Conversations . . .

27 May

Hello – with your permission, I’m going to deviate slightly from my usual blog theme for this week – all about writing/publishing  books, etc. I say slightly because it’s still about writing, but it’s my own writing that I’d like to get ‘out there’ – somewhere in cyber-space.

Our country has been under a siege of words during the last year or so, and most of them are connected to race in some fashion. A popular theme is ‘we need to have a conversation about race.’ Yes, that is important, but I believe it overlooks a much more basic need. There is entirely too much prejudice in our world. Everyone wants to be able to look down on someone, which is ridiculous. We’re all human beings, with a wide variety of differences among us. Each difference seems to allow someone else to say nasty things which are then picked up and magnified — beyond all sensibility.

Sometimes, however, I write humorous pieces, too. And there’s more than one review from the past 12 years that I think deserves a wider audience. You will be able to find these pieces in a new tab in the upper right corner on the opening page of this blog. That tab is called  Odds-n-ends. Or you can click on this link, if you wish.

There is no set timing for these to appear, just whenever I happen to think of it, and I will not send out announcements as I do for the regular every-two-weeks new items at BookMechanic.  Thank you all for your continued watchfulness, and please do come back in two weeks for the next ‘Write-a-Book’ segment about naming your characters.  So now, without further ado, I give you your laughs for the day! Enjoy – and thanks to Dr. Bob for having sent them on to me.

Puns for Educated Minds

  1. The fattest knight at King Arthur’s round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
  1. I thought I saw an eye-doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
  1. She was only a whiskey-maker, but he loved her still.
  1. A rubber-band pistol was confiscated from an algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.
  1. No matter how much you push the envelope, it’ll still be stationery.
  1. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.
  1. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.
  1. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
  1. A hole has been found in the nudist-camp wall. The police are looking into it.
  1. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
  1. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
  1. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: ‘You stay here; I’ll go on a head.’
  1. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.
  1. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: ‘Keep off the Grass.’
  1. The midget fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.
  1. The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
  1. A backward poet writes inverse.
  1. In a democracy it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism it’s your count that votes.
  1. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.
  1. If you jumped off the bridge in Paris, you’d be in Seine.
  1. A vulture carrying two dead raccoons boards an airplane. The stewardess looks at him and says, ‘I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.’
  1. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says, ‘Dam!’
  1. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it too.
  1. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, ‘I’ve lost my electron.’ The other says, ‘Are you sure?’ The first replies, ‘Yes, I’m positive.’
  1. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root-canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.
  1. A geologist exploring an earthquake fell to his death through no fault of his own.
  1. There was a person who sent ten puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in-ten-did…

As always, comments and/or questions are welcome:


Anyone can write a book —

12 May

This is a simple declarative sentence written in the English language. As such, it states a fact that is basically not necessarily true. Sad, but true.

It should perhaps be amended to:  Anyone can write a book, but only (maybe) 10% of them will be readable by anyone other than the author.

‘Ay, there’s the rub,’ said a very famous author, known mostly by only one name, which begins with the letter S. Although, to be sure, there is a lot of debate about said author. Did he or did he not, really write all the words that are so glibly attributed to him? I don’t know, and that’s not the main topic of this blog post, anyway.

Since 1991, when I sold my first book, the status of being a ‘published author’ immediately put me in the exalted position of being (supposedly) more knowledgeable about writing than a good many other folks out there. It’s true, I do have good English language skills, but that and $5. will (I think) buy me a cup of coffee at most coffee shops. Mostly, I was in the right place at the right time, able to read (and understand) the instructions for a particular series of books wanted by a New York editor. AND I was willing to put in the time and effort to not just follow those instructions, but also to do a lot of research in order to compose a believable story that LIVED in the time and place it was set.

It was not just a costume drama that could have happened in any other time or place. It was very firmly grounded by the customs of the time and place, as well as the society in which it happened. It was so firmly grounded, in fact, that it spawned another story – the prequel to this one – and started me on two others, which unfortunately were not completed, due to circumstances beyond my control at that time.

As a published author, I was also asked to judge writing contests – sometimes half a dozen or more in a year’s time. I really enjoyed this task, and have been well-pleased to shine a spotlight on several then-unpublished authors who’ve gone on to populate ‘best-seller’ lists of all kinds. I think I was indeed prescient enough to recognize talent plus that certain ‘something’ that lifted the story out of the mundane. BUT – the biggest thing the author had going for him or her was – not just talent, but a desire to work at their craft to become even better.

