Thursday, May 31, 2018

How to Write Good

My sister and her husband from Tacoma Washington have been visiting for two weeks. They’ve been staying at my sister Elaine’s house for all but two days and we’ve been doing something every day in those two weeks so I haven’t been home much. Twice I skipped what was planned because I needed to get things done here before they came to my house for two days.

In those days when I participated in what they did we had a great time. As I wrote last week we went to Zoar Village. The day after they arrived the evening before, my sister Elaine had a welcoming party for them with snacks and then a delicious supper.

The next day we hiked the Greenway Trail in Lisbon and then ate dinner at a delicious vegetarian restaurant. The next day we also went hiking in Cuyahoga National Park not too far from where I live so they came to my house first before going there. The next day we had a cookout at my brother, Phil’s house in Salem. Ohio the evening before he left to fly to Las Vegas for a conference. His son’s and their families were there, too.

The next day is when we went to Zoar Village.

The following day we went hiking in Moraine State Park in Pennsylvania.  The next day we went to the Akron Zoo, I hadn’t visited that since my now college age grandchildren were quite young. I enjoyed it except it was quite noisy with a dozen school buses filled with children who were there that day.

The next day they met for dinner and music in the evening at Alliance Ohio. I skipped that.

The next day was SISTER’S DAY a day our sister-in-law Joanne has every year in which we meet at a restaurant for lunch and she pays for it. This year it was at a golf club near where she lives. Sometime she plans other things, too, but this time it was to go to her home for ice cream and a pastry. I skipped the next day because it was a shopping excursion.

 On Saturday night three days before they would leave, we met at an Italian restaurant in Salem, Ohio to celebrate our sister Suzanne’s birthday and retirement. There were at least twenty who came to that. After we ate we all went to my sister-in-law’s home for birthday cake and ice cream.  When we left there Cathi and Bill followed me to my house where they would spend the next two nights with me.

On Sunday they went to Mass with me after eating breakfast first in a restaurant nearby. We also went to the cemetery nearby so they could see our parents’ gravestone and my son John’s grave and my six year old granddaughter Megan’s grave, and my gravestone that my ex-husband bought for me before he died. (He was cremated.) Then we went to the tall monument of our ancestors who date back into the 1800s and the gravestones of our grandparents.

When we got back Cathi started weeding my brick sidewalk while Bill got my shovel and loppers and proceeded to get rid of all the ash saplings that are taking over everywhere. We stopped for a rest at the patio table every so often and for a snack, and then we walked over to my son’s house and visited with him before heading out to an Italian restaurant for supper.

The following day, Memorial Day was a cookout at my son’s house with everyone bringing something to eat. My sisters all came as well as my sister-in-law and her fiancé. Only my brother didn’t come, but my local daughter came and my granddaughter and her two little ones came, too.

When we all left, Cathi and Bill came back to my house and packed up to leave for Bill’s son and family’s house in North Carolina. Everyone was sad to see them go, but Cathi had been suffering from the extreme heat we were having and she wanted to get on the road and stay in a motel with air conditioning. My house with trees around it isn’t too warm, but I haven’t brought my air conditioner in yet because it’s heavy and I haven’t asked my son or grandson to bring it in from the garage yet.

Now about today’s blog. I’ve been too busy to even come up with an idea. This evening (Tuesday) I’m heading to Cleveland to pick up my California daughter to be here a week. I didn’t have an idea for a blog so I was browsing through the older ones in 2013 in which only Elaine, Jim, Linda and Warren were still members. They probably forgot it after all these years anyway.

My same sister and her husband had been spending time in Oregon and visited Powell’s, of course. My brother-in-law is a reader who reads a lot of books like I do. My sister, too, but not quite as much as we do. They also visited a store for writers and found the perfect poster for a writer and sent it to me. The title was “How to Write Good. I will write the list here and then write some of the comments others made.

1.       Avoid alliteration always.
2.      Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3.      The passive voice is to be avoided.
4.      Avoid clichés like the plague. They’re old hat.
5.      It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
6.      Writers should never generalize.
7.      Seven – be consistent.
8.      Don’t use more words than necessary. It’s highly superfluous.
9.      Be more or less specific.
10.  Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

Now some comments made by others when I first posted this:

James Montgomery Jackson: 11. Never ever use absolutes. 12. Relay on Spellcheck four all your editing kneads.

