Saturday, June 30, 2012

Trip to L.A.

Fairytale House

No, it's not Los Angeles, it's Lower Alabama. Down around Escambia County and Mobile Bay. The scenery is beautiful: the spreading oaks draped in Spanish moss, the charm of the architecture, and of course the water.  Heading toward Mobile Bay, we went to an arts festival in Fairhope. Lots of artists and different skills. And there's a delightful house straight out of a fairytale. I was told the owner and his sons built it themselves—must be a true labor of love.
Old Oaks at Confederate Rest Cemetery
Then there's the Confederate Rest Cemetery, a place of peace and quiet. This isn't the best photo of the headstones, but it does show the spreading oaks.

At the art festival, we found some lovely things, like this lacey jacket. I enlarged a section so you could see how it's made. I don't know what this is--knitting? macrame?

I hope to find ways to use these in my writing. Having pictures helps me remember and keeps me consistent in my descriptions. I carry my digital camera everywhere and take loads of pictures. Then the problem becomes organizing and keeping track of them. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Morning Pages

Red Tide at Amazon

Peg Brantley, author of debut novel Red Tide, is this week's guest. Red Tide is available in both print and eBook.
I have shelves full of books on craft. I admit that although they’ve all been perused, there are only a few that have been read and marked up. I have a few favorites, but today I want to talk about one in particular.
There’s not one thing in it that has to do with POV or plot or character development or anything that we work on to improve every time we sit down to write. And even more, I want to drill down to just one takeaway from this book that doesn’t mention our craft but has everything to do with it.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron should be required reading for every writer. I bought this book years ago, long before I became serious about creating a piece of entertainment that only uses words. It set on my shelf for a very long time until apparently, the time was right for me to crack it open and go to work.
My biggest takeaway from my first time through TAW has been the concept of morning pages. Three full pages of stream-of-consciousness longhand writing. This simple little habit helps me deal with my Lizard Brain (thank you, Seth Godin) or whatever you want to call your inner Censor. For a while, I called mine Snake. It’s the little voice that resides inside my head and tells me I can’t spell, or find the right word or… do this.
What you write doesn’t matter, just that you write. You can write about the things you need to do that day or the things you did yesterday. Not every day of morning pages will give you fantastic insight, but I promise you, done faithfully, they will.
One of the most useful things my morning pages have evolved into is that of a personal brainstorming session. The stream-of-consciousness process allows me to explore plot or character issues freely. I’ve morning-paged myself into more than one perfect place.
In fact, I brainstormed what might be useful to readers of this blog and voila… here it is. I hope you’re encouraged to give this idea a try… and maybe even to get your hands on a copy of The Artist’s Way and gift yourself with the insight and strengths if will help you find.

About Peg Brantley

A Colorado native, Peg Brantley is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Sisters in Crime. She and her husband make their home southeast of Denver, and have shared it with the occasional pair of mallard ducks and their babies, snapping turtles, peacocks, assorted other birds, foxes, a deer named Cedric and a bichon named McKenzie. Red Tide is Peg's first novel. Her second will be released in late 2012. She's on Facebook and Twitter with her real name as the handle, PegBrantley. Blog:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Knowing Your Characters

One way to get to know your characters is to write a first-person essay about the life of each of the major characters, relating important or life-altering events for each one—kind of "My Life So Far." Pictures help. Find the things that helped to shape his/her personality, formed her character. It will take a few days, but it's worth doing. This method really helps some people get to know their characters, and it will help find the voice for each one. Each writer has to find his or her own way. Try it and see if it works for you.
What caused this?
Give both the protagonist and the antagonist a background and a personality. Say the heroine’s cousin has trusted the wrong man more than once. The author should know why she falls for them. Are they much older than she is? Is she looking for a father?
If you cover the character’s life, you'll have much more information than you'll use in the story, but once you know your characters well, bits may find their way into your book.

How do you do it? How much do you know about your characters?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ideas Won't Work Unless You Do

At Amazon
My guest this week is Tom Rizzo, author of Last Stand at Bitter Creek, a historical adventure novel.

