Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Pot...er...PLOT Holes by CB

There you are, on a beautiful spring day, snacks and a cold beverage nearby, cruising along, writing a lovely story that’s full of interesting characters, when, BAM!, you hit a Pot Hole … er, Plot Hole. The story bounces a foot off the road, lands back on the asphalt with a thud, and half your characters (and their luggage) go flying out of the story. Ugh. What a mess! Yet you continue to write, oblivious to the confusion you’ve left behind.

Time to call a repair crew to fix those Holes!

First, we need to know, what ARE Plot Holes?

Wikipedia tells us a Plot Hole is a gap or inconsistency that goes against the flow of logic that has been established by The Story’s Plot. Such inconsistencies include illogical or impossible events, or statements or events that contradict earlier statements or events.
On the other hand, just to be fair, certain genres allow or even require Plot Holes and readers’ Suspension of Disbelief (when readers choose to overlook any Plot Holes).  
To sum it up, a Plot Hole is missing information or an obvious mistake that takes away from the plausibility and integrity of The Plot -- and leaves readers scratching their heads.
1. Illogical Events. Example: The all-powerful villain is easily defeated.
2. Contradictions. Example: The hero is very loving in one scene, yet is unaccountably cruel in the next.
      3. Dropped Plot Lines or Characters. Example: The sidekick goes off in search of something, leaving the hero       behind, and is never heard from again.
      4. Unexplained Changes in Character or Setting. Example: A character begins the day in the city and is       inexplicably wandering around in the countryside by mid-morning.
      5. Continuity errors. Example: A character is said to have brown eyes in one scene and blue eyes in a later       scene.
* * * * *
When are Plot Holes OKAY?
Sometimes, readers are willing to overlook Plot Holes for the sake of the story. After all, fiction is fiction. Imagination is a good thing. Under the right circumstances, Plot Holes might be okay.
Here are a few examples of when a Plot Hole is acceptable:
1. In Appropriate Genres. Within certain genres (e.g. fantasy, science fiction, horror, etc.) Plot Holes are quite common. Some may even be Large Plot Holes whereby readers roll their eyes. Other Plot Holes can be overlooked simply because they make the story possible.
In science fiction, a Plot Hole is sometimes known as a Jellybean Moment. For example, in Harlan Ellison’s short story, “Repent, Harlequin!,” the climax involves using jellybeans to gum up the workings of the society. It’s only after the story has ended that the reader thinks, “Where the heck did he get the jellybeans?”
Another term for Plot Hole is Fridge (or Icebox) Logic, first used by Alfred Hitchcock when he made the movie “Vertigo.” The main character’s wife mysteriously, and impossibly, disappeared from the hotel that he last saw her in. (This, by the way, is the granddaddy of all the Plot Holes in this movie.) Hitchcock called it an “icebox” scene -- a Plot Hole that “hits you after you’ve gone home and start pulling cold chicken out of the icebox,” one that you don’t notice at the time because you were so caught up in the story.
2. With Unreliable Narrators. An unreliable narrator is a POV character who can’t be trusted to tell the story with accuracy. The spurned, alcoholic, and jobless character Rachel in Paula Hawkins’ novel, “The Girl on the Train,” is a good example. Unreliable Narrators allow readers to ignore Small Plot Holes.
3. With a Novel Series. If you are writing a series, you may find that you can explain a Plot Hole in a subsequent book. Readers may disregard a Plot Hole in an early book with the hope that this Plot Hole will get filled in.
* * * * *

How does a writer FIND Plot Holes in his manuscript?

1. Know your story well. In fact, get to know your novel BEFORE you write. This way, you’re more likely to figure out what might BECOME Plot Holes before you write them into your story.

2. Examine your Plot. Take the time to look over your Plot Outline. Is it logical? Do the events line up? Does your hero play off the villain’s actions (and vice versa)? This, too, will help you catch Plot Holes even before you begin to write.

a. If you’d like to really crack down on your Plot, take time to write out a full five- to ten-page Plot Summary.

b. Examine characters’ actions from beginning to end. Look for any areas that seem implausible, inconsistent, or jumbled.

3. Create character sketches. This is a simple way to avoid inconsistencies in your characters’ appearances and actions. Keep these sketches handy as you write

4. Create a character checklist of every character, even minor ones. Be sure to write an ending for each character, then mark that character off your checklist. By doing so, you’ll save yourself from a lifetime of disgruntled fan mail asking what happened to so-and-so.

5. Know the laws of your story’s world. Whether you’re creating a fictional world or simply exploring a specific culture or lifestyle (e.g., royalty, secret organization, cult), know the rules, manners, governments, laws, norms, and other social constructs. If your novel has magic in it, make sure to lay out where it comes from and how it works.

Added by Bonnie: If your fictional society has as set term for a certain word, make sure they don’t stray from that. In other words, if that society uses say, “father” only to mean their leader, and not their male parent, then those characters would never refer to someone else’s male parent as a father, only as a dad. And I’m telling you, when you set out making up a new society, and come up with a gimmick like that, it sounds easier than it is!

