Monday, July 25, 2016

Reads for Writers: The Golden Theme by Brian McDonald Provides a Masterclass

From Kate’s Writing Crate…


As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

        Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.

          Brian McDonald is the first author to have two Masterclasses in a row. His thoughts on storytelling and writing are just that good.

His first book, Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories That Resonate was the Masterclass on 6/26/16. If you truly take in what McDonald reveals, your writing will take on new dimensions.

          In The Golden Theme: How to Make Your Writing Appeal to the Highest Common Denominator, McDonald states: This simple sentence, we are all the same, is the Golden Theme that all stories express. (page 4)

          Why this book is a Masterclass:

Young or inexperienced artist [are told] to find their style, their voice…[not to] “Learn the craft of storytelling.” (page 75)

Telling an artist to express himself or herself only produces self-indulgent, mediocre art. (page 76)

Your job as a storyteller is to tell the truth—the deep truth—the truth as you see it. If you do this even while not trying to have a style, you will have one. (page 77)

…if you…express the Golden Theme as purely as you can…you will reach people—move them. And when people comment on your style, you will have no idea what they are talking about because your work will penetrate so much further below the surface that style will become unimportant to you. (page 77)

          McDonald also shares the importance of storytelling.

                   “There have been great societies that did not use the wheel.

                   But there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”

                                                                   Ursula K. LeGuin (page 11)

          …buried within the story is survival information. And this survival information is, I believe, the reason we tell stories. (page 13)

          The stories McDonald repeats may or already have saved lives. For example, he reveals how “hanger flying” stories helped Sully Sullivan land his inoperable plane safely in the Hudson River saving hundreds of lives. (pp. 16-17)

          The knowledge that others have had the same woes can change lives. In…Alcoholics Anonymous, people do little more than share stories, and yet they have a substantial recovery rate. (page 40)

          …We human beings are always looking for connections. This is why it is so important to understand the Golden Theme. (page 41)

          One of my favorite stories tells what happened at meals on the set of Planet of the Apes in 1968 on pages 42 &43. I also enjoyed learning about the brilliance of Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone on pages 47 & 48.

          We use the Golden Theme in life to determine who is good and who is not. (page 59)

          Focusing on differences instead of similarities blinds us to the Golden Theme. (page 82)

          Brian McDonald wraps up his book with the importance of storytelling—not just entertaining, but a healing art. Let people know they are not alone. You must make people understand we are all the same. (page 104)

Essential advice for writers and storytellers: Tell the truth—the deep truth—the truth as you see it. Readers and listeners will respond.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Reads for Writers: When We Meet Again by Kristin Harmel

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

I love novels filled with insightful asides. If they also appeal to you, you’ll enjoy When We Meet Again by Kristin Harmel.

Love is the theme of this book. Love at first sight. Eternal love. Love denied. Unrequited love. Love thy neighbor—or not. Familial love—or not—and the patterns that repeat through generations.

It’s the story of Emily Emerson whose father walked out on her and her mother. She should have seen it coming as her paternal grandfather abandoned her grandmother when she was pregnant with Emily’s father, but, at eleven years old, she was shocked, devastated, and enraged.

Only seven years later, her mother died. Her father called. He offered little comfort and no sanctuary. Thankfully, the only grandmother she ever knew took her in, but not before the choices Emily made in her grief had consequences.

Now at thirty-six, Emily’s life is disrupted by the loss of her reporting job just after her grandmother died.

Then, as described on the back cover, “…she receives a beautiful, haunting painting of a young woman standing at the edge of a sugarcane field under a violet sky. That woman is recognizable as her grandmother—and the painting arrives with no identification other than a handwritten note saying, ‘He never stopped loving her.’"

‘Emily is hungry for roots and family, so she begins to dig.’”

          I’m not going to ruin the book for readers with any spoilers so the quotes by characters will be unattributed. I just want to share some of the insights written by Kristin Harmel.


          “I feel more for you now than I ever have for anyone before. How is that possible? We hardly know each other, and yet, I feel like you’re already a permanent piece of my soul.”

“Sometimes, things are simply meant to be.” (page 92)

“Every time someone hurts you, you carry a little piece of that with you. When it’s one of the people who’s supposed to love you most in the world, well, I’d imagine that takes a whole chunk out of your faith in humanity…I don’t want that to be my legacy to you." (page 210)

“When you’re young, you think you’ll have a hundred opportunities to find the kind of love that fills you up, the kind of love that sustains you. But the reality is, you’re lucky to find it even once in a lifetime. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to reality, to make up a fairy tale in your head. But once you’ve felt real love, you know deep down when you are faking it. You know when you are lying to yourself.” (page 237)

“How can two people love each other that much, wind up in the same city, and never see each other? It’s so cruel and senseless. Why do any of us fall in love like that if we aren’t given the chance to find each other again?" (page 303)

“It was inconvenient to love someone who would never love you the same way, because it held you back in life. It tied you to something you could never have." (page 312)

“The story that led us here was written long before you were born…There are different kinds of love in the world, aren’t there?” (page 314)

          This is the first book I’ve read by Kristin Harmel, but it won’t be my last.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Vending Machines for Literature

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          On yesterday's (7/10/16) CBS Sunday Morning show during “The Man in Paris” segment, reporter David Turecamo discussed vending machines for literature spread around Grenoble, France. Patrons can choose free stories that take one, three, or five minutes to read while they are waiting in line. The machines choose the stories randomly based only on the chosen time frame then print them out on long, narrow rolls of paper.

