Category Archives: writing

Where I’m at…

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Where I’m at…

After being in Texas for a while, you begin to pick up some of the jargon. Obviously, I find myself saying ‘y’all’ instead of ‘all of you,’ as if three words were too difficult to say. And instead of saying, ‘where are you?’ for some reason, ‘Where’re you at?’ pops out of my mouth. I do realize that after returning to Canada, I have to let go of my Texas talk. Not that anyone would say anything; folks are much too polite but they might secretly roll their eyes. Canadians are proud of their British roots, which means finishing each word properly and not leaving anything off – like the ‘g’ in words that end with ‘ing.’ It also means speaking slowly and pronouncing each syllable. To Texans, this is a foreign language.

However, I digress. I really do want to tell you where I’m at.

Where I’m at with my writing, that is.

A couple of months ago, I was not pleased with how my writing was going. Basically,  that is because it was going nowhere. It wasn’t that I wanted or had the desire to become a well known author or even make tons of money. I wanted to enjoy what I was doing but I was not. That’s where I was at then.

I decided to change my whole outlook about writing. Writing should be fun. I did not want it to be stressful in any way. When I’m not writing, there is something missing in my life. It’s good for my brain. It forces me to widen my vocabulary. In other words, it’s healthy. Especially as we age.

I was never satisfied with two of my books and I always thought that if someone read one of those books first, they would never want to read another. It feels terrible not liking your own books. However, they were there for anyone to buy. Overnight, I made the decision to republish all my books. It was as if a weight lifted off my shoulders. When you decide to do this without any premeditation, it is like plunging into a pool of cold water!

While family members worked on covers, I edited one book at a time. After publishing my books the first time, I never picked one up to read. I was too afraid they might be as bad as some reviewers wrote. Well, guess what? I read, I edited, I did some rewriting, and in the end, I thoroughly enjoyed every book! Creating covers was a bit of a challenge but I have a very talented daughter, and together with her dad’s finishing touches, I was very pleased with the end result. They were ‘me.’

I now have all my books on Kindle for 99 cents and they will stay that price. These I write for friends and family and for anyone else who would enjoy reading them. Every few weeks, I will pick one book and do a free promotion. I feel happy doing this.

And, that is where I’m at.

New Year, New Ideas

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Happy New Year! I love setting New Year Resolutions, but here’s my trick to success. I never write them down! That way, by the end of the year, I don’t remember what they were so I don’t remember if I didn’t get where I thought I was going.

In 2016, I do remember one of my goals – to have my new series published by a small press instead of my own imprint, as I do with my Jake & Emma series. That’s when I approached Cozy Cat Press, a publisher I’d had my eye on for a year or more. I’m happy to say that’s one resolution I achieved! The Deadly Art of Deception was released September 30.

In 2017, I hope to release the second book in that series and the (oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m saying this) the sixth Jake & Emma. I’m also planning to devote more time to my writing since I’ve been writing pretty much whenever I feel the inspiration. That’s nice, but it doesn’t get much writing done! I’ve started writing every day but Sunday and it’s been great. I’ve already written two short stories based on my daily writing prompts.

My second resolution is to start working my way through my “to be read” pile. Do you have books waiting for you? I have them in my e-reader, on my shelf and stacked on the bedside table!

What are your plans for the new year?

Made it by the skin of my teeth!

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Made it by the skin of my teeth!

Since the beginning of August, I have been thinking about posting a blog the second Thursday of the month. That used to be my day on the schedule. We now have no schedule so we can post whenever we like. That really throws a person off. I happen to be a person of habit.

So, this is what I’d like to talk about – habits!

There are good and bad habits as everyone knows. People struggle to overcome bad ones and struggle to start new ones. Habits are a bit like New Year’s resolutions – we try to break old habits too quickly or try to develop too many new ones all at once and get frustrated.