Generating fresh ideas is important, no matter what we do. But, for a writer, they represent the fuel of the creative engine. When the idea tank hovers around empty, it's time to head in new directions to kick-start the creativity process. Generating fresh ideas can be challenging, but they're all around us if we remain observant, aware and curious.
Open a file and write the headline: 30 Ideas to Write About in the Next 30 Days. A friend of mine uses this technique. “You sit there until you get 30 ideas,” she said, without a smile. “I don’t move, I don’t get a cup of coffee, I sit and think, and start writing.” Personally, I find it frustrating, but it might work well for patient types.
Read blogs, news sites, comments posted by others responding to online articles, Letters to the Editor of daily newspapers. There's often a wealth of ideas in various sections of online foreign newspapers. Browse through print magazines, too—any of which could offer a treasure trove of ideas.
Meet with friends over coffee, lunch, or a sports activity, and share viewpoints on recent news stories, or business ideas, or off-the-wall topics. You’ll be surprised how simple conversation can evolve into a rich source of ideas to write about.
Surf Internet sites for ideas. When gathering material for my novel, LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK, I spent my Internet time learning everything possible about the mid- to late-1800s. Historical accounts, and true-life adventures sparked dozens of ideas. Not all usable, of course, but many of them adaptable in some form or fashion.
Drive somewhere. Travel to the heart of your own city, or another community. Park the car. Walk. Listen. Observe. Drop by a local coffee shop, or corner restaurant, and either eavesdrop, or start a conversation. Ordinary, and not-too-ordinary, people are among the best resources you’ll encounter when you thirst for ideas to write about.
Buy a copy of ATechnique for Producing Ideas. This 62-page booklet, by James Webb Young, is an advertising classic that provides a simple five-step process to generate ideas.

These are just a few ways to fire your imagination, to think sideways, or outside the box, in an effort to peek at life, and your surroundings, through a fresh perspective. You’ll soon find that patterns start to develop. Ideas begin to cross-pollinate. One idea leads to another to another. Getting ideas is a process of discovery.
"Your job isn't to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up," writes Stephen King, in On Writing. 
Simply stated, throw the rules out the window when you’re on the hunt for ideas to write about. Unleash your acceptance mode, and new avenues will open.
TOM RIZZO is the author of LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK, a historical action-adventure novel set in the mid- to late-1800s.
The creative writing bug bit Tom early in life when he worked at a small radio station, writing news, sports, commercials, obituaries, and anything else that needed written.
His writing career includes several years in radio and television news reporting, and as a correspondent for the Associated Press. After a few years for Wall Street firm, he worked in advertising, and public relations.
As a freelance writer, Tom published hundreds of articles, developed sales and marketing copy, and conducted workshops on communication skills. He now writes fiction fulltime.
“I can’t imagine not being a writer.”
He grew up in central Ohio, and lived in Great Britain for several years, where he prowled the side streets of London and southwest England, searching for literary treasures in dark and dusty bookshops. He now calls Houston, Texas, home.
Book Blurb
In LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK – a historical, action-adventure – burned-out Union Army spy Grant Bonner puts his life on the line in the face of overwhelming odds to clear his name. Desperate to put his days as a Union spy behind him, Bonner also seeks peace and a new beginning. But he agrees to one last mission that gets him entangled in a malicious scheme devised by a ruthless enemy, involving . . . 
§      A patrol of soldiers massacred.
§      A hidden gold shipment missing.
§      A priceless US historical document stolen.
The mission is compromised and Bonner is entangled in an intricate conspiracy. Ambushed and left for dead, he recovers only to learn his battle for survival and justice has just begun.
An undercover agent is on the run, the target of a manhunt across the Midwest to the Great Plains.
After several years on the run, and still a wanted man, Bonner emerges from hiding, and realizes that for some soldiers, the war isn’t over. And won’t end, until he makes his . . .  LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Does Head Hopping Make You Crazy?