Writing a book that is readable is NOT easy. Trust me on this. If the author declares a particular book to be set in 1870, would a character from that year really say “Oh, wow!’  I somehow don’t think so.  That’s also presuming, of course, that said character was able to speak in complete sentences. And all too many of them cannot.

I used to think that if I started to read a book, I was compelled to finish it, even if it was the worst piece of clap-trap I’d ever encountered! Like Pollyanna, I always hoped for the best – surely, a published book couldn’t be this bad all the way through. Could it? Well, yes, entirely too many of them are. And that’s even more true these days, with self-publishing so easy and available for most writers to be able to see themselves in print. It was marvelously freeing to me to realize that I did not have to finish reading every book I started.

But please – for goodness’ sake! If you choose a year in which your story takes place, be sure the events you describe really could have taken place in that year. For instance, the first automobiles were invented a couple of decades before 1900, but how many ordinary folks would even have known about it, or have been able to actually ride in one? Unless, of course, your character was Karl Benz or either of the Duryea brothers — Charles or Frank.  Radio was not even thought about at that time, although the telephone had been invented by then, but again – how many people actually had one at their command? Big cities had newspapers, but many small towns didn’t.  Communication from one part of the world to another was very slow.  Not instant like today.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t write a book – I’m only asking you to please pay attention to the details: the who, what, where, when and how. And maybe, add in why? Such attributes are not restricted only to non-fiction. They’ll serve your work of fiction very well, too.

And one more request, please.  If you cannot read well enough to pay attention to what you write – to be able to catch missing or mis-spelled words, for instance — please, PLEASE, find a friend who can and will do this for you. You won’t regret it. Really. Trust me on that, please?

As always, if you have comments or questions, please send them to me:   Many thanks!

Where are we, anyway? #5 -Location, location, location!!

29 Apr

Location is the third of the three major ingredients when you’re writing a work of fiction. Usually, it isn’t quite as important as plot and characters, but there are times when it is the most important. Think “Life of Pi” or “The Old Man and the Sea”. Or “Grapes of Wrath” for that matter. And what about “The High and the Mighty”? Any of those stories would lose their oomph if located somewhere other than the location depicted by the author.

Many stories are so universal in nature that they could take place almost anywhere or in any time frame, without raising any eyebrows. Others are so specific, they cannot be set other than where the characters and the plot demand. A few sentences of descriptive narrative here and there, using local buildings or street names or events, will go a long way to establish your credibility.

So, how does the author contrive a realistic setting in another century or location that may be too far in the past – or the future – to be visited. Of course – the web! Where else? One can find almost anything one needs or wants to know (along with a lot you might have happily lived forever without having it thrust in front of your face) so it’s essential to be able to discern the wheat from the chaff.

My personal preference for really in-detail knowledge is my local library. Geography books are invaluable for finding a good locale for your story, as are the larger, photo-laden coffee-table sized books of photos. What wonders you can find in these books! Or you could look for a biography of someone who lived in that area, which should bring some fine-tuning to your search.

Illustrated guide-books are another great source of information. Most of them include lots of glossy photos (the better to lure you in, my dears) and other dandy little snippets of information, mixed in with the historical bits. With a little bit of digging at the library you might also find journals or diaries written by people who actually lived in the years or places of most interest to you. It can also be enlightening to discover just how very mobile some of those people were before the days of mass transportation.

It’s really important to know the location during the era in which your book is set. For instance, my very favorite anachronism is Mackinac Island, Michigan. It’s a small island – only 8 miles around the perimeter – but there are NO cars allowed. (There are emergency services available which use engine-driven vehicles – it seems to me there were three of them the last time I investigated: EMT, an  ambulance and a firetruck. There are also earth-movers at the landfill, but that’s off-limits to civilians.) Otherwise, everything (people as well as freight) moves by foot, horse, or bicycle, although I do think perhaps golf carts are allowed on the two golf courses.) The local bank sports the only horse-driven access ATM in the world! I’m not making this up, either.

Suppose you wanted to set your book in the Antarctic. (Frankly, I can’t imagine why, but you know best.) I suspect it would be difficult to visit there, but it’s frequently in the news, so there are probably multiple sources you could use for search and discovery.

Of course, if you’re creating your very own ‘alternate universe’ maybe you don’t really need to know about such things. However, if you make it all up to begin with, just please be sure you don’t constantly change the important factors such as magnetic pull or weather to suit your story, without having already established such changeability as normal.

