Archive for June, 2016


These sayings are not mine, but by themselves they are almost a writing course.

  1. Start your story as close to the end as you possibly can. [No to prologues & backstory]
  2. Take your reader where they’re not expecting to go. [Surprise your reader]
  3. Find your story’s Dark Moment, the point where he/she gives up, just before their solution comes to them. [All is lost, but…]

These sayings are adapted for Independence Day writing, so have fun. I heard a rumor that some writers take holidays off, but I don’t believe it.

Writing for the 4th of July

  1. Start your story right away, and skip the ordinary stuff. Let’s hear all about what happened on the 4th.
  2. Surprise your reader, take them where they never expected to go on the 4th.
  3. Take your character to the story’s Dark Moment, the point where he/she gives up on his/herself and on the world.


These sayings are designed to help you frighten and delight your reader.

Writing for Halloween

  1. Start your intrigue right away, but hold off on the goosebumps as long as you possibly can.
  2. Take your reader where they’re afraid to go, where they don’t want to go.
  3. Send your character to the Dark Hour of their Soul, the point where he/she gives up on his/herself and on the world.
    Eights Mask2

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  1. Why they call Louisville Derby City: Visit the Kentucky Derby! Celebrities, wild & friendly crowds, women in fancy Derby Hats, music, wagering, burgoo (fiery, three-meat stew), & mint juleps. All sorts of horse & betting stories. Did I mention horses?
  2. Boats are places: The Belle of Louisville is over 100 years old, the oldest paddlewheel steamboat in the country. Wharf, steamboat explosions, lots of stories. Did I mention romantic?
  3. Big, big water: The Ohio River is a mile wide and my stories sometimes venture across to Hoosierville (aka Indiana). Stand on the banks & watch anything from sailboats to towboats seemingly a mile long. Did I mention bridges? Bunches of them.
  4. How about a sample? A few miles southwest is Fort Knox, where the U.S. stores gold. You can tour the Army base, but not the Gold Depository. They don’t give out samples, but you can always ask. Good story: rumor has it the gold vanished years ago.
  5. Just a horse race? The Kentucky Derby Festival runs two full weeks of celebrating. And balloons, steamboats, rodents (you read correctly), human runners, & other things race for 2 weeks before the race. Did I forget non-stop partying and tales of partying?
  6. Some old rocks: The Falls of the Ohio River have been dammed off at the Falls of the Ohio State Park to expose one of the largest Devonian fossil beds in the world. Lots of blue herons and other waterfowl can also be viewed. Did I forget to mention it’s perfect for dam puns? Also good for dinosaur stories.
  7. Take me out to the ball game: Strange but true—Louisville Slugger is made in Louisville. At the Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum, you can get your Major League bat made & engraved with your name. My stories have violence, but no bats as weapons, or do they? Oh, the stories with bats in a bar, bank, etc.
  8. Do you dare? Reputed to be one of the most haunted places in the country, Waverly Hills Sanatorium was a TB hospital that closed in 1962, after thousands of people died. It’s been featured on several TV programs. Do you have the courage to tour? I don’t. Did I forget to tell you I’m chicken? Ghost stories, here we come.
  9. Under twenty-one? Skip to number Ten: The Kentucky Bourbon Trail covers much of Kentucky, but distilleries near Louisville or a few miles south in Bardstown hold tours and have gift shops. I included an abandoned distillery in Dream Flyer. Do I dare mention samples
  10. The Pitter-patter of really heavy feet: You can’t ride racehorses, but you can ride carriages downtown. Or drive a few miles east to Oldham County and Shelby County and visit their American Saddlebred, Thoroughbred, and Arabian horse farms. Not only can you tour, you can take riding lessons. Then maybe I’ll see you riding in the Kentucky Derby. Did I forget to mention Churchill Downs? That’s where the Derby is.


American Queen


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1: Borrow from other writers.

If a literary device or technique is useful borrow it.

2: Don’t concern yourself with style.

Just write from inner self, and a distinct style will emerge for each piece you write.

3:  Write from experience, but….

