Morning Pages: Don’t Speak. Don’t Judge. Don’t Fall Asleep.

Browsing through the AMW blog, I came across the title, “Morning Pages: Don’t Speak. Don’t Judge. Don’t Fall Asleep.” And I thought, What a cute title. I wonder who the author is. A couple of clicks later I discovered the author was moi. I wrote it in 2014. Quelle surprise, as those of us who took one summer class in French just for fun say but can’t remember how to spell. (I looked it up.) I also found I kind of liked it,* and since it’s mine, I’m giving myself permission to re-post. 

***

Karleen Koen

The first day of last summer’s Writer’s League of Texas retreat, author-instructor Karleen Koen told students that every morning before class, we must do Morning Pages: Wake up, don’t speak, take pen and paper–not computer–and, while still drowsy, write “three pages of anything.” Don’t judge. Keep the pen moving. In her course notebook, Karleen listed the following:

Stream of consciousness, complain, whine, just move your hand across the page writing whatever crosses your mind until you get to the end of page three.

Karleen stressed that she didn’t invent Morning Pages. The technique, minus the name, came from the book Becoming a Writer by teacher Dorothea Brande, published in 1934 and reissued in 1981. Author John Gardner, in his foreword to the reprinted edition, states it was “astonishing” that the book had ever gone out of print.

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

Ms Brande advises aspiring writers to “rise half an hour, or a full hour, before you customarily rise.” She continues,

Write anything that comes into your head: last night’s dream, if you are able to remember it; the activities of the day before; a conversation, real or imaginary; an examination of conscience. Write any sort of early morning reverie, rapidly and uncritically. (Brande, p. 72)

Julia Cameron, in her bestselling The Artist’s Way, published in 1992, named the process Morning Pages and made them the cornerstone of her Artist’s Way program. Cameron considers them a form of meditation.

Why we do Morning Pages? To quiet the internal critic; to tap into the subconscious; to discover what you know; to remember and to capture the present; to build fluency, the ability to “write smoothly and easily when the unconscious is in the ascendant.” (Brande, p. 72) And, as Koen notes, to whine and complain.

When I do Morning Pages, I like to focus on whining and complaining. Words of discontent virtually flow from my pen when I follow Brande’s instruction to rise early. To wit:

The morning after Karleen assigned Morning Pages, my roommate and I woke to my cell phone alarm at seven rather than the previous day’s eight. (I think that was the morning the phone flew from the nightstand and landed on the concrete floor.) I propped myself up on a couple of pillows, gathered the pen and the notebook I’d placed on the nightstand before retiring the night before, and started to write.

While I wrote, my roommate sat on the side of her bed. Instead of picking up her notebook, she spoke. I reminded her we weren’t supposed to talk. She told me she didn’t care what we weren’t supposed to do. After violating the rules once or twice more, she started on her Morning Pages.

Roommate Gale Albright drinking tea and smiling

In my usual all-or-nothing fashion (a tiny bit of OCD), I wrote through hand cramp and shifting pillows. Halfway through, I fell asleep. When I woke about a half-hour later, I resumed scribbling.

My roommate had already finished her Pages. She had dressed. She had sat on the porch and drunk a cup of hot tea. She was smiling.

Sometimes it is better to bend the rules.

At break time, I quoted to Karleen the first sentence of my Morning Pages: I don’t like Karleen any more. (I said it in bold font.) She laughed and asked if I knew how funny I was. I didn’t tell her I was dead serious. I knew that before the end of the day I would like her again, and if I told the truth now, I would have to apologize later, and I just didn’t have the energy.

Since I’m confessing, I might as well admit that, while I was scribbling, I figured out a fool-proof way to make Morning Pages a positive experience: Use a notebook with little tiny pages. They fill up faster.

Looking back, I’m ashamed of the thought, but at the time it seemed a darned good idea. Sometimes it still does.

Anyway. Having griped about that miserable experience, I’ll also admit that Morning Pages work. I’ve done them off and on since 1998, when I heard Julia Cameron speak at the Austin Whole Life Festival. A small group of young men stood outside Palmer Auditorium holding placards and begging attendees to abandon chakras and crystals and choose reason instead, while inside, Cameron shared the most reasonable ideas on stimulating creativity.

So I read The Artist’s Way and, although a 17-cent spiral notebook would have sufficed, I bought a copy of The Artist’s Way Journal. (The Journal had enormous, narrow-ruled pages that took forever to cover, but having the proper tools is important to us obsessive types.)

Then I wrote. And whined. And complained. As I did, the garbage in my head oozed down my arm, through my hand, and onto the page. By the time I got to page three, my mood had lightened. When I turned to other writing, the garbage stayed trapped inside the Journal.

Once the brain has been cleared of debris, words can flow.

That’s my experience. Others have their own reasons for writing those three pages per day. But those who engage in the practice swear by it.

