Monday, November 26, 2012



            Mincemeat pie is my specialty. It’s what I always bring for the Thanksgiving dinner at Ma Edna’s. Now mincemeat is a pie some love, some hate and most can take it or leave it. To tell the truth, after making it for so many years, I’m rather sick of it myself though I always cut a small piece for me to make sure it’s okay. Ya gotta do that. Every year my mother-in-law says “I can always count on Alice to bring my favorite pie,” followed by that whinnying horse laugh of hers. Once I tried to rebel tellin’ her I was bringin’ cherry pies instead. Her small dark eyes buried in pouches like a hound dog’s, actually bulged out as her mouth dropped open. You’d have thought I’d committed blasphemy, and was goin’ straight to that H place. She actually gasped tryin’ to get her breath, if you could believe that, and she wailed “But ya have to bring it, Alice. Thanksgivin’ won’t be Thanksgivin’ without your mincemeat pie.” Then she paused. Ma Edna is sneaky that way. “Of course, if you was willin’ to share your secret ingredient or ingredients that make it taste better than any other mincemeat pie I’ve ever eaten; I might be willin’ to make it myself.” As if I’d give away how I make my mincemeat pie, ‘specially to her. So this year I’m makin’ my mincemeat pie as usual.
            Ma Edna is born again. She don’t believe in playin’ cards, dancin’ or drinkin’. I like all those things. It’s why I always add a liberal amount of brandy to my mincemeat pie. Of course, I don’t never tell that, or how me and Tom met in a bar all those years ago where we not only drank, but also danced. We dance well together. We still like to go out Saturday nights to the Dew Drop Inn when there’s a good band playin’. We been married most twenty-five years now. Ma Edna blames me for her son’s drinkin’ and what she calls his wayward ways. She claims he never drank ‘til he met me, but truth is I think she’s the one that set him on that path. You know, a rebellion against all that preachin’. Of course, I do think he carries it too far, but I’m not goin’ to turn into a nag like his ma, especially since I like a little drink now and then, too.
            She blames me for us not havin’ kids, too. The truth is, it’s ‘cause Tom can’t. He was checked, but I never told anyone ‘bout it. He felt some bad when he found out. Took to drinkin’ more than ever.
            Tom’s not a fussy eater. He’ll eat just about anythin’ I put before him, but he don’t like my mincemeat pie. He says he’d rather have his brandy straight and not mixed up with that raisin junk stuff.
            Every Thanksgivin’ at Ma Edna and Pa’s house, seems like there’s some brouhaha goin’ on. Ma Edna’s sure to pick on one of the daughter-in-laws. Seems like none of us was good enough for her three sons. It’s not like they’re any prizes. Tom’s probably the best of the lot, and that’s not sayin’ much, believe me.
            Tom’s pa never says much when Ma Edna starts in on whichever daughter-in-law is in her sights be it Margie, Ruth or me. Tom says he’s pussy whipped, but I think he’s just a coward, a weaklin’. She’s one mean woman! None of the boys stand up to her, either. Last year it was me she aimed her mean words and comments at. I put up with it long as I could tryin’ to ignore things like “Can’t see why Tom picked a woman who can’t have kids. Thank the Good Lord I’ve got Margie and Ruth to give me and Pa grandkids.”
            I bit my tongue and didn’t say nothin’ about how she don’t have much to do with her grandkids anyway. Not that they’re much to brag on. They were wild ones when they were young, always actin’ up. The kind you don’t want to see comin’ for a visit. And now that they’re in their teens? Well, I sure hear enough about what’s going on with them. Small towns are like that. Can’t keep many secrets here. I don’t blame Margie and Ruth none. Takin’ after their fathers, I’d say. They’re lazy and drink way more than Tom does. They just manage to keep it more of a secret, at least one that don’t seem to get back to Ma Edna.
            But it was when she criticized my mincemeat pie, after she’d eaten a huge piece, sayin’ it wasn’t quite as good this year, and  I must’ve forgotten somethin’ like my secret ingredient, that I blew up. The old witch! I’d call her somethin’ else, but in spite of drinkin’, dancin’ and playin’ a little poker, I don’t hold with cussin’ much. I feel it sort of cheapens a woman. Still I told her how I felt before I stormed out with Tom followin’. He tried to tell me she don’t mean no harm; it’s just her way. Yeah, right! She does mean harm. She’d like to get rid of all her sons’ wives and get her little boys back.
            We spent Christmas with my family. We ain’t the perfect family, but there’s no meanness there. Even Tom has to admit he’d rather spend holidays with my family, but Thanksgivin’ has to be spent with his family. It’s always been that way, and I guess it always will be that way as long as Ma Edna’s around. At least this year it’ll be one of the other girls she’ll turn her spite on, I’m guessin’. Not that I like to see them suffer. They’re nice enough if a little wishy washy. No spine in either of them two gals. They take all the venom that woman spews out without ever sayin’ anythin’ back. They’re born again, too.
            So like I was sayin’, I’m makin’ the mincemeat pie again only this year I’m makin’ two instead of just one. I’m makin’ a special one for Ma Edna for her to eat the next day; one with a little somethin’ added; somethin’ to take the meanness out of her.


