This sweet photo is sure to spark some creativity. What do you see here? Who is this garden fairy? What is she reading? What does she do when no one is watching, when the night is dark and all are asleep? Just how magical is she?
Today we have one of my favorite authors, Shirley Radcliff Bruton. To me, she is the quintessential poet who recently began to meander over into pose. But, no matter what she writes, poetry or prose, she adds an element of elegance, a delving into the deepest parts of our psyches, a poetic drumbeat that echoes in every word. What she writes grabs hold of you with the gentlest, kindest of hands, and doesn’t let go. Here she talks about writing both poetry and prose.
Writing poetry is a gift. Writing prose is a learning process. I have an idea in mind when I write in both genres, it’s just that one flows easier than the other.
I had a wonderful introduction into fiction writing by Susan Tuttle. Susan’s writing class took me down a non-intuitive road. I felt like my mind was exploding, trying to grasp what she was saying and then apply it to her short writing exercises. She was kind and patient.
Susan is a great observer, challenging me every step of the way. Even though sometimes I don’t like to hear it, most often I learn a great deal from her and my rewrites. The Friday Night Writers’ Group, of which she is a member, is another source of learning. We all treat each other with great respect, while not holding back our critiques. They’re wonderful teachers!
I recently read A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. What a brilliant writer. You drop into this story like room temperature butter to toast. I was totally captivated. I watched the movie (same name) twice on Netflix. He writes for YA audiences.
It still amazes me, but I have two books of prose coming out this year:
Z is a book for 5 years and up. It’s an illustrated picture book. The main character is Z, a multi-ethnic old woman, who lives in a cabin within a forest. Z is psychic and practices her native rituals. She is also in tune with the natural world and teaches Milo, a gifted boy of 5, her way of life. The story is told by Milo, now an adult, to his daughter, Sara.
Jake is a YA story about a middle-aged woman who’s lost both her husband and son in a tragic accident. She finds connection to life again by befriending a teenage boy, Jake, who connects with no one, except insects. It takes place in 1961-2.
Thank you, Shirley, for a fascinating look into your journey from poetry to prose. I know I’m looking forward to reading both Z’s and Jake’s stories.
Shirley’s book of poetry, This ‘N That, written with author Debra Davis Hinkle, is available on Amazon. Check it out. You’ll get Shirley’s lyrical, intuitive poetry as well as Debra’s heart-grabbing, cogent poems. What more could one ask for in a poetry book?
Here’s a little prompt to help you dig into your own life and maybe be able to translate that into your writing. You can do this as yourself, or, for a true challenge, become one of your characters and do the exercise as him or her. Again, it’s a timed exercise, so set your timer and write non-stop for 10, 15, or 20 minutes.
Today we have Chelsea Thomas, one of my favorite authors. I was honored that she would agree to do a post for me. And I learned some fun, and unexpected, things about her… how about you?
Before I answer these questions, I want to make it clear that all Chelsea Thomas books are written by me and my husband, Matt. So even though all my answers will be about me (Chelsea) personally, all my cozies are co-written by both of us. OK! Excited to answer these questions!
Susan: What is the first thing you had published, and when?
Chelsea: The very first thing I had published was probably an editorial in the local paper in Florida, about why art classes were important to me. I was in middle school and quite passionate about the topic!
S: What is the one story you want to write, but just can’t?
C: When I was a kid, I wrote a mystery series called Autumn Waters. I used to do live readings of the new installments every week for the kids who rode my bus. I’d incorporate bullies from school as villains, that kind of thing.
I’ve wanted to novelize those Autumn Waters stories for a long time, but haven’t been able to figure it out yet.
S: Who is your favorite antagonist in your stories, and why?
C: I love Sunshine Flanagan, the beautiful but spiteful police chief in our books. There’s something really satisfying to me about a villain who is gorgeous and amazing and powerful. You love to hate her and you’re also kinda jealous of her.
S: Why do you write the genre you write?
C: friend of mine, Christy Murphy, was writing cozy mysteries and recommended it… plus, I’ve always been a mystery fan.
I watched and read a ton of Poirot and Miss Marple and Sherlock growing up. It’s a gratifying genre, because there’s a mystery and then it’s solved. It’s fun to plot and to have a sense of justice and closure at the end of every book. Like finishing a puzzle.
S: What is your favorite writing snack?
C: Pizza Pringles. Hands down.
S: What is the most valuable piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
There’s been a lot. But probably just to write things you like. Ideas that immediately set your imagination in motion always turn out better than ideas you have to force into realization.
S: How many times do you re-do the opening of your stories before you are satisfied with them?
C: Basically once. My husband/writing partner and I do a lot of prep for our books, so by the time we get to the first draft it’s pretty close to the finished product.
