Monday, October 31, 2022

Writing Cemeteries by Sharon L. Dean

It's Halloween and I'm thinking about cemeteries. There's a line in the first academic book I published: "Constance Fenimore Woolson's life is marked by gravestones." I was thinking of the gravestones in Claremont, New Hampshire, for her three sisters who died of scarlet fever within a month of Woolon's birth.


There's the cemetery my grandmother took me to every Memorial Day to plant geraniums on the family gravestones, a tradition I continued until I moved away from New England. There's the cemetery where my son learned his alphabet, the Sleepy Hollow cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts, where so many writers are buried, the Civil War cemeteries in Gettysburg and Andersonville, the national cemetery at Arlington.


I prefer a simple graveyard to a landscaped cemetery, perhaps because I grew up in New England where the graveyards date to the seventeenth century. Although I titled my third mystery novel Cemetery Wine, its murder scene is in what I could have called a graveyard. Graveyard are older, smaller, filled with markers that feature death's heads or hourglasses or weeping willows.


When I wrote Cemetery Wine, I realized that all my novels contain a scene in a cemetery or graveyard. Death of the Keynote Speaker has a scene on New Hampshire's Star Island where there are gravestones for three Beebe girls who died of scarlet fever. The inscription on one reads, "I don't want to die, but I'll do just as Jesus wants me to." My novel Leaving Freedom begins with a mother and her two daughters standing over the grave of her husband. This freedom is not from life, but from the town that is suffocating one of the daughters and who is released to find her freedom as a writer.


My latest novel, The Barn, begins with an image of a barn with a wooden cow's head on the outside of the rafters. The cow's head could have been a death's head as the characters try to solve the cold case of a murdered classmate. A cemetery also figures in that novel when, thirty years later, the characters gather to bury the classmate's mother.


Why, I ask myself, do these graveyard images creep unplanned into my writing? I'm not morbid. I'm not haunted by death. I could walk into a cemetery this Halloween Eve and not be afraid of what might rise from the graves. I think it's about the history these gravestones capture in their carvings and epitaphs and coatings of lichen. It's about nostalgia I feel for the New England I left and that I recreate in the novels I write. Cemeteries give me a place to develop a scene, to capture relationships among the living and between the living and the dead. They are great places for the novelist. They can be burgeoning with flowers, covered with fallen leaves, or buried in snow. They give shape to my writing and a sense that, though I wish to be cremated, I can ask my family to bury some of my ashes back home at the grave of my parents.


Sharon L. Dean grew up in Massachusetts where she was immersed in the literature of New England. She earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of New Hampshire, a state she lived and taught in before moving to Oregon. After giving up writing scholarly books that required footnotes, she reinvented herself as a fiction writer. She is the author of three Susan Warner mysteries and of a literary novel titled Leaving Freedom. The Barn, the first novel in a new mystery series, features librarian and reluctant sleuth Deborah Strong as she and her friend solve a thirty-year-old cold case. The second in this series, The Wicked Bible, will be published in Fall 2021. For more information, see



In 1990, Deborah Madison and Rachel Cummings, both seventeen, are enjoying a bicycle ride on a beautiful September day in New Hampshire. They stop at a local barn that no longer houses cows but still displays a wooden cow’s head that peeks out from a window in the rafters. Sliding open the door, they find Rachel’s boyfriend, Joseph Wheeler, dead on the barn’s floor.


The case lies as cold as Joseph for nearly thirty years until Rachel returns to New Hampshire to attend the funeral of Joseph’s mother. The girls, now women, reopen the cold case and uncover secrets that have festered, as they often do in small towns. Against a backdrop of cold and snow and freezing rain, Deborah and Rachel rekindle their friendship and confess the guilt each of them has felt about things that happened in the past.


The Barn is a story of friendship lost and recovered, secrets buried and unburied, and the power of forgiveness.


Available through Encircle Publications: or your favorite bookstore or e-book site.




Sunday, October 30, 2022

Why Fear Can Be Fun

"I delight in what I fear." — Shirley Jackson


I love scary movies, haunted houses, horror novels—the macabre and the morbid. I revel in that moment immediately after I'm startled and spooked. You know the feeling I'm talking about: the gush of air leaving your lungs when you realize you're safe, the nervous laughter at having been faked out in fright. I even enjoy roller coasters—the anticipation as the car ratchets up the hill and that breathless moment of powerlessness as I crest the top and plunge downward.