In addition to being accurate about the details of your location, you must also be accurate as to the social morés of the era you are depicting. There are lots of ways an unsuspecting author can insert foot into mouth. Try not to let it be you!

Questions?  Comments?  Write to me –

Write a Book – #4 Just what is plot, anyway?

15 Apr

To prepare yourself for doing something constructive for your completed manuscript – and you WILL do something with it, will you not? – here are several easy exercises that will also help you develop your story. This column will be mostly about fiction. Non-fiction will be next month’s installment of the Write a Book series.

Last month, we talked about creating characters. Now comes plot, perhaps the third most important element of your book. First and foremost, of course, is the writing. If it isn’t done well enough to engage the reader, keeping and holding his or her attention, characters and plot will be of little help to you.

Plot is a very misunderstood part of the work that goes into producing a book. But really, it’s quite simple. First of all, the plot determines exactly what kind of book you are writing. So, it’s very important for you to have a good grip on your plot, right from the beginning.

Almost every work of fiction falls into either of two categories: literary or genre.  Literary fiction is a catch-all category, that was once the only sort of fiction published. With the rise of genre fiction during the 20th Century, there is now a noticeable distinction between the two categories. True literary fiction is allowed to ignore any ‘rules’ established by the various genres. The main consideration is that it doesn’t really have to have a specific plot or even an ‘ending’.

Genre fiction is much more strict, although with the advent of e-books, there are a good many books with plot mish-moshes possible – and available. If you can think of it, someone has probably already written it! The mash-up that is, not your own story.

In a romance, the two main protagonists who have been sparring throughout the entire book, will have at least established their relationship as a ‘happy ever after’ or a ‘firmly committed to each other’ finish. In a mystery, the criminal must be either eliminated or brought to justice. Each genre has its own rules, and you ignore them at your peril. Quite simply, you won’t be published by any publisher who specializes in that genre.

So, now then – do you know when the action described in your story took place? It’s especially important to have any historical data be as accurate as possible. If you’re not doing that, then re-think your genre. Maybe it’s really alternate universe or fantasy, or maybe even steam-punk?

There is a wonderful resource book, titled What Happened When. I bought a used copy at a library book sale some years ago, and find it invaluable. Of course, you can also find such information on the web, but do be sure of the validity of the research before you quote it, or build your story around it. Some sites are not overly careful of the accuracy of their content. This book itemizes not only by year (from about 1000 AD to the present) but by categories of events: medicine, military, political, religion, music, etc.

Plot. What is plot? It’s what happens when and how and why, and usually to whom!  And then – what happens next?

There are a few rather simplistic definitions of this. For example, the long-time romance novel plot was: Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl. In this case, the ‘get’ meant a marriage was on the very near horizon. In the last few years, however, that ‘get’ has found another meaning. The couple doesn’t necessarily have to be heading for a wedding, but they will definitely be making a commitment to each other. And no, in this case ‘wedding’ and ‘commitment’ are not synonyms.

In a mystery, someone does something they shouldn’t have done, but they will get caught, and they had better suffer punishment for their dirty deed.  And of course, the detective—whether professional or amateur—will seriously consider those three indicators of guilt: motive, means and opportunity.

I’m not overly sure about science fiction or fantasy, but I think perhaps the plot for these books depend almost entirely on the writer’s imagination. More so than the other genres, that is.

All that means is—there is more than one way to write a book. You won’t know what your best way is, until you try. You might make a list of things you mean to incorporate into your story, and then sit down to write it. In my mind, characters are more important than plot, because if you don’t know your characters all that well, they may well refuse to do what you think they should. If that happens, you could all too easily end up with an incomplete book taking up space in your computer or your desk drawer. It might take years for you to figure out the right solution, but I’ll bet you’d give in before your characters do!

If you want to be really sure of your plot, here’s that dandy exercise mentioned at the beginning of this post. First, explain the plot of your story in ONE sentence! Yes, one only. Next, enlarge that sentence to a paragraph, and then to a full page. By the time you have completed all three descriptions, you should have a pretty good idea of who’s who, and how they figure into the plot. Combine with the characters from the last blog, and away you go!

Happy writing!  If you have comments or questions, please write to me:

Creating life-like characters –

31 Mar

If you have a problem with characters in your books, here’s an idea that might be of help to you. Investigate the various astrological signs. Really! Start with your own, of course, as that’s the one with which you should be most familiar. A friend wrote to me last month after the passing of the wonderful actor/writer, etc., Leonard Nimoy, forever known to posterity as Spock, and I recalled that he and I shared the same birthdate, although in different years.

