Saturday, June 4, 2011

Lori Foster's Reader Writer Get Together

I attended the Lori Foster Reader/Writer Get Together writers conference over the weekend of June 03-04. This one is unique in that readers also attend and get to meet their favorite writers. I pitched to one agency and have an opportunity to query another agency. I met with several of my writing friends from Sisters in Crime Columbus Ohio (SiCCO) and met several other new people: former Cincinnati cop Joelle, Danita from Authors Island, and several new writer friends.
Writers' conventions force me out of my comfort zone. They force me to engage with new folks. As I close the door behind me when as I leave my comfort zone, I never fail to find people with interesting stories. Real life stories. Most of these aren't tales of traveling the world in exotic adventures. Most are the confrontations of life, those troubles that rain upon us or the joys that brighten our days.
Thanks to all those that made this an enjoyable time in the midst of my own life struggles. Which is another post.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Lunch and Learn

I recently ate lunch with two folks who are on the liberal side of the political persuasion. I am not. However, instead of engaging them in a heated debate about their beliefs, I listened to what they had to say. While being an exercise in restraint, this conversation gave me an unimpeded opportunity to hear the other side. They admitted to being liberals and I informed them of my conservative stance. All parties knew where the other person stood in general terms.

The first thing I noticed was their repeated attempts to belittle their opponents. Though they knew to whom they directed their comments, they had no restrain in using derogatory tones if not terms when referring to groups they opposed. Not that they made this personal. They never wagged a finger at me. Never made direct attacks. Yet, they pulled no punches in verbalizing their disdain for those they opposed. For the things I believed in. Several times I wondered why they would use such inflammatory words or tone while hating that very thing in their opponents.

Next, they would accuse the side they opposed of doing things their side did and was doing. They were blinded to the mis-actions of their leaders, but blew out of proportion every little wrong the other side did.

I could go on, but allow these two point to suffice. How can the US as a country survive when its citizens can't even have a decent discourse to iron out our differences?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Return

Just like the General MacArthur, I have returned from my hiatus.

Did you ever get too busy with life to participate in the things you love to do? We all have. Life is a balancing act between things we have to do and things we love to do. We can't always do what we like. However, in the US society today, more and more people are living like they don't have to do the balancing act. They take and never reciprocate. I do not live by that code. For a full life, you should not either. Participate in life by reaching out to others. Warning, you might just enjoy it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Mad Anthony Writers Conference

The Mad Anthony's Writers Conference is coming to an end. It's been a great conference. I will issue more information shortly.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story

The notes from my talk at SICCO on August 29, 2009 follows:

Peanuts fans remember Snoppy's struggles as a writer. Perched atop his doghouse with typewriter in front of him, Snoppy typed: "It was a dark and stormy night." Then Snoppy's muse would desert him. His opening line came from the opening line from a book written in 1830 titled "Paul Clifford" written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Let's take a look at this horrible prose in an attempt to improve it.

Have you ever heard of a bright and stormy night? Most likely not. Therefore "dark" is a redunant word and can be dropped. We're left with "it was a stormy night." Better, but now a passive verb becomes the sticking point. Revise again. "That night, it stormed." How about that for a creepy opening?

Vision occurs by light reflecting off an object and entering the eyeball. The retina picks up the light and sends it up the optic nerve upside down and in 2D. The brain interpts this signal, turns it right-side-up and converts it two 3D. Writers do the same thing with words. The black and white as a result of our writing morphs into mental images for the reader.

John Gardner (a British author of thrillers and epics) said writing is "a vivid and continuous dream." That is a dream which feels as sharp and focused as real life and remains vivid. This type of writing prevents the reader from being disconneted to your story. How do you disconnect?
  1. No sympathetic character and the reader no longer cares.
  2. The plot meanders or goes nowhere and the reader either yawns or says, "Huh?"
  3. Lack of sensory input. That's what we're going to talk about.