            It’s a nice funeral if I do say so myself. Lots of pretty flowers. I ‘specially like the spray of roses on the casket. Red roses for love. Lots more people showed up than I would’ve expected. Tom’s pretty broken up. I feel bad about that. I certainly didn’t want him hurt. Reverend Martin had nice words to say at the end of the callin' hours last night. I’ve always liked him. He’s a good man for a preacher. He’ll probably have some more good words to say during the service later, too.
            When the results of the autopsy come back, they’ll find out it was arsenic. I made sure only one tiny area, enough for one slice, had the arsenic. Knowin’ Ma Edna, I knew she’d eat the whole special pie I’d made just for her. When the rest of the pie is checked, if there’s any left, they won’t find arsenic in it. I didn’t have to worry about Pa since he don’t like mincemeat pie anymore than Tom does.  I made sure I ate a small piece of the pie so as no one would suspect me, and no one would know how she got the arsenic.
            I can’t believe somehow her special pie got switched with the one I made for the Thanksgivin’ dinner. I sure never thought about that happenin’. I just heard Ma Edna say somethin’ almost nice about me. She said, “Alice made a mean mincemeat pie, and now she’s takin’ her secret ingredient to the grave with her so we won’t have nothin’ like it again.”

So what's your favorite pie? I'll bet it's not mincemeat.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Where do You Read?

This is my last blog until January. Other WWK members will be sharing holiday stories with you, and I hope to work on my TBR pile--which, now that part of it is electronic, no longer threatens to bury small children in an avalanche of waiting books.

When I was young I read anywhere and everywhere. I’d read on the long bus rides to and from school as long as it wasn’t dark. At home I’d curl into an armchair (and be chastised for my bad posture) or if no one was around I’d stretch out on the couch. Since that wasn’t as often as I liked, my favorite spot to read was lying on my bed in the quiet of my room. From there I solved crimes with the Hardy Boys, acted out history with the “We Were There” series, fought pirates with Robert Louis Stevenson and later learned of life from classic literature.

After lights out, I read with a flashlight under the covers—and got busted once when my father happened to go into the back yard and saw pale light escaping from ineffectively drawn curtains.

These days I still read curled into chairs – now a favorite recliner or my grandmother’s rocker, with light streaming into the study. I only buy couches long enough for me to stretch out on, and I love reading outside on our deck overlooking the lake or in a chair hammock away from bugs on the screened porch.

Before my last cat died earlier this year, she would join me wherever I was, curling up next to me if I insisted or getting her way and snoozing on my legs, lap or chest.

Where is your favorite place to read?

~ Jim

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanks-Giving Square

Maryann Miller's first appearance on Salad Bowl Saturdays has inspired me to add something to my bucket list and that does not happen every day.

~ Jim

It is serendipitous the way connections are made. Or perhaps it is just we who weave stories with words who find these kinds of connections so fascinating.

Let me explain, but first I want to thank to Jim Jackson for inviting me to share this space today. What a clever idea to have Salad Bowl Saturdays.

