grounded and solid beneath, if you stand still, right?

The problem: it's impossible to get anywhere standing still.

So, I sympathized, empathized, and was the total strong shoulder for this individual with the momentous decision. Then I said, -- come on, you knew I'd say something -- "Be brave, be bold, and be yourself. Go for it all. Interview as exactly who you are. No gimmicks. No facades. No holding back. If the interviewer, the new boss, the HR specialist can handle you full steam, then it's more likely to be the right fit in the long haul. And what's the worst that can happen? They won't hire you; it's not the right placement; they'll envy your great looking power shoes after you leave their office. But, you, my interviewing friend, will walk out with a sense of accomplishment, of knowing that you didn't leave anything on the table. No regrets."

Regrets have always seemed like wasted effort, clutter that takes up emotional space. Regrets can't change or alter a dismissal past. Regrets can't and won't erase harsh words already spilled. Regrets won't eradicate that last awful job. Or terrible boss. Or sorry ex.

Don't misunderstand. Learning from life's teachable moments should be at the top of the priority list. Anyone can learn from the detours with enough effort to recognize and contemplate. But life is and always should be about the journey. Who we are today is a direct result of all of our yesterdays. Bad stuff serves a purpose, too. Even if it's to toddler-teach us to NOT put our finger in the fire again.

Our writing needs to come with the mantra: Be brave, be bold and be true to the writing.

Don't regret a badly penned paragraph. That's one sentence at a time of your story.
Don't regret a character that refuses to stay nicely in their story role. That's a dynamic secondary character that's on their way to becoming a sequel.
Don't regret plot holes. Fill them -- one story stone at a time until a solid plot wall exist.
Don't regret a story line that turns and bends. Think about driving down a monotonous road. Boring, and desperately hard to stay awake. No, the interesting road is the one with twist and dips, even a bump or two.

No standing still. Put pen to pad, stylus to tablet, fingers to keyboard, butt to chair. Be bold, be brave, be true to the writing . . . and that will take you and your writing forward.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

To pseudonym or not . . .

To pseudonym or not . . . that has been my question.

Answer???

Yes.

I'll debut my romantic suspense writing under the pseudonym: K.M. Saint James. A great deal of thought, both fore and after, went in to selecting the name. Each part of the name (initials included) has special meaning to me. I'm normally catchier if I'm long-winded -- honestly, just ask anyone who knows me -- but in this case a matter of 14 characters captured a part of me that's profound. I'm expecting my writing to live up to the name, quite honestly.

Authors tout a number of reasons for pen names:
Writing under different genres
Camouflaging their prolific abilities
Moving beyond bad books, bad reviews, bad life choices
Perhaps just for the joy to write exactly what they want, how they want, and without outside expectations.

To name a few, and famous:
Please don't respond with criticism of the order -- it's purely random.

Nora Roberts & J.D. Robb
Stephen King & Richard Bachman (if you don't know the story about his separate identities, invest the research time. Fascinating story.)
JK Rowling & Robert Galbraith
Agatha Christie & Mary Westmacott
Shelly Bradley & Shayla Black
Sherrilyn Kenyon & Kinley McGregor

EVEN
Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) & Pauline Phillips/Jeanne Phillips

My reason for utilizing a pen name? For the joy, for the expansion beyond everything that encapsulates me currently to become more than I ever dreamed. Considering how grand my dreams -- that's a whole lot of expectations.

I'm excited for the journey to begin.
Check back for release dates and for more of the writing journey.

Texas sayings

~Watch your step! Cacti, tumbleweeds, and an occasional armadillo might be ahead.

~Welcome to the land of tar-bubbling summers, gas-guzzling pickup trucks, standard Stetson headgear, and mile-high hair.

~Welcome to the Lone Star State, and Romance With A Texas Twist!

Quote of the Day