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,, 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 ( 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 ( 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:

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: 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.

What a Wonder to Win!

Last weekend the 28th Annual Central Coast Writer’s Conference brought a couple hundred writers to San Luis Obispo for some fabulous workshops and fantastic networking opportunities. Poet, actor, novelist, screenwriter, energy dynamo and all-around good-guy comedian Jack Grapes gave a kenote address that thrilled and inspired the entire audience.

Jack Grapes Gving Keynote Speech

Jack Grapes Kept Us Spellbound

Among the presenters was Jeff Carlson of Plague Series fame, who gave us a rundown on how to keep suspense high in our work.

Jeff Carlson Giving Pointers on Suspense

Jeff Carlson Giving Pointers on Suspense

The volunteers kept things running smoothly. We even garnered a lot of compliments for our smiling faces and helpful attitudes. And we all have a blast every year. Some of us have been together for years, under the able leadership of Anna Unkovich, who knows how to get things done, along with Kirk Carmichael from Communiy Services.

The 2012 Group of Volunteers

The Motley Volunteer Group

Volunteer Coordinator Anna Unkovich and Kirk Carmichael

Anna Unkovich and Kirk Carmichael

Conference Director Judy Salamacha (on the left, with book blogger Danielle Smith) lined up a truly stellar faculty. The energy ran high for both of the two bootcamps (Travel Writing, and Tech Toys and Tools) as well as the entire conference. I’ve been attending and/or working the conference since 2005 and I must say this year was the best ever in terms of information, energy and networking.

Conference Director Judy Salamacha and Book Blogger Danielle Smith

Judy Salamacha and Danielle Smith

Best of all, SLO NightWriters again took the lion’s share of the prizes in the Lillian Dean First Page Competition. Of the 13 awards, NightWriter members grabbed 7. Congratulations to: Paul Fahey, Adrienne Harris, Rebecca Waddell (who won two prizes!), Judythe Guarnera, Anna Unkovich – and me!

Susan Tuttle, 2012 Query Letter Winner

Query Lettter Category Winner, Susan Tuttle Reads Her Letter

Yes, that’s me, reading my winning entry. It’s a new category this year, a query letter – limited to 250 words. The judge said that my entry was “perfect.” When I heard that, I leaned over to Debra Davis Hinkle and said, “Well, it sure isn’t mine.” Then they announced my name! I couldn’t believe it. Imagine… hearing that the judge said it was a perfect query letter. My prize is I get to send the first 10 pages of my novel to the Larson-Pomada Agency. I just hope they like it as much as the judge liked the query. And I sure wish I knew who that judge was… (Read my winning query letter on the My Writing Page, Winning Entries)

The Central Coast Writers conference is definitely one not to miss. If you’re in the area next year, don’t miss it!

The Birthday That Went Bad

Anna Unkovich ( sent me this fascinating photo, the third of the trio that told the saga of the setting: one without the cake, one with the cake, and the third with the cake eaten. I found the third to be the most evocative.

Birthday Cake Eaten by One

Only One Place Setting Used


It shows a small glass table for two set for a private celebration. The card is open and, presumably, read, the cake eaten and one plate used. Only one, though it was set for two. The second plate remains pristine, with the napkin still covering its eating surface. Why?

Who are the two people who should have been there, celebrating this birthday? Two lovers, one of whom is married? A married couple? Two friends? What circumstances would have kept one of them away? Perhaps there was an accident. Perhaps the wife (or husband) discovered the illicit affair. Perhaps the friend found something more important to do. Or (given my suspense/mystery roots) perhaps the second person lies elsewhere in the room, dead. Now, there’s a story!

Where is this celebratory venue? In a restaurant, a hotel room, a living room, an office? Why did the one person who came eat the cake all alone? The entire piece of cake was eaten. Was it finished out of spite, or sorrow? And was the person who ate it the one celebrating the birthday, or was the birthday person the one who did not show up?

The story could go anywhere, involve anything. What direction will your story take?

Susan Tuttle

Let me know what this inspires you to write!


(From Write It Right, Volume 1: Story) A person’s quirks and/or weaknesses make them interesting. No one would want to be around someone who is perfect, not for very long—even super heroes have a foot or two of clay in their makeup. Mine your characters’ pasts to find intriguing faults that will make them even more real to your readers.

Cat Falls For Cloth Doll

Even silly snaps we take ourselves can spark some great story ideas. This one I took of my (late) cat, Sir Whikis the Weighty (aka Whiskers) not only makes people laugh, it also gives writers great fodder for story ideas and characters.

Cat sleeping with cloth doll


What has made the cat fall in love with this cloth doll? Why has it become his security blanket? Does he carry it around the house with him. (Yes, he actually did!) What would happen if he could not find the doll? Would he still be able to sleep without his doll with him? What kind of thought process would occur in this cat’s brain when he first saw the doll? If someone took the doll away, what would the cat do? Who does the cat think he’s actually sleeping with when he’s with the doll?

If you translate these images into people, who would they be? Would the cat be a child, clinging to his security blanket because of an unstable home life? Or would it become an old man losing his memory, clinging to a last vestige of his past? Would the doll remain a doll, or would it morph into something of deeper significance to the human character?

Whether you anthropomorphize the cat or turn him human, there are great stories waiting in this photo.

Susan Tuttle

 Comments? Your story ideas from this photo…


“I’m not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for?”          ~Alice Walker

Danger in the Moment?

Sometimes even the most mundane, ill-composed snaps can offer story opportunities. I took this one Christmas while my Dad, Ed Tuttle, was still alive. I don’t remember what he and my cousin Dennis Sullivan were looking at, but my imagination has been supplying all sorts of suggestions.

I think it’s the expressions on the faces that intrigue me so much here. Dad (Ed) looks a bit puzzled and quite sobered by what he is holding. Dennis, on the other hand, has a slight smirk on his face, as though he is privy to a joke only he knows. What could it be? What is Ed holding? Why is it important to either of them?

If you look closer, you can see that Dennis’ expression really is quite enigmatic. Is he really trying to hold back a smirk, or is he on the verge of weeping? Has Dennis given the object to Ed, or is Ed holding it up for Dennis to see? To whom does or did it belong? What is its purpose?

What could evoke such rich emotion in both Ed and Dennis? Does it hold danger for them, or for someone they love? Or is it a mememto from someone they have lost? Or simply a leftover part from a you-built-it Christmas purchase?

Where will this picture take you?

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your ideas from this snapshot…


“Academic Body” by Shirley S. Allen, available on Kindle.

This delightful, classic cozy mystery is well written and superbly plotted. An engrossing read that will keep you guessing right up to the end. One of the best mysteries I’ve read in a long time, with wonderful lead characters that I hope will reappear again and again. Kudos to Anne R. Allen’s 91-year-old mother, Shirley S. Allen, for doing it right.