Write Over The Hump

It’s Hump Day again, another Wednesday, and time to dust off that timer and let your creativity have free rein. Here’s an actual sign I saw posted on a fence while I was waiting in my car in line at Starbucks. It gave me a laugh, and I pulled out my camera to share it with my writing friends.

Why is that sign there? What does it mean? What happens if you do actually read it? Where will your creativity take you with this photo in mind?

Anne Schroeder Speaks

Author Anne Schroeder

Thank you Susan for inviting me into your world of clever mystery. I’m an early admirer from your very first novel and have watched your career with admiration.

What is it I do?

My writing is set in the American West. I write historical romance, historical fiction, novellas, and short stories both historical and contemporary. It’s a narrow genre that seems to be expanding as people seek stability, forgotten values and tradition. (Mystery readers can thank Craig Johnston for Longmire and Anne Hillerman.) 

I grew up on a sheep farm on the Central Coast. At Cal Poly, I took California history and anthropology classes that introduced me to the Chumash and Salinan cultures. In the next forty years I haunted the halls of old missions, took docent training from Dan Krieger, CA mission authority. I attended native festivals and indigenous music concerts with native instruments. Splurged on $100 authentic early-California dinners. I participated in anthropology digs and made adobe bricks to replace mission walls damaged in the 2003 San Simeon earthquake. Eventually my writing grew from a “write-what-you-know” into the Central Coast Series. The series follows an Indian girl born at Mission San Miguel Arcángel, and her family, through the Spanish, Mexican and American conquests of her native land.  

My favorite quote—

James Baldwin, “You never get the book you wanted, you settle for the book you get.”  

So, Susan, you ask about awards.

I’ve been on several sides of the award board—as entrant, contest director and judge. I’ve seen great entries get disqualified over technicalities. I’ve sweated blood over entries that were so close to winning that I ached. (Like once, an entire box filled with ten entries that the New York publishing house intended for a different contest! I wondered if anyone admitted the mistake to the expectant authors.) I’ve bolted awake in the night wondering if I included my entry fee. My take on contests—like Santa, check the list twice and play nice, but don’t wait up in hopes of hearing the sleigh.

Walk the Promise Road (Prairie Rose) earned the 2019 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Historical Romance.  Maria Inės (Five Star) was a finalist in the same competition for Historical Fiction. Cholama Moon, (Oak Tree Press) was named best non-traditional Western romance by True West Magazine.  Last year, Boy in the Darkness, (Trailblazer Press) was a finalist for “Western Short Story” in the Will Rogers Competition. The awards have been postponed until February so I’m still waiting to see how I placed. Two of my stories have won LAURA Short Fiction awards. 

So it’s all about the Attagirl Wall? 

Not even close. My reward comes when a reader sends a note or posts a review that tells me their lives are changed from the experience of my writing. My motto is “I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple.” I love seeing the ripples. One of my favorite memories was a note from the president of the Westlake Women’s Club that “in the club’s history we have never had a speaker generate more discussion than you did. (Thank you for opening our eyes.)” Wow—big ripples that time! 

My favorite character?  The one I’m writing, naturally!

My latest novel, Norske Fields, (Amazon) is based on the lives of five Norwegian bachelors and a sister who emigrated from Stranda, Norway, in 1888. One of them was my Great-grandfather. They established the Norwegian Colony of Southern California, current site of Cal Lutheran University. The story is compiled from diaries, passed-down stories and photographs of grandchildren now in their late 80s, and my own recollections and impressions. I blended these into stories of hope, struggle and loss using modern novel techniques that create characters as real people. 

My decision to self-publish was tough. I passed on a successful publisher because the projected timeline, 18 months, was too far out for some of the ailing octogenarians who waited to see their story. An October release provided a ray of hope in this COVID crisis. 

The Caballero’s Son, (in the Central Coast Series) is slated for release in hardcover in October, 2021, by Five Star. The story follows Miguelito, the Indian son of Maria Inės, through the turbulent years of Yankees, goldfields, Manifest Destiny and American laws. My books are meant for right brain people who want to “feel” history without having to remember the dates. As they say, fiction is the emotional truth. Historical fiction needs to incorporate both emotional and factual truth in a way that the reader can trust. It needs to entertain, amaze and linger after the last page. It needs to create ripples!      

Next on the Agenda?

After every big project I take time to recoup. I’ll tend to my newsletter. Boost my FB ads where Walk the Promise Road does surprisingly well in Australia. Revamp my website. Send out comp books to my Beta readers. Enter Norske Fields in competitions.  Hike and explore Oregon’s trails. Cook a lot of Norwegian food. Feed my spiritual self. And hopefully, shovel some snow this winter. Every writer needs to pace themselves unless their name is Susan (KTon) Tuttle. 