Adequate sleep

As I said, I’m not consistent. I’ve done Morning Pages for months at a time, then skipped one day and failed to resume the habit.** Nearly every time I’ve given up,  fatigue has been the cause. A long commute before and after an extra-long day makes early rising unpleasant if not impossible. The same thing goes for getting to bed too late. Morning Pages require adequate sleep. But so does good health. So does good writing of any kind.***

Before leaving the retreat, I bought a special notebook for my return to Morning Pages. The signature on the cover looked like Dickens but turned out to be Darwin. No matter. Darwin and I are friends, too, and I wanted the green one. I’ve not yet made peace with going to bed at a decent hour. I’m trying. But when I stay up into the wee hours working on a blog post, my morning edges toward afternoon.

Oh–I’ve just remembered: A situation unrelated to fatigue once interfered with Morning Pages. It involved the repaving of twenty miles of FM20, a wintry-cold house, and a new box of cat litter.

But that’s a story for another post.

###

Charles Darwin’s signature on elegant green notebook

* Re-reading old work and liking old work don’t always occur together.

** Morning Pages is about the only habit I’ve ever managed to break.

*** I’m not sure about sleep being necessary for good writing of all kinds. I suspect Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald might have stayed up past bedtime. But I bet Willa Cather kept regular hours. And, as people with any discernment at all recognize, Cather is at the very top of the American novelist pecking order.

***

 

M. K. Waller

M. K. Waller (aka Kathy) blogs at  Telling the Truth, Mainly Write (http://kathywaller1.com) and at the group blog Writing Wranglers and Warriors. She has set aside her novel manuscript for a while to concentrate on writing short stories. She likes writing short stories so much, she may declare the novel officially defunct.

Her stories appear in Mysterical-E; AMW’s first crime fiction anthology, MURDER ON WHEELS;

DAY OF THE DARK (Wildside, July 2017)

and in the brand new DAY OF THE DARK: Stories of the Eclipse, edited by Kaye George and released by Wildside Press on July 21, 2017.

A second AMW anthology is with the publisher and will be out shortly.

Writing as Business: An Epiphany

Please join us at the DAY OF THE DARK launch party Friday, July 21, on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/199463997250907/

The following post first appeared on Writing Wranglers and Warriors. 

*****

Writing is a business.

That’s what experienced writers tell the wannabes.

For a long time, I thought business applied to action alone: Write every day, attend classes, network, become familiar with various routes to publication, learn the market, read submission guidelines, stay in good physical shape, and on and on… Items on a list, they could be checked off at the end of each day.

Recently, I discovered another aspect of writing as business that I can’t quite fit onto a list.

Last winter, Kaye George put out a call for submissions of stories for DAY OF THE DARK, an anthology to celebrate the total solar eclipse that will be visible from parts of the United States this summer. Each story would contain an element of mystery and would be related to an eclipse. Kaye would edit, and Wildside Press would have the book out before the August 21 eclipse.

I’ve known Kaye for a number of years, ever since I joined Austin Mystery Writers, which she was facilitating. I watched as her career took off–a contract for one mystery series soon turned into contracts for three more series. At the same time, she wrote and published short stories and articles, and appeared on panels, and made it look easy.

Periodically, I said, “I don’t know how she gets it all done.”

And someone would respond, “Now, you mustn’t compare yourself to Kaye.”

And I would say, “I’m not comparing myself to her. I just don’t know how she gets it all done.”

I knew, of course, that she did it by checking tasks off that list. What I wanted to know was–where did she get the energy? (I still want to know.)

When I read her call for submissions, I didn’t consider sending a story. As usual, my mind was blank. My mind is always blank–what could I write about an eclipse?–until the last minute. As usual, at the last minute, I came up with an idea for a story.

But.

I don’t like to work for friends. I don’t mix the personal and the professional. If I sent Kaye a story and she rejected it, I wouldn’t be hurt, I wouldn’t be angry, I wouldn’t be devastated–but I would be embarrassed, not by rejection, but by the knowledge that I’d had the audacity to submit an inferior product, a story I should have known wasn’t worthy–

Here’s where the epiphany comes in:

It dawned on me that–what a concept!–Kaye is a businesswoman. She intended to put out the best book possible. She would choose only stories that fit her purpose.

And epiphany, part 2:

I was a businesswoman. I would submit a story. It it was accepted, I would be pleased. If it was rejected, I would accept that as part of doing business, set the story aside, tweak it, submit it elsewhere. Or, if I discovered it wasn’t tweakable, I would set it aside and leave it there.

Write, submit, be accepted/rejected, get on with life.

So I wrote a story titled “I’ll Be a Sunbeam,” submitted, was accepted, and, after dancing

around the room for a while–dancing is also part of the writing business–I saw another call for submissions, wrote, submitted…

Today, July 21, a month before the coming eclipse,  DAY OF THE DARK is being released. It will be available in print and for Kindle.

I’m thrilled my story was accepted for DAY OF THE DARK. I’m thrilled to be in the company of the twenty-three other writers whose stories appear there.

And I’m thrilled to finally understand that the writing business is really a state of mind.

*****

To read more about stories in DAY OF THE DARK, see Debra Goldstein’s Day of the Dark Anthology!!!! – Part I . Part II will appear on July 31.