From the popularity of Halloween and amusement parks, I suspect I'm not alone in my love of fear. (The fear I choose, anyway...real-life fear is a whole different story.)


Though I don't seek out "slasher flicks" such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street (can't stand the insipid-helpless-heroine stereotype), give me a good psychological thriller like Silence of the Lambs or Psycho and you'll find me clutching the edge of my seat, knuckles white, heart racing—a smile on my face.


I'm also a sucker for almost everything Stephen King has written. I count Misery as the scariest book I've ever read. I had to read it in the mornings because if I waited until night, I'd be visited by nightmares.


My love for all things horror-ific began when I was quite young. I remember my parents going to a drive-in movie to see The Sting when I was maybe eight. They thought I was asleep in the back seat and didn't realize I was actually peering out the back window watching The Exorcist on an adjacent screen. I couldn't hear the dialogue, but boy those visuals...



When I was a teenager, my mother introduced me to books such as Carrie and The Shining and The Stand. I remember wondering how King could use words to draw such deep and real characters. I was hooked. Next came Dean Koontz's The Key to MidnightThe Eyes of Darkness, and The Door to December—such beautiful prose devoted to such dark and spine-chilling themes.


But here's the question my love of horror elicits: Why am I, and so many others, drawn to those moments of primal fear? Why do we revel in that momentary experience of terror?


According to Robi Ludwig, PsyD, there's a "science behind the scream," and it's both physiological and psychological.


Physically, the fright we experience from the screen or images in a book triggers our fight-or-flight instinct, giving us a rush of adrenaline and subsequent endorphins and dopamine. It's a super-sized combo of hormones that our not-quite-evolved bodies still crave. Most of us no longer have to face down saber-toothed tigers or cave bears, but our brains retain remnants of hard-wiring that leave us searching for stimulation.


That makes perfect sense to me. Still, it is the psychological aspect that intrigues me most. It seems as if humans would want to avoid fear, yet we so often seek it out. 

Ludwig answers that by making the case that stage-managed fear helps us prove to ourselves we can handle more anxiety than we might have thought possible. Additionally, fictional fear allows us to vent pent-up emotional darkness. "Identifying with the dark side of human nature can be quite cathartic for us," Ludwig says.


I write fairly tame cozy mysteries—except for the murders, of course. Even so, I can relate to the concept of venting my pent-up emotional darkness. I always feel a bit lighter, a bit more tolerant, when I've killed off a bad guy or gal who exhibits traits I find annoying in real life. This pillow lives in my office:



Don't tell anyone, but I've definitely done that. And when I have the power to deal with those annoying people fictionally, I do find I handle them better in day-to-day life. When I read, watch, or create fictional monsters, I reduce the effect of the world's stressors, making me a kinder, more relaxed person.


At least, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.


"We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones." — Stephen King


How about you? Do you love a good scare? If so, what's your favorite horror book/movie?



Saturday, October 29, 2022

How a Prequel Became a Sequel By Judy Penz Sheluk

The title came first. Before There Were Skeletons, a nod to Skeletons in the Attic, book 1 in my Marketville Mystery series. In book 1, Calamity (Callie) Barnstable, my protagonist, 36 at the time, inherits a house in Marketville from her father, who has died in an “unfortunate” occupational accident. The catch? She must move into the house, a house she didn’t know existed, and find out the truth about her mother, Abigail Osgoode Barnstable, who disappeared when Callie was six


Callie ferrets out the truth, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t left with unanswered questions and unresolved issues. In book 2, Past & Present, Callie starts her own private investigation firm—Past & Present Investigations, specializing in cold cases—may as well put into practice what she learned, right? It’s either that or going back to a nine-to-five job, the latter holding no appeal. But while Callie finds herself adept at digging into other people’s lives and secrets, she’s not quite equal to the challenge of doing that in her own life, especially when it comes to those “mother” issues that still need resolving.


In book 3, A Fool’s Journey, Callie’s on the hunt for a young man who’s been missing for 20 years. She also manages to develop a relationship with her heretofore estranged great grandmother, Olivia Osgoode, but the skeletons of her past, and the scars left behind, remain.


