Friday, December 10, 2010

Use Time to Add to Tension

The passing of time can add depth and tension to short stories or novels. Writer Susan Breen, sites Raymond Carver's short story, "Cathedral" as an example. The reader knows as the afternoon turns to evening, the characters' interactions will lead to greater conflict.

Foreshadowing a future event with symbols adds another dimension. In my short story, "Leaving Jersey", Hada's afternoon shopping begins with light snowfall. We feel her cold fingers unlocking the car door to leave packages before continuing to the next store. When she runs into her friend and they hug, the snow from Geborah's coat collar melts on Hada's face. Her internal conflict is resisting a long visit to California. She doesn't want to leave New Jersey where she's lived all of her sixty-nine years. At the end of the chapter, she drives toward home in what is now a snow storm that covers her tracks as if they were never there. The implication is that she won't return from California and as time passes, her life in Jersey will no longer leave an imprint. "Leaving Jersey" is Chapter 12 in the novel. It's a foreshadowing scene but since it is symbolic, it doesn't reveal the end.

I didn't realize the significance of that chapter until I was in the third draft. I'm grateful to Susan Breen's comparison of short stories and novels, particularly how effective time can be used in each, for a deepening awareness to use in my writing.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Laurie McLean's eBook Symposium

Friday, November 12th, my friend Jan and I attended this one day workshop that was filled with epublishing information. Overwhelming as it was, I felt inspired to surmount the learning curve and dive into one of the several links we were given. The speakers broadened my knowledge of the many opportunities available. Now I need to decide what to do first.

I think I will investigate how to submit to Untreed Reads. The author benefits seem to fit for me.

Check them out:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

My Second Place Contest Award

The Redwood Writers Conference (a branch of the California Writers Club) granted me the second place award for my short story in their contest this year. What is unusual in this contest is that the judges give a comment on each of the stories that won. Here is what Judge Rebecca Lawton said about my "A Cup of Change":

"Full of conflict from the opening, "Change" takes more turns than a labyrinth. The author engages in story telling in a good, old-fashioned way: pulling us in, making us wonder, and resolving in the end without making it too "neat". Fabulous use of background images echoes the protagonist's journey. Fun, and a bit of snark."

It's not only interesting but encouraging to read someone else's review of my work.

This is my sixth contest award, the other five were first place and each experience has been different. This time, although second place, feels just as thrilling because of the review. Thank you, Judge Lawton.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Audrey Niffenegger

One of my top ten favorite novels is Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. I had hoped for a sequel, but forgot to check if she had written anything recently.

When I happened to spot her name on Her Fearful Symmetry at Borders last week, I was surprised that it isn't a sequel. It's about two sisters who move to their aunt's flat after she is deceased and it happens to border a cemetery. Normally I don't read "cemetery" kinds of stories, but I like Niffenegger's writing so much, that I trust it will be more than a spooky story.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Polish Your Fiction Class Starts Tomorrow

At the Dublin Senior Center, I will be teaching a Polish Your Fiction Class for eight weeks on Monday mornings, 10:00 to 12:15. It will include fresh writing techniques and an easy, powerful way to polish your writing projects. The revision system takes the "ugh" out of editing and makes the process of revisions as much fun as writing the first draft. At the end of eight weeks, your work in progress will have increased clarity, cadence, and reader interest.

If you're interested come tomorrow and sign up: 7600 Amador Valley Blvd., Dublin CA 94568. 925-556-4511

I'm planning to do another eight weeks starting in January with new techniques and tips.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hero Archetype

Carol Pearson, in her books about the hero within and the hero's journey, she states:

"Everyone who takes a journey is already a hero."

"The journey is fundamentally about metamorphosis."

Is the hero/heroine in your story embarking on a journey and heading for a metamorphosis?


In Christopher Vogler's book, he quotes the motto over the door of Carl Jung's house:

"Summoned or not, the god will come."

Sometimes characters for our writing do the same thing...pop up, summoned or not.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

First Through Third Draft Advice

I have praised Ransom Stephen's website ( before. This time I'd suggest you take a look at his notes on writing. I loved what he quoted about drafts since I am joyously revising the third draft of Hada now.

· Writing… [Tolstoy]
· 1. First draft, without contemplating the placement and perfect phrasing of thoughts
· 2. Second draft, editing out everything extraneous and allowing each thought its own proper place
· 3. Third draft, honing of language, turns of phrase

Anyone else doing a third draft?

Saturday, July 31, 2010


I just finished Ransom Stephens "God Patent" that he put on Scribd and then it got picked up by a publisher. It is now in print form and an excellent read. I'm disappointed to be finished with it since I became attached to the characters and I'd like the plot to continue...all the ingredients we writers aim for and Ransom succeeded with them all.