M. K. Waller, aka Kathy, 
has published stories 
in Austin Mystery Writers’ 
MURDER ON WHEELS
and in Mysterical-E.
She blogs at
Telling the Truth, Mainly.

Banishing Lazy Words by Terry Shames

This week we have a guest blogger, friend and fellow mystery writer, Terry Shames!

Terry grew up in Texas, and has an abiding affection for the people she grew up with and the landscape and culture of the town that is the model for Jarrett Creek. She graduated from the University of Texas and has an MA from San Francisco State University. Terry now lives in Northern California with her husband, two terriers and a regal cat.

Terry’s first Samuel Craddock novel, A Killing at Cotton Hill, (July 2013) and was named one of the top five debut mystery novels of 2013 by MysteryPeople. The second in the series, The Last Death of Jack Harbin was named one of the top five mysteries of 2014 by the Library Association’s Library Journal. Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, the third in the Samuel Craddock series, came out in October of 2014, followed by A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge in April 2015 and The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake in January 2016.

A member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, she serves on the boards of Northern California chapters of both.

Welcome, Terry! shamesTerry_1

Banishing Lazy Words

When I’m editing a book, I know that when I begin to get restless I’ve probably come across a nest of lazy words–words that are shorthand, or placeholders, for what I really want to say. Here are some lazy word indicators:

These, this, those, thing, stuff, some, about, just…and the dreaded “to be” verb (was, were…)

I often find when I come across several of these words on one page it means I was reluctant to dig deeper into the emotional content in the scene. When I buckle down and confront what I’m avoiding writing, digging deep to find the emotional core of the scene, I often end up writing a lot more words than I had before.

Here’s an example of a piece I was editing for someone else. I ran across several places on one page where two characters were talking about, “This thing we have going,” and “This thing we are trying.” The “thing” the writer was talking about was a difficult relationship between people of different ethnic backgrounds. By repeating the words “this thing,” she avoided addressing in depth the painful aspects of the relationship. The words fell flat on the page. Only when she changed it to say what she really meant, “Our risky experiment,” and “The way we are thumbing our nose at tradition,” did it begin to have the depth it deserved. Instead of a romance novel, it because more like Romeo and Juliet.

In first drafts, we often use shorthand for what we know is going to be a difficult description. But as writers we have to work hard to ferret out those lazy little words and phrases and say what we really mean. Not, “Amanda’s bedroom was a mess. There was STUFF lying everywhere,” or “I walked into Bill’s office. There was STUFF lying everywhere,” but instead, “Amanda’s clothes were strewn on the floor leading to the bed,” or “Judging from Bill’s office, he was a guy who dropped whatever he was reading onto any handy surface as soon as he was done with it.” Instead of saying, “there were several things he wanted to tell her,” it’s more interesting to read, “he stored up little criticisms that he could spring on her later.”

Contrast these two paragraphs:

“They dated for a few months, during which he told several lies. Some time later, she tried to remember which lies bothered her the most. There was the time he told her he was an accountant and lost his job when the economy went bad. And another time he said he looked around for a job for a long while before he could find another one. But the worst was when he said he’d buy her some jewelry, and never did.”

The fix:

“They dated for six month. After he disappeared, she found that he had hardly opened his mouth without lying. She bought into it when he told her he was an accountant, and lost his job when the economy went bust. She even believed that he pounded the pavement looking for a job for six months before he found one. But the lie that hurt most was that he promised to buy her a diamond ring, and he never did.”

The first paragraph is full of lazy words like “a few,” “several,” “some, “tried,” most,” “there was,” etc. The second one uses livelier, mores descriptive words.

When you read authors you admire, note that they pin down real time, real place, real emotion. It makes their prose richer and keeps readers engaged. It takes hard editing work, but it’s worth it. It’s the key element that will make your prose come alive.

You can find more information about Terry Shames at www.terryshames.com 

Thank you, Terry! That’s good concrete information that all writers can use. What do you think, reader? Any questions or comments?

 

Guest Blogger Janet Christian

38-Janet-Christian-5x7

Today’s guest blogger is Janet Christian, author of the Marianna Morgan PI murder mystery series (she’s working on book two at this time) and the soon to be published Virgilante paranormal mystery. She also has a dystopian science fiction novel, Born Rich, which she’s expanding into an epic, so it’s currently not for sale.

Janet served as 2003 President of the Heart of Texas Sisters in Crime in Austin, and became a published author in 2012. She also maintains an author’s blog.

Janet and her husband Eric Marsh live on a 100 acre ranch near Lockhart, TX – 30 miles south of Austin. They have four goofy dogs, an ever-changing population of cats (usually around 10), and a small herd of  spotted-wool Jacob sheep. When she isn’t writing, Janet creates pottery art pieces in her combination pottery studio and tiki bar.

Janet, welcome to AMW!

Three steps to research success

I was inspired to write this article after conversations with several writers who said they just wanted to write, and factual details weren’t that important to readers, anyway. The writers were willing to do limited online research, but had no inclination to talk to experts or visit locations. Research can certainly either be the bane or the joy of writing, regardless of genre or time period of the story. But research is always important, so why not find ways to make it work in your favor, and perhaps to even be enjoyable.