6. Keep notes while editing. Make a list of any Plot Holes you uncover. Begin planning your Plot Hole Repair. On your Plot Hole list, note changes you make since the changes may create new Plot Holes. Then do a second read-through to look for any new damage you might have caused.

7. Utilize beta-readers. They read through your manuscript (most often free of charge) before it’s published and then offer feedback on inconsistencies, contradictions, et al. Sending your novel out to a few beta-readers is enormously helpful because they will catch the little mistakes that you are far too subjective to see.

Side note from Bonnie: Not always. Case in point: after a half dozen critiques, and my twin Konnie reading my manuscript at least a half dozen times on top of that, let alone how many times I’d gone over the manuscript, I spotted a glaring error in terminology. In fact, the very one I describe above. At least I finally caught it.

8. Trust your editor. If you land a book deal, your publishing house will assign you an editor who will read through your manuscript. If you self-publish, hire a freelance editor. You will receive professional advice, and the editor will notice any Plot Holes that still need repair.

* * * * *

How do you FIX Plot Holes?

Uh oh! A character pushed the Plot into a Hole! Chances are, that’s the character best suited to get the Plot out of the Hole. Ask yourself these questions: Who has the ability to cause this Plot Event to happen in a believable way? Who has something to gain from it? Lose from it? Who might be hurt by it? Who are the people connected to it? How might their actions have influenced it?


If there are no characters tied to this event, you might need to add someone to make it all work. Go to earlier scenes where you can introduce needed Plot-Hole-Filling characters and work them into the storyline. 

1. Use the proper groundwork to set it up: Small Plot Holes often just need filling. A line or two earlier in the story might be enough to tie the Plot Hole into the rest of the Plot. 

2. Add a b
ackstory to explain or make the Plot Hole credible: For example, if you’ve never shown the protagonist is an expert pool player, suddenly having them get out of a problem by winning a life and death game of eight ball will feel contrived and out of the blue. But if the protagonist has a pool table in his house, or a custom cue hanging in his apartment, it slips in a hint to the readers that the protagonist plays pool. 

3. Give a character m
otivations to act a certain way: Let your readers know why the character decided to do whatever it is, and make sure those reasons are at least hinted at prior to the event. 

4. Add t
rigger events or a catalyst: A sudden flood that keeps the protagonist from getting home will be quite the coincidence if you never mention rain or flood warnings, or even that the setting was anywhere near water. 

And when you’ve finally filled all the Plot Holes, your readers can safely ride along with nary a bump.

Carol Baldridge (cb) is a retired librarian. She has been a regular in the chatroom for some time, and has recently started helping with topic chats. You can visit her cats...er...her blog at http://ceebeeskittykorner.blogspot.com/ 

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Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Researching For Your Writing by Carol Baldridge (CB)

Researching For Your Writing

Whether you write for school or for fun or with the idea in mind of getting your poetry or essay or short story or novel or non-fiction book published, somewhere along the line you will probably need to do some fact-finding and fact-checking. 

Fact-finding and fact-checking are better known as research. Research, ugh! Too often, that’s a dirty word and one many writers don’t like to think about. There’s an old adage: “Write what you know.” That’s good only so far.

What if you want to set a story in the Regency era?  Or if you want to visit faraway lands?  Or if it’s speculative fiction and the world might not exist?  Research can help you write that. Research can transform a story from “pretty good” into “wow, that story was so real I could taste the muffins!” 
Here are some good research tools:

1. Libraries -- Start in your own community by getting to know your local library and librarians; they can often provide a wealth of information. Some libraries even maintain reference librarians who will research questions for you. Even if this service isn't available, they will teach you how to research databases, electronic and paper card catalogues, and archives.

Historical resources can be either primary or secondary. Primary sources are, for instance, diaries or letters from the time period. People who wrote these diaries and letters used the language, slang expressions, and phrases of everyday life. Secondary sources, on the other hand, are written after the fact and are “heresay.” Always check and take note of the primary sources listed in the bibliographies, resource lists, and notes in secondary sources.

a. Use the libraries all around you -- not just your own public library but area public libraries, college/university libraries, museum libraries, corporate libraries, special libraries. Learn how to use WorldCat and other library databases to find helpful books, newspapers and magazines/journals, photographs, and ephemera of all kinds.

b. DOUBLE-CHECK everything. New knowledge or evidence may be available. Check the publication date, and compare with other books or sources. Also, EVALUATE your sources. If something seems a bit improbable or sketchy, it probably is. Look for another source to back it up.