E.B. Davis        Show actions and emotions completely, extenuatingly and continually by carefully and thoughtfully avoiding the use of adverbs while trying not to split infinitives seriously and conscientiously.

Warren Bull     Don’t have an ending that just trails O
If you have any other suggestions please let me know.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Leslie Budewitz Interview By E. B. Davis

Humans. When they baffle you, reach for chocolate.
Leslie Budewitz, As The Christmas Cookie Crumbles, Kindle Loc. 943

The Agatha-Award winning Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries continue.
In Jewel Bay, Montana’s Christmas Village, all is merry and bright. At Murphy’s Mercantile, AKA the Merc, manager Erin Murphy is ringing in the holiday season with food, drink, and a new friend: Merrily Thornton. A local girl gone wrong, Merrily’s turned her life around. But her parents have publicly shunned her, and they nurse a bitterness that chills Erin.

When Merrily goes missing and her boss discovers he’s been robbed, fingers point to Merrily—until she’s found dead, a string of lights around her neck. The clues and danger snowball from there. Can Erin nab the killer—and keep herself in one piece—in time for a special Christmas Eve?

Includes delicious recipes!
I find it hard to believe that it’s been four years since I caught up with Leslie Budewitz’s Food Lovers’ Village Mystery series. Perhaps because of that hiatus, I noticed something different. Leslie’s writing is cozier—more sink in the cushions and disappear from reality—reading than it ever was before. For those of us who like our cozy reads to be like biting into the center of a warm, soft chocolate cookie still gooey and melty, the reading was awesome.    

Not to say that it avoids some harsh realities about people and how they treat each other, but Leslie makes the effort to provide the soft contrast to the black and white thinkers who judge without compassion, and isn’t compassion the essence of cozies?

Set during the weeks before Christmas and the wedding of main character Erin Murphy, As The Christmas Cookie Crumbles portrays the best, worst, and sometimes goofiest of human behavior during this season. This book will be released on June 8th.  

Please welcome multiple Agatha winner Leslie Budewitz to WWK.                                    E. B. Davis

Erin witnesses a fight among members of the Thornton family. Who are the Thorntons, and why is Erin shocked?

Walt and Taya Thornton run an antiques and Christmas shop in the village of Jewel Bay, up the block from the Merc, the local foods grocery Erin runs in her family’s hundred-year-old building. Once Erin’s kindergarten teacher, Taya has always embodied the Christmas spirit to Erin – she even looks like an elf. So when she yells at her daughter to go away, saying “You’ve shamed us enough” on the sidewalk on Decorating Day, in front of dozens of people, Erin is stunned. She knows Merrily Thornton’s past – everyone in town does -- but hurts for the woman, humiliated by her own mother in public. 

Is fear of judgment the reason why people keep up appearances without regard to the truth?

That is an astute observation. Taya had reason to question what she thought she knew, but chose not to, because she feared what else she might learn. 

Merrily Thornton pleaded guilty to embezzlement twenty years ago and served time. Why does Erin trust her?

It’s not a blind trust. Erin likes her, knows she did her time, and sees signs of rehabilitation. That’s enough, she thinks, to start a friendship.

What’s an earworm, and what plagues Erin during the season?

An earworm is a song that gets stuck in the brain – like the very worst Christmas songs that wrap their way around Erin’s brain stem!

Like so often happens to me, Erin can’t remember someone’s name. Does Erin focus on other aspects of humans other than their labels?

Erin prides herself, as I do, on having a great memory and easily coming up with other people’s names. But there is one woman in town whose name she can never remember, also like me. (After 15 years, I’ve finally begun to recognize her when I see her out without her husband, whom I easily recall, or without having to ask mine “Who was that?”) I thought it would be fun to give the usually-sharp Erin that same frustration.

Erin’s mom Fresca thinks trust is more important than risk. But Erin starts writing procedures for the store to reduce that risk. Does Erin think naiveté equals stupidity?