Let’s say we smoke, have poor eating habits, and don’t exercise at all. One morning, we wake up with a horrible cough, believe we might have lung cancer, so decide to stop smoking that very day. Since the other two habits tend to cause health problems too, we decide to not only stop smoking but eat properly and exercise.   Our goal is to exercise an hour a day and go vegetarian. We plan to begin immediately.

How long do you think our grand transformation will last? Maybe until noon if we’re lucky. Why? Because we’ve bitten off more than we can chew. Breaking or changing a habit has to be a slow process. You have to be able to visualize the end result and keep it always in your mind. Perhaps, you will be able to break the smoking habit after three months. If that is your goal, it will seem more achievable. If you want to start exercising, why not start with fifteen minutes a day or a half hour three times a week? And you want to become a vegetarian?  After a week, you might cave in, eat a huge double bacon cheeseburger, and give up. Maybe try eating a meatless meal once or twice a week to start out.

And what about writing habits? Do you have a certain routine you have to go through? I do. I have a certain place where I always write. It’s like my brain doesn’t function anywhere else. Do I start writing immediately? No, I have a habit of checking out certain websites before I can begin. And when my mind is going too fast for my fingers to type, I stop and play Mahjong Tiles! Those are my writing habits. They are actually kind of silly but they seem to work for me and I believe they are quite harmless.

Well, this wasn’t a profound blog but it did get published on the second Thursday of the month. I will now make it a habit to mark it on my calendar.

Happy writing everyone!

Watch Your Mouth!

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oh-my for blog

I admit to having a bit of a potty mouth – after all, I grew  as an Army brat and heard foul language with some frequency. My mom would caution me, “Watch your mouth, young lady,” when she heard me use a mild expletive. In today’s culture, those words would hardly be noticed.

After retiring from a long career in telephony, God got hold of me and dragged me to seminary. (Can you tell it was a bit of a struggle?) I had to give up a lot of things to comply, including the occasional cuss word.

Which brings me to my current dilemma. I write mystery novels, and they are not in the Christian fiction category. While my protagonist, private investigator Angie Bonaparte, uses fairly inoffensive language, my writerly instincts tell me that neither her homicide detective boyfriend nor the killers necessarily would. So what’s a woman who wants to paint a realistic picture and yet not violate her internal standards to do?

An interesting article by Elizabeth Sims helped me to clarify my thinking on the subject. She defines the subsets of foul language thusly:

  • Profanity – using God’s name in improper, irreligious ways. My books don’t include this kind of usage.
  • Cursing – calling on God to deliver a bad outcome, as in damning someone. I’ve been known to use ‘dammit’ as a sign of frustration by Angie’s guy, Wukowski. After all, as Ms. Sims notes, “characters do need a verbal pressure valve.”
  • Swearing – making an oath to God. “I swear, next time I’ll …” This one has lost its original oath-making impact from normal usage.
  • Obscenity – the infamous f-bomb is the most egregious example. I don’t let that litter my pages.
  • Vulgarity – a word that is considered impolite, often used for body functions. Since Angie is a former librarian turned PI, her vocabulary is up to the challenge of using language in ways that don’t require vulgarity. Wukowski is not crass enough to indulge in that kind of language.

Are there readers who object to even the mildest use of these kinds of words? Yes. Amazon reviews sometimes include a comment to that effect. But a writer has to decide who her audience is and how best to engage them. My work is not so pure that I could submit it to a Christian publishing house, nor is it so offensive that I am embarrassed to have church friends or seminary professors read it. My mom’s stricture to “watch my mouth” has extended into the written words that I produce. I think she would approve.

This link will take you to Ms. Sims’ insightful post: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-use-profanity-and-other-raw-talk-in-your-fiction

Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary

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by Sally Carpenter

The inspiration for this post came in an unusual way. In my day job, I work at a community newspaper. Recently an editor asked if I’d cover the opening of the “Vatican Splendors” exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, a mere 20-minute drive from my house.

So I went on the “Splendors” press tour a mere two days before the library closed for Nancy Reagan’s funeral preparations. Talk about timing. Anyway, the exhibit has many artifacts and artworks rarely seen in or outside Rome.