2. Use the Internet, but DO NOT rely on the internet for everything. Yes, it's handy and you can find heaps of things there, but it should be only one of your sources. There are many, many websites that are created by people with a specific interest in a subject. That doesn't mean they're experts. BE CAREFUL! Here are some reliable websites --

a. Infoplease -- From current events to reference-desk resources to features about history, this site puts a remarkable array of information within reach. Guides to the nations of the world, timelines of political, social, and cultural developments, and much more!

b. The Internet Public Library 
Unlike other reference sites, the IPL is a portal to other Web sites, brimming with directories of links in topics like Arts & Humanities. (Dictionary of Symbolism? Check. Ask Philosophers? Right. Legendary Lighthouses? We’ve got your legendary lighthouses right here.) If you need any background information, stop by for a visit!

c. The Library of Congress 
The online presence of the official repository of knowledge and lore of the US is an indispensable resource not only for nonfiction writers seeking background information for topics but also for fiction authors seeking historical context.

d. Merriam-Webster Online 
The publishing world’s dictionary of record is at your fingertips online, with a thesaurus and Spanish-English and medical compendia, to boot. You’ll also find video tutorials on usage from dictionary staff, a Word of the Day feature, word games, and a variety of language-watch features.

e. Refdesk
Refdesk.com, like Infoplease, is a clearinghouse for online research, with links to headline news and timeless information alike. You can easily get lost in its Daily Diversions directory, which includes links not only to humor, games, and trivia sites but also to more respectable resources like DailyWritingTips.com (whoo!). If you have a question, chances are you can find the answer on this site.

f. Snopes 
The fine folks at Snopes.com will set you straight about any one of hundreds of posts — each with a prominent judgmental icon plus commentary to back it up — about that one thing you think you remember you heard about that one thing. (For example: Posh comes from an acronym for “port out, starboard home” — the ideal respective locations for accommodations on a luxury liner — right? Cue the buzzer. BOGUS.) TruthOrFiction.com is a similar site.

There are many warnings against using Wikipedia as a primary source for research, but don’t hesitate to avail yourself of the wealth of information available — much of which is written by subject-matter experts in the field in question. Then go further by clicking on linked names and terms in the body of the article or by clicking an online source listed in the footnotes or bibliography. AND check unlinked citations in WorldCat in order to locate and obtain those that are not online.

3. Go to locations where parts of your story will take place. Walking along a beach or wading across a creek or going to a pick-it-yourself orchard or Christmas shopping in a crowded mall will help you write those scenes with more authenticity.

4. Interview people who know about the things you are writing about. Ask hobbyists and experts and even travel agents who will enlighten you on auto mechanics, tourist traps and local attractions, care of tarantulas, police work, local history. Prepare good questions beforehand, then tape the interview and/or take good notes. References librarians are often good sources for the names and contact information of local experts. AND the Internet is a great way to meet people from other countries and from other cultures.

5. Read novels set in your chosen time period to see how other writers deal with inserting facts into fiction, how they weave the setting and background and historical information together without lapsing into info dumps. We can learn by reading the best AND the worst.

6. Watch films and plays about your chosen time period. A lot of movies aren't exactly accurate with their costumes and architecture, but they help to give you the 'feel' of the time period.

7. Check out area restaurants that feature the cuisine your characters will be enjoying. Interview the chef or cooks. Taste the foods your characters will eat in your novel. Visit Internet cooking sites for recipes and ingredient lists. Most of the time, characters eventually eat something! Oh, speaking of that, a new genre of foodie romances has arisen. Some even include recipes.

8. Do the work needed to make your story authentic. Writing a medieval romance? Learn to ride a horse or shoot a bow and arrow (or crossbow) or do embroidery. Writing a mystery set in ancient Rome? Learn how to make pasta from scratch or take a beginning Latin class. At best, it will add to your narrative, delight your readers, and at worst, you may find an interesting new hobby.
DON’T SKIP THE RESEARCH! “Hey! I’m here to write a story, not read a bunch of stuff and make notes for junk that’s not going to be in the story!” But plenty of stories have been ruined by not doing the research ahead of time.
Doing all of the above allows you to inject detail into your work—nuances that writers might not know unless they’ve been somewhere, eaten the food there, and talked to the locals. Such details will make your stories more real.

AND DON’T FORGET TO RECORD YOUR SOURCES! Keep your background information in a tabbed notebook or in file folders or on index cards or in Word-type files. AND back up computer files and links on a flash drive. You never know when you might need a detail, a link, an obscure fact again -- or might need to verify where you found it.

Carol Baldridge (cb) is a retired librarian. She has been a regular in the chatroom for some time, and has recently started helping with topic chats. You can visit her cats...er...her blog at http://ceebeeskittykorner.blogspot.com/ 

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Memoir Writing Interview with Shelley Armitage, Author of "Walking The Llano"

Chat Transcript: Writer’s Chatroom interviews Shelley Armitage, author of Walking the Llano.

(This is an edited and partial transcript from a live chat The Writer’s Chatroom had with Shelley Armitage on Jan 22, 2017.)

Moderator Lisa Haselton: Welcome to The Writer's Chatroom. Our mission is to present fun and educational chats for readers and writers. My name is Lisa Haselton and I’ll be your moderator today.

LH: A hearty “Thank You” to our chatroom team, Audrey Shaffer - http://audreyshaffer.com, Lisa Haselton - https://www.facebook.com/LisaHaselton, and Sally Franklin Christie - http://sallyfranklinchristie.com/wp/.

Let me introduce our guest, Shelley Armitage.

Shelley grew up in the northwest Texas Panhandle in the small ranching and farming community of Vega, Texas, in Oldham County.