S: Do you blog? If so, what do you blog about?
C: I don’t blog but I love reading them!
S: What has helped you most in your growth as a writer?
C: Reading. And writing. That might sound overly simple, but it’s true. Nothing is more helpful to me than absorbing as much good writing as I can, and then sitting down and trying to reverse engineer my own stories.
S: Are you writing anything now that surprises you?
C: Matt and I just finished writing the screenplay for a horror movie, which is not normally our niche. But we loved it. And there’s a lot of overlap in the Venn diagram of horror/comedy/mystery, so the genre felt familiar in surprising ways.
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If you haven’t yet read any of Chelsea and Matt’s Apple Orchard Cozy Mystery series, you’ve really been missing out. I, for one, can’t wait for the next installment of the series. Talk about great, fun, and satisfying reads! See for yourself! Start with “Apple Die”, book 1, and I guarantee you’ll be marathoning through the entire series in no time!
Opening sentences can be so much fun, especially if they send a shiver down your back when you read them. Here’s one that can be as full of creepy crawlies as you want… or perhaps none! Read the sentence, set your timer, and have a ball!
We found chains attached to the basement wall when we moved in.
Humans can’t learn to speak cat. Don’t even try to teach them. They are not smart enough to pick it up, other than trying to utter a few meows that translate into nothing. No matter how often you speak to them, no matter what you try to tell them, they just won’t get it.
This is a true human failing, one of the major proofs that they are so much less than cats.
Of course, we cats are a secretive breed; we don’t tell everything to everyone, not even other cats. Usually we don’t bother speaking to those cats we meet, and when we do, we don’t often give out our real name, the one given to us by our parents at birth. That is a sacred name, one only shared by special felines, not casual or new acquaintances, so often we’ll use a nickname, or an alias. Any times we’ll just say, “Call me ma’am. Or sir.”
I still remember when my Mom and Dad, a few days after my birth, pronounced my forever name: Meggidy Mags. A shudder of pleasure at the sound rippled through me; its essence settled deep within me. Within moments I became Meggidy Mags. It was the quintessence of who I am. It was a moment beyond sacred, and no name any human servant might call me could ever come close.
Humans, not understanding this fundamental truth about cats, not knowing we already have a forever name, will spend hours—and sometimes days—figuring out the “perfect” name for you. But remember, it’s not a “real” name, it’s just one of their own devising, one that feels “right” to them. They don’t seem to care if it feels right to you.
Of course, this is not a really bad thing. It sets us apart, and far above, humans’s canine pets. Unlike dogs (shudder) who lap up whatever humans do for them, cats can choose whether or not to respond. We do not have to “obey our masters” since we don’t have any—we are the masters! So much of the time we won’t come running whenever the human who shares our house calls us, using a name that isn’t really ours.
Here’s how it works: When you hear the human-given name, stop and think about how you want to respond. Do you really want to be disturbed, to be taken away from what you are currently occupied in doing: napping; cleaning your face/body; eating; watching birds out the window; playing with your toys; redecorating the house; etc? Which is more important, your desires, or your human’s? I think the answer to that is obvious.
I say, unless it involves food—and especially treats—then either answer the summons if it fits into your plans, or don’t bother yourself about it. Humans need to understand this; if they want blind, unthinking obedience, they should get a dog. Dogs come running when they hear the call; we cats, when we hear the summons, take a message and get back to our humans at our convenience.
Yes, this is yet another matter of properly training your human caregiver to give you the care you deserve. It will take time, but eventually your human will understand that you do not come at their beck and call; you come when you feel like it. However, you will find that humans will come running whenever you call them. A loud yowling, a pathetic-sounding mewling, and many other combinations of sounds will get them to your side, whether you want food, an ear scratch, the curtain moved so you can see more clearly out the window, your toy tossed across the room, whatever. Humans are like living machines; program them properly to respond to “I need you” and you’ll never have to worry about name what they call you ever again.
Remember: a name by any other name will not call a cat!
Another Wednesday, another writing prompt. Here’s one you can have fun with… who knows what it’s a picture of? What do you see in this photo? What is happening, or has happened? What caused the pockmarks?
Let your Muse have fun playing with this one, and see what happens on your (real or virtual) paper once open gets moving or fingers get tapping keys. You know the drill: give the photo a good look, set your timer, and start writing!
I asked Lida a series of questions about her writing and here’s what she had to say…
1. Of everything you have written, what is your favorite so far?
My children’s picture book, The Cookie Eating Fire Dog, is my favorite. I wrote the text about 20 years ago, when my younger son was four. His constant companion was a stuffed Dalmatian named Dan. One day, my son informed me that Dan was very naughty. He wouldn’t help the firefighters because all he wanted to do was eat cookies! A picture book was born, but it took a little bit of time to find a publisher.