My initial thought was that I’d write a prequel from Abigail’s point of view. You see, Abigail (Abby to her friends) had been in her final year at Lakeside High, with plans to go to university, a dream easily achieved, thanks to good marks and affluent parents. She got pregnant instead, dropped out of school, married the boy (James “Jimmy” Barnstable), and moved to Marketville. There’s a story there, right? At least I thought there was.


And so, I wrote the first few chapters as Abby, alternating attempts between first person (which is how the Marketville mysteries are written, albeit from Callie’s POV) to third person. Here’s a third person version of the prologue.


September 1976


Abigail Osgoode hopped off the school bus in front of Ben’s Convenience, unrolled the waistband of her orange miniskirt until the hem reached mid-thigh, and started walking east on Winding Lake Drive. The bus driver would have dropped her off at the gated entry into Moore Gate Manor, but Abigail preferred to keep where she lived private. It was hard enough being the new kid on the Lakeside block, let alone being the new rich kid. Most of the students at Lakeside High came from what could best be described as limited means. Lakeside, despite the indication of growth to come, was primarily a summer resort town with a population that declined dramatically during the remainder of the year. Local jobs tended to be retail, restaurants, or seasonal—marinas and lawn mowing in the summer, snowmobiles, and ice hut rentals in the winter.


Now…I didn’t use any of that, or the 50+ additional pages I wrote in Abby’s voice, and while it just never felt right to me, it did serve to make me understand Abby. Where she came from, who she was, what she became, why she disappeared on Valentine’s Day 1980, leaving behind a six-year-old daughter and a husband who loved her.


Some of that backstory trickles into the final version of Before There Were Skeletons, told from her daughter Callie’s point of view, 45 years later. Some doesn’t.


Because life is like that, isn’t it? Full circle. Even when we tear away the extra pages we don’t want to remember, some of it sticks. Some of it doesn’t. And those we’ve left behind are left wondering.


About the Book

The last time anyone saw Veronica Goodman was the night of February 14, 1995, the only clue to her disappearance a silver heart-shaped pendant, found in the parking lot behind the bar where she worked. Twenty-seven years later, Veronica’s daughter, Kate, just a year old when her mother vanished, hires Past & Present Investigations to find out what happened that fateful night.

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable is drawn to the case, the similarities to her own mother’s disappearance on Valentine’s Day 1986 hauntingly familiar. A disappearance she thought she’d come to terms with. Until Veronica’s case, and five high school yearbooks, take her back in time…a time before there were skeletons.

Universal Book Link:


About the Author

A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the bestselling author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including the Superior Shores Anthologies, which she also edited.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she served as Chair on the Board of Directors. She lives in Northern Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Find her at


Friday, October 28, 2022

Hello. Old Friend: AKA The Joys of Research

 Image by Dariusz Sankowski on Pixabay

Hello, old friend: A blog by Warren Bull

AKA The Joys of Research by Warren Bull

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a geek. Anyone who is not of the opinion that I am a geek, should be fully convinced that I am after reading this blog.

I purchased a book on Abraham Lincoln addressing an aspect of the man I knew little about. To Address You as My Friend: African Americans’ Letters to Abraham Lincoln was edited by Jonathan W. White and published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2011.  As the title suggests it is a collection of letters to Lincoln by Black Americans selected by the editor to reflect the range of issues in their lives they decided to write the President about.  Most of the more than 120 letters have never been published and it is far from comprehensive. 

It's impossible to know which letters reached Lincoln and to know how or if he responded to the letters that did. I intend to read them at my leisure and think about the lives of enslaved and free Blacks around the time of the Civil War. 

What struck me shortly after I opened the book was the sensation of familiarity. In the letter described in the Prologue, William De Florville [spelling of this name varies widely] wrote his old friend in the White House. In the missive dated December 27th, 1863 De Florville offered sympathy for the death of Willie Lincoln, news of Springfield, including how Fido, the dog, was getting along, praise for the Emancipation Proclamation, and encouragement for his friend to run for re-election to the presidency.  