Setting (the sense of place) is a vital part of your story. It is the world created by the writer where the characters dwell and the plot develops. The sense of place can set a tone (happy, dark, romantic, dangerous, etc.) and can even take on a personality within the story.

Description is the detail the writer provides to create a sese of place. To accomplish this, the writer makes use of the five senses to create (according to Brandi Reissenweber of Gotham Writef's Workshop) a relationship between the character and his/her surroundings.

We use our senses to keep in physical touch with the world. What we see, hear, feel, touch, taste, smell, sense and think all connects us to our world. Our characters need the same relationship. By providing this sensory imput through a character's Point of View (POV), writers manitain a connection to the reader. In your setting, what would be seen, heard, felt, touched, tasted, smelled and sense there. Your word choice will allow the reader to experience the setting through the character.

  1. Be specific in detail unless a need requres vagueness.
  2. A major character or important scene deserves more sensory detail.
  3. A minor character or a passing scene requires less.

Use the best detail to convey the picture. If you hit a muse-stopping word search, just write down the various words which come to mind. You can come back later and hammer out the correct wording. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of those writers who must have the right word before moving on. Then write down the words that come to mind, pick one and move on. Until publication, you get redos to find the right word. For example:

  1. The horse ran through the field.
  2. Change horse: Is it a quarter-horse, an Arabian, or a Mustang?
  3. Change ran: Did the animal race, gallop, or charge?
  4. Change field: Is the field a winter cornfield, an unused ballfield, or a muddy pasture?

Waxing eloquent and lengthy can be a detrement. It is much better to use five correct words than five lines. A common problem in writing causing extra verbiage is the over use of adverbs and adjectives. Similes and metaphors allow the writer the means to provide creative sensory input.

  1. A simile compares two unlike things and is often introduce by like or as. He ran like a racecar on steroids.
  2. A metaphor uses a word or phrase denoting one concept used in place of another to suggest a likeness. The ship plowed through the seas.

Avoid descriptive traps. Avoid mixing metaphors, for they may seem clever but end up being confusing. Stay away from cliches, those trite expression whose effectiveness has been worn out from overuse.

Become a collector of sensations, of objects, of names of various things, of colors. Use a notebook to record things you see, hear, taste and so on. Go through magazines and collect pictures of people and scenery. Use the internet to collect pictures and comments in a file folder. Don't forget to reference their URL. Of course, collecting these images, descriptions, phrases and so on doesn't help if you don't store them where you can easily find them. Another excellent tool is Google Earth. You can go anywhere on earth and get the correct sights and other details of a particular location.

To help maintain a sense of location, have your characters interact with elements of the setting. That will prevent losing the relationship between character and surrounding. By describing the inner life of your characters and choosing the right words, you develop the mood of the setting. By using the best details, avoiding the overuse of adjectives and adverbs, avoiding the descriptive traps and pulling from your collection of sensations, the reader will not only connect with your characters, but they will perceive the location and live your story through the character's POV.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Gray Haunt

Billy put his hand out to stop me, and then touched a finger to his lips for quiet. He squatted beside the dirt path, his dark blue uniform covered in grime from the fight, his sky-blue edged collar unhooked. He checked his Springfield rifle. I squatted next to him. Removing my cap, I wiped my damp forehead. All around us, vines hung from trees. I smelled a trace of smoke.

Ever since we found our sergeant mustered out—shot in the back by some craven Johnny Reb—the two of us wandered these cursed woods, hunting that gray-back coward. We must’ve strayed from the main battle, for the sounds of war long since dimmed. Billy pointed to the soft ground.

A footprint. I recognize that barefoot print. Dozens of them surrounded our fallen comrade. Johnny Reb had come this way. He probably knew we were looking for him.
I nodded, a grim smile touching my lips. We were close.

“That’s him, by god, I know it,” Billy whispered. “Look, blood. He’s injured from the looks of it.”

“Then, let’s find that uppity rebel no-account so we can get back to our unit.”

“He left the path here and headed through the woods.” Billy pointed into the thick woodlands.