I understand that we writers tend to be a solitary bunch, but please make the effort to do thorough research beyond just surfing the web. You’ll be happy that you did. And so will your readers. Besides, at least to me, one of the joys of writing is learning all those amazing and cool facts and bits of trivia.

Here are three tips to help ensure your research is thorough, useful, and hopefully fun to acquire.

1. Surf the web

Google and other seSurfing the Webarch tools are amazingly complete storehouses of information, but searching can be tricky. If you want to know what year an event occurred, one search usually provides the answer. But if your goal is more esoteric, it can take dozens of searches, tweaking the keywords each time, before you find the information you seek.

Like most writers, I’ve attempted searches for some pretty obscure facts. And once recently my search resulted in the message “No results found.” I’m both simultaneously tickled and frightened that I “broke” Google. Maybe I need to rethink that plot twist.

While search tools are powerful, and can provide a world of search results, you should not count on it as your sole research tool. We all know the internet is chock full of not-quite-true “facts” and information. But the biggest reason is because of the amount of results one search provides. It can be overwhelming to sift out the clutter and get to the specific facts you seek. You can also find search results that directly contradict each other. (Try searching “are vaccines safe” or “is global warming real” for proof of just how contradictory results can be.)

Use a search tool as a springboard for where to go next. For my first novel, The Case of a Cold Trail and a Hot Musket, I wanted my protagonist, Private Investigator Marianna Morgan, to search for a stolen Brown Bess musket. In fact, my novel was inspired by a newspaper article about a long-lost Brown Bess being donated to the Alamo. Online searches gave me many facts about the musket, including images of its wooden stock and unusual triangular, cross-section bayonet. But there were many variations of the musket. And nothing online told me what condition it would be in after having been buried for thirty-five years. This is the point in research where it’s good to move on to step 2.

2. Contact an expert

Talk to expertsI was fortunate in the case of my Brown Bess research that my sister has a business acquaintance with Dr. Richard Bruce Winders, Historian and Curator of the Alamo. I was granted an appointment with Dr. Winders and had the privilege of holding the actual Brown Bess mentioned in the article that inspired my murder mystery. Dr. Winders also described in detail how I could safely hide one in my story.

But don’t let your lack of a direct or indirect relationship with an expert deter you. When I needed to research how the abduction of a child would have been handled in an unincorporated area near San Antonio in the days before 911 emergency service existed, I called Chief Don Davis, who was the Police Chief of Terrell Hills, Texas at the time I was writing. He was more than happy to see me. The accuracy and detail I included in my novel were a direct result of Chief Davis’s informative and helpful answers.

I’ve interviewed many other experts as well, covering topics as diverse as reptile exhibits, how many UPS drivers are assigned to a given geographic area, vintage Mustangs, and what would happen to a koi pond if a decomposing body were buried beneath the rubber liner. Some experts I met in person, others I talked to on the phone. I recommend face-to-face where possible, but phone calls are a perfectly acceptable alternative. I’ve yet to contact an expert who wasn’t happy to help, and all patiently answered my many questions. I always make sure to thank them in the back of the book and send them a signed copy once it’s published.

Whether you’re writing contemporary or historical mysteries, and regardless of whether they’re cozies or hard-boiled, there’s always an expert who can provide those gems of detail that really bring a story to life. And bringing reality and life to a story is where the third tip in research comes in.

3. On site visits

Triton, MN, September 28,2010--Rich Barto, an Small Business Administration (SBA) Construction Analyst inspects a home that was damaged when the Zumbro River overflowed its banks. FEMA, the SBA and the State of Minnesota are conducting damage assessment to determine if the state is eligible for federal assistance. Photo by Patsy Lynch/FEMA

In addition to my expert contacts on reptile exhibits, I visited the Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo near San Antonio. It was an hour and a half drive, but well worth it. Because of that visit, I was able to add multiple sensory experiences to the scene where Marianna visits a roadside reptile exhibit while tracking the bad guy. I believe my experiencing the assault of smells, sounds, and sights in person gave the scene in my novel a realism I could not have created any other way.

An actual on-site visit may not always be practical, but when it is, take advantage. If you’re writing a mystery that takes place in London, unless you have an extensive travel budget, you may not be able to visit. And if your story is set in 1800s London, a visit may not be all that useful, anyway. But sometimes there are other ways to accomplish a sense of “being there.” And even those alternatives can be invaluable.

Want a feel for Victorian England? Visit the largest Renaissance Faire you can find within a reasonable drive. Setting your charming cozy in a small town populated by quirky characters? Visit two or three cool small towns.

We’ve likely all read stories where it was clear the author published without doing any research. Even little mistakes can throw a reader out of a story. Did a football fan buy your mystery because it involves a murder during a Super Bowl? You can bet they’ll write a scathing review if you set the story in 1966 (the first Super Bowl was in 1967), or even if you describe the wrong concession foods. But if you’ve done your online research, talked to a football expert, and actually attended a football game (even a high school game, especially in Texas, will give you the sense of the crowd’s excitement and behavior), your story will “ring true” and that football fan will love it and look forward to buying your next book.