That letter has been published. I read it and referred to in i my Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories. My feeling was like seeing an old friend. I knew about the long friendship between the self-described “Billy the Barber” and his attorney. I also knew, from my research about other people mentioned in the prologue. I was acquainted with William H. Herndon. Lincoln’s law partner and his long feud with Mary Todd Lincoln. I also knew the history of Elizabeth Keckly [another name spelled variously] a former slave who wrote about Lincoln’s grief at the loss of his son with such clarity that racists later insisted she could not possibly have written so well on her own — no former slave could. Dr. Merriman was mentioned. He testified in the trial of the Trailor brothers who Lincoln defended on a murder charge before Merriman helped De Florville open his barber shop. He’s in my Abraham Lincoln for the Defense.

At other times I have happened by chance upon the mention of people I wrote about based on the historical records I could find. I was happy to see that my best guesses about them proved to be correct. 

It is no doubt a geeky sort of pleasure, perhaps reserved for those of us who research.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

My Favorite Newborn Words by Connie Berry

Words are the raw materials of the writer’s trade. 

Fortunately, there are lots of words out there—more than most of us can use or even know in our lifetimes. Some linguists say the English vocabulary contains roughly a million words. Others (the show-offs) up that by a quarter million or so. And yet each year, more words are coined and become part of the common English lexicon. In 2022, Merriam Webster added 370 new words to their English dictionary.

 Here are my top ten favorites:

1.     Dumbphone (noun): a cell phone that doesn’t include advanced software like email, a camera, or an internet browser. I think we need a related word: dumbphoneuser.


2.     Greenwash (verb): to make a product appear more environmentally friendly than it actually is for the purpose of misleading consumers. New word, familiar concept.


3.     Terraform (verb): to transform a heavenly body (plant, moon) into an environment capable of supporting human life. Something to try on earth one day.


4.     Yeet (interjection): an expression of surprise, especially of approval and enthusiasm. Writers need more words like this so we can avoid exclamation points.


5.     Janky (adjective): of poor quality; not functioning properly; a combination of “junky” and “faulty.” Useful for lowering word count.


6.     Adorkable (adjective): socially awkward or nerdy but in an endearing way. Well, thank you.


7.     FWIW and ICYMI (acronyms): “For what it’s worth” and “In case you missed it” respectively. A way for the younger generation to conceal things from us.


8.     LARP (noun): A live-action role-playing game acted out by players in real time; typically a fantasy adventure. Related words include LARPER and LARPING. Come on now—isn’t this just Cops & Robbers?


9.     Altcoin (noun): various cryptocurrencies regarded as alternatives to established cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin. Wait, wait—has something happened to actual money?


10.  Finally, saving the best for last, Hoglet (noun): a baby hedgehog. How adorable is that?


 So, readers and writers, what new words are you using these days? We want to know. There’s always room for more.



Wednesday, October 26, 2022

An Interview with Carol J. Perry by E. B. Davis


Christmas lights on palm trees and Santa hats on plastic pink flamingoes are far from the snowy landscape Maureen and her beloved golden retriever, Finn, are used to. But Maureen is determined to make this a holiday to remember—which means finding a way to promote Haven House on a shoestring. Fortunately, Haven’s vintage movie theater, the Paramount, has come up with a great “Twelve Days of Christmas” idea. They’ll feature an impressive list of the best classic Christmas movies ever made—shown by one-time movie actor-turned-projectionist Decklin Monroe . . .
But nobody bothered to tell Maureen that the Paramount is haunted by the ghost of a man who was murdered a few years back. Haven’s top cop Frank Hubbard doesn’t believe in ghosts but, believing that Decklin Monroe was somehow involved, he wants a reluctant Maureen’s help. 
That plan is derailed when, on the first day of the festival, a fresh murder victim is found at the theater. Now Maureen has to defend her staff and guests, while trying to keep her high-spirited resident ghosts out of the picture—before they have company for the holidays . . .


High Spirits is Carol J. Perry’s second book in the Haunted Haven series. It is set in a Florida Gulf town, and Maureen, the main character, never believed in ghosts, but as she settles into her new home, a historic inn, she starts to see ghosts, and then communicates with them. Carol also writes the Witch City mysteries, set in Salem, MA, featuring a main character who is a scryer—someone who can divine knowledge or future events via crystal or glass reflections.