When I first made arrangements with Jim to be a guest I did not realize the date coincided with Thanksgiving weekend here in the States. Once I did, I thought perhaps my guest piece should be about the holiday. About the same time I made that decision, I read a short news item about a place in Dallas that I am very familiar with, Thanks-Giving Square. The United Nations recently honored Peter Stewart, the founder of Thanks-Giving Square, for his "commitment to dialogue among people of different beliefs."

On October 21st, Stewart was given the first Spirit of the United Nations Award for Youth Outreach for his work with the Thanks-Giving Square Foundation. In 2004 the Foundation asked Dallas-area students in grades K-12 to submit art and essays that expressed their gratitude. The contest gradually expanded to include students across Texas. Two years ago, the competition was opened to young people across the nation and this year is reaching out to young people around the world.

When I lived and worked in Dallas as a journalist, I wrote a piece for a local publication about that beautiful, serene place in the heart of downtown. Thanks-Giving Square is a place that has no specific religious ties, but connects in a special way to the spiritual side of humanity and whatever Higher Power one believes in, or doesn't. It is simply a place where a person can sit in the quiet meditation room, or relax on benches that overlook the artistically designed waterfalls, and take a break from the bustle of a workday.

Within minutes of arriving at the Square to interview the manager, I discovered what a wonderful place it is and felt so calm and peaceful as I sat on a bench and listened to the water cascade over stones. Soft music played from speakers discreetly hidden, and I could have sat there for hours, except I had a deadline and an interview to conduct.

Intended to be a quiet place in the heart of a bustling city, the Square promotes the spirit and unifying value of giving thanks, no matter what form that thanks might take. For some it is prayer to God, in one of His or Her many forms, for others it is taking time to focus on the good in themselves, their town, their country and their world.

Another serendipitous connection to the Square came when I was writing Open Season, the first book in The Seasons Series, which came out in 2010. In one scene where Sarah Kinsgly is on a date with a very intriguing man she hopes is a keeper, he asks her to take him to her favorite place in Dallas. When trying to figure out what place might be a favorite for a tough homicide detective, for some reason Thanks-Giving Square popped into my head. Sarah seemed to like the idea, too, because the scene just took off, even though it was the most unusual setting for a romantic scene.

So if you are ever in Dallas, I hope you will stop in Thanks-Giving Square and soak up some of the peace offered there.

Maryann Miller has won numerous awards for her screenplays and short fiction, including the Page Edwards Short Fiction Award. She is a best-selling author of novels of mystery and suspense and loves writing a short story when her muse gifts her with one. She has been writing all her life and plans to die at her computer or out in her garden in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas where she lives with her husband, one horse, one goat, one sheep, one dog and four cats. The cats rule.
    Her latest release, Stalking Season, is the second book in The Seasons Series that debuted with Open Season. The mystery series features two women homicide detectives in Dallas

For more information you can check out her Website, read her Blog, friend her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See

Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See

Thanks to Linda Rodriguez for recommending this book to me.

I’ve read some excellent books about writing but this is the one only one I can remember when I laughed out loud.  Many times I recognized my feelings and actions in what Ms. See has felt and done. The author describes not only writing, but also the writing life.  She doesn’t shy away from the experience of getting form rejection notes or from the experience of reading what you have written before and finding it to be utter bilge. She also discusses the amazing feeling of seeing your name in print and selling your work using her experiences as a referent. 

I was impressed that she addressed so much of what being a writer entails. I found her advice to be really helpful for those committed to this crazy business. To be a writer means to produce one thousand words a day or two hours of revision five days a week for the rest of your life.

The chapter titled Geography Time and Space should be required reading for authors.  Not long ago I read in a passage of a book by a major publisher in which the hero threw a grenade through a closed door and afterward kicked the door open.

I would recommend Making a Literary Life to anyone who is serious about writing.

I am off the gird so I cannot respond to comments. I will read them all. Happy Holidays one and all.

Thursday, November 22, 2012



“They begane now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strength, and had all things in good plenty; for as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, about codd & bass, & other fish, of which they tooke good store, of which every family had their portion.”   From the journal of William Bradford

The first Thanksgiving was in October less than a year after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth. Half of the original 102 passengers died that first winter from cold, hunger and sickness. They were ill prepared for this climate since they’d been heading for Virginia when they went off course and landed in Massachusetts.  That first Thanksgiving, they were not only thankful for those who had lived, but a bountiful harvest and many barrels of furs ready to be shipped to England. They were especially thankful for the Native Americans like Samoset, Squanto and Chief Massasoit, who helped them in so many ways. So that first Thanksgiving they invited their Indian friends.