Energy and passion are the words most often associated with Aries. True, and it gets us into trouble more often than not. It brought to mind some other big names I knew from past years, that would not resonate with others as much as Spock did. I have to say I didn’t know he was green! When Star Trek was first broadcast, we didn’t have a TV at all, and I think it was 1976 when we were able to get our first color set. But by that time, I was usually upstairs with my little portable B&W set watching PBS while I was sewing.

At any rate, I was thrilled to learn that basketball star and Hall of Fame-er Wayne Embry was born near Dayton on this same date.  Also, from my years of ushering at Severance Hall I discovered Pierre Boulez, who is a HUGE name in classical music was also born the same day, and turned 90 last week! He was here one year on our birthday, and I ran into him in the hallway. Not on purpose, either! However, I did have a program in my hand, and after I wished him Happy Birthday (in English) I blurted out that it was also my birthday. He returned the greeting in French! (Joyeux Anniversaire!) I asked him if he would autograph my program for me, and he did, a huge smile on his face. It was in French, of course, and so tiny as to be indecipherable, but still . . .

A few famous women who share the date are Sandra Day O’Connor, and Nancy Pelosi. Not to ignore Diana Ross in 1944 (who grew up not too far from where I lived while attending high school). Among the writers are Erica Jong, Tennessee Williams and Robert Frost. It’s a very popular date for determined, creative people!

So then I went looking for who else might have been born on my day. I found these sites, which mostly list the same people, but the first one here is unreal. If you read the paragraphs about Aries people, and you know me, you’ll have to agree they must have had me in mind when writing these descriptions. There’s just no other possibility. These are me. Warts and all.

So, if you need a character who is stubborn, and opinionated and bull-headed, you can’t go wrong by creating an Aries persona. If you study the traits of the various signs, your imagination will have an immense amount of information available to help you create real and diverse characters.

If you’d like to see who else shares your birthday, go to the first of the three links above, and enter your birthday in the search box. Happy searching!

Questions?  Comments?  Send me an e-mail!

What’s now has been and gone.

17 Mar

I spent most of the weekend playing with a neat little gizmo that converts photographic slides and negatives to digital, for easier storage on the computer. Consequently, I spent hours looking at my life from the summer of 1979 when I acquired my first SLR 35 mm. camera. It was a mostly automatic Pentax ME, and I loved it so much I promptly went out and bought another one – but this one was manual from the get-go – a Pentax MX. To go a step farther, I acquired several additional and interchangeable lenses and a motor winder for it. I was almost never without this camera, which took absolutely beautiful photographs.

Having no projector I was seldom able to partake of the fruits of my new toy on a large screen. But, I dutifully put them in plastic pages in a notebook which was always at the ready for any adventure. It would be very easy for anyone who only knows me now to extrapolate what I was most interested in back then, as my trusty digital camera photo collection mirrors that older one almost exactly.

Water, water, everywhere! Living in the Great Lakes area, and surrounded by water, that’s not a big surprise, although the variety of those scenes is endless. Lake Superior is really huge! However, it was a pussycat that day in the summer of 1979 when my then-husband and I accompanied my Dad and step-mother to the upper peninsula to see Tahquamenon Falls. The water tumbling over this cliff is intermittently gold in color because of the copper content in the ground upstream of the falls. Twenty-six years later, I used one of the photos on the cover of my novel Windsong.   (And then I re-did it in 2013, using the same photo, although somewhat differently.)

When we came back towards home again, we stopped for the afternoon at Mackinac Island, during the filming of the fabulous movie ‘Somewhere in Time’. We didn’t see any of that activity – as I recall, they were taking a day off – but we did take a horse-and-buggy trip around the Island. Although I visited again twelve years later, I used the former trip as initial background information for Secret Shores,  the companion book to Windsong, which was first published in 1991.  (The original Windsong was published in 1993.)

Back to the photos: Lots and lots of flowers, from teeny little mini-things to great blowsy roses or dahlias and other such gaudy blooms. Trees, of every kind and nearly every position possible for a tree to be in, as well as every location and season. Sometimes trees are swings or an anchor for a hammock. And living creatures: by far the largest category was butterflies, toads, spiders and turtles. Next was birds and ducks, and a dog or two. (Sorry, no cats. I’m allergic.) Hey! At that time, we lived out in the country. What can I say?  Now I live in the city, but I still take pictures of visiting deer and other wild creatures.