Photo by DnDavis

Head hopping is when the reader is privy to two (or, heaven forbid, more) characters’ thoughts and feelings in a single scene. That’s not to say it can’t be done successfully. Many popular authors, especially those who began writing some years ago, are known for it. Nora Roberts is probably the best example. And let me say, she does it extremely well. She never leaves you in doubt as to whose head you’re in. She leads you back and forth effortlessly.
Whether head hopping weakens the emotional impact of a scene is a matter of opinion. Head hopping is more acceptable in the romance genre than in others I’m familiar with, such as mystery, where it’s usually frowned upon. Some editors think love scenes are stronger with both the male and female points of view. Others go ballistic over POV shifts.
The main thing is to avoid making the reader wonder whose thought that is or have to look back a few paragraphs to see. Then she’s taken completely out of the story. It’s much harder for her to get back into it so that she’s once again experiencing events and emotions with the viewpoint character. Here’s an example of head hopping—dramatic, I’ll grant you.
Photo: Wavebreak Media Ltd
How could he do this? I gave up everything for him. Tears overflowed and ran down Cleo’s cheeks. His words sent waves of pain all the way to her soul. She flung herself on the bed and sobbed.
It wasn’t that bad—so I was with someone else. It was only once. Bryce jammed his hands in his pockets and turned his back on the distraught woman.
The transition from one head to another is the key. There is no transition in that example, so the reader expects the thought beginning with It wasn’t that bad to be Cleo’s. But then there’s the sentence naming Bryce in the same paragraph—so whose thought is it? Whose POV did you think that was?
It’s Bryce’s, but it wasn’t made clear. It’s an easy fix: put the Bryce sentence at the beginning of the paragraph, and it’s clearly his thought.
How could he do this? I gave up everything for him. Tears overflowed and ran down Cleo’s cheeks. His words sent waves of pain all the way to her soul. She flung herself on the bed and sobbed.
Bryce jammed his hands in his pockets and turned his back on the distraught woman. It wasn’t that bad—so I was with someone else. It was only once.
If you’re going to use more than one POV in a scene, make sure there’s no doubt about where/whose head. 
How do you feel about head hopping? Does it bother you? If there's no confusion, does it still bother you? Why? 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bad Reviews: Leaving and Receiving

At Amazon
Marla Madison, author of the suspense novel She's Not There, is my guest.
My recent blog on reviewing received nasty feedback, one comment so bad that Blogspot censored it without printing. Since then, I’ve kept my blogs as non-controversial as possible. I’ve bravely decided to revisit the issue in question—bad reviews.
As a writer who’s been on the receiving end of a bad review or two, I must admit that despite knowing everyone receives them, even the most popular writers of the day, I nevertheless take them to heart and agonize over every one. And then get over it.
My request to reviewers is this: If you hate my writing so much that you feel the need to give it a one or two star review, please take the time to tell me why you didn’t like the book. While authors understand their work cannot be everyone’s favorite read, most of us will take criticism with an open mind and use it to improve our writing.
The thing that incited a near blog-comment riot was my frustration with reviewers who leave a bad review without reading the entire book. It is my personal policy not to leave a review for a book I don’t finish. My detractors, unfortunately, found one that I had done a while back (I’d forgotten about it), and called me a hypocrite. They got me on that, but I did put into the review what I didn’t like and why I didn’t finish the book.
I rarely leave negative reviews on books I don’t finish because my taste is rather narrow—I only read suspense and there are many things I don’t like in a suspense novel, e.g. a focus on drug crimes, gangs and super complicated conspiracy theories, to name a few. This is singularly my own prejudice, so I’m reticent to cut down an author for their inclusion.
My one exception to this rule, and I feel the need to mention it in the event I come under the microscope again, is for the authors I read regularly. Top-ten authors whose works I follow religiously, will get a candid review from me, whether I finish the book or not. Although it’s unusual when I don’t finish a book written by a favorite author.
I’m kind to new authors. Downloading many of the free suspense books available daily on Amazon, I find few to my liking, often only reading a few chapters. I don’t leave reviews on them. Maybe I should, but that’s what I do. I have found a few real gems in the free collections, and when I discover one of them I take the time to leave a review on both Amazon and Goodreads.
Marla Madison
Please share your own policy for reviews. I’m always interested in how others feel about a subject.
Thanks for reading. Come visit me on my blog at or contact me at
She’s Not There, available at

Friday, June 8, 2012

3 Approaches, 1 Subject: Toussaint. Iyer. Staggs.

Salvatore Vuono,
I asked three excellent but very different authors to write a description of this picture. It's fascinating what they saw in the same face. Read them and enjoy the different styles. I think they're terrific.
Riker ducked under the tiki hut overhang. “Barkeep. A beer.”
He slumped into a wobbly chair and took a drag on his cig, willing the nicotene to slow his racing heart.
A mug of beer appeared on the table. “Can’t smoke in here. You know that.”
Darby’s voice had the rasp of a two-pack a day habit, but she was right. He did know better. Leaning over, he stubbed it out on the dirt floor, pocketing the butt.
“You ever thought of walking out of this hellhole and never coming back?” he asked.
“Only about every minute of the day. You wanna be my Sugar Daddy?”
He barked out a laugh, sure an ex-con wasn’t anyone’s idea of a keeper. “You’re all right, Darb.”
She leaned in, expectation brightening her worried face. “Did you do it?”
“I did.” A boom rocked the island. Grinning, he reached for the beer.