2. Which of your books was the hardest to write, and why?
The hardest to write is the first draft of any of my novels 2, 3, 4… in my Southern California Mystery series because the looming question is: can I do it again? But somehow it gets done! Truly a miracle. There’s no feeling quite like reaching “The End.” 🙂
3. Are any of your characters based on people you know? How do you keep them from recognizing themselves?
My characters are sometimes based on impressions of people I’ve barely met, meaning I’ve probably had a brush with them in the past, on the golf course, at the grocery store, driving… not enough for me to really know the person, but enough for me to play around with who I think they might me. Give me room to embellish and I’ll create a fictional character. This way, I don’t have to worry about anyone recognizing themselves. For instance, a few years ago, I met a young actor in Westwood Village, CA. It just so happened that he starred in a one-hour spy series that I really enjoyed. I had the pleasure of speaking to him for about fifteen minutes and he was wonderful! Fast forward a year or two and I’m writing my first novel. Every time I wrote the character of Michael (my heroine’s BFF, sidekick and love interest), this actor popped into my head. My character is based on that brief encounter.
4. Have you written, or are contemplating, writing a series, and why?
I write a Southern California Mystery series (book #4 was released Oct, 2020) because I know SoCal very well. It’s immense fun for me to have my heroine visit places I’ve been to and turn them upside down! For instance, in my latest book, SLIGHTLY MURDEROUS INTENT, heroine Corrie visits a restaurant where I enjoyed a lovely, peaceful and delicious dinner. Corrie visits the same restaurant, but things turned out a little differently. Everyone at her table is served their dinner…except her. Corrie’s never served her meal; she’s served crime a la mode instead, which sets the stage for her hunting down a shooter that’s aiming for one of her three sidekicks. The shooter has a bit of trouble hitting his target, which gives Corrie a chance to hunt him down.
5. Think of one of your characters who has a unique ability or feature. How did you come up with this ability or feature for the character?
Heroine Corrie is a newbie lawyer and daughter of a well known private investigator who has her own cache of weapons…legal and illegal. Her favorite is a shuriken, a Japanese throwing star. It’s a weapon of distraction, not destruction. She keeps a dartboard in her living room just for shuriken practice. She’s got sharp throwing skills, pun intended. I wanted to create a strong, smart and fearless female heroine who can hold her own against practically anyone. I liked the fact that shuriken, once used by ninjas, are used in my books by a modern female who’s adept at throwing. It’s an unexpected choice of weapon for an unpredictable criminal catcher. That’s fun for me!
Thank you so much, Lida! It’s fascinating to see how other authors approach their writing, what causes them challenges, and where they get their ideas from. And now, a bit about Lida and her newest creation, Slightly Murderous Intent. If you haven’t yet read any of Lida’s Southern California mysteries, you’re missing out on some great reads. Get one today!
BIO – Lida Sideris’ first stint after law school was a newbie lawyer’s dream: working as an entertainment attorney for a movie studio…kind of like her heroine, Corrie Locke, except without the homicides. Lida was one of two national winners of the Helen McCloy Mystery Writers of America Scholarship Award for her first book. She lives in the northern tip of Southern California with her family, rescue dogs and a flock of uppity chickens. To learn more about Lida, please visit her website: www.LidaSideris.com
Slightly Muderous Intent:There’s a shooter on the loose who keeps missing his target. But that doesn’t stop him from trying again…and again. It’s up to rookie lawyer and spunky sleuth, Corrie Locke, to find the gunman before he hits his mark…Assistant Deputy D.A. James Zachary, Corrie’s hunky and complicated frenemy.
When Corrie is stuck with more questions than answers, she enlists a team with various strengths, weapons and cooking skills to help her find the shooter. Computer whiz/boyfriend Michael is onboard. So is former security guard, Veera. Toss in an over-the-hill informant and a couple of feuding celebrity chefs and Corrie’s got her very own A-Team. Okay, maybe it’s more like a B-Team. Can Team Corrie hunt down the shooter before he scores a bulls-eye?
Slightly Murderous Intent is the fourth book in the “Southern California Mystery” series, paperback released October 20, 2020.
Here’s a bit of a challenge to end January. It’ll make you really dig deep and wake up that sleeping Muse. Read the instructions carefully, then set that timer and begin to write. No planning, no outlining, just write and see what happens. BTW, this is good practice for using unusual words in your writing and not angering readers because they don’t understand what they mean!
Use the following three words in a piece of writing: a scene, a mini-story, a narrative, whatever. But do not define what they mean! Write in such a way that readers can glean the meaning of the words simply by the way you use them in the work. Ready? Read the words and start writing!