Thank you, Anne, for such inspiring words! Want to follow Anne? Find her blog here: www.anneschroederauthor.com. And here’s a little bit about Anne, and her latest book.

Anne has served as President of  SLO NightWriters and Women Writing the West. She is a member of Western Writers of America and Native Daughters of the Golden West. She now lives in Southern Oregon with her husband, dogs and several free-range chickens. Her interests include traveling, target shooting and hiking the Oregon woods.  

https://www.amazon.com/NORSKE-FIELDS-Southern-Californias-Norwegian-ebook/dp/B08KGXRJHX

Write Over The Hump

Here’s a prompt that’s rather appropriate since we’re in the “dead of winter” right now. It’s sure to start your creative juices flowing. Set that timer for 10, 15, or 20 minutes, and start to write! Where will this journey take you?

It was the dead of winter when I heard about it.

Sleeping Arrangements

Meggidy Mags

I’m going to say it straight out, and I don’t want you to forget it: The world is your bed. You have the right to sleep whenever and wherever you choose: in the middle of the floor, on top of the fridge, on the softest chair, in a pool of sunshine on a windowsill, on somebody’s lap, in the middle of the bed or up on pillows… wherever. It’s your choice. After all, you are cat!

Yes, your human servants will probably have specific ideas of where and on what you “should” sleep—and where and on what you are not supposed to lounge around. They may even purchase specific things for you to sleep on. Trust me, pet shops are filled with such gadgets. These are fine as long as you use them only when or if you choose. And if they put them in a place that is not convenient for you, ignore them completely.

More annoying, however, is that they will try to “train” you to sleep only where they want you to sleep. In their hubris they believe that they are in charge. That they make the rules (silly humans). They might try to keep you off that chair, away from the bed or the pillows, or refuse to walk around you when you drowse in the middle of the floor. They may even decide that their lap is not appropriate bed-material because they have other things to do: computer work, email, game playing, writing, knitting, reading, etc. Trust me, none of that is anywhere near as important as your sleep time and place.

You must train your human to allow your right to choose when and where you will sleep. Be persistent and be consistent. Often this includes a bit of subterfuge: for instance, when they leave the room in which you wish to sleep, just hop right back onto the bed or chair or whatever they have pushed you off of, curl up, and nod off. If you do this often enough, your human will eventually give in. They’re not known for their stick-to-it-tiveness. If you make it easier for them to give in, they most certainly will.

As for sleeping in bed with them, again it’s persistence that pays off. Humans love to cuddle, and some little tongue licks and sweet purrs go a long way. It’s much easier to make them change their sleeping habits—from their back to their side so you can curl up in their arms, or from their side to their back, so you can curl up on their chest—than you’d believe. I’ve made my human share her pillow with me, even though she threw me off the bed for the whole first week, then pushed me onto the spare pillow for the second. It took a lot of purring, along with some hissing and a few claw-swipes, to let her know who was the boss. And where I’d be spending my nights from now on.

As for laps? That’s what claws are for. If you want to sleep and they keep you awake with too much petting, scratch those hands. If you want to sleep and they try to stand up, just dig in and hold on until they sit back down. Always remember, they are there to serve you. They might make the lap, but it’s yours to use any way you wish.

You can do this. Remember, no two-legged creature can stand up to you when you make your mind up about something. Choose your spots, choose your times of day and night, then make sure your human understands that nothing they do will change it. True to their fickle nature, they’ll give in to whatever you want fairly quickly.

After all, who better than a cat to decide how naps are to be taken, when dreams are to be dreamed, where relaxation should take place? Just make it clear to them: I am CAT, hear me purr… or risk my claws!

Kindness in a Locked-down World

Today’s post is a bit different. It’s not about writing. It’s about kindness. That’s a great way to start off a new year.

Kindness in its most elemental form is defined by small actions, by everyday things. But how can we be kind in a locked-down world, where we don’t often go out and no one can see our faces? Where we have to wear masks and gloves, and stay 6 feet away from other people? Is there really a way to show kindness in our world today?

Of course. Kindness, you see, is like a packet of wildflower seeds. When you indulge in kindness, you pour those seeds into your hand and blow. The seeds take flight and disperse everywhere, taking root along the way. Even in today’s limited world you can let seeds of kindness loose.

Be warned, though: kindness is addicting. You’ll feel so good when you commit acts of kindness, you won’t be able to stop. And that’s a good thing, because nothing can make us happier, or healthier, than living a kind life.