Their Thanksgiving feast included lobster pies, cooked eels, other kinds of fish, roasted ducks and turkeys as well as berries, nuts, and I’m sure lots of different corn dishes thanks to the Indians. Chief Massasoit arrived with ninety men bringing five large deer to cook over the open fires. The feast lasted three days with games, laughter, dancing and singing.

Today Thanksgiving in the USA is not only later in the year, but has changed in other ways, too. No longer is it a three day event. (I don’t consider the shopping frenzy of Black Friday part of Thanksgiving.) Nor do we have cooked eels or fish, and it doesn’t take place outside cooking over open fires.  
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it hasn’t been commercialized unless you consider Black Friday is now starting Thanksgiving evening in many stores. It’s a day to spend with family or friends with no gift giving. For quite a few years now, I’ve spent Thanksgiving at my sister, Elaine’s home. This gives my kids the freedom to go to their in-laws without worrying about poor old Ma being alone. My youngest waits to come home from California for Christmas when it’s my turn to prepare a big meal for everyone. All three of my children call me Thanksgiving morning to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving and to talk for a while. My Thanksgiving afternoon and evening is spent with siblings and nieces and nephews. There’s quite a large group of us. My sister loves to cook and prepares the turkey and what traditionally goes with it, and the rest of us bring side dishes or desserts. For some years, my contribution has been a tray of cut up veggies and dip. How easy can that be!?!? Even without our contributions, what Elaine prepares alone, with the help of any daughters who made it home, would be enough to satisfy anyone’s taste and more than enough for seconds. Every year I look forward to the traditional food; the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, candied sweet potatoes, and  cranberry sauce. In addition to the pumpkin pie, one of my sisters makes, and my youngest brother, Phil, the marathon runner, will bring several fruit pies he’s made. He is an awesome cook.

Just as enjoyable as the food, and probably even more so is the camaraderie, laughter and the wild conversations. It’s very hard to get a word in with my very articulate and vocal family. After dinner dishes are cleared off, we sit around in a stupor for a while until a rollicking game of cards, Pounce, starts in the kitchen. My eyes can no longer follow the flying cards so I relax in the living room with a few others who pass on the cards.  I leave for home after we all eat again; turkey sandwiches, pie or another dessert someone brought.

This Thanksgiving I have much to be thankful for; my family and friends, my health, my home, and my critters. Actually, I could fill pages and pages of things I’m thankful for. I’m a truly lucky person.

How about you? What are you thankful for? How do you spend Thanksgiving? What is your favorite food at Thanksgiving?


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mozark Press Author and Publisher--Linda Fisher

 As owner of Mozark Press, Linda Fisher wanted to keep her company small by publishing 1-5 books per year. But those few publications have garnered many awards for fiction and nonfiction. The first time I heard about Ms. Fisher, she was soliciting stories for the first Shaker of Margaritas anthology, A Shaker of Margaritas: Hot Flash Mommas, which won the Show-Me Book Award bestowed by the Missouri Writers Guild. Since that volume was published, two more in the anthology series have been released, A Shaker of Margaritas: Cougars on the Prowl, which came in second place for Best Anthology also awarded by the Missouri Writers Guild, and newly published, A Shaker of Margaritas: Bad Hair Day. I’m proud that I can say that my short stories have appeared in all three volumes. Please welcome Linda Fisher to WWK.  E. B. Davis  

Your writing has won awards for many years. In 2010 a nonfiction book you developed from your blog, Early Onset Blog: Essays from an Online Journal (2009), won the coveted Ozarks Writers League’s (OWL) Best Book of the Year Award. Why did you write the blog and turn it into a book?