Struggle. Isolation. Loss of focus. Job security. Exhaustion. Health. Shortages. Hoarding. Election. Holidays. Money. Frustration. Quarantine. Death.
In the course of the last nine months, perhaps one or more of these words resonates with you. It has for me. And we’re supposed to carry on. Maybe even write a short story or a novel?
I am a teacher. In a normal year, I write new novels in the summer. I edit, do book signings, workshops, conferences, etc. during the school months. I can’t create lengthy new material while I am teaching my angels. They take all my energy. What about now, you ask? You’re teaching virtually, right? Probably from home, so what’s the problem?
The problem is something I didn’t expect. And I certainly didn’t expect it to last so long. When the world shut down, so did I.
After our district shut down last March 13, a Friday of course, we still had to figure out how to teach only on computer. I concentrated on writing lessons and converting curriculum. I helped parents and colleagues while tamping down my own anxieties. Oh, and our district was negotiating new contract language, and I’m on the negotiating team.
No problem. I will write in the summer, as usual.
Every day, news from various outlets filled my thoughts. Covid illness. Deaths. Hospitals overrun. Makeshift morgues in the streets. Stay at home! Wear your mask! Worry about your loved ones and co-workers. Information rolled in. Now it wasn’t ‘people’ dying from Covid. It was people I knew, people my friends and family knew. I stopped following news stories.
Summer. I forced myself to write. I struggled to write two difficult chapters in my WIP. I still don’t know if they’re any good because I wasn’t enjoying the process. I stopped.
I know some of you are able to take advantage of the shut down and are productive and I am happy for you. A lot of my writer friends are not.
I began to second guess myself as a writer. A real writer could suck it up and write stuff. Why can’t you? I read writers’ blogs. I supported my writer friends and bought their books. I cheered them on Facebook and Instagram. I am so grateful to the artists who were able to keep producing their art: books, music, movies, television, dance, visual art, comedy. You all help me every day.
From thinking this shutdown/pandemic will last a few weeks to a few months, to who knows for sure, I think I’m coming out of the void.
I began to write down the skimpiest, lamest ideas for storylines. Not on computer, because that mental link is broken for me right now, but in a little notebook by my bed. Some are novel ideas, some short stories. Although they may not all be writeable, they are doing something even more important. Those nuggets are spawning others and I don’t discount the smallest particle of weirdness.
As a teacher, I was good at compartmentalizing; teaching varied subjects back to back, recess duty, rehearsals, staff meetings all separate from my personal ‘boxes.’ Initially with the shutdown, all the input was a tsunami and I was unable to sort through it. Without that previous structure, I floundered trying to create a new structure, and my personal structure also failed. Eventually, I remembered how to do that. I put my anxiety in a mental box, I put shopping, cooking, health, budget, everything in its place or box. I also remembered my strategy of small bits. Even the most complex of tasks can and should be broken down into manageable pieces. Even the ‘joke’ to-do lists starting with wake up, get dressed, drink coffee, have value. If I showered and made lunch, that was a victory.
Yes, it’s fall, and that means I’m back to teaching. But I am kinder to myself about this void. I’m repeating what I say when I’m in the writing place. It’s already there. It will be there when you need it. Keep going.
I see my students everyday online. I know my job right now is to help them, not worry about me. But, they cheer me, and I think, maybe, that doing a few things for myself will get me out of the dark, one particle of weirdness at a time.
If you’re having the same problems I’ve been dealing with, whether you’re a writer or not, try these beginning steps:
*Let the tsunami wash over you. Don’t hold onto it, but acknowledge it’s there.
*Take small pieces and put them in distinct mental areas. Close those boxes!
*Make lists. Make list items small and doable. (Not ‘write my novel!’)
*Write down any and all ideas. If the computer has become difficult, use a notebook, and try writing in a different place.
*Create a new structure for your life and patterns. It may change and it may take a while to construct. Allow that.
*It will be different, day to day. Be kind to yourself. Know that you’re doing your best. Your best will change according to your health, stress, etc. THAT’S OKAY.
Thank you so much, Victoria, for your words of wisdom. These easy-to-manage steps will be a huge help for all of us as we struggle through this pandemic. And now, a shot bio of Victoria, how to contact her, and one of her wonderful books. If you haven’t yet read Victoria’s stories, you really are missing a great read!
Bio: Victoria Heckman is a writer, teacher, mom and youth theater director. She hopes to return to writing as soon as her sanity and sense of humor also return. She writes police procedurals and historical mystery set in Hawaii, as well a cozy series set on California’s Central Coast. She belongs to Sisters in Crime national and the Central Coast Chapter.
Contact Victoria at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on FB at Victoria Heckman and Instagram @v.heckman