When the inventors of the Short Edition vending machines showed the mayor a prototype, he had the first one placed in Grenoble’s Town Hall. Now there are eight machines in municipal buildings around the city including the Tourist Information Office.

Since word has spread about these machines, the inventors are receiving requests to place them all over the world. Short Edition has ordered 45 machines to start meeting the demand. Hopefully, there will be one near each of us eventually.

In the five years since Short Edition began, there are now 10,000 contributing authors and about 150,000 regular readers. The best of the stories are published in a book each year.

This is great news for writers who want to contribute their work and for anyone stuck in a line without something to read.

For more information, visit the CBS Sunday Morning web site or, if you can read French,

Monday, July 4, 2016

Reads for Writers: Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It by Steven Pressfield

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

Normally this week’s post would be an essay on writing, but I just finished Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It by Steven Pressfield. It’s a perfect companion to last week’s writing book recommendation Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald.

I’ve been a fan of Steven Pressfield since I read The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. I reviewed it on this blog in my first post on 8/30/12. It’s the book that turned me into a professional writer. Do yourself a favor and read it, then reread it.

In Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t, Pressfield recounts how he became a writer as well as sharing all the truths he learned about writing along the way. Like McDonald in Invisible Ink, Pressfield uses movies and TV shows to illustrate his points—showing, not just telling—because using a story structure works for any genre that you want to appeal to an audience.


Because a story (whether it’s a movie, a play, a novel, or a piece of nonfiction) is experienced by the reader on the level of the soul. And the soul has a universal structure of narrative receptors…

The soul judges a story’s truth by how closely it comports to the narrative templates that are a part of our psyche from birth… (pp. 63-64)

          For his screenplays, Pressfield recommends: Start with an Inciting Incident, deal with the villain, then transformation of the hero completes the story.

How can you tell when you’ve got a good Inciting Incident? When the movie’s climax is embedded in within it. (page 75). Followed by chapters: “The Second Act Belongs to the Villain” (pp. 76-77) and “Every Character Must Represent Something Greater Than Himself” (pp.78-79) to set the story. Chapters “Write for a Star” (pp. 94-95); “The All is Lost Moment” (page 104); and “Give Your Villain a Brilliant Speech” (pp. 108-109) round out your work.

          Pressfield discusses his “overnight success” when he publishes his first novel at the age of fifty-one on pp. 120-121. Here he lists nine storytelling secrets followed by a list of ten skills he learned in twenty-seven years of writing.

          His chapter “Fiction is Truth” on page 122 is essential reading as are “Narrative Device” on pp. 124-125 and “Novels are Dangerous” on pp. 128-129.

          From fiction, Pressfield moves to nonfiction in “A Non-Story is a Story” including a list of eight universal principles of storytelling (pp 148-149) and to self-help in “Flashback: Narrative Device in The War of Art (172-173) and “Flashback: Hero and Villain in The War of Art” on page 174 to reveal how many of the same principles apply.

In The Artist’s Calling section, I loved “There is a Muse” on page 181 and “The Artist’s Skill” on page 184.

I also read and love Steven Pressfield’s blog, Writing Wednesdays, too.

I just started reading Brian McDonald’s blog, Ink Spots—also the title of another of his books.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Reads for Writers: Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald Provides a Masterclass

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

          Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice and/or creativity.


In his book Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories That Resonate, Brian McDonald shares brilliant insights about writing using well-known movie screenplays as well as novels as examples. Once you become aware of “invisible ink”, you will see it wherever it appears. If you truly take in what McDonald reveals, your writing will take on new dimensions.

McDonald discusses “visible ink”—dialogue and language—readily seen by the reader or viewer versus “invisible ink”—how events are ordered, what events occur, how characters behave—not easily spotted by readers, viewers, and listeners. (page 2)

The greatest truth in this book: Invisible ink is the writing below the surface of the words. Most people will never see or notice it, but they will feel it. If you learn to use it, your work will feel polished, professional, and it will have a profound impact on your audience. (page 3) What more does any writer want than to make a profound impact on his or her audience?

McDonald writes in a simple straightforward style. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you already know what he is talking about. He has spent years studying “invisible ink” so follow his instructions to find it by re-watching movies, reading screenplays, or rereading novels. Simple does not mean easy. His advice is worth the effort.

Here are a few of McDonald’s examples:

In Finding Nemo, the father desperately tries to keep his son safe by never letting him out of his sight…What happens? His son is taken away…This is his personal hell.