The blog was part of my healing process after my husband, Jim, died. I kept a journal on tape during the five years he was in a nursing home. After his death, I spent months transcribing the tapes. I always began the recording with the date and when I listened back, I could tell if it had been a good day or a bad day by the tone of my voice during the routine part. The really strange thing I discovered was that I relayed entire incidences that I had forgotten, and some that were almost like they had happened to someone else.
I wanted to write Jim's memoir, but the volume of the transcribed journal was overwhelming and too emotionally distressing in parts. Anyway, I've used the blog to tell parts of Jim's story. Sometimes I return to the journal when I have trouble remembering details.
The blog is also my way of helping other caregivers or family members who are thrust into the world of dementia. It is scary and heartbreaking. I think if I can share some of my experiences or the knowledge that I've had years to learn, it can help someone who is just beginning their Alzheimer’s journey. I know how much time and effort I spent just learning about the disease and trying to find solutions to the myriad of problems that arose each day. Sometimes, caregivers   need to know someone truly understands what they are going through and is just willing to listen to their fears and emotions.
Because of my involvement with the Alzheimer's Association and going to the public policy forum each year, I've had an opportunity to meet other caregivers and people with dementia that I would never have known otherwise. Jim's dementia was tragic, but it also completely changed my life. I learned the value of volunteering and it propelled me to start the blog and take my desire to write to a new level. I'll never forget the fear I felt when I posted that first blog entry. I wasn't sure I was ready, or even wanted, to share our story with the world. It is a decision that I never regretted.
I don't want the blog to be depressing or technical, so I try to balance it with a little humor from time to time. I include stories about family, because Alzheimer's is a disease that affects the entire family. People like to know that they can survive the years of caregiving and the sadness of watching a loved one with Alzheimer's and find life still worth living. Love of family and friends, and their support, are an important part of that process.
I kept coming across people who didn't have Internet access and came up with the idea of printing the blog in book form. I use the blog book as part of my corporate sponsorship for the Walk to End Alzheimer's. I give a monetary donation and bring about a hundred books to the walk to give to the participants.
The Ozark Writers' League Book of the Year award for Essays From an Online Journal, from my first year of blog posts, came as a complete surprise to me. I had won a few other writing awards and was pretty excited about that, but when I won Book of the Year, I fairly skipped and hopped forward like I was afraid they would find they had made a mistake.
Of course, there's more of Jim's story that lives in my heart that was never taped or written.

When did you first start writing fiction?

I first started writing fiction when I was in high school. We could submit stories and poetry to a student publication. . I’ve always loved to write and in college had plans to write the great American novel. I started many and finished none. Of course, I was writing longhand or using my Underwood manual typewriter.  My re-entry into fiction began with a short story contest sponsored by a local bookstore in 2006.  I wrote “New Identity” and won first place with some great prizes! That inspired me to join a writers’ guild.

What prompted taking the next step from writing to publishing?

I began Mozark Press in 2010 when I decided to start the Margarita series. When I joined the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers’ Guild, I learned about self-publishing. I solicited stories for Alzheimer’s Anthology of Unconditional Love, and with the backing of the Mid-Missouri Chapter and Sandy Jaffe of Book Source, I managed to get it published and distributed in the Midwest. That success spurred me to publish my blogs in book form. Then, I became involved with publishing Well Versed, the Columbia Chapter’s literary journal, and realized that I enjoyed reading and editing stories.

Was there an event or other prompt that spurred the first anthology?

I remember exactly when the idea for the Shaker series hit me. I was on my way to my sister’s house and used the driving time for heavy thinking. It seemed to me that so few outlets existed for fiction stories. I thought instead of Chicken Soup or a Cup of Comfort, fiction should be something like “a shaker of margaritas.”  I liked the idea so much that I decided to run with it.

How do you create the concept for each anthology?

The names of the anthologies come to me in odd moments—usually when I’m in the shower.

The anthologies celebrate some aspect of being female. What are you looking for when you read submissions? Do male authors submit stories?

I look for a well-written, intriguing story that fits the criteria I’ve set for the anthology. I’ve had males submit to every book, and some have been chosen.

Which sales volume is greater, eBooks or print?

The print versions have sold best so far. I think there are so many e-books that unless someone specifically looks for a book, they won’t come across it.

Will Mozark Press expand? Are you hiring?

I plan to retire from my day job next summer so we’ll see! I hope to have more time to write too. I doubt if I could hire someone for the amount I make per hour at the current time. I have a business partner who creates the covers and helps me with all things technical. 