One of my favorites was a large oil painting from the Renaissance titled “The Supper of Emmaus” by the workshop of Francesco or Leandro Bassano (sons of the better known Jacopo Bassano).

The work is an unusual retelling of the story from Luke’s gospel of the resurrected Jesus having a meal in the town of Emmaus with two of his disciples, who don’t recognize him at first.

The house and clothing are from the 16th century. Servants are bustling about, cooking dinner in a fireplace. Plucked chickens hang from the ceiling. A dog barks at a cat. I was the only person in my tour group who notice that the cat was clutching a mouse (a common sight in my yard). In the center of the picture a seated man, probably the homeowner, gazes off in thought.

Tucked back in the right hand corner is a table with Jesus, the two disciples and a servant boy waiting on them.

What the painting says to me is that the household residents are so preoccupied with their daily work that they are oblivious of the special guest under their roof. Not even the disciples can see the greatness in their midst.

As mystery writers our job is to find the extraordinary events taking place in the mundane world. Our amateur sleuths go about their usual habits when bam! A dead body appears. Their routines are disrupted and chaos ensues until the killer is found. Plenty of tension for the hero, but fun for the reader.

Most people live uneventful lives that would make for dull reading. It’s that extraordinary incident that kicks the story into high gear.

In my series, my hero is either the one who finds the body, or the victim dies in his arms. This gets him out of his rut and off on his own investigation.

So I keep my eyes open for those exciting events that I can use to write a good story. I try not to miss the special guest in the house.

 

 

 

 

Musical chapter headers

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By Sally Carpenter

One distinct feature of my cozies is that I use song titles as my chapter headers. My protagonist is a former teen idol, so the story is heavy into music. And just saying “chapter one, “chapter two,” etc. is so bland.

The title makes some reference to what’s in the chapter so I can keep track of the action. And I just like the challenge and fun of finding songs to fit the story; it amuses me.

Below are the chapter titles to my upcoming cozy. “The Quirky Quiz Show Caper.” See if you know the artist who recorded the song.

1. Monday, Monday

2. I Want To Know

3. We Just Disagree

4. Carry On Wayward Son

5. Be True to Your School

6. Stiletto

7. (It’s a) Family Affair

8. If You’ve Got Trouble

9. Call Me

10. Games People Play

11. Xanadu

12. Listen to the Band

13. Sometimes She’s a Little Girl

14. Saturday in the Park.

15. Up, Up and Away

16. We Can Work It Out

17. FM (No Static at All)

18. (I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden

19 You Won’t See Me

20. Diary

21. Your Lying Eyes

22. Mr. Success

23. Thanks for the Pepperoni

24. I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind

26. Garden Party

26. Live and Let Die

27. Last Dance

Answers:

1. The Mamas and The Papas

2. Eric Clapton and The Powerhouse

3. Dave Mason

4. Kansas

5. The Beach Boys

6. Billy Joel

7. Sly and the Family Stone

8. Beatles, but didn’t appear until “Anthology”

9. Blondie

10. The Spinners

11. Olivia Newton-John from the movie soundtrack

12. The Monkees

13. Boyce and Hart

15. Fifth Dimension

16. Beatles again

17. Steely Dan

18. Lynn Anderson

19. Beatles one more time

20. Bread on the original version but Micky Dolenz recorded it years later

21. The Eagles

22. First recorded by Frank Sinatra but I have a version by Bobby Sherman

23. Extra points as this one’s obscure. An instrumental jam on the third disc of George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” opus.

24. Monkees once more

25. Ricky Nelson

26. Paul McCartney and Wings

27. Donna Summers.

 

 

 

Love me as I am…

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I was thinking today about all the wonderful friends I have right now and those I’ve had throughout the years. It’s quite amazing how people become good friends. Who chooses whom? Do you know what I mean? I have met women that within minutes, I knew we would be friends. There is this certain chemistry which is hard to explain. It goes beyond what we have in common because I have absolutely nothing in common with some of my best friends. I enjoy their differences and for some unknown reason, they enjoy mine. Go figure!