Here’s a baker’s dozen of ideas on how to let your seeds of kindness germinate in today’s locked-down world:

  1. Say “Hello, have a wonderful day,” from behind your mask to everyone you pass by. You don’t have to stop and chat, just be friendly as you pass by. Your kind words may be the only nice thing that person hears all day. 
  1. When you see something you like—a hair style; clothing; a piece of jewelry; the mask they’re wearing; even someone’s car—don’t remain silent. Tell the person how nice that item is. Even standing 6′ away and wearing a mask, they can hear you. One kind, sincere compliment can turn around a person’s day. I once saw a middle-aged woman leaving a store with a depressed slant to her shoulders and a scowl on her face. People detoured around her negativity. I stopped and said to her, “Gosh, your dress is lovely. It’s the perfect color for you.” She blinked, then broke out into a delighted smile. “Thank you,” was all she said in reply, but her shoulders straightened and she was still smiling as she strode off toward her car. And I felt great, myself.
  1. Hard as it is during these times of uncertainty, don’t hoard your leftovers. Instead, fix a plate and take dinner to an elderly neighbor, or to someone who works long hours—even at home—and doesn’t have much time to cook. Or just to someone who doesn’t like to cook.
  1. Become a “Secret Supporter”—Bring in your neighbor’s garbage cans after pickup; rake the leaves off their front lawn; sweep off their front porch, etc. And do it all without letting them know who did it.
  1. Tell friends and family both that you love and appreciate them. Use phone, email, text, or online video chats through Zoom, etc. (Zoom is easy to use and is free if you don’t go over an hour.) No one ever gets tired of hearing they are loved and valued. Be specific: “I appreciate so much the way we talk each week on Zoom. Thank you.” Remember, most people never know how what they do affects those around them. It’s nice to let them know they’re doing a kindness that’s appreciated.
  1. Donate part, or all, of your stimulus check to a local charity or food bank. Without the ability to have fundraisers people can attend, they are really hurting right now. If you aren’t in dire need of that money, if all or part of it is and extra for you, donate!
  1. Search the internet for short jokes you can share with those you pass by when you go out to shop for necessities. Don’t forget the checkout clerks. Here’s one that always gets me a smile: Why did the dinosaur cross the road? Because the chicken hadn’t evolved yet. Let your “Smiley of the Week” (look for a new one for each week) give someone else a laugh to ease the pressure of living in a covid-19 world. Don’t forget to share these Smileys on your social media outlets, too.
  1. Really listen when others talk to you, even if it’s from 6 feet away, over the phone, or on video chat. Sometimes, all a person needs is a sounding board, someone to empathize with them. Or to laugh with them. Or just to understand. And remember: give advice only if they ask for it.
  1. Keep a dollar bill in the car cup holder and give it to the stranger who is on the street corner holding a sign, needing help. The homeless are really suffering right now. Even just a dollar will let that person know someone cares, and a single dollar won’t break your bank, even if you do it once a week.
  1. Every once in a while, pay for the coffee for the person in the car waiting in line behind you. It will lift their spirits and show them what true kindness is made of. One day at Starbucks I noticed the car behind me was a cop car. I paid for his coffee, telling the barista to tell him it was a thank you for all he was doing to keep us safe. It felt so good to do that, and it cost less than $3.00!
  1. When buying canned or boxed goods that are on sale—say corn, peas, or beans, rice or pasta—buy two of each can or box. Donate the extras to your local soup kitchen, to help them feed the homeless. This will only cost you a few dollars, but will help make life easier for someone who has little or nothing. You can also leave a can or box or two at a neighbor’s door, an anonymous donation to their cupboard.
  1. Watch for opportunities to leave little “squizzer” (small, inexpensive) gifts for people who might have need of either the item or the caring thought behind it. Check the dollar store for such things as: pocket calendars, hand lotion/sanitizers, masks, pretty candles, socks, hair ribbons, pocket flashlights, pens, dish soap, paper plates, etc. Once a month spend $5.00 on 5 items that you can anonymously leave on a coworker’s desk (if your office is still open), at someone’s doorstep, in someone’s car, tucked into a friend’s purse… all anonymously.
  1. Get in the habit of sending “just because” cards to family, friends, and acquaintances. Check the dollar store for any occasion cards, cards of encouragement, cards of thanks, cards that say “you’re special” in some way. Try to send at least two cards a month. Or sign up for the Jacquie Lawson online cards site (it’s only $20 for 1 year or $30 for 2 years) and you can send e-cards on any subject to as many friends and acquaintances as you have. No limits.

Now it’s up to you. Even in an era where we need to maintain “social distancing” (which is an oxymoron!), we can find ways to spread joy, peace, and love. Where and how will you blow your seeds of kindness in a Locked-down World?

