Amelia Earhart and the Little People

When I was a teenager, I made a pact with myself that I would learn something new each day. I also promised myself that I would develop a new skill as often as possible. I’m 55 years old now, and while I’ve not been able to follow through on everything in my life, these two ideas have stayed with me as a daily/yearly practice.

This is something that all writers need to understand. You can’t write in a vacuum. It doesn’t behoove the blossoming author to close himself into a room with window blinds drawn against possible disturbances. Life happens, and even though you may be writing through holidays and weekends to meet a deadline, you still need to carve out a moment or two to fill the creative barrel with sensory exploration. I always give an imperious grunt when writers tell me they don’t watch the evening news, read websites that contain current events or listen to talk radio. Somehow, they feel that this information sullies their muse. How can any serious wordsmith ignore what’s going on in the world and still develop a cohesive line of thought in an article, short story, or book? Writing is not just play time. It’s the time you bring your philosophy to bear. Writing is when you pound out thoughts on new ideas and heretofore unknown ideologies. Studying current events will always impress you with something new. Granted, we Humans are a warrior race. News of atrocities greet the eyes and ears first, because journalism is just that way. “If it bleeds, it leads.” So, after you scan the words and give the Devil his dues, move on to page two or page forty-two.

Here are a couple of things I learned this past week.

May 30, 2013—TIHGAR may have found Amelia Earhart’s plane wreckage in the depth of 600 feet of water off of Nikumaroro Island. If you don’t know who Amelia Earhart was, then look her up. If you don’t know who or what TIHGAR is, look it up, too. I didn’t know what TIHGAR was. It qualified as my new thing to learn yesterday.

May 31, 2013—Stretching and mediation relieves Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. NIH studied 22 nurses suffering with the disorder and found that just two hours a week of self-centered care relieved the symptoms.

June 1, 2013—?

Somehow, someway, I can use this information in my writing. Okay, I just did with this blog post. I can also develop two fiction stories from it that will work in most any genre, but since I’m a sci-fi/fantasy/horror writer, I’ll glue them to my forehead to see what trips the light fantastic.

By learning something new each day and studying current events, you will never be without a story idea, theme, character, or plot. It’s all available for the taking.

Still, current events aren’t the only way to get fodder to fuel your writing. Make it your mission to entice your readers with new information. That means you must continually develop new skills—and not just those that involve words. Take a class, watch a tutorial on YouTube, or be an armchair traveler with a glass of cold ice tea and a travel video on the television. Not only will these skills and knowledge impact your writing, but they will also round out your life in ways you have never considered. Some of my favorite authors have learned amazing things that continually show up in their work.

Nancy Robinson Masters ( is an airplane pilot and a prodigious author. Her ability to fly has been channeled into best selling books for children.

Elyse Salpeter ( is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, as well as a successful author. The knowledge she obtained from learning a new skill has translated into her latest book.

Frank Tuttle ( loves to create fantasy weaponry made from pipes, wood, springs, wires, and I suspect whatever his dogs drag into the house. Frank is another author whose skills in creating art have spurred his imagination when he writes his stories.

Bob Nailor ( knows his ancestry. He’s an Irish-American who has made an in-depth study of the myths, legends, and Little People of the Emerald Isle. He used this knowledge when he wrote his first fantasy novel.

Make a pact like I did. Learn something new each day. Develop a skill that makes you smile, gives you fun, and helps others. Then write about it.

Pocket Amnesia

When you write a novel, you’re stuffed inside the manuscript with your characters. You experience the setting, the events, the emotions, the past and the future. Characters come sweeping through the story, bringing with them the conflict that drives the plot. Things happen in a book. A lot of things, to be precise.

Writing a novel is not a linear activity. You can’t go from point A to point Z without flipping back and forth to add foreshadowing, notes to clarify a scene, or check for consistency. It can be a brutal job and it can be confusing. Unfortunately, this is the part of the writing experience that will foul the newbies. It creates what I call
pocket amnesia.

Have you ever put on a jacket, checked the pouches and found nothing, but an hour later, you reach into the front pocket and suddenly there’s a $20 bill? That’s pocket amnesia. At some point you shoved that money into your coat, and being a greenback, it snuggled down into the folds of the fabric. Your fingers missed it the first time. Worse than that—you forgot it was even there.

This forgetfulness is how I like to explain the existence of those important fragments lost within the story. To my mind, they hide in the novel’s pockets, concealed among sheltering words. The writer goes off on an exciting tangent, forgetting that he set up something else altogether. The main character starts out with black hair, until chapter five, when she turned into a platinum blond. The killer used a Katana, until it transformed from a Japanese sword into a butcher knife. Your character moves through her day exactly as she should with one exception—she does 4:00 p.m.