You can read more about Ransom's book on my June 19th, 2009 post. Or go to his website:

Anyone else on Scribd? I'd like to know more about it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

East of Eden Writers Conference

September 24th to 26th is the East of Eden Writers Conference in Salinas, California. I highly recommend going. There will be 48 workshops grouped into five tracks: General Fiction, Mystery, Nonfiction, Poetry, and the Business of Writing. I've marked my schedule to hear Penny Warner in the mystery and general fiction areas, Jana McBurney Lin's talk about scenes, Geri Spieler's Fact and Memory sounds great for nonfiction writing, and I won't miss Becky Levine who will tell everything anyone wants to know about critique groups.

Hope to see you there.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Checklist...a short one

Check lists to use for revising scenes and chapters have helped me lately. I found an article in an old Writers Digest that Nancy Kress wrote. Her three "Cs" checklist is a short cut and easy to remember: "cause, climax and change". Cause is what motivates the character to want or do what he/she does.

Climax is when all the characters' motivations collide and to use Nancy's analogy: "your characters should be out in the storm, not safe inside". And, most importantly, don't rush it. You've built up to the climax so give it more than just a few paragraphs...create a power-filled scene. It's what you've promised the reader and hopefully you do it with a bit of surprise.

The last C is for Change. Make sure you show how each major character has the situation is different from the beginning of the novel. Help the reader have closure with all the characters that have lived in the world you built.

I'm at the change part of Hada now and this checklist reminded me to be sure I didn't leave any character up in the air or forgotten. About one more month and Hada goes into third revision, finally.

Back to my checklist and maybe to find some more changes I can add for the other members of Hada's family.

Monday, June 14, 2010

HOOKS in Mary Buckham's online class

If you've never taken a writing on-line class with Mary Buckham at WritersU, I highly recommend it. In this two week class we're working on the first five pages only. For the first week, we've written and rewritten our first paragraph and a couple after that to increase our hooks so those editors/agents will keep reading long enough so we can get published and then the readers will keep reading.

Hooks sound so simple but I've spent many hours this week on three paragraphs--more time than I'd spend on revising three chapters of Hada.

I'm work-shopping the sequel to Hada that I wrote during the last NaNoWriMo. I must say, Mary's class has strengthened Lilli's character in just the three beginning paragraphs that I've pondered over this last week.

Another surprise for me: hooks not only hook, they deepen character!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Quote to Live Life Creativity

My friend, Grace, sent this quote she found:

"Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself."

"The wilderness of your intuition"...YES!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Teacher/Pupil Quote

Creative activity could be described as a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.

- Arthur Koestler

Someone sent this quote to me today, and I have found it to be true, especially the last two years I've spent working on the second and third draft of my novel, Hada, and editing several of my short stories. I've been the pupil as I learned from books, on-line and on-land writing classes, and from experience. The experience part is when I feel the teacher within me guiding the pupil that is within me too.

How amazing it is to be alive on this plane.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reading on Cement

I've often wondered if I would like a Kindle or some such, and maybe I would. But I love the printed novel to hold in my hands.

Today in Berkeley, at nine thirty a.m., when I dropped Mitchell off at his office, I drove through the parking lot and there was a young woman, maybe in her thirties, dressed in jeans, a pull-over sweater, and a light scarf around her neck, sitting on the curb of the motorcycle parking spot (no motorcycle there). She was engrossed in a novel. At her side was a small bag from the Garden Bakery (downstairs from Mitchell's office) that she dipped into as she turned the pages, breaking off sweet tidbits to munch and to embellish her enjoyment of the book in her hands.

Somehow the scene wouldn't be the same with a Kindle.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mermaid's Chair

Sue Monk Kidd did it again. I thought The Secret Life of Bees was outstanding, now her latest book, The Mermaid Chair, has me glued to it. I have only 69 more pages to read and I'm in the middle of all the paperwork due for my ten teacher interns...I still have twelve more visits to their schools before the last week of May...but here I am carrying The Mermaid Chair around with me to read every chance I get.

As a reader, I am engrossed in the story...fabulous characters! And, reading as a writer, I'm marking all the copious and amazing metaphors and sensory details she writes. I've been addicted to Ann Patchett lately, but Sue Monk Kidd is strong competition for my attention in the few hours I have free to read every day.

Going back to Egret Island now...see you there.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Persistence Is A Good Word for Today or Any Day

Calvin Coolidge said:

"Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.

Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.

Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.

Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Right Word

In Janet Burroway's book Writing Fiction, I found another quote that made me think about the importance of my Hada revisions.