The ballroom crackled with silence when he entered, a standout in his black shirt and jeans among the tuxedo-clad gents and polished ladies. A cigarette with a precariously long ash dangled from his lip, breaking hotel rules, I was sure. Something wild flickered in his weary eyes as he scanned the room, settling his gaze on the party’s hostess. Her spine straightened, and she sucked in a breath without expelling it.
I watched. So did everyone else as the lithe stranger strode to stand in front of her. Without a word, he removed the cigarette from his mouth, dropped it on the Persian carpet, and ground out the lighted end with his shoe. The audible intake of breaths increased when he swept her into his arms and kissed her with unrestrained passion. She didn’t resist. The host, who stood silently observing until this minute, stepped forward, then retreated.

He didn’t look much like the picture she gave me, but I knew it was him. The thin, sculpted face in the picture must have seemed handsome to her in a classic Greek way. Now, his skin, blanched of color, seemed stretched over sharpened cheekbones. His dark hair was neatly combed and parted then. Now his overgrown hair flopped like tossed salad, and he had the look of a man who slept in alleys. His sunken, dark-rimmed eyes told me he hadn’t found an alley for several days. I almost felt sorry for him until I looked in those eyes. They still had the sharpness of a predator, one who would focus in on a prey and take whatever he wanted, leaving the remains naked and stripped. He stripped her of everything and she wanted him dead. That’s what she paid me to do. That’s why I was there.
Formerly an aquatic toxicologist contracted to the U.S. Army and currently a freelance reporter, Southern author Maggie Toussaint loves writing mysteries. She’s published four romantic suspenses and four mysteries, with Death, Island Style and Murder in the Buff her most recent releases. Her debut release, House of Lies, won Best Romantic Suspense in the 2007 National Readers Choice Awards. She’s a board member for Southeastern Mystery Writers of America.
Polly Iyer lives in the upstate of South Carolina with her husband, a timid cat, and a drooling mutt who rules the household. Her books always have a murder or two―or three―romance, and at least one character who treads ethical lines. The titles are Hooked, InSight, Mind Games, and Murder Déjà Vu, and they can be found on Amazon. You can find Polly at

Mystery author Earl Staggs recently received his second Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year. His novel MEMORY OF A MURDER earned a long list of Five Star reviews. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society and has seen many of his short stories published in magazines and anthologies. He is a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery and a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars. Email: Website:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Learning to write and bike. Not so different

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This week I'm delighted to welcome debut author Donna Galanti as my guest. Her first mystery, A Human Element, was recently released in print and eBook.
I’ve always loved bike riding. And been a daredevil at it. In the words of Goose and Maverick “I feel the need–the need for speed!” (That applies to skiing too, but speed there ended up in cartwheeling down the mountain to exit on a stretcher. Ahem.)
But back to the open road. Loved biking it ever since I was seven and flew down the hill to crash and burn winning some nasty road rash. Move on to when I was eleven and would bike four miles into our one-stop-sign country town for a popsicle. I had no problem knocking on stranger’s houses on the way back for a drink.
Fast forward to being 30 years old and trekking out on a hand-me-down, rusty, three-speed bike to explore my new place in the country where I lived alone. I shot down random roads at whim. Dark fell. I was totally lost. How to get home? Once again, I knocked on some stranger’s house, this time for directions. I limped back for miles in the pitch black night jumping in the ditch each time a car came barreling along.
Yep. Out on the road alone, no helmet, no water, no headlight, no idea what rules-of-the-road were, and certainly no cell phone. I didn’t know what I was doing and was not prepared at all.
How did I even manage doing it without knowing all I needed to know and being fully equipped? I just did because I loved it so much and couldn’t stop.
It occurred to me that this is just like writing a book. When I sat down and wrote my first book (the manuscript still collecting dust on a shelf) I had no concept of how to do it, what the rules were, or what tools I needed. I just did it. I loved it and how no idea, like my old-days of biking, how unprepared I was. I didn’t know what point-of-view was, head-hopping, story arc, tension on every page, sub-text, plot layers, or personal stakes were. Among many other things.
I wonder now how in the world I even rode wrote before without knowing the rules. I think it was wonderful that I didn’t know the rules. If I had I might have been too overwhelmed to try. It was fun. It was exciting. I couldn’t stop. I had fallen in love with creating stories. I wanted to do it again and again. And I did.
Just like biking. I eventually got a decent bike, helmet, mirror, and all the other gear, and learned the road signals to ride safely (thanks to my sweet husband). I learned to always be prepared. This meant riding with a buddy if possible, telling someone where I would be headed, taking my cell phone, wearing a helmet, carrying extra tire tubes and tools, and bringing water. And I’m glad I did. It helped the summer day two years ago when I crashed and split my helmet open. I survived my crash and burn then because I was prepared.
Since writing that first dust-collector book I have armed myself with writing tools and been learning the rules of writing. This involves going to writing conferences, participating in workshops, reading self-help books from the writing masters, and using editing services. I may have crashed and burned with my first book, but it taught me one thing. I survived it and could write a book. I could write THE END. And that is what motivated me to keep going.
I still don’t have it all down, but I know enough to write a better book now. And I’ll keep learning to write a better book after that. Why? Because like any addiction, I can’t stop. Nor do I want to. And if you love doing something enough don’t you want to be the best you can be at it?