Amid living with ghosts, Maureen must use marketing skills from her past life as a department store buyer to bring in business and do so on a shoe string as the former owner allowed mismanagement to erode the inn’s capital base. Her creativity is aided by the horde of decorations the previous owner stockpiled. Christmas decorations and marketing lead her to murder.


Please welcome Carol J. Perry back to WWK.              E. B. Davis

What draws you to write books within the paranormal mystery genre?

This one was mainly because the publisher asked me if I could write a paranormal series!  I’ve been drawn to the spooky stuff all along I guess, and have a fondness for “ghost stories.” My Witch City series isn’t classified as “paranormal,” but some weird stuff happens in all of them too.


Is the Mediterranean Revival Hotel real, or is it the style that is real? The 1887 Casa Monica hotel in St. Augustine where ghosts Lorna and Reggie go dancing is a real place. People have reported hearing waltz music late at night, and seeing a roomful of ghosts dancing gracefully in the lobby!


Maureen is using the hotel’s old guest registers and the tales of ghosts to renovate the hotel suites, naming them after famous guests like Humphrey Bogart and Babe Ruth. The townspeople prefer to keep their ghosts secret. Isn’t it a temptation for Maureen to use the ghost angle to market the inn, especially when she knows the ghosts are real? Nope. The people in Haven don’t want the ghost hunter TV shows or the amateur ghost hunters showing up with their recorders and special cameras trying to get ghostly images and such. They’re afraid it would spoil the town so locals vehemently deny that the ghosts exist.


Can Maureen wear clothing simultaneously when her ghost roommate, Lorna, borrows an item? I think she probably could, but I haven’t let her try it yet. I know when Lorna borrows a dress from Macy’s window, the mannequin is still wearing it.


The old Paramount Theater is showing old two-reel movies during the holidays. But they also have newer films that are run on one-reel film or digital imaging. Why did the owners ask Decklin Monroe to oversee the holiday showings?  Decklin is one of the few projectionists who can still operate the old two-reel projectors—tricky things to time and operate.


Annoying Officer Frank Hubbard questions Maureen about her spending time with Monroe in the movie theater. Why does he do so? Frank is investigating a cold case that involved Decklin many years ago. Maureen has also been in contact with a local business involving another person who was involved in that case. He wonders what Maureen’s connection is.

In the first book, Be My Ghost, Maureen receives a message from Zoltar, a fortune machine at the South of the Border Motor Inn. Where does she find the second message from Zoltar, who always seems to have messages from the dead? Is Maureen creeped out? Maureen is surely creeped out! Who wouldn’t be? But the previous message was so accurate, she feels that she must pay attention to it. She keeps both messages in her bureau drawer.


As much as Maureen’s dog Finn likes Lorna the ghost, the old owner’s cats, Bogie and Bacall, who Maureen inherited, don’t like Lorna. Why such a different response? Beats me.  But as Lorna says, “Cats are weird.” Bogie ignores her and Bacall seems to be amused by walking through her.


I had to laugh. Lorna embraces new technology. Has she mastered Alexa?  I’m not sure. I think she’d be suspicious about all that knowledge coming out of a machine. I don’t think she likes Siri either.


Ted, the inn’s chef, and Maureen decide on a “dinner and a movie” promotion using the Paramount’s Twelve Days of Holiday Films. What type of patron does the promotion attract?

Both Haven residents and the Inn’s patrons were targets of the advertising, which had to be done in a hurry. Ted produced a relatively inexpensive dinner followed by a popular wassail drink that everybody clearly enjoyed.


What was the relationship among the first victim, Buddy Putnam, who was murdered in the theater in 1975, Decklin Monroe, the second victim, and Harry Henshaw? Why were they in Haven? Harry and Decklin were involved in some crooked operations some fifty years ago. Buddy was a small-time hood who helped them out and was in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Maureen has a running list of all the renovations she’d like to make at the inn. What are the two biggest on her list? Why? The dining room takes priority. It is dingy and dated, yet it is an important part of the business. She has ideas for a gift shop too, and keeps thinking of other improvements she cannot afford yet.


I was surprised that Hubbard didn’t question the older staff members of the inn, who were around during the 70s when Putnam was killed. Wouldn’t they have more information than Maureen? Gert and George had information about Mrs. Henshaw, Molly was in Las Vegas at the time, and none of them traveled in the same circles as Decklin—who was in the movies, and Henshaw, who was wealthy.