Bonus: Do you prefer beach or mountains, and why?

Mountains! I love the Rockies and have many happy memories of campouts at Moraine Park. Jim and I made annual journeys each year to the Estes Park area. I have a video of Jim playing his guitar and singing, “Colorado.” The song lyrics speculate that if God doesn’t live in Colorado that’s where he spends most of his time. Colorado was a part of heaven on earth for us because that was the one place we recharged our mental batteries each year. On one of our trips, we were on a hike and Jim said, “This is where I want my ashes scattered.” After he passed away, my sons, my mom and I went to that exact spot and scattered his ashes. The cover of my latest blog book, My Recollections, Our Memories, is a picture taken in Colorado with an image of Jim holding his video camera walking “on the clouds.” It looks to me like he is on his way to videotape heaven.  

The Shaker of Margarita series is available at Amazon and is available on Kindle. Linda's other publications are available at this Amazon site. or at Barnes & Nobel.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What the #&%! is Voice?

Earlier this year I was asked to give a small speech at a friend’s birthday party. Unfortunately, I had a sore throat made worse by the dry air and high altitude of Denver. As I began speaking, my voice cracked and squawked like an angry Macaw stuck in a cage. Amplified by the mic, audible screeches rolled over the audience in waves, assaulting the ears of ninety people. Was that really my voice? Needless to say, I cut my talk short and slunk back to my seat.  

This incident made me consider my writing voice. What exactly is “voice”? Do I have one and if not, how do I find it? When I returned home from my trip I read books and blogs and more books trying to make sense of this concept. While I have learned some things, honestly, I’m still confused.

What I do understand is that voice is a writer’s signature. In order to put our personality on the page, it’s important not to emulate other writers. There are several ways to do this such as making sure the language we use is our own. Also, banishing the inner critic and avoiding a safe (beige) voice can help bring out our unique way of viewing the world. Some authors even caution against reading while writing because another writer’s style can creep into ours.

But what is the difference between voice and style? This is where it begins to get hazy for me and apparently for other people. One author wrote that, “Voice is part of style” and another just the opposite, “Style is part of voice.” Yet a third, “Voice is style, but not only style.” And my favorite, “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.”

Befuddled, I turned to my Screenwriting for Dummies book for clarification. The author wrote, “Your voice stems from imagination; style stems from knowledge of craft.” Apparently voice is what we want to communicate and style is the technique and language used to communicate those ideas.

So, what’s the best way to discover my unique voice? I searched high and low but couldn’t find a good answer. One book suggested I ask myself questions such as, “If your voice was a drink, what drink would it be?” Well, sometimes my voice seems tart and salty, like a Margarita, although it can be light, clear and bubbly like seltzer water. Another exercise was to sing a paragraph of my story then decide if it sounded like rock, folk, opera, rap etc. Truthfully, it can be any of those depending on how I sing it--which begs the question…

Does a writer have just one voice? What if someone writes in different mystery genres like cozy and hardboiled that are at opposite ends of the spectrum? One author wrote that we have a number of voices in us. Another thought that we have just one voice but there are many choices within that one voice. He believed “tone” allows flexibility and variety in a writer’s voice. (Maybe like a child’s soft indoor voice versus the deafening one used on the playground?)

After all my research I understand voice somewhat better, but I’m still perplexed and frustrated by the concept. Perhaps the best advice I read was that while the issue of voice is important, it’s nothing to lose sleep over.

What is your definition of voice? How did you find your voice?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Enjoying The Holidays
I’ve been told that I’m an intense person. The dictionary tells me that “intense” means existing in the extreme. I don’t like extreme. Words describing “intense” are: vehement, strong, keenness, severity, strenuous and diligence. Some of these words I find to be positive attributes, and yet I can’t or would rather not describe myself as extreme. I’ve found extreme people to be inconsistent, bouncing from one position to its polar opposite, which I find superficial and hypocritical. Take my neighbor…please.