No. But she’s worked in big business as well as small, and knows how easy it is for small businesses to overlook the importance of simple things like policies on cash-handling or computer use. And she knows that employees generally want to have regular reviews and manuals they can refer to. Plus she’s going on vacation – her honeymoon – and her staff will need to take care of things without calling her!

How do we empower people in our lives who don’t deserve that power?

Oh, great question! As you’ve suggested, fear is one way, and not questioning them is another. Probably the biggest way, I suspect, is not trusting our own instincts about people. We want to like and be liked, and easily dismiss our own misgivings instead of digging into them a little deeper.

What is a “Splash” artist?

Luci is a soapmaker and recurring character who sells her products at the Merc. She calls her business “The Splash Artist.” Soap, baths, bubbles….

“Back inside, the scent of lavender mingled with cocoa and coffee.” (Loc 230)
Are scents important to the Christmas season? Are they important to the retail season?

Oh, yes! Turns out that memory and scent are closely tied; both are located in the limbic system of the brain and evolved early in human development. That’s why we can catch a whiff of cologne and find ourselves thinking of a boyfriend who wore it 30 years ago before even noticing the scent. And because holidays, especially Christmas, also build on memory and tradition, I think scents play a big role in our enjoyment of them. And occasionally, of less positive memories as well. As for scent and retail, there’s a thing called “scent marketing,” where retailers deliberately evoke a scent to trigger that limbic response and, they hope, a purchase. Erin won’t stoop to something that deliberate, but if the aroma of chocolate or strawberry jam seeps out of the Merc’s commercial kitchen into the shop itself, how could that be a bad thing? < smile >

Why hasn’t Erin met any of her husband-to-be’s family, the Zimmermans?

Adam left Minnesota for college and has never gone back. His and Erin’s work schedules made a visit impossible. He’s never felt close to his family, and envies the bonds the Murphys share.  At times, though, maybe they are a little too close!

Would you describe Almond Bianchi? Fudge Ecstasies?

Almond Bianchi are meringues made with ground nuts, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth clouds. And Fudge Ecstasies? The name says it all, don’t you think?

Like Ms. Marple, are people who assume the worst of people realistic, or are they insecure, judgmental, negative and/or guilty?

Ah, the eternal debate: Is the pessimist realistic, or choosing to dwell on the negative? Is the optimist naïve, or choosing to focus on the best in people? Depending on your own point of view, you could make either case. I think our point of view is a choice, and it affects all our interactions and experiences. Put simply, we see what we want to see – which the pessimist would call blindness and the optimist might call generosity. We do have to recalibrate our perceptions at times, which can keep one up at night.

What is it about a Subaru that Erin likes? Do you drive a Subaru?

I love my Subaru! It and the Chevy pickup seem to be the semi-official vehicles of Northwest Montana – and no doubt of other regions with lots of mountains, weather, and people who love getting out of doors like Erin and I do. Their biggest advantages are solid construction and all-wheel drive – plus a hatchback that even a small dog can jump into!

Why does Erin decide to put some Jewish holiday décor in the Merc beside the Christmas decorations?

As she strolls past the shop windows, she realizes that the village has overlooked Hannukah, and thinks maybe a reminder would be a good idea.

You change to present tense occasionally during your story. What were the instances, and why did you decide to do that?

I use present tense to describe places and traits that are ongoing or continuous, much as we do in regular conversation. “Oliver ran down the street,” but “Oliver is short.” A first-person narrative should feel like Erin telling the reader the story, and I wanted to play up that narrator-reader connection. 

Erin doesn’t trust outsider Detective Bello (love the name), who displays “short-man” syndrome issues. How does she deal with him?

At first, she’s irritated. He comes into this town, not knowing a thing about it, or her, and dismisses her observations. Tells her he’s not going to let her interfere with his investigation. “His investigation? Since when? This is her town, too.” But she comes to realize he does know how to run a murder investigation, and he comes to understand that her knowledge of of the community is invaluable. As the danger heats up, she appreciates his protectiveness of his new patch. And as the investigation drags on, he appreciates her doggedness. They’ll never be completely comfortable with each other, I suspect, but they do develop a mutual respect. 