She still owns and operates a family farm, 1,200 acres of native grass, wheat and milo farmland bordering Highway Interstate 40 on the south and the Canadian River breaks on the north. Shelley shared this landscape from childhood on, riding with her father and grandfather to check crops and cattle and later jogging and today walking the farm roads.

Shelley’s professional life has offered her a connection with landscape through studies of photography, environmental literature, cultural and place studies. After living and working in diverse places—Portugal, Poland, Finland, and Hungary, teaching in the Southwest and Hawai’i, researching in New York, Washington DC, Oregon, Illinois, Missouri, Connecticut—place has taken on special meanings.

The author of eight books and fifty articles and essays, Shelley has held Fulbright Chairs in Warsaw and Budapest, a Distinguished Senior Professorship in Cincinnati, and the Dorrance Roderick Professorship in El Paso as well as three National Endowment for the Humanities grants, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and a Rockefeller grant.

Shelley resides part of each year in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Shelley!

Shelley Armitage: Thank you everyone. So great to be here.

Chatter Tricia: Could you talk about how prominently you think a sense of place should figure in fiction?

SA: I think it depends on the fiction. But I think place can be defined in many ways, even Proust's chair in a room. Often I think place is not a "setting," or a backdrop but something highly psychological, etc.

Chatter Tricia: Fascinating, Shelley. Thank you.

LH: Shelley, what is the Llano Estacado and why was it important to you to walk some of its many miles?

SA: The Llano Estacado is a vast tableland (much of it at 4,000 feet) – an elevated plateau – one of the largest in the U.S. My modest part is in the northwest part of Texas near the New Mexico state line.

I found it important to walk there in order to really sense the place, its prehistory, history, and the various stories, including the land's own narrative by actually feeling the place. I say in the book that I felt I took the land up in my body and it came out writing.

Also, that area is much maligned, called by some still the Great American Desert, and stereotyped as flat and "unworthy of love." I found special beauty and surprising revelations by spending many summers walking there.

LH: So you hadn't planned to write about it when you walked it?

SA: No. At first this was a kind of recreation and honestly a habit of many years spent with my dad on the farmland. I had often jogged there and then later when I wore out my knees, walking. So out of sheer boredom one summer, I decided to start at the family farm and follow an intermittent creek some thirty miles to where it empties into the Canadian River north.

My dad had known the earliest settler, Ysabel Gurule, in that Canadian Valley north from the farm and it turns out Ysabel's dugout (he came in l876) was at the end of that creek, connecting the farm to the river. I thought the two men's lives and narratives connected through the story I might discover from the land.

Chatter Michael: What are some of the major themes you've dealt with in your books and articles?

SA: Wow, that's a big one. I would say the theme of the forgotten, marginalized, disregarded, etc. I've always chosen subjects that I considered very key, very important but that may not be part of a given canon or centrist. For example, the story of the llano.

Most people have never heard of this geographic location much less the stories of Comanche and Kiowa, Clovis and Folsom man, etc, etc. I've written about cartoonists who has been forgotten yet who were key to defining the visual components of an era, for example.

In my recent book, there is the theme of beauty redefined. Of a personal ecology, as I call it.

Chatter Tricia: Is that where you've planted native grasses?

SA: Yes, the native grasses have been restored. There was already some native grass, never plowed, there. It's very satisfying to hope that habitat restoration might make a difference.

Chatter Tricia: That's wonderful, and it seems that habitat restoration would make a difference for sure.

SA: It helps restore wildlife corridors, for example, for pronghorn antelope. But the book, Emerson like, takes the concrete, such as these ecological features we are discussing, and I hope makes them soar.

Chatter Jim: Interesting about the replanting. Do you have a notion of the depth of the top soil there? I am trying to get an idea of the sort of grass there.

SA: Depth of topsoil. Not sure really. But there is a healthy amount and dryland farming does very well there. It's actually easy to be ecologically smart there if one is patient. There is buffalo, side oats grama, little bluestem, etc.

Chatter Jim: I've heard of bluestem. My thanks.

SA: It's what folks call short grass prairie.

LH: Do you remember a moment when you 'knew' you'd write the memoir? A day or when you noticed something in particular?

SA: Actually, I had been teaching a memoir course, without having written a memoir! And yes, looking back on notes and photographs I took, I started thinking about what Mary Austin said one time: "it's the land that wants to be said." Someone else I had done scholarly work on, a poet, also said she wanted to be a tongue for the wilderness.

Chatter Tricia: Beautiful.

LH: Ooh, I like that phrase "a tongue for the wilderness"

Chatter Jim: Me too. Really have a nice way with words, Shelley. :)

SA: I thought that memoir as a form was particularly suited for what I thought about the experiences: it may deal with interiority, but also with the explicit world, thus concrete experience, but also interior thoughts, even dreams, the spiritual, etc.

LH: Shelley, what did you discover about yourself as you walked in relationship to the land where you grew up?

SA: Oh, so many things. The walks were also a respite from the worries I had carrying for a declining mother and later dealing with her death (while this process was going on) and also the death of my brother. I essentially lost all my family while on these walks. I turned to the plains as a kind of family, believe it or not, something that gave me strength and wisdom. I did a lot of research after each walk and thus studied lifeways and beliefs of Native peoples, the care of the land by pastores (New Mexico sheepherders), etc. The stories are what help us along, as Leslie Silko has said, "we are nothing without the stories." Living these other stories, while making my own, was profound for me.