Isn’t at least one of our ultimate goals to have readers who love our books and can’t wait for each new release? Research can be one of the biggest keys to helping that happen.

 

Thanks Janet! You can find more of her writing at www.janetchristian.com

Pieces of Time

“After you learn – and if you’re good and Gawd helps ya and you’re lucky to have a personality that comes across – then what you’re doing is, you’re giving people… little, tiny pieces of time… that they never forget.”- James Stewart, explaining to Peter Bogdanovich what actors do

Three paragraphs into a post about the importance of motivation in character and plot development–working title: “What Do You Want?”–I remembered hearing that As Good As It Gets would be on television. I’d like to see it again, so I checked the schedule for the network that airs oldies.

As Good As It Gets wasn’t running, nor was anything else I wanted to see, but while I was there, I went on to see what’s playing today, and tomorrow, and the next day, until nearly two weeks were planned out. Because it’s so easy to forget these things, I prepared a schedule:

Cropped screenshot of Claudette Colbert and Cl...

Cropped screenshot of Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable from the trailer for the film It Happened One Night. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Trailer screenshot, from DVD It Happened One Night, Columbia, 1999 (It Happened One Night trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, December 15
5:45a It Happened One Night
8:00p The Desperate Hours (I love Frederic March and Humphrey Bogart)
10:30p Compulsion (based on the Leopold and Loeb case; Orson Welles as the DA)

Wednesday, December 16
3:40p Come Back, Little Sheba (always wanted to see it, never have)
5:45p Let No Man Write My Epitaph (Burl Ives, always wonderful, and Jean Seberg, ditto)

Thursday, December 17
6:20a Blueprint for Murder (don’t get to see Joseph Cotton much any more)
5:25p Stalag 17 (William Holden and Gary Merrill; what’s not to like?)
8:00p Twelve O’Clock High (Gregory Peck and Gary Merrill; see above)

Friday, December 18
8:00a The Bells of St. Mary’s (Ingrid Bergman; her smile in that last scene makes me reach for a second crying towel; worth getting up early for)

Saturday, December 19
5:15p The Rainmaker (Katharine Hepburn; no comment needed)
8:00p Roman Holiday (Audrey Hepburn; two Hepburns in rapid succession–modified rapture!)
10:40p Father Goose (Cary Grant; well, d’oh)

Sunday, December 20
11:00a The Cheap Detective (Neil Simon’s script, Sid Caesar, Dom DeLuise, John Houseman, Madeline Kahn, Fernando Llamas, Phil Silvers, and on and on…)
8:00p Cheaper by the Dozen (seen it several times, but I love Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy)

And during the rest of the week, there will be opportunities to see Tootsie, Bye Bye Birdie, The Keys of the Kingdom, Oliver Twist (1933 version, with Dickie Moore), Let’s Make it Legal (Claudette Colbert and Marilyn Monroe), That Touch of Mink, and Barefoot in the Park.

And the Shirley Temple Christmas Day marathon, or at least Captain January, might be fun…

I’d be happy to watch nearly everything that network has to offer, one after the other.

(Except The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. After seeing that one a half-dozen times, I know who shot him and don’t need a review.)

But now, a reality check. The movies are uncut, and they’re interrupted by numerous commercials, so each runs about three hours. Watching the ones named above, minus Captain January because it’s a maybe–would take sixty-three hours. If I watched for sixteen hours straight–nothing else, just sat there and watched–the film binge would take four days. Watching eight hours a day would use up eight days. I hate to admit it, but lying on the couch all day, eating Hershey’s Kisses, watching old films… I could do that. But I won’t.

Because how much time have I spent over my lifetime lost in the fantasy on a small screen? How many hours have I sat and watched instead of taking up pen and paper–or laptop–and writing?

Too many.

James Stewart didn’t make all those marvelous little pieces of time by lying on his couch, watching Charlie Chaplin on TV.

Stories are pieces of time, too, and I want to make more of them. But it’s not going to happen while I’m mesmerized by Hollywood. I have to turn off that television and write.

***

 

Kathy Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly12376007_1178023688877814_9154670791884953413_n (3)
and at Writing Wranglers and Warriors.
Two of her stories appear in the anthology
MURDER ON WHEELS (Wildside, 2015).
She’s now working on short stories
and on a mystery novel set in a town
very like the one she grew up in.

 

Join AMW for MURDER ON WHEELS Launch ~ August 11

Please join

Austin Mystery Writers

Gale Albright, Valerie Chandler, Kaye George,
Scott Montgomery, Laura Oles, and Kathy Waller
&
Earl Staggs and Reavis Wortham

as they celebrate the launch of their first crime fiction anthology

MURDER ON WHEELS:
11 Tales of Crime on the Move

“Eleven stories put the pedal to the floor and never let up! Whether by bus, car, tractor, or bike, you’ll be carried along at a breakneck pace by the talented Austin Mystery Writers. These eight authors transport you from an eighteenth-century sailing ship to the open roads of modern Texas, from Alice’s Wonderland to a schoolbus yard in the suburbs of Dallas. Grab your book, hold on to your hat, and come along for the ride!”