“You’re the better tracker, you lead. I’ll keep watch just in case he’s waiting for us. No sense lettin’ him sneak up on us.”

Billy took off through the woods, thick with bramble while I keep my eyes roaming looking for possible sniper locations. The trail of bloody footprints wound through the woods. We went down a small incline and stopped at the creek at the bottom. Water splashed around the rocks.

Billy motioned back towards the woods.

“Let’s call a halt for a few minutes.”

“Sure thing. What’s up?”

We sat down behind a thicket of trees. But I keep my rifle ready. One could never tell about them rebs.

“Our sniper has met up with two others,” Billy spat in disgust. “One’s an officer from the boot marks. They went up the other side of the creek.”

“Their misfortune. Time for bayonets.” I slid mine over the end of the rifle barrel.

“At least I still have this,” Billy pushed aside his jacket to reveal the revolver he took off the body of the dead Reb officer.

“I still have his Arkansas toothpick.”

“This reminds me of a story my pa use to tell me about my gran’pa.”

“You mean that ghost story,” I shook my head. Not that camp canard again.

“Yep. My gran’pa went huntin’ one afternoon. There hadn’t been no injun problems for awhile. He came across a trail of bloody human footprints. He tracked them thinkin’ someone needed help. In fact, the prints crossed a creek just like that one. When he climbed the other side of the creek, the bushes rustled and out stepped something he always called a haunt.”

“Maybe he haunted some of those corn squeezings he made,” I joked.

Billy face darkened with anger. “Weren’t no corn squeezings that caused his hair to turn white. He was only twenty-three years of age at the time. That patch of white hair of his weren’t normal.”

“Okay. Hey, dusk is almost here. We best be looking for them secesh.”

We stood and studied our surroundings. The shadows had grown long in the time we rested. Time seemed to stand still. The stench of smoke thickened, and I swore I smelt meat cooking.

“Billy, as before. You track and I’ll keep watch.”

With caution and in single file, we crossed the creek and scrambled up the other bank. The risk of exposure to possible enfilading fire hurried us up the bank. We paused in the thicket at the top, peering through the vines. I saw no movement, except for the leaves dancing in the breeze.

Billy pointed to the thinning of the trees.

“Must be a clearing up ahead,” he said.

“Careful. Crossing an exposed field ain’t to my liking.”

“The footprints lead in that direction. From the looks of it, we can’t be too far behind them.”

“Let’s scout the clearing before we cross. What was that?”

Sounds of children’s laughter followed by a man’s voice issued from the clearing. Billy and I looked at each other.

“Could be a trap,” I said.

Billy nodded and followed the trail right up to the edge of the clearing. I knelt on the ground next him, and moved aside a branch. Such a strange sight met my gaze, had the people not been speaking a form of English, I would have thought I peered into another civilization. The hairs on my arm rose with the chill bumps.

The odd group appeared to be a family. The man stood taller than any I’d every seen. He wore a shirt with no sleeves, similar to a vest, but not quite the same. His pants looked to have been torn off above the knees. Must be a dead beat pie eater.

The woman stood nearly naked, not even clad in her unmentionables. My eyes stayed fixated upon her. Her upper garment consisted on nothing more than stings and two tiny patches of cloth revealing most of her torso. What woman would want to risk tanning her skin? She wore pants similar to the man’ but much shorter showing much of her thin legs. She stood by a black metal box supported by a black iron pipe jutting out of the earth. This device emitted the smell of smoke and cooking meat I sensed earlier.

The two young boys wore loose fitting clothes that could have come from a blind tailor. They tossed an odd shaped ball. Oblong and about a foot long, the brown sphere narrowed to dull points at both ends. Perhaps a weapon of mysterious origin unknown by the Union generals.

The woman called to the children and I gazed at her again.

Billy whispered, “There’s the rebel.” He point to edge of the woods on the far side of the clearing. “There, in the shadows, by that tall maple.”