In one passage, I say I want to be adopted by mother earth and father sky, which sounds very corny out of context, but as an adopted child, it resonated many ways.

LH: Have you found poetry a way to express some of what you feel/experience?

SA: Yes, absolutely. And the book we have been discussing has been reviewed over and over as "lyric." I think my interest in the poetic voice and imagination, in writing poetry, in cultivating that ear, is in the book. Also, this is a reason I like memoir: such freedom stylistically. My poetry also deals with "a habit of landscape," the idea that spending time in places gives us keys to understanding ourselves and others.

Chatter Janet: Even your answers to our questions are lyrical, Shelley.

LH: I can hear your passion for the landscape and writing in your words

SA: Thank you!!!

LH: What were some of your challenges in writing the memoir?

SA: Well, for one, I had never written this kind of nonfiction. My scholarly works I hope are very readable; I have always thought of myself as a writer (or someone who attempts to be) rather than an academician. So grace and saying through style have always been important. I had never written about myself until this memoir. And it's amazing how it went through so many stages. I wrote and rewrote it, through a few years. I think each time I got closer to it writing itself, a kind of flow that was natural. A real story. And I learned I could write in segments. That I didn't have to have a logical sequence. This was the most freeing discovery--this and the realization that memoir allows for fictional devices, so as I say I did not have to make everything logically sequential.

LH: Thank you! Was it challenging to figure out what to include and what to leave out?

SA: Oh, yes. Great question. At one point (and back to the question about the poetic) I clipped and posted up on my garage wall the poetic lines I could not part with. Yet, I didn't know exactly what to do with them. Then, looking at them on the wall (like Faulkner diagramming As I Lay Dying) I saw they were the subconscious underpinning of what I wanted to say. So I could build on them. That way, I could cull what didn't fit, didn't connect as extended metaphor or expanded imagistic theme.

LH: Sounds like quite the process! :)

SA: I found it kind of tricky when you already are a critic, a literary professor, and come at literature from that perspective. To critique oneself, yet not gut what is a primal sort of notion, the given line, the lyric voice, was difficult. I found another self, the one I had always wanted as a writer, in this book as in the poetry.

Chatter Jim: I was wondering about your overseas time and how that influenced your writing?

SA: Yes, great question. I think the Fulbrights and other overseas teaching have been the pinnacle of my life. I was able to get out of myself, try to fit in, learn from other cultures. I first went to Ethiopia when I was young and a young teacher. That changed my life forever. I would always encourage anyone to travel and to witness. I loved it!!

Chatter Janet: A reviewer of your memoir said "She carefully mines the history, character, and geology of the Llano Estacado and combines it with a compelling personal narrative to create an account that flows with lyricism, authenticity, and wisdom." You have crafted a beautiful story I believe. What period in your life is in the book?

SA: The book, or I should say the experience of the walks, began in my fifties. That was a very transitional time for me; as I say, my mother had all sorts of health problems and I found myself the prime caregiver even though I lived 400 miles away. I think that experience (the combination of adventure and loss) really helped me grow.

Chatter Tricia: You mentioned your mother's and brother's deaths. Do you talk about your grieving in the memoir?

SA: Absolutely. I couple those experiences with the hikes, the walking. I don't know how to explain those chapters, but everything is interwoven, which becomes the heart of the book. I still grieve frankly when I reread passages of the book and am buoyed as well. The walks helped me cope and gave me strength.

LH: Shelley - you mentioned you were teaching a memoir class before you wrote a memoir -- did your approach to the class change after you wrote the memoir?

SA: Actually, I had taught the class previously, but then had a chance to participate in that class later as a guest (I had developed the course). At that time, I realized I hopefully understood much more about memoir!!! I think the one thing that most affected me was realizing how narrative is not sequential. I actually wrote almost flash pieces, sections, even some which were aided by prompts (or forced by prompts!!). But somehow there was a thread, a kind of subconscious reality, that, when I looked at the fragments, they could be worked together.

LH: Thank you for sharing that.

SA: I should give an example. There is the obvious element of water, of the lack of it, in the llano. The Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest in the world, runs underneath, but is rapidly being depleted. So in terms of water I had a natural trope emerging. My mother actually died from water on the brain. At one point, thinking about her condition, I say "water will have its way." This has been set up in earlier chapters with my observations of the landscape where water has previously sculpted the geography. And there is also an earlier section about my father building a dam which didn't hold against the periodic rains. Water will have its way.

LH: Shelley -- what length do you enjoy writing the most? Do you find a particular word count to feel 'natural'?

SA: You know, recently I have done these blogs, maybe a page and a half, which are remarkably satisfying! But that scares me: can I write something longer anymore or am I being lazy. But with short pieces, I think you have the challenge of saying something interesting in a small space, really not having the luxury of expanding, yet creating memorable kernels. I usually write about twenty pages for a chapter. And am comfortable with that length.

LH: What tips would you have for someone wanting to write a memoir?

