Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Great Fiction Writing Advice--For Free! :-)

Hi everyone!

I recently discovered a YouTube series that offers fantastic fiction writing advice by writer Brandon McNulty. He covers so many topics: scene structure, mood and emotion, heroes and villains, bad dialogue vs. good dialogue, to name a few, and he uses familiar scenes from movies to demonstrate his points. Each video is short and engaging and I watched them all. Highly recommend!

Check them out here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChqAmyhEejCMMIxJmvUrdYw

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Accidental Accident: Justice for the Groveland Four only 99¢ 10/12-10/16

Our award-winning book, Accidental Activist: Justice for the Groveland Four, is on sale for 99¢ 10/12-10/16 

Check it out here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07Z5TYNT7/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p2_i9

Description:

Discover the incredible four-year quest for justice for The Groveland Four, and learn how to pursue your own causes, whatever they may be.

Accidental Activist is a primer for positive action, and a journey through Florida's past as well as its future. Some of the things you will learn by reading this book:

Everything takes more time than you think

Nothing ever goes according to plan

Help can come from unexpected places

Time is on your side

Everyone is connected

You can reach your tipping point for success and not even realize it

Your goals can change along the way

Flexibility is key

Let's get started, shall we?

Monday, October 11, 2021

Growing a Story :-D

I'm staring at a blank page so you won't have to. Although we've never met, I feel this need to entertain you, to make you laugh. Also, I committed to writing a guest blog post, but who's to say which is the chicken and which is the egg? I wouldn't have committed to the guest post if I didn't want to share a story with you, right?

Authors often don't know where inspiration comes from but, in this case, I do know. One fine day I went for a walk with my friend Julie, who lives a few blocks away.  Julie is one of the nicest people around yet somehow she had made an enemy of her next-door neighbor. Entirely his fault since he was a major jerk with a sense of entitlement like you wouldn't believe. It seems Julie had had the audacity to landscape her yard and put a giant boulder on the swale (her swale) where jerky guy (let's call him Guy) liked to park. How dare she! As we returned from our walk, we saw construction workers across the street from Julie's house carting away her very expensive boulder. When confronted, they said (jerky) Guy had paid them a hundred dollars to take the boulder, which they had assumed was his. Sheepish, they returned the rock to her yard. Julie made a police report against Guy.

The next day, Julie found her rock covered with trash. Guy's back-up plan was to trick the bulk trash truck into carting it away. When that didn't work, Guy reported Julie for a zoning violation. This went on for months and escalated into court hearings and fines. It was no longer about the rock but a battle of the wills.

On our walks, Julie and I concocted imaginary plans for revenge against Guy; it was fun for me and helped her to vent her frustration. Around this same time, my dog brought a dead squirrel into the house. Since it resembled one of her toys it took me a full minute to totally freak out. After I convinced her to drop the squirrel I squeamishly pushed it outside with my shoe. A plot suddenly occurred to me--what if that had been a dead skunk? And what if my neighbor had thrown it over the fence for spite because we were feuding? What if I were the jerky guy hell-bent on revenge? What would I do to get back at my neighbor? How far would I go? What if my obsession for revenge pushed me over the edge to my doom? What if it turned out it really wasn't my neighbor who had left the skunk in my yard but someone who knew I would stop at nothing to get even? What if I was in a custody battle with my ex-wife over our son and I was winning? What if she realized she could regain custody simply by tossing a dead skunk in my yard and biding her time?

That is how I came to write a short story titled A Dish Best Served Cold. I confess it was cathartic. When the jerky guy got what was coming to him I did a little dance. It felt like I had avenged Julie and zinged everyone who had ever done me wrong. Take that!

And how did Julie's story end? At the end of her rope she inquired about planting a tree on the swale. The zoning clerk informed her she would need a permit and it would be costly. Taking pity on her the clerk offered to place a little free library on her swale at no cost. Julie was thrilled. Which proves nice guys don't always finish last. And that revenge is a dish best served cold. 

 


Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Laugh With Me :-D

If you're as old as I am you may remember the song I Love to Laugh from the original Mary Poppins movie. In that scene, Mary's Uncle Albert can't stop laughing, causing him to float to the ceiling. Mary, Bert and the kids try to help him but wind up laughing just as hard and join him up on the ceiling. 

