On Writing and Staying Alive

Let’s face it. Writing is a sedentary profession. Unless we’re out hiking the hills to find the perfect spot for John to propose to Mary, or cruising the town’s streets and back alleys looking for body dumps, we’re sitting in a chair, fingers on keyboard, for long stretches of time. Our minds might be going a mile a minute, fingers racing to keep up, but our bodies are quiescent, patiently awaiting release. And when the writing is cruising at “don’t bother me, I’m in the zone” light speed, our physical form can have a long, tiring wait, indeed.

Though some of us are of a “certain age” and therefore more at risk, this advice, gleaned from very painful personal experience, pertains to everyone who applies seat of pants to chair for longer than an hour at a time.

Trust me, the doctors were abundantly clear on this point. It matters not that you go to the gym three times a week, or walk a mile or two every day, or are still in the twenty- or thirty-something range. The very sedentariness of writing can cause a life-threatening condition: Emboli.

In other words, blood clots. They can appear anywhere, usually in the legs or lungs. They can form without warning, regardless of your age or physical condition. And you can die from them. Quickly. Painfully. Here’s the best way to make sure this doesn’t happen to you:

  1. Drink lots of water while you work. Not coffee, tea or soda, but water. At least 12 ounces every hour.
  2. Ditch the marathon writing sessions. You might have a deadline, but you can’t make it if you’re dead yourself. Never sit for more than one hour in one session. At the end of every hour get up and walk around the house. Refill that water bottle. Check the weather. Make the bed. Set a timer for one hour (or forty-five minute) segments, write like crazy until it goes off, then get up. Your bonus? Timed writing helps turn off your Inner Critic because you don’t have time to listen to it.
  3. Eat regular, well-balanced meals. Nutrition is vital to the smooth workings of your interior parts. Don’t skip or skimp on meals because you’re on deadline or in the “zone” and oblivious to the passing of time. It’s better to eat 5 or 6 small meals than 2 or 3 large ones. Plus, you gave to get up and move around to fix a meal and eat it.

Following this advice will help ensure you’re still around to see your work in print. And collect those awards. It’s also good advice to follow when engaged in any sedentary activity or hobby, like watching TV, or knitting, beading, quilting and other crafts.

Stay healthy!

Craft Fairs and Submachine Guns

Here, at a local craft fair last Saturday, our two Sisters in Crime(SinC) tables of books sit surrounded by an abundance of yarn, beads, paper and ceramics. Local authors smile, ready to autograph their volumes. Yet attendees walk past our offerings without even acknowledging the fact that our tables are here, offering as holiday gifts some fantastic mystery/suspense books for sale. We are, to all intents and purposes, invisible.

Tony Piazza, Sue McGinty and Victoria Heckman

SinC Authors Tony Piazza, SueMcGinty and Victoria Heckmann. Photo by Susan Piazza

Funny how we writers enthuse about our ‘craft’ and work hard at ‘crafting’ our stories into a true art form, yet the public doesn’t see it as a craft. Or an art. They walk by, noses in the air, heads turned, as though we are interlopers among the handcrafted jewelry, scarves, hats, soaps, toys, cards and exotic canned goods.

Where are the readers? Do they not go to craft fairs, especially at this time of year? I know that wherever I am, whatever the venue, I immediately gravitate to any book stall, whether I buy or not. I never walk by and say nothing. I make eye contact, smile and say, “Hi.” I do not act as though if I so much as looked at the booksellers they would pull out an submachine gun and drill me full of holes, or kidnap me and lock me in a room with a diet of bread, water and unintelligible translations of Cicero.

SinC authors Susan Tuttle, Barbara Hodges and her mother

SinC authors Susan Tuttle and Barbara Hodges (with her mother) – Photo by Susan Piazza

Have we become a society of specialization to the point that the craft of writing has no place except in its own isolated venue? It seems only writers consider writing a craft that becomes, in its own right, a form of art. And yet at art and craft fairs, books seem to have no place. Perhaps we need to educate the general public of the place writing has in our society. If we don’t, it’s quite possible that books will forever more be relegated to online stores, and we writers will have to retire our special autograph pens.

And the world will be the poorer for it.

(Thanks to Tony and Susan Piazza for the photos. See Tony’s website at: www.authortonypiazza.com)

And Oh! The Thanks!

I have so much to be thankful for this year, and this Thanksgiving Day “zone” has brought it home to me in a way I’ve never before experienced. Here’s my gratitude, not in any order of importance, because to me they are all equally important!