SA: Value your own story (stories). Examine your life and think about the seemingly small and insignificant things about it which are waiting for you to revisit. With memoir, we have a double memory, that of the first experience, trying to remember it, and that of recreating that experience. It's almost like revising oneself, perhaps we become a better self once written out. And I would say write, write, write then look at that writing as if it is someone else's. What have you learned from it? What is missing? What do you want to know? And, back to my two suggestions, what can be found there? What is remarkable about the seemingly pedestrian elements of our lives?

And I forgot to say earlier that a major theme in the book is that we ARE the landscape. As Leslie Silko has said (sorry, but she is so right on in her comments), we are as much a part of the landscape as the boulders we stand on. In other words, landscape is not something "out there." But, maybe we could say, in here.

LH: With your connection to your landscape and obvious passion for words, are there any writers, or poets, that come to mind for someone who wants to read beautiful and/or lyrical descriptions?
SA: The poetry of Peggy Church, a New Mexico writer, has inspired me. She's an older poet, that is, her style is totally lyric so may not be to the taste of some. I would read The Way to Rainy Mountain by Scott Momaday as a classic memoir that’s really an extended poem. Just freaking beautiful. Leslie Silko, a novelist. She is a key to understanding form itself. Oh gosh, I have tons, but hard to call them all up. Maybe I could send a list later!!!

I think of the novelist Cristina Garcia who is a study in integrating very poetic lines with fictional narrative.

Chatter Tricia: One that comes to my mind is "Lorna Doone." I know it's 'old', but it has some beautiful descriptions and places. It's as though the landscape is a major character in the story. I think that's true in much 18th- and 19th-century English literature, but perhaps in few books as much as this one.

SA: Yes, so much of British literature of a certain generation is full of lyrical work. I tend to read so-called multi-cultural writers and contemporary work nowadays.

LH: Do you write longhand, or on a computer?

SA: I make notes in longhand, but have written either on a typewriter or a computer since junior high school, thank goodness. My dad brought home one of those little pink numbers from his work place and I was smitten. And believe me, junior high was a few years back!!!

I remember when John Updike confessed he had to move from longhand in his writing practices to the computer. I think that must have been tough.

LH: Thank you, Shelley. We're just about at the top of the hour, I can't believe how fast these 2 hours have gone. So I'll ask you for final comments... anything else you’d like to add before we close for today?

SA: I want to thank everyone. How wonderful the questions and what a great experience. I am thrilled to have been here.

Chatter Tricia: Is there a way to contact you on your website?

SA: Yes, but also you can write me at ssarmitage@aol.com. Please do. Also, I would like to mention I do a weekly blog at shelleyarmitage.com.

LH: Shelley has been an entertaining and informative guest with much to share with us. Check out her website after chat: http://shelleyarmitage.com/. Our Chatroom Team and I want to thank Shelley for an interesting and entertaining chat. Thank you!

SA: Thanks! Super experience!!!

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Writing for Effect: “Died” or “Killed”? by Flo Stanton

It’s not startling when someone merely dies, because as mortals we face that possibility every day. But killed? That implies action—drama—even malicious intent. According to your death certificate, you will have expired via either accidental, homicidal, suicidal, or natural means.

Murder is the most dramatic, of course:

“My brother was killed by a jealous boyfriend.” Or “My sister was killed in combat in Fallujah.”


“My daughter was killed by an overdose of sleeping pills.”

Even death in an accident is dramatic:

“My great aunt Rosie was killed when the train she was riding in crossed a bridge that collapsed and crashed into a raging river thirty feet below.”

You can make even a natural death sound dramatic:

“Cancer killed my mother when she was just 49.”

When you hear the word “killed,” it sends a little shiver up your spine. Slain. Executed. Assassinated. Implying so much more than “died.”

What other pairs of words have the same effect? Please share in the comments.

Flo Stanton’s stories, poetry and artwork have appeared in Gothic Tales of Terror, Ghosts Revenge, Traps, Studies in Scarlet, Tales of a Woman Scorned, A Pint of Bloody Fiction, Indiana Horror Review 2012, 2014 and 2015, Whispers of Wickedness, Static Movement, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, and many others. Her book reviews, literary articles, and true crime pieces have been featured in The Indianapolis Star, Castle Rock, Literally, True Police, Indiana Crime Review 2013 and 2014, the Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine website, etc. 

She lives in Indianapolis with her writer/photographer husband John. You can find them stalking abandoned warehouses, factories, graveyards, and other haunted sites seeking macabre inspiration. Find out more about Flo at www.3amblue.com  or follow her blog at http://flo-stanton.blogspot.com/ 

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Saturday, August 01, 2015

Excerpt: Mind Over All by Karina Fabian

Karina Fabian will be our chat guest August 2, 2015. Join us in the chatroom at 7 pm ET (New York Time).

Blurb: At last, Deryl has it all. He’s mastered his psychic abilities and escaped both the asylum on Earth where he was being studied and the influence of the alien Master who would use his powers as a weapon. He found acceptance among the psychic people of Kanaan and will soon be a father. However, the danger isn’t over.