My gaze, ripped from the tanned woman, followed to where Billy pointed. He drew the revolver. The Johnny Reb stood in the shadows, leaning on the tree. He looked played out. Billy and I stood in unison. I lifted my rifle, left arm held tight to my side, and took aim. Only then did I step out of the woods into the clearing. Several things happened simultaneously.

I pulled the trigger and my rifle fired, sending a lead Minie ball in the reb’s direction. He vanished from sight. The crunch of leaves to my back indicated someone snuck up on us.

“Hey, blue-bellies,” came a Southern drawl from behind.

Billy turned and cursed. He fired two rounds from the revolver. At the same moment, I heard two shots from behind. Billy’s head jerked back when a minnie ball smacked into his skull. Pain exploded in my back and ripped through my chest.

But the strangest event happened next.

The woman stared directly into my eyes, her face turning into a mask of fear. She let loose with a haunted scream and shrieked, “Ghosts!”

One of the boys looked at Billy and me and let loose with soul wrenching scream.

The other boy broke out into tears of terror and ran to his father who stood rooted to the ground.

Ghosts? Are they talking about me?

I faded. Everything went black. I floated in this blackness for a while, how long I couldn’t say. After an indeterminate amount of time, the blackness began to turn to gray. I saw woods.

Billy put his hand out to stop me, then touched a finger to his lips…

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Circle of Fourteen Part III

I woke on a cold tile floor. Its geometric designs left no clues as to my whereabouts. Overhead, brick arches added to my confusion. My coat draped over a nearby railing, its contents spilled onto the floor. Moaning with the pain pounding inside my skull, I rolled onto my back.
Someone said something in what sounded like Italian.

A bulk of black cloth hurried my way. He put one black military boot on my chest and pressed down. My ribcage felt ready to explode. I couldn’t breath.

“Signore,” black bulk said, his face hidden behind a carnival mask, “cease moving or I shall crush your chest.”

I believed him so I lay still.

“You came to visit San Marcos with the Circle of Fourteen, yes? Don’t lie to me, Americano.”


“What are you doing here?”

“I’m a journalist. They promised a story.”

He laughed and leaned more on my chest. “You lie, like all Americanos. Journalists don’t carry guns. They fight like women using false words.”

A thinner figure draped in black, swept into view carrying a rectangular object the size of my travelbook. “Dominare,” a woman’s voice, “we are pressed for time. We can leave the scum to die in this crypt. Time to initiate our plan.”

“Si, Fulmine, it is. Have you prepared the bomb?”

She snorted a breath in disgust. “You think I’m a fool? Of course I have all the preparations ready.”

Gunshots sounded from nearby.

“Stay with him,” Dominare said. “We will take care of these annoying Circle meddlers. Switch out the Marcos book and replace it with your bomb. I want that Marcos book.”

She saluted and Dominare moved toward the gunshots. Several other black shadows followed him.

Fulmine pointed a gun at me. “Move it, asshole. To the altar.” She indicated the direction with the wave of her weapon. I rose and we moved past the railing and into a small domed area. “Sit there,” she pointed the gun against another railing. “Move and I will ruin one knee. Move again and I will ruin the other. You understand?”

“Yeah, I understand you’re a cold blooded killer.” I had yet to obey her order. I should have.

Two steps and she was upon me. She hit me in the mouth with the butt of her gun then kneed me in the groin. I fell like a rock, and vomited. God, it hurt so bad, I couldn’t move. I cursed her in dozens of combinations of profanity. Blood from my split lip stained the tiles.

I heard the sound of stone sliding, but paid it no mind. I focused on not moving. It hurt to blink. I heard her fumbling with something, followed by more stone sliding. Then Fulmina stood over me like the angel of death.

I stared venomous daggers at her. Without taking her shark eyes from me, she stuck her handgun in her waistband. She bent down and punched me in the eye. Stars rocked my head. I didn’t see it coming, but she kicked me in the ribs. Sharp pain shot throughout my body, paralyzing me. She grabbed me by the front of my shirt.

“That bomb will go off in five minutes with enough downward force to destroy most of Venice’s pilings. San Marcos will be under water in fifteen minutes. Enjoy the last moments of your life.”