I am thankful for, first of all, the fact that I am still here to enjoy this amazing world gifted to us by our Creator. And grateful that, through His grace, I’m here to ejnoy it.

Rainbow Over Morro Bay, CA

Nature’s Thank You

I hadn’t realized how close I came to not being here until a visiting nurse set me straight. So, Thank You to French Hospital in San Luis Obispo (SLO) and SLO Transitional Care for your gentleness, expertise and diligence in saving my life.

Second, I am grateful for all my wonderful church friends,

Seder Meal at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church

A Seder Meal on Holy Thursday at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Los Osos, CA

(I’m so happy to be back singing and cantoring again) and my writer friends,

Susan Tuttle Author - Volunters for the CCWC

Central Coast Writer’s Conference Volunteers – great writers all

whose care, concern and love pulled me through. Without all those prayers, I don’t think I would be here. I’m so grateful to be out and about among you once again.

Third, I’m grateful for my wonderful, amazing son, from whom I have (finally!) learned a “can do” attitude.

Author Susan Tuttle with son, Arron Kondziel

My 21st Century Renaissance Man Son

He’s a true 21st Century Renaissance Man (writer, cinematographer, musician, composer, etc.) and my computer guru, cover designer, cheerleader and first line of defense against doubt.

And, of course, I’m so very grateful to all my readers. You give me courage and purpose in life. So, my final gratitude is that I’m back at the computer, putting words down on paper, for readers everywhere to enjoy. I thank you all.


Flowers of Fire

Here’s a shot from the movie Cleric, taken by Aaron Kondziela (used with permission) and posted on his website (www.aaronkondziela.com) It’s very obscurity lends itself to an amazing array of interpretations.

Flowers of Fire


At a quick glance, these two objects could be flowers. You can see the way the petals curve around each other, almost feel their velvety softness. The darkness of the background makes all the other elements nearly vanish, so that the barely-visible black column in the center could be the stalk of the plant on which these lovely golden flowers are blooming. Below them a nascent bloom begins to unfurl in the linearly cultivated field.

But a closer look reveals tiny glimpses of chains attached to the golden objects. The striations on the ground could be the planks of a floor. The object on the left suggests movement at its edges, as does the small yellow spot on the floor. Is it held in a hat of some sort, or perhaps an iron ring? Maybe the dark column is a post of some sort to which the chains are attached. For what purpose?

What are the golden yellow objects made of? Some sort of fabric gathered into itself, perhaps. Something soft, held together by the chains, though the one on the left appears to be shredding with the movement. Are they inanimate, or living beings of some sort?

What is the purpose of these objects that so closely resemble flowers? What is making at least the one on the left move? Are they being manipulated by an invisible force, or are they sentient in themselves, moving with intelligent intent? What do they want, and what will they do to get it? One wonders where this place is, what kind of setting these objects inhabit. Perhaps a deep cave below the surface of the Earth. Or another planet altogether…

Share your ideas of what this picture inspires in you.
Susan Tuttle

Writing Tip: Read the pages you wrote during your last writing session and make “tweak” edits to them as you go. Helps make final revisions less painful, and gets you back into the flow of your story for your current writing session. (From: Write It Right, Vol 13: Technicals and Editing)

Smacked Down By Life

I wanted to apologize to everyone for not fixing the last post’s broken link sooner, but I’ve been smacked down by an unexpected illness. Included an unscheduled hospital stay that trransitioned to a rehab place, from which I hope to return home by next week sometime. Just got back to the computer today…

Frustrating, but what the heck, it’s all research, right? I’m already revising plans for a book I’m working on to take advantage of my new-found “medical knowledge.”

The link should be working now, I hope, though why they keep breaking on me I can’t figure out. It’s a puzzle for my computer guru, who’s still dealing with Sandy’s aftermath where he lives in Western New York. Keeping fingers crossed that we can solve the problem permanently sometime soon.

Will work on my weekly photo posts as I can. They may be a little late, but it’s a priority for me. Hope to get tomorrow’s started after I have a needed rest today…

Stay tuned, it’ll be worth it, I promise!


Just A Little Attitude

There’s enough attitude in this photo to fuel a whole gaggle of stories. It comes courtesy of Aaron Kondziela, www.aaronkondziela.com, who snapped it while on the set of the indie film, Cleric. It’s a character from a surreal, dystopian world sure to jump-start your imagination as well as a few nightmares.