Tuesday, August 11, 2015
7:00 p.m.

BookPeople Bookstore
6th Street and Lamar

Austin, Texas

“There is something for everyone…” ~ Amazon Review

“…light-hearted (and occasionally black-hearted) collection of short stories… I thoroughly enjoyed it. … take your choice–historical, humorous, dark and light. Good reading for mystery fans.” ~ Amazon Review

 “… dialog that is realistic and makes the characters believable and three dimensional. There is something for everyone…” ~ Amazon review

“… a diverting read.” ~ Barry Ergang, Kevin’s Corner

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It’s Not About You

once upon a timeWhile attending Malice Domestic in Bethesda, MD last month, I overheard a small group of authors gathered in the hotel bar discussing the issue of whether family members or friends thought a character was actually a portrayal of them. It seemed each had a story to share. One author’s sister felt a character was based on her. The author, however, stated the two–the sister and the character in question–had very little in common. The sister had picked up on one particular behavior and, from that point, assumed the entire character was based on her. It caused a bit of a family kerfuffle.

A quick online query about the topic will reveal many writers discussing how someone–a loved one, a friend, a colleague– believes a character is based on her and is unhappy about it, even when the author assures her it just isn’t so.

That’s not to say that certain authors haven’t based characters on real people–it happens all the time and often the author will reveal that information outright. After all, Anne Lamott once wrote, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” That said, this topic becomes further complicated when the book is a work of fiction and no intent to base a character on a real person was made.  So, what happens when someone in your circle believes a character–one with one or more negative traits– is based on her?

If the character is a benevolent superhero with skills that put all around her to shame, letting your aunt/sister/friend claim that character as a portrayal is no issue. Let her enjoy the idea. However, what if the character is difficult, angry or passive-aggressive? How does an author help those around her understand that it is indeed a work of fiction?

While I can’t speak about the experiences of other authors, as they are as vast and layered as the works in our genre, I can share my general thought process when writing fiction. If this post helps neutralize a heated conversation, I’m happy to help.

I tend to be drawn to the dynamics between people, to specific conversations, to behavior and to moments in time. I might take one particular spark–a discussion, an encounter–and run with it. The result may be a compilation of my own experiences with several people over a long period of time, and I find that my characters take those behaviors and use them for their own purposes. No one in any of my work represents any one person. However, one person may have traits from several people or have experiences from several people all wrapped up in that one person. That’s a pretty wide net. After all, each one of us can be angry, difficult, funny, sarcastic or rude at any given time. Each one of us may have experienced the shattering loss of a parent, the sharp tongue of a hostile work colleague, the exhaustion of a demanding career. It doesn’t mean a character with those traits or experiences is based on a real person.

Each writer brings to her work a culmination of experiences, heartbreaks, conversations and issues and those tiny threads are bound to weave themselves in the story somehow.

But not in the way others might believe.

My primary purpose is to encourage the reader to care about the characters and what happens to them. That is my goal. Creating characters based on real people isn’t part of my process.   I may appreciate how one friend handles difficult conversations while another friend’s compassion with animals makes me smile, but that doesn’t mean those same people show up in my work. The particular behavior or personality trait might but that is only because it belongs to the character. That’s where it ends.

Writers study the world around them, taking note of interactions and exchanges, tucking them away in the hopes they might be useful in a story one day.  What happens next is complete fiction, and isn’t that one of the best things about being a mystery writer?

–Laura Oles

Writing, Thinking, Pantsing, and Miracles

Pantsing, when successful, lets you create a story closely resembling the spark that ignited it. ~Janalyn Voigt, Live, Write, Breathe

The first step in starting a blog is finding the perfect name. I wanted to call mine Contrariwise, as an homage to Lewis Carroll and to my ability to locate an argument in nearly any issue I come across.

Contrariwise was already in use, however, several times over, and I couldn’t find another literary allusion that satisfied, so I named it Whiskertips. It was my own invention, an homage to the two whiskered beasts with whom I share living quarters.

The next step is thinking of something to blog about. For most people, determining a theme would be Step #1. Reversing the steps led to a series of posts I like to think of as eclectic. In other words, I wrote about whatever came to mind. I also hosted guest bloggers. Mark Twain and Emily Dickinson appeared often. But after a while, nothing came to mind, and I began to fall back on the beasts. When they IMG_0832.1assumed complete control of content, I withdrew and created another blog. I took its name from Gertrude Stein: To Write Is to Write Is to Write.* In a note in the sidebar, I stated the purpose: I would write about the experience of becoming a writer. I would write about writing.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

But the best-laid plans of mice and men, etc. In only weeks–days–I had another eclectic blog on my hands. Why? Because I didn’t know anything about writing.

Or, to qualify that, I didn’t know anything writers–or anyone else–would want to read.