Mark Twain said: "The difference between the right word and the almost right the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."

Let's go for the lightning.

Monday, May 3, 2010

DiFranco Quote

One of my teacher interns has Ani DiFranco's quote as part of her email signature:

"You've got your whole life to do something, and that's not very long."

So let's do it!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Writer's Block...What's That?

The other day I read this quote by Jack London: "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."

I assume that means he had writer's block at times. I'm very grateful I haven't had it. I can think of so many things I want to write that I need another lifetime!

Once in a while, I have to admit, when a specific assignment for a non-fiction piece was due, I had inspiration, but the words kept hiding. I had to use a rake to find them in the bushes. But with fiction, my fingers can't type the paragraphs fast enough.

If you ever lack inspiration, let me know, and I'll send you a spark. Hopefully it will ignite and you won't need that club.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Presenting Metaphors plus at our Writing Class in Pleasanton

On Tuesdays in Pleasanton, I'm teaching a writing class for dear writer friends of mine. Some of the members were in Nancy O'Connell's class and when she retired, we weren't pleased with the replacements. I wanted to keep as many members together as possible so several people joined me in meeting once a week to continue to read our work and learn new techniques.

Last week, under the influence of the workshops I attended at the Pleasanton Poetry, Prose, and Arts Festival, I presented the topic of Analogies, Twisted Cliches, Metaphors, and Similes.

One example I gave was Don Marquis' "Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo." I love that!

Here's a short one from Robert B. Parke in "Widow's Walk": "The sinking feeling bottomed."

We talked about the ineffective mixed metaphor and the example from a 2007 issue of the Chicago Tribune: "So now what we are dealing with is the rubber meeting the road, and instead of biting the bullet on these issues, we just want to punt."

This coming Tuesday's topic is Sprinkling Backstory.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

First Prize Award at Pleasanton Poetry, Prose and Arts

My short story, "Fried Chicken Talks" won the first prize award in the Pleasanton Poetry, Prose, and Arts Festival this April. I won first prize last year too for "Leaving Jersey" and a second first place award for my non-fiction short story "The Principal's Principles". This year I didn't enter a non-fiction piece.

Submissions are anonymous. The judge this time was Richard Dry, a Las Positas College instructor, and I was happy to meet him Saturday at the festival. He signed his book, "Leaving", for me and we chatted about it. I appreciated the family tree he had in the front and how he hooked the reader to figure out who was speaking to the prisoners at Santa Rita that he wrote in a few chapters interspersed among the others. We don't find out until the end. The story spans several generations. I recommend it.

He said he chose my story because he felt he was there, in it, which he didn't feel in the other submissions.

The workshops were outstanding, especially those taught by Susan Wooldridge, Susan Browne, and Gerald Haslam. Save the date for next year, April 2-3.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Writing Conference this Weekend

The Pleasanton Poetry, Prose and Arts Festival is this weekend April 17-18. You can register at the door: The Pleasanton Senior Center, 5353 Sunol Blvd., Pleasanton. Peruse the brochure at I went last year and enjoyed it (probably one reason is because I won the two first place awards in their contests). But more than that, the workshops are informative, Author Row is a great way to meet authors and to buy their books, and it's just a welcome weekend to mingle with fellow writers.

See you there.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Writer U On-line Class: Writing for Magazines

Mary Buckham announced the upcoming on-line class called "Writing for Magazines" taught by Julie Rowe. It's April 5th to the 30th and only costs $30.

Topics covered in the class are why write for magazines, choosing the right ones, writing the query for the right editor, contracts, invoicing, creating your portfolio and more.

See you in class.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Writing Conferences

Four days at the San Francisco Writers Conference left me with a need to process all the information for the next few days. But by Friday, I was back to revising my novel, Hada, incorporating as much as I could from what I had learned.

Highlights for me this year were workshops given by Ransom Stephens, Donald Maass, and Penny Warner. Ransom has a new book out, The God Patent, and Penny's new one is How To Host a Killer Party. I'm looking forward to reading both after the Ann Patchett marathon I've been on.

All of Patchett's books give the readers a new setting, new characters, and a new story that one thinks can't possibly be better than the last one. Again and again, she never disappoints. After Bel Canto, Run, and The Magician's Assistant, now I'm in the middle of her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars. Then I'll come to the last one left to read, Taft. I'll miss her writing style, but I'm happy I have Ransom's and Penny's books to take me to their worlds.