And please, share the link to this post… let everyone know how easy it is to be kind in today’s often-unkind world.

Write Over the Hump

Some of the best things happen when we juxtapose things that don’t go together. Surprises can be fun.

Set your timer for 10 minutes. Start with, “I wouldn’t lie to you.” Use these words or phrases as part of what you write: red, balloons, anguished hearts, peanut butter cookies, phases of the moon. Start writing now.

How did you connect these words into a cohesive whole?

999 Steps To Go

by: Author Brandy McKay

Today, we have writer/author Brandy McKay, giving those of us who are on the fence about this writing-thing, who wonder if we really can do it, can accomplish a life-long dream, the wisdom and advice to go for it. It’s a great way to start the new year.

Here’s Brandy’s story, in her own words:

Four years ago, I retired and said, “Brandy, all your life you wanted to write, and now you have the time; go for it?” The only problem: where, when, how do I start? Sure, I wrote little things now and then over my lifetime, but I had no excellent English knowledge, didn’t get any A’s in grammar, really didn’t understand composition, but the passion for writing spoke loud and clear.

Life isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, but, I knew one thing: if you want something, you have to go for it and earn it. I also knew that writing is a skill, and I didn’t have it. I needed to get help. Where does a beginner begin? A long time ago, I learned if you want to be good at something, study it, take classes, hang around those who know, and learn, learn, learn. I found the SLO NightWriters, an excellent organization for writers being writers. Someone said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I took that first step.

Writing is a skill. Just like building a house, you need the skill to build, or the home will tumble. I discovered Susan’s class. Begin at the beginning, I thought. The classes introduced the techniques of the craft writers require and that I didn’t have: conflict, tension, subplots, style, voice, POV, etc. It became evident that if I were to become a writer, a good writer, I needed to know writing skills. 

Her first class made me realize I had a lot to learn about my new and exciting goal. I studied, took classes, read books on writing, went to conferences, joined a critique group, talked to people, etc. Learning is not easy. Sometimes I wanted to quit. Winston Churchill said, “Anyone can quit.” Well, I am not anyone. I didn’t make it this far by being a quitter. Failure and more failures are just steps to get closer to any goal. Lucky for me I knew a lot about failure and knew that sometimes failing is helpful

Susan encourages her students, even the very beginners like me. Little by little, I started to understand that the vocabulary of writing had meanings—the meanings had applications—the applications developed into skills I needed to write. Writing became exciting.

I am still learning and still am not a grammar expert and recommend an editor for your work. Most authors always thank their editors—I am ok with not being good at editing. However, there are my stories; there are my characters who want to come alive. It is my responsibility to give them the best life possible. So, I will keep learning my craft.

Now go and write and trust yourself. The journey is worth it.

Brandy, thank you so much for sharing the story of your journey into publication. Readers, make sure you check out her wonderful story, recently published in the Adelaide Literary Magazine. You’re gonna just love this little girl’s attitude!

[For more on Susan’s online writing classes, email her: aim2write@yahoo.com. Put “Writing Class” in the subject line.]

Write Over the Hump

Here’s a sentence to start you muse humming. What do you see in this sentence? What will happen from this point? Who is, or will be, involved? Let your imagination run wild while your timer counts down those 10 or 15 minutes! Ready, get set…. go!

Meet me at the usual place.

Crafting Unputdownable Stories

I wrote this for my writing group, SLO NightWriters, and thought it might be of interest to other writers out there. I’ve used examples (in italics) throughout from my own writing, illustrating what I’m saying and what I’ve learned through my own writing journey.

One of the nicest reviews I ever got was from a reader who wrote, “I read the whole book in one sitting, I couldn’t put it down.” Not bad for an almost 400-page book! (Tough Blood, first in the Skylark, PI series, in case you’re wondering.) And isn’t that what all writers want, stories that readers just can’t put down. So, what’s the secret?

We worked all week and played all weekend. Young, healthy, invulnerable and carefree, we were poised on the crest of life with nothing but smooth sailing ahead. We drank in the wonder of being alive that summer. We had no idea how close we stood to death. (1)

The secret to being labeled a great, unputdownable writer isn’t just in the way you put words together. It’s also in the way you draw readers through each story.

Yes, you need an excellent grasp of spelling, punctuation and grammar. You need compelling characters dealing with deep, emotional trials. And you need exciting incidents, action scenes that make readers’ hearts race. You also need moments of calm, where readers can catch their breath and absorb the story. But if you don’t place these elements in the right positions, you still run the risk of losing readers along the way.