Evil Baddie with weapon from the movie Cleric

Ready to Kill

Obviously, he’s a bad guy. In a very brutal world. Survival is uppermost in his mind. He’ll do what he has to do, no matter what. To anyone, no matter who. He carries a rusted (blood-stained?) scissor-like weapon that could cut off fingers or hands. He wears a bandolier studded with ammunition. Who does he work for? What does he get out of it? What has happened to the world to turn this man into the monster he has become?

But look closer. There are a couple of hints of who he used to be – before the awful thing that happened, that destroyed his world. The tattoo on his neck is a flower, a symbol of beauty and serenity. Why? When did he get it? What does it mean? And his coat is fine wool with gold buttons, obviously well cared for in a world where nothing matters but survival. Why? What significance does this expensive jacket have for this man?

Who was he? Who has he lost? What does he cling to? What kind of eyes lurk behind those dark, ancient aviator goggles?

He wears a spiked collar with a ring in front. Is it just to strike terror into the hearts of his enemies and victims? Or is he, too, a victim of circumstance, of the horror that has overtaken the world? Is he a prisoner himself, chained by the neck to a wall at night, forced to do an evil master’s bidding? Look at his nails – are they colored for effect, or discolored by disease, malnutrition or abuse?

What kind of society do you see in this photo that would produce a man such as this? Is it on earth after a devastating war, nuclear holocost or technological disaster? Or is this another world in another galaxy, where life has always been brutal and beauty is to be hoarded – if it can be found?

Keep on writing!

Writing Tip: from Write It Right, Volume 4: Point of View
It’s important to understand the various types of POV – straight, omniscient or classic cmniscient – so we can choose the correct one (or combination) for each story. Knowing the right POV helps us, as writers, understand whose story it is, and which character can tell it best.

Fire Sky

Here’s a fantastic photo from Sharon Esposito (www.murderinparadise.com). She graciously posted it on WANA Commons for writers to use, and the minute I saw it I knew it was perfect for my blog. It’s an exotic, fasctinating and intriguing view of a sky that appears to be on fire. Truly an amazing setting fit for an amazing story.

Silhouettes of trees against a flaming magenta sky

Sky on Fire

The first question that came to my mind is, where is this place? What kind of planet would have a sky that flames like this? Or is it somewhere here on earth, and perhaps trees further away that are on fire are lending their flaming beauty to the sky? Or is this just a phenomenonal mixture of clouds, atmosphere and a setting sun?

If this is a real fire, what caused it? How long has it been burning? Will it reach these trees and destroy them? How far will it go? There may be a village or city nearby. Is it in danger from the fire? Look at the sky. Are those clouds reflecting the setting sun, or poisonous smoke from the fire filling the heavens?

Who lives in this place? Where are the people, the animals, the birds? Or is this planet deviod of life, awaiting discovery by intrepid Terrans? What would it be like to live in a place where the sky caught fire – literally – every night?

What if this place were a person? Who would that person be? How would the fire, the smoke, the dark silhouette of the trees translate into human form? What kind of personality would this human have? What kind of outlook on life? What kind of morals and mores? Would this be male or female, good or bad? Or somewhere in between?

What do you see in this flaming sky? Let me know!

Words To Write By:
“If you don’t read for pleasure, you’ll lose your edge as a writer.”  ~Nora Roberts

The View from the Window

This sweet little photo by Roland Portillo (www.flickr.com/rolandbp) gives a writer a lot to think about. Cats are such interesting creatures. Whole volumes could be written on what fascinates a cat, since they so often stare intensely at what appears to be nothing. Here, the subject of this fascination is left to the imagination.

Cat sitting on small side table staring out window through lace curtain.

Fascinated Cat

What could be outside that window that has captured this cat’s attention? A bird, perhaps, or another cat. Maybe there is a fly or spider inching its way up the window, behind the curtain. Perhaps the cat can see into the house next door. Or could it merely be the shadows of clouds in the sky, or a passing airplane that has riveted this animal so?

Whose house is this? Is the cat allowed on the table? What ways might the owner have tried to keep the animal off it? And why is the cat on the table, and not on the back of the upholstered chair where it could stretch out and get truly comfortable? Was there anything else on the table that perhaps the cat’s tail has shoved onto the floor? What would it be?