The Master’s people plan to invade his new homeworld, but even worse, the planets are set to crash into each other. Deryl will have to accept his role as savior of both worlds and push his mind’s powers to the limit in order to save the people he loves most.

Excerpt 1:

Joshua rested his elbows on the counter and let out a long breath. He tried to imagine an entire planet being destroyed, but it was just too big; all his mind pictured were scenes from science fiction movies. But he could understand being terrified for someone he loved—oh, could he identify with that.

Rather than the smooth, nearly instantaneous trip he’d experienced teleporting to Earth, the return to Kanaan felt like trying to drive blind through a hurricane. Forces he didn’t have the thought power to define buffeted him from all sides, trying to draw him of course or tear his friends from his grasp. But his daughter Called him, reaching out to the only person she was aware of besides her mother, and Deryl followed her trust like a beacon, using all his stubbornness to push through the current while keeping Sachiko and Joshua tethered to him.

Excerpt 2:

Deryl braced his feet, splayed his hands palms downward, and sucked the energy from Barin. When Deryl had first been learning to control his abilities, particularly to deal with the legion of impressions coming at him from others around him, Joshua had taught him to shield himself from the mental/emotional aspects. Over the past year, he’d taught himself to filter those aspects out. It was energy, all energy, pure and neutral, like food once processed through the digestive tract. Now, he applied the same skills to Barin, stripping away the pain of the turmoil, taking the energy into himself, storing it, letting it build. The tremors under his feet stilled. The waves crashing against the rocks calmed. The wind that drove the poisonous air against his makeshift mask quieted.

In response, Deryl’s breathing accelerated, his blood raced, his stomach churned. Adrenalin coursed through him, making him shake. He ignored it, pulling further on Barin, reaching into the ground, through the air, and to the ley lines that arched weakly overhead. A detached part of his mind worked physics problems of angles and forces. Barin needed shields, and he was just the man to do it.

The key to his sanity lay in creating shields—barriers against unwanted thoughts and emotions, clumsily erected until Joshua and his neuro linguistic programming style of psychology had taken him at his word that he was truly psychic and helped him create stronger, more clever shields. He’d further honed his skills on Kanaan, training under Salgoud in anticipation of a Barin attack: manipulating energy to protect himself, then Tasmae, gradually expanding— He could do this. It was just a matter of size and energy.

Two minutes to atmosphere. Deryl’s muscles strained as he lifted his hands over his head, palms still fat but now toward the sky. His hasty calculations complete enough, he released the power to meet the Miscria Storm.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Agent Wants To Keep The Book?

Janet Reid received a question from an author. The author's agent is quitting the business, but wants to keep the author's book and try to make a sale. Huh?

How can a non-agent make a sale to a publisher? And, if the woman isn't an agent anymore, who is going to track and figure out the royalty statements? How could this work out for anyone?

As usual, Janet has great advice for the author. And, again as usual, the comments section has even more good advice.

Read the whole article here: http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2015/01/query-question-my-agent-is-quitting-but.html 

(You don't follow Janet's blog? What's wrong with you?!?!)

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Review - Honor of a Hunter by Sylvie Kurtz

Honor of a HunterWritten by: Sylvie Kurtz
Romantic Suspense
Rated: Very Good (****)
Review by: Lisa Haselton

Faith Byrne has everything money can buy and is determined to be successful in her father’s eyes. Noah Kingsley is great with computers and hasn’t been in love since a brief teenage romance with a woman out of his league.

When Faith discovers someone has been in her secure high-rise condo she calls Noah for comfort. Noah is content with his position in Seekers, Inc. in New Hampshire since it involves adventure, catching bad guys, and at the end of the day he can relax in his country home. The early morning phone call from Seattle evokes numerous emotions, but Noah doesn’t hesitate to hop a plane and rush to protect his best friend.

Noah knows how to use technology to track Faith’s stalker, but her need to keep her obsessive work schedule and be seen in the office stretches Noah’s skills to the limit. Faith wants the stalker identified so she can confront him and show that she is in control of her life. Yet eventually, she realizes the only way to hang on is to let go completely.

As with all her prior novels, Sylvie Kurtz has created unique characters with interesting lives. Her writing brings the characters off the page so they seem like friends. Her strong male and female protagonists have vulnerabilities they try to hide and intense heartfelt emotions they try to intellectualize. The writing is solid and the suspense builds in increments that leave the reader as emotionally involved as the heroine.

Sylvie Kurtz earned her commercial pilot’s license and instrument rating but has since traded an airplane for a keyboard, where she lets her imagination soar to create fictional adventures that explore the power of love and the thrill of suspense. When not writing, she enjoys the outdoors with her family, quilt-making, and photography. For more information on all of her published works, check out her website at http://www.sylviekurtz.com/.

Honor of a Hunter is an engaging read. Readers of romance or suspense will be pulled in by the characters and pulled along by the continuous change of circumstances.

Available at: http://www.amazon.com/, http://www.bn.com/, other online outlets, and in local bookstores.