Uncle Albert sings:

          The more I laugh,

          The more I fill with glee,

          And the more the glee,

          The more I'm a merrier me.

No matter how many times I watch that video it always makes me laugh. I dare you to watch it (it's on YouTube) and try to keep a straight face. Nostalgia aside, why does a fifty-seven year old movie about other people laughing still make me laugh? I'll tell you why: laughing is contagious, but in a good way. If you see people laughing at a joke that you can't hear you'll smile automatically, even if you don't realize it. Your brain responds to the sound of laughter by preparing your face to do the same.

Laughter makes you feel good and it's good for you. Studies show laughing decreases pain, boosts immunity, and lowers stress hormones. Hospital patients who utilize laughter have shorter hospital stays and faster recoveries. It's also enjoyable to make other people laugh. Jerry Seinfeld's father was a salesman and a funny guy. He would take young Jerry with him on sales calls and brag, "Watch this, I'm going to crack that face." 

Here's something funny, your brain can't tell the difference between real and fake laughter. It's true. If you force yourself to laugh, even when there's nothing to laugh about, you still receive the health benefits of a genuine laugh. Happy endorphins are released and stress hormones are reduced. If you need assistance adding simulated laughter to your life, there are laugh yoga and laugh therapy groups. I swear those are real things and I hope I never need them. But never say never. 

Way before the pandemic, in the before time, I went to a comedy show with some girlfriends and laughed until I cried. I remarked afterwards how I couldn't remember the last time I'd laughed so hard. I realized then what was missing from my life, the joy of laughter. I used to take laughing for granted, before I started taking everything so seriously. Life is serious, no doubt about it, but you still have permission to laugh. 

So, what's funny? People disagree. Women prefer wordplay and humorous stories while men more often like one-liners and slapstick. Physical humor transcends cultural differences. Back in the seventies, my husband's grandparents were the first people to own a TV in their village in India. Every afternoon, they would turn on the TV and open the window. You could hear people all over the neighborhood beckoning each other, calling out Lucy! Lucy! before gathering at the window to watch I Love Lucy and laugh uproariously. Keep in mind the show was twenty years old and depicted a life they knew nothing about. They were uneducated laborers who led hard lives--and spoke no English. Yet, day after day, they rushed over to watch the show and share a laugh. Isn't that remarkable?  

Humor writer Dave Barry says the secret to writing humor is to put the funniest part at the end, something unexpected and ridiculous. I try to channel Dave whenever I write humorous essays. One of my favorite reviews was from a man who wrote: this book really cheered me up when I was down. That made my day. Here's an excerpt from my essay book A Smidge of Crazy. I hope I can crack that face. 

***

Can a brief encounter with a stranger change your life forever? Of course it can. You're rolling your eyes, I can see you. Well, let me tell you about Howard Parks…

This isn't the tale of an unsung hero--although, for all I know, Howard Parks has rescued people from burning buildings, performed the Heimlich maneuver on dozens of choking victims, and saved countless texters from oncoming traffic. Anything is possible. I'm not saying Howard Parks isn't heroic and inspiring, he is. If he weren't, my husband and I wouldn't speak of him so reverently; we wouldn't use his name in times of crisis; we wouldn't ask each other in hushed voices, "What would Howard Parks do?"

Twenty-four years ago, long before Equifax spewed your personal data into the world, including the name of your first pet, Hammy the Hamster, and long before Facebook gave away all of your secrets, right before they gave away all of your friends' secrets, Howard Parks was vigilant. I imagine he slept with one eye open as his brain conjured the many ways that things could go terribly, terribly wrong. He was British, which gave him an air of credibility. He was calm, which made him seem reasonable. And he was insistent, a quality many people found annoying, but which we found endearing in the extreme. It's why we love him.