The table holds a lovely Tiffany-style lamp, but there is only one bulb in it. Why? And why are there no magazines in the magazine holder at the base of the table? Who owns this house, and why have they not utilized the table fully? And what is the curly cord that is draped over the arm of the chair? If this is an adjustable chair, it could be simply the control for it. But if it’s not, maybe the telephone receiver has been buried in the crevice between arm and seat. Why? Who would have done it?

If this cat were a person, what kind of person would it be? How would its cat-like traits translate into human form? Who do you find in this picture, in this cat?

Happy wrting!

I Recommend: Any of Eric Jerome Dickey’s Gideon series: Dying for Revenge, Waking With Enemies, Sleeping With Strangers, Resurrecting Midnight. Gideon is one of the most fascinating anti-heroes to come along the anti-hero pike, and Dickey’s unique voice makes danger dangerously fascinating. Definitely a great series read, well written and superbly crafted.


Frustration, Thy Name Is Technology!

Okay, I’m stumped. My computer keeps telling me that the link to Mark Arnold’s great Sci-fi short, If Wishes Were Horses, is broken. BUT: when I click on the broken link, it takes me there anyway. Still, to be fair to everyone, I’ve tried taking it out and putting it back in a dozen or so times. And every time it comes up broken!

Don’t ask me. Technology has me pulling out my hair – and I don’t have enough to lose! I can’t figure out what the problem is, so until I can get to my computer Guru (at least one of them), if you want to check out Mark’s wonderful story – well worth the $1.99, by the way – just open a new tab and type in the bitly address: bit.ly/QGEgnB

That will take you right to his page. Then just click on the book cover to get more information on the book and how to orer it. Meanwhile, I’ll be pulling out my hair over all this conflicting, confusing technology, and checkingout wigs on the net! Hmmm… wonder how I’ll look as a redhead…

Harses, Harses on the Beach

If you’re looking for a truly evocative photo for ideas for characters or stories, here’s a fantastic one from writer/photographer Mark Arnold (you can find his sci-fi novella here: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/93948) California’s Central Coast is a treasure trove of photo opportunities, none more so than Morro Bay with its mystifying, mythic Rock looming just off-shore. And being in the right place at the right time doesn’t hurt, either.

Three riders on the beach in front of Morro Rock

Harses, Harses on the Beach

This photo blew me away, especially since Mark took it with his phone camera! He calls it “Harses.” It tells a whole story in itself: the lowering, threatening sky, the huge rock lurking just offshore, the three riders walking their horses at the waterline. One almost feels as though one has moved back in time to the early days of Anglo settlement of the Pacific shores.

But what else can a writer see here besides the Wild West? Perhaps it is because I know Mark writes the most amazing sci-fi, but I wonder about that Rock – or is it a rock? What if it were alive, an alien sea creature lying in wait for unsuspecting riders to wander by? Do the riders sense the danger? Is that why they are walking their horses instead of galloping by as fast as they can?

What kind of monster is this lying in wait? Maybe a creature risen from the depths of the sea, or an alien who crash landed in the ocean. And the shapes on the beach, are they merely clumps of seaweed washed up with the tide, or could they be previous victims of the Rock Creature? Or maybe they are baby rock creatures that have just been hatched and are migrating to the water.

Another look at the photo shows one rider has moved a bit away from the other two. Why?  Is this rider reluctant to accompany the other two? Or perhaps he/she does not want to rider any closer to the hulk in the water.

Who are these riders? They could simply be horse owners or lovers out for an early morning ride. But their motive could be more nefarious. Is one a kidnap victim being taken to a hidden place along the shore? Are they inspecting private property that fronts the ocean with an eye to wresting possession from the rightful owner? Or is this a post-Apocalyptic world and horses are the only transport available?

Are those threatening clouds that fill the sky, a presage of dangerous weather to come? Perhaps the air is merely filled with the misty marine layer that usually greets each summer morning along this shore. But maybe the mist is alive, rising into the air from the surface of the ocean waters, seeking what – Food? Slaves? Victims? As these riders come closer and closer to the Rock, will they merely continue on past it, or find themselves transported through the mists to another dimension? And what will they find there?

Who ever thought an early morning ride could be so story-inspiring?


Words To Write With: Lubricious
Definition: (adj. Lat.) offensively displaying or intended to arouse sexual desire; smooth and slippery with oil or similar substance.
Synonyms: slick, greasy, unctuous
Usage: His lubricious smile made her wish she hadn’t agreed to be alone with him.