When I first started writing science fiction murder mysteries, I had to not only keep the clues straight, but also make sure my created world didn’t jam up with inconsistencies. I would experience pocket amnesia on a daily basis. Things would be twirling around so fast in my brain that I would lose the bubble.

A few of you have read my latest book, THOMAS TALKS TO ME, where I tell the writer to avoid using lists. Well, this time I’m telling you to use them.

Keep a running list of your chapters. Write a short abstract of each—one or two sentences—but make sure you highlight the important things that can disappear into a pocket. For instance,

Chapter 1: Sally has green hair, a big mole on her nose, and braces. She talks to Gwen about how to create a magic elixir that will make her beautiful. Gwen tells her they need to see Maria, the witch down the road.

Chapter 2: Sally and Gwen talk to Maria who has long brown hair and shifty black eyes. She tells Sally she can make her beautiful for a price, and then refuses to explain what the price is.

Chapter abstracts are invaluable. When I wrote OPALITE MOON, I was given the normal nine month deadline to turn out a story. Three days into that nine months, my editor called to tell me she needed 85,000 words in ten weeks, because she had a great slot for the book in the catalog. I was in the midst of a house move. Panic nearly did me in, but like an idiot, I told her she would have it. I relied heavily on my chapter abstracts, turned in the novel at the beginning of week nine, finished unpacking the dishes, and later that year, the book was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award for Outstanding Science Fiction.

There’s also one other thing you can do with these chapter abstracts. Use them to help you write the dreaded book synopsis. Reviewing your list makes it much easier to grab the story’s highlights and craft a winning proposal without pulling out your last three hairs in the process.

So, do yourself a favor—pick your pockets.

Misty Memories

When I was a kid, it seemed that new James Bond movies always debuted on Christmas Day. My dad would always take me, leaving my dear mother at home to nap before putting on the evening spread. I’m an only child and these were special days spent with my pop. The other night I watched the Oscars and the great tribute they did to the James Bond franchise. It made me think of those times sitting in a dark theatre with a sticky floor, eating popcorn, drinking soda, and cheering on our favorite super spy.

Last Monday, I called my dad to tell him how happy I was that we shared those moments. My dad is 88 years old and he has dementia. He couldn’t recall the days that had made my childhood so special, and while understandable given his advanced age, it made me think. Our lives are lived through others and their memories of us. I think back into my own past and so many things are hard for me to remember. People I’ve touched along the way, things I’ve shared with friends––days of births, deaths, and moving on. So much is lost on the filmy landscape of time. It’s up to other people to provide the memories of our histories.

Synchronicity often appears to me as I experience moments of small epiphanies. It’s like the energy bolsters my discovery and mashes it into my brain so I don’t lose it along with what I had for lunch yesterday or the name of the big dog we had when I was ten. (Neither of which I can recall.)

The week before I called my dad, I’d decided I was going to explore poetry. I ordered two books:
Poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge and Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook. I’m determined to write at least one poem a week, maybe add a Poetry Slam page to my website, and generally fall in love with metaphor again. I’m not worried about publishing. I just want to free my muse (Thomas, can you hear me?) and play with words. I then got a slambang idea to invite a couple of authors to write with me. We would choose a word a week and write a poem about it, so my friend chose the word COBWEBS. The idea is that the word must appear somewhere in the poem. We then set to work.

What about the synchronicity, you ask? I believe that writers generally experience it by bringing one idea into touch with another. My dad’s loss of the halcyon days he spent with his only daughter seemed to inspire my poem and the understanding that our lives are defined by those we love.

My memories are dusted with cobwebs.
While yesterday’s events have a few silky threads laid across them,
my thoughts of childhood cluster beneath a cloudy blanket.
I try to snag the cobwebs with my mind,
recalling days of teenage angst,
recovering the excitement on my wedding day,
smiling at the recollection of my first book sale,
remembering the pain when my mother died.
Cobwebs intertwine with the filaments of my life,
thickening with the passing years,
allowing me to forget the past so that I may forge the future.

Not great art, but not bad for a first attempt. I welcome you to share your poetry with us and let us in on the epiphanies you’ve uncovered. Just leave them in the comment section on my blog.

You can leave them any time and on any post. Thanks for the memories…

Write on!