About A HUMAN ELEMENT by Donna Galanti:
One by one, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. The savage killer haunts her dreams, tormenting her with the promise that she is next.
Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite–her hometown. There, she meets Ben Fieldstone, who seeks answers about his parents’ death the night the meteorite struck. In a race to stop a mad man, they unravel a frightening secret that binds them together. But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts Laura and Ben’s emotional relationship and Laura’s pure spirit to the test.
With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to his and she has two choices–redeem him or kill him.
Reviewers are saying…
“A HUMAN ELEMENT is an elegant and haunting first novel. Unrelenting, devious but full of heart. Highly recommended.” –Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling author of DEAD OF NIGHT

Donna Galanti is the author of the paranormal suspense novel A Human Element (Echelon Press). Donna has a B.A. in English and a background in marketing. She is a member of International Thriller Writers, Horror Writers Association, SCBWI, The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, and Pennwriters. She lives with her family in an old farmhouse in PA with lots of nooks, fireplaces, and stinkbugs.
Connect with Donna here:
Purchase A HUMAN ELEMENT here:
Barnes & Noble:

Saturday, June 2, 2012

East Berlin, Imagination in Overdrive

Allied Checkpoint Charlie, 1988

In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, bringing much with it. Certainly not the most important, but still significant to readers was the virtual loss of Cold War spy thrillers, my favorite genre at the time. I was fortunate enough to travel to Germany the year before and spend a short time in East Berlin. We cried at the wall, marked in places by plain white crosses representing people killed trying to cross.
I went through Allied Checkpoint Charlie, which was a thrill for me, having read about it in so many books. The briefing and debriefing we went through there made it all the more interesting. No matter what happened, we were never to talk to or go anywhere with a German officer or policeman. We were told to say "I want to see a Russian officer," even if we were lying in the street with a broken leg. "Grit your teeth and wait for the Russians." This was something to do with the agreements between the four political powers that controlled Berlin--Russia, the United States, Britain, and France.
Ri Lamb, our lovely and patient hostess, also showed us the Glienicke Bridge, popularly known as the Bridge of Spies because of the prisoner exchanges that took place there. I read about it through John Le Carré (in Smiley's People) and Len Deighton (Funeral in Berlin). Funeral in Berlin was made into a movie with Michael Caine. It's a classic.  About 2 minutes in, there's a shot of the bridge.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
We were not allowed to take pictures of any government structures in East Berlin—not that I knew which ones they were—but I can't find a photo of the bridge among my own, so I included a link to a photo taken at the same time.
Much of the damage from WWII was still visible. The Kaiser Wilhelm Church with its bomb-damaged spire was left standing and became a memorial. We saw the Kempinski Hotel, another place supposedly used by spies. Helen MacInnes, another great writer and favorite, wrote The Salzburg Connection, also made into a movie. My imagination was in overdrive the entire trip. I always wanted to write a spy thriller, but I didn’t (and still don't) know enough to pull it off. 
Sniper fire was still evident. The picture of the apartment shows sniper damage around the window. Seeing the results everywhere, from cars with plywood fenders wired to the frame, armed soldiers everywhere (also verboten in photos), and beautiful buildings with missing walls and roofs, brought home the lessons of war and political distrust.
Apartment, sniper fire
Parts of Germany were quite different, peaceful and charming with no reminders of war, but that's another story. I have boxes of photos and a headful of memories from that trip. I still dream of it and revisit in old books. I even started a novel set there.
Do you have special places that fire your imagination and make you dream? Do you enjoy reading about them? Writing about them? What were some of your favorite places? Tell us about them and the books you've read or written.