Title: Honor of a Hunter
Author: Sylvie Kurtz
Publisher: Harlequin
ISBN: 978-0-373-69295-8
Pages: 240

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Sunday, November 09, 2014

The Last Word On Word Count

We use Janet Reid's blog posts as chat topics on a regular basis. This one was too short to fill an hour of chat, but I wanted to make sure you had a chance to read it.

Check out:

The definitive, absolute, no more question about it post on Word Count

That should answer your word count questions!

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

Crime Writing Resources

Crime writer Nancy J Cohen says "While researching my mysteries, I often need information that you can’t go around asking writer friends in public. Imagine discussing these topics in a restaurant...

"What kind of poison can I use that will kill someone right away and is easily obtainable? How can I stage a crime scene by hanging the victim to make it look like a suicide? Does firing a .38 give much of a recoil? What happens when a detective is personally involved in a murder case? What kind of poisonous snake can I have the bad guy put in my hero’s suitcase?"

No, these aren't questions you can ask in public. Not unless you want the police watching you. So where can you safely ask questions like this? How do you find out the information you need to make your stories authentic? Well, The Kill Zone is the perfect place for links.

Check out Nancy's post at http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2014/05/crime-writing-resources.html . She lists 21 different websites where you can find the information you need.

Without police notice!

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead by Saralee Rosenberg

Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead
By Saralee Rosenberg
ISBN 978-0-06-125377-5

Published by Avon, an imprint of Harper Collins
Review by Audrey Shaffer

Mindy has suffered for years over her neighbor-from-hell. Beth is perfect in every way, and her favorite pastime is letting Mindy know that she doesn’t even deserve to lick Beth’s boots.

But Mrs. Perfect finally makes a mistake, and the story spreads like wildfire. All hell breaks loose in everyone’s life, and Mindy finds herself the eye of the hurricane. Affairs, long-lost children, marital separations, unplanned pregnancies, $100,000 contest prizes, deaths and more. Not to mention a family cruise and a plane crash.

Through it all, Mindy keeps moving forward, untangling the big snarls and accepting the little ones. Neighbors from hell, over-bearing in-laws, unknown step-children and all, Mindy is the sunshine in the storm. In her presence everything, somehow, works out in the end.

Saralee Rosenberg dishes up the laughs and keeps your plate full, from the dedication to the bio on the back cover. This writer sees the humor in every situation, and pumps it up to full volume. I can’t wait to find the rest of her books. Rosenberg has moved to the top ten on my favorite author’s list.

(Saralee Rosenberg is a former chat guest)

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sucker For A Hot Rod by Joselyn Vaughn

Sucker for a Hot Rod by Joselyn Vaughn 

I don’t read romance, but the “hot rod” caught my attention in this chatroom guest’s bio. I went to Amazon and downloaded the ebook. 

Judi is a new teacher who drives an ancient Datsun. It was her father’s car, and about the only thing he left when he died. The car spends more time hooked to the tow truck than it does on the road, but she can’t give it up. Plus, she doesn’t have money for a new car. 

The local mechanic has given up on the car. He suggests Bryce Halloway. Halloway’s own a tractor repair shop. That’s where she should go to get her foreign car fixed? 

With no other choices, Judi has the tow truck deliver her car to Halloway’s. Bryce fixes tractors because it’s the family business. What he secretly wants to do is work on sports cars, and race. He’s a little bitter because he knows he will be stuck with tractors for the rest of his life. 

Bryce also doesn’t want to settle down. He makes a practice of only dating a girl once. But fixing Judi’s car isn’t a date, right? Helping her learn to drive a clunker for the local demolition derby isn’t a date, right? By the time they have an official “first date”, they’re both feeling more than they want to. But the road to romance never runs smoothly, in books or in real life.  

I did enjoy this story, in spite of it being a romance. Judi and Bryce are interesting characters, as are the supporting characters. Vaughn has written several books set in the same small town, and many of the supporting cast show up in other stories. They made me smile.

I just might have to buy another (gulp) romance novel one of these days. One by Joselyn Vaughn, that is.

eBook purchased from amazon.com

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Skip Miller Wins!

Congratulations Skip Miller! You are the winner of our writing challenge. :)

The challenge was to start with our first line, and write a flash story. In case you missed it, this is the winning story:

Flash Fiction, by Skip Miller
The Last Human

The sun shone on the body of the last living person in the world, as he gasped his final breath and fell silent.

From over the hill came Zork. “I told you I got it,” he shouted, jumping up and down, his one huge eye watering with tears of joy.

El followed not far behind. “You got it alright, just be quiet about it, or we’ll have to share it with the others.”

“I can taste it already.”

“Well you better enjoy it, that’s the last one. I told the elder, we should of left some to breed, so we could come back later, but would he, would anyone listen to me? NO! Now we’ll have to find another planet with life on it.”

“We couldn’t help it, these taste so good smothered in vegetables.” Zork pleaded.

“Would it have hurt just to leave a few for later? When you’re having to eat some Luk or Dell, you’ll be wishing you could make a trip back here for a taste of Earth.”

WTG Skip! If you would like to read more of Skip's work, skip right over to his blog. You'll get a lot of good reading there.

Congratulations again to our winner, Skip Miller! Watch this blog for future writing challenges.

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