***

Just remember, a good  time to laugh is anytime you can. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Scary Shorts for Halloween! :-D

Just in time for Halloween, check out Scary Shorts: Halloween Flash Fiction. Only 99 cents!

https://www.amazon.com/gp/history?ref_=nav_cs_timeline_b5b04aa9044d419f88cadc3f11be05df

Halloween Flash Fiction, what could be more fun? Capture a mood, a phobia, a scary experience, using exactly 100 words. Stories like A Drive in the Country, Halloween Stew, Skeleton Crew, Something About Her Shadow, and Candy Corn will give you the creeps, keep you up at night as you stare at the ceiling. Other stories like Careful What You Wish For and Paying the Piper will make you think twice about your bad decisions.

Scary Shorts: Flash Fiction is a book filled with creepy short stories that will either have you creeped out, laughing, or both. All of the stories are fast-paced, eerie, and exactly 100 words. The front cover is simple yet hilarious; I loved the fact that the skeleton is wearing sandals. Truly an enjoyable read.


Saturday, October 2, 2021

IN A FLASH

 Ah, flash fiction, it’s a beautiful thing. Don’t believe me? Try telling a story in just six words and include character, setting, plot, conflict, and theme. Impossible, you say? Hemingway did it like this: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never used.” A tragedy in six words. Impressive, you say, but so what? Hemingway’s books had more than six words in them. You’re right, but did you also notice Hemingway never wasted a word? Every single word counts, no fluff, no puff, no flowery descriptions. Tight writing is the key to everything and that’s where flash fiction comes in.

In his book On Writing Stephen King recounts how, early on, an editor gave him life-changing advice. On a form rejection letter, the editor wrote: Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.”  To paraphrase Elmore Leonard, just leave the boring stuff out. Great advice, you say, but how do I do that? The answer is flash fiction. Like practicing scales on the piano, great writing takes practice. Take any two hundred words you have written about anything and reduce it to one hundred words. Yes, you must kill your darlings. Punctuation is your friend. Commas and semi-colons can replace words like and. The thesaurus is also your friend and can give you (provide, see how easy that was?) strong replacement words (substitutes).

After you finish reducing your two hundred words to one hundred, try reducing it to fifty words. I know it seems impossible but try anyway. I have faith in you. Even if you can’t get to fifty, eliminate as many words as you can without losing the essence of the writing. Hint, you rarely need the word that. Now compare the three versions and notice what you were able to cut. Amazing, isn’t it? After you perform this exercise another ten times (fifty? A hundred?), you’ll see a marked improvement in your writing.

Here’s another exercise for you. Write a letter to the editor in one hundred and fifty words. You don’t have to send it in, just write it. State your premise, make your argument, and reach a conclusion all in one hundred fifty words. One more thing, be convincing. Use strong verbs and evoke an emotional response. Here’s one I wrote titled House on Fire using one hundred forty words:

If your house were on fire, would you leave your family inside and hope for the best? That’s exactly what Florida Legislators have done by refusing to enact meaningful gun reform. No matter how many Resource Officers or “Guardians” they hire, they have done nothing to stop the next school massacre. When civilians have the fire power to massacre their fellow citizens in less time than it takes to order coffee at Starbucks, nothing will stop them—except taking away high-power guns and high-capacity ammunition, which our legislators refuse to do.

When one person can fire more than 1,100 rounds in ten minutes from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel killing 58 people and injuring another 851, our house is on fire, engulfed in flames. And it is our legislators who have abandoned us inside this burning building.

Whew! It makes me angry to read it and I’m the one who wrote it. Did you like the Starbucks comparison? Using the analogy of a house on fire and abandonment and family I close the piece by returning to the opening, proving the argument I set out to prove. At least I hope I did. Give it a try, convince someone a problem exists that needs solving, you don’t have to present the solution.

Now, with your honed skill of compact wordsmithing, write a story in exactly fifty words. Remember, it’s a story so there must be character, setting, plot, conflict, and theme. Here’s mine:

Fire! She tried not to panic as acrid fumes filled her nostrils, burning the very air. Her only desire, save her loved one, sleeping beside her. Her strength, her willpower, her fierceness, she used them all to rouse him. Awake—finally!—he carried her to safety, exclaiming “Good dog, Rosie!”