And mechanical things – one of my great loves. Bridges, boats (big and small) cannons, engines, trucks, heavy equipment, race cars  – all sort of things that make lots of noise. That’s me in a nutshell.

Yes, I had great fun doing this, and finding all the memories I’d forgotten, or thought were lost. But the biggest surprise of all is the number of new ideas – for books or stories – that sprang out of this hidden cache – (they’d been living in boxes on the shelf in my bedroom closet.) Honestly, though, ideas are everywhere! They don’t have to be inspired by a trip to your past, or your future. Just open your mind, and let them in.

Questions?  Comments?  Please write to me at

More about getting started —

4 Mar

It’s amazing to me how many questions people have about wanting to write a book. I love getting these questions, though, so if you have one, please do send it along!

How much time should I write each day?

How will I know when the book is finished?

When is the best time of the day to write?

How many pages will my book have?

Do I have to write it like it’ll look when it’s published?

I have a favorite answer (sort of snarky, but not necessarily) to those questions for which there is no particular right answer. I shrug my shoulders and say ‘How long is a piece of string?’  There is no right or wrong answer to these, they’re very personal questions, and what’s right for one may be totally wrong for another.

How much time should I write each day?

How soon do you want to finish your book? Or maybe a better answer is: How much time can you devote to it each day. There are probably as many answers to this question as there are  already published authors, and those who aspire to that category.  It is best if you can set aside a certain amount of time for each day, at a time when your mind is free of other details, and you can relax and concentrate on the task at hand.  That is your best time to be writing.

For instance: I am NOT a morning person. I tell people that no matter what time I get out of bed, I wake up at 10 am. I might be able to find the keyboard before then, and actually even write something, but will it make any sense? Most likely – not. So, I would not be a person who would write twenty pages before breakfast. Or at least my morning coffee!

On the other hand, I’ve discovered that my best and most creative time of day is after dinner, before bedtime. There’s a good solid chunk of 3-4 hours in which I can (if motivated and have a viable idea on which to expound) produce between three and four thousand words! Yes, I said 4000 words! At that rate, if I did that every night, I could end up with a 70,000 word book within a month. I know this is possible for me to do, as I’ve done it twice. Actually, they were both 70,000 word books, but they were both done in three weeks’ time!  Yes, you read that right. Three weeks!  Granted, I was not a very nice person to be around at the end of that time, but I couldn’t help it. I was driven.

I’ve also done two 110,000 word books in about three months’ time — each. I didn’t necessarily plan for those word counts, but that is the answer to question number two at the top of this post. I wrote until the story ended. I had little pre-conceived idea about book length, but for whatever reasons, they came out exactly as they were supposed to!  Also, I was working at the time of writing these books. But they just tumbled out of the computer. It was an amazing experience for me.

But there were times when it didn’t work that way for me, and there will, no doubt, be times like that for you. If you’ve planned your book so you know where it’s going, just hop back in the chair in front of your desk and get back to it. Write something. Write anything. Sooner or later, it’ll start to make sense, and you can continue with the writing. Always write forward – aim toward the end of the story.

How many pages will your book have?

Believe it or not, before computers, books were almost always of a particular number of pages.

Specifically, these were 184, 224, 256, 312. All of these numbers are divisible by 4, which is the number of pages in a folio. Several folios would be bound together and then comprise a ‘signature’. This is not necessarily a standard number, but the number of pages in any book would be divisible by 4. Slight tweaks could be made by changing the style or size of the font.  It wasn’t long before word counts were standardized according to the accustomed page size and style from a given publisher.

You’ll be happy to know that with the advent of Print On Demand, these numbers are no longer the main factor when determining the length of a book. It can be whatever size it needs to be in order to be complete.

If you are going to publish your book on your own, it can look however you want it to look, but a clean easy-to-read font will be a major help for any first time author. You do want to make it easy for people to read your book! Always remember that. Just because you can use twelve fonts on a page doesn’t mean you should! And in fact, you definitely should not! You might be better advised to hire a book designer for your first attempt. The designer will (or should) listen to what you want and produce something at least close to your wishes. If not, it’s just back to the drawing board again. Make your wishes known as clearly as possible, and eventually, it’ll all come together just the way it should.

But still – the most important thing to remember is – nothing happens until somebody writes something! So, what are you waiting for. Go sit down at the computer and start writing! Thank you.

Comments?  Questions? Please send them along to me at