 She was a “born-again-Christian,” (a phrase I’ve translated into “Super-Christian,” all sarcasm intended) who confessed rather proudly that she had “spent her youth wacked-out on drugs and then got pregnant.” The “Lord” raised her children and kept them save. When her kids ran out on the street and drove their bikes nilly-willy through traffic while she talked on the phone, the rest of us neighborhood moms were nervous wrecks. I had no respect for her. She was extreme, but she wasn’t intense—in fact she was down-right relaxed—or maybe just lax. When she moved, we all heaved a sigh of relief, but we still feared for her children.

What I don’t know is: Can you be intense without being extreme? Is intense a bad characteristic?

I’m not sure how anyone can write murder mystery without intensity. To write through a main character’s perspective, a writer must feel what the character feels. By their very nature, murder mysteries and their characters are intense. Who normally stumbles upon dead bodies? Who would pursue killers? Who would put themselves in danger? I can see no other way to create suspense without writing in an intense frame of mind.

But lately, I’ve noticed that my shoulders are hiked and my jaw is locked. Relaxation doesn’t come easily. Have I drunk too much coffee? Am I too enmeshed in my characters? Have I taken my craft too seriously? I’m always striving to get to the next level, to better my writing as if in competition with myself. I’m not competitive by nature, but who wouldn’t want to improve themselves and their craft? The problem is that I feel as if my craft is actually slipping—not improving—making me wonder if intensity can easily turn into stress, which is counterproductive to the process.
This is my last blog until the New Year since we will be presenting new holiday short stories weekly by most of the writers contributing to Writers Who Kill, starting on November 26th. I’m revising my short story now because I’m dissatisfied with it. Taking time off from writing may serve me better than trying to write with the added stress of the holidays. Stress kills creativity, and if my work is evidence, I’m already stressed.

People in other occupations take time off from their jobs. You can, too. Unless you have a deadline or your muse makes demands, don’t think about your characters or the problems you’ve created for them. Take time off to enjoy the holidays.     

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Surprising Conclusion about Why We Spend Money on Entertainment?

EB’s post this week Confessions of A Kindle Addict regarding her experiences with buying and reading books on her new Kindle got me wondering about what we are willing to pay for entertainment and why.

I admit up front that I have more questions than answers; I’m looking for our readers’ help.

Depending on how fast you read a book, it probably provides three to six hours of entertainment. I’ll use the lower bound to be conservative. Depending on the price of the book, this averages to between $0.00 (for free downloads) to $5.00/hr. for current best sellers sold electronically (and only slightly more for the hardcover version). Once you own the reading device, there are no outside costs to downloading an e-book other than keeping your reader charged.

The closest professional football team to my southern home is the Jacksonville Jaguars. You can get a ticket for the cheap seats for $55. Ignoring the extra costs of getting to the stadium and parking, this translates into about $18/hr. (one hour clock time, but three hours duration from kickoff to final tick of the game clock). Of course you can pay almost five times more for the best seats. This is for a team with a 1-8 record.

But since they’re our local team, we can watch the game at home for free. That means it’s not watching the football game per se that we are willing to pay for. The $55 must be for something else. Perhaps it reflects the value of being part of a crowd. In fact, I seem to recall Sister Sledge’s “We are family” rocking more than one basketball arena.

If not buying the feeling of extended family, maybe it’s purchasing bragging rights: “I remember when I was…” As evidence for this theory, look at prices people pay for attending the Super Bowl or NCAA men’s basketball finals. Clearly what people are willing to shell out has little to do with entertainment value and much to do with something else. I suspect it’s bragging rights.

Which brings me back to books. When we buy a book from the author at a book signing, we pay full price. Is it the signature we’re paying extra for, or the bragging rights?

And did millions of people read The Da Vinci Code because it was a good bang for their entertainment dollar or because it was “THE” book of the moment to read and so added to their personal esteem in some manner?

I’m writing myself to the conclusion that much of what we spend on “entertainment” has little to do with the actual entertainment value and more to do with our feelings. Have I convinced you, or am I way off track?

~ Jim

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Write Now!

Some writers are in the midst of National Novel Writing Month. Others can't get beyond the blank page. In today's Salad Bowl Saturday offering Denise Weeks, aka Shalanna Collins, provides her thoughts on how to face your fears and take the plunge.