I have friends who suffer from depression but we are able to laugh together. One friend happens to be a big-time hypochondriac and when we get together, we share our aches and pains. She knows the name of every brand of medication from the cure for headaches to the diet for diverticulosis. If I’m not feeling well, she is the one who shows the most empathy.

Four years ago, I met up with my first roommate after many years of not seeing each other or keeping in touch. We shared the attic suite in an old house back in 1963! What did we do when we got together? We laughed and acted like we were twenty again. It was so easy to pick up where we left off.

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Ah, but what is the connection to writing? It is wonderful to write about friends. The two main characters in my Parson Cove mystery series are best friends – lifelong friends. And, they are as opposite as chalk and cheese.

As lovely as it would be to write solely about the fun and enjoyment best friends share, there is always a need for conflict. Believe it or not, a book gets quite boring if everything is always hunky-dory. So, we need to create a character that stirs our emotions in other ways. If we’re writing a mystery, we obviously don’t want to end up loving the killer and feeling disappointed when he or she gets caught. We might love them at the beginning of a story but as the story unfolds, we have to see some characteristics that we don’t particularly like. We also have to see the imperfections in the good characters; otherwise it would be too easy to pick out who ‘did it.’

No matter how wonderful we think people are, we know we all have our shortcomings. For example, Mabel Wickles, my protagonist in my cozy mystery series, even irritates me sometimes. Why is she so snoopy? Why does she get herself into such dangerous situations? And then, there’s Flori Flanders – why does she cry over every little thing?

And my wonderful friends? They are also imperfect – just like me! I am forever grateful that they overlook my shortcomings and love me as I am.

http://authorsdb.com/breaking-news/21110-the-widow-s-walk

I love revisions

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By Sally Carpenter

Last week I checked out “The Muppet Show Season One” from my hometown library. The discs have a feature that allows interesting trivia to pop up on the screen during the show. I’ve learned how some of the Muppet characters evolved over several episodes.

In episode 7, for the first time Kermit shows he has a temper. A different puppeteer operated Miss Piggy before Frank Oz took her over. Over several episodes Miss Piggy’s voice became more feminine and her personality deepened. Fozzie began as just a bad comic but over time acquired more sympathetic traits.

I’ve also been listening to my Beatles Anthology records (yes, vinyl). A number of the cuts are early takes on the songs. Some of the tunes required dozens of takes-revisions if you will-before the song was perfect. It’s fascinating to hear how a complex song began with just a few chords on the guitar and some lyrics.

I used this as an example of how revisions can help any work of art.

Many writers hate revisions. They write one draft of a piece and consider it finished. Granted, this is a big time saver. Writers who face tight deadlines may need to rush out a piece out just so they can move on to the next project.

A few authors can get away with this, but the majority of writers need to go back and refine their work. Very few works are ready to go from the outset.

I look at writing like crafting a jewel. Gemstones dug from the ground look like rocks. They must be cut and polished to achieve their beauty. Likewise, I see each revision as cutting another facet and adding another layer of polish until my work shines.

My first drafts are just to dump the information on the page. It’s to get the ideas down so I can see what I have. I often don’t have character names at this point. The first draft is largely dialogue with little description of setting, clothing or faces.

In the second draft I rearrange material, shift scenes around, name characters, look for repetition, and start to work on the dialogue. I also spot continuity errors. In one chapter of my WIP, my protagonist left his house riding his motorcycle and returned driving his car! I also found I needed to add more red herrings.

I’m in the third draft of my WIP. The characters are taking on more shape, so I’m smoothing out their dialogue. I’m adding description as well and making sure the plot makes sense.

What makes revisions fun in that in each pass, the story gets better and I see the improvement. The downside is that revisions are time consuming. I want to get my book on the market soon, but it’s better to take my time and make sure it’s the best story it can be instead of rushing out a book with errors.

So I’m off to work on my book some more. And mostly likely some more after that.