I know the basics: grammar, usage, mechanics, various elements of fiction, methods and techniques learned from reading, attending workshops, taking classes, reading articles, books, and blogs. But I had nothing to add.  Other people had gotten there first. And who wants to read another article about where the commas go?

The worst part was that most of the authorities claimed to have the One True Way:

Write fast. Don’t revise as you go. Outline–you have to outline every scene. Use index cards. Use colored pens. Tape butcher paper to the wall. Never share your work before you’ve completed it. Find a critique group. Write 1,000 words a day, and in ninety days you’ll have a completed manuscript. Write every day. Write morning pages. Keep a writing journal. Keep a bible for your manuscript. Query early. Query later. Have a platform. Establish a brand.

All good advice, I was sure. And frustrating, because I couldn’t seem to follow the rules.

Finally, I gave up. The experts were great at explaining how they write, but they weren’t so good at telling me how to write.

I had to struggle for a while, find my own way, develop my own process, set my own rules, and deviate from rules I’d outgrown.

Now, after years of wrangling with the experts, and with myself, I finally have something to say about how I write:

I don’t start with an outline. I start with a character and a line and go from there. I can’t construct a decent plot until I understand the characters, and I can’t understand the characters until I know their backstories. The only way I can know backstories is to write them, not in a separate document, but as part of the manuscript itself. Afterward, I go back and start putting the material in order. I may have to scrap some of the best parts–the darlings–but they go in a Darlings file so I can use them later if I find a place they fit.

This method is called pantsing–as in flying by the seat of your pants. Some plotters look down on pantsers. That used to make me feel like a failure. Then I read Writing Mysteries, a collection of essays edited by Sue Grafton, in which Tony Hillerman tells about his own pantsing. He said it takes longer, but in the end, he gets there. Since reading that, I’ve stopped apologizing for pantsing. What’s good for Tony Hillerman is good enough for me.

Let me make one thing clear: I revise. The condition of my first manuscript dictates that I revise a lot. The end product looks very different from the original.

Because I’m a pantser, the NanoWriMo program of writing a 50,000-word novel in thirty days doesn’t bring out the best in me. I write more slowly, and I can’t pound out a book on someone else’s timetable. For years I registered for NaNo and then wrote perhaps ten words. That’s called losing Nano.  Now I register and write whatever I want on my own timetable. I lose nothing, NaNo loses nothing.

(There’s another reason I don’t do well with NaNoWriMo. I don’t like to talk about it. But if you want to read about it, check Wikipedia under Passive-Aggressive behavior.)

The exception to my pantsing process occurs when a story comes to me already outlined. One such blessed event happened one night just after I’d gotten into bed and turned out the light: a story appeared, beginning, middle and end. I thought it would take about 600 words, but the final version turned out to be nearly 5,000 words. It included a little pantsing.

When I began this post, I knew only two or three things about writing, but now I realize I know more. Having already run on at length, I will leave the rest for another time. After I’ve pointed out one more thing:

Some writers, myself included, know (There’s another one!)–that writing is  a form of thinking, a way to generate ideas, to learn what we already know.

But I also subscribe to Gertrude Stein’s description:

One of the pleasant things that those of us who write or paint do
is to have the daily miracle. It does come.

I depend on the daily miracle. When I write, and keep on writing, it does come.

 *

*The entire quotation is “To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.” I presume it was not already in use because no one wanted it.

*

Posted by Kathy Waller 0kathy-blog

Kathy blogs at To Write Is to Write Is to Write and at  the group blog Writing Wranglers and Warriors.

Find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kathy.waller68.

 

 

Don’t Cry for Me, Austin, Texas

0kathy-blog

Posted by Kathy Waller

*****

On Saturday, Gale and I will leave on a seven-hour drive to Alpine, in West Texas. We’ll attend the Writers’ League of Texas’ 2014 Summer Writing Retreat.

  • Big Bend National Park. By Kathy Waller.

    Big Bend National Park. By Kathy Waller.

    I’m almost ready to leave. All I have to do is

  • print out and re-read all email correspondence from the WLT concerning the retreat;
  • put together and print at least fifty pages of my rough raft, which isn’t too rough considering all the revising and polishing I’ve done, against all the best advice; (putting together the draft entails sorting through the many files I’ve saved under a variety of names, none of which makes sense now);
  • buy new sneakers (the retreat doesn’t require formal dress) and a passel of socks to replace those the dryer has eaten; buy new khaki slacks if I can find a pair whose legs don’t drag the ground (petites are usually sold out);
  • pile everything I need to take, and a few things I don’t, on the guest room bed beside the suitcase, which is closed to prevent William and Ernest (big, hulking guy cats) from sleeping in it;
  • find my favorite novel, Harper Lee‘s To Kill a Mockingbird, for class, even though the book violates the cardinal rule of novel-writing by beginning with several pages of backstory and getting away with it;
  • buy a notebook, even though I have several, because a week-long retreat merits a new one, and pens in a variety of styles and colors;
  • make sure the laptop, the cord, the mouse, and my camera are stowed safely inside my
    More prizes!