“Bring…me…my book.”

She let go of my shirt and started to leave. Passing the railing where my coat waited, she spotted the book lying on the floor. Fulmine scooped it up and charged down upon me.

“Here,” she threw the book at me.

“Can’t…open it. Message from…the Circle.”

Snorting with disgust, she bent over and picked up the book. “Where?” She opened it and a white cloud erupted from the compartment holed out in its pages.

“Nighty night,” I said.

Her eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed in an unmoving heap.

I dragged myself to my feet and stumbled over to the altar. I leaned upon its surface. I didn’t want to move, just crawl in a corner and let the world pass me by. I only had four minutes to get the bomb out of the building. But where to take it?

Gunshots sounded closer. Then, “Fulmine, hurry your skinny ass out of there.” Dominare did not sound happy with her delay. If he only knew.

I gave a one word reply in what I hoped sounded like her voice. Then more gunfire erupted and I figured he had too much on his hands to try to realize Fulmine hadn’t spoken.

Ignoring the pain without much success, I spotted the scrape marks on the tile. With seconds ticking down, I pushed against the altar. It moved with little effort. A square enclave under the altar contained a package. In the gloom of the space, the digital numbers on a clock reached three minutes. From outside the church I heard the sound of a helicopter.

I glanced at the unconscious Fulmine. A brown package similar to the bomb had fallen from her grasp. The book of San Marcos.

Gritting against the pain, I rushed out of the church through the blasted door, my coat flaring out behind me. The gunfire slowed to sporadic shots. The main target sat in the middle of the piazza, a black ops helicopter. Its rotors sent up a cloud of dust. In my mind, I counted down the remaining seconds. Charlie twenty-eight. Charlie twenty-seven. Charlie twenty-six…

Dominare stood at the side of the copter directing his troops remaining on the piazza. They returned fire coming from the Procuratie. Must be my Circle friends. One of the Black Plague spun in a spray of blood. Dominare picked up the body and tossed it into the open door of the copter.

“Hey, Dommie!” I ran straight at the helicopter. He glanced my way.

Another Plague jerkoff turned at the sound of my voice and opened fire. A spray of bullets hit the railing just to my front. Gunfire erupted from the Procuratie, and the shooter went down.
Nearing the copter, I slowed and—my side exploding in firery pain— tossed the package to Dominare. He caught it in one beefy hand and looked at it. His gun started to come up in my direction.

“From Fulmine.” Charlie twenty-one. Charlie twenty. Charlie nineteen…

Before he could decide what to do, I turned direction and ran for the Procuratie. Gunshots pinged on the helicopter behind me. Charlie sixteen. Charlie fifteen. Charlie fourteen…

“Take off,” Dominare’s shouted. The blades sped up, creating a powerful backwash beating against me. I dove and slid across the wet pavement under the arches of the Procuratie. With teeth clentched to prevent screaming out my suffering, I edged close to blacking out.
I came to a stop against the far wall.

“What did you do?” George screamed at me. “You gave him the text of San Marcos. There’s invaluable—”

“Georgie,” I said, “you might want to lie down. Charlie six. Charlie five.” The copter cleared the roofs around the piazza and headed south over the lagoon. “Charlie three. Charlie two. Charlie one. Bye-bye.”

An explosion ripped through the night. The fireball reflected off the walls and columns of the Palazzo Ducale.

“One Black Plague helicopter down,” I said, grinning and grimacing. Police sirens began going off in the distance. “About time,” I muttered.

“You destroyed the San Marcos text!” George was in my face and I could see the hairs in his nose. His spittle hit me on the chin.

I reached into my jacket, paused, and pulled out a book. “You mean this?”

He snatched it away, embracing it like a lover.

Katharina knelt down and kissed me on my split lip. It hurt, but I refused to pull away. When she did she said, “You saved the church and the book.”

Always thinking about what’s important, I asked, “How about a date? I need some questions answered for my news report.”