Your own experiences always sneak into your writings, even if you are not aware of them.

4: Know your characters inside and out.

When you really know your character, the story should flow naturally.

5: A little dialect goes a long way.

Too much dialect confuses people who are not familiar with that dialect.

6: Give your imagination a break.

Don’t quit writing at the end of a chapter or a thought. When you start again, you can finish that thought or chapter.

7: No excuses.

If you are a writer, you will have to write, no matter what happens with your life and time.

Eights Mask2


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Writer Foods!

10 Foods Writer Can’t Live Without

These are my 10 favorite foods; ones I deem essential to a writer. Not necessarily in this order, but you can’t write without food! Feel free to disagree/add to this list (Eleven Top…?)

  1. Peanut butter: I live alone so this is my favorite food. Deadline? Eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and keep on trucking. I call it the writer’s best friend. Peanut butter weaseled its way into Experiment 38, my YA thriller.
  2. Chili: I am widowed, but I used to fix chili for my family. Chili is like writing. I never write the same way, and I never fix chili the same way.
  3. Chocolate: I feel sorry for the Europeans before Columbus. They didn’t have chocolate. Like most writers, I save it for a reward. After I finish a manuscript, or I sign a publishing contract. Or when I finish this blog is a good excuse.
  4. Coffee: Why wasn’t this first? What writer doesn’t drink too much coffee? I love write in coffee shops. And coffee shops often sneak into my stories.
  5. Ice cream: I really love ice cream, so I seldom keep it at home. What’s this self-control I keep hearing about?
  6. Pumpkin: Pie, bread, as a vegetable, pumpkin butter with my peanut butter, almost any way. We all have our personal likes that defy explanation, & I have no explanation.
  7. Cornbread: Eating warm cornbread fresh from the skillet takes me back to childhood. All of my stories take place in the south, and cornbread shouts, South!
  8. Cheese: See ice cream to understand why I avoid it. I have a cat who loves it. If I do bring it home, she climbs on me and demands her share. (& gets more than her share)
  9. Pizza: I’m sure no one is shocked by this. I don’t think I ever met anyone who doesn’t like it. And it weaseled its way into Experiment 38 & Eighth Mask.
  10. Fried green tomatoes: I know; this shouts SOUTH more than anything else. When a group of writers get together, what else could be better?

I like to sneak food into all my stories, but my editors cut most of it. Stick to the story, they always tell me. Don’t tell them! I sneak some back in, people gotta eat!


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ABC – 15 beats

1) OPENING IMAGE: (1 minute) the scene that sets the tone and type of the story. A “before” snapshot and opposite of the Final Image.  (Opening scene) Max is sitting surrounded by other kids yet alone at his grade school cafeteria. Not sad, just alone. Flash forward to the bar, Max is still alone although surrounded with others [intro]

2) THEME STATED: (5 pages & minutes) Usually stated to them in character, often without know what is said will be vital to his surviving the tale. It’s what the story is about. [Foreshadowing]

3) THE SET-UP: (1-10) The first 10 pages of a script or first 10 panels of a comic must not only grab our interest but introduce every character in the “A” story. Something needs to change. [Stasis = Death]

4) CATALYST: (12) The telegram, the knock on the door, the thing that happens to the hero to shake him. It’s the story’s first “whammy.” [boom]

5) DEBATE: (12-25) The section of the story where the hero doubts the journey he must make. [a mild version of the Dark Moment]

6) BREAK INTO TWO: (25) Where we leave the “thesis” world behind and enter the upside-down “anti-thesis” world of Act Two. The hero makes a choice …and his journey begins. [the plot develops]

7) B STORY: (30) The love story, traditionally, but actually where the discussion of the theme of the movie is found. [can be love or philosophy]

8) FUN AND GAMES: (30-55) Here we forget the plot and enjoy the “set pieces” and “trailer moments” and revel in the promise of the premise. [sex, action sequences or main characters interacting]

9) MIDPOINT: (55) The dividing line between the two halves of the story. It’s back to the story as stakes are raised and “time clocks” appear. We are beginning to put the squeeze on our heroes. [the main characters get stressed]