    More prizes!

    green Austin Mystery Writers tote; make sure my charged cell phone and the charger are stowed safely inside my purse;

  • confirm with my husband that the car will make it to Alpine and back;
  • do one last load of laundry; pack;
  • get up early, load the car, pick up Gale, and head out.

Gale is probably ready to leave now. She is organized.

Some people would say we’re crazy, driving half-way across the state to do homework every night. Before my first retreat, three years ago, I might have said the same.

But at the end of the first day’s class, I was so energized that I couldn’t stop writing. I wrote long emails that made better reading than anything else I produced during the week. (I had a friend patient enough to read them and kind enough to say, “Send more.”) I might even have done some blogging. After all that, I completed my homework.

The person responsible for my sudden productivity was Karleen Koen, novelist and teacher, whose class was titled something like Writing Your Novel, but who actually taught creativity, with activities designed to quiet the internal critic and allow ideas to surface. One of the ten-minute writings I did in class later turned into a thirty-page story for the Austin Mystery Writers’ anthology of short stories.* Anyone who can pull me out of the doldrums and start me on a creative binge, as Karleen did, is an exemplary teacher.

Next week, I’ll spend five days in another of Karleen’s classes: The Damned Rough Draft: Reframing and Reimagining Your Novel in Its Beginning Stages. Gale is registered to take the class, too. I have a vision of two roommates writing busily away every night.

Of course, we’ll also sit on the porch of the little 1950s tourist court where we’re staying (and where I once ran into a lizard in the shower), enjoying the cool, clear, mosquito-less evenings in a town that, every night, turns off all lights and lets the stars shine through.

And there’s the restaurant in nearby Marfa that serves pistachio encrusted fried chicken breast. I hear they’ve added pistachio encrusted steak to the menu.

Some of our Sisters in Crime will be there. We’ll definitely run into them and will perhaps cook up some mischief.

And there’s the extra day Gale and I will spend after the conference roaming around the countryside. Fort Davis. The MacDonald Observatory. Balmorhea State Park, a cool oasis in the high desert. Big Bend National Park. Endless possibilities.

But I’m going out there to write. I’ll do nothing to distract us from Karleen Koen’s class. Based on my experience, it will be too valuable to play hookey, even mentally.  But we will play, because Karleen believes that’s where creativity comes from.

And that’s how my August will begin.

English: This is Alpine, Texas with the six-th...

English: This is Alpine, Texas with the six-thousand foot plus Ranger, Twin Sisters, & Paisano Peaks in the foreground. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Public domain. By Rebelcry (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So, ‘though I’ll be far away from beautiful Austin, Texas for an entire week, there’s no reason to pity me.

I’ll be in the mountains, doing what I love.

 

 

 

 

 *****

*Have you heard about the AMW anthology? If not, you will.

 *****

Kathy Waller blogs at To Write Is to Write Is to Write.

Karleen Koen blogs at Karleen Koen–writing life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where Do You Find Hope?

0kathy-blog*

*

*

Posted by Kathy Waller

*****

This isn’t a kindergarten for amateur writers. I’m sorry, Mr Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” ~ Rejection from the editor of the San Francisco Examiner to Rudyard Kipling

*****

What makes a successful writer?

Aside from a working knowledge of the language and a certain amount of talent, answers generally include persistence, organization, initiative, professionalism, practice, vision, confidence, tolerance for criticism and rejection, vision, confidence, self-discipline, resilience, motivation, creativity, empathy, patience, courage, flexibility . . . Well, it’s a long list.

But Ralph Keyes, in The Writers’ Book of Hope, says aspiring writers need two basic things: a knowledge of how the publishing industry works, and hope.

Publishing has changed considerably since Keyes’ book was published just over ten years ago, and the Internet has made it easier to find what beginning writers want to know.

Hope is a different matter. There’s plenty of pessimism and discouragement out there. Where does a writer seeking publication acquire hope?

In my experience, much of it comes from other writers.

Last month I spent a Saturday morning in a class sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas and taught by novelist Karleen Koen. I first met Karleen three years ago, when she taught at the WLT Summer Writing Retreat, and I’ll see her again at the WLT retreat this August. Last month’s class was a “sneak peek” at the August class: “The Damned Rough Draft: Reframing and Reimagining Your Novel in Its Beginning Stages.”

I’m not the only one of Karleen’s students who keeps coming back for one more course. She’s a good teacher. What she knows, she shares. She also acknowledges both the highs and the lows of her own writing life. (The title of this year’s class–“The Damned Rough Draft”–is evidence of her empathy with students.)

Karleen doesn’t promise the people sitting in her classes will become novelists, but she makes the possibility come alive. She is generous. She offers hope.

Who are other hope-givers?

Members of Austin Mystery Writers, and similar groups, who read and critique thirty to fifty pages every week. Beta readers, who go through entire manuscripts–hundreds of pages–to offer criticism. Strangers who read blog posts and Like or Reblog or Tweet or leave comments. All readers who tell the truth–both positive and negative–in a way that says, “I believe in you. Keep writing.”

It’s your turn now, writers: Who gives you hope?