 

The Review

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This is one of an author’s favorite topics (or not). We wait and watch for them. At least, those of us who are still unsure of our writing capabilities do.  If we are favored with a five star, our feet don’t even touch the ground. We never doubted that our book was anything less than five. Without saying it aloud, we are reassured that we are writers.

“It deserves a rating of 5 stars. Could not put it down!”

 

On the other hand, there are those nightmarish one star reviews. Has this reader even read our fifty thousand-plus word novel that took us almost a year to write? A year of struggle and loneliness? Days spent bent over our computer trying hard to overcome a writer’s block?  What’s wrong with these people anyway? Even if my story wasn’t as great as John Grisham’s latest novel, it certainly doesn’t deserve one star!

AVOID THIS MESS!” (one star!)

That got me thinking – how did writers in the past feel about book reviews? Were they as emotionally affected by what other people said or wrote about their work? I discovered that we are pansies when it comes to expressing our thoughts and feelings about book reviews or the publishing industry as a whole for that matter.

In 1846, Sir Edgar Allen Poe said that book reviews were a sham and riddled with nepotism. In his own words, he wrote, “We place on paper without hesitation a tissue of flatteries, to which in society we could not give utterance, for our lives, without either blushing or laughing outright.” Now I really can’t say I understand exactly what Sir Edgar was trying to tell us because no one has been quite that flattering to me; I just know he didn’t think much of book reviews. Several years later, H.L. Mencken spoke of the “inconceivable complacency and conformity” of journalistic criticism.

In 1891, Henry James, complained that we publish too many reviews and none of value. (I like his way of thinking!) Reviewing, he said, was all chatter and lacked ‘concrete literary fact.’ In 1928, Edmund Wilson wrote, “It is astonishing to observe, in America, in spite of our floods of literary journalism, to what extent the literary atmosphere is a non-conductor of criticism.”

As the years go by, I seem to reflect on some of my reviews with much more tolerance and humor. For example, one reader felt that reading my book was as painful as sticking a needle in her eye! (Personally, I have never tried that but I imagine the reader has!) Actually, I have had a similar feeling about some books that I’ve read but would I write a review saying that? Never! I know how much work goes into writing and even if it isn’t ‘my kind’ of book, I give the writer credit for the many hours of hard work he or she put into it. No one spends that amount of time writing simply to irritate readers. Not that I would give five stars for a book that I absolutely disliked; however, there is always something positive to say about any book – even if it’s only to commend the writer for the character names!

So, when all is said and done, reviews are always someone else’s viewpoint and that’s all it is – their viewpoint. We always hope everyone will love our books but that isn’t reality – some will give us five stars and some (unfortunately) will give us the dreaded one star! Let’s humbly learn from both.

http://www.amazon.com/Sharon-Rose/e/B00BL8HTZY/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1

 

My Cousin’s Beautiful Village?

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San Martin du varMy cousin lives in a  beautiful French village much like this one.  I think it would be wonderful to create characters and write a series of books about the people who live, love and work there.  I would create farmers and shopkeepers and crazy artists and marvelous cooks and wayward children and good children and strange pets for them.

I would write about my characters in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Every week my characters would visit a festival in a nearby village. Occasionally a visitor or two would work their way into the plot.  Some may decide to settle in my village.  Every time a new person moves into my village they would struggle to find their place in the social structure, which would upset the current hierarchy and create even more plot lines.

I would name the streets and the people and the mountains and even the colors of the buildings.  I would even be in charge of the weather.  My readers would know what to expect. Like both Maeve Binchy and Jan Karon  I would write about my world again and again.

But that is not what I do.  My writing partner Margaret and I write about two cousins of the same age whose lives span nearly the entire twentieth century.  One is a competent professional woman with children before the term even existed.  But what about the other one?  Well, much of the time both the readers and I are trying to figure out what she is doing.  Her name is Moira and she experiences WWII in England and the Cold War in America.  I am NOT in charge of Moira.  She is in charge of me and, unfortunately, she likes to tell me what to write at two o’clock in the morning.