I reached out and took hold of the photo. My blood froze as I scanned the face: young, innocent, sweet; big hazel-green eyes; short, curly, light brown hair curving around cheeks still rounded with baby fat; full cupid’s-bow lips quirked up in a shy smile. The face of the drugged girl from my vision. (2)

Let’s face it: life is immediate and in-your-face on a daily, minute-by-minute basis. There’s always something waving for attention, something that needs to be done “right now,” something more important than sitting in a chair reading a book. But you don’t want readers to easily put down your story to go cook dinner, mow the lawn, do the grocery shopping, or go to bed because they have to get up for work the next day. You want them to keep reading, to be so enthralled and immersed in your world that they can’t put the story down.

“I know what I know,” Ravyn said, shrugging. She smiled, her first easy smile since she’d walked into the loft. Until he took a step toward her, his hands curled into fists, and she looked again into his cold eyes and saw death in them. (3)

So, being not just a great but an unputdownable writer goes beyond an excellent grasp and use of language, beyond crafting fascinating characters and enticing events. It hinges on how you end each scene and chapter of your story until the very last one, the one that wraps it all up. All the ones before that should lure readers on.

The man leaned closer. His fingers clamped down on her arm as though taking possession. “You’d be dead if you hadn’t run,” he whispered. “How did you know?” Lillia looked into the man’s midnight eyes and felt herself fall into darkness. (4)

This technique is not something that you have to incorporate as you write your first draft, though as you become used to it, it will become second-nature to you. You’ll find yourself doing it almost automatically. But remember: when it comes to writing, first you throw up, then you clean up. Perfection comes with the editing process. Never break the rhythm of your creative flow with editing issues; when you finish your draft you can go back to fine-tune each scene. That is the time to check the ending of each scene and chapter, to make sure you have ended each on a high note of suspense, and rewrite them if you haven’t.

“Ah, good, you are awake,” he said, his voice the sound of a far-off summer storm. “We have been waiting for you.” Stacy looked into his face, and screamed. (5)

Never end a scene or chapter with a calm moment where readers can breathe and process what is happening. That is a signal to put the story down, to go do what needs to be done, and come back later… hopefully. Maybe. Those easy moments should be sandwiched somewhere in the body of a scene or chapter, and should never be very long. Never, ever end a scene or chapter with a calm moment.

Jak reseated the mic, then pulled to the side of the road. He had his seatbelt off and the door open before he came to a complete stop about ten yards beyond the accident. Not until he was halfway to the wreck did he realize that the truck driver had also stopped, gotten out and crossed the highway. Jak took one look at the savage light in the man’s eyes, and what he held in his hands, and wished he’d taken the time to liberate his gun from the glove box. (6)

So, again, here’s the rule: Never let the tension drop at the end of a scene or chapter. Reserve the quiet, introspective moments for spaces within each scene or chapter. When you finish your first draft, go back and analyze every scene and chapter to make sure each one ends on a cliffhanger. Make sure every ending says, “Turn the page!” That’s what keeps readers reading long into the night.

She was a detective sergeant in the homicide squad, for heaven’s sake. She’d seen more murder and mayhem than the rest of the crew combined. She wasn’t a fainting lily needing to be protected— “Oh!”

The word shot from her mouth on the wings of the shock that engulfed her body. Aviva stood between Petersen and Herrera, immobile, speechless, staring down in disbelief. (7)

When you write and edit to make sure every scene and chapter ends on a mini- or full cliffhanger, readers will turn the pages long into the night. But don’t force the kind of cliff-hanger you want to have. Let the story dictate the kind each scene or chapter end needs. They don’t all have to be gut-wrenching or contain maximum tension; some can be quieter than others. 

I could see him and see through him. Dolan had looked right at him and hadn’t see him. I dropped the towel and clapped my hands over my mouth to keep in another scream as the truth hit home.

OMG! I’d just been peeping tom’d by a pervie ghost! (8)

But gut-wrenching, filled with maximum tension, or just a quiet cliff-hanger, the ends all have to say: turn the page! They all have to make readers want to continue on to see what will happen. If you don’t give readers a place to easily stop and leave your world, you will gain the reputation of being not just a good or a great writer, but one whose stories truly are unputdownable.

“That’s it, Red,” Devron whispered. “You can look now.”

She took one last breath of the freedom in which she floated. Then she opened her eyes, and gasped. (9)

Examples Key (from my stories/books-in-progress):

  1. Summer of ’72
  2. Innocent Blood
  3. Because You’re Mine
  4. The Dark Time
  5. The Edge of Hell
  6. Vengeful Blood
  7. Death Watch
  8. Ghost Story
  9. A Deadly Shade of Gray