This is one of the ways to apply invisible ink to your work, but it will yield powerful results…Find the thing your character would rather die than do and make them do it. (page 60)                                        

Because the scene with Don Corleone and Bonasera is the first scene in the film [section of The Godfather screenplay is included in book], it becomes invisible ink. The audience has no idea that this scene will help them understand the rest of the film. Like all forms of invisible ink, it works on a subconscious level. (pp. 64-65)

You want to see truth in fiction? Watch Jimmy Stewart’s breakdown in It’s a Wonderful Life, just before he decides to kill himself. It’s about as real and truthful as anything you will ever see on film. Capra is known for being lighthearted, but when he got dark, he always told the truth. If you want to affect people deeply, tell the truth. (page 76)

          Here are a few of McDonald’s insights:

Writers with the least experience and skill think that the more complicated something is, the better. But…their work comes off clumsy and unfocused. If you want to come off like a mature writer, be precise. (page 21)

The worst of us has good in him and the best of us has some bad. That is a truth that many of us want to deny, but as storytellers it is the truth we must illuminate.

The truth will always be sadder, happier, funnier, scarier, and more profound than the best lie. More importantly, the audience never “sees” it, but does feel it. (page 78)

Invisible ink is all about communicating with your audience clearly and getting it to feel and think what it needs to so it will experience your story. (page 116)

          I highly recommend this book to all writers! Also read Brian McDonald's Ink Spots, his blog as well as a book.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Reads for Writers: Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading From Home by Susan Hill

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Readers always have books they haven’t read nearby whether in stacks by the bed or on bookshelves for someday. If you have new ones entering your life via the library, friends, or bookstores, some day can quickly become some year.

          English novelist Susan Hill certainly found this to be true.

“It began like this. I went to the shelves on the landing to look for a book I knew was there. It was not. But plenty of others were and among them I noticed at least a dozen I realized I had never read.

I pursued the elusive book through several rooms and did not find it…But each time I did find at least a dozen, perhaps two dozen, perhaps two hundred, that I had never read.” (page 1)

          She also found many books she would enjoy rereading and so began a journey through her own library which she turned into a book entitled Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading From Home.

          As a lifelong reader in her sixties, an author, a reviewer, and a judge for literary awards, Hill has a great many books so it’s easy to imagine that one or more could be misplaced. What fun to come across so many unread books and old favorites then decide to read or reread as many as she could in one year and write about them. Another of the joys of this book is the commentary from Hill as she recalls meeting authors at parties or while interviewing them for the BBC.

          Hill is partial to classics and literary novels, but has a fondness for murder mysteries and a few children’s books, too. Among them, she recommends My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (page 55), The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald (page 74), The Bell by Iris Murdoch (page 115), and The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen (page 141).

          She also enjoys diaries written by The Reverend Francis Kilvert (page 83), Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary (page 92 & 128), and The Journal of Sir Walter Scott (page 93).

          For a challenge, Susan Hill ends with a list of forty books that would last her the rest of her years on earth (pp. 235-236). Taking up the challenge, I made my list of one hundred books as I am younger with more years to read—hopefully. It’s a painful challenge as I sit surrounded by thousands of books that I love.

We only had one book in common: Shakespeare. I went with Shakespeare’s complete works as they are published in one volume. Hill chose to pick “Macbeth” since his work was not published together until after his death. However, I’m currently reading The Blue Flower since she recommended it so highly—perhaps we will have two books in common.

Have fun reading Howards End is on the Landing, discovering authors new to you, and making your own list of books to last for the rest of your life.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Inspiration vs. Deadlines

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I don’t need inspiration to write my assigned articles. I know who I’m interviewing and why. I have a deadline and a need for a paycheck so the writing gets done. That’s not to say I’m not inspired while writing, just that the deadline is the driving force in these cases.

          For this blog, my magazine essays, and my facebook column for the magazines I edit, I can choose my own topics. While there is a weekly or monthly deadline, inspiration plays the bigger role—at first. If I don’t have any ideas and deadline is approaching, then the deadline pressure squeezes thoughts out of me because I never miss deadlines.

          As I write this post, I’m three weeks ahead for this blog plus I’ve written two other pieces for later this year. I’m a week ahead for the facebook column, too. At this time, magazine deadlines are ten days away so there is no deadline pressure now, but I have time to write. However, I’m not inspired. I also don’t feel the need to be inspired.

          I don’t feel the need to be inspired. That is an uncomfortable but true statement. It’s why I’m forcing myself to write this piece. I like to think I always have something to say on topics that interest me, but after writing six pieces (now seven) in nine days seemingly effortlessly I need a break.

          I enjoyed writing these pieces. I love wrestling with words and thoughts and organization. I was energized by the ideas and work, but now I’m not. I’m going to read instead then walk the dogs.

          Writing is demanding. Deadlines are essential. Inspiration is elusive. Rejuvenation is required. Downtime is necessary.

          I’ll write later—today, tomorrow, when deadlines are imminent, and when inspiration strikes again.