The best decision I made in 2009 was to allow an hour or two a day to read fiction. When someone said writers need to read, they were absolutely right.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett

Sabine, the main character in Patchett's novel, muses about cities compared to her hometown, Los Angeles: "Los Angeles, she felt, was maligned because it was misunderstood. It was the beautiful girl you resented, the one who was born with straight teeth and good skin. The one with the natural social graces and family money who surprised you by dancing the Argentine tango at a wedding. While Iowa snuggled through the bitter knife of winter and New York folded in crime and the South remained backwards and divided, Los Angeles pushed her slender feet into the sand along the Pacific and took in the sun."


Ann Patchett's Snow

Ann Patchett's Bel Canto kept me glued to the pages until I finished it...a memorable read. The last few weeks I've enjoyed her Run. Very different characters, setting,and plot than Bel Canto. I'll comment on Run in another entry since I loaned it to Ariana who was attracted to the characters' names: Tip and Teddy.

I'm now reading Patchett's The Magician's Assistant a totally different story from the other two books, yet equally a page turner. Three hour reading sessions fly by. I feel I know Sabine and all the characters...I'll never forget them, just like I'll never forget Tip and Teddy.

Sabine is the Magician's assistant, and her story takes place in Los Angeles and Nebraska. Patchett compares those two settings in a way that puts you in whichever place she is talking about. Los Angeles, where it is never late, and Nebraska in winter when it's late as soon as the sun sets. In one scene, Sabine, who has lived in Los Angeles all her life, visits Nebraska for the first time, talking until after midnight to the sister of the man she loved. Patchett has Sabine realize "It was past being late. Even the snow had given up. There was no time like this in Los Agneles. It was never this late."

"Even the snow had given up." I lived in Wisconsin until I graduated from high school and I can feel the snow giving up.I know snow, but when Patchett uses it as a character in this novel, I've learned to appreciate snow in a new way. It enhances Sabine's story, it compliments the moods and actions of the main characters. Along with snow comes all the boots, puffy jackets, and the smell of scarves as the snow melts on them in the kitchen. Snow provides a depth of sensory experiences that refreshes us and digs us deeper into the story because it brings us right there in Dot's kitchen. Sabine doesn't know it yet, but snow is contributing to her healing. We know that on a feeling level, not because Patchett says so. She's just the master telling us a great story.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Tipping Point Contest

Since no one won my last contest, I'll make this one easier by telling you the name of the book...hopefully you will read the whole novel.

In The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield's Margaret says, "We had reached tipping point." Explain what she meant and on what page.

Please email me privately with the answer and if correct, you win a Writer's Basket full of helpful tools for a writer.

Books pass secret messages

Diane Setterfield specialized in twentieth-century French literature, and she read and reread Gide many times for her PhD. The interviewer asked how Gide affected her writing.

Setterfield answered, that she recognizes Gidean cadence in some of her phrases as if to her ear her own writing is a translation of Gide. "Why does my mind persist in hearing the echo? The explanation that most appeals to me is that there are hidden underground networks by which books pass secret messages to each other, networks that we readers and writers can only be half conscious of".

Books communicating with each other? I love that idea!!!

Inner furniture in characters' minds

In the back of The Thirteenth Tale, there's a conversation section with Diane Setterfield. The interviewer asks her what significance the titles of the nineteenth-century novels had that were sprinkled throughout the novel.

Setterfield answered, "...once the titles started coming, I made no effort to keep them out. They are there because they are part of the inner furniture of Margaret's and Miss Winter's minds..."

So, not only are we writing physical settings that could be characters in themselves, certainly Setterfield's houses in this tale are characters, but the inner minds of the characters now have a new depth to consider.


In The Thirteenth Tale, Setterfield emphasizes her characters' storytelling skills. When Margaret asks Aurelius to tell her about how Mrs. Love found him, Margaret speaks about voice...the story telling voice. Margaret describes it as she listened:

"His face settled into passive neutrality, a sign that, in the way of all storytellers, he was disappearing to make way for the voice of the story itself." (page 233)

The "voice of the story itself", I appreciated that perspective, and made it a renewed goal as a writer to listen to the story's voice as it's being written.

The Thirteenth Tale

Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale has captivated me for the last couple of weeks. I had trouble doing my work since the book kept calling me back to read on. I finished it about a week ago and then I dived into Run by Bel Canto's author, Ann Patchett.

"Diane Setterfield is a former academic, specializing in twentieth-century French literature." (From the back flap of her book) That sentence sums up what is unique about her writing: classic, Gothic, yet present-century. She created two houses with characters I now know so well, I feel I could visit them anytime...and I do, when I think about her story. What a memorable read!

This rainy weather has provided a perfect time to make reading a priority. But I promise to pay more attention to blogging and tell you more about the great stories written by Diane and Ann.