Why do people use “the exception proves the rule” in arguments?

Turns out the phrase comes from science, and uses “prove” not in the sense of “confirm” but in the sense of “test.” Like when we did proofs in high school math.

There’s an “embezzlement pattern,” which Bello refers to, but the pattern doesn’t seem to apply to Merrily. What is the “embezzlement pattern?” Why does Bello apply it to Merrily when it doesn’t fit?

This is something I encountered years ago in my law practice. Not to get too detailed, but many embezzlers are your next door neighbor, women with positions of trust in small businesses where they had easy access to money and the means to cover up their deception. A lot of research has focused on this pattern and the reasons for embezzlement, which do tend to differ between men and women. And it does fit Merrily now, but not in the past, which leads Erin to probe the past.

There’s nothing better in a cozy than cookies proving the time of death. How do cookies prove the time of Merrily’s death?

Ooh. How to answer without a spoiler? Erin sees what Merrily had been making for a cookie exchange, realizes what steps remained, and worked backwards to figure out the time of death. Naturally, Detective Bello is skeptical. But he’s newly arrived in Montana from Florida, and a cookie sometimes called a snowball is new to him! (Well, maybe it isn’t, but he is a skeptical kind of guy!)

What is Chocolate Cabernet sauce, and what does it best top?

Eight ounces semi-sweet or a combination of semi-sweet and bitter chocolate, melted, with a cup of heavy cream, a tablespoon of butter, a teaspoon of vanilla, and two tablespoons of Cabernet or another red wine. Mmmm. Erin first tastes this treat at the Summer Art & Food Festival in Crime Rib and recreates it for the reader in Butter Off Dead. It’s best served on ice cream. We were given a bottle of a pourable version a few years ago, went to buy more, and discovered it was no longer available, so I searched out a few recipes and created our own, which is thicker, almost fudge-like. I think I hear a jar calling me right now…

What kind of wedding cake did Adam and Erin choose?

You know, I never asked them! Readers, suggestions?

What’s next for Erin?

A nice long vacation in the sun. Seriously, she doesn’t know what Adam has planned their honeymoon, though he has told her to make sure her passport is current and promised to tell her what to pack at least three days before they leave. (I know where they’re going, but I’m not telling, either!)

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Can Myths be Mysterious?

by Paula Gail Benson

One summer when I was a high school student assisting with Vacation Church School, I was assigned the duty of manning the supply room. This meant that I got to read until a teacher needed something. My perhaps unusual selection was Bernard Evslin’s retelling of The Trojan War. I was captivated by how the author brought to life the ancient gods and mortals, and I imagined how exciting the spectacle would be as a TV ministries featuring a well-known cast of actors.

This year, as summer begins, I find myself enthralled with another retelling of some of those mythological events, Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. The novel, published in 2012, after Miller had worked on it for ten years, has been widely praised, and it won the Orange Prize for fiction.

Miller first became fascinated with Achilles’ story as a child when her mother read it to her. She grew up in Philadelphia, received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Latin and Ancient Greek from Brown University. She also studied at Yale School of Drama, learning how to adapt the classic texts for modern audiences.

She tells the story from the viewpoint of Patroculus, Achilles’ chosen closest companion. Next to Achilles’ legendary achievements, Patroculus seems to be a mere helpmate and encourager. Yet, in Miller’s telling, Patroculus’s admiration for Achilles becomes the catalyst for so much that happens in the hero’s life. Watching the characters’ growth is a major draw to the narrative’s appeal. At one point, they pass each other, as Patroculus becomes stronger and more heroic in his own right.

Part of any retelling of any popular tale is determining how to keep it interesting for the audience that knows the ending. Miller is incredibly adept at immersing the reader in a new world dominated by connections to the environment. Her descriptions incorporate all sensory perceptions as they reference trees, water, foods, and cultures.

Each character is intricately drawn. At the beginning, Patroculus is a child -- ineffectual, dismissed, and used. His own crisis comes when he accidentally kills a playmate and is exiled by his father. He enters Achilles’ father’s kingdom where unwanted boys are fostered, potentially building an army, for which Patroculus is the most unlikely candidate. Eventually, troops from that island join Achilles and Patroculus at Troy as the Myrmidons or “ant men.”