Maureen yells at a ghost who is dating Lorna for smoking on the elevator. Wasn’t she afraid he might be angry? She runs a no-smoking establishment. She’d be angry with anyone who smoked there, especially a non-paying guest like Reggie!


What is the Greater Haven Improvement Fund and how did it relate to the inn? The town of Haven needed some places to attract visitors. The Greater Haven Improvement Fund was established to fund not only the inn, but the movie theater and the casino as well.


Why does Hubbard bug Maureen’s inn phone? Nosy, isn’t he? He’s looking for phone numbers called from the inn which might match up with some certain numbers he has.


What are Highwaymen paintings?  I love the story of the Highwaymen. When I was writing non-fiction articles for magazines before I became a fiction writer, I learned the story of these young black men (and one woman), who learned to paint fast, quite primitive paintings of Florida scenery, which they sold out of the backs of trucks along the highway for about $35 each. The inn, as well as many motels found them good for inexpensive décor. I’ve personally met quite a few of the Highwaymen and have written about them often. Now a Highwayman painting will cost many hundreds of dollars and one hangs in the governor’s office.


What is a “straw buyer?” A straw buyer is a person who will purchase something for another person who might not want his/her name attached to the transaction.


What’s next for Maureen, Ted, and Finn? I’m just now finishing up Book #13 in my Witch City series. I alternate between the two series. I’ll start Book #3 in the Haunted Haven books—working title is “Haunting License,” and since I’m a total “pantser”—I write by the seat of my pants—I don’t know what comes next. I love my characters. They help me a lot with the plots. Sometimes I feel as if I’m taking dictation from them! I think there’ll be some more improvements on the inn, and there may be some more ghosts. There’ll surely be a murder.


Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Surrounded by Crazy Helps Me Feel Sane by Martha Reed

After three years of relentless transition, I feel like I’m starting to settle in. I’ve hung up the pictures in my new condo. I’ve located delicious and favorite local seafood restaurants. I’ve backed off using GPS for every single Publix grocery store trip, and I’ve made new friends.

The best part of the settling-in process is that it gives me the opportunity to be proactive versus reactive, to take a breather and outline the plans on how I want to structure my writing life going forward, how I want to prioritize my writing time and determine my new 2023 writing goals.

I’ve made the decision to let two volunteer roles roll off at year’s end. Both kept me busy and got me through COVID-19 2020, but they ate up a big chunk of my time. I’ve decided that I want that time back for my creative writing. I’ve given myself permission to take that time back and not to feel like I’m being selfish about wanting to do it.

We all know that it takes time and commitment to be a writer. I used to feel guilty about blocking off writing time until it became a daily habit and my family and friends got used to me doing it. Do you feel guilty when it comes to your sacred writing time? Any tips or tricks on how to manage it?

The thing is, if I don’t write every single day, I start to feel like an imposter, a poser, as if I’m not really being serious enough about my storytelling. But when I’m in the throes of a new story, during the act of intent creation, I know that’s not true, because in the final stretch, those last two or three gloriously frazzled days when the story is gelling into ectoplasm right in front of my eyes, and the words are so good and true that I can’t change a single one of them because nothing I change makes the storytelling any better, then I know in my heart of hearts that yes, I’m a writer.

The irony is that my travels and travails are the very fuel that have recently been firing my imagination because being unsettled forces me to think outside the box as I navigate new relationships, make necessary accommodations, and explore the maze of new lifestyle compromises. Sure, some of the challenges are unpleasant and difficult, but at least I’m not bored. These challenges are forcing me to reexamine my storytelling character choices and to explore new character depth. It’s a wild and wooly world, and in my new more diverse universe, my characters are forcing me to expand my perception, and my mind.

Consider the protagonist in your current work in progress. Now, change his/her/their gender. Change their ethnicity or race. Change their religion or belief system. Does the change make your story stronger, your characters more unusual, more interesting? What does the change do to you, as the author? Please post comments. Curious minds want to know.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Combinations by Nancy L. Eady

In another life, I was a high school math teacher, which meant my major in college was math education.  One type of math problem I encountered both at college and when I was teaching was figuring out how many possible combinations of various things were possible.  So, for example, if you have a drawing for the numbers 1-6, you have 6 possible numbers you can get on the first draw.  If the number is not replaced after the drawing, then on the second draw, you can get five possible numbers.  If the number IS replaced, then you still have six possible numbers.  So, in one drawing with six people where the number is not replaced, you have a possible 720 (6x5x4x3x2x1) ways in which the numbers can be drawn.  However, in one drawing with six people where the number IS replaced, the number of possibilities increase to 46,656 (6x6x6x6x6x6). 