If you need a story idea, just read the news and pick something to write about. Or describe your morning routine. Here’s mine. It’s one hundred fifty-six words, titled The Senses Awaken:

Padding bleary-eyed into the kitchen, I grope my way towards sanity, towards my little miracle. Only it can soothe my parched throat and banish the vague nightmares that still skitter through my brain like the deformed creatures they are. A simple routine, but I relish it. Moving like an automaton, I check the water level in the machine and flip the on switch, take out the milk (thank God, there’s milk!) and reach for the coffee, the spoon, the sugar. As I measure the finely ground espresso powder and tamp it into the compartment, I breathe in deeply, the dark complex aromas swirl in my flared nostrils promising me revival and a return to the world of the real. Without the aroma, would I enjoy coffee as much? I wonder, but then dismiss the thought as foolish. It was like imagining a sun with no heat, a sky with no blue, a heart with no love.

I hope you learn to love flash fiction and tight writing as a way to crystallize your thoughts. For clarity and beauty, a story, like a jewel in the rough, needs the right cuts and a fine polish.

Friday, October 1, 2021

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

If you're an adult, you've probably tried all the food there is to try in your part of the world. Oh sure, there may be some you don't want to try, like stinky cheese or liverwurst, but there's nothing new coming down the pike. Yes, someone cultivated orange cauliflower and purple carrots but they still taste the same. So why bother going to restaurants or trying new recipes? Because new combinations can create something unique. Take Mexican Mole Sauce, for example. If someone presented you with cocoa powder, peanut butter, onions and garlic, chopped tomatoes, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, chili powder, smoked paprika and vegetable broth all sloshing around on a plate and said bon app├ętit, you'd think they were nuts. But if they took those unlikely ingredients and whipped up a rich, fragrant mole sauce you would be licking the spoon and begging for more.

Similarly, there are a limited number of basic story plots available to us. In his book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, Christopher Booker declares there are seven plot types: Overcoming the Monster, The Quest, The Voyage and Return, Rags to Riches, Rebirth, Comedy, and Tragedy. Other writers claim there are twenty plots, or thirty-six, but they all agree there's a finite number. What's a writer to do? New combinations, of course. Suzanne Collins's inspiration for The Hunger Games came to her while channel surfing on television. On one channel, she saw people competing on a reality show and on another she saw footage of the invasion of Iraq. The two "began to blur in this very unsettling way" and the idea for the book was formed.  Creativity, simply put, is connecting ideas that may seem unrelated. 

I draw inspiration from real events by collecting interesting news articles. When I needed to come up with a plot for Malice in Miami, my latest Jamie Quinn Cozy Mystery, I pulled out my stash of articles. From that pile I concocted a plot that included: pythons invading the Everglades; veterans combatting PTSD by hunting pythons; the sugar industry's monopoly and how they damage the environment; the current immigration issues in the U.S.; birth defects caused by pesticides; worker's compensation claims; a beautiful early-twentieth century mansion in Miami built by an industrialist; art theft of rare books and maps from university libraries; and Erin Brockovich. Turning all of that into a coherent plot was like weaving with invisible thread. It was tricky!

To put yourself in a creative mood, immerse yourself in art. Listen to music, visit a museum, read a literary masterpiece. You will be inspired. Sometimes, taking a page from one of your favorite authors and just typing it out can help rewire your brain. The key to creating is to remember there are no dumb ideas. Really. Just start spitballing ideas and then ask what if? Author Gregory Maguire looked at the classic The Wizard of Oz and asked: what if the wicked witch was just misunderstood? What if she wasn't that wicked? What if there's more to her story?

But don't stop there. Once you ask what if, you have to ask what might happen next? Like spaghetti, throw it against the wall and see what sticks. (Honestly, I've never tried that but it sounds like fun.) Open your mind to possibilities, no matter how crazy or outlandish, and don't judge, just let them flow. If you want a jumpstart, there are plot generators online. They're like madlibs for story development. I get my best ideas in the shower and the pool. I call it my water epiphany. If all else fails, soak your head and let the ideas start growing. Speaking of unrelated things, I jumped from Mole Sauce to creating a unique plot, you can't get more unrelated than that. But you really should try Mole Sauce, it's the best! 

**This post was originally published on the blog "I Read What You Write" and is reprinted here with permission. www.IReadWhatYouWrite.com