A trajectory that is particularly fascinating is watching how Achilles moves from being the golden boy to becoming a war machine in search of reputation alone while Patroculus develops wisdom and compassion, unconsciously becoming the best of the Myrmidons who must fall before Achilles is defeated.

Miller chooses to portray the relationship between Achilles and Paroculus as a physical one. It’s a modern choice that is rooted in some ancient texts and critical analyses.

As I went through the novel, I found myself going back to Wikipedia and online sources to understand how Miller constructed the story, what she selected and what she discarded. Her decisions made the ancient world she created more vivid and more understandable in the reactions Achilles and Patroculus have toward women.

I recommend this novel for a number of reasons: to evaluate how the author portrayed both characters and plot, to admire the intricacies of her detailed descriptions, and to revel in her creation of a near-new world.

Already, I’ve begun her new work, Circe, a fascinating second book. Like Patroculus, Circe is an outcast; however, her life is in exile, rather than in the midst of wartime adventures. Circe sits on her island and hears stories of the outside world from Hermes and Odysseus. Yet, Miller keeps my attention by making me care about this immortal who is consumed by curiosity about mortals.

Are you a reader of mythology? What retellings have you found to be the most captivating?

Monday, May 28, 2018

After the Release and My Second Draft Process

My debut novel, The Uninvited Corpse, released on March 27th, and to say it was an amazing day would be an understatement. I was excited, eager, curious, apprehensive and happy. It was Christmas morning, the first day of school and graduation all-wrapped up into one. One of my best days ever.

There was a flurry of activity online thanks to reviews that were posted, my friends shared the with their friends, and my publisher did its thing to promote the release. I made sure to take a trip to my local Barnes & Noble to visit my book. A very proud moment when I saw the book on the shelf with all the other cozies. Truly a dream come true moment.

 Later in the day flowers came. Two deliveries. Both my critique partner and husband sent flowers to celebrate release day. My husband had my cover framed as a gift.

I gave myself a few days to revel in the excitement and celebrate my achievement before I buckled back down to work. I dove into the third book in the Food Blogger mystery series. 

I’ve shared with you the process I went through to write the first draft, and I thought I’d give you a look at my second draft process, which includes a lot of index cards, coffee and a large surface. 


I had set aside the first draft for a couple of weeks to put some distance between me and the story, which allowed me to think about the story. Then printed out the full manuscript, grabbed a stack of index cards and filled my coffee cup to the brim. I settled at the dining room table to work.

I also had a sheet of paper on which I had collected new scene ideas or questions that came up during my break from the manuscript. I transferred that information to index cards. One card per scene, idea or thought.

Next up, I read through the entire manuscript and jotted down a one-to-two sentence recap of every scene. When I was done I had about 60 index cards filled out.

This took pretty much an entire day, so I waited until the next day to continue. The next stage was to “lay out the book” and for that—aside from more coffee—I needed the original outline of the manuscript, and the index cards. I used my kitchen island. Having a big island comes in handy at Christmas for cookie baking and for plotting books. I set out each index card and spent as much time as needed to make sure the story flows and the timeline is right. That’s why I have the original outline with me so I can make notes about the new scenes and the original scenes that need to be tweaked.

Once the story order is set, I number each index card, gather them up and take them to a comfortable spot and flip through them one more time.

When I’m satisfied with the flow of the story, I take the cards and the outline back to my desk and begin working on the manuscript.

In the second draft I’ll flesh out the scenes. They’re pretty lean in the first draft phase when I concentrate on the story. I interject material for character, better description and tighter dialogue. 

After I revise a chapter, I print it out and read and edit and make changes in the document. Once I’m satisfied, I send the chapter to my critique partner. When the chapter comes back with her comments, I save it and don’t look at it until I’m completed with my second draft and ready for round three.

There you have it, my second draft process. Sometimes it’s messy, sometimes it’s overwhelming, sometimes it’s frustrating, but it’s all worth it to get to a finished book. 

What does your revision process look like?