I would assume (although I haven’t looked it up) that the range of sounds the human voice can make is close to infinite.  But somewhere along the line, as we were evolving, humans started associating certain sounds with certain meanings.  The number of possible combinations of sounds was (I am again assuming) close to infinite but over time in different groups of humans, the sounds used to express meaning became standardized, and language was born.  

Keeping both those thoughts in the back of your mind, now, take a minute to appreciate the genius, whoever he or she was, who invented the Western alphabet.  Other systems of writing stemming from pictographs, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics and Babylonian cuneiform, were in use, but weren’t universal.  Some unknown person (a Phoenician, historians are pretty certain) decided to associate a limited number of symbols with specific sounds, and the idea caught on, revolutionizing written communications in the Western world.  Because the alphabet has a limited number of symbols, the number of possibilities to create words was not infinite, although still incredibly high.  Ideas could not only be expressed but recorded. 

And from that critical insight, developed the English language that we use today, in all of its glorious richness and versatility.  That's a good thought to take with you into a Monday, isn't it? 

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Retreating by Annette Dashofy

When last I posted here, I was about to retreat into Book Jail, my self-imposed confinement aimed at pounding out pages on my works in progress. That’s how I spent all of September, and my stint in lockup was a success. I finished revisions on one manuscript and sent it off to my editor. I finished drafting a second manuscript and sent it off to my beta readers. And I started drafting a third manuscript and managed to get a lot accomplished. 

Once the calendar turned to October, however, I had to step out of my incarceration and attend a few book events to keep my face in front of the readers. I continued to draft manuscript #3, only at a slower pace. And my beta readers sent me their notes, so I had to pull manuscript #2 out again and start rewriting. 

Last weekend, my Pittsburgh Chapter of Sisters in Crime held our “annual” writing retreat. 

To clarify, it’s been several years since we had an “annual” retreat. Even pre-pandemic, the tradition had fallen by the wayside. But with some new blood on board, interest sparked, and we made it happen. 

Mountain Ridge Retreat is a rental property out in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. Literally. Out in the middle of NOWHERE. If you don’t bring it with you, you’re going to have to drive twenty miles to buy it.

Our view from the front porch

Which pretty much describes where I live, so it was fine. 

The house was beautiful. Clean. Well-kept. There were five bedrooms. We had five retreaters. Perfect. All five of us get along great, so sharing the three bathrooms was no problem at all.

My bedroom at the retreat house

The trees were bursting in autumn colors. Deer and chipmunks paid us regular visits. The weekend consisted of everyone catching up on our various writing adventures, eating, writing, sitting on the porch, eating, writing, workshopping our manuscripts, eating, writing, watching a webinar with Luci Zahray AKA The Poison Lady, eating, writing, drinking wine, and more writing. We did much of this in our pajamas or yoga pants.
Watching SinC's webinar with "The Poison Lady"

In other words, it was Writer’s Heaven. 

And in case you’re wondering why there are no photos of us, see the above sentence regarding attire. 

We started the retreat with a critique session Friday night. We’d sent pages in advance and gathered near the blazing fireplace to share our comments. It was fun to see what our little group was working on.


Our gathering spot for
retreat critiques

I led one short workshop on the Villain’s Story Saturday morning. It’s always gratifying when teaching something like this, to see everyone with their heads bent over their laptops and their fingers flying during the writing exercises. I thought it would inspire anyone who was stuck with their plots, and I think it did. 

I had set a goal for myself prior to heading to the retreat house and am happy to announce I surpassed it. 

That’s not to say I finished either manuscript #2 or manuscript #3, but I feel confident both deadlines will be met. 

After all, NaNoWriMo begins in a little over a week. 

Fellow readers and writers, have you ever taken part in a work-related retreat? Or a non-work-related one? Share your experiences, please.