10) THE BAD GUYS CLOSE IN: (55-75) Both internally (problems inside the heroes team) and externally (as the bad guys tighten their grip) real pressure is applied. [focus on antagonist]

11) ALL IS LOST: (75) The false defeat and the place we find “the whiff of death” – because something must die here. [things sour]

12) DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: (75-85) “Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord?” The part of the story where our hero has lost all hope & gives up. [known as Dark Moment]

13) BREAK INTO THREE: (85) Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration or last-minute action or advice from the love interest in the B story, the hero decides to fight. [this is where Popeye always opened his can of spinach]

14) FINALE: (85-110) The “synthesis” of the two worlds; from what was, and that which was learned, the hero forges a third way. [climax]

15) FINAL IMAGE: (110) The opposite of the Opening Image, proving a change has occurred. And since all great stories are about transformation, that change had better be dramatic! [denouement]

Eights Mask2

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Unlike stories with a plot, linear stories (AKA incident stories) are made up of a series of incidents flowing from one to the next, each incident having about the same weight/importance. The protagonist moves through the incidents without really changing or learning anything. So linear stories tend to be about typical days in the protagonist’s life, rather than extraordinary days required for a plot. Linear stories are often bookended by a beginning (waking up, arriving at Grandma’s house, leaving for the beach) and an end (going to sleep, leaving Grandma’s, watching the sun set at the beach before going home) to create a satisfying structure. However, linear stories only work if they do something special. The language may be rhythmic and beautiful, the series of events surprising or absurd, or the incidents themselves infused with humor.


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I am primarily a children’s writer. I belong to SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). The rule of thumb is that children like to read books with the main character their age or slightly older. Recommended ages for readers and main characters vary from publisher to publisher, so these are general guidelines:

Picture Books: Ages 3 to 7, with main character’s ages 5 to 9 (Board Books for younger readers and Easy Readers for slightly older readers extends this range in both directions)

Middle Grade (Middle Reader’s): Ages 8 to 13, with main character’s ages 10 to 14 (slightly younger readers may read Chapter Books—early middle reader’s books with a limited number of illustrations; slightly older readers may read Tween fiction involving dating)

Young Adult: Ages 14 to 18; high school readers. Main character’s ages high school freshmen to seniors. (New Adult, Young Adult fiction geared toward college-age readers, is becoming popular but controversial for its sometimes adult themes)

Here are the issues the main characters usually deal with for each category:

Picture Books: Searching for Security. Children this age, even while playing and having fun, need to know their parents are there for them with love, protection, and life’s necessities. The Llama Llama series of books by author/illustrator Anna Dewdney features a baby llama enduring various adventures and challenges, but above all, Mamma remains nearby.   Middle Grade: Searching for Identity. Children in this age are not certain who they are or what their abilities are. They often do things in groups to obtain peer approval, because they lack self-confidence and self-identity. J K Rowling’s early Harry Potter books are an example. Harry didn’t know he was a wizard with powers or that he would have a quest. And he didn’t know who his allies (his group) would be, but he gradually learned.

Young Adult: Searching for Independence. Teenagers are famous for their rebellion against their parents, sometimes called “attitude.” Psychologists have described this as subconscious psychological efforts to separate themselves from their families, so they can become adults. Most people think of the Hunger Games as pure survival. Katniss lost her mother, but she is seeking independence from the oppressive, totalitarian society that replaced her parents.

New Adult is often described older teens and/or undergraduate college students exploring their new-found independence. My 4RV Publishing thriller, Experiment 38, will be New Adult. The main character has just graduated from high school. She quickly learns that independence from her parents has its dangers.

Adult or Children’s Book?

Your main character can be a child and can deal with mature (non-sexual) themes, so your manuscript would be adult. Another peculiarity of writing for children is that boys prefer to read books where the main character is a boy, but girls will read books where the main character is a boy or girl.

My favorite rule for writing is: Take your reader where they are not expecting to go. This also applies to children. Once you know your audience you can take them to destinations unknown and even undreamed of.

Eights Mask2

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