Risky Business

Do you take risks with your life and your writing? Do you walk the path of least resistance, the sure road, where there’s pavement and trimmed edgings? Or do you hike up a trail that is shadowed by giant trees, choked with weeds and wildflowers, and when you least expect it, disappears into a gathering mist?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this the last few days. It’s come to my attention that I need to make a shift in my perspective. For the last thirteen years, I’ve followed a street that is far too narrow. I’ve traded my dreams and possibilities for certainties—not the best outcomes, but ones I can ‘live’ with. I think we are all in danger of taking the wrong fork in the road. We can always tell when we’re traveling this street, because it has easily readable signs.
Don’t walk. Don’t run. Caution. Slow. Enter. Exit. No parking. And the big one—the one that makes us pay attention most: STOP.

What would happen if one of those signs said:
GO? Would we take the chance? Would we take a risk to begin a quest by putting aside some of the responsibilities of family and work? As writers and Human Beings, the quest is all that matters. When the quest ends, life and writing is over. Fear has won. The big traffic cop in the sky has thrown up that stop sign, and the only thing left is to look back down the street littered with your regrets.

Taking small steps along the road won’t work, because you do too much slip-sliding on gravel. You have to take determined strides. Maybe you have always wanted to write a horror novel, but you’re worried what others might think since you’ve already wedged yourself into the romance genre. Maybe you have the opportunity to make some good money through public speaking, but the thought of baring your imperfections before a crowd of eager-faced writing newbies scares the hell out of you. Perhaps you have an opinion on public policy that you feel needs airing, but you’re afraid some troll on the internet will pop up and begin stalking you with negativity.

Do it anyway. My friend and fellow author,
Gwen Choate, took a chance. She wrote a young adult novel called THE SACK and Cool Well Press bought it. It’s selling well and has brought many speaking engagements for Gwen. THE SACK was recently nominated for the prestigious Spirit of Texas Award by the Texas Library Association.

Now you may think this is a nice outcome for an author, but really, what kind of chance did Gwen take? Well, the chance she took has to do with age. Gwen is 90 years old. She began writing THE SACK when she was in her late 80s. Had she not stepped forward with confidence, these wonderful opportunities would never have happened. Was she afraid she might twist an ankle in a pothole or be asked to pay a toll that would take almost everything she had? Of course. Did she, nevertheless, grab her pens, paper and granola bars and set out fearlessly along that winding road? You bet.

So do whatever is necessary for your quest. Fight dragons. Woo princesses. Sharpen your sword on an ogre. Keep searching for that Holy Writing Grail—and carry a sign that says:


Write on!


Tomorrow's List

Do you recommit each morning? Get out of the bed, stretch, make the coffee, and take a moment to review the day? As you are looking over your day’s activities, do you pause to insert some affirmations about how wonderful the day is going to be and how it is the first day of the rest of your life? I usually have a list ready with little annotations that go like this,

1. Check email, bank accounts, news website.
Email—mostly ads. Bank accounts—looking good. News—meteor hit Russia today. How freaky is that?
2. Yoga practice and meditation.
Yoga fun, but I think I pulled a hamstring. Meditation was calming.
3. Write blog post.
Thought of an idea and started to tinker with it.
4. Hit Facebook and Twitter.
Social media zaps my time!
5. Lunch. Another salad.
6. Continue writing blog post.
Coming along.
7. Do a Random Act of Kindness.
Hit Ravelry and made positive comments on the beautiful knitted items there. Looked for folks who aren’t getting many comments and tried to make their day.
8. Finish blog post.
9. Affirm that I now enjoy abundance, love and light.
10. Realize a miracle could happen any second.
Oh, wow! The yarn I ordered came a day early. How about that Post Office?
11. Spend quality time with my husband.
Well, where the heck is he? Must be bothering the neighbors.
12. Affirm that I am in perfect health.
Hamstring feels better.
13. Do a self-healing Reiki session.
Hamstring feels great!
14. Come up with a new plan for a chapter I’m writing on my novel.
Oh, this is gonna be good.
15. Answer frantic emails from friends.
Head rub time!
16. Fix dinner. Homemade skettie and meatballs.
Thought about my dear, departed mother who taught me to cook Italian food.
17. Sit down to watch a little tv and knit on a shawl to be given away to someone in need.
The lace pattern on this shawl is awesome.
18. Affirm that I’m a writer who loves to write.
Ooh, I just wrote a quick paragraph that reeks of brilliance.
19. Shut down for the evening, make a new list for tomorrow, and affirm that everything is as it should be.
What a great day it was.

I would love to hear how you recommit each day to living the creative life. Please share!
Write on with love in your heart!