~ Jim


Many people want to write.  By daring to write, they could work through their personal issues; they could tell about important moments in the past so their children will know them better; they could make up things and tell entertaining lies like every fictioneer.  Writing can help you make up your mind; after all, how do I know what I think until I write about it?

But often people are afraid--and understandably so.  They use a smokescreen of reasonable-sounding excuses and procrastinate so that they never fulfill their destinies as writers.  Do you want to write?  You might as well.  Everyone is publishing now.  Why not you?  You are unique.  As the song says, "there will never be another you."  You alone have the honor of documenting your life and times, at the very least.  What will be your legacy?

Yes, YOU have a RIGHT to your legacy!  You're just as important as those other people who are turning out books, poems, songs, and Kindle shorts.  You need to get it in gear, dear.

If you write professionally, aspire to write professionally, write as a fan, write for your circle of friends/readers, write for therapy, or whatever, these questions may help you progress. Don't feel that you have to use ALL of them--you can cherry-pick. Or don't use any of them. It's up to you, because this is meant to help you write (or not).

Complete one or both of the following sentences, using your current top reason for not writing more or finishing your novel:

I can't finish my current novel because ...
I can't write more because ...

Would it make more sense to replace "can't" in the above sentence(s) with "don't," "won't," or "I'm afraid to"? Sometimes at the root of a writing reluctance/difficulty is some underlying fear. Are you allowing fear to prevent you from attempting/achieving? Does this make it easier, because you "aren't really trying" and therefore will never discover that "you're not worthy" or "not good enough?"

You must identify and acknowledge fear (or internal stressors, or blocks, or whatever) before you can remove it. In fact, you must be READY to remove it before you can begin to deal with it.

What are your most time-consuming daily activities?  Are they things like "cleaning house," "driving/commuting/hauling family members around," "watching TV," "messing on the computer (but not producing original work)," and the like?  Are these what you would like to be remembered for?

Replace one of those daily activities with writing time.  Fifteen minutes daily will do for a start.  You don't have to write during this ENTIRE time, but you do have to sit in the chair and stare at the page, occasionally making marks that might be Roman alphabet letters or Egyptian hieroglyphics.  If you need writing prompts, search on the 'net.  Hundreds of sites provide daily or weekly prompts for writers.  Or if there's a novel you have always wanted to write . . . start.  The first sentence doesn't have to be perfect.  Writing is rewriting.  So let yourself do garbage.  You can always fix it later.

If you can't get going on a computer screen, use pen and paper.  Get the best gel pen or fountain pen you can afford, in a pretty color, and get a nice Moleskine notebook.  Or write with crayon on a Big Chief pad (but don't blame me if your crayon smears.)  Do the lines across the page keep your Muse from singing?  Turn the pad to "landscape" mode and write ACROSS it.  Use a sketchbook and write across the blank page in a spiral, if that helps.  Whatever works.  This is for YOU alone at first.  No one is grading you.  Just get words down for your fifteen minutes.

It'll get easier, I promise.

Are you more energetic in the early morning?  Are you a night owl like me?  This might influence the time you choose for your writing experiment.  Use your body clock to advantage.  Write with a little "book light" on a tiny spiral if you have to, in the dark, while watching the baby sleep.  Whatever you find that works for you is right.

If you are one of those people who does mission statements, write one on the flyleaf of your writing journal/spiral/sketchbook.  Talk about your writing time, how you deserve to accomplish things, what you want in your work area, the types of stories you hope to tell, or whatever you believe belongs in such a statement.  List five short-term goals for your writing career, i. e., immediate steps you can take towards creating the future you envision for yourself as a writer.

Do it YOUR way, as Sinatra sang.  "There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right," says Kipling.

Use your time as ME time.  It is, after all, the only thing that is truly yours, and it is measured out in teaspoons.  "Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you," advises the master poet Carl Sandburg.

Please, follow your own heart.  If you want to write, it will be the best guide you ever have.

Denise Weeks’ mystery Nice Work, the first of the Jacquidon “Snoop Sisters” Carroll series, recently published by Oak Tree Press, won the Dark Oak Novel Contest. She also writes the Ariadne French Mysteries. Under her pseudonym Shalanna Collins she has written a number of YA fantasy/urban fantasy novels. Find her Amazon author pages at